This is an account of the life of Anapurna Turkhud Littledale who was a special presence in the life of Rabindranath Tagore, whom he called ‘Nalini’. Historical research and investigations with The Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies led to identifying where her body, and the body of her Denzil her child, came to their final resting places in Morningside Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland. The following is a recording of a memorial ceremony and unveiling of a plaque to commemorate her life and the life of her child Denzil.
Introduction and Welcome
We’re here to remember Anapurna Turkhud, a woman who meant a great deal to Rabindranath Tagore, at a certain period in his life. We’re here to bring Ana’s life to the attention of the people of Edinburgh because she came and died here, in Marchmont, tragically early, 132 years ago today.
A poet in ancient times once wrote that ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; A time to be born, and a time to die’; but there’s also ‘a time to mourn, and a time to dance’; and the poet might have added, a time to forget and a time to remember. We’re not planning to dance, but you can if you like; we are planning to remember Ana, with some singing, and some music from Scotland as well as from Bengal.
My name is Roger Jeffery, and I’m here because, for the past 7 or 8 years, I’ve been involved in a project to make visible in Edinburgh its India links. I used to call the project, at least in my own mind, ‘Edinburgh, an Indian City?’ with a question mark at the end. I don’t call it that any more, but I hope you get the general idea. There are many links between India and Edinburgh but few of them are visible, either to the casual visitor or to the long-term resident. Anapurna’s story is part of this much bigger picture, and today’s celebration of a life, and the unveiling of a memorial plaque, is one step in a journey to rectify that wider invisibility.
Those of us who made it our business to create the plaque that will be unveiled in a few minutes did so because we want the people of Edinburgh to know more about the entangled links between India and Edinburgh. We cannot fully understand where Edinburgh is today without seeing how the Indian sub-continent contributes to this shared history. For two centuries, between the 1750s and the 1950s, India was a prominent feature of the lives of Edinburgh’s population. Anapurna came here in 1891 because her brother was studying medicine here, as many young Indian men – and, indeed, a few Indian women – did. That’s how one specific aspect of the complex entanglement between Edinburgh and India worked itself out in the life of this young woman.
Bashabi Fraser and Hauke Wiebe have in many ways contributed to the research that brought Ana’s life into the light after many years hidden away in old documents. They will say more about the impact of the story of Ana’s life on them. We’ll also have some poetry, from Tagore himself but also from Robert Burns, a poet that Tagore respected and translated. And there will be opportunities for you here today to tell us what Ana’s story means to you.
Before I hand over to Hauke I want just to say something about Ana’s descendants. In a ceremony like this, descendants would normally have a prominent role. On this occasion, Ana’s direct descendants – at least, those we know about – live in the United States, and cannot be with us today. But they are with us in spirit. Here’s what Cynthia Curtiss, a member of the family, wrote this morning:
“My former father-in-law, Harold Aylmer Littledale Jr. was a learned, cultured and accomplished man. He was also extraordinarily family-centered, and it was from him that I learned about the Littledale family’s ancestry. I believe he recognized, in me, the same strong sense of family, and knew that in sharing stories and information about his father Harold Sr., his grandparents, Harold and Ana, as well as previous generations of Littledales, that I would ensure these would be kept alive and passed on to his grandchildren and future generations.
Receiving Ana’s necklace upon my marriage to his son Krishna was beyond meaningful for me. Though Ana was not my own ancestor, I felt (and still do feel) a real and true connection to her. I was proud to be the necklace’s caretaker and wore it often, sharing what little, as it turns out, I knew of Ana’s story, with many people during the years of our marriage.
On behalf of my stepson William Littledale, my daughter Alexa Littledale Curtiss and myself, please know we are grateful to the dedicated researchers who uncovered, and brought so vividly to life, so many here-to-fore unknown and fascinating details about Ana, her family, her life, and even her death.
I am including a photo of Alexa, who is, at Harold Jr.’s request, the next proud and privileged guardian of Ana’s necklace and her story. I’m now going to hand over to Hauke Wiebe, who carried out most of the primary research that established the Edinburgh end of Ana’s life.
