I love Kolkata. I spent my childhood years there. We lived in Howrah for some time in a house that we had to vacate overnight because of the riots. We then moved to Chowringhee Road. I still remember how I would watch the trams go by, play on the Victoria Memorial grounds and enjoy Magnolia ice cream. The magnificent Kolkata GPO is still there. But I remember stepping into the interior of its huge three-sided clock and see the mechanism working. I remember how the Blackhole of Calcutta beneath the GPO would scare me. I can still vividly recall the sight of the Howrah Bridge lit up end to end with red lights on India’s very first Republic Day, 26 January 1950.

During my career with the India Meteorological Department, I visited Kolkata many times and for various reasons like attending meetings, checking out equipment or installing a Doppler radar. In 2003, a little before I retired as IMD’s Director General, I was there to inaugurate the Tagore Museum that had been set up at the Alipore Observatory with my initiative. Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, had lived at Alipore for many of his later years as a guest of the meteorologist, P. C. Mahalanobis and his wife Rani. Tagore, the monsoon lover, had spent long hours under the banyan tree in the observatory campus watching the skies and the monsoon while writing his masterpieces.

On 6 July 2013, I was at Alipore once again. And for a reason I could have never imagined. I was there at the invitation of Sturla Gunnarsson, the acclaimed Canadian documentary film-maker, to “act” in his upcoming documentary film on the Indian monsoon. So I played the “role” of a philosopher, wearing a long white kurta, with books in my hands, sitting under the same banyan tree where Tagore used to sit, and reciting his poetry.

Sturla Gunnarsson gave the cue, Van Royko rolled his camera, and Brice Picard recorded my voice, as I read out Tagore’s salutation to God from the last stanza of his Gitanjali:

Ekti nomoshkare, Probhu, ekti nomoshkare…
Shokol dehe lutie poduk, tomar e songshare,
Ghono srabon megher moto, rosher bhare nomro noto,
Shomoshto mon podiya thak, tobo bhobon dare,
Ekti nomoshkare, Probhu, ekti nomoshkare…

(In one salutation to thee, my God,
Let all my sense spread out and touch the world at thy feet.
Like a rain cloud of July hung low with its burden of unshed showers,
Let all my mind bend down at thy door
in one salutation to thee.)          

As I sat under Tagore’s banyan tree and read out his salutation to God, I had a deep sense of being on hallowed ground. I was not just appearing in a documentary film but experiencing a holy presence. As the monsoon clouds passed by in the sky, like Tagore I too was feeling that the monsoon not only comes with rain, it brings beauty, it makes us humble before God, it renews our hope and faith….  

Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge the pictures of the film shooting.

Reading Tagore under the Banyan Tree  Sturla and Van Royko Preparing for a Shot

Advertisements