London, March 25: The Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm today expressed shock and dismay when informed by The Telegraph that Rabindranath Tagore’s 1913 medal and citation had been stolen from Santiniketan.
“It’s deplorable, I have not heard of anything like this before,” commented Michael Sohlman, spokesman for the committee.
He immediately offered to replace the gold medal. “It would be a bronze replica but for practical purposes impossible to tell from the original,” he said.
Sohlman said the stolen medal could not easily be sold because it has an inscription unless the thieves decide to melt it down and redeem its gold content. “The sale would not make any sense because everyone would know it was his. The medal has its gold value, of course,” he said.
The medal in 18-carat gold weighs 200 gm. “It’s standard and has not changed since Tagore’s time,” he said.
“The loss of the citation is a tragic loss because it was individually made by an artist and impossible to replace,” he admitted. “It’s very, very sad that this should have happened.”
Although the Nobel committee has given out dozens of medals over the decades, Tagore means a lot to the organisation which still feels it was honoured when the prize went to the Indian poet.
The Nobel website records that in 1913 Tagore was given the prize for literature “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”.
Sohlman spoke nostalgically of the documentary film in the archives of the Nobel committee which was made in Santiniketan and shows Tagore with his pupils. The Tagore link, he said, had been maintained by another prize-winner, Amartya Sen, who had contributed an article on the poet to the organisation’s website.
London is the obvious place for a clandestine sale of the items but undercover it has to be because the reputable auction houses would not touch something so easily identifiable.
At the Tagore Centre here, Kalyan Kundu, the executive director, said: “Sometimes with art thefts, the stolen object has to remain hidden for a generation or two. The Nobel prize is very, very important for us. Although Tagore does not need a medal, this is a valuable thing for us. We must do everything to get it back.”
In his long presentation speech on December 10, 1913, Harald Hjärne, chairman of the Nobel committee, said: “The academy has found itself in the happy position of being able to accord this recognition to an author who, in conformity with the express wording of Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, had, during the current year, written the finest poems ‘of an idealistic tendency’.”
He added: “Tagore’s Gitanjali: Song Offerings (1912), a collection of religious poems, was the one of his works that especially arrested the attention of the selecting critics. Seldom indeed in the realm of imaginative literature are attained so great a range and diversity of note and of colour, capable of expressing with equal harmony and grace the emotions of every mood from the longing of the soul after eternity to the joyous merriment prompted by the innocent child at play.”