Tagore-Ocampo memorabilia reveals enigmatic relationship

Last Updated: Sun, Mar 03, 2013 09:10 hrs

Kolkata, March 3 (IANS) A pair of sunglasses, a book of poems, old gramophone records: These and other items brought back to Santiniketan from Argentina take one to the early 20th century and the enigmatic relationship between Argentine writer and feminist Victoria Ocampo and Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

The much written about relationship flourished across two continents and spanned decades. There were many letters and gifts exchanged between the two, which speak of a deep affection.

The Tagore memorabilia, a recent acquisition of the Rabindra Bhavana Museum at Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, was handed over to the authorities by S.P. Ganguly, a professor of Latin-American studies in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Ganguly gained possession of the items from Ocampo's trusted aide Maria Renee Cura in 2002.

"The gifts exchanged between the two preserved by Cura encapsulate the intensity of Tagore's and Ocampo's feelings for each other, the desire for each other's company. It was a deeply spiritual and emotional association, and each of them was influenced by the other," Ganguly told IANS.

One of the gifts is a copy of the book "Puravi" (authored by Tagore in 1925) that the poet had autographed and gifted to Victoria Ocampo in 1940 - that contains poems dedicated to her by the author.

"Tagore had composed around 400 poems on love and nature. Many of them came after meeting Ocampo. "Puravi" contains all the poems that Tagore had composed with Victoria in mind," said Ganguly.

Tapati Mukherjee, director of Rabindra Bhavana, considers the copy of "Puravi" the most important piece of the memorabilia.

"We can safely say that Tagore had affection for Ocampo. The copy of "Puravi" is the most important of all the gifts," Mukherjee told IANS.

Ocampo was introduced to Tagore's work on reading his "Gitanjali", which she read after Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Ocampo read Andre Gide's French translation of "Gitanjali".

Tagore and Ocampo met for the first time in 1924 in Argentina when Ocampo was a 34-year-old emerging writer and Tagore was 63.

Ocampo or "Vijaya" as Tagore called her, met him again in 1930 in France, which proved to be their last meeting.

However, over the years, both exchanged innumerable letters and gifts until Tagore's death in 1941.

A part of the memorabilia is E.J. Thompson's "Rabindranath Tagore - His Life and Work" which, according to Ganguly, "was read almost like a text book" by Ocampo.

Similarly, the powered sunglasses presented to the latina writer by the Bengali novelist is evocative of Tagore's thoughtful nature.

"The sunglasses were powered, which meant she could have a better vision when she wore it. This shows that much thought went behind the gifts," said Ganguly.

The decade-long process of returning the artefacts began when Cura handed over the collection to a visiting Indian politician in Argentina in 2002.

"As she was in poor health, Cura handed over the memorabilia in March 2002 to a visiting Indian politician (at her home) in Chivilcoy near Buenos Aires in the presence of then Indian ambassador, for handing them over to Visva-Bharati," said Ganguly.

Since things did not transpire according to her wish, she took the collection back during her New Delhi visit later in 2002. But she noticed that two items were missing.

One of these was a stole with a Tagore painting that came as part of the Desikottam award, the highest honour accorded by Visva-Bharati, which Cura had received from Indira Gandhi in 1968 when as prime minister, Gandhi had visited Argentina; the second was a saree that Tagore had gifted Ocampo.

The two missing items had found a home in Saantiniketan by then.

Cura entrusted the remaining items to Ganguly for handing over to Visva-Bharati. It took some persuasion and repeated attempts, but the memorabilia are now all with Visva-Bharati.

"I am happy and relieved that the memorabilia have been returned to their proper place," Ganguly said.

(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at sahana.g@ians.in)

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