An Ophthalmologist Brings Tagore Online

Debashis Basu and Dr Purnendu Bikash Sarkar

Debashis Basu and Dr Purnendu Bikash Sarkar

Dr Purnendu Bikash Sarkar talks about what led him to digitise Rabindra Sangeet at an Aakhar session in Kolkata

The birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore is a highlight during the month of Baisakh. To commemorate the occasion, Prabha Khaitan Foundation, under its Aakhar initiative, paid tribute to the Nobel laureate through an invigorating session with Tagore researcher and ophthalmologist Dr Purnendu Bikash Sarkar. Moderated by elocutionist and orator Debashis Basu, the session captured the spirit of “Robimash”. Soumitra Mitra, the Foundation’s Advisor for Bengali Language, Theatre and Film Programmes, welcomed the audience. 

Fuelled by an interest in rational scientific thought that began in his school days, Sarkar went on to secure a high rank in the Joint Entrance Examination and then studied ophthalmologic surgery and medicine. His deep fascination and unshakeable passion for Tagore’s lyrical work took shape later, following the completion of his medical studies.

Once the interest took root, however, Sarkar immersed himself in research on Tagore’s compositions. This was a time when Tagore’s music could only be accessed through cassettes, CDs and DVDs, and the internet was hardly the accessible resource it is today. As a result, the means available to Sarkar were not very user-friendly. Nevertheless, Sarkar took upon himself the ambitious task of digitising Rabindra Sangeet playlists. Although he began the project for his personal use, it later expanded into a broad exploration of the available methods for playing music. “The idea was to deliver Rabindranath (Tagore) to the younger generation in an easy manner,” said Sarkar.

“I took on the task of digitising Rabindra Sangeet playlists. Although I began the project for my personal use, it later expanded into a broad exploration of the available methods for playing music.”

In the year 2006, his digital compilation of Rabindra Sangeet was released at the Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi. From 2008 onwards, the ophthalmologist dedicated himself to creating a digital library of Tagore’s work. His tireless efforts to this end would ultimately result in a website named Gitabitan Archive, an online library that contains the background, melody, notation and phase of every composition by the Bengali bard. The poetry of Tagore is similarly assembled on another website named Rabindra Kobita Archive. Widespread appreciation for the digital archive convinced Sarkar to create a print version as well.

His latest book, Rabindra Gaan Er Antorale, provides a unique opportunity for Tagore enthusiasts to read about his songs in a book and simultaneously listen to them on their digital devices. Sarkar’s book compiles 250 songs with significant contextual stories, and each song is followed by a QR code. Readers can scan the code via their smartphones to listen to an audio recording of the song. 

The session imparted some valuable life lessons as Sarkar recounted how he managed to balance a successful career as an ophthalmologist with being a passionate researcher. The session drew to a close with a vote of thanks, but not before Sarkar promised that a groundbreaking work was in progress that would be revealed in the coming months.

Aakhar Kolkata was presented by Shree Cement Ltd in association with Purba Paschim and Anandabazar Patrika Online