Report on my research visit to Scotland under the UKIERI program

Rabindranath Tagore had once stated that human mind ‘has faculties which are universal’ (‘East and West’ 530) as he believed Esha devo visvakarmā mahātmā sadā janānam hridaya sannivishatah (‘This is the divine being, the world-worker, who is the Great Soul ever dwelling inherent in the hearts of all people’) (The Religion 55).

Saptarshi Mallick
Saptarshi Mallick

Such a divine realization dawned in my heart when my Charles Wallace India Trust (CWIT) research trip was extended by the UK-India Educational Research Initiative (UKIERI) program and I reached the UNESCO heritage city of Edinburgh on June 25, 2016, to undertake research at some of the polemical libraries and archives of Scotland.

Being familiar with the rich history, heritage and culture of Scotland, my mind and soul became acumen to be enriched, both academically and culturally at Scotland. The musical warmth of summer, the vast blue sky with light clouds, the distant cries of the sea-gulls, the helpful and lively people, the green meadows down the Princes Street, the Scott monument, the historical National Art Gallery, the eternal Mound, the modern City Art Gallery, the royal Arthur’s Seat and the guardian-like Edinburgh Castle greeted me as I stepped out of the Edinburgh Waverley railway station and waited for the traffic to cross the road. The warmth and the smile of the people around made me immediately feel at home, a space where love, affection and support is ensured.

The first phase of my research was based at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) and at the Edinburgh Central Library (ECL). The NLS being a major European research library, with collections of world-class importance, I was able to get access to some of the necessary books by Patrick Geddes, some of the latest anthologies and biographies on William Carey, David Hare, some articles on Rabindranath Tagore and on the Bengal Renaissance.

I feel extremely privileged on being able to access several ingenious collections at the NLS, of which a few of the books are worth mentioning, Duncan Forbes’s A Grammar of the Bengali Language published by Wm. H. Allen and Co. from London in 1861, Daniel Webber’s William Carey and The Missionary Vision published by the Banner of Truth Trust from Edinburgh in 2005, Daniel E. White’s From Little London To Little Bengal: Religion, Print and Modernity In Early British India 1793 – 1835 published by The John Hopkins University from Baltimore in 2013, Chandrani Chatterjee’s Translation Reconsidered: Culture, Genre and the “Colonial Encounter” in Nineteenth Century Bengal published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing from Newcastle upon Tyne in 2010 and Parna Sengupta’s Pedagogy Fore Religion: Missionary Education And The Fashioning of Hindus and Muslims In Bengal published by the University of California Press from Berkley in 2011.

It was thoroughly enriching for me at the NLS where apart from the books and the archival materials, I will always cherish the support I have received from the staff of the NLS during my study at the place, they were always ready with a warm smile to help and guide me whenever needed. The enriching reading room, the display of innovative and resourceful Scottish literary collections, the NLS shop, the café, the pioneering exhibitions (The John Murray Archive, A Journey through Maps) all comprehensively assimilated to nurture, both academically and culturally, my heart and mind during the period of my study at the NLS.

While, I devoted most of my time for my research at the NLS, my visit to the ECL enabled me to know Edinburgh, ‘the heritage city’ and Scotland better through a wide range of books which are at an open-shelf access for readers. Like all registered readers I was able to borrow several books from the Edinburgh and Scottish Collections of the ECL like Bashabi Fraser’s Edinburgh: An Intimate City published by the City of Edinburgh Council from Edinburgh in 2000, Henry Vollam Morton’s In Search of Scotland published by Methuen Publishing Limited in 2000 and Julian Holland’s Lochs: Exploring Scotland’s Freshwater Lochs published by Frances Lincoln from London in 2011.

My association with Edinburgh and Scotland became intimate as I continued to read these books but soon this feeling metamorphosed in me into love as I began to interact with the people of the city, feel the pulse of the ambience and visit the various historical and culturally significant places like St Agustine’s Church, Elephant House, Grey Friars Bobby, National Museum of Scotland, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Mosque, Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, John Knox’s home, Ramsay Gardens, Mound, Writer’s Museum, City Art Gallery, National Gallery of Scotland, Scot Monument, Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, Royal Botanic Garden, Charlotte Chapel, Abbotsford, Portebello, Glencoe Etive, Loch Lomond, Robert Smail’s Printing Works to name a few. Besides, I always walked around the city of Edinburgh, beyond the hours of the library, as I believed that it will enable me to get associated with the place and know the people better.

