Tagore in Europe……..the lyrics just flowed

By Uday Sankar Das

There are not many poets who are desirous of wandering into distant lands. This rarity applies to poets not only in Bengal, but one might say, in the whole world. But Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore is one poet who so easily fits into that rare category. No poet in his era had travelled as extensively as Tagore, be it abroad or his own country.

Tagore in his writings and also in his life not only expressed his feelings about human beings and humanity but also forged a strong bond between his motherland and the world at large. He travelled extensively to various countries of the world but Europe attracted him the most, inspired him in thoughts, feelings and reflections.

At various stages in his life, Tagore visited many countries in western and eastern Europe on a number of occasions. During these travels, he wrote poems and diary, letters to various personalities, but his urge to write songs did never falter. Here is a glimpse of some of the songs that flowed from his pen during his sojourns in Europe.

During his visit to London in June, 1912, Tagore stayed with his friend William Rothenstein in his house in Hampstead Heath, one of the aristocratic areas of London. It was during this trip that Tagore wrote the song 'sundara bote tobo angadakhani'. In Rothenstein's house, he met many literary figures and was giving final touches to his translation of 103 poems and songs which came to be known as 'Song Offerings'. The first publication of 'Song Offerings' came out in November, 1912 and it was this publication that earned Tagore the Nobel Prize for literature in November, 1913. Just a footnote here – the manuscript was lost in London but could later be retrieved from the Lost Property Office of Baker Street Underground Station.

In 1913, Tagore made a stopover in London on his way back from the United States and he had to undergo a minor surgery. While recuperating in a house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, another classy area of London, Tagore wrote two other popular songs, 'ashim dhawn tou aachhe' and 'tomaar-iy naam bolbo'.

Tagore's fame and reputation had by this time spread throughout the world, but Tagore's mind and heart were with his beloved Shantiniketan. He was yearning to return home. In a letter to Meera Devi, the poet wrote, 'My mind is getting restless to return home. The pulling of people here has brought a feeling of tiredness inside me. I would have got some peace if only I could spend a few days in silence in one of my country's uninhabited secluded corner'.


To Rothenstein, he wrote, 'I am pining for the touch of life, for the warmth of reality and for that reason the call of my Bolpur school is becoming more and more insistent'. It was in such a state of mind that Tagore wrote while staying in that house in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk the song, 'ei monihaar amaai naahi shaaje'.

Before returning home, Tagore stayed for a couple of days at Rothenstein's home. On 27 August, 1913 Tagore penned the song, 'jibon jakhon chhilo phool-er moto'. On the same day, in a letter to his friend C. F. Andrews, Tagore wrote a letter from Far Oakridge in the county of Gloucestershire, 'The time has come when I must leave England, for I find that my work here in the West is getting the better of me. It is taking too much of my attention and assuming more importance than it actually possesses. Therefore, I must without delay, go back to that obscurity where all living seeds find true soil for germination. This morning I am going to take a motor-ride to Rothenstein's country house'.

During his various trips abroad between 1912 and 1932, Tagore had to spend busy times in delivering lectures and attending receptions. For a brief period, the flow of songs was temporarily halted. There were trips when he did not pen a single song; surprising but true. But then in 1926, during his travels in Europe, there was a great change. While visiting various towns and cities in Europe he built up a bunch of beautiful songs. He presented a bouquet of 26 songs of intense emotion.

After a two-week tour of the 3 Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden and Denmark – Tagore boarded a steamer in Copenhagen on his way to Germany across the Baltic Sea. On 8 September, sitting in the steamer, Tagore wrote, 'shey kon pagol jaai pothe tor, jaai chole jaai ekla raate, taare daakish ne tor aangina te'. Was the poet speaking out his own mind? Was it his inner contemplation? It was as if, after four months, the dormant fountain suddenly sprang to life in the unique environment of the Baltic Sea in northern Europe.

Tagore put up in Atlantic Hotel in northern Germany's biggest port city and industrial centre Hamburg. The subject of his lecture there was "Culture and Progress". In his hotel room, on two consecutive evenings of 9 and 10 September, the poet wrote, 'roi je kangaal shunnyo haate' and 'kaar chokher chawar hawaai dolaai mon'.