Professorial Fellow in Sociology;
Associate Director, Edinburgh India Institute,
University of Edinburgh
Thoughts on the Significance of Ana’s Remarkable Life
When Anapurna Thurkadekar or Littledale died on this day 02 July in 1891, she was only 33. In those 33 year however she had taken many a step forward and taken many an unexpected turn for several new lives. She was born in Mumbai in 1858 to a very progressive family of active social and religious reformers, dedicated to public service as doctors and to research as scientists. Her father was Atmaram Pandurang Thurkadekar. She grew up in an open house where people and ideas walked in and out and mingled without prejudice, where the world was there to be explored and actively stepped into.
Ana, her sisters and her brothers all went abroad for education and studies at an early age, to learn and have experiences that they brought back for their own society’s improvement in fields such as fighting deadly pandemics. Ana herself brought back from her schooling in the west, a lively melody of words in many languages with her lively talent for languages, and was asked to impart this knowledge as an English language tutor to a shy young Bengali poet, the 17 year old Rabindranath Tagore, about to make his first hesitant steps in the world that he would travel and feel at home in like few other Indians of his day.
By all accounts they took to each other teasing and playing and exploring their minds in poetry. And so the idea of ‘Nalini’, a poetic muse, seems to have taken human form for Tagore in the person of Ana, and she remained with him as a memory for his life and as a lively spirt in his writing for many years (even though he defied her by growing that trademark beard which she would have hated). However, their time together was short and Tagore went on to England in 1878 and later to fame.
Meanwhile, Ana or Nalini, two years later 1880 married a young Academic, Harold Littledale, passing through her always welcoming family. Littledale’s life’s work would be to reform education of all primary school children of the State of Baroda.
With him together in Baroda, Ana brought up two daughters and a son, Ana Nelline (1880), Olga (1884) and Harold Aylmer in 1885. It was a while after her marriage 1882 she decided to convert to Christianity. We know this from the Tagore biographies of Prasanta Kumar Pal and Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay. There is, furthermore, a Littledale family memory of them all going to live in Britain but Ana not adapting well to life here.
Then next we hear of Ana is that she was here in Edinburgh, at 12 Warrender Park Crescent in Marchmont. Her brother, Dnyaneshwar Tarkhad who was a medical student, here at the University (of Edinburgh) attended her on 26th June 1891 at the birth of another son, Denzil Fane Sewell. The father who was also present at the registration of the birth is Henry Fane-Dalrymple Sewell, was a 29 year old Bank Clerk, with ambitions in poetry. He was from an influential London family with links to India and possibly the Royal connections. Then after 6 days of septicaemia and nervous exhaustion, Ana died, 12.40 pm on the 2nd July 1891. The baby Denzil was given to a nurse in Broughty Ferry where he also died exactly 4 months after his mother 2 Nov 1891. The father, Henry left shortly afterwards for North America for a new family life and moderate fame as an Edwardian patriotic poet in Vancouver Canada.
Ana and little Denzil’s grave at Morningside and any markers it might have has long been lost, and so it was long unknown to us. It is only thanks to the research of Caroline Gerard, that it could be identified and now thanks to the determination of Prof Roger Jeffery a memorial can finally be unveiled today.
We have now talked a lot about her or rather we have talked about her in the light, often bright, of the men that knew her, albeit some only very briefly, her father, Rabindranath Tagore, her brother, her husband Harold, the father of her last child Henry… I have a feeling thought that she was very much her own person.
From what we know of her – she and all her siblings, as did her parents and uncles before her, all made great steps onwards from society’s orthodoxies. Even as a young girl she admired the great reformer, Raja Ram Mohun’s had visited his grave in Bristol. She married a foreigner when this was unusual. She already had a daughter before she was married. She changed her religion. We also know o that her family did not disown her for any of that because after her death in Edinburgh, her husband Harold is said to have “forgiven her” and soon after her death, on her Indian side a niece was named ‘Nalini’, who became an activist, an early film actress, a novelist. The niece, Nalini, seems to have lived out many of the dreams that the aunt she admired, could not tragically make realise.
