Forget the fact that despite official deification of Rabindranath Tagore for decades on end, not too many people know about the great works of art by the writer-poet. Forget also the fact that the works of great artists the world over have been bought and sold. And do forget too that the Centre has a dodgy record of taking care and showcasing the works of its finest artists. But when the culturally sensitive West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee proclaimed that the Centre must ‘intervene’ in the scheduled auction of Tagore’s 12 paintings by Sotheby’s on June 15 to get them ‘back’ to India, we must intervene to tell the PM not to take heed of the ridiculous request.
The paintings going under the hammer weren’t surreptitiously shipped off to London or stolen. They belong to a British charity organisation whose founder Leonard Elmhirst was Tagore’s close friend. Going by the CM’s logic, Pablo Picasso’s paintings should only be displayed in Spanish galleries, Leonardo da Vinci’s in Italian ones and Tagore’s only in India (Bengal?). Even as an aestheticised bhadralok, Mr Bhattacharjee’s identity as a communist probably clouds his ability to understand that private collectors value art as much — if not more — than governmental cultural commissars. Tagore was a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist and would have been appalled by the nationalistic card Mr Bhattacharjee has pulled out of his dhoti.
“Tagore’s paintings are priceless treasures of Indian culture and the Government of India should take all necessary steps to bring those paintings back.” Apart from correcting the errors regarding the propriety of the artist’s work he makes, perhaps we should gently tell the CM what happened to the Literature Nobel Prize medal and citation that were on display at Shantiniketan, West Bengal, India, till 2004. Just in case he needs reminding: they were stolen and are yet to be ‘returned’.