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Elizabeth Brunner







Fairy Tales around

16th June 1996...

the stories about Santiniketan



Sunday, the 16th of June 1996...

Elizabeth smiled and continued, "I used to make a round in the compound of Santiniketan. Tagore permitted me to come and go even into his house whenever I wanted. So when I found him, I used to rush for my painting utensils, settle down somewhere near and paint. 

...'Tagore did not know I was there painting him'...

            There is one painting I have given to the National Museum here in Delhi. I was seeing him from the front. He was always trying to find a little protected area, that people should not come up from behind and surprise him. That was on the first floor of the 'big house'. There I believe I caught him composing. When he was hiding like this and felt secluded, he used to create something special.

            I remember, I went upstairs in the 'big house' going round the veranda. One window was open. He was sitting at the table. Sometimes picking up his pen. Sometimes just listening. His little grand-daughter was playing the piano downstairs. And some music waved up. Then he would pick up his pen and make notes on the paper. Maybe he was composing something. I don't know. So when I saw him like this I rushed for my things. (I am so sorry, but my paint box got lost later on in Nainital.)

            I took off my chappals. Slowly went over the very low window-sill. There were some flower pots which protected me. Then I settled down crossed legs with my canvas and painted. I was very happy to see and paint him like this. Normally he was never alone, always visitors and students and many other people were around him. Of course, he met everybody very courteously. But here I had him being himself. I worked breathlessly so that he should not notice me."  

...'Tagore did not know I was there painting him'...

            Dagmar asked, "he did not know you were there?" Elizabeth answered, "no. Later on he lifted up his head and noticed me. But then the painting was already done. He had a shock when he realized that he was not alone in the room. And then he got up and came over. He seemed so tall to me there with my picture and paints on the floor, I thought a mountain was moving toward me. Then he stood and looked at my painting for quite some time. Then he smiled."

            Elizabeth continued, "only when my paintings were finished would he ask to look at them. The beauty was that he allowed me to move freely around. I was only a girl of nineteen-twenty, rather childish and innocent. But I could go to the house and inside wherever I wanted to. I did not need to ask permission from anybody.  

Gurudev's Buddha Statue (My first glimpses of Buddha)

            After that day (when I painted him in his upstairs room), I took my utensils and went down to the lower part of the house and the reception room. A very beautifully designed and decorated room. Gurudev had also come down and he was standing near the table. His daughter-in-law was there, too, maybe arranging his five-o'clock tea. He turned around and looked at me saying, 'I have been painted all over the world by famous artists, but this chit of a girl caught me'!" Elizabeth was grinning and Dagmar laughed out.

            She continued, "I had his permission to go anywhere I liked to go, but after this incident, he even said 'you can come anytime.' After this I did that painting in the easy-chair on the veranda of the 'small house'. We stayed two years in Santiniketan and whenever I felt like it, I painted him.

            In the meantime he decided not to stay in that 'big house' any longer. That 'big house' was called ‘Uttarayan’. Very fancily made up, all his own design. Everything noble. He used to sleep on the roof of that room where I painted him first. That was his bed room. In the hot season, his bed was taken up to the roof above. We all went to bed very late because the nights were more bearable then the days. Our little house was right next door to ‘Uttarayan’. And looking up we could see, his bed was there, his table was there, his faithful attendant was there.   -   It was such shame that I could not talk to this man, because I did not know Bengali.   -   And Tagore was walking up and down and finally settling down. Watching the moon and the change of the colours. When, after an hour, I would look up again, he was not there anymore. If the wind came from an uncomfortable direction, the attendant had to shift everything to another part of the roof-veranda, for instance the opposite side. Very often, three, four times he changed."

            Dagmar asked, "his wife must have died early?" Elizabeth said, "hm! His daughter-in-law cared for him, looked after him. He used to have his tea with his daughter-in-law ..."

            "When did Tagore shift to the smaller accommodation?" Dagmar queried again and Elizabeth answered, "we were still there in Santiniketan. It seems, he suddenly asked his people to build him a small hut only from earth." Dagmar, "mud-house, very healthy and cooling." Elizabeth continued, "yes. I suppose the 'big house' must have become too noisy for him.

            By the way, he planted a tree in his garden on everyone of his birthdays. And he visited each tree on each birthday, and also every morning. Then, they were just growing. Meantime I have seen photographs and now they have grown into beautiful big trees.

            That 'small house' had only one bedroom and a veranda open towards the front. There, on the one side he had his easy-chair and on the other side a table and chair which was brought out every morning. His books were also put on the table."

...'The veranda-wall behind Tagore was painted by the artists who build the mud-house'...

            Dagmar asked, "you must have painted him from the inside of the mud-house in that painting because behind him there is a landscape." But Elizabeth explained, "that veranda-wall was painted by the artists who built the mud-house. That is why there is a scenery behind him in my painting.   -   This little house was his dream house. Up to the last.

            O yes, and Tagore had a 'self-operating' dog and two peacocks." Dagmar asked, "a what dog?" Elizabeth smiled, "a dog which choose to be with him and he loved these animals very dearly.

            This painting was also my last painting of Tagore. The plastic got off and I have to replace it." (Paintings which are hanging in Elizabeth's room have see-through plastic covers so that the oil is not too badly affected by the weather.) Dagmar asked, "were you there when Tagore died?" Elizabeth shook her head in denial.


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Copyright © Dagmar Barua 1997 Sass Brunner East West Trust, 75, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi - 110 003