So much we know or think we know. And there is so much we do not know. What happened to her writing and did she publish any of it? What drove her to leave her family? Where was she going? In that unknowing about her she stands for the many women of the past, the many who came to our city (Edinburgh) from all over the world maybe in distress or maybe in hope. Her husband, left behind, is said to have marked her grave with a simple stone “She loved much” it said. That has long been lost in those eventful 132 years since her death on this day. But her love and her abundance of life still shine through to us today. And so may this plaque reach back into the past, back to her days to let her know that we are all here for her and that we still know her.
University of Edinburgh
Ana and Rabi
Both Maharshi Debendranath Tagore and Satyendranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s (Rabi) father and second eldest brother, respectively, felt that Rabi needed a formal education for a professional career as he could not be allowed to spend his time in creative activities, even though they did realise his special talents as a writer. He was to go to the University of London to study to be a barrister, like his brother, Satyendranath, who was India’s first Indian ICS (Indian Civil Service) officer. In order to equip himself for the trip to England, Rabindranath requested his bother for books to widen his knowledge of English literature and western classics.
This is when he read Dante and Petrarch and was very moved by Dante’s platonic love for Beatrice and Petrarch’s for Laura. And Laura became a particular impetus as his imagined object of love in Nalini, a name he loved, which means lotus, which signifies beauty and knowledge and also amrit – divine nectar. Rabindranath stayed at Shahibag, the beautiful and historic palace of Prince Khurram (before he became the Emperor Shah Jahan) in Ahmedabad on the banks of the Sabarmati. This was the residence of Satyendranath, the Assistant Collector and Magistrate of Ahmedabad. While his brother was away for long hours fulfilling his magisterial duties, a lonely Rabindranath was left to roam around the vast house and gardens and browse in his brother’s rich library, where his reading continued. It was here that he wrote several poems to Nalini, the object of his romantic dreams.
Satyendranath detected his sensitive young brother’s homesickness and decided to remedy the situation. So in August 1878, he sent Rabindranath to his friend, Dr Atmaram Pandurag Turkhud and his wife Radhabai’s family residence in Bombay. Theirs was a progressive household involved in challenging prevailing socio-religious orthodoxy during a reform movement that swept Bengal and embraced India in a Renaissance that made India the modern nation she is today. The Turkhuds had six children: three sons, Ramchandra, Dnaneshwar and Morehwar, and three daughters, Durga, Manak and Anapurna. The Turkhuds sent their daughters, and not just their sons to be educated in the west, of whom Dnayeshwar (who was to play a more prominent role of being a support and solace for Ana in her last days in Edinburgh), Moreshwar and Manak became doctors. It was Ana, the second daughter, who was entrusted with the task of making Rabindranath conversant with western manners and more confident in spoken English.
Ana was a sophisticated, poised and accomplished young woman of twenty, linguistically equipped with English, French, Portuguese and German, as well as Sanskrit and Marathi. Rabindranath was a shy seventeen year old, uncertain of his ability to impress an anglicised self-assured beautiful woman like Ana. He did, however, confess to her that he wrote poetry and she encouraged him to read and translate his poems for her. She asked him to give her a name, and Rabi, unhesitatingly gave her his favourite name, Nalini. Thus Nalini, the woman of his dreams was transformed into a real woman, who would become the poet’s muse. In my biography, Rabindranath Tagore (commissioned and published by Reaktion Books, London as part of their Critical Lives Series) I write of an incident that occurred during Rabi’s stay at the Turkhud residence.
