Tagore Society Fundraiser Lauds Achievements, Sets Future Goals

Kathleen M. O’Connell, professor of comparative literature at University of Toronto, was the keynote speaker.

Kathleen M. O’Connell, professor of comparative literature at University of Toronto, was the keynote speaker.

By Sanchali Basu

HOUSTON: The Tagore Society of Houston held its annual fundraiser on April 13 at India House with a lot of dedication, enterprise and enthusiasm. The evening started with social networking half-hour around drinks and delectable appetizers provided by Nirvana restaurant. A Brahmasangeet rendition by Shyama Mishra accompanied on the violin by Biplab Samaddar set the tone for the evening.

TSH President Ruma Acharya welcomed the guests and thanked all the sponsors, donors, dignitaries and well-wishers. Ryan Walsh, special assistant to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett read out a proclamation declaring April 13 as “Tagore day”.

Neeta Shetkar gave an update of the year’s activities in the field of branding and education. She explained how TSH is actively involved in introducing Tagore to University level students with the Flagship Tagore Passport Scholarship, which is being implemented in partnership with the English Department of University of Houston; as well as to high school students via essay contests. Professor Wynan Herendeen Chair of the English Department, spoke highly of the society’s work and of his student Samantha Lay’s report that won the Passport Scholarship in 2012. In her absence he received her certificate.

The High School Essay contest winners could not be present due to college schedule, but the parents of the second place contestant attended the dinner and presented Neel Bhan’s winning entry to the audience.  This year, TSH is now trying to innovatively introduce Tagore and his works to Middle School level students.

Randy Bossarte, librarian of the Harris County Northwest branch was awarded a certificate for his involvement in the society’s book donation to the library. He mentioned that the book donation has aroused a lot of interest in Tagore amongst readers and they are expecting to increase their collection of Tagore works.

John Liner, a high school student from Cinco Ranch High School in Katy with a passion for composing music, who will be attending the Berkley College of Music next year, played an audio clip of his version of a fusion Orchestra Score, including some Rabindra Sangeet tunes, written in western notes. Till date, Rabindra Sangeet cannot be played by westerners since there are no notations available in the western classical style of music. Liner’s endeavor at such a tender age won him TSH’s Music scholarship to transcribe Tagore Songs into western notations.

Bulbul Sengupta, the retired Dean of Fine Arts at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, an acclaimed singer and recipient of the National Cultural Scholarship for advanced training in Rabindra Sangeet at Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan, in India was felicitated by the society for her accomplishments. She was very touched and reminisced about fond memories as a student at Shantiniketan with esteemed Rabindra Sangeet singers. She also captivated the audience by singing a few lines of Rabindra Sangeet.

Sailaja Bandyopadhyay presented an excellent audio visual about the plight of the “Baul” community in Bengal, which the society is trying to help by submitting a request to the Chase Community Drive. Dinner was served and the society’s plan of installing a statue of Tagore in Ray Miller Park was discussed.

Kathleen M. O’Connell, the keynote speaker then took the stage and gave an excellent overview of Tagore’s life, works, vision and achievements with a powerful slide show. She is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Toronto and a world renowned Tagore Scholar. Her association with Shantiniketan and Tagore dates back to her M.A. in Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University (India) in the mid-1960s. She received her Ph.D. in South Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, where she currently offers courses on Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray.

O’Connell’s writings on Tagore have been included in journals, encyclopedias, as book-chapters and in conference volumes. Her published book on Tagore “The Poet as Educator” is a study on the contributions of Rabindranath Tagore in the development of education in Bengal. Her speech emphasized Tagore’s education methods (Vishwa Bharati), where students are not restricted to the confines of a classroom, his cosmopolitanism (China Bhavan), rural development and economic sustainability (Sriniketan).

She also referred to his spirit of genuine international collaboration through his association with famous personalities of the time including Mahatma Gandhi, C.F. Andrews and Leonard Elmhurst. Tagore’s introduction of several new festivals including Halakarshan, Nabanna, Barsha Mangal, Basanta Utsab, Magotsab and Briksharopan was also highlighted in her speech as was his ever dynamic vision of culture which integrated several different dance styles, sculpture and paintings. The society concluded the evening with a special recognition of Kathleen O’Connell by presenting her with a certificate and flowers.