An extraordinary man and an extraordinary life

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The National Gallery of Modern Art at Bangalore celebrates visionary, poet and artist Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore through a series of memorable photographs, copies of his literary works as well as paintings in a rare exhibition curated by Virender Bangroo of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

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The collection of photographs throws light on the personality of one of the most extraordinary men that lived in the country and the first Asian to be awarded the Nobel Prize. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for his book Gitanjali.

Not many would know that besides being a writer of poems, plays, novels and short stories; a music composer and an artist of note, Gurudev was an actor too. He acted in several plays written by him. The collection of black and white photographs has quite a few stills of Gurudev as an actor. Particularly eye-catching is one in which he plays Valmiki.

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Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore with Albert Einstein.

Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore all set to address an audience in Japan.

Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore all set to address an audience in Japan.

As Virender Bangroo mentions, Gurudev led an astonishingly active life. He travelled worldwide to promote Indian culture. So popular was he that Heads of State came over to the airport to receive him. There are photographs of the Indian polymath in Germany, the United States, Iran, and Japan. And there are pictures galore of Gurudev with distinguished personalities.

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There is a large collection of photographs centred on Santiniketan which he developed into Vishwabharati University. Developed with an objective to impart education amidst sylvan surroundings and in the lap of nature, Gurudev strained every sinew to develop the prestigious institution. He is believed to have even pawned a lot of his family jewellery for the educational space. There are various photos of Gurudev at Santiniketan; there is one where he greets Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturbha Gandhi; and another of Indira Gandhi who also studied at the coveted institution. Gurudev was a great nature lover. Every year, Gurudev organized the Briksharopan Festival on the campus and students planted saplings.

Numerous family photographs also adorn the walls of the NGMA. Some of the striking ones are the one of a newly married Rabindranath Tagore with his wife Mrinalini Devi; a group photograph of Tagore with his children; a photo of his father Devendranath Tagore who was a noted Persian scholar; grandfather Dwarakanath Tagore who was a contractor and one of the doyens in the development of Calcutta (now Kolkata); and a photo of Tagore with his siblings in drama costumes.

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Like most writers, Gurudev had favourite spots for writing. One of them is ‘Padma’, a houseboat where he would spend endless hours writing or painting. The exhibition has innumerable pictures of him busy at work and also a picture of Padma.

While showing visitors around the exhibition, Virender Bangroo tells us that on the personal front Rabindranath Tagore’s life was mired with problems. He lost his wife when he was only 40 and two of his children didn’t live past their childhood. He battled all of life’s tragedies with his creative genius. So busy was he that he hardly had time to mourn all his losses.

The exhibition has innumerable writings of Tagore. Surprisingly, most of Tagore’s works which are in Bengali haven’t been translated. The maximum translations of his works have not been in an Indian language but in Spanish! Many of the English translations were done by the poet himself. Of late, a lot of initiatives are in place to translate Gurudev’s works.

Many of Gurudev’s works have inspired filmmakers. Loud movie posters of films based on some of his works also grab eyeballs. Particularly, striking is a poster of Choker Bali directed by Riturparno Ghosh featuring Aishwarya Rai.

With talks of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s files being a serious topic of discussion these days, visitors at the exhibition are bound to get startled seeing a photograph of Netaji addressing a Indian National Congress rally in the august presence of Gurudev.

There is plenty in store for the visitor at this fascinating exhibition (on till 27 October) celebrating the country’s greatest cultural icon and most importantly a genius like no other. The soothing Rabindra Sangeet playing in the background makes the visit to this exhibition all the more memorable. Try not to miss!

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