My fingers worked fast on the keys. I knew I had to finish the work before deadline. And it always is a challenge competing deadlines with a talkative kid seated next to you. Old nail-polish bottles, paper boats, one-eyed, dressed and semi-naked dolls, hair brush, racing cars – every piece of possible tools of distraction aka attention was strewn around but my eight year old was hell bent on having ‘serious conversation’ . Ranging from the plight of fire-men to the possibility of settling down in moon – she had tried out every topic under the sun and beyond. I tried to keep up with the flow with ‘umms’ and ‘hmmms’ – struggling to avoid typing ‘pencils’ instead of ‘penury’. Just then she veered her attention to a fresh new topic.
“Do you know whose birthday it is on the 8th of May?”
My speeding fingers stopped for a second. Raveena Tandon? Did I just hear Raveena Tandon?
“Rabina who?”, I asked.
“Arrey, Rabinna Tangon – the old man who wrote nice-nice songs….the ones you sing”, she clarified.
“You mean Rabindranath Tagore? In Bengali we call him Robindronath Thakur – that is exactly how you should pronounce. But what about him ? Are you all going to celebrate his birthday in school ?”
“No, not us. The seniors will sing and dance to his songs. And guess what?”
“What?”. I got excited at the possible probability that perhaps my daughter was selected to perform.
“We are having a HOLIDAY! Yay! “, her eyes shone at the prospect of a holiday.
I sighed. My mind reeled back to my childhood!
Come May and it was time for a special meeting of our secret club – Seven Star Golden Club which had not more than six members. My uncle, who was hardly two years senior, would take out his prized possession – a worn-out collection of Rabindranath Tagore’s songs and poems. Having cleared his throat he would declare, “Friends, this year we shall celebrate the birthday of Tagore in a grand way! This year we’ll try out new songs!”
“And the play? Will it be the same play this year too?”, one of us would just throw in the question as softly as possible – avoiding a direct eye-contact with uncle.
“Hmm…ofcourse. ‘The Postoffice’ is a hit play and we shall not divert from that”, he would announce. The sad reality was that even if he had wanted there was no alternative because his book contained only that single play and no more.
“Rather, we shall practice some new songs which we shall sing. And think of two dance pieces which you all can perform”.
So ‘new songs’ it would be. The first few lines would go fine – with our uncle ‘fine-tuning’ the music now and then. The problem would crop up beyond the first few lines. Invariably he would have no clue about the musical bit and would add his own touches till one of us would helplessly declare, “But doesn’t the song sound different with every practice?” The frown and ‘you-are-not-fit-to-be-here’ looks of my uncle would make us apologize and continue with the practice till the ‘fine-tuning’ would go terribly off the mark! And then finally it would be decided that we would simply ‘recite’ the songs instead of singing them!
Rehearsals over, small invitation chits would be passed on to the family members – inviting them for the special occasion. Chairs and every possible seating arrangements would be dragged out from every home for the ‘guests’ to sit and an adult would be coaxed to clean the courtyard for the special performance.
While we would struggle tucking our sarees as tightly as possible , though still looking like pregnant women in their final trimester, our uncle would invest his time giving final touches to his art-work – a portrait of Rabindranath Tagore!
“But they will publish a lot of his pictures in the newspaper. Can we not use a cut-out from there?”, the ‘stupid’ younger ones would dare question.
To this, he would just let out a smile – thumbing down their foolishness. Just before the programme would start, he would present his work of art – placing it at a high table for all to see. A cross-breed between Karl Marx and Albert Einstein, it would hardly resemble Tagore! While the adults would reserve their comments to, “Ahem! Not bad!”, some of us would struggle too hard to suppress our giggles!
And finally our show would start! Interspersed with wrong dance steps, forgotten lines and tripping over each other’s sarees, the show would never fail to marvel the audience –with each of them contributing to the pant-as-you-sing-and-dance numbers. Some of the adults would also share interesting anecdotes about Tagore – nearly converting the song and dance programme to a serious discussion about Tagore – till one wiser one would moderate the situation and bring it back on tracks! The programme would end with a huge round of applause and pat on our backs. But we would still wait patiently for the ‘final bit’. The ‘token of encouragement’ would drop in one by one – in the form of coins of ones and notes of two or five – if we were lucky enough! We were not supposed to be greedy and grab but humbly bow our heads and accept the ‘kind donations’!
And then we would run! The destinations varied but the objective was always the same – some snacks for the starved souls! The coins would clamour on the counter of the shopkeeper and metamorphose into little packets – small, square ‘Bablu’ biscuits (why Bablu and who Bablu we had no clue!), tangy-salty mixtures and jet-black balls of grainy tamarind sweet (which seemed over-adulterated with saw-dust!). We would grab the packets and rush back home – keeping our eyes fixed on the greying sky! And while we would be half way home, a Norwester would invariably race in with us. We would stop and take shelter under one of the tin shades and watch the ‘dance of nature’. The grounds would winnow out little balls of blinding dust; the orange-red petals of the Gulmohar would spray- paint here and there, the dusty pollens of mango flowers would match steps with the blowing wind till droplets of rain would calm down the mad frenzy. We clutch on to the soggy packets, watching nature celebrate Tagore’s birthday. The blinding rain afterwards would be the final touches to the grand celebration –of which we were a small part!
So after all these years it baffles me as to why, a person who was ever active all his life, would be chained to the confines of a holiday? And it really pains me to think that the one who had made it a mission to promote unconventional education system would be a subject of analytical dissection in the exam papers?
It really is time to make our following generations look at our heritage and culture beyond the confines of text-books and calendar holidays. Otherwise it won’t be long before TAGore is lost in the maze of HashTAGs!!
And how I really wish my daughter doesn’t spend Tagore’s birthday watching Doraemon and Motu-Patlu!