Over the past few years, Visva Bharati University has organized and hosted several conferences to explore the challenges to developing a successful and sustainable tourism industry in the Santiniketan area. The most recent, which focused on showcasing the region’s cultural offer to tourists, was convened in November 2018.
As noble an effort it was, it failed nonetheless, for two primary reasons. Firstly, there was only one presentation made by someone identifying himself as an entrepreneur. All of the other presenters were academics. I hope there is no need for me to explain why that is a problem (as Louis Armstrong said when someone asked him what jazz is, “Man, if you have to ask, you’ll never know).
The second reason the conference failed is that every region of the world, from Alaska to Zimbabwe, is trying to attract tourists with their cultural offerings. To put it bluntly, there is too much competition in the field of cultural tourism. The gathering was an exercise in futility, an intellectual circle jerk. The whole purpose of the event was to dole out money to professors, who are already well paid, to tell each other what they already know, namely that the area has a rich cultural offering to global tourists. So fucking what? So does the rest of India, and everywhere else from Iceland to New Zealand.
Actually, there was one guy who had something worthwhile to offer, but he was mostly ignored. I had the same epiphany, and like him, I have been ignored in my attempts to point out what should be obvious in the quest to draw tourists, domestic and international, to the area. There is only one thing that is absolutely unique about Santiniketan. One thing that no other municipality in the world has, or ever will have. Rabindranath Tagore.
The names Tagore and Santiniketan are synonymous. Although his legacy is waning, especially in The West, it is still significant enough to build a Santiniketan tourism industry upon.
I will go so far as to say that if Santiniketan does not use Tagore to attract tourists to his House of Peace, the rest of the world will forget about the man.
Conversely, if Santiniketan does market Tagore to the global tourism market, his stature will grow, and the town will thrive.
So, how to do it? Here’s my idea.
Tagore had a Western contemporary named Rudolf Steiner.
In many ways, the Austrian was to The West what Tagore was to The East. The two seem to have had a mutual admiration society going.
Like Tagore, Steiner was an educator. One of Steiner’s living legacies is The Waldorf School. At present there are approximately 1200 Waldorf Schools operating in more than 70 countries around the world. The schools are open to students from kindergarten through high school.
A childhood friend of mine was educated in a Steiner university in Sweden, and now teaches in a Waldorf School in the country. I asked him if the name Tagore is known in Steiner circles. He told me that the name Tagore is not only known, it is revered.
The two of us got to thinking, and came up with an embryonic plan that would make Santiniketan a global Mecca for philosophy. The genesis of the nascent juggernaut would involve an overture from Tagore’s children in Santiniketan, to Steiner’s children in Sweden, to establish an informal dialogue about the goals of such a scheme, and the methods by which it could be achieved. My friend asked his colleagues if there was any appetite for such a discussion, and they answered in the affirmative.
Alas, I found not a single soul in Santiniketan who was genuinely interested in the idea. Yes, many said it was a fine idea, but when it came down to actually getting involved, they all, apparently, had better things to do. The inevitable conclusion I’ve reached is that everyone I spoke to is fat and happy. The academics have well paying jobs, likely for life, so why bother? The entrepreneurs I spoke to seem to think the idea is too outside the box. Too ambitious.
After flailing away at the idea for some time, word came back to me that the only thing I had gained for my effort was the reputation of one who speaks like a madman. It’s not the fist time, it won’t be the last.
As Mark Twain so perfectly put it, “Any man with a new idea is a fool… until he succeeds.”
Be that as it is, I think the idea is dead. This missive is probably nothing more than the intellectual/literary fetishist’s equivalent of opening the trench coat and pulling the goalie in front of a crowd (I have a wooden nickel for the first non-Canadian who can figure out WTF that mans!).
I only bother to trouble you with my nonsense in the faint hope that someone might recognize its genius, and dare to breathe life into it.
Although I am willing to play some small role in the scheme, I will not be the leader. Not my circus, not my monkeys. I don’t have the financial resources to kickstart such a lofty campaign. Although I have some entrepreneurial traits, I do not have the skill set, nor do i desire to develop one over the course of what is left of my life. Perhaps, if I were a young man, I might have at the tasks at hand, but I am not.
(A quick digression, if you’ll allow it, please and thank you: I got shit backwards in my life. When I was young, I tried to change/save the world. Later, i turned my attention to make a fortune. If I had it all to do again, I would have making a fortune, first, and then used it to better the world.)
Right. So, where was I? Ah, yes,. I am not really an entrepreneur. I am a dreamer. So, while I have your attention, allow me to explain a bit more about this glorious dream, s’il vous plait, mes amis.
One of the traits I admire in a person is open-mindedness. When you meet open-minded people – opens for short, if you will – we instinctively turn the discussion to one of ideas. Here’s the perfect example.
When Tagore met Einstein, in Berlin, in 1930,
the first thing Tagore said was, “I was discussing with Doctor Mendel today, the new mathematical discoveries which tell us that in the realm of infinitesimal atoms chance has its play; the drama of existence is not predetermined in character.”
No fucking around. Tagore dove right in. If you want to see the TED x Talk on the meeting of the minds. here it is.
If you prefer a transcript of the TED x Talk, here it is.
The world is full of opens, people like me who love nothing more than an interesting, intelligent discussion. Why can’t they be lured to Santiniketan? Why can’t Tagore’s House of Peace become the one place in the world that invites all opens to come and disuses ideas? Not just philosophy. Ideas about anything and everything.
Those are rhetorical question, because of course this is possible. Here, briefly, is how.
- Invite Steiner;s children in Sweden to Santiniketan.
- Embrace them with opens arms, hearts, and minds.
- Record it all (everyone has a video camera these days – well, I don’t, but never mind that).
- Edit it all down to a brilliant promotional video for all the opens in the world to behold.
- Ask Steiner’s Swedish followers to spread it to the worldwide Steiner network.
- Invite Steiner’s followers to follow in their Swedish brethren’s footsteps.
- Target the philosophy departments of universities around thee world with a marketing campaign (no, as I’ve already stated, the opens don’t have to be overly interested in philosophy to love this concept, but Tagore is still known in philosophy circles, so it only makes sense to target philosophers).
There is more to this idea. Much more. But if that’s not enough to motivate someone to step up to the plate….
What say you, children of Tagore? How do you answer the age old questions?
I have a never ending river of bright ideas flowing through my mind , an ever growing backlog of neglected projects, and I am constantly flirting with Miss Ann Thropy, so it don’t make no never mind to me if you don’t wanna play. Besides, he yo daddy, not mine.
Next tme I will tell you how Kolkata can become the most innovative city in the world.