Bangladesh & Rabindranath Tagore

"And yet alas, we have to let go
of everything, and they go" - Rabindranath Tagore



In 1997 I had the privilege of working as a volunteer in a field hospital (eye-clinic) in a remote village, called Kachua-Hat, in northern Bangladesh. My duties varied from illustrating a book and teaching materials to assisting with eye surgery! (I managed not to faint).

It was an overwhelming experience. Staying in a tiny village where most people hadn't seen a white European person before (except in the cinema, with all the prejudice about 'loose Western women' and 'being up for anything' that entailed... there were some groping attempts).

One couldn't even go for an evening walk to watch the sun set without all inhabitants of the village (as well as some cows, goats and stray dogs) following.

But it was a life-changing experience. I fell in love with Bangladesh and its people!



 The fact that I was, at the time, a married 30 year old woman without any children, made me a deeply pitiable person to the people there. By (rural) Bangladeshi standards I should have been a grandmother!

(I would be WAY more respectable if I went there today accompanied by my three sons!) 

Local people coped with independent Western women far from home by treating them as "honorary men". E.g. the women would be preparing food in the kitchen - I'd be in the living room with the men listening to conversations about politics and local events (only in as  far as I understood Bengali of course but I was learning fast!)

Staying with people meant sharing their bed, which took a bit of getting used to for a Dutch person! Privacy (in the European sense of the word) didn't exist. 

A wonderful family in Dhaka adopted me as their daughter for my time in Bangladesh. One day a daughter of the house emptied out my backpack.  She went through my sponge bag, holding things up and saying out aloud: 'Now, I wonder what this is for!' Europeans wouldn't dream of doing this, but we girls had great fun! 

 Europeans wouldn't dream of doing this, but we girls had great fun!

The one night in Bangladesh I had a bed to myself, I woke to faces staring at me in complete darkness: the servants had crept in during the night to closely inspect the foreigner!?

The whole concept of servants was unfamiliar territory to me. Upon arrival, my Dhaka family introduced me to the family members and made me feel marvelously welcome. However, there were more people in the room, also smiling and taking a great interest in photographs of my family in Holland. I was not introduced to them.

It took me a while to realise that they were servants and therefore 'there but not there', as they might have been in Victorian times in England. A very peculiar sensation!

It was later explained to me that these servants came from a village quite far from Dhaka. That they were lucky to have a job and earn money to send home to their family.



 Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world

 Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world



 y Dhaka family' really was like family. They didn't just offer me a roof over my head, they 'adopted me'. On my first morning they caught me at the front door putting my shoes on. I was asked what I was up to. I explained I was going for a walk to explore Dhaka. Well, no way basically, not unchaperoned! Dhaka wasn't that kind of city! This very kind couple, parents of two daughters, explained that during my time in Dhaka they were 'in loco parentis' and they were going to treat me no differently from their own daughters. So I was allowed to go places, but only accompanied by a servant or one of the daughters of the house to visit a friend by arrangement. 





The mother in the family was a teacher in a primary school. She took me with her to visit the school. The children were just chanting the numbers up to twenty in Bengali - even I could understand that! I had been teaching myself some Bengali at home.

The letters are so beautiful! They look very alien but at the end of the day, it's just another alphabet. Bengali actually belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, as does Sanskrit. (See Language & Mark Making Series).

Anyway, 'my' family gave me some Bengali school books for 6 year olds to practise reading and writing Bengali. Being offered this opportunity was a sobering thought, as 60% of the Bangladeshi population is illiterate.

Many Bangladeshi people are poor in the material sense and have experienced more than their fair share of natural disasters (most notably floods). Yet they have an enviable sense of family and community and show a hospitality that puts Western people, myself very much included, to shame.


 Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world

 Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world

Back home I carried on working as the London representative of the organisation YPSA in Chittagong, (eastern) Bangladesh. Promoting their causes and working as an illustrator on health care and literacy projects. I had to drop this after the birth of our second son, because I couldn't give it the time and dedication it required.

 About YPSA. YPSA is a NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) that runs a wide range of healthcare and literacy projects all over Bangladesh.  They particularly try to encourage women to aim for financial independence through running small businesses (such as a village grocery shop, dressmaking, an orchard etc.) 

They don't believe in fostering dependence through financial hand-outs, but they provide interest-free loans that people may pay back bit by bit once their business is up and running. They are also particularly involved in "hot" health care issues at the moment, such as AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, the harm smoking does to unborn children and so forth.


Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world

Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world


Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world

Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world

Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world





In 1999 the North Westminster School in NW1 organised a Rabindranath Tagore Festival in connection with the Worldwide Bangladesh Festival. The title of this event was 'By Land, By River'. It was a celebration of the work of Tagore (1861 - 1941) who is the greatest poet of India and Bangladesh and the most famous writer in Bengali. He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1913.

The Ambassador of Bangladesh kindly took the time to meet with me and to introduce me to the headteacher of the North Westminster School, who in turn invited me to contribute to the Tagore Festival. The Tagore Series shown here was produced for this occasion. Every little painting (and most are small, 10 x 10 cm) is based on (and accompanied by) a painting by a poem by the great man.



Many were the riches I didn't

gain in my life

for they were beyond my reach

but much more I lost because

I didn't open my palms


Pluck this little flower and take it, delay not! I fear lest it droop and drop into the dust

I may not find a place in thy garland, but honour it with a touch of pain from thy hand and pluck it. I fear lest the day end before I am aware, the the time of offering go by.

Though its colour be not deep and its smell be faint, use this flower in thy service and pluck it while there is time.




He was about ten years old

an orphan raised in a home that wasn't his own

like a weed that springs up by a broken fence

not tended by a gardener

receiving sunlight, gusts of wind, rain

insects, dust and grit;

which sometimes a goat crops off

or a cow tramples down

which yet doesn't die, gets tougher

with a fatter stem

and shiny green leaves



What comes to an end

ends only to the eyes

walks through the door of darkness

into light.

Bursting the heart of the old

the new will itself unfold

When life's flowering is over

death's fruits will appear


 When existence first manifested itself,

the first day's sun asked:

'Who are you?'

There was no answer.

Years passed.

The day's last sun

puts its last question

on the shore of the western ocean

in a hushed evening -

'Who are you?'

but got no answer











In my mind I have roamed

on far off polar beaches

where earth has vowed

eternal virginity in chill attire 


Shamanic teacher, painter and author in the UK and the world


To dull my pain

I might wake it in you

to lighten my load

I might press it on you

my anguished cry of loneliness well might

keep you awake at night

such are my fears, who don't I speak freely.

If you can forget

please do



Early in the day it was whispered that we should sail in

a boat, only thou and I, and never a soul in the world

would know of this pilgrimage to no country and no end.

In that shoreless ocean, at thy silently listening smile

my songs would swell in melodies, free as waves,

free from all bondage of words.

Is the time not come yet? Are their works still to do?

Lo, the evening has come down upon the shore and in

the fading light the seabirds come flying to their nests.

Who knows when the chains will be off, and the boat

like the last glimmer of sunset, vanish into the night?




He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in his dungeon. I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky, day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.

I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand lest a hole should be left in this name; and for all the care I take I lose sight of my own true being.


I came out alone on my way to my tryst. But who is this

that follows me in the silent dark?

I move aside to avoid his presence, but I escape him not.

He makes the dust rise from the earth with his swagger

He adds his loud voice to every word that I utter.

He is my own little self, my lord, he knows no shame;

but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company


Oh fool, try to carry thyself upon thy own shoulders! Oh beggar, to come beg at thy own door!

Leave all thy burdens on his hands who can bear all, and never look behind in regret.

Thy desire at once puts out the light from the lamp it touches with its breath. It is unholy - take not thy gifts through its unclean hands. Accept only what is offered by sacred love.


 <  WANT


What I want

I want by mistake

What I get

I do not want at all 





Life of my life, I shall ever try to keep my body pure,

knowing that thy living touch is upon all my limbs.

I shall ever try to keep all untruths from my thoughts,

knowing that thou art that truth which has kindled the light of reason in my mind.

I shall ever try to drive all evils away from my heart and keep my love in flower, knowing that thou has thy seat in the inmost shrine of my heart.

And it shall be my endeavour to reveal thee in my actions, knowing it is thy power gives me strength to act.


Tagore stressed the need for a new world order based on transnational ideas and values:

The soil, in return for her service, keeps the tree tied to her; the sky asks nothing a leaves it free

His voice sounds fresh and modern nearly a century after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

W.B. Yeats wrote that Tagore's work 'stirred my blood as nothing had for years'...

Most of the poems on this page were taken from the Gitanjali' (Song Offerings

(The love poem to the left deserves a painting too....)