My friend Tagore

If they answer not to thy call walk alone
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
Open thy mind and speak out alone.

The above lines are the translation of a part of Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekla Cholo Re, rendered by Tagore himself. The song was published as a poem in 1905, and is believed to have moved Mahatma Gandhi very deeply.
Last week Bengali-speaking people across the world celebrated Tagore’s 153rd birth anniversary. His poetry was recited, his songs sung, his plays staged, his stories read out. Now, his anniversary comes and goes every year without me getting much affected. But, this year was very different. It was the first Rabindra Jayanti I spent listening to and singing Tagore’s songs. It’s been a week since, and not a day has gone without me learning a new song. I’ll tell you why it’s a matter of great excitement to me. Breaking cultural stereotype, let me confess that I did not grow up on Tagore’s music, like most Bengalis are assumed to. My mother is a fantastic singer who trained for many years in Hindustani classical music. She can give a lot of singers a run for their money when it comes to stirring up a sugary storm with saccharine-sweet thumris! So, that essentially was the sort of music she always pushed me into. Later on in life, I developed an ear for contemporary music in every language I knew, but Rabindrasangeet (the name for Tagore’s music) and I hardly ever crossed paths. Until now.
This year has been rather tumultuous. Loved ones have departed, hearts were broken, tears have been shed. I was almost on the verge of giving up when Tagore happened. A Gujarati friend had heard Amitabh Bachchan’s version of the Ekla Cholo Re in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani, and wanted me to explain to her its meaning. That was it. I was hooked. All these years I’d not paid any attention to Rabindrasangeet. And, now suddenly, here I was, reading Tagore’s poetry carefully, and getting deeply moved! This was only a few days before his birth anniversary. The dawn of Tagore’s birthday was special. I remember being up till sunrise writing a song about a down-on-her-luck girl getting back up on her feet and, then finding a lovely song in my mailbox. It was one of Tagore’s most beautiful compositions, in a voice that was young, soulful, full of love, and honest. I couldn’t go to sleep. I spent the entire day listening to one Rabindrasangeet after another. Towards the end of the day I realized that it wasn’t me who had ignored Tagore all these years. It was he who had only now decided to befriend me. Any sooner, or later, we wouldn’t have bonded the way we have. Tagore happened to me just at the right time. As he shall happen to you, too!
His Noyono Tomaare Paayena Dekhite (My eyes can’t see you, although you’re always in my eyes) lets me cry when I miss my aunt who I lost very recently. His Ogo Bideshini (I know you, dear foreigner lady!) makes my heart waltz with joy every time I hear it. His Bhenge Mor Ghawrer Chaabi (Who’ll break into my house/heart and take me away?) brings back to me the memories of my red soil-meets-Baul music childhood in Birbhum. Just like that lovely voice sang to me on Tagore’s birthday- Aami Roopey Tomaaye Bholaabo Na (I will not entice you with my looks, but with my love), I promise to entice you with my love, Gurudev. Hope you’ll reciprocate!

Malini Banerjee is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict, hopes to soon finish writing her debut novel, and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy
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