The latest English translation of Tagore's Shesher Kavita by Dilip Basu offers comforting insights into the nature of relationships, juxtaposed against some striking watercolours by Dinkar Kowshik

Dilip Basu has translated Tagore's fifth novel also his last into English under the title of The Last Poem. The Bengali poet, writer, musician and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote the celebrated novel Shesher Kavita back in 1928, but as with great works of literature, its appeal remains universal even today.

An undated image of Rabindranath Tagore with the
Countess Anna de Noailles

Shesher Kavita was initially published in serial form in the magazine Probashi. It was only a year later, in 1929, that it was published as a book.
The Last Poem is not the first English translation of the book, but Basu believes that his translation manages to capture the essence of Tagore's philosophy. The book also has illustrations by Dinkar Kowshik, who was the dean at Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan from 1967
to 1978.

Love story
The novel revolves around the doomed love story of Oxford-educated barrister Amit Ray and Lavanya Datta, a governess in Shillong.

An illustration of Amit and Lavanya by Dinkar Kowshik

They literally meet 'by accident' there is a collision of cars and despite their differences in temperament and social status, they fall madly in love with each other. While Amit and Lavanya contemplate getting married, circumstances play spoilsport leading to a heartbreaking climax.

Poetry in prose
The book juxtaposes prose with poetry and Basu ensures that the book is eminently readable and isn't lagging in pace. The poems are beautifully translated from Bengali to English and are vivid in imagery. Sample this: 'What I gave to you is yours, by everlasting right. What others receive, are daily driblets of heart...'

Universal theme

While we may live and love in the era of Facebook and Twitter, the story still strikes a chord, thanks to the universality of its theme: Love. The book also critiques the snobbishness of the Bengali middle-class, which makes for some of the lighter moments in the book.

The Last Poem, Rabindranath Tagore, published by Harper Perennial;
Rs 250. Available at leading bookstores

Our favourite moments are when Amit's sister and friend are depicted as characters who choose to anglicise their names and speak with accents to reflect their 'refined' upbringing, Alas! Some things never change.

Acute insights

Highlights in the novel include astute insights into relationships and how easily they can unravel, when faced with the practicalities of daily living. The beautiful illustrations have a dreamy aspect to them, which help in the visualisation of poignant moments in the book.

Tagore was known for his simple stories that imparted a world of wisdom, something that The Last Poem manages to do well in its 152 pages. Those nursing a broken heart and in need of catharsis, need look
no further.