Art, Culture and Aesthetics

Musings on Rabindranath Tagore – 3: Silently shall thou dwell, in the deepest recesses of my heart

While searching for a rendition of “Tumi Robe Nirobe” (Silently shall thou dwell), I came across this outstanding video of this exquisite composition, sung by a young artist I had not heard of earlier.

Gifted with a melodious, tenor voice (with a slight tremor, which makes the voice even more appealing), Sanam Puri, a Punjabi, renders this song in near perfect Bengali diction – something that young native Bengali singers of Kolkata and elsewhere, with their highly affected, put-on, pseudo westernized Bengali accents might want to learn to do.

The composition is suffused with tender romanticism in both lyrics and melody. And true to the spirit of the song, the artist sings it with insight and integrity and invests his rendition with a rare sensitivity – an understated passion, completely befitting this exceptionally beautiful composition.

And the instrumental arrangement that goes with the song is outstanding to say the least, particularly the elder Samar Puri, on the lead guitar.

And then there is Tagore, standing above all, shining through everything else, and reigning supreme. It is amazing that a song written 120 years back (1895 to be precise) still retains its romantic charm and appeal – both lyrically and musically. Even to this date, this song, like many other compositions of Tagore, remains surprisingly universal, modern, contemporary and fresh, if not near eternal.

This is one of the few songs that we know of, that Tagore had written addressing his wife, Mrinalini Devi. The poet was in the full bloom of youth then and had had his fourth child, Mira, a year earlier. He was experiencing marital bliss and contentment – a sense of fulfillment in family life, he had not felt earlier. And his feelings poured out in this unusually beautiful, haunting song.

It was truly an ode to Mrinalini Devi, his wife.

Those of us who are keen students of Tagore, can’t help observe with sadness that such tender bliss was not to be experienced by the poet ever again, in the long, productive and increasingly lonely and sad life that followed – a life that was at once filled with inner greatness and grandeur, and stupendous and sustained achievements in multiple spheres, as with profound grief, sorrow, setbacks and loneliness.

That makes this song that much more special to me and other students of the poet.

I have not found a satisfactory English translation of this song, not even the one by Tagore himself. Tagore was after all not a great translator in English.

I have shared my translation of this song with FB friends earlier and I am doing so yet again.

তুমি রবে নীরবে হৃদয়ে মম
নিবিড় নিভৃত পূর্ণিমানিশীথিনী-সম॥

মম জীবন যৌবন মম অখিল ভুবন
তুমি ভরিবে গৌরবে নিশীথিনী-সম॥

জাগিবে একাকী তব করুণ আঁখি,
তব অঞ্চলছায়া মোরে রহিবে ঢাকি।

মম দুঃখবেদন মম সফল স্বপন
তুমি ভরিবে সৌরভে নিশীথিনী-সম॥

Silently shall thou dwell
In the deepest recesses of my heart
Like the radiance of the solitary full moon
Spread across the night sky

The springtime of my life, my entire universe
Thou shall lend glory to,
Like the radiance of the solitary full moon
Spread across the night sky

In thy solitary pensive gaze
Shall thou watch over me
The shelter of thy drape
Shall be my secluded refuge

My sorrow, my pain, my dreams that come true
Thou shall render sweet with thy fragrance
Like the radiance of the solitary full moon
Spread across the night sky

– Rabindranath Tagore

(Translation: Shumon Sengupta)

I shall end my comment with my sense of deep gratitude to Sanam Puri and other members of his band. They have rendered this century old composition in an contemporary format, using a contemporary sensibility, without compromising one bit on the essential spirit, tenderness and beauty of the song.

They have surpassed themselves with this recording and created a shining example for Bengali singers of Rabindra Sangeet from the newest generation – young men and women struggling to reclaim this genre of Bengali music in a contemporary format (primarily as Band musicians), using contemporary sensibilities.

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Despite our overwhelming collective failing as Bengalis, every once in a while something extraordinary presents itself, that makes me feel immensely proud of my cultural heritage and identity – something that makes me want to be nothing but a quintessential Bengali.

I was completely blown off my feet by this video; every moment of which is one of auditory and visual joy – every moment a complete aesthetic experience in itself. In my view, it is the epitome of the finest Bengali sensibility, an example of unsurpassed cultural refinement.

Tagore and his community of teachers and students in Shantiniketan had redefined Bengali sensibility and taken modern Bengali aesthetics to its exalted levels, the lasting impact of that is so beautifully reflected in this video.

The setting is a typical affluent/upper middle-class Bengali household of bygone Calcutta – wax polished cement / red oxide floors, Venetian blinds, period furniture, books, frames and curios – a home that is elegant and beautiful, at the same time devoid of ostentation; indicating affluence, at the same time, restraint.

Shubhayu Sen Majumdar, nephew of the High Priest of Rabindra-Sangeet, (Acharya Sailajaranjan Majumdar) has surpassed himself in his rendition on the Esraj. He hasn’t missed a single note, not a single nuance of this outstanding melodic composition of Tagore in raga Behag. Shubhayu breaths life into his Esraj, cajoling the deepest and most delicate of human emotions out of an ‘inanimate’ instrument.

If Subhayu’s music melts the heart, the cinematography totally overwhelms us by its intense sensuality. The camera pans slowly through the house, capturing in its gentle sweep, emotional states of different characters – individuals who have come under the spell of the melody and surrendered themselves totally to its powers.

The slow panning of the camera is in total sync with the music. Everything seems to be in perfect harmony – the characters wrapped in tranquility, lost in their own private worlds. Soumitro Chatterjee, who in my view is among the greatest living actors in the world, conveys so much without uttering a single word.

And this is also a rare example in which we find a wonderful meeting ground of Indian and Western musical instruments – of the marriage of short lived, distinct notes of the piano, with the sustained, smooth and gliding notes of the Esraj; of harmony with melody.

And finally, if there is one person who transcends everything else, it is Tagore with his music. Tagore had said that from his vast corpus of literary and artistic works, if anything were to pass the test of time and survive, it would be his songs. And there couldn’t have been a better testimony to that.

Today, more than 70 years after Tagore passed away, the little that is true, the little that is good, the little that is beautiful about us Bengalis, we owe it largely to him.

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