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Santiniketan : In the wake of a New Dawn

Today Santiniketan has become the central topic of discussion among the Bengalis for one

reason or another. In all its complexity, I think there is a bright side as well, especially when

reasons of both building and demolishing its boundary walls become so glaringly evident.

I am not formally linked to Santiniketan. I am, however, one of those who love Santiniketan very much. How much I cannot even calculate though.

Being inspired by the idea of ‘Santiniketan’ as dreamt by Rabindranath, I started experimenting

through the initiatives under National Service Scheme in one of the universities of West Bengal

in search of a way to unbind the universities from their own fixed boundaries and ultimately

connect them closely and organically with the society as envisioned by Tagore. But when I

faced some obstacles in this endeavour, I came to know from the writings of a research scholar

of Kumayun University that Rabindranath wanted to build a 'Second Santiniketan’ at Ramgarh

which is located in Uttarakhand. Then I started working there towards making of an open-wall

university. We planned that the campus of Ramgarh Santiniketan will be built over the whole

Ramgarh Block where there was maximum 319 acres of land which could be available for our

mission. The main purpose would be to remove the problems of unemployment, agriculture and environment. The ways to awaken around 3700 deserted villages of Uttarakhand would also have to be searched for. And to do that, various assets already in Santiniketan’s possession have to be found out. The ‘Shantiniketan Trust for Himalaya’ was formed to achieve this goal. A group of smart young students of Visva-bharati joined us in this endeavour to create something new. Those very people who were getting involved in petty protest programmes only, joined these constructive and creative activities as suggested by Tagore. However, as a result of continuous effort for seven years, now a new dawn is going to be a reality with the announcement of the Union Minister of Education in the webinar on the occasion of Tagore's 160th birthday celebration organised by our trust.

At this point, in the wake of the Centenary of Visva-bharati, it occurred to us that why only

Ramgarh Block, we should include Bolpur-Santiniketan Block also in our plan. So, we started

working towards that as well. Here we got support from Tagore Society established by

Jayprakash Narayan and Pannalal Dasgupta. To find out the ways to get all these done, I wrote

one book also- ‘Mission Santiniketan’ alias ‘Samaj-jog’. The Poet emphasised on maintaining a

close contact with the society. He repeatedly gave example of Nalanda University. He often

mentioned about the organic relation between this University and the neighbouring villages

which nourished each other.

Rabindranath earnestly expected that, to achieve financial stability, his proposed university,

where Santiniketan and Sriniketan are a blended entity,would somehow be connected to its

students, teachers and the community nearby through their livelihoods on cooperative basis.

Santiniketan did never try to establish such a basic relationship with the surrounding

communities even before being acquired by the central government. Steep boundaries --- both

visible and invisible --- have been raised obstructing its natural relation with the neighbouring

residents. Interestingly, similar educational institutions have been established in America in the

second half of twentieth century. Sterling College was one of such institutions. Once I had the

opportunity to have a detailed discussion with Stephen Mikesell, one of the patrons of that

College. He also invited me to his college so that we can get necessary supportive signals and

reinforce our trust in the practicability of the core areas of Tagore's educational thoughts. He

alongwith few others have expressed their willingness to join our mission which aspires to build a 'corrected' and creative Santiniketan at Ramgarh and in other places of our country.

Visva-bharati has never attempted to establish such close connections after being aided by the

central government and eventually shackled itself within the comfortable confines of its invisible boundaries.

The relevant question is, has Visva-bharati even thought through the fundamental basis of the

ideals of Santiniketan ? Prof Amitabha Chowdhury,informs ( in his article 'Ultopuran' compiled in his book 'Motantore') us that Prof Probodhchandra Bagchi did organise a two-day conference in Visva-bharati in 1953 to fathom Tagore's educational thoughts in its complexity and entirety.

According to him, the outcome was a zero ! Was it really so ? Be it what it may, it is a pleasure

to mention that some enthusiast students of present generation Viswabharati have now joined

in the pursuits of all these queries with a very positive bent of mind.

