119 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Sunday, September 12, 1999
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Gurudev’s first love
By Satyendra R. Shukla

RABINDRANATH TAGORE, also known as Gurudev, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but his lifestyle was rather conservative. Tagore’s was a multi-faceted personality. He founded Vishwa Bharati (Santi Niketan) university. He was a poet, painter, singer, dramatist, musicologist (choreographed Rabindra sangeet) and philosopher. Poetry was his forte and his book of poems Geetanjali in English won for him the Nobel Prize. It was written originally in Bangla, but later was translated in English. Its contents were based on Upanishadic teachings. He was awarded Nobel Prize in 1913 at the age of 52, though he had started composing poems while still in his teens.

Like all young men, especially poets, he too had had romantic encounters, most of which were just passing phases. But, there was one, which lingered on for long, until he was of 64 years.

Tagore had his first romantic encounter with a girl, when he was around 16. It happened at Bombay, where he was the guest of a Maharashtrian family. The occasion came, when en route to England to become Bar-at-Law, he was put up as guest by his elder brother Satyendranath, in the house of one of his friends, Atma Ram Pandurang at Bombay. The latter’s family was westernised and conversant with English etiquette. The idea was to enable Tagore to acquire an elementary knowledge of English ways and manners and become fluent in English.

The Pandurangs had a teenage daughter, who had returned from England. Her name was Annapoorna, but she was lovingly called Anna by every member of the house-hold. She was richly endowed with beauty and brains. She had a wheatish complexion, photogenic face with big black eyes and long tresses. To this was added her jovial and frolicsome nature as also her upbringing in rather open westernised society. All this cumulatively was enough to kindle the flame of love in any heart, more so an adolescent one, with a poetic bent of mind. Tagore, though a poet, was shy and inhibited due to his upbringing. He never expressed his love or liking for Anna and kept it a closely guarded secret. He kept a safe distance from her. For the girl, because of her upbringing in a broad-minded, westernised family it was ‘love at first sight’, which grew into an infatuation as the days passed by. For most of the time, when Tagore was in the house, she would hang around him, would come to his room stealthily, shut his eyes from behind, pull away the book from his hand and mock at his being a bookworm and indulge in other pranks to attract his attention.

Both of them enjoyed each other’s company, but none of them took the initiative to express love for the other. The ice was, however, broken one day, when Anna asked Tagore as to what was his hobby, besides, of course, reading books. In reply, he told her that his favourite hobby was writing poetry. Taken aback by the unexpected answer, Anna mockingly said: "So, you are a poet. That is why you always keep reading. How do I know that you can write poems, unless you write one on me. Can you?"

Tagore said:"Why not?"

"Then, why delay? Can’t you do it now?" asked the girl, and as an after-thought added "I feel my name is no good. Before, composing a poem on me, you’d better give me a beautiful name first."

To this, he quipped:"How about Nalini, do you like this name?" The promptness with which he suggested the name gave the impression that he had already chosen the name for her in his mind.

Nalini, which in English means lily, was liked by Anna very much, perhaps not only because it had poetic touch but also because of the feminine grace of the lily, and the tenderness beauty, colour and soft sweet smell, which it symbolised. Therefore, soon after conveying her appreciation and approval of her new name, she asked Tagore to compose a poem, just then and there. As if he was mentally prepared for this demand, he sat down with his pencil and paper and scribbled a poem, in Bangla which ran as follows:

Shuno Nalini, kholo go ankh ghoom ekhno Bhongil na ki?
Dekho, Tomar duar pare sakhi, ese chhe tomar Rabi,
Suni prabhater gaya mor, dekh bhenge chhe ghumer mor,
Jagat uthe chhe nayan malia, nootan jeevan labhi.
Tabi tumi ki sajani jagiye na ko, ami je tomar kavi.
Pratidin Aasi, pratidin haasi, pratidin gaan gaahi,
Pratidin suniya she gaan, dhire dhire uth chahi,
Ajiyo eshe chhi, uth uth sakhi, aar to rajani naahi,
Sakhi shishre umkhari maji, sakhi lohit basane saaji,
Dekhu vibhakta sarsi arshir pare aproop roop rashi.
Heke theke, dhire helia paria, nij mukh chhaya adhik heria,
Lalit adhare uthibe phhotia shrabher mridu hasi.

