Tagore’s Shanti Niketan is Reimagined in a Bayou City Setting

BY JAWAHAR MALHOTRA

HOUSTON: It is a testament to the persuasive power of his philosophy of life and harmonious coexistence that Rabindranath Tagore is immortalized the world over in one manner or the other. In the Bayou City, his presence has been felt since 1974 when the Tagore Society of Houston was formed around the nucleus of a growing Bengali community that has since made its mark through other events and structures, chief among them the Durga Bari Temple in far west Houston.

Every year there is an Annual Tagore Talk gathering with prominent speakers (this year it is on June 1 at India House). In 2013, the TSH along with the PfP Industries and Techno India Group created a Tagore Grove in Ray Miller Park (on Eldridge near Briar Forest) where a 76-inch tall bronze statue of Tagore on a pedestal graces down benevolently upon you.
The two people behind PfP – Ruma and Asoke Acharya Deysarkar – had formed the Tagore Center Foundation when they pursued the statue project. But their love for Tagore and his vision of international peace and harmony went much further as five years later, in May 2018 – almost coinciding with Tagore’s birthdate – Asoke bought a 14.6-acre plot of land west of Dairy Ashford at Brantrock with the intention of building an ashram-like environment, modeled after Tagore’s residence Shanti Niketan near Kolkata.

Both Ruma and Asoke are chemical engineers who have built very successful businesses for themselves after they settled in Houston. In 1998. Ruma founded a geotechnical services consulting firm – Ground Technology – and ran it for 20 years, eventually selling it last year, liberating herself to follow up on the personal project of the Deysarkar Family Trust Fund to build Shanti Niketan on the Bayou through the Tagore Center Foundation. Asoke founded PfP in 2003 and continues to run what is now listed in the Top 100 companies in Houston.

The vision that the power couple had is now complete, and on Saturday, May 4, they unveiled it at a ground-breaking ceremony on a sunny morning after a heavy rainfall the night before. Nestled under a white tent under an azure sky, and in view of the golden geodesic domed meditation center a block away, the Deysarkars shared their vision with close friends and a few dignitaries like District F Councilman Steve Le and Dr. Anupam Ray, the Indian Consul General. Sanchali Basu, a close friend of the Deysarkars, was the emcee for the event that concluded with a box lunch from Hungry’s.

The Tagore Center Foundation, will include an Early Education Development Center and an Adult Education Center. It will also include a Visual Arts Center, a Performing Arts center, an Open Air Auditorium, an Art Gallery and Fairgrounds. The site work for the roads and pad locations has been completed and the structure design is now being completed.

“This Center will organize, promote and popularize educational, cultural, social and intellectual events celebrating diversity, intercultural harmony, raise awareness of the blend of Eastern and western culture,” said Ruma, adding, “the Center’s philosophy framed on Tagore’s concept of universal humanism, transcendental spirituality and a borderless world.” Asoke spoke briefly on the history of the project, Tagore’s relevance and his influence on Mahatma Gandhi.

“What you see is a dream come true,” said chief guest Dr. Anupam Ray who did the ground breaking ceremony. He noted that he was due to leave this year for another posting and probably would not be able to visit the site again, and added that “This cultural monument is valuable to bind the world’s largest and oldest democracies.”
Philamena Baird, past chairwoman of Houston Arts Alliance and advisory board member of TCF, said she was not familiar with Tagore before but had read up on him and was awestruck how accomplished he was. “He represented humanity and dreamed of universal humanity,” she said.

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