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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA

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FOND MEMORIES

18

Tan Yun-Shan: The Essential Man 

 

 Tan Lee 

 



INTRODUCTION

In writing an article to commemorate some one's Birth Centenary, it is easy for the author to fall into the trap of turning his article into an eulogy. This is particularly true when the writer is also a son of the person being remembered. This I want to avoid. Instead, my attempt will be to look at the persona of Tan Yun-shan dispassionately from a distance while at the same time maintaining a close perspective -- in the architect's parlance, a "worm's eye view'-- that only a son is privileged to obtain, and in so doing, get to the essence of the man. A truly formidable task!

For Tan Yun-shan was no ordinary mortal. In his chosen field he was a giant among men. Not perhaps to the many casual acquaintances who knew the mild-mannered Professor merely as the builder of Cheena Bhavana in Tagore's Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, or as the creator of the monumental but incomplete World Buddhist Academy in Bodh Gaya. But to, those who could grasp the significance of the vision of this cultural ambassador between China and India, and the zeal with which he carried out his calling, his stature approached that of a modern day Xuan Zang.

There are few in this world born with the knowledge of their life's mission. Fewer still who have actually carried out their mission to fruition. Tan Yun-shan belonged to this select group. Yet, all his achievements were realized without any fanfare and much less publicity. Because, essentially he was a modest person, with a sense of humility that only a firm belief in the tenets of Confucianism and Buddhism could bring. His modesty, however, was possible only due to a supreme confidence in the calling that he chose for his life. The feeble attempt to trace this Journey is the tribute the author would like to pay to the memory of Tan Yun-Shan.

 

FORMATIVE YEARS

Like many young intellectuals growing up in the early years of this century, Tan Yun-shan was struck by the inhumanity suffered by colonized nations at the hands of conquering nations. Although China was nominally independent, the fate of its people was no better than those in India. Tan would find around him many young revolutionaries who wanted to set things right. "The end justifies the means" was a common slogan and Tan would empathize with many of those who chanted that tune. However, he was strongly opposed to any kind of violence, even if it was to achieve the emancipation of the down trodden, the freeing of a nation from foreign subjugation. In this regard, his training in Buddhism led him towards the path of "ahlmsa". This explains why, in spite of his early contact with Mao Zedong and his "comrade" in their student days, Tan remained somewhat aloof from the political currents that were sweeping through China.

Tan's early initiation to Buddhism naturally attracted him to India, the birth place of the Enlightened One. He drew upon the recorded history of cultural exchanges and amity between the two ancient nations of India and China and wondered how they could coexist without ever raising arms against each other. How could they flourish and build up their own respective civilizations without design on each other's territory? Why could not the modern Western countries learn the path of peace, non-violence and coexistence from these ancient Eastern nations?

Yet, through all these mental turmoils, Tan, like many of his Chinese contemporaries, could not ignore the strength of the modern West. He wanted to travel to France to learn about "liberte, egalite, fraternite". But the gravitational pull towards India was just as strong. A choice had to be made. Tan waited for some signal. That signal came to him in a roundabout way.

By this time Tan had read up on India, its history, culture, people, and above all its struggle to gain independence from the British. Two modern Indian giants caught his attention: Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore. While Gandhi's practice of non-violence appealed to his spirituality, Tagore's broader cultural outlook was more appealing to his intellect, Somehow Tan yearned to meet both of them to draw inspiration from them for the work that lay ahead. In 1924 Tan left for Singapore to take up a teaching assignment. About the same time Tagore and his entourage had set sails for China. They literally crossed paths on the high seas. Tan was disappointed in missing the opportunity to meet Tagore in China. However, he kept track of Tagore's itinerary and read all his speeches which appeared in the newspapers.

