Sunday, July 31, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
In the month of Asharh 1316, poet Saroj Kumari Devi had lived in Santiniketan with her sons for attending the school. She wrote that while she was in Bolpur Rabibabu wrote many songs for Gitanjali. Rabindranath wrote the song 'jagata jure udara sure ananda gaan baaje' and sung it in the day time when she had been there.
|Kazuo Azuma, 76, who translated Tagore into Japanese, has helped set up another house for the poet in Bengal, reports Sudeshna Banerjee|
He speaks so softly that you have to strain your ears. The man is Japanese but the words flow in Bengali. At 76, Kazuo Azuma is back to the people and the land he has made his life. “Ami Bangla o Bangalider bhokto (I am an admirer of Bengal and Bengalis),” he says.
His admiration turns into devotion when the Bengali is Rabindranath Tagore. Azuma, the man behind the first translation of Tagore into Japanese, is here for the inauguration of Bharat-Japan Cultural Centre which would be housed in the newly-built Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan in Salt Lake. Both were opened by Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe during his recent visit to the city.
“Rabindranath worked for close ties with Japan. He had asked Tsusho Byodo, a student of Visva-Bharati returning to Japan, to help set up a Nippon Bhavan. But World War II started soon after and plans went haywire. When I returned from Visva-Bharati, I set up Japan-India Tagore Association in 1972 to turn Tagore’s dream into reality.”
Since then, Azuma has been pursuing one dream after another, all in the name of Tagore, his beacon. “Our association has 250 members.” The money for Nippon Bhavan came in spurts — in yens, dollars and rupees. As its secretary-generary, Azumo made sure that every cent was used to build the single-storeyed house in Santiniketan. “I paid sundry bills from my pocket.”
If the inauguration of Nippon Bhavan in 1994 capped his efforts, he started on a collection drive all over again at age 72 when the thought surfaced of a centre where cultural exchange could take place between Bengalis and Japanese. Encouraged by the only Indian member of the association Nilanjan Banerjee, he made the first call to India in end-2003. “I had faith that things would somehow work out. Ami Rabindranath ke nokol korechhi (I followed in Tagore’s steps),” he says, referring to the poet’s fund-raising efforts.
Azumo’s years as a Japanese teacher at Visva-Bharati, from 1967 to 1971, were marked by Naxal unrest. “My classes were scheduled for the evenings when curfew would be on. So for two years, students could not come.” Neither could his cook. “I could not cook and had to go hungry.” Then a permit was arranged from the army to allow him to walk to the guest house restaurant. His belly got filled, but his conscience pricked. “I would get my full salary without working. Ami Bharatiyader shulko khachchhi (I was eating up taxes of Indians).” So he returned.
The Desikottama and Rabindra Purashkar awardee might have missed meeting Tagore in Santiniketan, but he did see another icon of Bengal, Netaji Subhas Bose, in Tokyo. “I was 11 then. Since I did not know English I could not understand what he said. But I remember him shouting ‘Chalo Delhi’ in another address on Radio Japan before leaving on his final assault,” he says.
Soon after, the Americans carpet- bombed Tokyo. “The day was March 14. The bombing went on for three-and-a-half hours. One lakh people died and all the houses around my school were flattened to the ground for miles,” Azuma gazes vacantly at the far ceiling. Then came the aftermath. “No salt, no sugar, no food. Only TB all round. I used to bleed from the mouth.” It was at this stage that he came across a Japanese version of Daakghar retranslated from English. “I could identify with Amal, caught at home with a disease.”
After a bachelor’s degree in German at Tokyo University, he enrolled for master’s in Indian philosophy. There his path crossed again with Tagore. And with Keiko, then doing her graduation in the same subject. “O amar moto Rabindra anuragi chhilo (She too was a Tagore admirer),” he says, explaining the marriage soon after in 1960.
It is driven by this admiration that during Azuma’s Visva-Bharati stint, Keiko would cycle their first-born to Ananda Pathshala and sit under the tree with the children, learning Sahaj Path and Rabindrasangeet. “I learnt all the easy songs — Ore grihabasi, Aj dhaner khete, Shiter haoay…” the diminutive lady says apologetically. She went on to take formal lessons from a Visva-Bharati music teacher.
By then, Azuma’s India trip had cost him his permanent job at Yokohoma National University as a teacher of German. “We could not tell that to his parents,” Keiko chuckles. “Pagla hawa,” murmurs Azuma, as if offering an explanation for his whirlwind romance with Tagoreana.
The romance found fruition when he took up translation of Tagore’s complete works directly from Bengali in 1973 with a team of Japanese scholars. The work in 12 volumes was published over 20 years. He is loathe to speak of his achievements. He would rather recall how it had taken three years to get hold of his first Rabindra Rachanabali in 1964.
Today, the romance continues at Ekla Cholo Sanstha. This is a club formed by 10 Japanese Visva-Bharati alumni in Chiba, Japan. “We have built a village there in the middle of nowhere, like Santiniketan. There we gather and sing Rabindrasangeet.” What is his favourite song? “Ekla Cholo Re,” says the man who is undergoing dialysis at a local hospital thrice a week. His time is up on this visit. “I will be back next January,” he promises.