Till date we have witnessed only the developments as carried out by the dexterity of the

party-administration. In these two blocks, the power of student-teacher cooperation alongwith

the society at large will help the villages rise on their own and make them unemployment free.

The discovery of infinite potential of the Value of Goodness as the most valuable capital to be

invested, will make this happen. Those students are surely going to develop a model which can

one day genuinely inspire more than a thousand universities in our country, even if it cannot

give specific direction for their rejuvenation. In this way, the spirit of an open-wall university can give actual nourishments to more than one thousand blocks. The helices of the DNA of the

'fossilised' Santiniketan will get unwound and it would start moving forward beyond a narrow

geographical boundary and will once again set out to conquer the sensitive minds of the world

by soaring on its lesser known wing of Sriniketan. And it will thus, become the most powerful

inspiration in this twenty first century and also can become a protective armour for the society.

The birthday of the Poet would be considered as “Rural Rejuvenation Day” in India and later on

might be extended as "World Rural Rejuvenation Day". Tagore lovers, who have very miserably

kept the ideas of the poet within a narrow boundary will once again sail to reclaim their

reputation across the world with the rhythm of practicing of those very down to earth ideas of

the great poet. They can gift the world a very promising social technology which is based on

cooperation, decorated with harmony and nourished by nature.

We must remember that the best creation by the poet is this ‘Santiniketan’ in its totality, means, --- Santiniketan and Sriniketan combined. He might have received the world’s most prestigious award two or three more times for his two or three other books. But had he been supposed to get that award only one time, it should have gone to him for the creation of ‘Santiniketan’ and nothing else. For his 300-odd books are nothing but the blue-prints of this mega-creation.

In the backdrop of this wide vision, if we have a total view of the recent contention at

Santiniketan, we would see as if the fossilised Santiniketan is busy playing a childish game of

constructing and demolishing the boundaries and thereby ignoring the more important issues,

which shackled the institution and which needs to be done away with in the wake of the

centenary of Visva-bharati.

We can easily understand why these boundaries which are against the vision of Rabindranath

are being slowly constructed in one and only Santiniketan since long and why there is a

heart-warming protest against such construction on one hand and an aggressive

anti-Santiniketan tendency to forcefully demolish that boundary on the other.

Some people think that all the anti-Santiniketan activities happening in Santiniketan are fuelled by the individual sweet wills of the vice-chancellors only and there is no institutional as well as social obligations behind it. Here we must understand that after becoming a central university, Santiniketan is malignantly growing in size only. It has been reduced to a tourist spot. And its all side-effects have become evident in the day-to-day reality of the Ashram as well. As a result, Santiniketan is not even like a normal village now, it has practically become like a troubled land. Apart from the historical thefts, petty acts of stealing are now a part of its regular incidents.

In some other context, the poet once said in a jest, 'Sugarcane is being eaten by a hungry as it

has a tendency of self-accumulation'. The root cause behind the downfall of Santiniketan lies

mostly, which is enough self-evident in the said over-accumulation of everything.The poet

prescribed its anti-dote also. He said : ‘You stupid, learn from the trees that get saved by giving

fruits' !

We can never say that Santiniketan could not bear any fruits. But we also have to accept that

there had been a display of extravaganza in everything happened at Santiniketan. For example,

the Vasanta Utsav. The festival of ‘Holi’ as initiated by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was not planned

only for Nadia city or Nilachal or Vrindavan. By adding the provisions of Pancham Dol, Dasham

Dol Dwadash Dol etc., the scope for decentralization has been kept open. Eventually, it

prevented the festival from becoming enormous in one day and at one place.

At the same time, we must realize that Santiniketan could not attain almost any of the heights

which it was expected to attain through its multi-faceted activities aimed at total Rural

Rejuvenation in India. Santiniketan could have gifted India a living model which despite having

the modern progressive rhythm would remain tuned to an eternal melody. Despite being

universal, it would have been essentially national and effectively locall. But Visva-bharati, the

epicentre of that model, is still 'swinging like a parasite on the branches of an exotic tree'.