Tagore's lecture tour of China was not without controversy. It appears that the Chinese audience was split in two camps: the Traditionalists who praised his literary and cultural accomplishment, and the Modernists who thought his concepts belonged to the past. Tan was firmly entrenched in the first camp. In fact he was trying to determine how close Tagore's concept of internationalism came to his own inclination to rejuvenate Sino-Indian relations. The more he read about Tagore, the more attracted he became to Tagore's Visva Bharati. But would that school be the right arena for a vigorous effort to renew cultural exchanges between the two giant nations? Tan had to wait till 1927 for an answer. That year Tagore came to Singapore and Tan was able to meet him. The meeting was fortuitous in many respects. Tan expressed his desire to go to India to start his mission. Tagore was anxious to find a suitable Chinese scholar to come to Santiniketan to establish his fledgling Institute of Chinese Studies on a firmer footing. When Tagore asked Tan whether he was interested, it sounded like a command that Tan could not turn down.  

LAYING THE FOUNDATION TO SINO-INDIAN CULTURAL EXCHANGE

Perhaps Tan's decision to come to India was taken in haste. He had no idea of the remoteness of Santiniketan, nor the financial strength and capabilities of Visva Bharati as an institution, But no matter. The concept sounded perfect and Tagore's words were more than convincing. It did not take long for the two to chalk out a course of action. Tan was to come to Santiniketan as soon as he could wrap up his work in Singapore in order to revive Chinese Studies in Visva Bharati. At the same time he would work towards the establishment of a Sino-Indian Cultural Society with branches in China and India.

That decided, Tan started preparing for his pilgrimage to India. And a pilgrimage it was. For, to Tan, visiting the birth country of Lord Buddha was a long cherished dream. But something stood in the way. Tan had met a bright young teacher from his native Province of Hunan who was among the pioneers who came to Malaya to teach the children of the overseas Chinese. The chemistry between the two, was right but the goals in life were quite different. However, they got married about the time when India beckoned at Tan.

While Tan had set his goals at a lofty altitude, his wife Chen Nai-Wei, though dedicated to her teaching career, was more down to earth and pragmatic. The former was determined to move ahead along his chosen path, but the latter was quite content in shelving her career to raise a family. In 1928 Tan sailed for India to put the plan he had carefully prepared with the advice of Tagore into action. But the finances at Visva Bharati did not permit the university to offer him a salary. Chen stayed back in Malaya and supported the two establishments with her teacher's salary. On the surface it would appear that Tan was somewhat harsh and premature in his actions and must have placed a heavy burden on the shoulder of his young wife. But later events were to prove that his timing was impeccable. Moreover, Chen was fully supportive of the noble mission embarked by her husband and never complained.

The vicissitudes of life were to keep the Tan family splintered on numerous occasions and for prolonged periods of time. But that was the price that had to be paid to carry out Tan's mission. The establishment of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society, first in Nanjing, China and then in Santiniketan, India took enormous effort and dedication. Although soft-spoken and reticent by nature, Tan was persuasive and convincing in face to face dialogue. His command of English was good but his erudition in his mother tongue was awesome. Having listened to him on a few occasions speaking to large gatherings in Chinese, in order to raise funds for some worthwhile cause, I remember the spell he could cast on his audience. However, he preferred to discuss things in smaller groups, That was where his charm and erudition was most apparent. I have an impression that he was very aware of his own distinctive personality and was not hesitant to use it in furthering his mission. Thus, convincing the Government of China to give generous sums of money to build Cheena Bhavana in Santiniketan was not a problem. Tan used his ability to write articles in newspapers and journals in China and South-East Asia to advance Tagore's concept of an International University and his Own notion of an institute for advanced research on Sino-Indian cultural, linguistic, religious and philosophical exchanges within the umbrella of that university. That the magnificent building of Cheena Bhavana could be built in record time is a testimony of the success of his efforts in China.

One of the strengths that became apparent was Tan's ability to keep politics outside his cultural pursuits. He knew that politicians came and went. But his dream of Sino-Indian cultural revival must endure the vagaries of political change. Therefore, while he did not hesitate in cultivating his contacts in the Government, both in China and in India, he always took pains to reiterate that his efforts were apolitical. This proved far-sighted when the Kuomintang Government which had responded generously with financial support for Cheena Bhavana was replaced by the Peoples' Republic led by Mao Zedong. It did not take long for the new Government to recognize the valuable work done at the Cheena Bhavana.

