In Europe and the Hugli : The European Settlements on the West Bank of the River (2014) Suranjan Das and Basudeb Chattopadhyay pertinently observe that the “serene and picturesque riverfronts of Chandernagore and to a lesser extent Chinsurah provided solace to Devendranath and attracted two of his exceptionally talented children Jyotirindranath and Rabindranath”(53). Far from the maddening crowd of the busy metropolitan life in Calcutta, colonial Chandernagore, to a large extent, provided the much needed comfort to the father and the sons from the turbulence of mundane existence of the metropolis and renewed them with vigour. Beneath the fascination for the pristine natural landscape, however, lies a vital association of Tagore family with colonial Chandernagore. The Zamindar of Telenipara, Chandernagore, Annadaprasad Bandyopadhyay, was drawn towards the principles of Raja Rammohan Roy’s ‘Brahmo Samaj’ and subsequently established Brahmo society at Chandernagore in 1828. In ‘Chandannagore O Jorashankor Swornopokkhira’ (pp 23-28, 1995) [‘Chandernagore and the Golden Birds of Jorashanko’] Amol Kumar Mitra notes that the Chandernagore branch of ‘Brahmo Samaj’ was often visited by the practitioners from Calcutta. It is in this connection that Dwarakanath Tagore, Debendranath’s father, along with Raja Rammohan Roy, often visited Annadaprasad Bandyopadhya’s residence, ‘Lalkuthi’, at Hatkhola, Chandernagore. Mitra observes: “Dwarakanath O Annadaprasad er parosporik somporko kromosho paribarik o purushanukromik bondhuttye prosharito hoi. Maharshi Devendranath er songe bilokkhon somporko gothito hoi Annodaprasad er dui putro Satyadayal O Satyaprassanor sathe. Sei somporker sutre Maharshi Chandernagore e Gongar dhare Hatkhola semante Satyaprassono Bandyopadhayer sompotti bhukto ‘Riverview’ namok barite onekbar bhara niye rakhen. Ei tie Jorashakor nothite Barujjyeder Bagan name ullekhito”[“Gradually Dwarakanath and Annadaprasad became family friends and the friendship continued for generations. Debendranath developed a close intimate relationship with Annadaprasad’s sons, Satyadayal and Satyaprasanno. Due to this, Debendranath often rented Satyaprasanno’s house by the Ganges, ‘Riverview’, in the ‘Hatkhola’ locality of Chandernagore. This house is noted in the documents of Jorashanko as the garden-house of the Bannerjees”]. Maharshi Debendranath stayed at ‘Riverview’ thrice; firstly, for three months in 1878, a time when ‘Brahmo Samaj’ in Kolkata was passing through a crisis. The tussel between Shivnath Shastri and Keshab Chandra Sen led to a crack in the ‘Samaj’ and to discuss the matter with Devendranath, Shastri came to meet him at ‘lalkuthi’( ‘Rabindranath O Jorashankor Swornopokkhira’, p 24).; secondly, in 1879 when Maharshi stayed for two months and finally, five years later, in December 1884 till March 1885. Interestingly enough, in all three visits, Maharshi Debendranath stayed at the same house and was deeply engrossed in the activities of ‘Adi Brahmo Samaj’. In contrast, his sons, Jyotirindranath and Rabindranath, shifted residences within Chandernagore. Apart from staying in Barujyeder Baganbari [The garden house of the Banerjees] at Telenipara, near the Strand Road, Jatirindranath and Rabindranath also stayed at Moran Shaheber Kuthibari [The Bungalow of Moran Sahib] at Gondolpara. Rabindranath, in his later life, stayed in his houseboat, ‘Padma’ on the Ganges and in Patalbari [The House Underground]1 on the Strand Road. These three houses record three different intervals of his life – Barujyeder Baganbari pictures the jubilant days of his boyhood and initiation into foreign language, Moran Shaheber Kuthibari records the mixed emotions of adulthood and the awakening of his poetic self and Patalbari phase impresses one as a sensitive intellectual eager to grasp the socio-political condition of a colonial town. His creative works of the time bear out the point. Colonial Chandernagore thus appear to be Rabindranath’s blossoming flower garden where bloomed the rare flowers which occupy a relevant space in the illustrious career of the master artist. No wonder colonial Chandernagore as a temporal space, becomes the metaphorical Kunstlerroman of Rabindranath Tagore.
