The bideshini and the bard
Almost any Bengali worth his salt – and this is regardless of whether or not he likes Rabindrasangeet – will have heard the beautiful, Aami chini go chini tomaare, ogo bideshini. (“Oh exotic woman, I know you, I know you…”), but not many know that it has a connection to an Argentinian aristocrat by the name of Victoria Ocampo.
Ramona Victoria Epifania Rufina Ocampo was a writer, critic, intellectual and champion of other wordsmiths. She was also the founder and editor of the literary magazine, Sur, a beacon of its times, published from 1931 to 1970.
After her divorce in 1922, Ocampo immersed herself in literary comfort, reading extensively and translating work from French and English. It was during this time that the French edition of Tagore’s Gitanjali came into her hands and she fell under its spell. She wrote an essay titled “The Joy of Reading Tagore” which was published in the magazine La Nacion in 1924. Later that year, in November, Tagore arrived in Buenos Aires.
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Two months of attachment
The journey to South America had proved too strenuous for the Nobel laureate and Ocampo prevailed upon his friend and secretary, Leonard Elmhirst, to convince him to stay at a garden house in San Isidro. He stayed there for two months and they grew deeply attached to one another.
This beautiful foreigner, the bideshini, stirred up dormant feelings in the lonely poet’s heart and she became his Muse. She became his “Bijaya”, the Bengali equivalent of “Victoria” and their relationship survived distance and time. Their devotion and ardour for each other was very much in evidence in their correspondence.
A correspondence of love
“Dear, dear Rabindranath,
The mist of homesickness is in me too and has been in me since you left San Isidro, 15 years ago, (how very long it seems, how unreally long ago). Those days in ‘Miralrio’ are some of the happiest I have ever known. And I can’t go near that house or in that garden without being stabbed by that remembrance, and by the ‘never more’ it brings within its sweetness.
To have you living there, to see you every morning and every afternoon and every night; to see you; to hear you… What an unforgotten delight! I loved you and love you very dearly. I hope you do know it.
Do write to me a few lines. Now I am in Europe, I feel India is not so very far away. At the end of the year, perhaps I could go there…if the world is not completely upset by a European war.
Love from your, Vijaya!”
Your cablegram has made me glad. Last year it was about this time that I was in San Isidro and I still vividly remember the early morning light on the massed group of strange flowers, blue and red, in your garden… Often I have a tinge of regret in my mind that I did not stay longer under your tender ministrations and escape all kinds of strain that have wearied (me) and made me weak…”
Tagore, had also, meanwhile dedicated his next collection of poetry, Purabi, of which 30 were written in San Isidro, to her, or more specifically, “To the Lotus Palms of Bijaya”. He sent her a copy with a letter, “I am sending you this book written in Bengali. I would have preferred to give it to you personally. It has been dedicated to you… I trust it will spend more days at your side than did its author.”
By the time Tagore met Ocampo, he had already written Aami chini go chini. Ocampo’s generous hospitality and charming nature won the poet over almost instantaneously and it wasn’t long before he presented her with a fully translated version of the song.
Tagore and Ocampo’s friendship has been the subject of many essays and a few films too. Was it an affair?
“Dear Gurudev, days are endless since you went away…”
They definitely loved each other. And that should be enough.