‘Never before in Tagore research have we seen such a constructive effort, with so much attention to detail. ...Here we have scholarship as well as liveliness, the courage and the eyes to search, but there is no arrogant desire to say the last word .
Dazzling documentation gathered by K. Kushari Dyson in three continents...It’s a fascinating book (ho exaggeration) because the author succeeds in placing herself in between personalities so different who, at the same time, present such unexpected similarities the information and discernment are exceptional, even more so when we realize that K. Kushari Dyson spent only a shot time in Argentina, and only after-the death of Victoria Ocampo. This is the only book to date, besides the autobiogarphy, which enables us to get to know the beginnings of the author of Soledad Sonora from close quarters and in a vivid manner. Personally, after reading In Your Blossoming Flower-Garden, I understand Victoria Ocampo better, I understand better that obscure, tormented side of her personality which she tried to project in her essay Supremacia del alma y de Ia sangre.
In November 1924 Rabindranath Tagore disembarked at Buenos Aires with the intention of proceeding to Peru. Weakened by an influenza caught on board, he spent the next two months in a suburban riverside villa made available to him by a young Argentine woman who was a devoted admirer of his work Victoria Ocampo, destined to become one of the most distinguished women of Latin America. A friendship was formed which was to have a deep influence on the life and work of each.
This book, the result of extensive researches in three continents, tells the fascinating story of that rare encounter and explores its numerous ramifications, including the crucial role played in it by Leonard English, Tagore’s English secretary who had accompained him to Argentina and who is distinguished in his own right as one of the builders of Sriniketan and as the co1ojnder, with his wife, of Dartington Hall in Devon.
There is a wealth of documentary evidence, including the presentation of valuable archival material, the entire known Tagore-Ocampo correspondence with full annotations and thirty three black & white and coloured plates, some of which have never been published before.
Ketaki Kushari Dyson was born in Calcutta n 1940. A first-class graduate of both Calcutta and Oxford; she also holds a doctorate from Oxford. She writes in many different genres and -is the author of several titles in Bengali and English.
In Bengali her publications include six full-length collections of poetry, three novels, three plays, three collections of essays and translations of Anglo-Saxon poetry into alliterative half-lines. Her plays have been staged in both Britain and India.
She has published four full-length poetry collections in English: Sap-Wood (Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1978), Spaces I Inhabit (Navana, Calcutta, 1 983)., Memories of Argentina and Other Poems (Virgilio Libro, kidlington, 1999). In between the first two titles there was a poetry pamphlet, Hibiscus in the North (Old Fire Station Poets series, Mid-Day Publications, Oxford, 1979), the poems of which were incorporated into Spaces I Inhabit and In That Sense You Touched It (Sahitya Akademi, 2005)
She has received the Ananda Puraskar for one of her books and the Bhubanmohini Dasi Medal of the University of Calcutta for her contribution to contemporary Bengali letters. Her Selected Poems of Rabindranath Tagore, jointly sponsored by Visva Bharati and SouthernArts (Britain), received the recommendation of London’s Poetry Book Society. Her first play, Raater Rode, was premiered at the Manchester City of Drama 1994.
This book has grown out of an editorial project initiated by Rabindra Bhavana, Visvabharati, Santiniketan, with the cooperation of the Ste authorities at Buenos Aires. I was asked by the Rabindra Bhavana to edit and annotate the Tagore-Ocampo correspondence with a suitable introduction. After completing the necessary research work, I realized that the letters would not be adequately illuminated unless the introduction was bigger and more detailed than what we had originally visualized. As I began to give shape to my material, the so-called introduction developed into a substantial study which had to be divided into twenty chapters. These chapters form the first part of this book, the letters and cables being the second part. Generous cross-references to the second part will be found in the first part. I have been able to gather together sixty documents in this second part. As I came to the last two documents, cables from Victoria Ocampo to the ailing poet, I felt that such a moving story could not be made to end just there, so abruptly. My aesthetic sense told me that the story should be carried forward just a little further. So I have ventured to include a brief epilogue in the shape of a few letters and cables exchanged by Ocampo and the poet’s son, Rathindranath Tagore, after the poet’s death.
