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Tagore Festival in Cairo celebrates the life and times of the Bard

Indian Embassy and Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture organise cultural events to commemorate Gurudev's 155th birth anniversary

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By Shillpi A Singh

In 2016, May 8 coincided with Ponchishe Boishakh (25th day of the Baisakh month) of the Bangla calendar that also happened to be Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s 155th birthday. To commemorate the birth anniversary of Gurudev, the Indian Embassy in Cairo and the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture are currently hosting a five-day festival Tagore Festival that will end on May 12, 2016
Rabindranath Tagore. Wikimedia Commons
Rabindranath Tagore. Wikimedia Commons
“We take many small steps and build as many bridges as possible between the people of the two countries who share strong cultural bonds,” said Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s Ambassador to Egypt.
As a build up to the cultural event, the Embassy had organised a month-long online Quiz Completion, which started on April 10 and an essay competition in English, Hindi and Arabic on the Nobel Laureate. 
“There is a special bond between the people of the two countries, especially in the field of culture,” Sanjay said.
Day 1: Painting Exhibition and Book Launch
The Tagore Festival kick-started with an art exhibition showcasing the works of painters from 10 countries. “These 60 portraits on display in the exhibition are a visual representation of Tagore in the minds of artists from across 10 countries, including Egypt and India. It is a new perspective- looking at Tagore through the eyes of artists. We collaborated with the Egyptian Caricature Society in collecting the artworks,” Sanjay said.
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The exhibition was inaugurated on May 8, 2016 by Gomaa Farahat, Chairman of Board of Directors, Egyptian Association of Caricature at Abaad Gallary, Cairo Opera House and will remain open for the entire duration of the festival.
Day 2: Book Exhibition and Dance Drama
“Tagore, Egyptian writers and intellectuals have had a long association. The works of Tagore are quite popular in Egypt. There are almost a dozen translations of the Gitanjali itself and 43 of his works have been translated into Arabic. The Egyptian Culture Minister is keen to take up a project to translate more classics and contemporary works,” Bhattacharyya said.
Egyptian scholars have translated many of Tagore’s works into Arabic and have also written several books on him. These books are available at the National Library of Egypt, which has collaborated with the Indian Embassy in organising an exhibition of all such books. The exhibition was inaugurated by Helmy Namnam, Culture Minister of Egypt. While the Culture Minister read an extract from Gitanjali in Arabic, the Ambassador read the same in English to add to the theme of the day. Dr. Sharif Shaheen, Chairman, National Library and Archives of Egypt was also present at the occasion.
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The Ambassador and Farahat also released a book, Rabindranath Tagore: the Painter, on this occasion. The book has a message from the Ambassador, an introduction by R. Siva Kumar and another article by K.G. Subramanyam.
“It was gratifying to see the enthusiastic response of the people here. They had put up huge posters of newspaper articles relating to Tagore’s visit to Egypt way back in 1926. It shows their love for him and his work. We look forward to more such collaborations in future,” said the Ambassador.
Back cover of the book, Rabindranath Tagore: The Painter
A short film on Tagore was also screened on this occasion.
The Festival also featured Shapmochan (Breaking the Spell), a dance drama based on Tagore’s work by renowned Indian classical dancer Dona Ganguly and her troupe. Dr. Assem Nagaty, Head of National Centre of Theatre, Music and Folk Art, graced the occasion.
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“Bollywood has many takers here in Egypt. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised to see a huge turnout for the Tagore dance drama “Shapmochan” in Odissi dance style at the Cairo Opera House and I was delighted that the Egyptians enjoyed it. It was a stunning show and the performance by Dona Ganguly and her troupe was marvellous,” he said.
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Day 3: Film Screening: Ghare Bhaire
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The film Ghare Baire by legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray was screened to a packed house at the Hanager Arts Center, Cairo. Based on Tagore’s novel, Ghare Baire weaves a tale of love set in the chaos of the partition of Bengal and vortex of tumultuous emotions.
“The film Ghare Baire by Satyajit Ray is a sensitive depiction of nationalism and feminism within a tale of people in love who are swept away by their circumstances. It was a delight to watch the creative expression of the master novelist and master storyteller, once again,” he said.
Day 4: An evening of Rabindra Sangeet
Shreya Guhathakurta, a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent, presented Rabindra Sangeet or the songs written and composed by Tagore to the Egyptian audience at the Artistic Creativity Centre, Cairo Opera House. The performance of Rabindra Sangeet was preceded by a Short Documentary on Tagore “The Story of Geetanjali: Songs Offerings”, produced by the Government of India.
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“Though Tagore’s songs relate to all aspects of our lives, the two important facets which will be featured are his songs on women and his affinity for nature,” said Ambassador, adding, “Guhathakurta is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet singer from Kolkata. She is known for her unique style- a fusion of the old style with a contemporary presentation of the songs that helps connect with the audience.”
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Those present at the musical event included eminent historian and politician Prof. Sugata Bose from India and Minister of Industries Amir Hussain Amu from Bangladesh.
Day 5: A Seminar on Contemporary Literature: Tagore, Shawky & Mahfouz 
The festival will conclude on May 12 with a Seminar on Contemporary Literature: “Tagore, Shawky & Mahfouz”, which will feature Indian and Egyptian scholars and writers and will be conducted by the Supreme Council of Culture. The seminar will have two speakers from the Egypt and one speaker from India, noted historian and politician Sugata Bose. The Seminar will be moderated by Prof.  Amal El Sabban, Secretary General, Supreme Council of Culture, Ministry of Culture, Egypt. The Seminar will be held at the Council Hall of the Supreme Council of Culture, Cairo Opera House.
The Tagore Festival was organised by the Embassy of India and the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture, Cairo, in association with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, the Supreme Council of Culture, the Cairo Opera House and the National Library and Museum of Modern Art.  The Festival has also received generous support from Egyptian Indian Polyester Company (EIPET).
The Bard of Bengal:
Tagore was the first Asian to win the Nobel Award for Literature for his book “Gitanjali” in 1913. His poetry, novels, plays, short stories and essays are widely read in India and across the world. His songs have been set to music; his plays have been enacted as dance drama and his novels have been filmed.
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Rabindranath Tagore while reading. Photo credits: Indian diplomacy and Indian Embassy, Cairo
He is an integral part of India’s literary heritage and a towering figure in Bengali literature, who continues to inspire creativity even in the contemporary world. 
For the last 75 years, Tagore has been invoked on his birthday with “He Nutan, Dekha Dik Arbar…”, a song specially written for the occasion, by the man himself.
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Rabindranath Tagore with Gandhiji. Photo credits: Indian diplomacy and Indian Embassy, Cairo
It is a well-known fact that Tagore has written the national anthem of India (Jana Gana Mana) and also of Bangladesh (Amar Sonar Bangla). Tagore also penned the anthem of Sri Lanka at the request of his Sri Lankan student at Santiniketan, Ananda Samarkun, in 1938. In 1940, Ananda returned to his native land and translated the song into Sinhalese and recorded it in Tagore’s tune.
His Egyptian Link 
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Rabindranath Tagore. Photo credits: Indian diplomacy and Indian Embassy, Cairo
 
