The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Language of rivers & leaves
- International effort to celebrate friendship of poet and ecologist

East and West do sometimes meet, as Rabindranath Tagore and Patrick Geddes had, at the turn of the previous century. One a poet, author and dramatist; the other an educationist, ecologist and regional planner. Now, about 90 years after the two met during an exhibition at the Calcutta Town Hall, an international effort is on “to celebrate the friendship they shared” and “initiate programmes in India and Scotland to carry forward the ideals of two great men”. The occasion — the 150th birth anniversary of Sir Patrick Geddes.

“We had initially thought of only celebrating Patrick Geddes’ 150th year in 2004. But with the help of Basabi Fraser in Edinburgh and Arunendu Banerjee in Calcutta, both of whom are working on Tagore-Geddes independently, we understood that the realisation of Geddes is incomplete if we don’t focus on this friendship simultaneously,” says sculptor Kenny Munro, coordinator of the project. “So, alongside Edinburgh and Paris, where Geddes spent a lot of time, Santiniketan has also become an integral part of the project, called ‘The Language of Rivers and Leaves’,” adds Munro.

Why rivers and leaves' “Well, rivers had played important roles in the lives and works of both Tagore and Geddes. In fact, Geddes’ son Arthur did his Ph.D, ‘Bengal study on land; people and environment’, on 16 rivers of undivided Bengal under the unofficial guidance of Tagore. And leaves signify life,” explains Arunendu Banerjee, adding that when everyone here was engrossed in the controversy regarding the so-called “liberalisation of Tagore’s works from Visva-Bharati”, the international community was virtually reinventing Tagore and his works. “This effort is also a testimony to that,” adds the engineer-turned-Tagore researcher instrumental in portraying the poet as environmentalist.

“You will be amazed by the richness of letters written by the two great men to each other, through which they shared their opinions on a variety of issues, from rural reconstruction to biological science and its social form and application,” reveals Banerjee.

Basabi Fraser agrees. “I was attracted to the letters written between Tagore and Geddes simply because they give an important insight not only into their lives and works, but also on early 20th Century India in general. As a matter of fact, Geddes was also known to two other great Indians of that era, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose and Swami Vivekananda. He actually established an Indian college in Paris, where Tagore was president and Bose vice-president. The book on the letters between Tagore and Geddes penned by the poet and educationist teaching in Edinburgh has already proved popular.

The trio of Munro, Banerjee and Fraser recently presented an outline of the project at the Asiatic Society. “Currently, we are working with Scottish Art Council and lottery funds. We hope to get more money from these and other international sources. Finances permitting, we not only plan to have celebrations in Edinburgh, Calcutta and Santiniketan, but we also intend to take up some multi-disciplinary exchange projects, as both Tagore and Geddes were truly multi-dimensional personalities,” conclude the coordinators.

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