You can’t cross the sea, merely by standing and staring at the water — Rabindranath Tagore
The above words of Nobel Laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore seem to resonate at his vast home, Jorasanko Thakurbari, nestled within the bylanes of North Kolkata. The huge and elegantly decorated building with its pruned gardens, has been converted into a museum by the Tagore family, and is open to the public. Here, Tagore’s entire life is recreated through photographs and memorabilia – the rooms he lived in, the chairs he sat on, to the places he had visited abroad to debate, preach and spread the importance of creating a world of progressive India. A timeline of Tagore’s journeys abroad to take forward his message, takes up an entire floor.
It is impressive to see that the governments of Japan, Hungary, China and the United States of America have contributed well in setting up their own separate galleries on each floor of the house, in an effort to acknowledge, boost and applaud Tagore’s contribution to their respective countries. While a section on China showcases Tagore’s talks and books while on his trips in the country, the Hungarian section displays a part of the tree Tagore had planted there during his visit to discuss and debate on world issues. It was an enriching experience to see this and realise why Tagore is what he is, a world leader. The visit to the Thakurbari was an education in leadership first hand. I personally believe museums are not only the best places to revisit our past, but also the best places to understand the kind of leaders that nations created, the kind of men the world bowed down to, the chosen few who steered our past generations.
Museums as repositories
Kolkata, the once former capital of British-ruled India, has quite a number of museums to its credit. A majority of them are the homes of leaders who led the country into Independence, and offer an insight into the disciplined lives they led. The houses of social reformer Raja Rammohan Roy, freedom fighters Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, and even Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad (the latter spent a majority of his last days in Kolkata), are spread across the City of Joy, and offer an interesting insight into the hard work and the toil they must have put in, to propel their country onto the international map. These houses, which are now converted into museums (a majority of these museums are taken care of privately and not by the government) stand tall, in silent testimony to the lives of these illustrious visitors, even as visitors pop in day in and day out through their halls.
The ugly truth
After a three-hour tour of Tagore’s house, on my way out, I was greeted to an ugly and disproportionate structure of concrete outside the main gates of the Thakurbari. This under-construction building had loud hoardings decorated across its façade announcing that it would open as a mall soon. The irony, that the space outside the home of the country’s national treasure, would be reserved for a commercial mall wasn’t lost on me.
This scene made me recall a similar incident, a few years back in Mumbai, where the home of the late controversial leader and President of Hindu Mahasabha, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, popularly known as Veer Savarkar, in Dadar, was taken over by a new owner. The Savarkar home was built from the donations of Savarkar’s admirers, and even housed a museum devoted to the leader. Both the house and the museum seemed to have faded slowly into oblivion. Instead, across Dadar, since the past few years, one can see tall, multi-storeys and commercial malls with glass facade replacing the scenic and serene, two-storied heritage buildings.
The examples of such ‘ignorance’ or ‘neglect’ are a dime a dozen. Not only are the houses of our ‘national treasures’ but even buildings, or open spaces reserved for hospitals, schools, gardens and empty open plots, all of it have been taken over, bit by bit, and sold off to generate profits for both corporations and political leaders.
Over the years there have been several reports and cases of land grabbing and scams and politicians, who are expected to be strict supervisors of the very spaces they vow to protect, often misuse their position and look the other way.
It is sad but it appears that political leaders have forgotten the reason they have been elected in the first place. They need to be reminded that they are not owners but custodians of India’s property and its wealth, and also its people at large. Unfortunately, often blinded by power and money, political leaders fail to think beyond themselves and what they can do for their country.
The race to generate profits at all costs has led to a decline in one important thing—an honest and dedicated leadership. India is definitely facing a leadership crisis. Although the country has made progress in certain areas over the year, we have failed to generate a single leader who can lead the country with honesty and sincerity.
Established political parties have fared no better. The job of a political party is more than just winning elections. Although some are over half a century old, they have failed to create an efficient pool of men and women who could be trained to take on the challenges like the complicated caste system for example. It is upon them to create better leaders for tomorrow. Leaders who refrain from playing caste politics and instead are more interested in driving its people to achieve success for their country wheth- er it be in the area of industry, education, sport or art and culture. It is time that political parties relook and re-exam- ine the volatile caste politics and reservations which has dominated the country for 70 years now, and create a leadership that goes beyond this.
We need to create leaders who are prepared to take the risk where need be. We need to create leaders who stand up for what is right, irrespective of the consequences. We need to create leaders who are not threatened by their counterparts, but who are sensitised to the needs of the people. And last but not the least, we need to create a leadership that stands behind the old, poor, exploited and the marginalised.
Which is why it is important for us to go back in history and take lessons from our past, to understand and explore why we have failed to live up to the sacrifices made by those who gave up their lives for an independent and free India. After all, reconnecting to our past is the only way for us to go ahead in creating a new and better India.