I will not deal anymore with the Cheena Bhavana as an institution, nor its accomplishments. These are matters of record and I am sure other contributors to the Commemorative Volume will cover that ground. I just wish to touch one area where I have heard criticism about Tan's achievements. That area deals with his own research efforts. There have been comments that Tan did not publish enough. This is a valid comment, but here is my response.

Tan was a visionary, a builder and an organiser. Having watched him from close quarters, I and some who had ringside seats, have been impressed by the herculean efforts he put in travelling back and forth between China, India and South-East Asia, corresponding with endless people, lobbying governments and individuals in fund raising to build the infrastructure and the superstructure, acquiring a most valuable collection of books for the library, actual planning and supervision of construction of the many buildings which constitute the Cheena Bhavana, and preparing detailed research plans and programmes for the institution. Where on earth would he have any time or energy left to do research of his own? However, I know (because he told me himself on more than one occasion) that he would have preferred nothing better than to do research on many topics that he had identified for attention at a future date and perhaps write books on, But his first priority was to build up the institution itself so that others could start the monumental research programs he had already chalked out for them. He wielded a powerful pen, particularly in Chinese; and understanding of Mahayana Buddhism would have been the richer if only he was spared some time to use it more often. And obviously that was not to be. He encouraged his children to take up subjects dear to his heart. Perhaps he wished that through their research efforts he would derive some vicarious satisfaction that his responsibilities denied him. It must have pleased him immensely that his eldest son Tan Chung and his eldest daughter Tan Wen were able to fulfill some of his unrealized desires.

 

PERSONALTRAITS

Now I wish to devote some time to talk about the personal traits of Tan Yun-shan. This effort will be mostly anecdotal. The reason is obvious. To his children, Tan appeared larger than life. Citing anecdotes may help demystify some of that perception.

I shall start by saying that Tan Yun-shan lived the life he preached. He set high standards for himself and tried to live by those standards as best as he could. But he was also human, When he slipped in his day to day activities, which rarely happened, he was very sad and the pain would be clearly visible on his face.

Some of his students have said that Tan was the "Chinese Sage" in Santiniketan. This may be an apt description. But it was also a wrong one, His countenance and bearing could certainly be described as sage-like, but he had no illusions of ever becoming one. He wanted to be remembered as a devout Buddhist who had found his calling early. And no amount of adversity or pressure could dislodge him from his chosen path. His commitment was unshakeable. 1 have to state here that the atmosphere in Santiniketan in the early years was ideally suited to Tan's personality and temperament. And that is why when he arrived there for the first

time in 1928, the harsh barren landscape, the peaceful environment, and the spartan existence instantly won his approval. What better place could he find for "simple living and high thinking"? Many who came to know Tan in later years were impressed by the courtesy and patience he showed to others. But those qualities were acquired through years of practice and self discipline. It is true that when it came to dealing with a native either of his motherland or of his country of adoption, Tan was particularly generous. However, he was not always that kind while dealing In fact, he had certain amount of contempt or disdain for the British. One incident clearly showed his bias. The summers in Santiniketan could be quite oppressive. In order to escape the heat he would take his family to Darjling for a couple of months. That was when the British Sahibs would also congregate there, The train to Darjling was full of them in those years. On one of these trips, although father had made reservations on the Darjling Mail for the family, on arrival in Calcutta, he found that those berths had been allocated to a British family. Tan was furious and immediately demanded to see the officer-in-charge of reservations who also happened to be British. He made such a fuss that the British officer had to reverse his decision and reallocate the berths so that we could travel in comfort. I have no doubt that he could take such a strong stand because of Gandhiji's influence and his own sympathy towards India's struggle to rid the country of the British yoke. That was a rare display of anger by Tan that I witnessed. The red face of the British officer who was at the receiving end of father's tongue-lashing is indelible in my mind.

