Time to experiment with Tagore works: German scholar

Kampchen, who lives in the university founded by Tagore in West Bengal, suggests that the poet's works should also be open to experimentation for more "effective expression of the ideas in them".

"The contemporary exponents of Tagore's music show a tendency to sing all the songs in a uniformly mellifluous manner such that after hearing 10 songs you feel that you have heard all the songs. There is too much of sweetness in the music that spoils the essence of the lyrics," Kampchen told IANS in an interview in the capital.

"The songs need to be strong and aggressive. The texts rendered (in music) in West Bengal are too sugary. To my mind, the style falsifies the songs and spirit of Tagore."

The scholar was in the capital to deliver a lecture on the relevance of Tagore in Germany as part of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of the poet this year.

"Neither the harmonium nor the tabla was preferred by Tagore in the rendition of his songs," Kampchen said.

The 62-year-old scholar, who has been residing in Santiniketan since 1980 and has translated at least 12 of the poet works into German, believes "what is really needed at the moment is experimentation with the basic emotions expressed in Tagore's texts to make them more contemporary".

"It can be best done in theatre. One can always start something new without deviating from the original frame. Tagore had a fascination for experimentation - and innovated till the last moment, trying out new songs and themes," Kampchen said.

Kampchen primarily works in rural reconstruction around Santiniketan - a concept vociferously propounded by Tagore during his lifetime. The scholar's mission to improve the lot of villagers around Santiniketan began 30 years ago when he came to study comparative religion and made the university town his home.

"I learnt Bengali, read Ramakrishna in original, got a professor to guide me, took a bicycle and went to the neighbouring Santhali (tribal) villages to hone my Bengali.

"In course of my visits to one of the villages, I befriended a local boy who was about to appear for his Class 10 board examination. He pushed through his boards and I helped him through to college while the rest of the students from the village dropped out. I requested him to help me start an evening school," Kampchen recalled.

An evening school was a cheaper proposition. Education was free in Kampchen's school and "Tagore's dance, music, works and plays were vital to the scholastic curriculum". The school promoted indigenous ethnic music, performance and visual arts.

"The school sowed the seeds of village work. For the last 25 years, the institution, Ghosaldanga Adivasi Seva Sangha, has been a registered society connected to the Ramakrishna Mission. The mission granted us a kindergarten project and a forestation project under which we planted hundreds of trees.

"The number of enrolments increased and we had to recruit more teachers (the number of teachers is 10 now). Subsequently, we broadened our work to the second village, Vishnubati, 2 km from Ghosaldanga, with a similar project," Kampchen said.

Kampchen's work attracted the attention of a non-resident Indian in Germany.

"He began to support us from Germany as it was not possible for me to bear the cost any more. I tried to support their culture with education so that the villagers did not lose their tribal identity," Kampchen said.

In 1996, Kampchen took his next big step. He set up a non-formal Santhali day school, Roef Sclioembs Vidyashram, with the support of the Indian government and the embassy of Germany. "It prepares students for admission to government schools," he said.

The scholar said he was "associated with the "Ecole d' Humanite", a prestigious Swiss residential school modelled on Santiniketan".

In the last 25 years, Kampchen has toured Germany and Austria five times with a troupe of seven tribal performers from his institutions to "showcase indigenous arts and cultures - mostly in German and Austrian schools".

"Tagore believed in a balanced village economy, an elementary cooperative banking system to free poor villagers from the hand-to-mouth existence and a lifestyle that was in consonance with the cosmos".

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