Rajar Chithi : A Playwright’s Note

Rabindranath Tagore in Berkeley CaliforniaAbout a year and half ago, when I was researching on Rabindranath Tagore’s visits to the USA, an incident caught my attention. It said, that apparently there was an assassination attempt on Rabindranath by some Indians during his visit to San Francisco in October of 1916. This piece of information shocked me to say the least and I started to dig into the matter further. I looked into several books on Tagore by well regarded scholars and slowly an image started to take shape. I’ll refrain myself from getting into the details of the various accounts published in several books (you may look for them in the attached bibliography), but just to put matters in context I’ll quote some references:

San Francisco Examiner of 6th October 1916 reported, “Word of a plot to assasinate Sir Rabindranath Tagore, Hindu poet and Nobel Prize winner, reached the police yesterday and let to extraordinary precautions to guard him in his apartment at the Palace Hotel and at the Columbia Theatre where he lectured in the afternoon.” Several other newspapers also carried the story. Allegations were pointing towards the Indian revolutionary organization Ghadar, then operating in the USA, primarily based on the writings of the then Ghadar leader Ramchandra. Ramchandra however denied the allegation. Rabindranath himself did not believe that his countrymen could even think of doing something like this. He did not cancel any of his assignments and sent a signed statement to the Los Angeles Examiner on 7th October 1916 saying, “I have cancelled no engagements and I came to Santa Barabara by the train which had been arranged for me by my manager. As for a plot to assassinate me, I have the fullest confidence in the sanity of my countrymen and shall fulfill my engagements without the help of police protection. I take this opportunity to emphatically assert that I do not believe there was a plot to assassinate me, though I had to submit to the farce of being guarded by the police, from which I hope to be relieved for the rest of my visit to this country.”

In 1933 the Calcutta Statesman published a report from an anonymous ex Ghadar party activist who had returned after living in USA for many years and it said, “When Dr. Tagore visited the United States during the war, the party actually deputed two of its members to murder the poet at the hotel in San Francisco where he was staying. The two men fell out in the lobby of the hotel as there was a difference of opinion between them as to whether Dr. Tagore should be murdered, and thus the plot was disclosed. The motive for the attempted murder was that the party regarded Dr. Tagore as an agent of the British Government.

Responding to a query by Ramananda Chattopadhyay on this news article, Rabindranath gave a more detailed account regarding how he was protected by the police during those few days but he reiterated his trust on his countrymen. But this time he did mention that his speeches on Nationalism were not well received by some Indians in the audience and he did feel a strong sense of antagonism towards him. However, the fact remains that it can never be said for certain as to whether such a heinous plot was ever conceived or not.

The story that is told in the play “Rajar Chithi” is based on the above incident but it should not be considered as history in any way. It is a  work of pure fiction based on historical references. The characters are fictitious, but they are inspired by real characters of the period who were involved in the Nationalist movement. The inspiration for the character of Mary comes from several American woman of that time who actively helped the Indian freedom struggle. The play may seem to be a departure from the kind of plays we produce in ECTA, that is “to tell our stories through theater.” But to me, it is still “our story” – it is the story of our predecessors in this country who struggled not only for their survival, but also for the freedom of their homeland.

The play does not try to pass any judgement on the policies and beliefs of the nationalist freedom fighters of India, or on the philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore regarding nationalism and universal humanism. The play only tries to depict the eternal conflict between indoctrinated dogma and conscience, between organized beliefs and common sense, between our brain and our heart – a conflict that is as relevant today as it was during the early part of the twentieth century or even earlier. And in this process the play makes us think once again about the great genius that was Rabindranath Tagore in a new light.

1. Sikhs, Swamis, Students, and Spies – The India Lobby in the United States, 1900-1946 : Harold A Gould
2. Tagore and USA : Dr. Panchanan Saha
3. Rabindranath Tagore – The Myriad Minded Man : Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson
4. Life and Letters of A Revolutionary in Exile : Tapan K Mukherjee
5. Rabindranath Tagore in America : Stephen N Hay
6. A Passage to America : Sujit Mukherjee
7. Nationalism – Rabindranath Tagore
8. Cast and Outcast – Dhan Gopal Mukherjee
9. Daughter of the Earth – Agnes Smedley
10. Letters to a Friend: Rabindranath Tagore’s Letters to C.F. Andrews – Rabindranath Tagore
11. http://gadar.homestead.com/GadarHist.html – Gadar Heritage Foundation
12. Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore – Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson

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