The station to alight for Shantiniketan is Bholpur. They are just 3 kms apart, I am told. The train is crowded but I manage to share luggage rack and sit comfortably for the entire ride from Sealdah. At Bardman, the coach gets packed. The train pulls into Bholpur half an hour behind schedule.
As soon as I step out of the station, I catch sight of a museum dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore. The ticket to this museum is available from the railway booking counters. It is no doubt an unusual museum.
It’s just one long room. At its center is a beautiful coach painted in dark green. It is an old one, restored and well-preserved for fans of Tagore. I should say devotees rather than fans because that is the sort of stature Tagore has acquired in the minds of Bengalis.
This coach was used by Tagore for his last train journey from Bholpur to Sealdah back in 1941. The interiors are wonderful with period furniture of polished woodwork. There is a living room, a bedroom, a toilet, a bath, among others.
Lining the walls of this museum are photographs and excerpts of Tagore’s writings in relation to train journeys. I read some of these excerpts. His writings are a reflection of the true poet in him. It is a known fact that good poets can also write good prose. In fact, their prose has an exceptional beauty that non-poets can rarely match. For example, Coleridge wrote tonnes of literary criticism that few others can match in verbosity and beauty. Tagore’s prose writings are just the same. He describes beautifully some of his train journeys.
I take an auto-rickshaw to the Uttarayana Complex. Here a small museum has some of Tagore’s belongings and gifts received from various organizations around the world. His life is sketched in photographs and comments.
Tagore is foremost a poet to most of us but his contribution was much more. He expressed himself in a variety of ways and media. In addition to poems he wrote essays, composed songs with tunes, created dramas, authored novels, created watercolours, made woodworks, designed buildings to live in, penned travelogues and wrote his autobiographical works. He also translated English poets into Bengali. As a social reformer he started the Visva Bharati with Bengali and Indian culture and values as the basis.
Tagore grew in an atmosphere of intellectuals and social reformers during the time of the Bengal Renaissance. His father was a close follower of the famous Raja Ram Mohan Roy. His grew up a large family. He was the fifteenth among sixteen children although three had died during childbirth. Can we imagine such a big family these days?
Shantiniketan is like an art gallery in the open. Many of the buildings are decorated with art. Some are covered with tilework. Others have line or form drawings. Stucco work is also common.
In terms of architecture, the style is uniform and unique. Like Chandigarh, Shantiniketan has an identity of its own. Only department offices are in buildings. Classrooms are out in the open under the shades of broad trees. It is a peaceful place today and empty too since the school holidays are underway.