Ketaki Kushari Dyson Speaks for TSH Fundraiser


By Sanchali Basu

HOUSTON: The tone for the evening was set with a very soothing opening devotional Rabindra hymn by Shyama Mishra and as guests helped themselves to Fish Amritsari, vegetable kababs and wine, the Tagore Society of Houston’s (TSH) annual fundraiser got off to a good start at India House on April 5.

Following the welcoming speech by President Ruma Acharya thanking all the donors, dignitaries and well-wishers, the keynote speaker Ketaki Kushari Dyson was introduced by emcee Sanchali Basu. Due to health challenges she was unable to fly to Houston from London, but had sent her recorded speech for viewing. Ketaki Kushari Dyson, a poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, translator, scholar, and critic was born in Calcutta in 1940 and has First Class degrees in English Literature from both Calcutta and Oxford. She also holds a doctorate from Oxford. She settled in England after her marriage to an Englishman, but did not give up writing in her first language. She has maintained links with Bengal’s literary life for over half a century and is regarded as an outstanding Bengali writer of her generation. She is the author of over thirty titles in her two languages, including works on Tagore.

She referred to Tagore as the colossus still emitting energy, and the extent to which he had impacted her life.  Tagore’s last year on this earth coincided with her birth year. The legacy that he has left behind has become part of her identity. She mentioned how his words came as easily as leaves to trees and how relevant he still is to the modern world. His poetry sprang from the inner depths of his soul and was an expansion of his core identity. That he was a thinker and activist, his paintings, novels, dance dramas, music, philosophy and politics, all stemmed from the fact that he was a poet first. He definitely needs more international recognition and language has no international profile and should not be a barrier. She emphasized the need to look at Tagore’s life and work holistically, when we present him in an international context and not view him in fragments.

She was available for a lively discussion via skype from London and was able to answer questions from the audience.

Chandana Guha did a brief overview of the society’s activities over the past year, the highlight being the unveiling of the Tagore statue at the Tagore grove in the energy corridor of Houston. Besides the various cultural programs including classical music nights, the Passport scholarship program was discussed. The essay contest on a Tagore quote for high school students last year had a huge response and drew contestants from all over the country.

 An excellent audio visual put together by Sailaja Bandyopadhyay, about the plight of the “Baul” community in Bengal, who the society is trying to help was presented while a 6 course dinner was served. The future plans of the society were discussed. Asoke Dey Sarkar and Ruma Acharya provided updates on the Baul project. After their visit to West Bengal, the government there is willing to help in procuring land to build a Baul village to provide basic amenities, sanitation, treatment and self-sustaining facilities for the very needy community. TSH is planning on starting by sending crates of clothes to them.

The next dream project of the society is to build a Tagore Center in the heart of Houston, which will house Tagore’s art, have its own library and presentation hall/auditorium. TSH is in the process of finding a suitable location and a grant from the county.

The fundraising dynamic duo of Gopendu Chakrabarti and Jayanta Bandyopadhyay did a fantastic job of raising money to meet the needs of the society to embrace Tagore‘s vision of building a world where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.