Writer of the world
The Tagore Centre in London has a library of the poet’s complete works in Bengali. Many of these are available in English, Urdu, German and Russian translations, reports Shoma A. Chatterji

At Alexandra Park Road in London stands the main office of the Tagore Centre, founded in May 1985, to spread the message of Rabindranath Tagore’s contribution to literature, art, drama, music and philosophy. It has a branch in Glasgow, and apart from a well-stocked lending library of Tagore’s works, the centre organises seminars, conferences and cultural programmes. "One of our biggest achievements has been to secure Tagore’s work in the national curriculum for schools in England and Wales, ensuring that children of all cultures are able to enjoy Tagore’s work and life," says present chairperson Kalyan Kundu.

In 2000, representatives of the centre had come to Kolkata. They announced that some schools introduced Tagore into the school curriculum. Along side the choice of picking up from Shakespeare or Tennyson, Wordsworth, Oscar Wilde or Lord Byron, children in British schools, Indian or British, have the option of choosing Tagore. "For years, we have been trying to convince the British Department of Education to bring Tagore within the syllabus. We were overjoyed when in 2000, our persuasion and determination bore fruit," says Amalendu Biswas, then chairperson of the Tagore Centre, London and UK.

The centre is run by dedicated volunteers. It is supported and backed by the Haringey Council, National Lottery, Arts Council, England, and many others. However, it is a membership that keeps the library and its services open for the community.`A0The junior centre Tagore committee is actively involved in garnering funds. "An enormous amount of work was involved in building the library, book by book," recalls Biswas. "Selecting books, clippings, photographs, paintings, art work, manuscripts, acquiring them and cataloguing requires true dedication of time, mind, spirit and hard work day after day," he says. "We received support from the British Library, Dartington Centre and Viswabharati University. We function as a reference and lending library at a nominal fee for people who have a passing interest in Tagore, right to those who are engaged in academic research. A Bengali girl doing her Ph.D. on Tagore from Leeds University, who did not know how to read or write Bengali, dropped in to collect source material for her research," says Biswas.

The library stocks the complete works of Tagore in Bengali, many of which are available in their English translations along side translations in Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, German, Serb-Croatian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, French and Japanese. These are linked to critical writing, biography, memorabilia, letters and newspaper clippings. A major achievement of the centre was Tagore and the British Press, that toured New Jersey, Kolkata, New Delhi and Dhaka. It featured hundreds of press clippings on Tagore covered by the British media since Tagore’s visits to the UK, beginning in 1912. The exhibits were later published in a single volume available at a modest price.

The music library houses over 2000 musical recordings on audio-cassettes of Tagore’s compositions, plus archival recordings of Indian classical music. The centre’s walls are decorated with reproductions of Tagore’s original works of art along with the works of Gaganendranath, Abanindranath, Jamini Roy and Ramkinkar of the Bengal school. Sixty black and white photographs of Tagore in original also adorn these walls.

The biggest dream realised is that it has obtained official permission from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London to install a bust of the poet in the idyllic surroundings of Gordon Square, facing the university, within the heart of London. The installation ceremony will take place on July 7 this year, marking the end of a series of programmes to celebrate Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary.