Rabindranath Tagore is no stranger to the British. It was, after all, in the UK that his Gitanjali (translated into English) first gained prominence outside India, before catapulting the polymath to a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. While Tagore’s oeuvre across literature, arts and music is increasingly celebrated in the UK, especially among the Indian diaspora, Kabiguru’s relationship with his son, Rathindranath Tagore, remains underexplored.
On May 26, Bengal Heritage Foundation (BHF), a charity set up by a group of Bengali families in London in 2009, shed light on the filial bond between Rabindranath and Rathindranath, based on a script prepared by recitation artiste Chaitali Dasgupta, best known as Kolkata Doordarshan’s pioneering announcer, and performed by interdisciplinary artist Sujoy Prasad Chatterjee. The event, titled Rabi o Rathi, took place in front of a packed audience at London’s Nehru Centre.
“Tagore is a friend and guide beyond time and space, and Rabi o Rathi is about presenting his interpretations of the multi-faceted nature of love,” described BHF in the lead-up to the event. Accompanied by banker and BHF member Tanusree Guha as well as several BHF singers on stage, Chatterjee delivered a virtuoso display of his artistic range, highlighting the often overlooked aspects of Tagore.
“I had an amazing experience. Despite the narrative being in Bengali, members of the non-Bengali diaspora were jostling for a seat. Everyone appreciated the storytelling and the songs, and above all, learning more about Rathindranath Tagore, whose life is rather unsung,” said Chatterjee, whose finest compliment for the night came from a British lady who was so moved by his voice modulation that she felt “choked by emotions”. “At 45, I don’t care about awards anymore. It’s rewards like these that keep me motivated,” added Chatterjee.
Apart from Chatterjee’s performance, there was a separate dance drama arranged for the evening. Tomarei koriyachhi jibonero dhrubotara, a mellifluous Rabindrasangeet, was packaged into a theatrical representation of the meaning, value and predicaments of love, staged by BHF members. Speaking about the significance of the event, Suranjan Som, president of BHF, noted: “Most of us have grown up in an environment where Rabindranath Tagore has been celebrated. Now, we want children growing up in the UK to also have the same advantage of knowing and learning Tagore.”