On one occasion, after telling Rabi of the Western custom that anyone stealing a lady’s gloves while she was asleep won the privilege of kissing her, Ana promptly fell asleep in an easy chair in the room and woke up sometime later. Casting a furtive eye to her side, she was surprised to discover her gloves untouched. However, not to be deterred by his mentor, Rabi told her that he wrote poetry, which she showed a deep interest in, so the youthful pair spent time with Rabi reading and translating his poems to Ana, who was an appreciative listener. Ana asked Rabi to give her a name. Nalini was a favourite name of his that had appeared earlier in many of his poems and plays. This was the name he gave Ana, which she liked and which he wove into a song, ‘Shun Nalini, khol go aankhi’ (Listen Nalini, open your eyes). The name haunts other songs, such as ‘Shunechhi shunechhi ki naam tari/ Shunechhi shunechhi taha/Nalini, Nalini, Nalini, Nalini/ Kemon modhur aha’– where the poet says he has heard her name, Nalini, and what a sweet sounding name it is!
In 1878, many of the poems which Rabindranath had written while he was staying with the Turkhuds, were gathered together and published in Kabi Kahini (The Poet’s Tale). Many of the poems in this collection had been published serially in the Jorasanko (the Tagore household’s official residence in Calcutta) journal, Bharati. His fifth brother, Jyotirindranath, Rabi’s Jyotida, sent a copy of the book to Ana who was delighted to receive it and in her letter to Jyotirindranath she thanked him for the book and said that Rabindranath had read and translated the poems for her until she knew them by heart.
Rabindranath sailed for England from Bombay on SS Poona on 20 September 1878 to stay with his sister-in-law Jnanadanandini (Satyendranath’s wife) and his nephew, Surendranath and niece, Indira in Brighton before he moved to London for his studies. He attended a school in Brighton and a blue plaque has neem installed in October 2021 on the initiative of Jeanne Openshaw, on the building that had been Rabindranath’s school.
Thereafter, Ana married (Annapurna Turkhud married Harold Littledale on November 11, 1880, who was the Vice Principal of Baroda College in India and they had a daughter Ana Nelline, Olga and a son Harold Aylmer. We know that Ana came to Edinburgh to be with her brother, Dnaneshwar, who was studying medicine at the University there. She gave birth to a son, Denzil and died of exhaustion and septicaemia on 2 July 1891 at the young age of thirty three. Her little son, died four months later in Broughty Ferry where he was being looked after by a wet nurse. He is buried in Morningside Cemetery with his mother.
The gravestone has been lost through time, but from the City of Edinburgh’s Bereavement Services, the genealogist, Caroline Gerard has identified the place and record of Ana and little Denzil’s resting place at the Morningside Cemetery. The memory of a remarkable woman who broke many social strictures in her time, was one who was a trailblazer in many ways for all women with her liberalism and free spirit, is now being recovered and restored to public memory. She was a great poet’s muse, a poet herself and one who reaffirms a link in the chain of Indo-Scottish history.
Though the meeting between Rabindranath and Ana was brief, the impression each made on the other was deep. Ana named her eldest daughter Ana Nelline, the second name being reminiscent of Nalini. On 9 December 1883 Rabindranath married Bhabatarini, whom he renamed Mrinalini, which incorporates his favourite name, Nalini.
The revival of Ana’s story has enabled a dialogue across continents as Ana and Harold Littledale’s direct descendants have reached out to us from Connecticut. They have contacted Roger and sent a message for this occasion.
The fifth generation of Dr Atmaram Panduram Turkhud’s family, descended from Ana’s brother, Ramchandra Turkhud, Samaresh Tarkhad, has contacted me to say how relieved the family is to know that the memory of Ana has been revived and a plaque is being unveiled to mark her resting place here in Edinburgh.
In the meantime, Prof Alan Riach, who wrote an article on Ana and Rabindranath in the 26 July 2023 edition of The National, published in Glasgow, has been contacted by Stephen Hebron whose great great grandfather was Moreshwar, Ana’s third brother. The historic thread that Ana has established is resurrecting many new discoveries of a relationship that has not been totally extinguished with her death.