 

DEALINGS WITH HIS CHILDREN

In dealing with his children, Tan was kind but firm. He rarely proselytized, preferring instead to teach by example. Although a practising Buddhist, he was tolerant of other religions, in particular Eastern. He never tried to lnstil his religious beliefs in his children, and was not offended if they showed an interest in other faiths. On one occasion his eldest son, who was left to grow up in China during the Second World War, wrote a letter announcing that he had fallen in love with an American girl, the daughter of a missionary. Therefore, he was thinking of conversion to Christianity. Father showed me the letter, and rather than expressing any displeasure, merely chuckled and had a good laugh with my mother. He knew that his children would be able to make their own decisions regarding their religious inclinations as they grew up. On another occasion, when I was still quite young, I had committed an indiscretion that deserved a reprimand. Father took me to his study where he also said his daily prayers and asked me to promise in front of Lord Buddha that I would not commit the same indiscretion again. My flippant response was "But I do not believe in Buddha". Father let me off without further admonition.

Father's treatment of his children was not always even-handed. This no doubt caused pain to some of his children and embarrassment to others. Father also believed in divine intervention in the birth of some of his children. He used to tell me how the young Dalai Lama was chosen when the old passed away, with his followers searching far and wide for the perfect reincarnate who displayed unmistakable divine signs. For some reasons be saw signs at the time of my birth, and I became the favourite child. This caused no end of embarrassment for me, particularly in front of my immediate younger sister Wen, for I had no such illusions of my own. But because my father mentioned this a number of times, Wen was somewhat mystified and looked upto me with a degree of deference that I did not deserve.

Father's beliefs in me as a special child received further encouragement on a trip to Bodh Gaya. The devout Buddhist that he was, father spent most of his time praying near the Great Pagoda. I was left to wander by myself away from the temple. While running around in the grass I stumbled over a piece of stone which, on closer examination, turned out to be a mini-pagoda. When I eventually had the opportunity to show the stone to my parents, my father was struck by awe. We brought the stone to Santiniketan and father installed it on a pedestal in his study. Thereafter, it became the symbol in front of which he said his daily prayers to Lord Buddha.

Mother, on the other hand, was much more even handed. To her, all children were equal, and she displayed no bias in favour of anyone. As a matter of fact, because father leaned in my favour, mother showed particular affection towards Wen, as if to balance things somewhat. In later life when Wen distinguished herself in the study of the Bengali language, father was ecstatic and showered her with all the parental pride and affection that he was able to display.

Our eldest brother Chung had a special place in our parents' minds. He displayed talents in many areas and eventually became a renowned historian and China scholar. However, in 1939, at the height of the war with Japan, our parents decided to bring the two younger children, myself and Wen to India, leaving the two older sons in China. The family was split. My mother was worried sick about the elder children and we could see the sadness in her face. Father, however, confranted the situation more philosophically, and did not display any external anxiety. Perhaps he was confident that Buddha would protect the sons from harm caused by the Japanese occupation of China. Years later, these two elder brothers were able to come to India and the family was reunited. It then became apparent to the younger children how fond our father was of his first son. The second son, however, did not receive the same amount of attention, which was most unfortunate. For, he was just as talented as the other children, particularly in the field of fine arts. Perhaps he did not have the opportunity to display his talents to his parents as did the other children. He suffered his pain with dignity and grace which endeared him to all his siblings.

There is no question that father wanted all his children to excel in their studies, and irrespective of his biases, whenever a child showed good result in school, he would unequivocally recognize the achievement. Sometimes I felt he drove his children rather hard. One episode comes to mind. A close friend of father who was a successful businessman in Hong Kong was childless despite his three marriages. In desperation, this friend wanted to adopt a child from our family. Our parents at that time had five children, three sons and two daughters. The eldest four were considered too old for adoption. The youngest one, a daughter, was a favourite child. Therefore my father decided that the next child would go to his friend for adoption. The next was a son named Aujit and he was sent to this rich family in Hong Kong while still a baby. Father did not think much about it, but mother shed many a silent tear to let go of the newborn. This brother grew up in luxury and his adopted parents doted on him. Unfortunately, the, mother passed away shortly thereafter and the father married a fourth time. This marriage produced some children and it was time for Aujit to return to his natural parents. When he came "home", Aujit was clearly unhappy. Coming from the luxuries of Hong Kong to the spartan life in Santiniketan required a good deal of adjustment. Consequently, the first few months were quite difficult for Aujit. His grades in the school suffered. Father was critical of his performance at school and compared his marks with those of his younger brother Arjun who was doing better. This made Aujit doubly sad. We felt father was unduly harsh towards him. To the credit of Aujit he recovered from this temporary setback and was soon performing at the top of his class. He proved to his parents that he was equal to the challenge thrown at him and father was quick to acknowledge it. Later on, Aujit became a skilled mechanical engineer and made his parents proud. Father particularly admired Aujit's skill with his hands. He became the inhouse repairman.

