The Land Where I Found It All

Buddhadeva Bose

Translated from the original Bangla by

Nandini Gupta

Chapter 14: Return

[Chapter 13: Sweet this earthly dust]

Even after having spoken at great length about Rabindranath, much remains unsaid. Some of what I have said is personal, some inconsequential. No matter. It has been my great fortune to have been born in the land of Rabindranath, to have been his contemporary even though so much younger. We were not witness to his youth, he was in his prime by the time we were born— but we have been told of those days by those older to us. In our country we have no tradition of writing autobiographies or memoirs. Luckily, Rabindranath’s childhood and youth remains transcribed in some of his own books. These books will be read and pondered over, and minutely scrutinized for bits and pieces of his life and times, to painstakingly build an image of him for the Bengalis of the future. But for now, we can go to him and stand in front of him, yes, even now. This is indeed our great fortune. For, a taste of his greatness can be intoxicating. He is great, certainly without an equal in today’s world, and also very few in history. The first time in his presence, a kind of hypnotic spell numbs the mind. The recollection of all that he has written, all that he has done, is breath-stopping. We are veritably overwhelmed! In him, who else, is the manifestation of man’s greatness supreme! A little we have seen of him, a little we have received from him; that joy created this book.

He was ill the day we went to say goodbye. It was a sight we had never thought to see. Stepping into his room from the glare of the late afternoon, we were shocked. It was dark inside, a table-lamp shone in a corner. He lay prostrate on a large easy chair propped up by many pillows. The doctor was in the room, so was Sudhakantobabu. When we went in, he opened his eyes briefly, said a few words in a weak voice, his right hand rose a little over our heads and stopped. An inexpressible blow struck my heart, my throat constricted, I was bewildered, I could not bear to look at him. I breathed freely only when I came out. My immortal poet is ever the companion of the bright light without, imprisoned in the closed room is but fragile earthenware.

* * * * *

On the return journey, I kept remembering the poet’s sick-bed in that dark room. We had earlier seen the poet immortal, before we came away we saw before us an age-ravaged creature. What endless life lies imprisoned today in the merciless cage of the body. What an unbearable contrast is this old age to the poet’s eternal youth. My mind remained stunned the whole way--I did not know what to think. Reaching Howrah after dark, we found that blackout had been clamped. The entire station was bathed in a dim blue glow reminiscent of a cinema house. For us it was quite a novelty, and we did not mind. We flitted like shadows in a shadow land; even the noise appeared to have been muted with the paling of the light. When we reached home, we found the lamps in the rooms shaded too. Gradually, a lightlessness descended over the entire city; amazed, we saw Calcutta swathed in the deep darkness of a monsoon night. We came back, and the rains arrived.

For a few days, our minds remained unsettled. As the mind slipped into unconsciousness after we went to bed, we went back to Santiniketan, Calcutta was wiped out. I started out of my sleep at the clanging of the trams, fearing that the mosquito net was being carried out by the gales of wind at Ratan Kuthi. The music that has touched my mind is unending; in my mind’s eye I see the rain-drenched fields, the greenery stretching to the horizon. The rains arrived, but only after we left Santiniketan.

In the middle of this, one day a letter arrived from the poet bringing with it a waft of Santiniketan and the newly arrived monsoon there. He wrote:


     You have gathered basket-loads of prattling from the ashram before you left. I hope it is not all rubbish. Excessive prattle speaks of the enormity of joy, which is not a bad thing. For a few days, you were happy here. Happiness is beautiful like the blooming of a flower, it entices and captivates the people around you. So we too remain grateful to you for the pleasure of a few days of witnessing your happiness. My health had deteriorated considerably before you left, I have been better these last couple of days. Your absence has been filled by Sudhakanto: he never wants for words, they flow from him like a stream and washes the days clean. When words dry up, the mind begins to be soiled; this possibility is precluded by Sudhakanto’s bubbling chatter. Remember, this is an essential requirement for the sick room. Life becomes intolerable in the absence of meaningless trivia. Be it the war or the battle-fields of civilized society, Sudhakanto’s ability to carry news from the front is unparalleled. That is the main news from here. I trust your nest is filled with chirping. Dark clouds in the sky have covered my leisure with a filigree of rain; on such a day the mind craves a stream of words that makes a sentence but not an argument, no bickering over good or bad. The lazy moments crumble on my dish like hot crispy rice flakes, in a moment becoming soft and soggy.

The peacock in the garden calls every now and then to let it be known that he is happy.


Your wellwisher

Only a peacock can let his happiness be known through noises, for us it becomes necessary to write an entire book. But this I must say, thus the rest of the holidays turned enjoyable. Ultimately, we actually quite enjoyed the monsoon in Calcutta. We were fortunate to have among us Shailajaranjanbabu from Santiniketan, who is now the repository of Rabindranath’s songs. He unstintedly rained songs and filled up our days and nights with the scent of Rabindranaths’s creations. We left Santinketan but its breeze remained with us, the monsoon days filled up with Rabindranath’s songs. With clouds and rain, with songs and stories, and with the joy of writing this book, the remaining holidays filled up with infinite sweetness. The vacation is nearing an end, so is the book, it is time now to bid paradise goodbye.

June, 1941.

[1] Standard bengali greeting when writing to a younger person, literally translating as ‘to one whom I wish well’.

(The End)

Illustration: Grishmabokash: Santiniketan (Summer recess: Santiniketan), by Ramendranath Chakraborty; taken from Sudhiranjan Das's Amader Shantiniketan.

Published in Parabaas, January 2011.

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©Parabaas, 2011