A set of six rare and important letters written by Rabindranath Tagore to his nephew Abanindranath, which reveal little known facets, including the financial challenges once faced by Visva-Bharati, have surfaced.
These letters were published in the 1976-edition of Visva Bharati Patrika, only to have disappeared from public memory till the magazine was found from the author Ajeyo Ray’s Santiniketan residence recently. This treasure trove will be published in the forthcoming edition of the literary magazine ‘Bichitrapatra’ that is celebrating 150 years of Abanindranath and 50 years of Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pratidwandi’.
On February 3, Abanindranath’s 99-year-old grandson, Amitendranath Tagore, had told TOI these letters, dated between June 1913 and December 1938, were “important”. “I had never seen them,” said Amitendranath, one of India’s finest sinologists who passed away on February 7. Soumyakanti Dutta, who along with Souradip Bandopadhyay and Ayan Chatterjee are associated with ‘Bichitrapatra’, said these letters, a never-published-before bibliography of Abanindranath’s works by his grandsons and Lila Mazumdar’s English translation of Abanindranath’s lecture on Indian art titled ‘Bageshwari Shilpa-Probondhaboli’ are being published. “‘Bichitrapatra’, which has director Sandip Ray as its chief advisor, is also publishing unseen Satyajit Ray’s sketches on ‘Pratidwandi’ from his ‘kheror khata’ and the film’s script,” Dutta said.
One of the letters written in 1937 from Santiniketan has Tagore saying it is tough for him to pay Rs 40 as conveyance charges for his return journey from Kolkata along with his entourage. “Eta amar byaktigoto dabi, nishwo Viswa Bharatir torof thekeo dabi janiye rakhlum,” Tagore had written, demanding reimbursement from his nephew’s earnings by performing ‘palagaan’. According to linguist Pabitra Sarkar, it was “quite uncharacteristic of Tagore” to make such a demand. “He was hard-pressed for money then,” Sarkar added.
Amitendranath, who had shared with TOI his experiences of doing those ‘palagaan’, had added that other letters written to close associates during that period might reveal similar requests. “But he never went public about it,” Amitendranath had said.
Sarkar, who wrote the script for a documentary on Rabindranath’s art, is interested in knowing where the two busts of Tagore, mentioned in a letter from London, are kept. “Another letter provides information about the tension in the artistic community around Tagore. Yet, another letter mentions his idea about the direction the practitioners of the Indian Society of Oriental Art would take. Interestingly, Tagore never practiced this art form,” Sarkar said.