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Rabindra sangeet (Song lyrics of Rabindranath Tagore)

Browsing through YouTube, as one does, I came across this delightful video:

It is seemingly filmed in a Calcutta bar, and features a Westerner Ė a French chap, seemingly Ė breaking, to everyoneís surprise and delight, into a song by Rabindranath Tagore. (His Bengali pronunciation is actually very good.)

As I have mentioned before, Tagoreís songs (Rabindra sangeet) effectively comprise Bengalís national music. (By Bengal, I mean both East Bengal, which is now Bangladesh, and also West Bengal, which is in India Ė and which is the part of the world from which I originate: before partition in 1947, the two comprised a single state.)There are literally thousands of these songs: Tagore composed both the words and the music, and the words can be read as poems in their own right. They are absolutely exquisite.

This particular song is very well-known in Bengal, and is I think, the most beautiful love song I know. (Butthen again, I've grown up with these songs: †I've knoiwn them as far back as I can remember.)

Each word seems so right, and falls so perfectly into its place, one feels like clapping with delight. Iíve had a go at translating this one - although the shortcomings of my version should not be taken as shortcomings of the original, which, as I said, is perfection itself:

I know, I know who you are,
. † † † † O lady from distant climes,
You live across seas afar,
. † † † † O lady from distant climes.
Iíve seen you in autumnís morning light,
Iíve seen you in softest moonlit night,
Iíve seen you in the midst of my very heart,
. † † † †O lady from distant climes.

Iíve heard your singing in the skies,
Iíve heard your voice in breezesí sighs,
I gift to you my life, my heart,
. † † † O lady from distant climes.
Having wandered the wide world oíer,
Iíve come to a newfound shore,
Iím a traveller here at your door,
. † † †O lady from distant climes.

That is indeed beautiful, Himadri. One of the key moments in 'When the Time is Right' (I will post a review, I will), centres around the death and funeral of Tagore. The heroine, Swati, joins Sanyet (I hope I am remembering the names correctly) to join the multitudes thronging the streets in mourning for their national poet and hero. Although there might normally be some suggestion of impropriety in her doing this, such is the importance of the occasion that no one really comments. It is hard to imagine a literary figure (although I think it might be fair to say that Tagore had an importance beyond his literary work) who could today touch the lives of ordinary people in this way. The nearest parallel I could think of was the death of Diana.

I have known a few women of Indian family named 'Sangeeta' - does that have the same meaning as 'sangeet'?

Yes, Tagore was indeed a national figure, and his funeral was a major national event. i gather Verdi's funeral was similar: he too was a national figure - for political as well as for musical reasons.

And yes - "Sangeeta" is the same word as "sangeet" (the final short "a" sound is often suppressed in speech): it means "song". "Geet" itself means "song" in Sanskrit and in Sanskrit-derived languages: "Bhagavad Gita", or, more accurately, "Bhagavad Geeta", literally means "Song of God".

One intersting point about it is that the person to whom the song is addressed is referred to as "bidesini". "Bidesi" means "foreigner", and "bidesini" is the feminine version of this. But if I were to translate it directly as "foreign lady", it would have in English connotations of the sinister, or the shady!

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