In short, what I wanted to say is that in Santiniketan, where the writer’s or the artist’s worth is supremely acknowledged, we spent our days in the pure pursuit of art. I have to make a point of this, for I see that literature, as it is professed in Bengal, is frequented by professors, journalists, traders, lawyers, bureaucrats, students, unemployed, and such other creatures; verily all but writers. (I have to say scientists and doctors have shown some sense so far, and it is not a little surprising that no one has yet proposed Dr. Bidhan Chandra Ray as the chief guest at any literary event.) The Bangiya Sahitya Parishad does not appear to try too hard to connect with modern Bengali literature. Hardly a couple of writers are present at any of the literary conferences organised at great cost several times a year, and most often their presence is only fortuitous. These gatherings are hardly literary, but rather opportune occasions for a section of the populace to make merry. Sometime ago, a literary society named PEN was established in Calcutta; very few of the people involved had anything to do with literature. Such examples abound. There are few places in this country where a writer can give full rein to his creativity, where he might find peace. In this respect, Santiniketan is beyond compare.
All in all, we found Santiniketan friendly territory, and we owe that to Rabindranath. As soon as one steps into the ‘the ashrama’s green gatherings’ surrounded by ‘a vista of mirages’, the extent of his influence becomes evident. Every person here carries in himself a bit of Rabindranath, the imprint of his character is pervasive---in the general air, culture, small courtesies, conversations. I am amazed when a small word here or a gesture there glistens with a tiny spark that is the poet; only the luminosity of his character could have made this possible. Here in Santiniketan, on the Viswabharati campus, the pursuit of knowledge, the practice of science literature art dance drama, has taken a stance against Macaulay’s false scholarship; the joyous intimacy of learning makes Santiniketan a gleaming cultural outpost within the dull dominion of stupidity. That this place was built by Rabindranath is not a mere historical curiosity, but always a matter of tangible import. The huge establishment functions silently, oiled by the efforts of talented personages in various departments; over everything hovers the genius of Rabindranath, germinating ideas, nurturing them, bringing them to fruition. Rabindranath, who himself is now sequestered, immobile. Imprisoned in a dark, cold room, his thoughtfulness pervades everywhere (even if a guest is inconvenienced in a trifling matter); though he himself is incapacitated, he continues to be the inspiration behind everyone’s work; he is invisible but he is all-pervasive. His zest for life, his tumultuous joy in living finds habitat in the budding minds of the children, the youngs’ enchantment for life, in dance, song, hospitality, in the season’s festivities; over everything hovers his silent presence. The ashrama is like the expansive courtyard of a house: his genius is breathed in with the very air of the place, with the wafting scents of flowers that greet you to Uttarayan. We adorn our homes with things we savour, so has he bedecked this abode, not with inanimate bric-a-bracs, but with human potential, with life’s infinite variety, trees plants flowers birds the azure of the sky, with a living idyll of learning amidst the unbearable ignorance and half-knowledge that this country is benighted with. Not just adornment, not even the mere forging of an engaging ambiance; like his literature his music and his art, this too is his creation, his offering to his country, to the future of the world.
The poet wrote, “I too had one day embraced work, tried to dispel the stricken condition of my countrymen. It may have been beyond my pale; I may have failed, or failed to do it well. What else would one expect---all my life has been spent in rhyming words; this is truly not a job for me. But I was pained, I could not stay silent.” The ashrama remains a testimony to this attempt. I shall not delve into the success of his ideals, or what has remained imcomplete where and why. I speak only of the compass of his endeavour, its multi-faceted nature. The ashrama had been founded on the ideals of strict celibacy characteristic of the Brahmacharyas; but the darkness of a tapoban of an insular ancient India soon gave way to the more palatable liberalism of modern humanity through Rabindranath’s vision. An immense school grew; unlike the British-style almshouses that doled out the art of passing examinations in the name of education, the aim here was to make learning a free, artless and earnest endeavour. This education was not to be confined to any gender religion or race; he called upon women, people came from all parts of the country; the two genders were brought together very effectively through communal functions festivities sports work picnics. Vishwabharati was established, a meeting point for all cultures of the globe. The poet might have stopped at the creation of this unique centre of learning and culture; but Rabindranath could not forget our destitution in food, clothing and health, our underdeveloped agriculture, pathetically weak industry. The hungry will not hear the call of learning; his bodily needs must be satiated before the human in him awakes. This brought on Sreeniketan, a suburban workshop for the necessities in life. Crowded buildings starkly lit with electricity, Sriniketan is suburban in appearance. Small but pretty, an island-congregate for various crafts. We heard that a small group has gone out to wrestle with the demon of illiteracy in the districts of Bengal. Here, there is farmland, loom workers, carpenters, potters, colourful leather work. The basic necessities of life are made beautiful through the exercise of refined taste. The woes of our huge stricken country are not to be so easily dispelled; for that one would need millions of Sriniketans. But remarkable is the extent of Rabindranath’s vision, the totality of his approach. He strived for a fullness of life, and he never forgot that life springs from the soil, from which crops grow, below which is imprisoned iron and coal. In his interpretation, freedom means self-sufficiency; liberty lies in freeing up the country’s resources—agricultural and industrial produce, commodities, trade, health, education. Sriniketan remains a picture of his putting into practice his philosophy that strength lay in self-sufficiency. In this arid land, the strife with nature is a bitter one, scarcity of water makes cultivation difficult, and production of milk and eggs has had to be abandoned. Once Kripalani mentioned that if this ashrama had been nearer to Calcutta, in the vicinity of the Ganga, it would have yielded gold. In this infertile parched land, the returns are very low. Rathibabu said, “Here we spend our days engaged in hard struggle; that is good, for there is no scope for slackness.” But undoubtedly if nature’s succour had aided this tenacity, the land would have filled up with wealth and beauty. And that apart, sheer aesthetics demand a river; a river in the proximity would have beautifully completed the picture.
In spite of nature’s hostility, this place is indeed a glowing and fulsome picture of our self-sufficiency. I have witnessed my country, my Swadesh, at Santiniketan and Sriniketan; its knowledge endeavour freedom culture. I know there is another India, that of the farmer who starves himself while he produces our food. Their numbers are in millions, they are hungry, they are diseased, they are illiterate; they are sunk in boundless senseless poverty. We hear of them, but never see. They were made visible to us by Gandhiji, through his life and his personality. He is our symbol for the invisible India. Glorified by the greatness of the Mahatma, wearing knee-length country dhotis and going underfed has become an ideal to many. But impoverishment is not glorious; destitution is our enemy; its banishment should be our life-long endeavour. We wait in hope for that resplendent dawn when this darkness will give way to light; man will rise in hope, strength and joy. When India will cease to mean the naked farmer, but a new joyous symbol that will forge its place in people’s minds. I do not know when that will happen, till then we come to Santiniketan to witness India’s wealth. This blithesome motherland is of Rabindranath’s creation, India has been resurrected through his poetry and through his life; he is the embodiment of the spirit of learning and wisdom of our Swadesh, our country freed.
 A forest where the student ascetics, with their techaers, lived, studied and strived, away from everyday life.
Illustration: Sahitya Sabha (Literary Meet), by Ramendranath Chakraborty; taken from Sudhiranjan Das's Amader Shantiniketan.
Published November, 2009
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