Along with cultivating French language, Rabindranath continued to compose Bengali poems, prose, short stories and songs in his subsequent visits to Chandernagore. Moran Shaheber Bari [The Bungalow of Moran Sahib], where Rabindranath moved in with his brother and sister-in-law after staying at the garden house of the Bannerjees , was a hugely built structure in Gondolpara, Chandernagore: “Kichudin por bari palte moran shaheber bunglowy. Sheo gangar dhare. Kadambarir bikkhipto moner opor diye gangar batash jeno sneher sparsho diye chue jay. Rabio satarko thaken jate bouthaner mone kono megh na jome. Jyotir anupasthitite hasigolpe gane kobitay bhorie rakhen kadambarir abasar”( Sengupta, 227) [“After a little while they came to the Bungalow of Moran Sahib by the Ganges. The mild breeze from the smooth waves of the Ganges heals the wound of Kadambari’s mind with a magic touch of warmth and care. Rabi pours all his attention on bouthan and never let loneliness envelop her forlorn mind. Even when Jyoti is not around, Rabi fills the air with laughter and stories, idle conversations and thus enlivens Kadambari’s leisure with his joviality”]. Tagore started writing his first historical romance Bouthakuranir Hat (The Young Queen’s Mart, published in1883) in this house. The circular dome-shaped room on the roof of the house which opened amidst the bounty of nature inspired the poet to compose such immortal lines: “Anonto e akasher kole/ tolomolo megher majhar/ eikhane bandhiachi ghor/ tor twore kobita amar” (Jibonsmriti / My Reminiscences, p 489 )[“Here, wherein the lap of limitless space clouds/ lie down to sleep, / I have built my house for thee, O Poesy”]. These lines succinctly confirm Chandernagore as the pristine abode where his poetic self flowered. Moreover, Tagore also composed prose pieces during his stay here. Tagore reminisces his days spent by the Ganges in Jibonsmriti [My Reminiscences]: “Gangar dhare bosia ‘Sandhyasangeet’ chara kichu-kichu godyo o likhtam. Seo kono bandha lekha nohe—seo akrakom ja-khushi tai lekha” (Jibonsmriti / My Reminiscences, p 491) [“Coupled with ‘Sandhyasangeet’ I also composed some prose-texts living by the Ganges. Those were not structured pieces, organized and framed—those were random delightful records”]. Bibidho Prasanga [Miscellany] written during 1883, is a reserve of precise and succinct passages numerous in number and diverse in thoughts. In chronicling the short essays Pal in Rabijaboni allocates a specific course of time, “Ei sankhipto prabandhaguli srabon 1288 theke suru kore kartik o agrahayon chara proti mas e koekti kore mudrito hoe boisakh 1289-sonkhyay sesh hoy arthat moran shaheb er bagane sutropat o sadar street er bashay abosthankaler kichudin porjonto ei rachonar dhara probahito hoe choleche.” [“These short prose pieces started coming out in pages from July 1288 (in the Western system 1881), appearing almost regularly, one or two each month, except for the period of late October to early December, culminating in the issue of April 1289 (English 1882), which means, it all began at Moran Shahib’s Bungalow and went on continuing for some days after they shifted to the house at Sadar Street”]. Incidentally, immediately after Chandernagore, Jyotirindranath and Kadambari went to stay at a house in Sadar Street, Kolkata. From the conversational tone of the essays and the short and pithy style, the interlocutor’s presence can be sensed and Tagore had later acknowledged the anonymous participator in the conversation is none other than his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi. Long after he had left Chandernagore, the memories of the colonial town recur in his short stories, Apod and Adhyapok , like a leit motif. Apod (The Unwanted, Galpoguccho, pp 239-246), written in 1894, set in a garden house by the Ganges in Chandernagore, is reminiscent of a young Tagore wandering and relaxing in the garden house of the Banerjees at Telenipara, Chandernagore. Moreover, the story begins on a stormy evening with the heated conversation between a couple, Sarat and Kiran who have come to Chandernagore for a change of place – as Tagore’s family members often came for a change of air – prescribed by a doctor with a view to improve the health of Sarat’s ailing