I went to St. Thomas’ School, where dance and music were such an important, unwritten part of the curriculum that I wonder how we studied at all! So ingrained it is on my psyche that a few months ago when I was invited as chief guest of the annual day celebrations, I was able to happily join the students as they sang a Rabindranath Tagore song.
The present principal was so surprised that she asked me if I had learnt music. No, I told her, I remembered it from school. The last week was full of conversations around Gurudev and I was also part of the panel of the Aseem Asha Foundation 7th Tagore Utsav in partnership with Jamia Millia Islamia and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. An eclectic array of speakers included danseuse Sonal Manshingh, writer on cinema Aruna Vasudev, musician Wasiffudin Dagar, artist Arpana Caur, curator Roobina Karode, journalist Rana Siddiqi to speak about Tagore’s fabulous poem Chitto Jetha Bhoyshunno popularly recognised by its English translation, Where the mind is without fear. The poem originally published in 1910, is highly relevant even a century later. The theme of this year’s Tagore Utsav was the opening line of the poem.
Where the mind is without fear…Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls. Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Thankfully we in India are able to express ourselves freely in the arts, no matter how artists of a certain political ideology bleat saying they are not. It has been my personal experience that the problems start when artists start treading on toes that are not theirs.
It is a very logical thing that your freedom ends where mine begins. My heart goes out artists in nations where this is not the case and how their civilizational reference points are skewered.
Arpana Caur recounted how after M F Husain’s demise she had dug a symbolic grave in the Mandi House area for a week and kept flowers for people to pay homage to the artist. To my mind this is one of the greatest validations of the fact that artists are indeed free in our country. I wonder which country would have allowed such a thing to happen to an artist who was in self-imposed exile after a plethora of court cases were pending against him.
The best part about the very thoughtfully curated Tagore Utsav was that it was held in the Kiran Nadar Museum and I feel these initiatives go a long way in creating meaningful partnerships and getting people to museums. Art was an important part of Tagore’s life, thus the Utsav began with children’s art competition and exhibition titled Art by Children in the M.F. Husain Gallery of art. Nearly 250 Children from more than 10 schools of Okhla participated in the competition painting their interpretations of the message of Tagore.
Sonal Mansingh stressed on the importance of knowing and learning Tagore. Talking about the atmosphere of the Utsav, she remarked, “I am overwhelmed by the positive energy and clean vibrations emanating from all who were present which happens rarely.” Aruna Vasudev was also very moved by the short films shown as a part of the 29th Uddan Community film festival. She said, “It was a humbling moment to see the short films scripted, acted, spoken and produced by the children/ young girls and boys from Aseem Asha & Apne Aap Women Worldwide.”
But for me the absolute high point of the festival was a riveting talk by noted writer Smt. Aruna Chakravarti, (who won the Sarat Purashkar and the Sahitya Academic Award) whose brilliant analysis of the influence that women in Tagore’s life had on him held me enthral. The three women: Gyanodanondinee Debi, Kadambari and Mrinalani Devi, were the pillars of Tagore’s life and a huge reason behind success was the basic premise of Aruna Chakravarati’s contention which she has put forth in her two books on the same subject.
Poet Indira Verma spoke about her book Romancing Tagore. She talked about the process of translating Tagore’s works in Urdu as authentically as possible. She enthralled the audience by reciting her beautiful poetry. She was in conversation with a young college student and Haiku poet Iqra Raza.
This year’s Tagore Veteran Artist Award was given to Sanjoy Sarkar earlier of Dakhenee Kolkata and presently of Uttarayan Delhi, for his contribution to Tagore's song and Music and Art. He and his senior students rendered an impromptu song of Tagore. It was indeed a treat – perfect diction, perfect sonority and conviction. Tagore Young Artist Award was presented to Smt. Uma Das of Apne Aap Worldwide. Uma is a youth leader and entrepreneur working towards empowering women and girls trapped in prostitution. She spoke with pain that comes from first-hand experience. The Utsav concluded on a high note with a Kathak demonstration by exponent Astha Dixit.
Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org...