“Rabindranath lived in this bungalow”, I commented as we passed by the iconic heritage home located about a kilometer from my house. We paused at the large iron gate to read the black granite plaque that had the name ‘Jitbhumi’ engraved on it. “I heard this place has got some new owners”, I continued. “I hope they give this place its due and maintain it as is”. It was then that we noticed Tagore’s bust, just beyond the gate. Now this was something new, I hadn’t seen it before. Clearly, the new owners (a doctor couple) do understand the value of this property. Just then a man, clad in a security guard’s attire, appeared and started walking swiftly towards us. We were all set to be shooed away. Instead, the guard opened the gate and ushered us in. While entry inside the house was not allowed, we were happy to walk and look around the property. So, visitors are allowed in here.
We all know Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, the legendary poet, who was also a writer, novelist, dramatist, composer, philosopher, social reformer, and painter. The iconic figure of Indian cultural renaissance, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1912 for Gitanjali – a collection of poems, originally written in Bengali and later translated into English.
But, how many of us know that the multitalented personality had a deep connection with Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya!
Tagore visited Shillong not just once, but thrice in 1919, 1923, and 1927. No other hill station has had the privilege of hosting the illustrious poet so many times. Several iconic literary creations emerged from these three visits. The classic master piece romantic novel, Shesher Kobita, for e.g., is set in the backdrop of Shillong, though Tagore wrote it during a trip to South India. Raktakarobi and Shillonger Chiti are the other well-known creations associated with his Shillong visit. Shillonger Chiti is a true representation of how profoundly Tagore’s poetic sense was captivated by the innate natural beauty of Shillong.
In his memoirs, the poet describes the winding road to Shillong as ‘aka – baka – poth’ with eye catching forests on either side. He celebrates the unique aroma of the Pine trees and is charmed by the Rhododendrons of the evergreen Khasi Hills. Shillong’s calmness and tranquillity surrounded by Pine and Deodar trees reflects well in all such Tagore’s work.
Tagore was already a global celebrity when he first arrived at Shillong. However, it’s a pity that the city did not give the bard his due welcome. Shillong was then the capital of Assam and was under the administration of British Government. It was a time when the political scenario of the country was in a very disturbed state. Tagore had denounced his Knighthood as a protest to the inhumanly cruel Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 1918 when the British Army had opened indiscriminate fire killing 400 innocent Indians and leaving several thousand injured. Many people in Shillong probably avoided his company lest they offend the British rulers. It is said that Tagore was upset with the attitude of people but that did not diminish his adoration for Shillong. During his first visit, Tagore stayed for 20 days at a bungalow known as Brookside, which is now owned by the Art and Culture Department of Meghalaya Government.
It was during his second visit, that Tagore stayed at ‘Jitbhumi’ for two months, which at that time belonged to his niece. He was just back from a year-long trip to Europe and America. It was during his time here that he wrote Raktakarobi (Red Oleanders), a drama reflecting his experience of the largely mechanical and materialistic life in the West. A significant event during this second visit was the celebration of Tagore’s birthday on the 8th of May, 1923.
That ‘Jitbhumi’ owners have retained the bungalow in its original form and preserved many of his precious memories speaks volumes about their admiration and respect towards the renowned poet.
During his third and final visit in May-June 1927, Tagore stayed at Solomon Villa, later renamed as Sidli House in Upland Road, Laitumkhrah. During this time, he composed the novel Tinpurush, which he later renamed as Yogayog. He penned a few poems too. The letters he wrote to friends and family are also preserved. This heritage house no longer exists.
Besides Tagore, Shillong has also been fortunate to host Swami Vivekananda and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. However, it’s extremely unfortunate that there has been no effort to preserve the heritage homes where people of such stature have stayed. Most are destroyed. It’s a blessing therefore that ‘Jitbhumi’ is owned by people who understand and value the glorious heritage linked to eminent distinguished people, like Tagore.
Disclaimer: The information on Tagore’s Shillong visits is sourced from various news articles in the Internet.