Eye on England 07-10-2012

What about a movie on young Tagore? Akram’s Desh Migration man India returned Breaking news Tittle tattle

By AMIT ROY
  • Published 7.10.12
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What about a movie on young Tagore?

The Calcutta filmmaker, Mujibar Rahaman, who last week showed his documentary on Rabindranath Tagore at the Tagore Centre in London, will have further screenings in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Mujibar tells me that his 90-minute documentary, Images Unbound: The Life and Times of Rabindranath Tagore, has been well received in India but will be new to audiences in Britain.

Some people feel that since Satyajit Ray made a film on Tagore, another one is not necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. It should be possible to do a whole film just on Tagore’s first overseas trip.

Tagore was 18 at the time and spent a total of 483 days in England, according to Mujibar’s host in London, Kalyan Kundu, founder member of the Tagore Centre.

Tagore set sail from Bombay on the SS Poona on September 20, 1878, switched to a steamer, SS Mongolia, in Alexandria, took in an art exhibition in Paris, and finally reached London on October 10, 1878. He stayed in England until February 1880.

Mujibar, who touches briefly on this period, features a receipt for 8 pounds and 8 shillings from University College London in the faculty of arts and laws. Tagore, who dressed elegantly in frock coat, quit the course after only four months. But he enjoyed learning about Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and Religio Medici by Thomas Brown from Henry Morley, a favourite teacher. Tagore also acquired a taste for Western music.

The budding poet initially stayed in Hove, near Brighton, with the family of his elder brother, Satyendranath.

On June 12, 1879, he went to the Commons, heard a speech by John Bright and was impressed by the oratory of William Gladstone.

Young Tagore could be a remarkable film, the model being Bright Star, Jane Campion’s lovely film on the relationship between John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

What about the romance, I hear you ask.

Kundu reveals that in July 1879, Tagore “lodged as a paying guest in the house of Dr Scott at 10, Tavistock Square. The members of the household included Dr and Mrs Scott, their only son and two daughters. Tagore was very much at home in Scott’s family. An intimate friendship grew with one of the daughters of Dr Scott.”

Which handsome actor could play the lead role if a film were made on young Tagore?

Akram’s Desh

Dancer Akram Khan is back in London after his successful tour of Calcutta, Chennai and other cities in India.

The word he used to describe the audience in Calcutta was “arrogant” — meaning people knew their Kathak.

We were having a chat at the party after he had performed his solo work, Desh, based on what he had learnt about Bangladesh, his father’s homeland. Akram, 38, himself was born and brought up in London.

Akram had taken another of his works, Gnosis, to India. His team touring India included Farooq Chaudhry, producer of the Akram Khan Company.

In some cities, it is possible to manipulate the audience but not in Calcutta, said Farooq.

“Akram raised his game for Calcutta,” Farooq added.

Other guests at the after party included Freida Pinto and Dev Patel, who were due to fly back to America.

Freida is in a new film called The Dancer, in which Akram is doing the choreography.

“I have done so many other films but people still talk about Slumdog Millionaire,” Freida told me.

Migration man

In Salman Rushdie’s recently published memoirs, he describes how he found himself as a person and a writer once he realised who he really was.

Writing about himself in the third person, Rushdie says: “He was a migrant. He was one of those who had ended up in a place that was not the place where he began. Migration tore up all the traditional roots of the self... Of these four roots, place, community, culture and language, he had lost three.”

The language remained but other roots were lost when he migrated to England. “He was a Bombay boy who had made his life in London among the English, but often he felt cursed by a double unbelonging.”

India returned

Ok, if you are ready, here is this morning’s scholarship question: why do Indian writers continue to write about India long after they have left India and made a new home in another country?

Take, for example, Rohinton Mistry: born in Bombay in 1952, he emigrated to Canada in 1975 at the age of 23. This means he has lived in Canada for the last 37 years — or 62 per cent of his 60 years.

Why doesn’t he write about Canada?

“Well, I don’t know why,” admits actress Sudha Bhuchar, who has just returned home to London from Oklahoma where Mistry was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature worth $50,000.

Sudha suggests a plausible explanation: “Perhaps when Indians leave India, they take India with them in a suitcase.”

Sudha was invited to the award ceremony because she and Kristine Landon-Smith, artistic co-directors of the Tamasha Theatre Company in the UK, adapted Mistry’s 1995 novel, A Fine Balance, about the effect of the Emergency in India, into a stage play.

It could be that for Indian-origin writers there is more money in writing about exotic India for a largely foreign audience than there is perhaps in writing about the countries in which they have settled.

Breaking news

N. Ram, former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, last week delivered the James Cameron Memorial Lecture at the City University London.

The lecture was in memory of the legendary British foreign correspondent who died in 1973, aged 73. He had a soft spot for India, Nehru and, at least, one Indian woman (his widow, Moni, was in the audience). Early on as a journalist, Cameron decided that “facts must never get in the way of the truth”.

Ram’s theme was: “Sharing the best and the worst: The Indian news media in a global context.”

When Ram came into the theatre, he clutched a number of books in the manner of a college lecturer but he did not read from them.

Intrigued I asked him later what they were.

The books were Point of Departure (1967), An Indian Summer (1974) and The Best of Cameron (1981).

Point of Departure is to my mind the most beautifully written journalistic memoir.

Tittle tattle

The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who died last week, aged 95, was the target of an attack by journalist A.N. Wilson in The Daily Mail: “He hated Britain and excused Stalin’s genocide. But was the hero of the BBC and the Guardian, Eric Hobsbawm, a Traitor too?”

But two years ago, at a meeting of intellectuals in Cambridge where CPM general secretary Prakash Karat was present, Hobsbawm had a respectful audience.

I was sitting only a few feet from Hobsbawm. Although he was 93, he was wonderfully eloquent as he spoke, like everyone else, in praise of another Marxist historian, V.G. Kiernan (who had taught Karat in Edinburgh in 1968-70).

In 2010, Kiernan had died at the age of 95. Now, Hobsbawm is also gone at the same age.