We hope more links will emerge and we and will welcome any notebooks, letters and other papers that might be discovered/recovered, which will throw more light on the person of Ana, Rabindranath’s Nalini, her life, thoughts and poetry and fill in the gaps in our knowledge of this enlightened young woman.
Roger had asked me to write a poem to Ana to read at the event of the unveiling of her plaque. It dwells on the meeting and interaction between Ana and Rabindranath and the effect her warm personality had on the poet. This is the poem I wrote and read on the occasion.
Ana – Rabindranath’s Nalini
She was the second of three accomplished lassies
In a family that had hailed the fierce
Sparks borne by the wild west wind
That swept all that was moribund
Before it, carrying missives from far and near
Of change and hope, that would restore
An old and proud nation’s dignity.
He was the youngest of fourteen,
Walled in by a capacious house,
Enthralled by his gifted older siblings;
Restless to know the world beyond
The massive gates, where the Hoogly
Flowed free, wafted to his poet’s
Soul in a breeze breathing liberty.
She sailed across the stage of his vision –
An embodiment of elegance, magically conversant
In many tongues that mingled the essence
Of the east and west in her expressive vitality.
He was overawed by her beauty and confidence,
Her sophistication and gentle acceptance
Of his tongue-tied presence, broken by his eloquent verse.
Yet she knew her responsibility
As his youthful tutor – encouraging,
Gracious and warm – urging him to shed
His inherent shyness and embrace
A friendship that could flower, if allowed,
Dissolving Marathi-Bengali singularity
Beyond the boundaries of time and space.
In her he discovered the incarnation
Of Petrarch’s Laura, his favourite Nalini –
A name plucked from his earlier verse
That he unhesitatingly gifted her when
She sought his recognition. Thus she became
His lotus, his amrit, the divine nectar of his dreams,
Unfurling and blooming beyond his reach in diverse streams.
He was whisked away by a patriarch’s ambition
And she sought love and solace in a wedding ring
Bringing, once again, the east and west
Together in her all-embracing being.
Her capacity to love and nurture
Found expression in motherhood,
Poured generously into three young souls.
His gift of poems that told a poet’s tale
Were sent to her by his brother, his Jyotida .
She acknowledged that she loved them and knew
Them by heart – lines she had heard her guest
Recite and translate for her in her Bombay home.
It was a music she carried with her on journeys
That challenged the distance between the East and West.
Her intrepid quest for solace brought her
To Edinburgh’s tenement retreats,
Seeking the comfort of her medical student brother.
And it was here that her lotus petals folded
Muffled by the cold, stoney silent streets,
Where an exhausted mother and infant bairn were laid to rest,
Watched over by a discreet Arthur’s Seat.
A lass with promise and dreams, plucked
From the waters where she flourished
Is now recovered, restored and remembered,
Soaring on the wings of poesy over these tenements
Mingling with the sun and clouds of the world’s firmament,
Living as a poet’s muse in songs that are a testament
To a woman who lived and loved and longed for the sacrament
Of recognition and fulfilment.
 Rabindranath’s fifth brother, Jyotirindranath Tagore.
Dr Bashabi Fraser, CBE, HonFASL
Professor Emerita of English and Creative Writing
Edinburgh Napier University
Director, Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs)
IN Edinburgh’s Morningside Cemetery are the graves of Annapurna Turkhud Littledale, known to her family and friends as Ana, together with her infant son, Denzil. Who were they?
Ana was born on January 31, 1858 and died on July 2, 1891, at the age of 33. A small group of people who have been affected by her life story have raised funds to rectify the omission of a public memorial to her.
Roger Jeffery, Hauke Wiebe and Bashabi Fraser will be unveiling a plaque in her memory at Morningside Cemetery, close to where she and her baby son are buried, at 5pm on Sunday. The date has been chosen to mark the anniversary of her death.
Ana’s father, Dr Atmaram Pandurang Turkhadekar, was a social reformer who founded the Prarthana Samaj, inspired by the Brahmo Samaj, a religious reform movement led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the Tagore family. Along with Ana’s mother, Radhabai, they formed a prominent, well-educated and influential Marathi family in Bombay.
