From one thought to another
My mind slips
Like the insect who shifts
From one flower to another
Trying out new flavours, new fragrances –
My mind flits from one thought
One task, one poem, one book
To another, in some never-ending game
Of restlessness, unease and disillusion,
Looking for some kind of satiety
Some fulfilment, some happiness.
My mind waits to be held back
With one thought, one look, maybe
One love of gratuitous pain -
My mind rests from moving thought
To thought, in the happy resignation
Of paper to pen.
Silences lay pregnant
Expectant, between them
On that solitary bench
Where, much could have been said,
Much could have changed,
But there was a ‘nothing’ between them.
Moments that flowed like lines parallel
From each heart, each soul,
But moments that hung
Heavy with possibilities
Of somethings, happy or sad.
In that time and mood,
Were they only two
Separated from the rest, the sundry?
In those silences, each lived
For the other, even in non-acknowledgement,
In disdain or in pain.
There was prescient quietness where million
Words could have stood –
Silence lay pregnant between them
In that bench, on that day.
Anasuya Bhar explores the various lives given to a publication through the different edited versions, translations and films, using Tagore as a case study and the work done to provide these online .
Rabindranath’s first efforts at writing poetry, what he refers to as padya or rhymes, were made when he was merely a boy of seven or eight years. This is what he has to say about his maiden experience, the magic and the awe with which it surprised him –
“I had, until then, only witnessed rhymes in printed books. Without any scratches, mistakes, nor any signs of thought even – there seemed to be no sign of any of the earthy weaknesses either. I dared not imagine that these rhymes could be produced by one’s own efforts. … But when the skilful mixing of a few words gave rise to the rhythm of the ‘payar’, the magic of making rhymes remained no longer an illusion. “(My translation from Jibansmriti ‘The Poetry Beginnings’, VB, 27)
The above excerpt from Jibansmriti is significant in many ways. The memoir was written when Rabindranath was in his fiftieth year, in 1911. A careful study reveals that there are three manuscript versions to the text of Jibansmriti and the one available on print (and published by Visva Bharati), is the third and the latest version. Jibansmriti (My Reminiscences) is a piece of Rabindranath’s own life writing, along with two other pieces in book form: Chelebela (My Boyhood Days, 1940) and Atmaparichay (The Self Revealed, 1943).
Rabindranath was a reluctant biographer of himself. Perhaps his first conscious efforts at autobiography is to be found in an essay called Atmaparichay that was first published in 1904, wherein he had consistently defended his wishes to not fuss over his life. In fact, he had wanted to keep separate his jiban and brittanto, that is the biological nitty-gritty of his life and the descriptive and analytical of his creative life. He believed that a poet’s life inheres in his poetry; that there is no need to separately concern oneself about his life details. This was re-iterated in more than one places. Nevertheless, although Rabindranath was reluctant of a conscious autobiography, he has revealed much of himself in his letters, and other non-fiction and travel essays. He was a self-conscious writer with a great emphasis put towards self-expression as well as expression of the self. To know about him one needs to scour through these writings.
My intention in this essay, however, lies not in the history of Rabindranath’s life writing. I would, instead, like to dwell on those scratchings, mistakes and etchings of the poet’s mind that made Rabindranath ponder about the final version of any of his manuscripts. He was a relentless revisionist of his own writings. My interest lies in that branch of study, quite recent in academic scholarship, which tries to examine the various changes that each text suffers before being available for the final print. The changes might take place in the manuscript or during the correction of proofs. The successive texts, the manuscripts, the proofs, and finally the printed text all seem to have their own dynamics and seem to possess an autonomy and character of their own. This seems true of all texts of all writers and those of Rabindranath are no exception. Between the ideas and their writing, between the manuscript and the print, between the printed text and its translation into other language(s), a particular text seems to have many distinct lives. Until a short time ago, these fell within the purview of textual criticism and editorial scholarship of a text. Now, they may be considered under the rubric of ‘alternative readings of a single text’. Walter Benjamin (1892 – 1940), the German Jewish philosopher, talks about the ‘afterlife’ of a text in his essay ‘The Task of the Translator’ when it is translated, that is to say, a text assumes a different and separate life, with its own dynamics and dimensions when it is translated, from the original. The lives of a text then, multiply when multiple translations take place.