Rabindranath Tagore first visited Egypt in 1878 and later as a famous poet-philosopher in 1926 when he met King Fouad and interacted with scholars in Alexandria and Cairo. His friendship with Egyptian poet Ahmed Shawqy is well known. He wrote a moving eulogy on his friend’s death in 1932. 
The author can be contacted at shilpi.devsingh@gmail.com 
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Water-Borne Illness Increases Sharply in Iraq

Iraq's individual provinces have been fighting for water, amid a general shortage.

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Water crisis
A girl drinks water in the street outside her tent at a camp for internally displaced people in western Baghdad, Iraq. VOA

Iraqi health officials say that a health crisis stemming from water pollution and a shortage of clean drinking water has worsened in recent days, as hospitals in the southern port city of Basra treat more than 1,000 cases of intestinal infections on a daily basis. The problem was exacerbated several months ago when Turkey cut back on water distributed to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

A crowd of young men took to the streets on in the southern port city of Basra Tuesday, demanding the central government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi increase the quantity of clean drinking water allotted to their province, otherwise it’ll lead to a health crisis. Abadi vowed to increase spending on infrastructure for the province during a visit to Basra in July.

A young man, whose friend was killed during a rally several weeks ago, broke down and sobbed over the protesters’ inability to force Iraqi leaders to improve the condition of public services in Basra, especially the region’s worn-out water infrastructure and insufficient quantities of drinking water allotted by the central government.

Some health officials in Basra warn that a cholera outbreak is possible due to water pollution and water-borne parasites that have made thousands of people sick in recent days. The director general of the Basra Health department, Riad Abdul Amir, told Al Hurra TV the situation continues to worsen.

He says more than 17,500 cases of intestinal ailments, resulting from contaminated drinking water, have been treated by Basra hospitals during the past two weeks, alone.

 

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The water network in Basra hasn’t been updated in at least 30 years. Pixabay

 

Abdul Amir says the problem stems from insufficient fresh water supplies coming into the city via canals and water pipes from the north.

“Salty water [which has infiltrated the water network],” he asserts, “is known to reduce the efficacy of chlorine used to treat and kill bacteria in drinking water,” he said.

Safaa Kazem, a docotor who has been treating dozens of cases of intestinal problems and diarrhea in Basra’s Sadr Teaching Hospital each day, says water from the city’s supply is not safe to drink.

She says the degree of water sterilization is minimal and that Basra’s water is very salty and has an extremely high level of microbes in it, along with a high degree of chemical pollution.

Basra Governor Assad al Edani told Al Hurra TV that his province has been suffering from numerous infrastructure problems for a long time.

He says the water network in Basra hasn’t been updated in at least 30 years and the old pipes often break, mixing drinking water with sewage.

water, health crisis
The degree of water sterilization is minimal. VOA

Edani says “not enough fresh water is arriving via the region’s only canal from Thi Qar province to the north.” He thinks a “strong current of fresh water will flush out salty water seeping into the water network from the sea.”

Also Read: Iraq Lifts Ban On International Flights to Kurdish Airports

Edani adds that the population of Basra has “more than doubled since the water network was last updated in the early 1990s.”

Iraq’s individual provinces have been fighting for water, amid a general shortage, since Turkey in early June severely curtailed the number of cubic meters of water it funnels into both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. (VOA)