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Tagore's Affair with the Kumaon Hills

Tagore and I share an unknown bond. His writings and thoughts have always moved me and inspired me.

My 75th birthday was very special because of Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore. Read on to know how.

My first connect with Tagore was established when I read how he described the Taj Mahal: like "a teardrop on the face of eternity".

The second impression of Tagore on me was through an inscription he wrote that was found in Wilfred Owen's (Renowned English Poet) pocketbook when he passed away. The note read, "When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable."

Fondly referred to as ‘Robi Thakur’ and ‘Kobiguru’ he lives on in our hearts, through his rich legacy of work, which also includes his timeless songs – Rabindra Sangeet.

His songs are not only songs but a brilliant poetry in itself. Actually we can sit back and immerse ourselves in the fragrance of his words, thoughts and music. Rabindra sangeet (Bengali: রবীন্দ্রসঙ্গীত), is often how a beautiful song could tell you such a sad and melancholy story.

On my 75th birthday three years ago, my son gifted us a vacation in the hills. That was the starting point of my re-connect with Tagore.

Nearer to my birthday, I received an email from Ankur saying Papa, enjoy your birthday at your favourite hill stations. Love you, Ankur. Attached with the email was a hefty bank draft which would easily cover our cost of stay in a luxurious property. I was touched and overwhelmed. It is one of my most happy memory.

I chose Ramgarh in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Ramgarh is a less travelled and less talked about hill station as compared to its neighbour, Nainital, which is mostly overcrowded. My main point of interest in Ramgarh was the Writers Bungalow, a heritage property. I had read its history and knew that Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore had stayed in this property in 1914.

Because of my connection to Tagore, I had the privilege of staying in the same cottage on my 75th birthday.

Did you Know, that Rabindra Nath Tagore is the only Indian who received the Nobel Prize in literature . Gitanjali, a selection of his poems for which Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, was published in English in London in March 1913 and was reprinted ten times by the time the award was announced in November 1913. The enthusiasm and excitement that Tagore’s writings created in Europe and America in the early years of the 20th century were quite remarkable.

He also has the honour of composing the national anthem for two countries. Jana Gan Man for India and Amar Shonar Bangla for Bangladesh. Tagore was a multifaceted personality. He was a poet, a prolific writer, a music maestro, and also an actor.

l always remember Tagore with affection. And he deserves it really!

Tagore’s works, particularly his poems and songs are much like a flow of love and emotion. In the beginning there is mystery, in the end there is confirmation, but it’s in the middle where all the emotion resides to make the whole thing worthwhile.

Tagore visited Ramgarh in 1903. This visit was not a happy one as he was visiting as a grief-stricken father with his daughter, Renuka, all of 12 years, who had contracted tuberculosis and his son, Saminder Nath, 10 years. Doctors had advised fresh mountain air for his daughter.

Tagore chose a spot among the lonely pines for his retreat. This place is aptly called the Tagore top. Unfortunately, the place is in utter neglect. What remains of the house more than a century later are a few flat stones around a big old oak tree and the ruins of a depilated fireplace.

One wonders why the house has not been renovated to its original shape and declared national property. But there seems to be still some hope. It is learnt that Tagore top will be turned into a campus of Vishwa Bharti university, Shantiniketan.

Vishwa Bharati University was founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1921 as a college which was accorded the status of a central university in the year 1951. 'Vishwa Bharti' literally translates to 'the communion of the world with India. And you knowwhat,Tagore wrote parts of his Nobel prize winning master piece ,Gitanjali in Ramgarh itself.

Gurudev had significant and intense attachment to the Kumaon region. His love affair with the hills of Kumaon is well-known. He came back to these hills again and again.

How deeply Rabindranath Tagore was affected with the serene beauty and the quietude of this area is best summed up in the words of the poet himself, “The hills all around seem to me like an emerald vessel brimming over with peace and sunshine. The solitude is like a flower spreading its petal of beauty and keeping its honey of wisdom at the core or its heart.”

