• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Rabindranath Tagore | Essay
  • Emperor of Life : Buddhadeva Bose

    Budhhadeva Bose belonged to that generation of Bengali poets of the thirties and forties who fought tooth and nail to escape the all-pervading genius of Rabindranath and establish a personal idiom. He succeeded, but the fascination, admiration, or even awe of the older poet remained. In 1941, Bose published the memoirs of his recent visit to Santiniketan in
    'Shab peyechhir deshe' (The land where I found it all). By the time the book was in print, Tagore had passed away, and what had been conceived as a gift of gratitude turned into an elegy, one poet's homage to another. The following chapter appears in the book entitled as 'Jibon-samrat'.

    At the time we were there, he had just completed a short story. We would have got many more and also newer kinds of short stories, if writing a story had entailed merely thinking it out. The second part of Jogajog was already complete in his head, he told us the story and we listened in fascination. This amazing tale will not travel beyond the mind's sphere, a great novel like Jogajog will remain unfinished. He can no longer manage to work on long pieces; he composes rhymes and stories for small children, sometimes essays on literature or poetry, now and again a short story comes hurtling out, or in terrible fury his mighty curse blazes at the war-ravaged insane world---thus he satiates as best as he can his great desires, un-exhausted power. Rather than the suffering due to illness, it is this pain, this conflict between mind and body, which is so much crueller. On this count, his life is savaged and unbearable in its conflict of action and imagination, thought and expression. Or so it must be. But none of this is discernible. Rather, an image of perfect peace meets the eye. The stormy rebellion of Beethoven in his deafness is not for him. He is submerged in his own being, but he is not indifferent. His gaze is turned towards the world's stage--- he cannot for even a moment bear the arrogance of the wicked, but when it comes to himself it is as if he has accepted everything. He has no regrets. No complaints. When he talks about his disabilities, his voice is touched with a hint of banter or a soft sadness. If there dwells any great rebellion within him, then he has kept it to himself. Nobody gets to know of it.

    And yet, this life of imprisonment is no less tragic for Rabindranath than deafness was for Beethoven. Seeing has always been a source of pleasure to him. During an earlier visit, he had said to us, "Now I do nothing but see." He has spent many an incandescent Santiniketan afternoon when every home shuts its doors, sitting on the veranda, his gaze turned towards where the expanse of the fields touches the horizon. Everyday he has witnessed that moment of union when night gives way to dawn, he has dipped into the darkness of the monsoon days, has been drunk on moonlight. And today he is captive in a chilled, dark room, where snapping out of sleep suddenly, he must ask, is it day or night? The moonlight today is shadowy, clouds invisible. No more does his life contain the variety of day and night, the magic of the seasons. The chirping of the ashram birds at daybreak does not reach his ears; the rain cannot penetrate the silence of his world. The world of nature reaches him only in small hints, unspoken innuendos, and in his imagination. His love for diversity is extraordinary--- he has never stayed happy in the same place for long and every few days he has needed to move house; then there has been his unceasing wanderlust. Today it is difficult for him to even move from room to room, let alone travel. May be he sits and thinks of the rivers, cities, mountains and valleys of different lands; most often he remembers the Padma, probably yearns to go back to it. "You have lived on the banks of the Padma, and look at our Kopai! What an arid land--- almost like the Rajputana. It is a long way I have come from the Padma." He suddenly feels that he would recover if only he could go to the sea. But far is the Padma, farther the sea. Very well then, he will give wings to his fancies within the confines of his room. He turns his chair a different way each day, the various articles in his room change position with him, the room does not remain in the same state any two days. Proof once more that Rabindranath is not merely a creator of art, but a creator who makes an art of his life. Not only his life in its entirety, but even his day-to-day life is perfect art. Only when one comes to Santiniketan does one realize that here he has realised the greatest dreams of his life, here he lives like a king, a king in a very elevated sense of the word. D. H. Lawrence's pining---
    ‘Give me, oh, give me
    My kingdom, my power, my glory,
    Not the daily bread alone.'
    --- would have found satisfaction , if he had come to Santiniketan, for here he would have seen in Rabindranath the perfect image of an emperor who rules over the kingdom of his life.

