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World’s greats on capital bookshelf

- Library to exhibit rare tome on Tagore to celebrate his 1913 Nobel centenary

Imagine a book with German-born scientist Albert Einstein, Indian physicist J.C. Bose, British philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell, German novelist Thomas Mann, American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson and others between the covers.

What’s more, the person who presented The Golden Book of Tagore; A homage to Rabindranath from India and the World to Ranchi’s Union Club and Library — with a hand-written letter, no less — was a genius long before the word became overused.

Poet, musician, novelist, educator, philosopher, painter, political thinker, social entrepreneur and above all, world citizen Rabindranath Tagore towered above many global stalwarts of his time.

The Golden Book is rare as only 1,500 copies were published when Tagore celebrated his 70th birthday in 1931. Few know that Union Club and Library, established in Ranchi in 1864, has this rare Tagore memorabilia.

The Ranchi club, then called The Public Library, has the book’s 531st copy with Tagore’s letter dated December 27, 1931, written in his distinctive hand.

Subir Lahiri, the club’s vice-president and cultural convener, told The Telegraph they were looking to celebrate the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel with a first-ever display of the book.

Tagore had won the Nobel Prize for literature for Gitanjali in 1913 — a landmark acknowledgement by the western world back then of a literary giant from India, a colonised country.

“We will exhibit the book briefly and only once to members and interested residents. It’s a precious possession commemorating the birthday of an Indian great by global greats. People’s sentiments are attached with Tagore and his creations. So the book and his letter will definitely attract attention,” Lahiri said, adding the book has pride of place in the library.

For years, Lahiri added, Ranchiites believed — falsely, as it turned out — that Tagore had come to visit his elder brother Jyotindranath at the latter’s hilly hermitage Tagore Hill.

“The very thought that Tagore had composed stories and poems atop the hill used to fill our hearts with joy. But a decade ago, Visva-Bharati published an article that revealed that though Tagore had wanted to visit his elder brother Jyotirindranath in Ranchi, he never could. Seeing his letter and book will gladden his admirers who may have possibly even felt betrayed over the fact that Tagore didn’t come to Ranchi,” Lahiri said, explaining why the book was priceless.

The club tribute to the Nobel win that started from Poila Baishakh, the Bengali new year, will culminate on November 14, the date the Nobel winner was announced 100 years ago.


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