Tagore could never forget the peaceful ambience of the Kumaon Himalayas and kept returning to their echoing silence to experience tranquility which inspired him.

After his daughter passed away due to tuberculosis in 1903, Tagore kept returning to the house in 1914, 1927 and 1937 and declared to his relatives that the place was ‘special’ to him.

Ramgarh, situated at a height of around 5000 feet is a bird lovers paradise. Ramgarh is dotted with a number of orchards of apricots, peaches, plums, apples, and some other fruits. It was founded by the British and thus retains traces of colonial heritage. Ramgarh's pleasant weather has always attracted artists and thinkers.

Ramgarh is an ideal place to drink in the beauty of the Himalayas in solitude. Enjoy leisurely nature walks and maybe a hike up to Jhandidhar through oak pine and rhododendron forests for a 360° view of mountain peaks.

Tagore was not alone in drawing inspiration from the natural beauty of Ramgarh. Hindi writers, such as Ramdhari Singh Dhinkar, Mahadevi Verma and Vatasayan, also lived here. The house, where Mahadevi Verma lived is a library now.

That is why I celebrated my 75th birthday here. As you approach the cottage, there is a signboard indicating direction of Writers bungalow. As you climb a slight slope, you are face to face with the bungalow. From the verandah itself, the view of pine trees, lush green surroundings, mountains and chirping birds mesmerize you.

The cottage has two rooms. As you enter the first room, there is an impressive, quite high Bengali double bed. Room attendants say that the style of bed is the same as used during the times of Tagore hundred years ago. You have to climb into the bed using a small platform. You get a feeling as if Tagore is everywhere. Cottage is in serene surroundings amidst orchards.

As you sit in the verandah, right behind you are captivating quotes from Gitanjali and Stray birds.

Just imagine, what pleasure it is sitting here and relishing beautiful passages from Gitanjali .

Presenting one of my most favourite poems of Gurudev

Where the mind is without fear

and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depths of truth;

Where tireless striving

stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason

has not lost its way into the

dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward

by thee into ever widening

thought and action-

into that heaven of freedom,

my father, let my country awake.

- Rabindranath Tagore

Presenting a few quotes from Stray Birds;

1. Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”

2. “By plucking her petals you do not gather the beauty of the flower.”

3. “We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.”

4. “Let my thoughts come to you, when I am gone, like the afterglow of sunset at the margin of starry silence.”

5. “The stars are not afraid to appear like fireflies.”

6. “Power said to the world, "You are mine." The world kept it prisoner on her throne.

Love said to the world, "I am thine." The world gave it the freedom of her house.”

The pleasure of enjoying these classic works increases manifold as you walk upto Tagore Top and immerse yourself in beauty of nature and recite these poems.

Gurudev’s last holiday in Kumaon was in Almora, four years before his death in 1941. In the summer of 1937, Tagore spent a creative summer at Almora where he stayed at a bungalow which is now known as "Tagore House" or Tagore Bhavan, located in the cantonment area of Almora. It now houses the cantonment board office.

In May and June 1937, Tagore stayed here and wrote his poems "Sejuti", "Akaash Pradeep" and "Nobojaatok" besides his book on science "Bishwa Porichoy". He also made some sketches with local colours.

The day Gurudev came to Almora, the famous poet of Kumaon - Gaur Da - recited a poem at a huge public reception organized at the Ramsay Inter College. In the poem, Gaur Da said that two suns had arisen in the skies that day-one was the natural sun and the other Tagore.

Such was the persona of the great Renaissance figure, Rabindranath Tagore.

The influence of Tagore on the culture and literature of Kumaon can also be seen as a result of his several visits to the hill region and also due to the fact that some of the writers of those days visited or studied at Shantiniketan.

This trip was one of the most iconic trips for me. Tagore would have been 161 years old today. I wish I could have had an opportunity to meet him.

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