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TAGORE COPYRIGHT FREEDOM AT MIDNIGHT 

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FROM OUR BUREAU   |   Calcutta   |   Published 30.12.01, 12:00 AM

Calcutta, Dec. 30 :    Calcutta, Dec. 30:  As the clock strikes 12 on the last night of 2001, the most-zealously-guarded copyright in Indian literary history, monitoring the works of Rabindranath Tagore, will expire. And that's official. Visva-Bharati University will not enjoy 'sole authority' over Tagore's works from January 1, 2002. The copyright had expired 10 years ago under law, 50 years after the Nobel laureate's death in 1941, but was given a 10-year extension. In 1991, the then Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor had appealed to Prime Minister and chancellor P.V. Narasimha Rao for an extension of the copyright. In what one Tagore scholar remembers as 'an instance of personal friendship prevailing over political antagonism', it was chief minister Jyoti Basu who finally convinced Narasimha Rao to promulgate an Ordinance extending the copyright by 10 more years. That gives over at midnight. What happens after is that the Visva-Bharati music board, without whose endorsement no recorded music of Tagore could see the light of day, will cease to have reasons to exist. Any publisher or individual will be able to print Tagore's works. Several publishers are believed to be ready to hit the market, ending Visva-Bharati's monopoly. Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Sujit Basu, however, is 'hoping against hope' that the government will have a 'rethink' on the issue in the 'remaining few hours'. 'I haven't been officially informed about the copyright ending yet. But if it's true, then all of us at the university will be extremely disappointed. After all, the poet himself had wanted it to be like this and had gifted all his works to the university, which gave Visva-Bharati a special prestige and confidence.' Basu went on to add that if the copyright goes, the 'basic premise for the existence of Visva-Bharati won't be there'. Stressing the need for some kind of a 'regulatory body' on Tagore's works, he said: 'There might be repercussions in the long term. For instance, there won't be any reference point for our children or NRIs on Tagore in the future.' Basu had urged the human resources development ministry for a second extension. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Santiniketan recently, the vice-chancellor had raised the matter and requested the Prime Minister to look into the matter. Basu also took the initiative to have Tagore declared 'heritage poet', enabling the university to retain some control over the works. This proposal will be forwarded to Unesco, authorised to declare world heritage status. Basu doesn't agree that Visva-Bharati has been too straitjacketed in its handling of Tagore songs. 'Experimentation is always welcome, but the poet's original works shouldn't be abused. Now, who will control that?' Opponents of this line of argument have questioned the need for control itself. The Visva-Bharati music board's list of victims, as its detractors call singers affected by its diktats, is long and studded with leading exponents of Tagore songs. The gag on the late Debabrata Biswas, arguably the best male singer of Tagore songs, had generated a bitter controversy. Among popular artistes, Kishore Kumar got a taste of the music board's wrath when he sang Chhookar mere man ko in Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Yarana. Vice-chancellor Basu, however, says: 'Unfortunately, Visva-Bharati has often been misunderstood and our music board criticised needlessly. I feel a lot of people who have been clamouring for the rights to go simply want to teach us a lesson because they always think we don't do enough.' Mohan Singh, professor of Sangeet Bhavan at Visva-Bharati, expects those who sing Tagore songs not to distort them. 'I don't see any harm in Visva-Bharati not having the copyright.' Veteran singer Subinoy Roy said: 'We must wait and see how the audience reacts to the new recordings. They are very educated and have been used to a certain style of rendition of Tagore. It will be interesting to see how they react to new versions of Rabindrasangeet.' A Tagore scholar cited the example of Bangladesh where there is no restriction. 'Look at Dhaka. They have churned out more talented Rabindrasangeet singers than us in the past 10 years. And no trash (in terms of books) sells as Tagore.' Basu brushes aside complains that Visva-Bharati publications are of 'inferior quality'. In 60 years, it has published 31 editions of Rabindra Rachanabali, the last in 2000 and the 32nd edition is in the works. Sudhendu Mondal, in charge of Visva-Bharati's publication division, said: 'Visva-Bharati will continue to publish Tagore's works. If the copyright goes, we will be commercially hit, but our publications will remain authentic.' Private publishers, happy with the curtain coming down on copyright, foresee a flood of publications in the first half of 2002.    
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