Rabindranath Tagore was a name I had never heard of before visiting India. Not that I know all of the Nobel Prize recipients, or have heard of all the top influential poets, and I definitely don’t recognize every major historical leader’s names. After stepping foot in Kolkata, it’s impossible to ignore the name Tagore. He was a philosophical and spiritual leader through his literature and later through his University and world traveling. His influence in West Bengal is undeniable, though his lessons in music and poetry continue to ripple throughout the world.
His family’s home is now a museum in Kolkata which we got to tour early in our travels to India. Several weeks into our excursion we took a train to Bolpur and Santiniketan. Tagore and his family traveled this same path many times as Santiniketan was their family’s second home. Tagore’s father actually gave the name to the town with the translation meaning abode of peace.
Rabindranath Tagore built a school, which grew into a university in Santiniketan with the principle of learning with nature – or utilizing outdoor classrooms. He named his school Visva Bharati and aimed at joining India with the world in arts, languages, philosophy and literature at his campus of banyan trees. Not far from his university was another Tagore treasure we got to witness. It is a river gorge with picturesque trees and red sandy earth, a scene Tagore used to treasure to escape to write.
In Bolpur, our group of students met with women who participated in micro credit programs. Our teacher translated their statements and our questions to discuss how the system works and how it has helped them. The women appeared to be full of pride to talk about how they are given a small loan in order to create a business and better their family’s
situation. The women work to repay their loans within a year – making small payments. Their yearly loan amounts range depending on their experience with the program and what they intend to do with it. Some women purchase goats and sell their milk, some women use the loan to purchase supplies for making crafts or sewing clothing.
Although micro credit is intended to empower women and allow them an opportunity to create an income for their families, many women reported how the money they received as a loan went directly to their husband.
We were welcomed into the villages in Bolpur, women excitedly greeted us and proudly displayed their business ventures. The energy of happiness was all around despite how it was apparent that everyone had so little. The huts didn’t have running water or electricity, they had very little space, privacy or personal belongings. Yet, the smiles shared between the residents of Bolpur and their foreign visitors exuded joy and contentment.
A documentary film crew creating musical masterpieces from intertwining musicians from around the world also ended up in Bolpur & Santiniketan. “What About Me,” has been shared as a series on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. One of the film makers and world traveler, spoke highly of the people of this community. In the below clip he talks about how he thinks when people are good, friendly and kind enough to reach attainment they are reincarnated and sent to Santiniketan.