Father was a well organized, meticulous man. As his favourite child he tried to inculcate many of his talents and skills in me; which I learned by osmosis. He gave me the penchant for reading books and taught me how to take care of them. When I was still in elementary school, father was in the process of building up a magnificent personal library. Almost every mail brought in parcels containing books, I had the privilege of going to his library at will. There I would watch father open the parcels with infinite care. He would show me the new titles which ranged from history to religion to philosophy to architecture to gardening, and so on. One category of books that were conspicuous by their absence were novels. He did not seem to have any use for them.

It was in father's study that I came across H.G. Wells' "The Outline of History". I was fascinated by the title and borrowed it. After spending many months reading the book, it was time to return it to father's library. Unfortunately, by this time the book was somewhat frazzled with many of its pages dog-eared. When I took it back to father, he looked the book over and returned it to me saying: "You can keep it". I knew instantly what he meant. The book was too mutilated to go back on the shelf I was ashamed and learnt a valuable lesson. Next day father called me to his library. Some shiny new books had arrived on his desk. With infinite patience he showed me how to put a brown paper jacket on one of his new books so that it could withstand the rough handling that all books go through. It was then that I noticed that all his books on the shelves were carefully wrapped in brown paper jackets. This subtle training stood me in good stead in my later life.

Growing up through school was peaceful and easy in Santiniketan. We were insulated and, by and large protected from the influences of the outside. This created problems for me, because I had become interested in the bigger world at an early age. The call of the big blue yonder rang in my ears with increasing regularity. I was yearning to get out of the manger but knew that it was too early for a twelve year old to leave home. What made things worse was I had two sets of friends and they transmitted different and often conflicting signals to my adolescent mind. The first group consisted of children of parents who worked in Santiniketan. They were the local boys and girls, considered to be simple, naive, country bumpkins who rarely stepped outside of Santiniketan. These became my playmates during the prolonged summer recess when we would cruise the entire campus looking for fruit to pluck and other adventure. We knew every tree that grew around us. We played simple rustic games and sometimes indulged in activities that were considered taboo, such as smoking a few puffs of tobacco. I was happy with these friends until it was time for the school to reopen, then I looked forward to my other group of friends, the sophisticates from the big city of Calcutta. These were students who lived in hostels and had e distinctly urban bearing. I felt drawn to them as they always seemed to bring news of some new innovation or fad that we village folks were too ignorant to know about. Some of them, the more outrageous ones, talked about the glamorous girls of the big city; this peaked my interest as I had just begun to notice the biological differences between boys and girls. My urban friends often invited me to-visit their homes in the big city and I was yearning to their invitation. But my father would not allow that. It so happened that one of my classmates had to receive an extended course of treatment that was not available in Santiniketan. On one of these occasions, I told my friend that'1 would like to come with him for a visit of the big city. In the middle of the night I sneaked out of our home and met my friend and soon was on a train to Calcutta. When my parents found out about my absence my mother panicked. But father was nonchalent, saying: "Oh well, he will be back when he has seen the excitement and runs out of cash." Sure enough, after a day, I returned home rather sheepishly, and all was forgiven. It showed me the inner fortitude that father had. He always appeared tranquil and calm even in the face of great adversity. i often wondered where he found all that strength?

