Rabindranath Tagore with P. C. Mahalanobis and Rani Mahalanobis at Alipore in 1926

It is not commonly known that Rabindranath Tagore, who is often called the monsoon poet, had indeed written some of his poems at the Alipore Observatory in Kolkata,  where he often lived as a guest of the meteorologist, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis in the years 1923 to 1926.

Tagore had been encouraging Mahalanobis to pursue statistics, which he in fact did. The India Meteorological Department lost Mahalanobis as he left meteorology and went on to do pioneering and fundamental work in statistics and later established the Indian Statistical Institute at Kolkata in 1931.

Mahalanobis had a close and lasting relationship with Tagore. For several years, he served as the General Secretary of Tagore’s Viswa Bharati University at Shantiniketan. He and his wife, Nirmal Kumari, known affectionately as Rani Mahalanobis, regularly played hosts to Tagore at their official residence on the first floor of the Alipore Observatory building. Tagore had a room for himself, but he preferred the shade of the giant banyan tree that it overlooked, under which he sat and penned his literary masterpieces. It was in the fitness of things, that Rabindranath Tagore, the Monsoon Poet, drew his inspiration from clouds and rain in the campus of a meteorological observatory! Tagore’s room at Alipore has now been converted into a small museum which houses some of his memorabilia and the banyan tree continues to stand at the hallowed spot in homage to his memory.

A rare photograph of Rabindranath Tagore with Prasanta Chandra and Nirmal Kumari Mahalanobis sitting under the banyan tree at Alipore Observatory is given at the top of this post. The photograph was taken in 1926 and has been digitally enhanced. It is displayed in the room of the Deputy Director General of Meteorology, Regional Meteorological Centre, Alipore, Kolkata. I am thankful to Dr Sanjib Bandyopadhyay for sending me a digital copy.

– R. R. Kelkar

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