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Where history resides

Jitbhumi in Rilbong is more than a century old and has memories of poet laureate Rabindranath Tag-ore who visited Shillong thrice in the last century. Tagore stayed in the Assam-type house during his sec-ond sojourn in April 1923 and spent almost two months here, and vastly enriched his literary works. Jitbhumi was built by the British during the last part of 19th century when the Kench’s Trace area was a hilly grove. It looked ghostly even at day time. At night, the shrill cries of jackals from the thickets would give the place an eerie look. During that initial period of Shillong, a few big houses were built by British of-ficers deforesting the hillocks of Shillong and Jitbhumi was one of them.But in 1905-1910, when the partition of Bengal was declared by Lord Curzon, including East Bengal with Assam to form a new province named Assam Bengal, and the capital was shifted from Shillong to Dacca, all the top officials were transferred to Dacca. During that period, the houses were disposed of at a cheap rate and ‘Jitbhumi’ was purchased by Dr Devendranath Chat-terjee, a government physician in Shillong. Devendranath married Abhigna Devi, daughter of Hemendranath, the third elder brother of Tagore. There is an interesting story regarding the name of the house. Senior citizens say that the house while purchased by Devendranath, was under litigation, and Devendranath had to move the case that he ultimately won. Tagore named the house ‘Jitbhumi’, or conquered land, and that name is being carried till today.As Abhigna Devi died a premature death, Deven-dranath married Manisha Devi, the younger sister of Abhigna, who was a very good singer. Manisha insti-tuted an art and music school in the Jitbhumi complex in 1915. Among her tiny tots was the eminent writer Leela Mazumdar and her elder sister. Devendranath was a tuberculosis patient and after prolonged suffering, expired on July 24, 1916, in Jit-bhumi. After his death, Manisha Devi stayed in the house with her children and continued with her music school. She disposed of the house by 1927 (approx).It was April 1923. The weather was excessively hot in Bengal and Tagore, exhausted of summer, decided to come to Shillong to get some respite from the scorch-ing heat. Shillong was tempting him and he expressed his ardent feelings in the following poem — When the burning heat of scorching summer/Couldn’t be ebbed by cold-drinks and fan/Exhausted, I rushed to the Shillong hill/To be soothed with pleasant chill/The hillocks, covered with cluster of clouds/Green dense forests and shadowy mounds/Warmly call the tiresome passers,/‘Come to my cosy lap, to relax’.(Translated by the author from the original poem ‘Shillong-er-Chithi’)At the entrance of the house, there still stands a plaque carrying the memory of the great poet Tagore’s stay here. It is engraved as,‘Here lived RABINDRANATH TAGORE In April–May–June 1923.His famous drama ‘RAKTAKARABI’ and poems ‘Shillong-er-Chithi’ etc were written here.’On the other side of the plaque, a few lines of a poem in Bengali, composed by Tagore are engraved. For the last few decades, the owner of ‘Jitbhumi’ was Bimal Chakravorty who preserved the house with full care and devotion, keeping intact the valuable mem-oirs of Tagore. Recently, it was heard that ‘Jitbhumi’ was disposed of and the new owner is also a sincere Rabindra lover who has committed to preserving the serene memorial in a greater way so that the Rabindra lovers can easily trace the house to pay tribute to the great bard.(Contributed by Uma Purkayastha)

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