Rabindranath Tagore was a man of many talents. He was a Bangali poet, philosopher, visual artist, playwright, composer and novelist whose works reshaped Bangla literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Last Eid I had a chance to visit one of Tagore's dwellings; the home he had lived in for a part of his life and where he wrote many memorable poems--his Kuthibari. It is said that the sound of the magnificent Padma River could be heard at the Kuthibari, one of Tagore's favourites. I didn't know what to expect as we drove to Shilaidah in Kumarkhali Upazila of the Kushtia district. It takes only 25-30 minutes by car from Kushtia thanks to the building of the Syed-Rumi Bridge built parallel to the Harding Railway which was built during the pre-Independence times, by the British. This bridge really did facilitate our journey and it seemed like in no time at all we reached the green and yellow village of Shilaidah and zoomed through its narrow streets to arrive at Tagore's Kuthibari.
The first thing I noticed as my cousin (who acted as my unofficial guide) and I walked to the house was that in certain places the cream paint was peeling off, revealing glaring red paint beneath. Tagore's Kuthibari had originally been red and I think it must have looked better that way. My cousin explained to me how now they had made a larger boundary beyond the boundary that had existed during Tagore's time, enclosing a greater part of the property. As we paid the fees for the tickets to go inside (5 taka for Bangladeshis and 50 taka for foreigners), I couldn't contain my excitement at the prospect of walking through the same path that Tagore must have taken and seeing the rooms he lived in. A very nice old man offered to guide us around the house and his information was indeed useful. First, we looked through the first floor where there hung pictures of Tagore on the walls and many of his furniture on display, such as two wooden palkis that he used when visiting his land, his almirahs, a table and a few of his artworks.
Our old guide told us that Tagore would not go anywhere on foot and preferred to use his palki. Why should he have to go on foot? He was a rich landlord after all. I remember running my finger over some of the almirahs and table, feeling a sense of awe and wondering if he had placed his hand in the same way, on the same place as I had mine, more than half a century ago. My vivid imagination took hold and I imagined a middle-aged Tagore, as depicted in the pictures, riding in a palki while inspecting his land, his lanky frame curled inside and his long beard bouncing up and down. I examined the paintings that were hung and of course as I am not an art lover of any kind I didn't like all of them but I was predominantly impressed by one. In this particular painting, he had painted a man's head in which he had sketched a complete house, complete with different floors and everything. It must have taken a lot of work to draw something in so much detail. There were also two scripts hung, written by Tagore himself, one a poem in Bangla and the other a letter to Mahatma Gandhi. I read the letter with interest and although I do not remember the contents of it exactly, in it Tagore expressed his gratitude to Mahatma Gandhi for something and went on to say how it would contribute to a stronger India. There were also newspaper clippings from a Swedish newspaper about the Nobel Prize won in Literature, in 1913, by Tagore, the first Bangali to do so.
We headed on upstairs where our guide showed us the very spot where Tagore used to sit and write his poems and stories. Leading straight from this room is a huge, sunny veranda. On both sides of the veranda, parts of the barge in which he used to cross the Padma River are now kept. Known as 'Zamindar Babu', Tagore used to visit his vast estate in his luxurious barge on the Padma to collect token rents and give blessings to villagers. In return he had many feasts held in his honour. During these years, Tagore's Sadhana period (1891-1895; named for one of Tagore's magazines) was his most productive, with more than half the stories of the three-volume and 84-story Galpaguchchha written. With irony and emotional weight, they depicted a wide range of Bangali lifestyles, particularly village life. There were more pictures of Tagore here, with his young wife Mrinalini Devi, who was 10 years old at the time of their marriage and with his son Rathindranath Tagore. There were many pictures of Tagore with influential and illustrious personalities such as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and other Bangali writers of the time. There were also pictures of him from his lecturing circuits in Japan and China, proving that he was indeed a well-travelled man.
Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and other Bangali writers of the time. There were also pictures of him from his lecturing circuits in Japan and China, proving that he was indeed a well-travelled man.
I mused a long while in Tagore's bedroom by the window trying to imagine him doing the same at night by candle light, looking over at the river Padma and being inspired by the beauty and purity of the landscape around him. After our tour of the second floor, I thought our sightseeing was over as the roof was off limits to everyone, when my cousin leaned over and whispered conspiratorially that our guide would let us check out the roof. So we went up to the roof and it was a breathtaking sight. All I could see around me were rolling green fields and swaying coconut trees. There was also a beautiful flower garden all around the house, many of which were pink and red roses. And far off, I could catch a glimpse of the Padma River, which was much closer to Tagore's Kuthibari about 50 years ago.
Having explored the house, we set out to see and investigate the rest of the land around the house. A short walk away was a serene lake and at its banks was the famous bokul tree under which he used to write. The poem 'Dui bigha jomi' is an example of his work while sitting under this fragrant tree. There used to be two trees, one on each side but now sadly there only remains one. After resting a bit by the lake and feeling the cool breeze on our faces we decided to move on. I also checked out the kitchen, which was a separate one-storey house, reminiscent of the old days when the kitchen was a separate part of a home. It has now become a storeroom from what I could inside of it through a crack in the dusty closed windows.
We walked around a bit more, admiring the surrounding beauty of the small village of Shilaidah. As we walked to our car, I bought an ektara from the shops nearby to remember my visit here. But in truth I didn't need any memorabilia to remind of my visit to Rabindranath's Kuthibari. I had after all grown up listening to his songs and identified my culture to his Rabnidrosangeet. Being able to explore the house and possessions of a genius like Rabindranath Tagore, who has injected so much into Bangali culture, literature and art and left a permanent mark will always be an unforgettable experience for me.
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