wife, Kiran. In August 1898, Rabindranath brought back the memories of the two houses he stayed at Chandernagore in his short story Adhyapok [The Professor, Golpoguccho, 322-334). Adhyapak, which records an episodic chunk of Chandernagore, includes a reference to a garden house in Farashdanga where the protagonist, Mahindrakumar, a student of Arts, comes with an ambition to write something marvellous. The vivid description of leisurely afternoons spent by the Ganges is partly autobiographical. The bagan (garden) of Adhyapok in Farashdanga is an unmistakable reference to Barujyeder Bagan [The garden of the Banerjees] where Tagore himself stayed for some days in the prime of his youth in 1881-82. The third and fourth chapters contain glimpses of Moran Shaheber Kuthibari [The Bungalow of Moran Sahib]. One sultry afternoon rejuvenating his mind in the fresh air blowing from the river Ganges, Mahindrakumar’s attention was drawn towards his neighbour, Kiranbala’s residence: “Ganga hoite ghater siri brihat barir barandar upor uthiache, barandati dhalu kather chad diya chayamoy”.[“Steps led up from the edge of the Ganges to the veranda of the large house, the veranda is shadowed with a sloping wooden roof”]. This description of Kiranbala’s house is reminiscent of Tagore’s memory of youthful days spent in the palace like residence named Moran Sahib’s Kuthi [The Bungalow of Moran Sahib]. The author’s imagination casts a cloak of unfamiliarity around the house making it strangely intimate to the readers. In the short story, Kiranbala’s dwelling palace, resembling Moran Sahib’s Bungalow, is the next-door neighbour of Mahindrakumar’s place of stay which in its description echoes The House of the Banerjees at Telenipara, though in reality they were not so near. Thus Chandernagore townscape acted as the necessary catalyst in the alchemic transformation of a young, sensitive soul into a creative artist par excellence.
Tagore and Chandernagore shared a strong, mutual connection. In April 1927, Rabindranath was invited as a chief-guest at an inaugural programme arranged by ‘Prabartak Sangha’, a Hindu religious institution in Chandernagore founded by Motilal Ray in 1920. Tagore went to Krishna Bhabini Nari Siksha Mandir, a girls’ school, established by Harihar Sett in 1926. On that day Tagore was also invited to a cordial tea-party in the French Residency especially organized by the French administrator in the honour of the poet. A charming event was organized in the green lawn of the residency by the Ganges. Eminent French scholar Sylvain Lévy, a former Professor at Visva Bharati and a devoted appreciator of Tagore, was also present there. Harihar Sett informs us: “Je sob forashi administrator Chandannagore e ashiten, sadharonbhabe tanhara onekei robindraonuragi chilen” (Sett, 38). [“Generally speaking, most of the French administrators who came to Chandernagore were fond of Rabindranath”]. Tagore’s companionship and presence thus were as craved among the natives and regional community in Chandernagore as much as it was sought after by the French. This explains his eagerness and enthusiasm to know about the state of French education. As he matured, he was curious to know the expansion of French education at Chandernagore and so interacted with the eminent people of the place. Staying in the houseboat near Ranighat in 1926, Rabindranath, for instance, welcomed the Mayor of Chandernagore, Sri Narayan Chandra Dey and the critical Francophile philanthropist, Harihar Sett in his houseboat. Harihar Sett in Rabindranath O Chandannagore recalls the meeting: “[…]Chandannagore e forashi bhasha sikkhar dhara o maan sombondhe obogoto hoibar jonnyo tini agroher sohit Narayanbabu ke bohu prosno koren” (Sett, 26) [“In order to be aware of the standard of French education in Chandernagore, Rabindranath, keenly enough, threw volleys of questions at Narayan Chandra Dey”]. Interest for the French culture and heritage coupled with his fascination for the natural ambience brought him back to Chandernagore in 1935. Now that his favourite Moran Sahib’s Bungalow gone, Rabindranath Tagore anchored in the house boat, ‘Padma’, near the uncared-for shore of the house of Banerjees and rented Patalbari [The House Underground] for sixty rupees