Murdo Macdonald stated, ‘Edinburgh is a city which encourages you to think about what a city is’, so as I continued my personal endeavours to know and feel the ‘boldness and grandeur’ (Thomas Pennat) possessed by this warm city, I also simultaneously carried ahead with my research work at the other libraries like, the archives at the University of Dundee, the archives at the Devon Heritage Centre and the archives at the University of Strathclyde.

I have been extremely enriched through my study of the Patrick Geddes papers preserved at the archives of the University of Dundee, where I had visited twice during my stay at Edinburgh. This journey by train amidst the picturesque Scottish landscape, through the magnanimous Forth Bridge and finally over the ‘fluid gentleness and tearful coercion’ (Fraser 22) of the river Tay enabled me to realise the might and the angelic presence of the Almighty residing in each and every object of Nature. A thorough study of the archival materials on Patrick Geddes at this archive at the University of Dundee facilitated a proper knowledge on this Scottish pioneer who connected cultures through his visionary foresight.

My next visit was at the Devon Heritage Centre at the County of Devon at Exeter. At the archive I studied and researched intensively on some of the unknown papers from the Dartington Trust on Rabindranath Tagore, Leonard Elmhirst and Victoria Ocampo. This visit was an eye-opening experience for me as I explored the unexplored the papers well preserved in the archive.

My last visit during my stay at Scotland was to the archive at the University of Strathclyde to access the papers on Patrick Geddes and his son Arthur Geddes. The documents, the letters, the various sketches not only illuminate the mind but also compel the reader to decipher their ‘intuition’.

My curiosity to know and explore Edinburgh was further facilitated by the UKIERI programme funding my participation in the ‘India at Edinburgh’ Summer School (August 1 – 3, 2016) organised by the Edinburgh India Institute, School of Social and Political Science, The University of Edinburgh. I am thoroughly enriched by the intricate presence of India in this heritage city which assimilate the history and cultures of the two nations.

Simultaneously with my research, I continued to explore certain regions of Scotland and the city of Edinburgh. Exploring the old town and the new town of Edinburgh on foot was a phenomenal experience. Being privileged to stay over at 71/1, Henderson Row, in front of the Edinburgh Academy, I embraced every opportunity (after my work was done) to explore the city on foot through the main roads and the lanes following the magical turns and the hilly terrain which was so enchanting that I often failed to realise the exhaustion till I reached my home.

The light summer rain, the bright sun rays, the cleanliness of the public places, the principled traffic, the colourful flower baskets hanging at bus stops, the dynamic and vast green meadows of the University of Edinburgh, the well lit pubs and cafes, the tasty food, the intoxicating smell of coffee and Scotch whisky, the enduring clock towers of the churches around, the Charlotte square all seemed to be a part of my magical tour around the city. The dynamic city of Edinburgh became more vibrant with street performances and various cultural and philanthropic programme during the Festival (The Fringe) in the summer which is not only awesome but also a cultural signifier.

I feel blessed to be able to experience the Festival at Edinburgh which brought in visitors around the world making life in the heritage city zestful. My interactions with several residents (who are not known to me) of Dundee, Edinburgh, Inverkeithing and Glasgow had been a delightful cultural experience, as I experienced the warmth of togetherness from their gesture and words which made me feel at home during my entire stay at Scotland and develop a bond with this remarkable nation and her awesome citizens.

I am eternally indebted to Professor Bashabi Fraser, Director, Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs), Edinburgh Napier University and Principal Investigator of the UKIERI programme, for permitting me to be a research associate and undertake research at the various archival institutions of Scotland and England under this UKIERI programme. I am also grateful to Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta for nominating me to undertake research on her behalf in this UKIERI programme. I am also privileged to have been able to assist Professor Tapati Mukhopadhyay and Professor Amrit Sen in the UKERI programme during their research visit to Edinburgh.

I would also like to express my gratitude to Marguerite le Riche, Institute Administrator, School of Arts and Creative Industries, Edinburgh Napier University for efficiently managing and harmoniously coordinating my stay at Edinburgh and taking care of all the other necessities.

I am extremely grateful to the members of all the archives and libraries I had visited during the course of my stay at Scotland for their immense support and help. I am thoroughly enriched, both academically and culturally, after my stay at Edinburgh, which has become my home as a result the farewell, was quite painful which made me realise after reaching India, that I have returned with a fragment of Scotland in my heart.


Works Cited:

Fraser, Bashabi. From the Ganga to the Tay. Edinburgh: Luath Press Limited, 2009. Print.
Tagore, Rabindranath. “East and West.” The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore Volume II. Ed. Sisir Kumar Ghosh. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996. 530 – 537. Print.
———-. The Religion of Man (1930). New Delhi: Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd., 2005. Print.