My immediate younger sister Wen was a bright and precocious child. She was only three when mother took us to India. As the two older brothers were left in China, Wen grew up knowing me as her only elder brother. She used to follow me around and mimic whatever I did until she was old enough to have her own coterie of friends. Although she was two years younger than me, she was intellectually sharp enough to be only a year behind me in class. At that rate she would have completed her Matriculation Examination at age thirteen. Wen continued to do well in her class and was promoted to Junior high when she was only nine years old. At that point, father, in his wisdom, decided that Wen was too young to have advanced so far in school. He met the School Principal & and demanded that Wen be demoted to a lower grade. The Principal was flabberg asted. He told father that during his entire tenure all the requests he had received from Parents were to promote their children who had failed in their classes. This was the first request to denote a child who had actually passed her examinations. However, father was quite persistent and his wishes were granted. Later in life, when I pondered over this incident, I was able to understand father's wisdom. Although Wen was scholastically able to finish the courses, she would have been at a physical and cultural disadvantage dealing with her classmates who were much older and more mature than her. Subsequent events proved that the decision was appropriate and Wen went on to top her classes through college and graduate school, eventually earning a Ph.D. in Bengali. Wen became the cynosure of father's eyes. What gave father the most satisfaction was that Wen mastered the mother tongue of Rabindranath and proved that cultural integration between China and India had been achieved in the Tan family.

Throughout our adolescent years in Santiniketan, we were exposed to streams of visitors to our home. Our parents would go out of their way to show their hospitality and make their stay as comfortable as possible. While they lived simple and frugal lives themselves, our parents were generous to a fault when it came to treating their guests. The phrase "Charity begins at home" was foreign to them. These were important lessons that all their children were able to pick up. The wise saying of Mother Teressa - "Give until it hurts"-- was practised in front of our eyes.

I started a stamp collection at a young age. It grew rapidly as father used to get mail from many countries. Besides, there were a number of foreign scholars in Visva-Bharati in those days and we could approach them for the stamps on their mail. Pretty soon I needed a larger stamp album to put them in. I asked father to buy me an album on his next trip to the big city. Father asked me to save my pocket money if I was so keen to get the album. I began to save the pennies and eventually accumulated enough and gave them to father. When he returned from his next visit to Calcutta, I was full of anticipation. But father did not mention anything about the album. Eventually, I gathered enough courage to ask him. He said his busy schedule did not allow him the time to shop for the album. I felt completely deflated and went to my room and refused to appear for dinner. Finally, father came to my room. He carried a package inside which was the much coveted album. I was thrilled. That taught me another lesson: in life we value rewards that we work hard for, even if the reward was as modest as a stamp album. I cherished that album for many, many years.

As I entered senior high, my interest in English literature grew exponentially, thanks to some English teacher, I captured the "Aujit Chakravarty" Memorial Prize in English-an award of thirty rupees. It was a handsome amount in those days with which I could buy a number of English books. Father was so pleased that he matched that amount and had my own mini-library. These are wonderful memories of father that I cherish to this day. Around the same time, father started to show me drafts of articles in English that he was writing for various journals, and 1 would proof-read them for him. He started to treat me as an adult and I felt proud of that honour. In 1947 when my parents went back to China with the three youngest children, Wen and I were left in Santiniketan to pursue our studies. I was barely thirteen then. But father thought I was old enough to look after my younger sister. We had a maternal uncle who taught in the Cheena-Bhavana. He was normally named our guardian. Father opened a bank account which 1 would operate each month withdrawing just enough cash to pay for our expenses. Again a valuable lesson was learnt.

My younger sister Chameli was another favourite child of our father. She was a beautiful bonny baby that brought joy in the family, being the first child born in the country of our adoption. In those days child births took place at home but there was no midwife around. "Thandi", the wife of the venerable Pandit Kshiti Mohan Sen stepped forward. Having helped deliver many a child, she took charge of the situation, and everything went smoothly. The baby was christened by Gurudeva Rabindranath himself. He named her Chameli and said this name had close phonetic resemblance to Chinese. She was a happy child, had an excellent academic career and grew up to become an accomplished artist.

The youngest brother Arjun received the greatest display of affection by both father and mother. Having raised their other children with controlled discipline, it was time for them t o let go and splurge a little. We all accepted this with grace and understanding. In fact, Sister Wen who named him, also doted on her kid brother. All this attention did nothing to spoil him, and Arjun grew up to be a kind hearted person and a brilliant physicist.

