I had long wanted to visit Rabindranath Tagore’s Museum at Mungpoo but was not able to do so. It was only on my recent third trip to Mungpoo. I could make my way to one of the historical museum of our hills. We, the staff from Sakyong Chisopani JHS had gone to attend the funeral of our senior staff, Mrs. Geeta Pradhan’s father to Mungpoo. I had in my mind that this time I need to visit the museum; I made my Headmaster and other staff agrees that we should visit the Rabindranath Museum. It was after the visit to Mrs. Pradhan’s house on our return back to Singtam, we all made our visit to this museum.
Despite drizzle, my enthusiasm to look inside the house was driving me crazy. As we approach the museum, a locked gate welcomed us; it was enough to give me a setback. A shout from the gate of the Government Quinine Factory nearby caught our attention and we were told to stay back. That person gave a call from his mobile and shouted to us. He had informed the caretaker about our visit and a man in his 40s came rushing towards us. He was Sisir Rawat, a Nepali caretaker of the museum. I was the first to greet him and in his Bengali ascent he said, “Bengal time ho, yestai chha”, he was referring to his absence. He opened the gate and we all entered the premises of the house that had Rabindranath Tagore, one of the celebrated sons of India stay in his dying days.
He introduced himself, ‘I am Sisir, a third generation caretaker of this museum and I don’t know whether my son will follow this tradition’. In his words i found, he felt it more of a pride that he had been following a tradition of his family and he enjoyed doing it.
We reached the entrance door; I could read the sign board placed near to the door that say, “Open your shoes”. I took no time to even take off my socks; I just wanted to feel the aura of the floor inside the bungalow. Sisir opened the door of the bungalow and the first thing that we saw was an armchair with Rabindranath Tagore’s photo frame facing us. Floral design painted on the wooden plank floor and few flowers offered to pay respect to the poet.
Sisir, the caretaker who was an experienced guide told us, it was from the very place, the poet used to have the view of the place around. Thou on that day, the cold climate and the fog around kept us away from what Rabindranath Tagore might have come across that brought him four times to this beautiful locale, far from the madding crowd of Calcutta, now Kolkata. I was listening to our guide’s word, he was fluent in his saying and the way he was uttering words with his eyes closed, it made me think, apart from Rabindranath Tagore’s tale he did not had his personal life.
He was speaking without being interrupted by our staff. He made us enter a small dark room with the hours of daylight partially entering inside. The atmosphere around was different from the usual class-room, we teachers face every day; except for few flashes of mobile camera to capture the moment around. Out there, we were his students and we silently listened to him, as we expect our students to do so when we are narrating something
Rabindranath Tagore also popular as Gurudev, the first Indian to receive the prestigious Nobel Prize, in between 1938-40 had visited Mungpoo four times (21st May, 1938, 24th May, 1939, 12th Sept. 1939 and 21st August 1940) and on each visit he had his stay at the very bungalow where we were standing. Our guide told us he had stayed here for more than months on each occasions.
Pointing towards the series of old photographs hanged on the wall, our guide was narrating legends related with it. The photographs seem to weathered out, some faded. I was surprised the museum, one of its kind was loosing its charm. With cracks around not yet filled, no power supply inside the bungalow, pathetic condition of the valued rare photographs; I did not expect at all.
The bungalow used to be the official residence of Maitreyi Devi, famed poet, a close aide of Rabindranath Tagore, who considered Maitreyi Devi as her daughter. Maitreyi Devi’s husband Manmohan Sen was then working at Government Quinine Factory. After the death of Rabindranath Tagore, the bungalow was given a heritage status and his belongings a worldwide property for his admirers.
With his eyes closed, our guide kept on narrating the stories, which had to be documented, I believe after him the legend of Rabindranath Tagore and his stay at Mungpoo might be lost forever. He even recited few lines of Tagore’s bengali poem ‘Janmodin’ that he had written on his 40th birthday at Mungpoo. Pointing at one of the near faded photograph, Sisir said he was the father of Amartya Sen, another Bengal Nobel laureate. We just said to ourselves. Oh!
A wooden box bed lying opposite the wall with decorated framed photographs was the actual bed of Gurudev that he had used during his stay out there. The unusual thing about the bed, it had a back support which is very rarely used even to this day. Our guide added, the bed was made by Tagore’s son. A wrinkled white bed sheet with a half bust of Tagore placed on it, I felt petty and at the same time delighted to touch the bed. I asked Sumit, my colleague to capture my moment with the bed. I asked myself, are we allowed elsewhere too close to the object of historic importance.
Just then, I had a call from Suni, my wife and I made my way outside the lawn looking for better signal. What I missed in-between the words of our guide was narration about a kitchen that used to be outside the bungalow. Through the glass window he had shown our staff that vacant place that had to be brought down due to lack of fund to restore it.
As we enter the room further we came across, another room with Tagore’s painting (not the original one but reprinted) hanging on the wall and to its centre inside a glass box there were display of letters, the poet had written from Mungpoo and had received. The wall was covered with laminated rough papers of Tagore that he had used while writing poems. To its left, a bath tub but I found it too small for a size of Tagore I had seen on photographs. We followed our guide one room after another; we came across printed paintings of the poet decorating the room whose fascination towards painting had grown in his later years.
The last part of the museum, the study room was the biggest highlight of the bungalow. It was an awe-inspiring feel to imagine that I could someday write down my name at the visitor book of the museum on the table that was used by Rabindranath Tagore, my way of existence seems to shy away.