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Rabindranath Tagore and India’s First Electrical Recording

May 9, 2020 | By

The story behind Rabindranath Tagore’s historic recording of two recitation titles with a translation of ‘1400 Saal’.

Rabindranath Tagore with P. C. Mahalanobis and Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis

Rabindranath Tagore with P. C. Mahalanobis and Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis (Pic: Sounak Gupta)

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.”

Record of 1400 Saal

Record of 1400 Saal (Pic: Sounak Gupta’s personal record collection)

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
pollen-scent-brushed
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

Bipade More Rakkha Karo: The Prayer to Be Fearless (Translation of Tagore Song)

Two Tagore Songs of ‘Puja’ Parjaay in Translation

My Tribute To Gurudeb: Translation of Ami Choncholo He

English Translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Short Story ‘Subha’ (A Short Excerpt)

Sounak Gupta, Assistant Editor, LearningandCreativity.com, is a regular blogger and writes on various websites. His writings (in English and Bengali) as an amateur author have also been published in magazines and news dailies in India and abroad. Currently doing his masters in Literature, Sounak takes keen interest in Music. One of his loved passions is the collection and archiving of Indian Music on Gramophone Records. His YouTube channels GeetaDuttDevotee and Sounak93 are great storehouses of rare and peerless Bengali music.
All Posts of Sounak Gupta

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One thought on “Rabindranath Tagore and India’s First Electrical Recording

  • Subhasis Gupta

    Short and crisp yet with loads of information that was not known to us, aptly accompanied by record cover, recitation of Tagore and Ketaki’s English translation of 1400 Saal. Excellent power packed writing. In all of your writing, you bring in many unknown or little known facts and experiences with immense passion which makes us feel, breath and experience the time.

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