The next stop was Berlin where he stayed in a hotel called Kaiser Hoff. During his five-day stay, Tagore's German publisher Kurt Wolff organised a reception in the poet's honour in his house. The Prince of Bavaria and a number of University professors attended the reception. He also met the German Education Minister Dr Baker and Professor Einstein before leaving for Munich where on 17 and 18 September flowed two more songs from his pen, 'chhutir baaNshi baajlo je ei neel gogone' and 'naai naai bhoi, hobe hobe joy'. 'Tor bhetore jaagiya ke je' and 'akaaash, tomai kon ruupe mon chinte paare' were also written in Munich. The latter was however not composed into a song.

From Munich, Tagore travelled to Nurnberg, the industrial city in Bavaria. He was delivering lectures and in between kept himself busy in writing songs. Two songs he wrote there on 19 and 20 September 'shokaal belar aaloi baaje' and 'amaar mukti gaaner shurey' which later was transformed into 'amaar mukti aaloi aaloi'.

Stuttgart was the poet's next destination. On 21 September, he spent a very pleasant afternoon with a German family and immediately on returning to his hotel, he expressed his feelings about the afternoon in the song 'bhalo lagaar shesh je naa paai'. This was later turned into another popular song of Tagore, 'modhuro tomaar shesh je naa paai'.

On 24 September, in Cologne, Tagore penned two songs 'chahiyaa dekho rosher srote' and 'tumi ushaar shonar bindu'. The following day, he was in Dusseldorf and there he wrote 'aapon gaaner taane tomaar' which later was changed to 'gaane gaane tobo bandhono jaak tuute'. Despite hectic travels, lectures, meetings and visits to scenic and tourist places, the poet's message continued to be reverberated in melodious songs.

Tagore returned to Berlin after visiting Cologne and Dusseldorf. His son, Rathindranath who was taken ill had to be hospitalised and had to undergo surgery. He did not inform anybody about his illness. Apparently, Professor Einstein provided all the assistance for Rathindranath's treatment. Once, Rathindranath got a bit better, Tagore set off for Dresden. On 4 October, after attending a meeting, delivering a lecture and a poetry reading session, Tagore spent the evening watching his play 'Dakghor'. 'Aapni amaar konkhaane, beraai taar-iy shondhaane' was the last song he wrote during that visit to Germany.

From Germany Tagore went to Prague where he stayed for 5 days. His old friend Professor Binternits and Czech Professor Lesni organised a number of lectures for Tagore. One evening, he went to enjoy music composed by Bach in one of the newly built theatres. A vocalist by the name of Zemlinsky entertained the poet with a number of Tagore songs in the Czech language. He also went to watch German and Czech versions of his play 'Dakghor'. The song 'kothaai phirish porom shesher anweshane' was written during his stay in Prague.

Immediately after reaching Vienna from Prague, Tagore had to deliver a lecture. The poet could feel that such hectic travelling was taking a toll on his health. He was forced to cancel further travelling and stayed back in Vienna for 10 days. But, the flow of his pen did not stop. He wrote 'akaashe tor temni aachhe chhuti'.

In 1926, Tagore visited a number of east European countries. He arrived in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, on 26 October and as usual, got engaged in delivering lectures. But doctors there advised him to take complete rest. In Budapest, Tagore wrote two songs, 'poth ekhono shesh holo na' and 'din-er belaai baanshi tomaar'.

Heeding to the doctors' advice, Tagore went to Hungary's famous health resort on Lake Balaton. Tagore was so fascinated by the natural beauty of Balaton that in a letter to artist Elizabeth Bromner, 'I have seen almost all the countries of the world, but I saw nowhere such a beautiful harmony of the sky and the water than that I had enjoyed on the shore of Balatonfured, filling my soul with rapture'.

When Tagore was resting in the health resort on Lake Balaton, he did not refrain from writing. On 9 November, he wrote 'paantho paakhi'r rikto kulaai boner gopon daale' which unfortunately was not composed as a song. Tagore then went on a lecture tour to Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia and Bucharest. He drafted the song 'arup tomaar baani' in Zagreb and gave the final touches to it in Bucharest.

One finds it extremely difficult to analyse how during hectic travel schedules one's mind is surged with lyrics in a totally alien environment. One could get some insight from a letter Tagore wrote to Tejesh Chandra one late night during these travels, from a hotel room in Vienna, 'here I am at three in the morning – as it is, there is this darkness of night, covered in clouds – in my mind, I feel an intolerable restlessness to escape from myself at a furious speed. Where do I escape? From the din and bustle to music'.

And that is Rabindranath Tagore, to so many of us.

================================================================The writer is a senior journalist, a former broadcaster with BBC World Service Radio (Bangla) and is presently based in London