Visva-Bharati is heading for a new controversy with the authorities planning to erect a new building to house a museum in the Uttarayan complex that is at the core of Tagore’s heritage zone consisting of his own houses constructed over the last 30 years of his life.
The houses Shyamali, Konark, Punascha, Udichi and Udayan occupy two sides of an open stretch of land, while a well-laid out garden occupies the other sides. The buildings are all flat and exude a feeling of open spaces. The Uttarayan complex is a must visit for everybody who goes to Visva-Bharati.
Tagore lived in these houses in turns and met his visitors here. Visva-Bharati, a central university of which the Prime Minister is the chancellor and the President is the visitor, is the custodian of Tagore’s heritage complex.
Speaking to HT on Thursday, interim VC Swapan Dutta defended the idea of building the museum at this spot.
“A few hundred paintings of a number of painters including Tagore are locked in our storeroom. These can all be exhibited once this museum comes up,” Dutta said, admitting the primary work of measuring the land have been completed in the heritage complex.
Dutta said the museum is a project approved by the union ministry of culture. However, former VC Rajat Kanta Ray differed sharply.
“The idea of a twin museum of Rabindra Bhavana and Kala Bhavan was taken up to exhibit and preserve paintings of Tagore and other artists in temperature and humidity controlled environment. But the location was not in the Uttarayan complex. A plot between Rabindra Bhavan and Natyaghar (theatre room) was selected,” averred Ray.
“All preparations should be stopped immediately. It cannot be done from any aspect -- heritage, aesthetics and engineering,” Supriyo Tagore, 78, told HT. Tagore is perhaps the only living person who lived six years (1946-51) in one of the buildings (Punashcha) of the complex. He is the great grandson of Satyendranath Tagore, the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore.
While the poet built the five houses with distinct characteristics for each, his son Rathindranath, who had skills in horticulture, took great care and nurtured exotic plants in its garden from different parts of the globe.
“The plan for altering Uttarayan complex is just not a good idea,” said Ray.
Others used stronger words. “Erecting a building in the Uttarayan complex amounts to vandalism. The plan should be abandoned forthwith,” eminent artist, Santiniketan resident and also Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jogen Chowdhury told HT. Chowdhury was also the curator of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“Even if we forget the question of heritage for a moment, there are questions of aesthetics. Empty spaces are needed there,” remarked Chowdhury.
“There are a set of persons in Santiniketan who wants to preserve status quo and don’t want anything to be done till such time everything falls apart,” argued interim VC Dutta.
“The proposal to build the museum was not placed before the executive council. So we are not officially aware of it. But we have heard it is being built somewhere between Shyamoli and Konark. It should not be done, simple,” said a member of the university’s executive council, the highest policy making body who requested anonymity.
“Dutta is an interim VC. It is debatable whether he should take such momentous decisions,” said a former director of Rabindra Bhavana that is the custodian of Tagore’s heritage.
An employee of Rabindra Bhavana, who wanted anonymity, pointed out that the houses of Tagore in the complex are not in the best of health and are being restored by ASI. “Wouldn’t a construction in the vicinity jeopardise them further?” he asked.
“Do you think those who will be in charge of the construction are no naive that they would not keep it in mind?” responded Dutta.
Unfortunately, Visva-Bharati is no stranger to controversies. The biggest one to hit it was in 2004 when the Nobel medallion of Tagore -- he was the first Nobel laureate in Asia -- was stolen along with a number of items of personal use by the family including the sari worn by his wife Mrinalini on the wedding day.
In February 2016, Sushanta Dutta Gupta became the first VC of a central university to be sacked by the government on financial misconduct. CBI is also investigating irregular appointments done by him.
“Earlier it was supposed to be located at a different place outside the Uttarayan complex. But now we get to hear that it will be moved inside the complex,” said the former director of Rabindra Bhavana.
Swapan Dutta told HT that he was not aware of the specifics of the building that they are planning to erect. “I am not aware of the final design. It is probably still being worked out. However, the building won’t be two-storied. That much I can tell you,” he remarked.
Those who opposed the plan pointed out that the poet’s son and former VC of Visva-Bharati, Rathindranath Tagore wrote that nothing should be done to change the Uttarayan complex permanently.