Today’s Visva-bharati is nothing more than an average university. It could not spread its roots

very far crossing its own narrow boundaries. It could not spread itself in the liberated world. So, ‘Rabindranath’ is almost a forgotten name in today’s moving world. It has happened because we, the admirers of Santiniketan, are now oblivious of our own selves. We could not properly assess the greatness and wholeness of Santiniketan. As feared by the poet, the true

Santiniketan is continually becoming less evident because of extra focus on the blind

ceremonies. We could not acknowledge the greater call of the poet by using our creativity. We

have made some mistakes while we coloured our clothes without colouring our minds.

It seems to me that out of the frustration of not properly acknowledging that greater call, we are becoming irritable and entangled in disconnected adversarial relationships. Though I have

considerable doubts whether our today’s adversary is our actual adversary or not in a greater


Many residents of Auroville in South India do not have any boundary around their houses. The

concept of boundary does not get along with Santiniketan also. But the residents here have

been raising boundaries themselves since long. The authority has also been constructing

boundary-wall which is contrary to the vision of Rabindranath. Nevertheless, we cannot also

confidently conclude that the uncompromising protest as seen in the context of boundary-wall

related incident stems from the love for the poet. It is also not enough to say that it is an

outcome of self-destructive and aggressive political interference. We have to find out the

loopholes which are ones through which such aggression could enter into the system. It is the

very nature of aggression to remove the possibilities of discussion among various genuine

groups, instead of widening the scope for it.

But the question is who are the opponent groups here. Residents versus Vice-chancellor or the

university authority? I do not agree with either. All persons on the side of authority do not have the same opinion in this regard, so are the residents of the Ashram. Even all the residents of Bolpur do not have the same view. It is also not a possible scenario that one group is for the

boundary and the other group is against it. This is not the first day when a boundary or fence

has been raised in Santiniketan. It is also not because Rabindranath was not in favour of the

boundaries. In that case, hundreds of boundaries would have been demolished at one go.

As I have already mentioned, the over accumulation at every stage has made Santiniketan

lucrative in the eyes of the greedy. It is evident that the necessities for constructing as well as

demolishing boundaries are stemming from the same reason. That is why the greatest

argument against the boundaries is not even put forward. Also, the unfathomable evils of

boundaries --- both visible and invisible.

Whether all the boundaries can be demolished or how a new boundary can be constructed ---

the discussion regarding all these issues should continue in the very aura of language of

Santiniketan. But a parallel discussion regarding demolition of those invisible and unshakable

boundaries which are pulling Santiniketan backwards should also go on simultaneously. The

‘Second Shantiniketan’ of Ramgarh can be identified as promising initiative in that direction in

the wake of the centenary of Visva-bharati.

At the time of threat to the entire human civilization, it is not conducive to indulge in petty

differences of various groups. If there is any actual opponent at all, it is our lack of light, lack of

love and lack of life. To be troubled over such trifles only leads to digression from our mission’s

great goals. We can no longer remain chained by the rituals and meaningless practices. We can

no longer make our souls feel any less. It is time to understand and pay heed to the impetus

that the beginning of the process of establishing a ' Second Santiniketan' has provided us in this centenary year of Visva-Bharati. It is my earnest request to the students, teachers and every alumni of Shantiniketan, that let Santiniketan set sail in the gushing free wind in the wake of this new dawn. Let all the universities thriving in the country assimilate the perspective of Santiniketan and Sriniketan as a whole, which has truly been reflected in parts of the New Education Policy long after independence. Let us unbind the infinite potentials of the fossilized ideology. Let us be dedicated for this great cause. Let us vow together to clear the dark patches which has blurred the vision of this unique institution. Let us, all Tagore Lovers, come together and sing befitting songs of Tagore in the wake of a new dawn.

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