A Bard’s Retreat

The singer alone does not make a song, there has to be someone who hears:

One man opens his throat to sing, the other sings in his mind.

Only when waves fall on the shore do they make a harmonious sound;

Only when breezes shake the woods do we hear a rustling in the leaves.

Only from a marriage of two forces does music arise in the world.

Where there is no love, where listeners are dumb, there never can be song.

                                                                                                                                                          ~ Rabindranath Tagore

“The Broken Song” has been my literary companion for more than 15 years.  My first tryst with Rabindranath Tagore’s work was as a pony-tailed school girl.  English Literature classes at the red bricked façade of the British school I studied at, mostly included works of William Shakespeare.  Getting a grip on Renaissance English with The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, a lone poem in the poetry book, penned by Tagore, captured my attention.  This was to become my all-time favourite piece of literature, for years to come.

Engraved Information on Tagore
These marble plaques are engraved with information on Rabindranath Tagore, his connection to this place, the history of the hillock and a gratitude note from the citizens.

My love for books are solely attributed to the efforts of my father, who introduced me to Panchatantra, Amar Chitra Katha and Mahabharata stories as a child and later to stalwarts of Indian literature such as Munshi Premchand, Amrita Pritam and Harivansh Rai Bachchan.  Tagore was still a name that meant only two things, the author of the Indian national anthem that we sung at school and the name of a hillock on the outskirts of Ranchi – the city I grew up in.

It was only after I stumbled upon and eventually fell in love with the poem The Broken Song, that I started taking interest in knowing more about Rabindranath Tagore.  The 300 feet high hillock – Tagore Hill – became somewhat of a shrine for me and I would love climbing the 200 odd steps to reach the top of the hill where sat an indiscreet gazebo with a spire, supported with eight thin pillars from the ground.  This was the solitary writing field of the bard, who went on to become the first non-European person to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Known as Gurudev and born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), his most famous legacy today, apart from his literary work, is Santiniketan and Visva Bharati – a living embodiment of his vision for a new approach to education.  This world university attracts numerous artists, musicians and philosophers even today to its simplistic way of living, teaching and learning.  Another of the gems, penned by Tagore was the Rabindra Sangeet.  Every household in West Bengal has at least one member who is trained in this classical music form, which has its roots in and essence of the rich Bengali culture.  Collectively known as Gitabitan, the book comprises of proses dedicated to Aanushthanik (Celebration), Bichitra (Diverse), Prem (love), Prakriti (Nature), Puja (worship) and Swadesh (Patriotism) (1).

Steps to the Summit
The 200-odd steps lead up to the summit where sits the bard’s retreat.

Visiting this place today after a decade, brought back some bittersweet memories.  Not much has changed here, apart from a few beautification efforts by the local municipal corporation.  The black ink, against the white marble surfaces, embossed at the entrance on the rock face of the hillock, has slightly faded away.  These contain information on Rabindranath Tagore and his connection to this historical place, written in Devanagri (Hindi) and Bengali scripts.  The steps leading up to the gazebo are covered with dried brown leaves that make a crunchy noise under the weight of my feet.  On one side of the cemented steps, overgrown grass and shrubs cover the soil and grey boulders among tall Bahera, Tamarind, Sal and Mulberry trees, while the other side provides a bird’s eye view of the city with the calm waters of the Ranchi Lake adorning the central area.

The Stone Table and Chairs
This stone carved garden table and chairs, opposite to the small bungalow, is canopied with the trees of the hillock, and in want of a better maintenance.

Almost midway up the hill, I stop at a resting spot, which is on flat ground unlike the rest of the hill.  On the left is a white washed small house with antique brown windows covered with wooden blinds.  Opposite the house, sits a simple circular garden table and four chairs made out of stone; affixed to the ground.  They are partitioned from the pathway with a stone carved screen with small diamond shaped holes.  I remember as a child, standing up on these cold chairs to peek through the small openings.  Today also, I sit here for a while and listen to the wind rusting through the leaves.  There is a simultaneous fading and approaching chatter of people climbing up the steps.  The cold wind makes me pull my shawl together as I look at the stone carved figures at the entrance of the house.

Tagore's Retreat
The whitewashed bungalow is reminiscent of the architecture of India’s British period. Quaint and peaceful, it overlooks the city below.

This area used to be the bard’s retreat in the days when he used to come to the city and stay here in the solitude of nature.  I imagine him walking out of the house towards these stone benches, dressed in an off-white Bengali dhoti and kurta, silver beard flowing in the wind, carrying a bundle of writing paper under his arm and a bottle of ink with a feather quill in the other.  Sitting at this very bench, contemplating, penning words and creating masterpieces.  It is said that in 1908, when Rabindranath Tagore’s brother – Jyotirindranath Tagore – had visited Ranchi, charmed by the place, he had brought the hill and build a house on it – the same one in front of which I am standing today.  The serenity and calm, even today, tells the tales of the days when many a books might have been written in this vicinity, by Tagore.

The Gazebo
The small gazebo with it distinct spire peeks through the lush greenery of the hillock.

After half an hour of reliving my imagination, I walk on towards the summit.  The top of the spire is now slightly visible and a few minutes later, the columns and the base of the gazebo stand resplendent before me against the cosy winter morning sun.  Outgrowths of ferns and wild plants which cover this entire hillock has not even spared the gazebo spire.  A couple is sitting arm-in-arm under its shade and few more people are standing around it, in silence, taking in the beauty of the vista.  A middle-aged man, has his yoga mat spread out and is busy prostrating to the sun with Surya Namaskars.

The Gazebo
The gazebo at the summit not only provides a spectacular view of the entire city, but is also a place for serenity, calm and contemplation. The outgrowths of vegetation begs for attention to this historic landmark, which has almost been forgotten.

I climb the gazebo and look out at the city, which looks like a miniature Lego set.  The city is still waking up from the slumber to the chilly morning of North Indian winters.  The clouds and fog shroud the city in a thin white translucent blanket of mist.  A flock of Siberian ducks – one of the many migratory birds that call Ranchi home during winters – flies past below, their rich brown feathers, gleaming in the morning rays.

The floor of the gazebo is inscribed with dozens of names of men and women, inside small carved out hearts, who would have wanted to immortalise their love, when here.  I realise that hardly any more of the writers or poets visit this historic place, and it is now a hideout for the young in love, away from the prying eyes of the society.  I fish out my small poetry book from my backpack; it still has the brown cover and a name tag written in a child’s handwriting.  Even after decades, this book is one of my prized possessions from my school days.  I sit down at the gazebo, leaning against a pillar and read the two page poem once again.

The dance of the words and rhythm of the lines spring out of the pages, bringing back many memories of my childhood.  I close the book, clutching it between my folded arms against the chest.  I do not even know when or where was this poem written by the bard, but I like to think that it was here, in my hometown, under this very gazebo, in the company of the birds, the wind, the sun and the vast expanse of sky.

References:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabindra_Sangeet

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