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(Transcript from publication Annual of Architecture, Structure & Townplanning 1961 ~ the Centenary of Tagore's birth)
Together, Patrick Geddes and his wife Anna spent the first ten years of their married life in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town, among a mixed community of working folk: respectable artisans, rough but decent labourers and also the demoralised and the 'down and out', while nearby the barracks in the Castle, spread its fringe of 'pubs' and prostitution. The folk dwelt packed into small crowded flats of one to three or four rooms, opening off a multi - storeyed common stair. As a boy thirty years later, I had said of the Old Town's poverty, suffering smells and squalor, "This is almost more than I can bear". I still remember the look on my mother's face as she answered quietly, "This is nothing to what we knew!" And when my children say much the same to me I can recall her answer and echo it to them: though all too slowly, improvements have been going on, partly due to the personal efforts of my parents together. What was distinctive in this was that they dwelt and worked among those they wished to help, to teach, and to learn from. With their own small capital for a start, they bought historic dwellings and also ancient ruins which they cleared to make courtyards letting in a glimpse of the sun, where children could play and old folks rest, and graced with a tree and a few flowers, green and bright against the dark, high tenement walls. They lost their capital, of course. But when in later life Geddes replanned old cities with citizens' money, with 'public funds' in Scotland and then in India he remembered that in the end "it [is] always the poor who pays". No home was ever pulled down without good cause, unless it could be replaced by a better one. No neighbourhood, no community, should ever be uprooted unless transplantation will renew its life. With the ruins of the past to clear away like rubbish, there is always an element of half-forgotten, half buried heritage to conserve, respect and cherish.
It was at the invitation of a former Secretary of State for Scotland, who became Governor of Madras as Lord Pentland, that Geddes came to India, And it was in this respect for men, women and children as fellow-human beings, and as one another's neighbours that Geddes looked about him, surveyed and set to work. He moved afoot through each neighbourhood in every city, from the paras of Untouchables to those of the caste artisans and craftsmen, merchants, gentlefolk and groups of every class, caste or religion.
For many years we had enjoyed
Indian friends. I can just remember Swami Vivekananda in Paris in 1900.
And we welcomed lovable student friends to Edinburgh, Boses and Sircars,
with whose parents my own were some day to stay.
And so, when in 1915, Geddes
came to Calcutta, bringing the Cities and Town Planning Exhibition, it
was natural that Tagore should come to see it and meet it's maker, and
that Geddes should seek Tagore. They met and their friendship began and
grew. Those that remember the Tagores' joint-family home at Jorasanko
in northern Calcutta with its dignified arcaded houses will understand
Geddes' appreciation and respect for the aristocratic tradition which
contributed to the making of Rabindranath. But only those who have really
entered into the spirit of Tagore's songs and his search for God "not
among the proud but among the poorest and humblest" and into the
spirit of passages in "Patrick Geddes in India" will fully understand
why the two men cared for the life within miserable mud-built bastis and
squalid mohullas. Hence the appreciation with which Tagore and Geddes'
endeavours to respect and renew community life within the poorest neighbourhoods.
In renewing their physical shell Geddes insisted upon at least a minimum
of courtyard space in sun and shade, of verandah and womanly privacy,
even though the building material must of stark necessity be humble. Tagore
himself, though at home in his arcaded city mansion, built for himself
at Santiniketan a three-room mud-walled and thatched roofed cottage and
at Sriniketan a delightful wood-walled, thatched house on the boughs of
a spreading banyan. When British engineers or Brahamanic administrators
would say of the poor in some ruinous slum, "These people are dirty,"
Geddes would break out,"Look at the woman's work: find me, if you
can, if you can, a single house which is not swept from hearth to doorway.
No, it is we men who fail to carry on the work of women, and from their
doorways clean up the lanes and streets of the city's poor!" Geddes
himself had often handled a broom in a garden or a slum and used a good
whitewash brush to good effect with his working neighbours. And although
sixty years ago it was made difficult for a Hindu gentleman to soil his
hands, Rabindranath in song had likened worship to a woman sweeping her
cottage floor in welcome to her expected Lord. And Sriniketan the student
lads, what ever their castes, learned not to push 'dirty' work on to others
but to do their fair share as 'sweepers', nor with loss but with gain
of self-respect and, in so doing, bring back fertility to India's exhausted
Tagore's deep interest in Geddes' triad Place-Work-Folk, and its development into a theory of life-in-environment to be renewed in every land by each succeeding generation, led to my being invited to come from the Department of Sociology at the University of Bombay to Santiniketan for the summer of 1923. There I found receptive students, whose friendship I renewed in 1938 and 1956. In practice at the University of Indore (1919) Tagore found common ground with Geddes, who appreciated Tagore's vision of learning and the arts, of native, national and international life. At Geddes' suggestion an able young Indian architect trained in European construction linked to traditional building, came to Santiniketan. It was with difficulty that I was able at last to persuade Rabindranath Tagore that a true architect is a master builder, not merely a draftsman able to represent a pretty façade to conceal some iron girder structure drawn by an engineer of Public Works (or Waste) department. Both Tagore and Geddes were at one in their love for the wide spaces of a great horizon such as is commanded by the site of Santiniketan, and of the welcome shade of a living grove the original meaning (as Geddes was wont to remind us) of the pregnant Grecian word academe. The olive grove under which Socrates spoke with Plato 'Aristotle and their fellow disciples was, as it were replanted at Santiniketan with tall and robust sal trees and flowering evergreen amlaki. Here as so often, both men found life with poetry is no mere adornment, still less a luxury: to be at one with living nature and the landscape is to shed unnecessary expenses and discard wasteful construction. Economy to a public or private purse is best brought by respect for the native economy and developed by great tradition.
Few in Europe realise that
Tagore the visionary stirred men not only to art, to thought, to aspiration,
but to action guided and controlled by science. And few in Europe may
be aware that chief architect of India's Second and Third Five Year Plans
is he who was Gurudev's deeply appreciative and discerning critical disciple,
Professor Prasanta C. Mahalanobis. Having toured India with the guidance
of the National Sample Survey I have seen the worth of their scrupulously
careful fact-finding. And for many years in watching Mahalanobis developing
from regional to national surveys and planning, I have had good fortune
to be made aware of this growing achievement, and also its creative inspiration.
And now in seeking to carry out the behest made to me by my loved and
valued Gurudev, that of translating his Bengali into singing words to
his own melodies, his songs renew themselves for me. They may, I hope,
make known to lovers of the Bard throughout the English-speaking world,
what gave to him "The highest sense of achievement, the making of