With the exception of her first letter to Tagore, which is in the Elmhirst Records Office at Darting it ton Hall, Tomes, Devon, Ocampo’s letters to Tagore (and to his son) are hi the Rabindra Bhavana archives. Tagore’s (and his son’s) letters to Ocampo are in the Ocampo archives at Buenos Aires, that is to say, they were there when I was in Argentina in 1985, housed in an apartment in Tucumán 677. 1 am not sure where they might be by the time this book gets published. The organizations clustered round Sur, which was founded and run by Victoria Ocampo for so many decades, are in considerable financial difficulties. I understand that the two societies Editorial Sur S.A. and Editorial Revista Sur S.A. are going to be liquidated and that the body Fundacion 5cr is going to be kept. Victoria Ocampo’s papers may be sold to a North American university. It is likely, therefore, that the Tagore letters gathered here (and some of the Elmhirst letters to Ocampo quoted in this book) will find theft way to the U.S.A.
After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I decided not to use, for the presentation of Bengali and other Indian names and words and for brief quotations from Bengali, the system of transliteration, with its elaborate apparatus of diacritical marks, which is used by Sanskritists. This system is excellent for the reproduction of Sanskrit material in the Roman script, because in Sanskrit pronunciation and orthography are in close accord, but far less useful for the presentation of Bengali, where there can be wide divergences between the sounds and the spellings of words. Most non-Sanskritists are not familiar with the niceties of the system; in addition, transliterations into Roman following this system often give rise to absurd ideas of how certain names and words are pronounced in Bengali in the minds of those who do not know the language. Personally, I am strongly in favour of following the sounds of words in the transliteration of brief fragments from another script; this is what we try to do when we write names, words, and short phrases of foreign origin in Bengali. When writing a French name like Rimbaud in Bengali, we try to reproduce the sound, not the spelling. I would have gladly followed the same path when transliterating from Bengali into Roman. Strictly speaking, different methods would be necessary for the different languages written in the Roman script. What would work in the context of English would not work in the context of French or Spanish, because although each of these languages is written in the Roman script, the characters do not necessarily have identical values in each language. In the early days of theft contact with the Bengalis the British tended to follow the sounds when writing Bengali words and names in their own language. That practice did not last, and over the years a certain convention, more formal and spelling-oriented has developed for the representation of words and names of Indian origin in English. It is by no means a uniform system, but is a working compromise which is understood in the subcontinent. This is what I have adopted as the basis of my transliterations, adding slight tilts, where necessary, towards the Bengali sound-values. It is impossible to be consistent; certain transliterations have become so established that to change them would amount to pedantry. One has to compromise. I would have gladly written Shantiniketan, but Santiniketan seems to be generally preferred in India; I would have certainly written Rabindra Bhavan, but in the place itself Rabindra Bhavana seems to be preferred, so I let that stand. I have avoided the general use of diacritical marks as they are not generally employed in subcontinental English usage. After all, we do not write Ravindranath. Except in academic discourses relating to Sanskrit literature or ancient Indian philosophy, it is quite normal to tranliterate well-known Sanskrit titles without diacritical marks, in an appróximàte way so I have written Ramayána, Upanishads, Bhagavadgita. Diacritical marks have been used in the Indian context only in a few cases: when drawing attention to the pronunciation of a certain word, when they occur in any quoted passage, for (Ii which occurs quite a few times in this book (Thakur, Ch4htatrn), and in the transliteration of the Bengali cerebral r (which. I represent by 4). Also, because there is no capitalization in the Bengali script, I have avoided unnecessary capitalization in the transliteration of Bengali titles, using it only initially (Sonar tari Shesh lekha).
