Sishir Rawat pays his respects to Tagore at Rabindra Bhavan on Thursday. (Suman Tamang)
Darjeeling, Aug. 8: Jodi tor daak shune keu na ashe, tobe ekla cholo re (If no one answers your call, then walk alone), Rabindranath Tagore had written.
Today, on his 72nd death anniversary, a lone caretaker garlanded the bard’s picture at Rabindra Bhavan in Mungpoo, a place 35km from Darjeeling where the poet had stayed four times between 1938 and 1940.
The Mungpoo Rabindra Bhavan has been the subject of a state government-GTA tussle since the hill autonomous council was formed.
The government’s information and culture department organises events at Rabindra Bhavan on Tagore’s birth and death anniversaries. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is in charge of the department, has an affinity for all matters Tagore.
But the cinchona plantation department, which is under the GTA, and the state labour department both claim to be responsible for the property.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders and state ministers in previous years flocked to Rabindra Bhavan to mark Tagore’s birth and death anniversaries.
Today, however, it was not the tussle, but the ongoing strike in the hills kept state officials away.
Caretaker Sishir Rawat, 50, was the only person to remember Tagore this morning.
Officials of the government cited the “situation in the hills” for the no-show.
Sishir, who also works as a labourer with the directorate of cinchona plantations and other medicinal plantations at Mungpoo, placed a photograph of Tagore on a chair at the entrance of Rabindra Bhavan and garlanded it.
Fifteen minutes later, the caretaker trudged to the cinchona plantation where he works.
“Every year, government officials come here to celebrate Tagore’s birth anniversary and mark his death anniversary. Today, no one turned up. But I decided to organise a small programme myself. It is unfortunate that there was nobody to remember Tagore today,” said the caretaker.
As a child, Sishir had heard tales about Tagore from his grandfather Bhimlal Rawat. “My grandfather used to carry Tagore on a palanquin from Geile railway station (to the house in Mungpoo). He was inspired by the great poet,” Sishir said.
Tagore visited Mungpoo several times because of his love of the peace of the place and his bond with poet and novelist Maitreyi Devi. A memoir of his stay was published by Maitreyi Devi in her book Mungpoote Rabindranath.
But over the years, the bungalow fell into disrepair.
Asked about the state government’s failure to mark Tagore’s death anniversary today, a source in the department said: “We have no officials posted at Rabindra Bhavan and under the present conditions, no one can travel to Mungpoo from Darjeeling and return. To organise an event, one needs to travel a number of times, which is virtually impossible.”
Traffic is sparse between Darjeeling town and Mungpoo because of the Morcha’s indefinite strike in the hills.
In the last two years, north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb had been present at Rabindra Bhavan, which also houses a museum of Tagore memorabilia.
Work is yet to start on the Rs 4-crore international research centre at Rabindra Bhavan that the government announced a few months ago.