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Mainstream, VOL L, No 15, March 31, 2012

Inside Free Bangladesh: Pilgrimage to Tagore’s Hermitage

Monday 2 April 2012, by Sumit Chakravartty

[The following article appeared forty years ago in Mainstream (January 15, 1972). It is being reproduced after forty years to mark the fortieth anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence on December 16, 1971 and the fortyfirst anniversary of Sheikh Mujib’s declaration of freedom struggle at Dacca’s Ramna Maidan on March 7, 1971 as well as the consequent West Pakistani military crackdawn on the East Pakistan people on March 26, 1971.]

When Sonar Bangla is played as the national anthem of Bangladesh, every Bengali heart, breaking all barriers of creed, politics and frontiers, feels proud that his mother tongue has got the recognition of the world.

This is one of the matchless gifts of the liberation of Bangladesh, whose seventyfive million had fought and many gave their lives twenty years ago to force the arrogant rulers of Pakistan to recognise Bengali as an official language. And it is in the fitness of things that the song, Sonar Bangla, has today become the national anthem of independent Bangladesh.

What is of greater significance is that the poet who gave India her national anthem, Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Jaya Hey, was also the author of the national anthem of Bangladesh. Rabindranath Tagore lives on every time the people of this country as also of their friendly neighbour, Bangladesh, sing and play their respective national anthems.

Rabindranath belongs as much to the people of Bangladesh as to the people of this country. It is to be recalled that the barbarians of the Pakistan Government had once banned the playing of Tagore songs from Dacca Radio. And one of the first signs of the new upsurge that gripped Bangladesh even when Yahya Khan was conspiring to organise the massacre behind the façade of negotiations with Bangabandhu in March last, was the resumption of Tagore songs in Dacca Radio.

It is, therefore, natural for any Bengali to undertake the pilgrimage to Silaidaha, quietly reposed on the banks of the Padma, in the very heart of the green and pleasant land that is Bangladesh. It was at Silaidaha that the poet wrote some of his memorable poems of which Sonar Tari (The Golden Boat) has become immortal. It was here, in the pastoral setting of rural Bengal, that Tagore found his communion with nature and inscribed his thoughts in some of the finest pieces of poetry left behind for posterity in his unforgettable work, Naibedya (The Offering).

I had gone to Kushtia, a district town, to see for myself how Bangladesh was faring after the vandalism of the Pakistan Army. After completing the reporters’s beat, I felt it would be unfor-givable if I returned without trekking the six-mile journey to Silaidaha. So, on December 29, after the mid-day meal, I started on the journey in the company of Serajul Islam Bachhu, the twenty-year-old Mukti Bahini fighter, returning home after the fight at Dacca.

It took us about half-an-hour to cross by boat the Garui river that almost encircles Kushtia town. One of the kisans in the ferry, when asked about the harvest, replied: “Never seen so much of flood before. Just as the Khans (the Pak soldiers) have shed blood in abundance, so has been the downpour from the sky.” Another elderly kisan lamented: “Hardly anything is left by way of foodstocks. Everything is as Allah wishes!”

From the other end, an old kisan, with his glasses tied by a string round the ears and his lungi tucked up to the knee, shouted: “Be grateful to Allah that all this has happened in such short shrift. In other lands, sons and grandsons have disappeared and still the Mukti-yuddha (the battle for freedom) goes on.”

On the other side of the river is Kayagram, the ancestral home of the revolutionary martyr, Jatindranath Mukherjee, the legendary Bagha Jatin (Tiger Jatin). From there on, we trudged along the rugged path and could see the evidence of the Mukti Bahini’s resistance to the Pak Army as they cut the road and blocked it at places.

On both sides can be seen wide open green fields extending up to the horizon, the skyline dotted with date trees, the coconut, the jackfruit and the guava trees. The fields have turned yellow with mustard in harvest. Occasionally, a tin-roofed hut. Covering the six miles, we reached the Kuthibari at Silaidaha.

The Kuthibari was the residence of a White indigo planter, from whom the poet’s grand-father, Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, had purchased it in the thirties of the last century. The house was left in charge of the manager of the Tagore zamindary until Rabindranath made it into his country house.

WHEN partition came and this part went into East Pakistan, the power of Bengali nationalism compelled the Pak Government to concede that this would be turned into a national monument and so it has been ever since. To the villagers around, it is still known as Thakurbari, the home of the Tagores, immortalised by Poet Rabindranath.

For about a furlong, the approach to the main building is shaded with the avenue of huge karua trees. Then one sees the pink-coloured three-storied mansion. And on top of it is fluttering the green, red and golden flag of free Bangladesh. On the east is a big mango grove and on the west is a huge tank, and near its ghat standing as sentinels are truly venerable bakul trees. By their side is a solitary casuarina, and a little apart, a simul tree. And in front is the well-kept flower garden.

When we entered the Kuthibari, the care-takers told us that the Pak soldiers had raided the place but did not damage it as they could not make out who the Tagores were. But when the entire area was strafed from the air by Pak Air Force planes, the kutchery of the Kuthibari was not spared.

As we neared the kutchery, I got my first glimpse of the majestic Padma, flowing in grace, with the other bank in view in the distance. Near the kutchery is the charitable dispensary named after the poet’s father, Maharshi Deben-dranath Tagore.

The librarian, Ghulam Mustafa, and the guide, Mohammed Ali, took us around the Kuthibari. They told us that the Pak raiders sometimes used to come here from Kushtia, but did no mischief until November 8. In the morning of that day, about 250 Pak soldiers surrounded the place, and their commander came inside and shouted: “Where are the Muktis?” When the caretakers replied that they had no information about the freedom fighters, the brute got into a rage, shouting: “Here the Muktis are moving about and you say you don’t know about them?”

Then he took them, five in all, and put them against the wall, and one of the soldiers was getting his gun ready, putting the bullets into its chambers, while the rest rushed inside, raiding the rooms. Just about this time, somebody from outside shouted that the Mukti Bahini had been spotted in the direction of the nearby Kharshedpur Bazar. And so the Pak soldiers rushed out, sparing the Kuthibari from becoming the scene of bloody killings.

On the ground floor is the library with books and papers belonging to the Tagore family. One could see volumes of the Calcutta Gazette from 1860 to 1908 along with the Government of India Gazette. At one end are placed the palanquins which the Tagores used when they visited the place. Behind the Kuthibari could be seen the broken motor launch which the poet used for his trips along the Padma. And on the roof-top room there stood his favourite nook, with his armchair still in its place.

From the roof could be seen a grand view of the Padma. At the far end, the sunset is about to descend and the birds are on the way back to their nests.

As we began the trek back from this pilgrimage, I could not help recollecting those lines from his Chhinna-Patra: (Torn Letters): “In late afternoon, the sun set in the coconut grove on the banks of the Padma. I was strolling by the riverside. In front of me, the shadows of the evening were lengthening in the distant mango grove and on my turning back, there stood the coconut trees with the sky turned golden. How wonderfully beautiful and all pervasive the world is cannot be felt in one’s life and in depth unless one comes here.”
(Mainstream, January 15, 1972)

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