Their acquaintances included reformists from across the country. Atmaram was described in obituaries as a “mild Hindu” who held “very advanced views, too much so for the peace of mind of some of his colleagues”. His progressive character enabled his friendship with Rabindranath Tagore’s older brother, Satyendranath Tagore, India’s first Indian civil servant (before his appointment, only British people could be civil servants there!).
All these connections and this context of intricate networks led to Ana meeting Tagore.
Ana was the second daughter but Atmaram had sent all three of his girls – Durga, Ana and Manak – to Britain for their higher education. After Ana returned in 1877, the great Indian poet, writer and thinker Rabindranath Tagore stayed for a time in Atmaram’s home, with the objective of improving his English with Ana’s assistance, before Rabindranath set sail for England to study at the University of London.
He was 17, she was nearly 20. His family felt he should become acquainted with English culture and ways and conversant in spoken English before he set off. He stayed with the Turkhuds and the task of “anglicising” the shy Tagore fell on Ana’s shoulders. Ana was fluent in English, French, German and Portuguese. She knew some Sanskrit and had some training in music. Tagore writes that he half expected her to look down on him for what he called his own lack of scholarship but she didn’t. His random jottings provide impressions of a lively young woman who cheered him up in moments of homesickness.
Ana was a little older than Tagore and a liberal free spirit as well as being an accomplished young lady in Bombay society. The teenage Tagore was overawed and fascinated by her, and she fell in love with him. Their friendship teetered on the edge of something more. But Tagore was too shy to give in to her advances.
In fact, it is believed that Ana’s father sent a proposal for the marriage of Rabindranath to his daughter, but Tagore’s father, Maharshi Debendranath, the patriarch of the family, declined the offer. Such were the customs of the time and place.
However, Rabindranath did tell Ana that he wrote poetry. He read his poems to her and translated them for her. Ana asked Tagore to give her a name and he gave his young tutor an affectionate Bengali one, “Nalini”. It was a favourite name of his, meaning “lotus”.
And later, Tagore wrote several poems and songs where the name Nalini occurs. In fact, while Rabindranath was staying at Satyendranath’s judge’s residence at Shahibag in Ahmedabad, the poet had written poems in which the name Nalini appears, which preceded his meeting with Ana.
It was after his meeting her that his Petrarchan version of “Laura” found a personification for his platonic love. Bashabi Fraser, in her biography, Rabindranath Tagore (in the Reaktion Books Critical Lives series, 2019), notes two songs which had been written when Rabindranath was in the Turkhud household, later published in the collection, Kabi-Kahini / The Tale of the Poet, which Rabindranath’s fifth brother, Jyotirindranath sent to Ana, along with many similar poems. Ana said she had read the poems and knew them by heart.
In fact, in later years, when Rabindranath married, on December 9, 1893, he gave his wife Bhabatarini, a new name, Mrinalini, which is phonetically reminiscent of Nalini.
Tagore set sail for England in 1878. In 1880, Ana married Harold Littledale, an Irish professor of English Literature, vice-principal of Baroda High School and College. They had three children, Ana Nelline (and this name, clearly, is also reminiscent of Nalini), Olga and Harold.
Ana left Bombay for Edinburgh in early 1891, travelling with Henry Sewell, probably to be with her brother Dnyaneshwar, who was a medical student there. She died at the age of 33 in Marchmont from nervous exhaustion and septicaemia lasting six days, after giving birth to her son.
Dnyaneshwar attended her at the birth and stayed beside her when she died. Denzil died in Broughty Ferry four months later. Ana and Denzil are both buried in unmarked graves in Morningside Cemetery.
It is a complex and sensitive family story but the identification of the graves by the genealogist Caroline Gerard, allows us to imagine the wee bairn Denzil brought to lie beside his mother as an act of kindness to her memory. Such a tender suggestion goes beyond the circumstance of history. It is a tribute to love.