If one studies the three manuscripts of Jibansmriti, one notices three separate beginnings: the first two distinctly pointing to his life proper and his unwillingness to share details of it, while the third and the printed version has a more abstract vision of a painter-like selection of memorable incidents from his life. The text as it exists in Bangla now, begins in medias res, as it were, with the recollections of his early childhood, as becomes permissibly natural for the memory of a fifty-year-old person. What is interesting are the insights that time and aesthetic distance have provided. Editorial and textual scholarship of Jibansmriti as revealed in Rabindra Rachanabali (Volume 17, Visva Bharati), ‘Grantha parichay’ (introducing the text) cites the minute changes and differences in the three versions of the text. I enclose photographs of all the three versions of the text:
The different variations and all the manuscripts of not only ‘Jibansmriti’, but the entire Rabindranath Thakur corpus, including his plays, fiction, non-fiction, drama and poetry in English as well as in Bangla, are now available in the Online Tagore Variorum, Bichitra, which was inaugurated by the then President of India, (Late) Shri Pranab Mukhopadhyay, as a part of the Sesquicentenary (150 years) celebrations of Rabindranath Thakur’s birth, in the year 2011. The programme of the digital archives for Rabindranath was co-ordinated by Sukanta Chaudhuri, Professor Emeritus of English, Jadavpur University, and prepared by the School of Cultural Texts and Records, Jadavpur University. The digital archives bring together all the available versions of all his works and makes provision for their collation, thus allowing the researcher or anyone interested in the world-poet to look through the vast stretch and range of his works. Hence the aptness of its name ‘Bichitra’, meaning ‘various’. It is a unique venture of literary scholarship as well as of software engineering and has been put together by young members all below the age of 35, and academic degree holders mostly from Jadavpur University. It is a rare and pioneering achievement in the field of Digital Humanities in this part of the world.
Any given text may have three or four kinds of an ‘afterlife’. They may be interpretative or of the hermeneutic kind, for instance, those spelt by Rabindranath’s manuscript versions. Another may be achieved through translation, as mentioned earlier. The next may be when a text is being performed. The performance text, the play text, or even the screen play of any text, are effectively different texts in the new scheme of textual afterlives. Each of Rabindranath’s texts then, automatically have different autonomous afterlives as practically all of them have been translated and have several versions as well. Along with these familiar afterlives, the hypertext now, also adds a yet newer dimension. The study of afterlives of a text gains in an all-new dimension when a new text is created based on an older text, by retaining its title or its literary essence. For instance, Aparna Sen’s film Ghare Baire Aaj (2019), is not only an afterlife of Rabindranath’s text of the novel Ghare Baire (The Home and the World, 1916), but also one on Satyajit Ray’s 1984 film Ghare Baire. The study of the afterlives of a text is a never ending and rich treasure trove and affords endless intellectual curiosity and study. The English Gitanjali (1912), too, is a unique example of a text with many afterlives, even after a hundred years of its literary history. I have written about its complicated trajectory, elsewhere.*
Sukanta Chaudhuri’s book The Metaphysics of Text (Cambridge University Press, 2010) provides significant and perhaps, pioneering insights on this newest aspect of textual scholarship. Among other aspects of a text, Chaudhuri dedicates one whole chapter on Rabindranath’s ‘katakuti’ (pen scratches and crossings) which invariably were shaped into diagrammatical forms, which Chaudhuri identifies by the name of ‘doodles’. The printed texts do not showcase these pictorial designs or doodles.
The visual aspect of these manuscript pages afford yet another dimension to the working of the poet’s mind while he was working on a poem or a song. They are creative outputs of a different kind, which remain hidden from the printed version of the text, thus disallowing the reader the privilege to dwell with the thoughts of the poet, his seemly and unseemly corrections, as it were. The digital archive Bichitra make all these easily available to us. Understanding, teaching and enjoying Rabindranath’s works become a more gratuitous experience for all of us. If translation is one way of making Rabindranath easily available to most corners of the world, this is yet another move to make his works and all his manuscripts available in every home of all corners of the world. A hundred and sixty years have passed and the magic of Rabindranath or his works remain undiminished and ever contemporary.
*Bhar, Anasuya. ‘The Many Lives of Gitanjali’ in Evolving Horizons, Volume 5, November 2016, pp. 20-27, ISSN 2319-6521
Dr. Anasuya Bhar is Associate Professor of English and Dean of Postgraduate Studies, at St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College Kolkata, India. She has many publications, both academic and creative, to her credit.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.
An unknown and unspecific joy – that is the tenor of Durga Pujo for me. A Kolkata bound urban inhabitant most of my life, this nameless ‘happiness’ need not always reside in something spectacular or great, but lies in the fulfilment of small wishes and family togetherness. Nature, usually wears a happy look with abundant sunshine, blue azure skies and fluffy candy-floss white clouds. Drizzles do punctuate, but they come with a naughty wish to play with the gaiety of the human moods, occasionally washing the dirt and the sweat away to offer more freshness, like the morning shewli* flowers do.
Pujo is the time for all things new — new dresses, new saris, new music, new poetry, new novels, festival numbers, and new movies. In fact, it is yet another calendar, in our hearts, to usher in the new and the blessed, with the spirit of Ma Durga – durgatinashini – the slayer of all evil, the bringer of goodness and peace. Pujo* also ushers in a season of giving and gifting, frenzied buying and mindless spending over not only clothes and accessories, but also on home decor and other amenities or even luxuries of life. The air and the times are considered to be auspicious – nothing can put a blemish on whatever one does. And of course, there is an unmistakable note of the ‘carnivalesque’ about it all – do whatever you wish, for these four days, all in the name of fun and revelry, there is no stopping you! These are also times of parental license, adolescents’ delights and the old timer’s reunion. These are times for which one waits for the whole year round, to replenish and refurbish the batteries that have not only exhausted themselves, but which have actually almost deadened themselves! It marks the spirit of life. And, as if to reiterate the mood, the darkest corner and even the narrowest of alleys of our Kolkata are lit, wearing smiles never seen before; the happiness is proclaimed loud in the dhaak* beats and the shonkho* sounds and the ululation during arati* and pujo. Rituals there are, but beyond the rituals, there is the celebration for our Uma’s homecoming with her kids, all dressed up to meet their fellow earthlings. It is this joy and homeliness, which has endeared Durga Pujo to all and the sundry, beyond faith and regional narrowness – it is perhaps the only Indian festival which is celebrated not only beyond Bengal, but in almost all other countries, abroad.
