Rabindranath Tagore Born May 7, 1861

Rabindranath was a master interpreter of relationships. His relationship with god was unique in many ways. His religion was religion of man. His relationship with the two most beautiful woman – Kadambari Devi and Victoria Ocampo are so fascinating.

Rabindranath's god is unknown and unknowable, beyond one's reach, but his god is always with man, in his happiness and in his pain. His god is integral to man and nature. His god is above the pairs of opposites, of beauty and ugliness, truth and error, good and evil. His god can't be seen; he can only be realized. His god doesn't live in far-off heaven. His god is Vishwakarma. He transcends the world and is also immanent in it. The creator remains ever present in his creation. Rabindranath's god is in the real world “where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path maker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower,..” Rabindranath god is more on the realm of experience than at the conceptual level of understanding. He is available in countless forms. From his soul is derived the soul of man and the soul of nature. His god is the inspirer of his songs. The poet could hear his silent steps. “Every moment and every age, every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes. In the fragrant days of sunny April through the forest path he comes, comes, ever comes. In the rainy gloom of July nights on the thundering chariot of clouds he comes, comes, ever comes. In sorrow after sorrow it is his steps that press upon my heart, and it is the golden touch of his feet that makes my joy to shine.” He is beyond touch but can be touched. Rabindranath felt the presence of god when he sang. His god hides himself from him. He found him on lonely streets walking alone. Often Tagore could hear in the dark alleys the songs of righteousness.

Rabindranath was eight when he met Kadambari, his elder brother's wife for the first time. She was 2 years elder to Robi. Kadambari, a practically illiterate girl, grew up to be at the centre of a liberal household's literary activities. Rabindranath wrote many a poems sitting next to her. He would read out to his sister-in-law his own poems and the writings of the icons of the time. (To visualize one such affectionate moment you will have to see the movie Charulata.) Kadambari was a good cook, and she knew that the best way to reach the heart is through stomach. Kadambari cooked what her Robi particularly liked, like chocchori.

The relationship takes a subtle turn when they approach adolescence. Rabindranath writes, "When Bouthakrun returned, I sang the song for her. She listened in silence, without uttering a word of praise. I was 16 or 17 then. We argued about the pettiest of things, but our exchange had lost their sharpness." Kadambari was 'a lonely woman in a lonelier marriage'. She committed suicide four months after Rabindranath's marriage. It is futile to speculate on the causes of the suicide. Her death doesn't in any way spoil the charm of their relationship, but it affected Rabindranath very badly. “With her death it felt as though the earth had moved away from under my feet and the light had gone out from the sky. My world felt empty and my life dull. I never imagined I would ever get over the delusion of this void. But that tremendous pain set me free for the very first time. I realized gradually that life must be seen through the window of death in order to reach the truth.”

What Kadambari meant to Rabindranath is best expressed in his own words, "The heart of human beings is like liquid, which changes shape if the containers are different. Very rarely it finds the ideal container where it will not feel the emptiness or constriction." Kadambari was simply Robi's ideal container.

It is so difficult to bear the loss of the only companion of one's boyhood. Who would be with him now to explore the mysteries of dreamland?

The other woman who made a big impact in Rabindranath's life was Victoria Ocampo. He met Victoria Ocampo when he was sixty three. If Rabindranath was in awe of Kadambari, Victoria was in awe of Rabindranath. Kadambari was two years older to him, Victoria was half his age. Ketaki Kushari Dyson writes, “Victoria Ocampo deserved to be known and studied in her own right and not just as Tagore's Muse.”

Victoria Ocampo was brought up within a restrictive Hispanic moral code. Her first marriage was a disaster, almost from the beginning. On her honeymoon in Europe, she met and fell in love with a cousin of her husband's. Her clandestine affair continued for many years. No divorce was available in Catholic Argentina. For some eight years she lived under the same roof as her husband, without sharing his bedroom. She obtained a legal separation from her husband, but did not make her affair public. In these circumstances she first met Tagore. She was then 34. Victoria remained unmarried after the death of her estranged husband. She had several very important relationships with men, but she refused to accept the bondage of marriage.

Victoria was an ardent admirer of Tagore's works. When she read Gitanjali for the first time, in French, she was going through a crisis in her life. Reading Gitanjali was an emotional experience for her. It acted like a release, liberation. In 1924 Tagore arrived at Buenos Aires, ill with influenza, on his way to Peru. He was accompanied by his honorary secretary, Leonard Elmhirst. He became sick on board. The doctors advised him complete rest. Victoria offered to host the poet and his secretary in a villa in a suburb of Buenos Aires. Rabindranath accepted the offer. He never went to Peru.

Friendship of Rabindranath and Victoria was “an intense spiritual urgency and personal searching.” She wanted to come near the poet, but the poet's towering stature intimidated her to come near him. She wanted the help of Elmhirst to come near the poet, and at the same time felt jealous of his closeness to poet. Victoria’s ardent devotion impressed Tagore. Despite the distance there was closeness between them. Poetry made possible the meeting of two beautiful minds.

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© 2017 by Dr Purnendu Ghosh