Among her descendants, it has been noted that Harold Littledale said of Ana: “She loved much.” But no trace of any memorial has been found.
Yet her story is haunting, singular, yet universal, memorable for what it tells us of the relations of women and men, of Indian and British identities, of the value placed upon education and social responsibility, and the personal, tentative, but lasting and strong connection between her own self-possession and self-determination and Rabindranath Tagore’s re-imagining of her as a Muse-like figure, “Nalini, the Lotus”. And it speaks of the power of poetry and song.
What does Ana’s journey mean for us today? What do we uncover when we recollect the historic chains that link Scotland with India?
An immediate answer would be that it emphasises what we know so well of British colonialism and patriarchal domination, and that these things apply within Scotland and within India as well as in terms of the exploitation by “Britain” of Scotland and India, and the domination of women by the patriarchy.
But it’s always a more complex story, or set or series of stories, and we should never allow these complexities to be oversimplified and written off. The priorities of education, of poetry and song, the virtues travel, of intellectual engagement, the arts and enlightenment, the broadening of the mind, the stimulation of music, the intrinsic optimism of curiosity, the healthy priority of enquiry, all these are bound up in Ana’s story as they are in Tagore’s.
Both were vulnerable creatures making their way as they might in a world not disposed to allow or encourage much liberty to their characters and capacities. Their lives were difficult then. How much more difficult would they be now, in 2023!
The director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs), Professor Bashabi Fraser, requested that a bust of a statue of Tagore should be placed in Edinburgh.
The present Consul General, Bijay Selvaraj and his staff at the Indian Consulate in Scotland have been working closely with ScoTs to have this statue commissioned and sent to Edinburgh.
Bashabi comments: “The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) very generously commissioned India’s leading sculptor, Ram Vanji Sutar, to sculpt this statue,and donated it to Scotland. It is now waiting to be installed in Edinburgh.
“Lady Joyce Caplan, the chair of ScoTs, and I, have both seen the statue and have been struck by the aesthetic appeal of this head of Rabindranath and we hope he can join his friend, Sir Patrick Geddes, whose bust is already in the garden between the Scottish Storytelling Centre and the Scottish Book Trust.”
Readers of these pages will have encountered my essays on Geddes, the founding Grandfather of the Scottish Renaissance movement and friend and advocate of Hugh MacDiarmid, so the connection from Ana, to Tagore, to Geddes, and MacDiarmid, is evident and real.
And there are more connections between Edinburgh and the Tagore family. Rabindranath’s grandfather, Dwarkanath, whom Bashabi Fraser calls “a leading light of the Bengal Renaissance”, was a business entrepreneur and philanthropist who funded many educational institutions in Calcutta and financed student doctors to study in Britain.
He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1842 (when he was the subject of a subject nation) and donated the Ragamala paintings to the University of Edinburgh. They remain with Special Collections at the Library there, which also houses the ScoTs Tagore Collection. Dwarkanath died in Surrey in 1845 and is buried in Kensal Green.
The memory of Ana Turkhud, Rabindranath’s Muse, whom he fondly named Nalini at her own request, is now being recovered and restored at her resting place, Morningside Cemetery, with her infant son beside her. Here’s my own translation of one of Tagore’s songs to Nalini:
As the lotus flower, so tenderly, opens itself to the sun,
So tenderly, Nalini, you open your eyes to me.
As my song has slipped passed the threshold of sleep
And lifted its shroud to the day,
Dawn comes to the world, a new life appears
And awakens to new poetry –
Each morning I’ll come and sing sweetly, smile gently and hope
To awaken you quietly, brightly to see
Night is leaving, and sunshine arriving, the prize
Freely given, like this, to your opening eyes.
It’s possible the song arose from an episode Bashabi Fraser tells of in her biography of Tagore: “On one occasion, after telling Rabi of the Western custom that anyone stealing a lady’s gloves while she was asleep won the privilege of kissing her,
Ana promptly fell asleep in an easy chair in the room and woke up sometime later.
