This offering is a welcome addition to books on “Brand Santiniketan” that, despite the falling standards of Rabindranath Tagore’s Viswa Bharati University, continues to draw visitors not only from all over India but from across the globe.
Samit Das, the author, was a student of Viswa Bharati’s art faculty Kala Bhavana and the few years that he spent as a student have enabled him to imbibe Tagore’s sense of space (ably illustrated by his own photographs) and how closely related it is to the everyday life of students and teachers. Das also elaborates well on how Tagore’s sense of space was deeply influenced by his own sense of aesthetics and which he had inherited as part of Jorasanko, his ancestral home.
It is in the prefix to Tagore’s Concept of Space that Das overpromises. By including in the title of the book the words “Architecture of Santiniketan” Das lets down his readers. Unlike in discussions on Tagore’s “Concept of Space” where he has drawn heavily from Tagore’s own writings on the subject, there is not much that is available in the book on Tagore’s architecture.
Besides an overuse of the word “unique”, discussions on architecture follow no framework, give no indications as to how Tagore’s ideas were different from others of his time in Bengal or India and, most importantly, offer little insight into how exactly Surendranath Kar, the poet’s son Rathindranath Tagore, or Nandalal Bose implemented Tagore’s vision of architecture. Did they always agree with the poet? Did they have contributions of their own? A paragraph which could actually reveal the basis of Tagore’s architecture implemented by the trio is treated extremely casually: “Surendranath Kar always had to keep monetary constraints in mind while working. He created mainly two kinds of buildings in Santiniketan — one that would house the institution itself, comprising hostels and teachers’ quarters and the other where Rabindranath would personally reside. Surendranath Kar built the buildings of the first category bearing in mind that they would be used for the purpose of learning, education and research. He successfully addressed the needs of the students and teachers in harmony with nature. The structures never seemed distant from the surroundings neither did they impede any exchange of ideas.”
Such vagueness on the part of the author is particularly sad considering the fact that his post-graduation thesis in 1996 was on the “Architecture of Santiniketan and Surendranath Kar”.
From a reading of the book it is not very clear who this communication is targeted at. Is it for:
— the residents of Santiniketan or its students? In that case, much of what Das has said would already be known, familiar as they are with the buildings and the purpose for which they were meant.
— for visitors to Santiniketan especially those unfamiliar with Tagore’s worldview? In that case the discussions are far too random and, therefore, unlikely to serve as an able guide to a tour of the ashram area.
— for further academic research? If so, the book seems a little lacking in rigour.
— as a coffee-table edition? For that, it is perhaps too verbose and references to many of the pictures are too far away in the text for the casual reader.
The bright yellow band across the middle of the cover, which could have otherwise been aesthetically pleasing, suggests that the publisher, too, was confused about whether the book should be more academic in focus or a more entertaining read.
ARCHITECTURE OF SANTINIKETAN: TAGORE’S CONCEPT OF SPACE
Author: Samit Das
Price: Rs 1,495