February 13, 2011

The Last Muse of Tagore

The way in which the Bengali woman today wears her saree is supposed to have originated in Thakurbari – the revered name for the Tagore Household in Jorasanko. And as the Bengali men grew up and went and studied economics at Presidency, he slowly saw the women move from the saree to the Salwar to Jeans – It was almost like the cultural domination of Bengal all over again. It reminded him of the times when the Sen and the Pal dynasties slowly died out and the invaders from the North came in and established the rule of the Nawab in Bengal only to be replaced by the British in Plassey.

But when he wrote poetry in his spare time, he often dreamt of his muse in a saree, just as he would see her perhaps on the day of Asthami, while giving Anjali. The times were changing however. The first to fall prey to the sweeping changes across the society were the schools in Calcutta. The Saree was no longer mandatory, then went the colleges and slowly as everyone realized the convenience of the salwar, the saree became a special occasion thing.

He missed the days when the only woman he had fallen in love with ever, who did not wear a Saree regularly, was Reena Brown. Please note that before Leander Paes, Bengalis had their tennis ace in Dr. Krishnendu Mukherjee who had won the tennis championship five times in a row after acting in Macbeth, before losing the 6th final to Reena Brown. The first time he saw her in a Saree, I have passionately maintained was the moment when he finally fell for her. And what a fall it was!!! For all non bongs, don’t even try to decipher old world bong virtues of romanticism; rather ask me for the DVD. And for Bongs, if you don’t get it, then I sigh and retreat to my laptop lamenting the loss of good old days.

Anyway, coming back to Sarees, mothers and aunts while shopping for the next marriage in the family would sigh and pick up twenty sarees and send back five of them as the daughter or the daughter in law would never wear them. But how could you not buy a baluchori? I have seen an aunt reduced to tears, “my daughter will never appreciate the intricacies of a zamdani.”

The debate I have always had with my friends is that as the dress of a muse, the saree beats anything else hands down. There is no other dress in the world which can at once bring the feeling of deep reverence and purity and unadulterated sensuality. But then we would sit on the steps of Temple Lawns in Pilani on Diwali and sigh when every single woman in the saree looked as if she was undergoing a surprise quiz in Mechsol. For the uninitiated a Surprise Quiz in Mechsol is like facing Brett Lee without a helmet. The point is, like everything else, unless carried off gracefully, the saree looks extremely cumbersome. And the only woman who looked natural in a Bong Saree was Madhuri Dixit in the multiple screenings of Devdas in computer screens in our second year. The men during those days cheated by wearing their dhotis with a belt. Anyway, who cares about the fashion sense of the men?

Now that I have written at length about the saree, let me come back to the point. If you look at the Bengali TV serials today, almost every family has got 2 murderers, 3 plotting aunts, 4 oppressed women and 1 who will bring justice to all while everyone else is having extramarital affairs – the sad part is that each of these serials start with good intentions and story lines. But then public demand hain boss – karna parta hain.

So one day suddenly, one serial started creating waves amongst the Bengali Intelligentsia – or as they are lovingly called, “The Aantels”. Some call it derogatory, I find it cute :) This was a serial which spoke of a family trying to keep Tagore’s music alive and authentic while a new wave of artists, aided by copyright removal from Tagore’s works, were eager to give Tagore a fresh lease of life. This was the ultimate aantel grouse. How can Rabindrasangeet be sung any other way than as originally intended by the Great Man? So they loved the serial. My entire family went “aha aha”, the Aantel crowd cried in their secret rooms.

Now the protagonist looks very Bong and all bong mothers started secretly wishing that the next generation will take a leaf out of the book. So even when the actress was very different in her real life, the mothers across Bengal said as expected, “she is not just someone, she is an idea”.

And then it happened, one day on the show, she desired to dress in something other than a saree and the last muse of Tagore left us forever.

They say the sighs were heard across the world :)

(PS: While I was doing the background research for this article, I realized that the concept of a Tagorian muse as I described is what Bengali middle class morality, and thus I, would like to believe. I know the poet is beyond such narrow limitations. One day I would write about Krishnokoli and the lady he saw in the beautiful morning of autumn)