a month. Incidentally, Patalbari was an exclusive house : “Chandannagar er e bariti anyanyo bari hote ektu alada rakomer. Anginar akdhar ghenshe por por eksari ghar. Dotola thik pothe giye misheche, nicher tola matir tole, joyare gangar jol chole ashe sekhane…” (quoted in Kabir Abash, pp 49) [“This house in Chandannagar is a bit different from all other houses. The rooms are placed in a line, one after the other, at one side of the veranda. The upper storey has merged with the road whereas the ground floor is underground, in the time of rise the water of the river would come and fill the floor…”]. While staying in the houseboat, he composed many poems, namely, ‘Bidrohi’, ‘Gitocchobi’, ‘Chutir lekha’, ‘Nimontron’, ‘Chayachobi’, ‘Natyasesh’ (Sett, 26). Chandernagore witnessed the final visit of Tagore in 1937. In an invitation to inaugurate the Bengali Literary Festival, Tagore expressed his desire to stay for a few days at Janhabi Nibas, which however, remained unfulfilled. Years later, French administrator Monsieur Baron came to Chandannagar in 1940, long after Tagore’s last visit and in homage to Tagore Baron read his Gitanjali [Song Offerings]. Mrinal Ghosh in Rabismriti, as recounted in Sett’s Rabindranath O Chandernagore, recollects how Baron became so influenced by Tagore’s poetic style that he used to read Gitanjali every day before he joined office. True Rabindranath died in Calcutta; yet memories of Chandernagore continued to stay with him, even when he was unable to visit the place. His short story, Pragatisanghar [Progress Retracted, Rabindrarachanabali, Vol XIV, pp 67-75] written almost at the end of his life, between 11-21 June, 1941, though set in Calcutta has an episodic reference to Chandernagore. The protagonist, Niharranjan, is born and brought up at French Chandernagore. His knowledge of the French language offers him a scope to address the visiting French scholars at his University: “Niharranjaner bari Chandannagare. Pratham boyesh e forashi school e tar bidyasikkha, shekhane or bhashar dakhol niye khub khyati peyechilo, e-sob katha or kolkatar bondhumahal keu janto na…ki aschorjo, abhinandan jakhon porlo tar bhasar chhotay forashi pandit ebong tnar du-akjon anuchar aschorjo hoe gelen. Tnara bollen – erakom marjito bhasha Francer baire kakhono shoneni. Bollen, e cheletir uchit Paris e giye degree arjon koreasha”(73)[“Niharranjan lives in Chandannagore. In the early years, he got his education in a French school, there he received acclaim and praise for acquiring the language so well, he never talked about these to his friends in Calcutta…to a great surprise, when the welcome note cascaded down gently, the splendour of his expression left the French scholar and his one or two companions speechless. They remarked – they had never come across such marvellous rendition of French beyond the boundaries of France and agreed in unison that the boy must come to Paris to get a degree”]. The excerpted passage unearths the fissure, latent in the discourse of colonization, which is potentially prone to disruption. Niharranjan went to a French school at Chandernagore and learnt the language so devotedly, that his proficiency surprised a Professor from the Sorbonne. Nihar’s perfect acquisition of a foreign language and culture, subverts the authority of the colonizer over the native rather than reinforcing it, for the native, by imitation, has now created a third space of resistance and contest. Education, the colonizer’s tool for disseminating their culture and thereby manoeuvring the ideological genesis of the native, was a facile method of spreading Orientalism. But in this colonial encounter, the native intellectual surpasses the structure provided by the authority, creating a fracture in the colonial discourse, where predominance of plurality essentially erases the leverage of the ruler. Not only that, the French Professor and his acquaintances in the short story even suggests Nihar to come to Paris to get a degree. It shows the great leap the native has made. He is able to speak in the tongue of the master and how his identity becomes the sign of deference and difference. Moreover, the quoted passage is also slightly revelatory in the attitude of the French towards the native. They seem