House where Tagores lived lies in neglect

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By SOUMITRA DAS
  • Published 26.04.10
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The garden house on BT Road where Abanindranath Tagore spent the last days of his life and which Rabindranath had named Ghargharia as trains chugged past it, is in ruins today.

The large house near the Dunlop railway bridge originally belonged to one of the many branches of the family of Dr Dwarkanath Gooptu of Jorasanko and is still known as Gupta Nibas, although it has been in the possession of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) for a long time.

An artists’ group has demanded that the house be turned into an Abanindranath museum but in vain. The artists have inscribed their demand on the walls of Gupta Nibas, neglected and deserted.

When asked about the neglect, an ISI official sought more time to state the institution’s stand. Metro had written to the institute’s director but he hasn’t responded.

Before the walled building is a large pond adjacent to a field where local boys play. A kitchen garden outside the house is meant to be the agricultural and research unit of the ISI.

It is a double-storeyed building with wide louvred verandahs running along the south side on both floors. The first floor and terrace are held aloft by rows of six pillars on each floor. This is the closest that Gupta Nibas comes to the ancestral seat of the Tagores in Jorasanko with its famous “dakshiner baranda”, or southern verandah where Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath spent their time.

House No. 5 Dwarkanath Tagore Lane in Jorasanko was demolished in 1941, following Rabindranath’s death, when his nephew, Abanindranath, rented Gupta Nibas where his family sought refuge in the same year. Abanindranath’s wife, Suhasini, died there in 1942 and although he stopped painting, he started creating kutum katam with found objects here. Amitendranath Tagore, son of Abanindranath’s eldest son, Alokendra, says “the man who wrote pictures” had painted a fresco of Shiva’s family in the Himalayas on a wall of Gupta Nibas. The painting was later washed away during monsoon.

Abanindranath finished his last book, Khuddur Jatra, here and during his stay many distinguished visitors dropped by. The very next year he moved to Santiniketan as vice-chancellor where he stayed for four years and returned, thereafter, to Gupta Nibas. He lived here till his death in 1951 along with his sons and great grandchildren.

Prasanta Chandra Mahalnobis, who had established ISI, lived there for some time when Rabindranath stayed there as his guest. Mahalnobis had rented it in the 1930s.

Mitendra Gangopadhyay, son of statistician Mohanlal Gangopadhyay, who had written Dakshiner Baranda and was Abanindranath’s grandson, lived in Gupta Nibas as a child. Mohanlal started living there from 1947. Mitendra, an engineer who lives in retirement in Mukundapur off the EM Bypass, says the garden house was constructed on a sprawling plot, part of which is a housing colony named Tagore Park now. It had three ponds and the southern verandah was 50ft by 15ft.

They were allotted three rooms each 20ft by 20ft. The 32-bigha garden had many fruit trees and three lawns. Later this was divided in three sections. ISI had acquired 20 bighas and the Garden Reach Workshop, four bighas. It was a hideout of jackals, which some people used to hunt for their pelt and teeth. It was also a lair of venomous snakes. Mitendra says many years ago, hyenas used to haunt the surrounding areas. But that is another story.

Mohanlal lived there with his wife Milada, a Czech, son Mitendra and daughter Urmila. Artist-statistician B.R. Panesar says Mohanlal had recruited him and he used to visit Gupta Nibas often during his ISI days. A couple, Bhupendra Chandra Das, and his American wife, who had started the biometry section in ISI also lived there.

After Abanindranath’s death, his family continued to live there till their tenancy contract expired around 1958, when the government acquired it. But Mohanlal and his family continued to live there as he was employed with ISI and was allotted a flat in Gupta Nibas as his quarters. He died in 1969 and Mitendra says they left this garden house in Belghoria in 1972. Now the building has been abandoned and it is falling to pieces.