Diacritical marks appropriate to French, Spanish etc. have, of course, been retained, except in geographical names which are totally naturalized in English (e.g. Peru, Rio de Ia Plata) and where they have been left off by the original writers or publishers in passages I am quoting or titles to which I am referring.
In a discourse which concerns Bengali books and periodicals it is not possible to avoid referring to the Bengali calendar. For the benefit of my non-Indian readers I must mention that if a date looks disastrously wrong by a few centuries it refers to the Bengali year, not to Anno Domini.
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from Bengali, Spanish, or French originals are presented in my own English translations.
It is a pleasure to thank Sibnarayan Ray who, in his capacity as the Director of the Rabindra Bhavana in 1982, first proposed that I should be entrusted with the present work, and Amlan Datta, then the Vice-Chancellor of Visvabharati, who endorsed that proposal. A Visiting Fellowship provided by Visvahharati and a travel grant provided by the Commonwealth Foundation of London enabled me to spend two months at the Rabindra Bhavana in 1983. At the Rahindra Bhavana Uma Dasgupta looked after me well in her capacity as the Special Officer, and help, whenever I needed it, was given by the Curator Sanat Bagchi and his colleagues, and by the Librarian Supriya Ray and her colleagues. Deviprasanna Chatterjee gave me one of his valuable guided tours of the Tagore houses and gardens on the campus. Photocopying and photographic services were provided by Ajit Poddar and his colleagues Samiran Nandi and Nandakishor Mukherjee of the Audio-Visual Unit. Sushobhan Adhikary used to show us samples of Tagore’s art-work every afternoon, and we had great fun trying to interpret their riddles. A special thank-you goes to Sushobhan for showing me many pictures relevant to my queries, which I might not have seen otherwise,--he searched for them in the strong room in response to my queries, showed them to me, and prepared rough outlines on cards so that they could he identified by me at a glance and to Samiran for preparing a set of colour transparencies of selected pictures. Many delightful hours were spent discussing things with Satyendranath Roy who possesses a rare familiarity with the intellectual world inhabited by Tagore, and with Bholabhai Patel of Gujarat University, who was then a Visiting Fellow at the Rabindra Bhavana and who provided an instructive non-Bengali Indian perspective on many issues. I stayed in the Purbapalli guest-house, but the home of Satyendranath Roy and his wife Gita became like a secondnhome to me. Useful items of information were gleaned from Kshitis Roy and Ketaki De Sarkar while I was at Santiniketan, and after my return to England invaluable help was given by Bikash Chakravarty of the Department of English of Visvabharati, who diligently checked and re-checked certain points and answered outstanding queries in connection with the editorial work. 1 am very grateful for his assistance. I thank all who made my two months at Santiniketan a pleasant and memorable time.
Thanks to Laura Ayerza and Javier Fernandez of the Permanent Argentine Delegation to the UNESCO, who have shown the warmest possible enthusiasm for the present project and an anxious desire to help, I had useful additions to my reading-list; an introduction to Carlos Adam from whom came further suggestions for reading; loans and gifts of books and periodicals which are difficult to obtain in Britain; hospitality in Paris in 1984; introductions to Alena Caillois and Blanca Asturias in Paris, meetings with whom proved valuable; introductions to various people in Buenos Aires; and a contribution towards my Argentine expenses. Bikash Sanyal of the International Institute for Educational Planning in Paris was also anxious to help and did some liaising with Laura Ayerza.
Valuable additions to my reading-list were made by Malcolm Deas of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and John King who is currently at Warwick University. I am thankful to John King for letting me quote from his Oxford doctoral thesis and for introductions to several distinguished men and women at Buenos Aires and to Janet Greenberg, at that time writing a dissertation at the University of California at Berkeley. The staff of the Taylorian Library at Oxford have been invariably helpful. In addition I thank Daniel Waissbein of Oxford for lending me Ocampo’s Autobiografta IV at a time when it was not available in any of the Oxford libraries and Chiara Baralle of Kidlington, Oxford, through whose assistance I became the first proud possessor of Autobiografia Vi in Oxford if not in the whole of Britain within weeks of its publication in Argentina. Another rare book was lent to me by my friend Gilhian Stone of Oxford.
