By Bidita Sen
Perhaps it is not wrong to infer that Rabindranath Tagore, in spite of his worldly fame and other-worldly quality and esteem, could never quite emerge as a household name outside Bengal. His body of work never lived up to expectations of its literary glory in translations.
In Bengal, Tagore is more than a personality. It is a concept, a phenomenon and phase of the community’s literary history and tradition. Festivals are planned round the year here in remembrance of his work and persona.
But his repute fades into forgetfulness as one traverses the boundaries of Bengal, for reasons as obvious as a sharp decline in the readership rate. Besides, very few events of international status have been organised beyond Bengal to keep the works of this polymath alive in the minds of people.
In a first, this year the bard of the east will be celebrated in Bhopal. The idea is to celebrate Tagore and his poetry, painting and theatre, which are not so popular in the Hindi-speaking belts, while promoting Hindi literature and works in other Indian languages. Christened Tagore International Festival of Arts and Culture and also ‘Vishwa Rang’, the four-day cultural gala, starting November 7, will see the convergence of over 500 artists and authors from over 30 nations.
Celebrated authors include Jnanpith and Sahitya Akademi awardee Raghuveer Chaudhari, Padma Shri winner Surjit Patar, and Vyas Samman awardees Chitra Mudgal and Vishwanath Tripathi. Renowned actor Ashutosh Rana, poet and lyricist Irshad Kamil and singer Raghu Dixit will also be present. Three days of Tagore retrospective will be followed by four days of world literature spread over 50 sessions.
The event will be organised by the Tagore International Center for Arts and Culture, housed under Bhopal-based Rabindranath Tagore University. The World Poetry Festival, International Mushaira, discourse on Gandhi will amplify its cultural quotient.
Santosh Kumar Choubey, director of the event and chancellor of Rabindranath Tagore University (Bhopal), prefers to classify the festival into four major components: inclusion of people, Indian languages, Indian tradition as well as Hindi and the world. “First, this festival has kept Hindi and other Indian languages as its central point of discussion. Secondly, it has involved people at large through Pustak Yatras, held recently as a precursor to the upcoming festival and connecting around 55 towns in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Thirdly, Vishwa Rang has been planned taking into account the various dialects of India.” The organisers have sent invitations to universities of different countries where Hindi is being taught. “As many as 66 universities in countries like Russia, Denmark, Australia, and Japan are teaching Hindi. Representatives from 15 of them are coming to the festival,” says Choubey. Literature will eventually be drawn to the direction the world has taken in terms of sustainable development, or so observes the director. “It is only through arts and literature that we can raise the consciousness of people. We are also focusing on youth creativity. This will be a global platform for a whole new generation of Hindi writers who are writing poems and short stories and are very active on the social media. Also, 10 writers from the third generation will represent their work.”
Choubey is unsparing in his criticism of Kolkata for its hostile political atmosphere that, “has not been conducive to attracting global cultural talent to the city and is not letting the cultural heritage of West Bengal shine”. He clearly refutes claims of the city lacking infrastructure. “There are a lot of galleries and cultural halls. Public also has an orientation towards various art forms. Unfortunately, the political will and bureaucratic issues hamper the hosting of big events.” He feels public and cultural organisations should take up the onus of bringing back Kolkata’s cultural heritage rather than depending on the government solely to take the requisite action. Despite being one of India’s oldest book fairs, the Kolkata Book Fair has not been able to diversify into a cultural meet, rues the director. “West Bengal hasn’t been able to become a popular tourist destination. Since tourism and cultural events go hand in hand, if Kolkata becomes a tourism hub, it can also attract global cultural talent,” he adds.
Against his Kolkata dismay, Choubey is enthusiastic about alternative cultural hubs in Bhopal, Delhi, Lucknow and Jaipur. “Bhopal’s Bharat Bhavan has become a focus of a lot of international events. The very first World Poetry Festival was organised at the Bharat Bhavan,” he says.