Saturday, 10 May, 2008

Robindrojayanti


Two days back I called home to be told that it was pochishe baishak (25th day of the first month of Bengali new year). Now if you are a bongling from a true blue bong family you are sure to have contributed, albeit off tune, to ‘he nuton dekha dik ar bar’ in a school or para (residential area’s) cultural function celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday.
Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate poet, writer, philosopher was the ambassador of Indian culture to the rest of the world. He is probably the most prominent figure in the cultural world of Indian subcontinent and the first Asian person to be awarded with the Nobel prize. Even though he is mainly known as a poet, his multifaceted talent showered upon different branches of art, such as, novels, short stories, dramas, articles, essays, painting etc. And his songs, popularly known as Rabindrasangeet, have an eternal appeal and is permanently placed in the heart of the Bengalis. He was a social reformer, patriot and above all, a great humanitarian and philosopher. India and Bangladesh - the national anthems of these two countries are taken from his composition. (http://www.calcuttaweb.com/tagore/)
Now celebration of Tagore’s birthday is as important to the Bongs as durga pujo, saraswati pujo and poila baishak (new year) etc.
Bengal ’s Kobi-Pokkho, literally meaning ‘the bard’s fortnight’, stretches well beyond a month. As is the practice, ‘Prabhat-phri’-s organised at various nerve centres of Kolkata mark the beginning of the annual celebration. The entire Rabindra Sangeet fraternity makes it a point to be present at these points with invocation songs on their lips. The reverence, devotion and fervour with which the event is treated is something to be experienced.
The best part is along with the high and the mighty every para, every school and every club has its own function. I remember doing some when I was a kid. Usually kids have summer vacation during this time so as it is there is a lot of time to kill. So when kids start planning a cultural do, elders are more than happy to get bored kids out of their way. In the area where I lived there were about 8 to 10 of us, of which 5 were more enthusiastic. These enthusiastic kids would start bugging the non-enthusiastic kids and after a lot of brainstorming we would land up with a plan and go visit a cultural minded parent. In most cases it would be my father. My father would then put on his spectacles, open the bookshelf and take out Tagore’s tomes and decide who is going to sing which song, tuneless ones would get a poem to recite. Ideally in a Rabindrojayanti (Tagore’s birthday celebration) there used to be an opening song like ‘he nuton’, then there would be some solos and duets with accompanying dances, poetry recitation in between and last but not the least there would be a skit or a short drama. Tagore has some fantastic dance dramas as well, but as kids we never ventured into all that.
Finally rehearsals would start and so would fights as to who would be doing what. Usually there would be one or two super talented kids who knew how to sing, recite, dance and act. So naturally they would try to take over and hog all the limelight which the ‘not-so-talented’ would staunchly oppose.
Two/three functions very clearly stand out in my memory.
Like once we had a function, which we timed for 53 minutes. Now one of our spectators had to go away on a tour. So the day before we all trouped to his house and performed the entire thing. The next day we performed before 30 odd people. Then someone was late so we dutifully performed again before that person. This is what you call ingenuity of seven/eight year olds.
Another time our entire function was timed for 45 minutes. So one of my uncles in order to encourage us decided that he would sponsor some food. He went out to buy some misthi (sweetmeats) and samosas (I don’t know the English of samosa). But it was our second function we were nervous like hell, so we skipped two stanzas from our group song, someone forgot the entire poetry, a dancer tripped and hurt her leg so dance cancelled and the programme time came down to 20 minutes. So by the time my uncle came back with food for thirty odd people there was just the participants left. Never worry we—the mighty sever year olds devoured the food meant for thirty people!
Last but not the least I must tell you the story of the goat. That year in rabindrojayanti we were performing a skit where we need a little goat. So there used to be this old woman living in the slum near our house. She used to have a couple of goats. She used to sell goat’s milk for her livelihood. We went and convinced her that she should lend us one of her kids for 2 hours or so. After lots of grumbling and suspicions she finally, very reluctantly relented. So we dragged an equally reluctant goat and tied him with a flimsy string near the stage, we tore some leaves from a near by tree to feed and amuse the goat and went to do our make-up. I remember I had the part of a guru and was just putting a very itchy beard on with glue that was literally burning my chin, when a harassed friend came rushing in. The goat was missing! Our make-up forgotten we all rushed out. Boy we were a sight to see—nine/ten-year-old kids half mustache drawn, half beard glued, some in saris, hair half done. We discovered that this smart goat had simply chewed the string with which we had tied him and fled. What a momentous discovery that was. Search for the missing goat started. We checked all probable places—under the cars, near by shops and houses, garbage dumps-- result no goat. A brave soul even went to the old woman, who started wailing when informed her goat was missing. It sure was a crisis I tell you. We were sitting gravelly with thumping hearts calculating the price of a goat when someone dragged back the goat. The goat had run away to a garbage dump little further from our houses and was happily eating plastic. Imagine goats preferring plastics to green leaves! Such an impure age we live in! Anyways the old woman came rushing and possessively took hold of her possession and refused to lend him any more. That was the end of the live goat. I remember we carried a black teddy soft toy to the stage and pretended that it was a goat with one of the talented ones making goat sounds from behind the stage. But the skit was a hit and we got lots of enthusiastic applauds at the end.
I hope kids even now have such fun doing rabindojayanti!

3 comments:

  1. this is what my friend who was part of our cultural do group has to say "Darun laglo................ U once again tickled my nostalgic old memories..................Aarekbar Rabindra Jayanti korle kemon hoy??????? "

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  2. Suchi....reading this created a picture in my mind and enabled me to see it in my mind's eye. How truly beautiful. I was telling Parag that maybe we should go and live in Calcutta for a while when the girls are growing up. Will help them get closer to their roots.

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  3. thanks muthu :)well i am sure each city has its own cultural versions to offer...these are just my memories...

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