 

JOY AND SORROW

When Tan returned from China in 1949, the Kuomintang Government had been replaced by the Peoples' Republic. Financial support of Cheena Bhavana by the Chinese Government was suspended. It was time for Tan to launch another fund raising drive which took him to various places where his many friends and well wishers resided. One of these places was Kalimpong where he knew a wealthy Chinese businessman who had prospered through trade with Tibet. He was also a devout Buddhist and invited Tan to visit him. Father took me with him on that trip. After dinner, the two started to discuss Buddhism. The discourse went deep into the night. The rest of the people in the household retired to their bedrooms. The next day I learnt from father that their discussion lasted all night. At the end of it the host was very pleased and wrote out a cheque for a handsome amount to promote the study of Buddhism. This was yet another example of the gift of persuation that Tan possessed which helped him advance his mission.

However, in spite of all the major accomplishments, it was not a life of unmitigated joy for Tan. Like the proverbial yin and yang, joy came with sorrow and Tan had his share of the latter. But in the end, Tan's eternal optimism always pulled him from darkness to light.

Tan used to lament to his children that there was only a handful of people who understood the real significance of what he was trying to accomplish. However, within that small group he could count stalwarts like Tagore, Nehru, Tai Xu, and Tai Chi-Tao. As these giants passed away, one by one, no other visionaries would step forward to fill the gap. One exception was his friend and life-long well-wisher Anil Kumar Chanda.

He did all he could within his powers to lend support to Tan's projects, but he too passed away prematurely. Each passing away was filled with pain for Tan but he endured them all with the strength that his faith in the good Lord Buddha gave him.

1951 was a momentous and painful year for Tan. That year, Visva-Bharati was taken over and became a Federal Government University. The intentions were no doubt honourable, for Nehru had promised Gurudeva to take care of the university after his death. However, once the takeover was completed, Nehru left the administration of the university in lesser hands. These people did not have the benefit of sharing Gurudeva's vision and the character of Visva-Bharati changed dramatically. No longer did it retain its unique characteristics of an international centre of learning. It became a run-of-the-mill university. Tan was disillusioned by the turn of events. The institutions that Visva Bharati was known for, Patha-Bhavana, Kala-Bhavana. Sriniketan and Cheena Bhavana were all relegated to secondary positions. We wondered what Gurudeva would have thought about these transformations!

Visva-Bharati grew rapidly with funds pouring in from the Federal Government. Many new faculty members were hired from outside. Unfortunately, most were now drawn to Santiniketan because of the higher government salary scales and not because of their commitment to the ideals espoused by Tagore. Tan used to return from Faculty Meetings disgusted by the tone of discussions that were taking place. Most discussions were focussed around what salaries the staff would demand of the administration in the next round of negotiations There was hardly any time or interest in discussing the promotion of academic and research excellence in the institution. The physical growth of the university was achieved at the cost of the quality of academic pursuits that Visva-Bharati was once known for. It was a sad period for Tan indeed!

The next period of sorrow came in the early sixties when the political relations between India and China became strained due to disputes along the border. It was a cartographical nightmare left by the British who were unable to complete field survey over some no man's lands that caused the initial disagreement. But no matter. It was enough excuse for the two countries to go to war for the first time in thousands of years of peaceful co-existence. Tan was absolutely devastated. It appeared to him that all his life-long efforts to build cultural ties and political understanding between the two countries were about to shatter. Only the encouragement of a few steadfast friends in India, including Nehru, was able to bring some peace to Tan's mind.

Tan's retirement from Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana in 1967 almost came as a relief to him, By this time he had already lost his last staunch supporter Nehru and his last close friend Anil Chanda. His mind was now focussed on the next major challenge in Bodh Gaya which had beckoned him ever since he set foot on Indian Soil.

Was this a unique life-career? I would say, definitely. Was it an ordinary life-career? Only the readers of this article can judge. On the occasion of the Birth Centenary of Tan Yun-shan, I present this humble account to help understand the life and works of this contemporary cultural ambassador between India and China.

January 1, 1998

Vancouver, Canada

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