Translated into English it would mean: O Nalini, listen, has your sleep not ended yet. Just see, your Rabi (poet) has come to your door. Just listen, it is morning now. Peacocks are dancing. The whole world is awake and new life seems to be streaming through it. Even then would you not wake up, I am your poet. Every day in the morning you got up, sang and laughed. I have the same expectations today. I want to hear your song today also. So get up, it is no more night. Clean your face, put on your red garments, part your hair from the middle of your head and throw the beauteous ones around. They will gradually come over your face and make it all the more beautiful. Then from your red lips will emerge sweet smile.

The promptness with which it was written and sung before her, gave the impression that he had already composed it and memorised it, as most poets do. He used it just on the right occasion.It was just because of this poem, that he had given Anna, a new name Nalini on her demand, because he knew that she would also like a poem on her new name then and there.

According to another view, Tagore composed it just for his maiden love, on the spur of the moment, to please her. It is also stated in, support of this view that had the poet composed it just for lily (water-plant) he would have not committed the mistake of saying that you wake up now, there is morning and Rabi (sun) has come to your door! Everybody knows that Lotus (nalini) blooms in the morning when the sun rises and Nalini (lily) blooms in the night when the moon shines in the sky. So the generally held view is that he had composed it for Nalini, the girl, may be in advance, comparing Anna with Lily and luck favoured him to pour out his heart to his first love. The fact that he had written it for Nalini is corroborated by his subsequent poems and other writings also.

As could be expected Anna was exhilarated with a new name and a poem in her praise. Anna became infatuated with Tagore. Tagore however, never encouraged her and maintained his poise. She would come to him, talk, discuss, provoke to do or not to do a thing, even mock at him, but never offendingly. Their petty quarrels always ended in her agreeing with him.

One moon-lit night, when Tagore was deeply absorbed in his thoughts, all alone on the roof of the house, she came stealthily and startled him by saying: "Mr poet, where were you?, Not here; were you lost in Sonar Bangla?" and rushed towards him. Tagore scolded her for her conduct, but she said, she just wanted to play "rope-pulling" though there was no rope and caught hold of his hand, started pulling him. When Rabi tried to pull in the opposite direction with little resistance, she allowed herself to be pulled and threw herself on him, as if in complete surrender. But the shy poet took no advantage of it and let her go.

While talking about life in England and some customs, she told him that there was a unique custom in England. "If some one stole the gloves of a girl or lady while sleeping, it entitled him to kiss the sleeping beauty". After finishing her gossip, she just took off her gloves and left them on the table and lay down on the sofa perhaps pretending to sleep, while Rabindranath was busy reading a book. He remained busy with his book and never thought of "stealing" the gloves, for which they were kept there. When she "woke up" disappointment was again writ large on her face.

It did not mean that Tagore as young poet, did not enjoy these antics of her. On the contrary, they left an indelible imprint on his adolescent mind. He could never get rid of it. His feelings for Anna — Nalini — were expressed in a poem in later life. It was captioned Phuralo doo din (Those Two Days) and was published under his pen-name — Dikshoonya Bhattacharji — in Bharati magazine. He wrote: "Despite the fact that I was always afraid of the foreign atmosphere, I passed those few days as if on the top of a hillock covered with velvety green grass, laden with multi-hued flowers. I felt, there were springs and water-falls, in the evening there were rainbows, and I played with the cool prismatic rays of the sun. In the night I soared through the skies in moonlit nights. Oh, how good were those days."

At another place he wrote: "She was always on look out for ways to please me. She would come from behind and shut my eyes and then force me to laugh and play. She would always try to keep me happy so that I may not get homesick and feel the absence of my own people. Because of her frolicsome nature, Tagore called her Alhadika, meaning pleasure-giving. The poet laureate has also mentioned her in his book titled My boyhood days.

After a brief sojourn at Bombay, Tagore left for England, but could not forget his Nalini (Anna). While still in England, his first collection of writings in a book form appeared under the title — Kavi Kahini — in India. On getting the news, he wrote to one of his close relations to send a copy to his lady-love, which was done. But, when the book reached her, she, was on her death-bed. Nalini had tuberculosis and there was no cure for it as antibiotics had not yet been discovered, she died a few days after receiving the book. All that she could do was to send a letter of thanks to the sender. May be her disease and death was due to the pain and pining caused by her separation from Tagore and the unrequited love!Back

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