In reading some of my favourite Bengali writers, I’ve come across a number of destinations patronised by them, some of which are found in rather unlikely places, but worth visiting.
Possibly the most celebrated Bengali writer of all time, Rabindranath Tagore has travelled extensively and the place that is most associated with the Nobel Laureate is Shantiniketan in West Bengal, India. Tagore’s open-air school, Patha Bhavan, boasting concrete benches and blackboards spread out under the shade of large banyan trees, is refreshing to behold, while the Visva-Bharati University produced other Bengali greats such as Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen.
Less well-known, however, is Shilaidaha Kuthibari, his stately home in Kushtia, Bangladesh. It is here that Tagore translated Geetanjali into English, which went onto win him the Nobel Prize. Today the mansion serves as a small museum, housing a number of Tagore’s personal effects including several scribbled notes in the writer’s own hand. Every May, to commemorate Tagore’s birthday, Kuthi Bari hosts a five-day long festival showcasing his plays and music.
Every Bengali child has had a glorious introduction to Satyajit Ray, either through the comedic lens of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne or through the suspense of the detective stories of Feluda, whose fans would be well rewarded with a trek to Abar Baithak, a Feluda themed café in Jodhpur Park, Kolkata, where customers sip their coffee amidst shelves teeming with books.
Oscar winner Satyajit Ray lived in a number of addresses across Kolkata, however, it is perhaps his last home at 1/1 Bishop Lefroy Road that is most famous. The sprawling, colonial flat has been extensively photographed, particularly upon his death at this residence.
Kazi Nazrul Islam
The national poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam, revolutionised the world of Bengali music and poetry with his politically charged lyrics that earned him the title of Bidrohi Kobi, or rebel poet. Nazrul’s final resting place, on the grounds of the Dhaka University Central mosque, draws tourists and devotees alike, as does the Nazrul Academy in Churulia, West Bengal, India, where many of his manuscripts and awards are on display.
However, it is perhaps, lesser known that Nazrul resided at 32 College Street - Kolkata’s labyrinthine street renowned for housing innumerable vintage book stalls and playground for local intelligentsia.
Michael Madhusudan Dutta
Renowned for popularising literary epics in Bengali, Michael Madhusudan Dutta was born in Sagardari, Jessore. Like many Bengali literary greats, Dutta spent a significant amount of time in Kolkata. However, he also spent a few years in Versailles, between 1862-1865, in a tiny flat on 12 Rue des Chantiers – a fact memorialised by a tiny plaque partially obscured by decrepit French shutters, the paint peeling from them. Dutta had moved to Versailles with his family to escape financial woesand racial prejudice in England. He had initially moved to England to study law at the Gray’s Inn in London.
Jasim Uddin was endearingly bestowed the title of PolliKobi, or folk poet, because of his vivid imagery his poems painted of rural Bangladesh, its people and its traditions. Polli Kobi Jasim Uddin was born in Tambulkhana, Faridpur. Built by the banks of the Kumar river, his house and surrounding grounds are open to tourists. A collection of the poet’s possessions and photos are up on display inside the house, while the grounds are popular with local picnickers. Visitors can also pay their respects at the poet’s grave inside the family graveyard.
A festival, Jasim Mela, takes place on the grounds every year in January to commemorate the life and works of the poet.