The rich resources of the Dartington Hall archives were already tapped by me in 1981-82 for my Bengali book Rabindranath victoria ocampor sand/tune. Robert (better known as Robin) Johnson continued to give me his unstinted help, answering queries, sending copies and photocopies of documents, until his retirement from the Elmhirst Records Office in 1985, when Mary Bride Nicholson, Archivist and Curator, gave me the necessary permission to make a thorough search for, examine, and take notes from all papers relating to Leonard Elmhirst in Buenos Aires. I am most grateful for this cooperation and for the generous permission to use archival material relating to Elmhirst which have been vital for the present project.
My ticket to Argentina and back in 1985 was bought by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations of New Delhi. A special thank-you goes to SN. Chakraborti at that time First Secretary (Cuiture and Education) at the Indian High Commission in London, for liaising with the ICCR on my behalf anq also with the Commonwealth Foundation of London for my passage to India in 1983.
I can never forget what G. Jagannathan, then the chargé affaires at the Indian Embasssy at Buenos Aires, did for me at Buenos Aires in 1985. For two months he and his wife Vasantha and their two vivacious daughters gave me the most generous hospitality in their apartment, making it a home away from home for me, complete with an Indian cuisine. Mr. Jagannathan and all his staff at the Embassy liaised continually with the Argentine authorities on my behalf and helped me in every possible way till the last minute. I thank them all.
My sincere thanks to Maria Renée Cura and her colleagues Haydée Sirito and Adela Guelless Freyre who kept the archives at Tucuman 677 open for me at certain hours and made searches for the documents I wished to see. I know that a severe shortage of funds prevented them from keeping the archives open for longer hours and appreciate everything they did to help me in difficult circumstances. I thank Claudia Echeverry for collecting me from the airport and Angeles Ayerza for showing me round the old part of the city on the evening of my arrival. A visit to Villa Ocampo was arranged by the UNESCO authorities at the request of the Indian Embassy.
Thanks to the owners of Miralrlo, the Lafuente family, especially to Gloria, the present mistress, and her daughter Mariana, I spent an unforgettable day at MiraIrlo, where Tagore and Elmhirst had stayed as Victoria Ocampo’s guests. It was from Gloria’s father-in-law Ricardo de Lafuente Macham that the villa had been rented in 1924. Dining at the table where Tagore and Elmhirst would have dined, looking at the study, the bedrooms, the famous balcony facing the river, the tipa tree under which they used to sit, I felt I had come on a pilgrimage. Many useful items of information were gathered by me from this visit and from the family.
Armed with introductions provided by Laura Ayerza, her friend Laura Urien, John King, Janet Greenberg (whom I met briefly at Oakland), and Juan Eduardo Fleming (attached to the Argentine Interests Section of the Brazilian Embassy in London), I was able to meet many people at Buenos Aires who shared with me their memories of or reflections on Victoria Ocampo. Among them were Silvina Ocampo (the sole surviving sister of Victoria Ocampo) and her husband Adolfo Bioy Casares, Enrique Pezzoni, Juan José Hernandez, José Bianco, Eduardo Paz Leston, Ernesto SchOO, Beatriz Sarlo, Maria Teresa Gramuglio, Francis Korn, and Enrique Anderson Imbert. Eduardo Paz L.eston provided invaluable help in many ways, including putting me in touch with the Lafuente family. Laura Urien secured the appointment with Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares at a time when Silvina had just come out of hospital and was not receiving any visitors. At a lunch at the house of Blanca Mitre I was lucky to meet Octavio Paz and his wife, and Odile Baron Supervielle, among others, and I wish I could remember the names of several interesting people whom I met at a lunch to which I was taken by Laura Urien. Some I did not meet face to face, but talked to on the phone; among them were Joséfina Dorado, a cousin of the Ocampo sisters, and Carmen Moltedo, the Countess of Sieyes. All the people I spoke to either answered specific queries or enriched my understanding of Victoria Ocampo in one way or another, and I am deeply grateful to all of them.
