In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore created history, becoming the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. To quote NobelPrize.org, Tagore received the award for his “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”.
His award was largely for a collection of poems called Gitanjali, or the English translation called ‘Song Offerings’. The two are not identical, and it must be mentioned that the English version included poems from works other than Gitanjali and had alterations and edits made to them.
Reports suggest that Tagore used the monetary award that came with the Nobel to set up what would eventually become known as Vishwa Bharti University in West Bengal’s Shantiniketan – a city where Tagore himself had stayed for many years. Shantiniketan had been developed initially by Rabindranath’s father, Devendranath Tagore.
Believing that studying amidst nature, with no restrictions or boundaries, Tagore set out to create a unique educational institute called ‘Patha Bhavan’. In 1921, it was expanded further, to form the Vishwa Bharti University. Alongside developing the university, the financial grant was reportedly also used to support the expansion of the Brahmo Samaj Ashram in the area. In Shantiniketan, Tagore took turns staying in several houses.
In 2004, the Nobel Prize was stolen from his residence-turned museum. Alongside this, his Nobel citation and several personal effects also went missing. But over the years, despite a nationwide hunt, the medal has not been recovered. In 2012, a Bengali film called Nobel Chor underlined the hunt for Tagore’s medal, creating a fictional farmer who, after becoming circumstantially involved in the theft, makes his way to Kolkata with the intention of returning or selling the precious prize to improve his quality of life, as well as the lives of those belonging to his impoverished village. Nobel Chor was officially selected for the BFI London Film Festival.
In 2016, the CID arrested a ‘baul’ singer and former gram panchayat pradhan of Birbhum district’s Ruppur village in connection with the theft. A Special Investigation Team had picked up Pradip Bauri for his alleged involvement in the theft. Several others have also been detained in connection with the case. The medal, however, has not been recovered till date.
Soon after the theft, the Nobel Academy provided a replacement medal in both gold and bronze to the Vishwa Bharati Chancellor. These are housed alongside other memorabilia pertaining to Tagore in the museum in Shantiniketan. However, reports suggest that there might have been a price that had to be paid for the replacements.