When Ocampo met Tagore . . .
My days in a foreign land
You have filled with loveliness,lady,
A traveler from a faraway place
You easily made your own,
Just as easily as the unknown
Star of the evening sky
You received me with
A quiet and sweet smile.
When standing alone by
This lonely window
I looked at the southern sky,
A voice of light from
High above reached my soul
A voice that said,'We know you we do'...
Just like that star you looked at me
And spoke to me in that
Same voice, 'I know you I do.'
I do not know your language, lady
But I have heard you sing,
'You are a guest of love
O poet,my guest forever
This is the story of love between a man born in Calcutta in 1861, and a woman born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1890.
Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to be awarded the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature.Victoria Ocampo was a beautiful and brilliant lady belonging to a rich and prominent family, interested in reading literary masterpieces in French and Latin in addition to her first language, Spanish. Victoria found in Tagore's poems and essays much needed peace of mind as she had been going through thoughts of suicide in a mis-matched marriage. In November 1924, she learnt that Tagore, on his way to Peru, had fallen seriously ill on the ship and had to break his journey in Buenos Aires. She invited him to stay as her personal guest until his complete recovery. Tagore was deeply touched by her devotion and wrote her a letter expressing appreciation of her loving care. She responded with a beautiful letter. His two-month stay gave Tagore his 'Second Youth' at age 63 .His letters inspired her to cultivate herself in becoming a good writer. Victoria urged Tagore, after seeing his 'doodlings' in manuscripts, to devote himself to creating abstract paintings. She organized his first art exhibition in Paris in 1930. He remembered her in poems even during the last hours of his life. She was his 'Vijoya'.
It is doubtful if the 23 year-old Victoria Ocampo had ever heard of Rabindranath Tagore before his achievement. She had read that the Indian poet of Bengal was honoured, 'because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse by which, he has with consummate skill, made his poetic thoughts expressed in his own English words. Victoria acquired his English and Andre' Gide's French versions of Gitanjali. As she opened the works she saw Rothenstein's sketch of Tagore. The Buddha-like figure, with his eyes closed, deep in meditation with his book in hand --- the flowing robe, hair and beard all made him a beautiful being in perfect harmony with the spirit of the poet about whom the English poet W.B.Yeats wrote in his foreword(1912): 'I have carried the manuscript of these translations, reading it in trains, in restaurants and I have often had to close it lest some strangers would see how much it moved me. Mr Tagore like the Indian civilization itself has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity'.
Victoria adored his mystic lines...
Like a rain-cloud of July, hung low with its burden of unwashed showers / let all my mind bend down at thy door, in one salutation to thee
Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee
Like a flock of homesick cranes flying night and day back to their mountain nests / let all my life take its voyage to its eternal home in one salutation to thee.
Their love was on a rather platonic level. It was a sort of love between two minds and feelings shrouded by poetry. This poem especially kept Victoria awake at a time in her life when she needed so desperately someone to say it to her:
O woman, you are not merely the handiwork of God, but also of men / these are ever enduring you with beauty from their hearts
Poets are weaving for you a web with threads of golden imagery / painters are giving your form ever new mortality.
The sea gives its pearls, the mines their gold, the summer gardens their flowers to deck you, to cover you, to make you more precious.
The desire of men's hearts has shed its glory over your youth / you are one half woman and one half dream.
Their creative touch of Tagore and Ocampo suggests some new directions for building bridges of better understanding and cooperation between the two genders, of different generations, as well as different cultures and nations through opening new doors and windows of creativity at individual and societal levels for a better tomorrow for the human family.
MOHSENA REZA SHOPNA, SOCIAL ACTIVIST AND POET, STUDIED ENGLISH LITERATURE AT DHAKA UNIVERSITY .