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She wrote prolifically even nearing 90
I met her at a friend's residence in Yorkshire, UK. In the morning, before breakfast, I used to find she was reviewing her book Quakers in India. I would take a seat and be waiting till she read out the morning's output to me. This way I was able to gain her closeness as an obedient student. I was fortunate to have her company as she was a special, living person used to be closely associated with Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Indian independence.
Beginning of her work in India
Marjorie Sykes worked in India for a long time. She was born in South Yorkshire, England, where her father was a school teacher. She graduated with first-class Honours degree in English language from Cambridge University. In 1928, as an English teacher, she joined Bentinck Girl's School in Madras. Later she came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi and, following the path of non-violence, took part in the independence movement of India. Then onward, her life become entangled with India.
It was the Mahatma Gandhi's Sevagram Ashram where she began her real work
Mahatma Gandhi chose her to become the Principal of Basic Education Programme for Social Reform for his Sevagram Ashram. Working from a Quaker Project in Rasulia in Uttar Pradesh, she also involved herself in promoting peace activities and organic farming, namely, ‘rishi kheti’ (agriculture of the Sages), avoiding chemical fertilizers. However, probably, the best part of her life and work in India was meeting and working with Nobel Laureate, Guru Dev, Rabindranath Tagore.
Rabindranath welcomed her offering sweets
In a day of July 1939, Marjorie had a memorable reception from Rabindranath along with school returning children. While Rabindranath was working in his office contemplatively at Shanti Niketan, a group of cheerful children of Patha Bhavan came in to greet him after their long holiday, Rabindranath was welcoming each of them offering a fistful of sweet. As Marjorie happened to enter his office at the same time, Rabindranath also gave her a fistful, and she immediately accepted the offer as a blessing from the Guru Dev to become a teacher of English Culture and Language at Bishsha Bharati University.
Marjorie felt a deep attachment with Bishsha Bharati University
Rabindranath already established Bishsha Bharati in 1941 with the motto: "Yatra Visvam Bhavaty ekanidam", "where the whole world meets in one place". To Marjorie, it already became a true meeting place of the East and the West, beyond the boundaries of politics, race and creed. Rabindranath made it an innovative university where an interplay would take place amongst society, culture, tradition, economics, philosophy and music of the world. At the same time, to initiate and practise new ideas for rural reconstruction, he also established 'Sri Niketan'. Rabindranath wanted resourceful people from anywhere of the world to come to Shanti Niketan and work for Bisha Bharati University and Sri Niketan.
Marjorie enjoyed the environment of Shanti Niketan
From the outset, Marjorie liked to live and work at Shanti Niketan as it had a peaceful international environment. She was given a three room cottage, surrounded by enough space to develop a garden. Her cottage was 'open-door' for everybody: students came in anytime to discuss anything and foreign visitors came in to have chat over a cup of tea. She was also used to welcome the visitors who not necessarily were friends but an acquaintance she met once somewhere. Overall, Marjorie was over joyous to meet, work and make friends with the people who were very close to Rabindranath. This group included Rabindranath's son, Rathinranath Tagore, who guided Bishsha Bharati from 1951 to 1953, and Dr. Amiya Chakravarty, who edited several books of Rabindranath.
Her hilarious communication system with Rabindranath
Marjorie was amused by the way Rabindranath established communication with her. The means of the communication was manuscript going back and forth. As a messenger, Rabindranath used to pick up one of many children who loved to be around him. Marjorie remembered, once he took an instant decision to write something. In Marjorie's words, 'He called a little boy and sent him into the bazaar to buy an ordinary children's school exercise book. When he got it out came his pen, and he said to Marjorie, "When I've finished writing this, I want you to put it into English"'. Rabindranath loved to review his work many times till he was satisfied with the final outcome. Here is an example what Marjorie found, 'Every now and then a messenger, usually a child, would appear saying "Please, Guru Dev would like that book back. He has thought of something else"'.
Rabindranath was saddened on the death of his friend Charles Freer Andrews
The pleasure of working at Santi Niketan began to be laden with sad incidences. In the early in April 1940, news came from Calcutta that Charles Andrews was gravely ill. Charles was a strong bondage of friendship between Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath. Rabindranath asked Marjorie to travel to Calcutta to see Charles to give a message of friendly assurance to Charles. On Charles's death, Rabindranath organised a service of prayer at Shanti Niketan Mandir and read out a heartrending speech in his memory. Later, Marjorie used the translation of the speech as a foreword to the unfinished book of Charles Andrews.
Rabindranath's final journey from Shanti Niketan to Calcutta
Meanwhile, Rabindranath's health was deteriorating. In July, 1941, he was suffering from a prolonged illness, no sign of recovery; he required improved treatment. Decision was taken he would be taken to Calcutta immediately. The whole Shanti Niketan students gathered at the gate of his residence to say goodbye. As the car was moving slowly carrying ailing Rabindranath leaving behind his most favourite place, everybody sang: 'Amader Shanti Niketan: Our Shanti Niketan, Ah! Our beloved Shanti Niketan! She is the dearest of all to us'. In Calcutta, everything possible was done to save his life, but all effort went vain. On 7th August, 1941, he died peacefully in his Jorashako house where he had born and been brought up. Thousands of people witnessed his funeral cortege was carrying his body to the Nimtala Ghat by the Ganges, to cremate.
She was heartbroken but continued work in India
Marjorie continued teaching at Bishsha Bharati up to 1947. Then she joined the Sebagram Ashram. During this period, she concentrated on writing Rabindranath. She wrote an inspiring book for young people naming 'Rabindranath' in 1943. In explaining the purpose of the book, she wrote, 'It seeks only to present Rabindranath Tagore as a man, a thinker, and a poet, in such a way that the young student or general reader, without any specialist knowledge, can appreciate something of his greatness'.
Marjorie passionately kept herself engaged in finding the elements of truth, non-violence and peace in the lives and works of Rabindranath and Mahatma Gandhi. She was given the citizenship of India right after the independence in 1947. In 1992, Bishsha Bharati conferred her with an honorary doctorate in literature but she was unable to receive the degree in person. Her life, which was full of dedications, came to an end in 1995 at the age of 90.