An article printed in the souvenir of the Happenings festival, January 2018. As I feared then, nothing has happened since, and the project seems ready for the dustbin as with so many good ideas in Bengal:

Let me begin with an analogy. Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare, had its Shakespeare Memorial Theatre from 1879, dedicated to staging the Bard’s plays and an essential stop on tourists’ itinerary. Recognizing it as a national heritage and an international attraction, the British government took over full charge in 1961, and renamed it the Royal Shakespeare Company. This repertory has never looked back since then and, now one of the most renowned in the world, continues to excite audiences in its home base with acclaimed productions, as well as tours abroad.


Curiously, 1961 makes Kolkatans immediately sit up, for we celebrated the Tagore centenary that year. Tagore’s preeminence in modern Indian drama, with 60-odd pioneering scripts in diverse styles, is unquestionable. Several luminaries and organizations have proposed theatres named after him in independent India, leading to many Rabindra Sadans and Bhavans founded in 1961. None, however, was assigned to exclusively (or mainly) perform his works. As a result, the dissemination and awareness of his plays in our (unlike the UK) multilingual nation never happened. Even in the smallest, localized parallel – Santiniketan or Kolkata – we missed the golden boat. Day-trippers to Santiniketan want to see an “authentic” (read Visva-Bharati) Rabindra natak or dance-drama there, but nobody thought of satisfying their need. Innumerable arts-loving visitors to Kolkata ask us whether they can catch a performance of something by “your Tagore” on any given evening, but we can only look helplessly or change the subject.


True, the Rabindra Bharati University has started a Rabindra Repertory very recently, but it does not own an auditorium or complex to house it. Its shows, too, are few and far between, dependent on the notoriously unpredictable availability of regular halls in the city. Under such conditions it cannot hope to fulfil the demand referred to above.


In 2010, during the Tagore sesquicentenary, the Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University, Prof. Pradip Narayan Ghosh, suggested that we should brainstorm various options to mark the occasion. It was then that I thought of bringing fruition to this idea, the absence of which I had felt acutely since 1986, when I had completed my doctorate on Tagorean drama, and which I had even raised to two different Vice-Chancellors of Visva-Bharati at different times, to no avail. I mentioned the concept to Prof. Ghosh, who readily approved and, heartily encouraged by Jawhar Sircar, the Secretary to the Union Ministry of Culture, JU sent the proposal to the Government of India.


However, many Tagore plans presented to the Government at that time reached a dead end for various reasons that do not warrant elaboration here. For many months we did not hear about the fate of our project, and I gave up hopes of witnessing its birth. Occasionally, I prompted the ever ebullient Jawhar-da, until one day in 2011 he emailed me to resubmit the proposal under the Government’s newly-launched Tagore Cultural Complex scheme offering a maximum grant of Rs 15 crore. But that scheme required a 60:40 fund-sharing undertaking, in which the central Government would finance 60%. We scrambled to find a guarantor for 40%. As everyone knows, state universities have no surplus money in this range to spare. We appealed to the Government of West Bengal. A very supportive officer, still in service and therefore to remain unnamed, took an active interest and promised assistance.


Re-energized and armed with that Indianism, “the needful”, we applied again in 2012 and then drafted a revision tailormade to suit the new scheme in 2013. Our papers passed through several stages, including a change of political guard at the Centre, and to cut short the long story and the considerable heartburn, eventually we were elated to hear that we had been shortlisted out of nearly 100 entries. After the final presentations in New Delhi in 2014, we learnt that ours was among just seven proposals chosen from all over India; moreover, the only one from a metropolis, and the only one from an educational institution.


The Ministry of Culture released the first instalment of our sanctioned funds to the Government of West Bengal in 2015. There they stayed for a full year, because (the way I see it) a top bureaucrat believed ardently in Gandhiji’s spirit of noncooperation. Once again, the afore-mentioned VSO came to our rescue and ensured that the money reached its rightful destination. Finally, JU is all set to erect our Tagore Cultural Centre in two more years, fingers crossed.


Its centrepiece will be a state-of-the-art thrust-stage auditorium comparable to recent international architectural developments and befitting Tagore’s highly advanced works, the designs by Fatehpuria and Bose having won high praise from the selection committee. There will also be an open-air amphitheatre because Tagore liked to present performances outdoors, and two smaller studio theatres for flexible and experimental productions. Such spaces do not exist in Kolkata, and very few of them exist even in India; the complex will therefore become a path-breaking venue, a go-to place for the latest in performing arts.


Why do I put these thoughts down before the actual completion of the Centre? For one thing, the progress of the initiative has never been documented so far: these things tend to get lost and forgotten over time. Furthermore, the public who paid the tax-payers’ money that went into it and who will ultimately enjoy the facilities have the right to transparency and information. Meanwhile, after seven years of spearheading the project, I have retired from Jadavpur University. So, do wish the Tagore Cultural Centre godspeed in the name of Rabindranath!