to have a catholic mind to appreciate the other: “amra bideshi, jodi ba amader bhashay kimba boktritay kono truti hoy ta forashi adhyapak nischoi hashimukhe mene neben. Onra to ar Ingrej non, Ingreja bideshider kach thekeo nijeder adobkaydar skhalan soite paren na, emon onder ahankar. Kintu forashider ta noy, barancha Jodi kichu asampura thake seta heshe graham korbe” (72). [“The language is not our own, if there is any mistake in the way we want to convey our thoughts in the language, the French professor would surely take that with a smile. They are not like the British, the British never tolerate a single flaw in the imitation of their etiquette, even from a person who is foreign to their language and culture, such is their pride. But the French are different, even if there is a sense of incompleteness in the expression, they would accept that ungrudgingly and wholeheartedly”.] In this speech of an anonymous Bengali girl, who is Niharranjan’s classmate, Tagore points out the difference between the linguistic tolerance of the French and the British – while the British are always rigid, the French appears to have controlled parts of India, with a lighter hand. Though the story ultimately ends up to be a saga of unrequited selfless sacrifice, Tagore’s flashback strategy to include Chandernagore, thereby juxtaposing Niharranjan’s childhood knowledge of French reaping fruitful harvest in his post-graduate days at Calcutta University, speaks volumes of his nostalgia and deep sense of belonging to a place where he has returned time and again. Colonized Chandannagar and French education, even as a short reference, therefore, is no meagre episode; one unambiguously discerns the ambivalence inherent in the colonial discourse of early twentieth century Bengal.
That era is gone but the aroma of a historical past hangs around the dilapidated structures of Barujyeder Baganbari and Patalbari of the today’s waterfront town. The innumerable visits of Tagore and his family to this town, the unforgettable moments they spent in delightful conversations, had left unseen memories in the dust of the streets, in the crowd of concretes. These memories map the journey of an artist, his growth from a young aimless boy, immersed in music and poetry, into a mature individual, conscious of the presence of a foreign power ruling his land. In its relation with Rabindranath, Chandernagore, therefore, seems to veil a lost milieu of a magnificent history. And through his simultaneous fondness for French and native poems, songs and prose pieces, composed during his stay at Chandernagore, Rabindranath reconstructs Chandernagore as a well wrought urn, preserving the traces of a different French colonial era, long after the end of British colonial rule.
Antara Mukherjee & Sayantani Chakraborti
- Patalbari literally The House Underground or The Underground House at Chandernagore strand was a place frequented by Tagore between 1930s-40s. The house has a unique architecture – its ground floor is submerged in the Ganges and the first floor is just above the ground. The famous social reformer Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar also stayed in the house. The house was owned by Jogendranath Khan who used to rent it for visitors keen on enjoying the beauty of the Ganges living by its side. Tagore’s letters and autobiographical writings record mentions of his stay in this spacious house many a times.
- Priyanath Sen was a bosom friend of Rabindranath Tagore. Prasanta Kumar Pal in Rabijiboni (Life of Tagore, II, pp 137) records the close friendship the duo used to share. Rabindranath used to depend on his friend for the appreciation of his literary works. He had a deep veneration for Priyanath’s expertise on different languages and literatures. In the Jibonsmriti (My Remniscences) he recollects how the scholarly erudition of Priyanath Sen and his keen perceptions, diverse range of knowledge and critical bent of mind helped Tagore compose lines of literary merit.
- History of English Literature was written by the French critic and historian H.A.Taine (Hippolyte Adolphe Taine) and was published in the year 1872. It was translated from French to English by Henry Van Laun.
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