MP Virendra Sharma hosted a historic event in Committee Room 10 at Westminster last Thursday 3rd April 2014, when Bithika Raha Basu, Founder Director of the Nrityakala Dance Heritage put together a glittering panel to celebrate Rabindranath Tagore.
Portraits of the great and the good looked down on a packed room of Tagore fans. The panel was the most distinguished it could be and everyone’s interest was held throughout the meeting.
There was the Bangladeshi High Commissioner, renowned Tagore expert and former Foreign Secretary, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes. Also on the panel was the Indian High Commissioner, Ranjan Mathai, and Lord Navnit Dholakia, PC, OBE, DL, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Patron of Nrityakala Dance Academy.
Bithika had organised a powerful event that gave great cause for reflection. All the speakers spoke thoughtfully. The spirit of Tagore seemed to unite and dominate, as those of us with lesser knowledge listened, rapt.
Virendra, sitting in the centre of the panel as host, welcomed the High Commissioners and Lord Dholakia, saying that it was important for younger generations to know about Tagore. He told us that the poet influenced his own life, and he recalled how in a room in his childhood home, a portrait of Tagore was placed between those of Gandhi and Nehru.
Mr Mathai said that Tagore was a “Towering figure.”
Lord Dholakia commented, “Bengal has produced erudite people,” so it is not surprising that Tagore comes from there. He added, “I always find his poetry and literature unique.” He highlighted that Tagore was the first person from the Asia region to be awarded the Nobel prize. He pointed out that Tagore wrote the national anthem for two countries, India and Bangladesh. Lord Dholakia’s wise, emotive words finished with “The Indian High Commissioner coming here means that everything that is good about India is being celebrated in the Houses of Parliament.” Previously, the noble Lord had hosted a Tagore event for Bithika in the House of Lords.
Then the Tagore powerhouse and proponent that is H.E. Mohamed Mijarul Quayes stood. When this Harvard- educated diplomat speaks on Tagore, we listen. He said, “Tagore celebrated the essence of man. He was the quintessential Bengali and man of the world.” H.E. added that rather than be elevated by the Nobel prize, “Tagore elevated the Nobel prize to world level;” he redefined the Nobel outreach as the first non-European to win.
The Bangladeshi High Commissioner also pointed out that Tagore was promoting human rights along with the right of all people to have freedom from fear and freedom from want. He told us how Tagore respected women, and uttered profoundly, “Bengalis fall back on him to recharge.”
Director of the Nehru Centre and Minister for Culture Sangeeta Bahadur sat at the front, along with Bangladeshi councillor Rohima Rahman.
Bithika designed a varied evening, with the Bangladesh High Commissioner’s niece Dia Chkravarty talking about Tagore’s songs, clearly also passionate about the poet. She was followed by John Stevens from SOAS who enthusiastically placed Tagore in a world context.
Bithika is clearly a visionary on a mission and it might not be long before she is recognised by governments here and back home for her devotion to Tagore. I remember her talking to me ages ago about a film she wanted to produce about Tagore and dance that maybe I could present, and we were shown it here this evening. It was beautifully educative about Tagore, and featured several people in the room, like Lord Dholakia and Ashis Ray, gifted senior journalist and Editor of Ray Media. Ashis masterfully chaired the panel discussion and questions from the floor, keeping things moving and simple. He said that Tagore was a patriot, but not a jingoist.
Then the Bangladeshi High Commissioner and Sangeeta Bahadur launched a wonderful music CD, “The Legend Lives On” of Tagore songs and poems sung in Bengali, Urdu and Hindi, with the three performing singers all present and identified.
Clearly Bithika’s efforts are a family project as both her son and her daughter were present and her daughter works with her on Tagore; the youngster also gave the vote of thanks.
I am glad that we were invited along by Virendra Sharma as it is rare to experience such a rich evening anywhere in London with such fantastic speakers.