“Casting a furtive eye to her side, she was surprised to discover her gloves untouched. However, not to be deterred by his mentor, Rabi told her he wrote poetry, which she showed a deep interest in, so the youthful pair spent time with Rabi reading and translating his poems to Ana, who was an appreciative listener.”
“Rabi” is also the word for the sun, so when the song speaks of sunlight and song opening day to the sleeper, the suggestion of nature at work is already quite clear.
Tagore is one of the giants, a titan in Indian and world literature. Remember the African Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka’s thought that if you wanted to start somewhere to engage with the plenitude of great artists who keep giving, you could do worse than look at the triumvirate of Shakespeare, Beethoven and Picasso.
Once you’ve explored the sheer range and extent, the subtleties and intimacies, the strengths and weaknesses, the details and minutiae, the greatness and magnitude of their works, you have some measure of value for everything else in this world.
In our world, in Scotland, Tagore, and in a different sphere, Patrick Geddes, and then Hugh MacDiarmid, might help us do the same thing. And this story takes us to one of the most essential parts of it. It’s a love story, that crosses all borders and languages.
It ventures to take us into a place where rules don’t apply or else need to be broken. It reminds me most of the feeling in what I take to be one of the most beautiful love songs I know, a Hindi song, “Lag Jaa Gale”, which I first heard on radio, performed by Lata Mangeshkar, the Indian Nightingale.
The music is by Madan Mohan Kohli (1924-75) with lyrics by the poet Raja Mehdi Ali Khan (1915-66). It was translated into a version in Bengali by Miltu Ghosh and Shipra Bose in 1968 and it has been performed by singers in Pakistan, in Tamil and Telugu. In other words, its international provenance is unlimited.
Lata Mangeshkar’s voice is unique: piercing, plaintive, compelling, strong, full and passionate yet also poignant and urgent. You can find it on YouTube, recorded (dubbed) for the 1964 Bollywood film, Woh Kaun-Thi? (Who Was She?): Lag Jaa Gale – Sadhana, Lata Mangeshkar, Woh Kaun Thi Romantic Song and again in another beautiful, softer, acoustic, immensely lovable version, by the band, SANAM, with Sanam Puri (vocals), Samar Puri, (guitars), Venky S (Bass) and Keshav Dhanraj (Cajon), which is equally haunting: Lag Jaa Gale (Acoustic) | Sanam is also available on YouTube.
Thinking of Ana’s story, and of Tagore’s long-lasting, lonely love for her, and of what it might remind any one of us of, I played this again to myself recently and, for a while, I was lost in a faraway world.
Now hold me close
Now hold me close, and nobody knows, what lasts, this night, in the rain?
Who knows of this night, but our lives, while we’re here, for now, and never again?
The moment is ours, what knowledge we learn, by this, is yours, and is mine,
Given or lent, come close, closer still, and our hearts shall be filled by design
This moment is ours, is mine, is yours, by good fortune but never again
Perhaps, we have this, in your life, and in mine, we have this, as now becomes then
Come close, come closer, come closer to me, for I cannot come close to you now
Our tears will wash the world away and our hearts all that love will allow
And our eyes will be washed in the tears of our love and as tears disappear in the rain
They shall all wash away and leave us behind never to see them again
All are welcome to join us for the unveiling of the plaque.
Prof Alan Riach
Professor of Scottish Literature
School of Critical Studies
University of Glasgow
Originally Published in The National, Glasgow, Monday, 26 July 2023
A Bengali article in Anandabazar Patrika, ‘The London Diary’ by Shrabani Bas about the unveiling ceremony. Anandabajar is the most widely read Bengali daily, which diasporic Bengali Indians and Bangladeshis read across the world
Here are two further attachments which have the full unveiling event covered in Eastern Eye by Amit Roy.
EE 1073 Annapurna two 19 July 2023_compressed
EE 1073 Annapurna three 19 July 2023_compressed