    He does not get much sleep at night; he has strange dreams and talks in his sleep. He wakes up at two in the morning and cannot go to sleep any more. Then he starts talking, or dictates compositions. One day I wrote out a few questions about the relation between literature and history and sent them to him. I had not hoped for anything other than to hear him say a few words on this topic. As soon as I went to him the next morning, he said, ‘What kind of ‘groom-teasing'[1] questions have you put to me! Here you are!" He handed me an essay written in Rani Chanda's hand; he had started on it after he had woken and had finished it before we'd left bed. Two days later he thought that wasn't enough, and added another small essay. Even if he is requested impossible things concerning writing, one doesn't get no for an answer; he smiles and says, ``Let me think about it." No question leaves him silent, no topic uninterested. He is ever ready; he is surrounded by unending leisure, but within the workshop of his mind there never has been a holiday, and there isn't one yet.

    On the other hand, the sweetness of his heart too is enviable. His affectionate disposition, his deep concern about each person's comforts is remarkable. He has never borne distaste for or indifference to food, and in his eagerness to feed others he can easily match his own heroines. He has successfully or unsuccessfully experimented largely with his own food, but he never attempts to initiate his guests to those secrets; the ‘lyric feasts' served at his home will remain fabled in Bengal. He cannot eat much anymore, but he has lost none of his interest in feeding. Since he himself has been rendered immobile, he is always anxious; it is difficult to get him to believe that anyone gets enough to eat or drink in his absence. He is always worried about any difficulties with food that might be had by all those people who bear certain responsibilities pertaining to him and therefore stay or travel with him. Whenever a guest is visiting his home, he is reminded of Rathindranath's[2] mother ---she too was always exceptionally mindful of her guests' comforts. Rabindranath is extremely finicky about hospitality, the arrangements never do satisfy him; his ever-caring family or even the guests themselves might try their best to assuage his fears and yet he would not be rid of the suspicion that the hospitability being rendered to his guests fall short. He regularly questioned us about whether we were being served tea on time, if we had enough light at night, or if the absence of fans was causing us discomfort, and yet I don't think we were ever able to satisfy him that we were indeed happy, that our replies were not born of mere politeness. One day we were drinking morning tea at Uttarayan, right after which we were supposed to see the poet, and Sudhakantababu said, ``Having your breakfast will not be enough, you will have to go and tell him exactly what you have eaten." We went to the poet and rattled off the names of all the things we'd had---he was so happy to hear that we had enjoyed our food. When the rumour about a snake at Ratan Kuthi gained ground, he thought that we were frightened. In the afternoon he called Sudhakantobabu and said, "Get the top floor of Udichi cleaned so they can move in here." Sudhakantobabu said, "Everyone has gone home, it's going to be rather difficult to do it now." The poet stayed silent for a while and then said, "True. You have to get hold of people, get them to clean up the place, move the luggage---pretty inconvenient all that. On the other hand, they will probably stay up all night---that too is inconvenient. Now see which one is the greater inconvenience."

    We heard about it from Sudhakantobabu the next day. In just so much as we were embarrassed, were we thrilled by the sweetness of the poet's affection. The first time I proposed leaving, he said, "No, don't go yet. Calcutta is too hot now. You still have leave left, enjoy yourself here." Time and again, small words and incidents revealed how happy he was at our visit. We were surprised; the wave of happiness that touched our minds will not bear description. It was unbelievable. What accomplishments had we that we could bring him joy? Rather, we had always grabbed of him whatever we could. He loves to give unstintingly, he has been always happy to give. I have ever loved him as a poet, accepted him as my mentor, found within him the foundation of my life; but the love and affection that I received from him at a personal level will not pass away from my mind as long as I live.

    Samar Sen, Buddhadeva Bose, Rabindranath, Protiva Bose, Kamakshiprasad Chattopadhyay, and Buddhadeva-Protiva's daughter Meenakshi

    1 Refers to the Bengali practice of the young women of the bride's family teasing the groom with riddles on the wedding night

    2 Rabindranath's son.

    Translated by Nandini Gupta

    Published July15, 2001
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