History & Culture

Kolkata home where Rabindranath Tagore turned poet is now a budget hotel

The house at 10, Sudder Street where Rabindra Nath Tagore stayed for a short while and composed one of his most famous poems is today a hotel.   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

Jorasanko Thakurbari, the house in Kolkata where Rabindranath Tagore was born and had spent his early years, is today a museum. Santiniketan, the land he nurtured and where he spent the latter half of his life, became a renowned institution of learning during his lifetime. But the building in Kolkata’s Sudder Street, where the Nobel laureate experienced a creative awakening, at the age of 21, is now a budget hotel fronted by shops and travel agencies.

Sudder Street, situated in the heart of Kolkata, is a backpacker’s paradise teeming with budget hotels including Hotel Plaza. The Plaza was earlier a residential property where Tagore, still a bachelor, stayed in 1882 along with his elder brother Jyotirindranath and sister-in-law Kadambari Devi.

The stay, though short, took place at a very crucial period in the poet’s life. In 1881, having just returned from England the year before, he once again boarded the ship to England, only to abortively end his journey at Chennai (then Madras). Tagore went straight to Mussoorie, where his father happened to be at the time, and after having met his parent, returned to Bengal to spend a few months with his brother and sister-in-law at Chandannagar. In 1882, the three came to the house on 10, Sudder Street and, after a brief stay, proceeded to Darjeeling on a holiday. In 1883, Tagore got married, and within months of his marriage the sister-in-law, who he was very fond of, committed suicide. By then Tagore had found his voice as a poet.

Tagore has himself described the Sudder Street awakening in detail. It took place one morning as he stood on the balcony of the house watching the sun rise: “I found the world bathed in a wonderful radiance, with waves of beauty and joy swelling up on every side. This radiance pierced in a moment through the folds of sadness and despondency which had accumulated over my heart and flooded it with this universal light.”

That very day he wrote the poem Nirjharer Swapna Bhanga (Awakening of the Waterfall), considered the turning point in his literary life. This transformative moment is recorded not only in books but also finds mention in two plaques on Sudder Street. One of the plaques supports a poorly-crafted bust of Tagore — the poet is unrecognisable but for the beard — and remains mostly concealed from passersby by parked taxis. The other is placed inside the hotel building and shares the wall with the signboard of one Dr. R. Ahmed, who runs a clinic called Cure Point on the mezzanine floor.

Present tenants are hardly forthcoming with information. Queries about the current ownership of the building are dismissed outright, sometimes with hostility. Everyone points to the plaque. They don’t seem to care, leave alone taking pride, that Tagore had once lived here. The building, for them, is a source of livelihood and it had better remain that way.

Only the manager of the clinic — who has time to kill because the doctor is unwell and not going to show up — is somewhat helpful. “People from Bangladesh, when they come to Kolkata, prefer to stay in the hotels in Sudder Street. As a result, they form a bulk of doctor sahib’s patients. They are the ones who get excited on seeing the plaque — the others don’t care much,” he says.

It’s unlikely the building will ever turn into a memorial. “Since it is a private property there is nothing the government can do without the consent of the owner,” says a top official in the urban development ministry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Such consent seems an impossibility considering that the building is at a prime location. In any case, the property has undergone reconstruction since the time of Tagore and the balcony, where the rays of the rising sun served as his muse, is now long gone.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 10:09:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/kolkata-home-where-rabindranath-tagore-turned-poet-is-now-a-budget-hotel/article30051189.ece

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