Friendly and valuable help on many fronts was provided by those two impressive specialists in Indian philosophy the city of Buenos Aires possesses, Fernando Tola and Carmen Dragonetti de Tola, at whose research institute I spent some pleasant hours. Carmen even accompanied me to the doctor when I managed to catch the ‘flu. I remember Judith Evans who tried to help me and cannot forget the anxious and friendly desire to help shown by the staff of the guesthouse where I had been booked in and where I spent my first three nights: the Circulo de Suboficiales de Gendarmerla Nacional at TacuarI 566/68, where I met the poet and artist Manuel Asorey. I wish I could remember the name of the young woman, on the staff of that guesthouse, who took me by bus to the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Jagannathan on my first Sunday morning at Buenos Aires and even paid my bus fare as I did not have the right change (which in the galloping inflation of Argentina means a wad of notes).
The authorities of La Nacion allowed me to consult one of their archival files, and the staff of the Biblioteca Nacional and the Biblioteca del Congreso gave generous help in locating various back issues of the Nacion.
Through the good offices of the Indian Embassy at Buenos Aires I was able to visit Villa Victoria at Mar del Plata, where our party was received with the warmest welcome by Susana L5pez Merino de Oterino, the poet Rafael Felipe Oterino, Nicou Gioia, and some other members of the association dedicated to the preservation of Villa Victoria as a museum. A magnificent lunch in our honour was laid on by the municipality of Mar del Plata, and an audio-visual show on Victoria Ocampo was put on for us. To my great disappointment it proved impossible to fit in a visit to Chapadmalal, not far from Mar del Plata, where Tagore and Elmhirst had stayed for a few days in 1924.
I shall take this opportunity to clarify a few details about Victoria Ocampo’s houses as many in India who are interested in her life and achievements are not correctly informed of the present situation with regard to her houses and have asked me questions on this subject. My information is correct up to mid-1985. Victoria Ocampo, as is known, did indeed leave both her houses to the UNESCO, so that they could be used as international cultural centres and be available to writers, scholars, and translators from different parts of the world. (If things had gone according to her plans, someone like me working on her papers should have been accommodated in Villa Ocampo itself.) But apparently the UNESCO found it financially difficult to maintain both houses and sold the house at Mar del Plata in order to maintain Villa Ocampo better, though when I was in Argentiña in 1985 Villa Ocampo was not functioning as a cultural centre. It was under lock and key, though the furniture was kept in a good condition by the dedicated caretaker (who used to be a member of Victoria Ocampo’s household staff when Victoria was alive). The garden too was well maintained. Most of Ocampo’s books were there, but the papers, as I have already indicated, had been removed to Tucuman 677, and many other items had been transferred either to Tucumán 677 or the office of Editorial Sur at Bulnes 1730. Parts of the building were in need of repair, and there was no running water in the bathrooms. Many in India imagine that there is one room in Villa Ocampo where all the Tagore souvenirs are kept together, but that is not the case. 1 sincerely hope that Villa Ocampo will receive the public support it deserves and become a fully functional international cultural centre as Victoria Ocampo envisaged it.
Villa Victoria was bought from the UNESCO by the municipality of Mar del Plata. The municipality had also wished to buy all the furniture with it so that the house could be maintained as a museum- It wanted the UNESCO to wait till it could raise enough money to purchase the house together with all movables. But this did not prove feasible, and the furniture was sold separately, as a result of which most of the items were dispersed all over the country.
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