Pujo now, has perhaps, become a little more commercialised than what it was when we were children. There is a huge roll of money and a huge display of public spectacle now, more in the spirit of the ‘carnivalesque’, than what it was when we were children. Sometimes, there is a lack of that familiar intimacy, which marked community or sarbojoninpujo during my childhood. Perhaps our jet-set lifestyle where we think more about our work and our deadlines rather than ourselves, our homes or even our families, is partly responsible for this. We have, undoubtedly, become more mechanical, when we choose to say that we are too busy to ‘stand and stare’.
There is one particular Durga Pujo event, which I would like to share with you – an event which happened long ago, but which has stayed with me in the corner of my mind. When I was, maybe, twelve or thirteen years old, we had ‘enacted’ Sukumar Ray’s ‘Gandha Bichaar’ – ‘The Perfume Crisis’ – as a part of the Cultural Programme for our community or para’s puja ‘Lake Sarbojonin Durgotsav’ in Lake Terrace of the Deshapriya Park area in south Kolkata. The concept of the para, Bengali for community / locality is, sadly enough, gradually disappearing. It usually means a community that feels together, enjoys together and even weeps together. It is a little short of an extended family. Now, we are a little distanced from our own family members as well!
So, there was a certain Chandana di* at our para who showed a lot of zeal in collecting the children and organizing a ‘show’ for the year’s Pujo cultural programme. The venue would be a not-so-formal stage erected for the purpose near the Puja pandal. The piece, a selection from Sukumar Ray’s Aabol Taabol* is a great favourite among children, and this one had many characters, which could accommodate most of us. As is already known, ‘Gandha Bichaar’ is to do with identifying a certain mysterious smell which troubles the nostrils of a fussy king. He calls upon all his important men, who slight him in some pretext or the other, until the show is stolen by an old nonagenarian, who comes forward, to identify the smell, with the fearless of death.
Ray’s poem did not have any female characters, and most of the children in the group were girls, excepting one solitary boy – Jishu Sengupta, the now celebrated icon of Bangla cinema – who was the natural choice for the King. Hence, the added confusion of dressing us all up as men. I, being the eldest in the group, was given the part of the nonagenarian! The only advantage I had was my short hair: the one aspect which did not need to be redone in the disguise as a man.
We were a bunch of busy kids that season! Chandana di arranged for umpteen number of rehearsals in her flat. Many were absent, giving her a headache as to how the show could be pulled off finally. Anyway, on the final day, we did pull through, even with all our faults! We had selected a garage space near the pandal as our ‘green room’. We jostled for space trying to look our best as the king’s men. For me, it was the worst, as someone had the wonderful idea that I should give a guitar recital on that very evening and before the play! Hence, I had to quickly graduate from being my own self to a nonagenarian. This put so much needless stress on my nerves! Our costumes were home-grown ones, selected and approved by Chandana di, our mentor, director and producer.
The performance went by in a whiz! There was someone prompting from behind the arras and there were mikes hung from the impromptu roof of the erected stage. And mistakes were amplified in proportions that perhaps outwitted Sukumar Ray himself! There were instances of complete pauses when the little ones forgot their lines and could make nothing of the prompter. There were instances of moustaches coming off, and spontaneous sneezes at being tickled by the wheezier ones! There were also instances of dhotis* trailing off or tripping others! And the little King sat and gazed with all the dignity of the state!
Our performance was, however, lauded and applauded by most of the para. I remember my mother taking a lot of photographs on her Canon camera, and then making multiple copies of them so that everyone could have a memory of the enactment. (Sadly, I could not locate those photographs.) We spoke of that performance and shared the fun for many more autumns to come. Now most of the players are all women, and yours truly is greying forwards. I have no news of Chandana di, for a long time now. In yet another autumn, one truer to my own life, and during yet another Pujo, I sit here reminiscing this one spring performance of my life, being closeted indoors by yet another theatre – the grimmer one of Covid! Nevertheless, the spirit lives on, as yet another Pujo slowly veers towards closure, we wait for the next one, and for many more to come.
*Shewli — Jasmine
*dhaak — drum
*shonkho — conch shell
*arati — worship with incense
*Pujo — prayer, in this case refers to the festival of Durga Pujo
Dr. Anasuya Bhar is Associate Professor of English and the Dean of Postgraduate Studies in St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College Kolkata. Dr. Bhar is the sole Editor of the literary Journal Symposium (ISSN 2320-1452)http://www.spcmc.ac.in/departmental-magazine/symposium/, published by her Department. She has various academic publications to her credit. She is also keen on travel writing and poetry writing. She has her own blog https://anascornernet.wordpress.com/.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.