Friday, May 16, 2008

Remembering Rabindranath

It was an evening enhanced by the telling of it. On Thursday, Saoli Mitra enthralled audiences with her skilful renditions of some of Rabindranath Tagore’s stories

Dibyajyoti Sarma

Can a voice, without musical accompaniment and stage effects, create an atmosphere of drama? It can, if the voice belongs to Saoli Mitra.
On Thursday night, Mitra, a popular theatre personality from Bengal, narrated a few short stories by Rabindranath Tagore, at an event held to commemorate the 147th birth anniversary of the poet, which fell on May 8.
Organised by city-based group Surajhankar, the evening saw Mitra narrating Kabiguru’s (as Tagore is respectfully addressed) short stories to a packed audience of the city’s Bengali-speaking population at the Yashwantrao Chavan Hall in Kothrud.
What made the evening memorable was Mitra’s seemingly effortless voice that took the audience to a realm of childhood fantasy, where everyday, mundane logic is replaced by wide-eyed curiosity.
Before starting the ‘galpapath’ (story-reading) session, Mitra said, “The importance of Tagore does not lie in his versatility, but in the fact that he believed in the individuality of mankind above everything else. We are the children of nectar, Tagore had said. He was a humanist par excellence who loved the earth and its colourful inhabitants: ‘Marite chahina ami, sundar bhubane, /manaber majhe ami banchibare chai...’ (I do not want to die in this beautiful world,/ But live in the hearts of men.)”
Therefore, it is not surprising that Mitra chose to narrate those stories that celebrate childlike innocence. As Tagore himself wrote in ‘Once There Was a King’, a modern reader cannot envision anything beyond death, “but (quoting from the story) the child’s faith never admits defeat, and it would snatch at the mantle of death itself to turn him back.”
While Tagore’s stories are sparkling gems, Mitra’s rendering made the evening an enthralling experience. It is widely acknowledged that Bengali is one of the sweetest languages in the world. But, Tagore’s writing and Mitra’s voice made the listening experience extra-sweet, if that’s possible.
Mitra is the daughter of renowned theatre artist Shambhu Mitra. Voice modulation comes easily to her and this talent was used skilfully to transport listeners to the world where the stories are set — to identify with that little boy who claims he knows the road to the king’s palace, and can’t tell anyone about it; or the small boy who does not want study under his teacher, but wants to listen to his grandmother’s stories.
Mitra concluded the evening by reciting two of Tagore’s poems.
The evening also saw a 45-minute ensemble production of poetry, music and dance, based on Rabindranath Tagore’s works, and performed by the students and staff of Surajhankar and well-known dance exponent Sucheta Chapekar. Titled ‘Jyotirmoy Rabi’, the programme fused Rabindra Sangeet with Tagore’s select poems which highlight man’s relationship with the elements, especially the sun, as giver of light and knowledge. It was a perfect sync between dance and music, and particularly impressive was Chapekar’s two solo dances.
Founded in 1994, Surajhankar is a registered charitable trust working the field of Bengali culture in the city. The trust offers courses in Rabindra Sangeet and in Bengali.

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