The story behind Rabindranath Tagore’s historic recording of two recitation titles with a translation of ‘1400 Saal’.
It was the year 1926, and HMV India, was inaugurating its first electrical recording system in the Calcutta studio, then located in Beliaghata.
Rabindranath Tagore was sent a special invitation for officially inaugurating the new system and giving the company the opportunity to record his voice. The bard, accompanied by the eminent statistician, P. C. Mahalanobis (with whom he shared a lifelong relationship of admiration, love and respect, despite the difference in age) went to the Beliaghata studio to grace the ocassion. What happened next, is to be read in the words of the then young, and yet to be eminent lyricst and director, Hiren Bose, who was an eye-witness.
Hiren Bose writes, “Rabindranath arrived at the studio. Everyone present greeted and welcomed him in. Mr. Cooper, the General Manager took him around the factory, brought him to the recording room and got him seated. Mr. Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was accompanying the poet, who was to inaugurate the new recording machine by recording a poetry recitation in his own voice. As soon as the red light was turned on in the recording room, Mr. Bhattacharjee gestured for the bard to start.
Rabindranath said, ‘Should I begin?’ The take was cancelled.
Mr. Bhattacharjee said, ‘Please do not speak after you see the red light glow. Begin your recitation straightaway.’
Everything was set up again for a fresh take. The red light went on and Mr. Bhattacharjee gestured once more. This time, the bard looked up at Mr. Mahalanobis and said, ‘Prasanta, please come and sit beside me,’ and added in an embarrassed tone, ‘I spoiled this take too, right? I was feeling a little nervous and hence called Prasanta.’
A third take began, and this time, Rabindranath’s beautiful recitation could be successfully recorded… By the time the poet left the studio after having recorded two recitation titles, it was nearly four in the evening.”
Here is a translation of ‘1400 Saal’, by Ketaki Kushari Dyson, one of the two poems the poet recorded that day (audio below).
A hundred years from today
who are you, sitting, reading a poem of mine,
under curiosity’s sway –
a hundred years from today?
Not the least portion
of this young spring’s morning bliss,
neither blossom nor birdsong,
nor any of its scarlet splashes
can I drench in passion
and despatch to your hands
a hundred years hence!
Yet do this, please: unlatch your south-faced door,
just sit at your window for once;
basking in fantasy, eyes on the far horizon,
figure out if you can:
how one day a hundred years back
roving delights in a free fall from a heavenly region
had touched all that there was –
the infant Phalgun day, utterly free,
was frenzied, all agog,
while borne on brisk wings, the south wind
had suddenly arrived and in a flash dyed the earth
with all youth’s hues
a hundred years before your day.
There lived then a poet, ebullient of spirit,
his heart steeped in song,
who wanted to open his words like so many flowers
with so much passion
one day a hundred years back.
A hundred years from today
who is the new poet
whose songs flow through your homes?
To him I convey
this springtime’s gladsome greetings.
May my vernal song find its echo for a moment
in your spring day
in the throbbing of your hearts, in the buzzing of your bees,
in the rustling of your leaves
a hundred years from today.
Record No.: P 8366
Release: July, 1927
More to read on Tagore Translations
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