The Centre has stepped in to preserve a neglected bungalow in Shillong where Rabindranath Tagore had stayed during one of his visits, asking the Meghalaya government to let its views known.
T. Kumar, Joint Secretary of the Union Ministry of Culture, has written to the commissioner and secretary of Meghalaya Arts and Culture department highlighting the need to place a proposal for preservation of the Brookside bungalow to the National Implementation Committee formed by the Centre.
Mr. Kumar said the committee had been set up under the chairmanship of Union Minister Pranab Mukherjee for commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore.
Researcher Malabika Bisharad, a lone crusader who has been fighting for preservation of Tagore’s memoirs, had dashed off several letters to the State government appealing for restoration of the houses, but the response till recently had been lukewarm.
She had even written to Union Minister Pranab Mukherjee and West Bengal government highlighting the plight of the places. She has appealed to the Centre to construct a building where a research institute with a library and a full statute of the poet can be housed.
The ministry in its letter sought comments from the State government on Bisharad’s proposal.
The State government, however, has lately started renovation work in the Brookside Bungalow whose planks had come off and a couple of wooden pillars at the facade on the verge of collapsing due to decay and lack of maintenance.
Tagore had stayed at the Brookside Bungalow for about a month when he had visited the hill city for a vacation in 1919. The poet had written a few short write-ups - Ekti Chauni and Ekti Din - and made a few English translations during this period, according to available records.
Brookside is a country mansion located in a woody groove in the Rilbong area of the city, encircled on three sides by deep gorges of the Umshyrpi stream.
The poet laureate’s finest tribute to Shillong is his celebrated novel ‘Shesher Kavita’ written in 1928 during his journey to South India. Out of 17 chapters, 13 have Shillong as the backdrop.
The green gorges, floating clouds, zig zag paths, narrow roads through pine groves, solitary spaces for morning lovers and the picturesque bungalow surrounded by ‘debdaru’ and eucalyptus trees in Shesher Kavita reflect the beautiful scenario of the Brookside.
Though most of the greenery around the Brookside has been shoved off, a eucalyptus still stands tall in the vicinity of the Bungalow.
The Brookside Bungalow belonged to the then Assistant Commissioner of Chittagong Division. The Bungalow was taken over by the Meghalaya government in 1990 and converted into Rabindra Art Gallery, which, however, lies unkempt now.
“The timing of opening and closing are irregular and tourists often have to go back without having a glimpse of the gallery,” Ms. Bisharad, who stays just opposite the Brookside, said.
Among the exhibits are a few replicas of Tagore paintings and sketches besides a few of his photographs.
“However, none of the materials used by Tagore during his stay here has been included in the list of exhibits. There is no such evidence that these items had been preserved elsewhere by other government departments.”
“I have failed to trace the missing items. Visitors do not get to see anything even remotely associated with Tagore stay at the house,” Ms. Bisharad said.
The Visva-Bharati University has also advised Ms. Bisharad to approach the Centre and corporate houses for the purpose.
“We strongly feel the need of restoring the historic houses and sites such as Brookside,” Director of Culture of Visva-Bharati Udaya Narayan Mishra said in response to a letter from Ms. Bisharad, advising her to write to the Centre and approach corporate houses.
Last July, the house where Tagore had stayed during his last visit to Shillong was razed down by the new owner. The owner, however, assured that he would preserve the plaques - which states about the poet’s visit to the city - at the lawn of the demolished house.