New Delhi(PTI): Rabindranath Tagore renamed her Shanti. For the young Lithuanian woman, he was always Gurudev.
Almost a century after the two met, the story of Schlomith Flaum, who lived and taught in Santiniketan for two years, has been translated from Hebrew into English.
Recently launched in Delhi, the book — ‘Schlomith Flaum & Rabindranath Tagore’ — is an account of the young Jewish woman’s meetings with Indian thinkers of the 20th-century, including Tagore and Gandhi.
The book, put together by Israeli author Shimon Lev, is a translation of Flaum’s diaries, which were mostly written in Hebrew.
Jointly launched by the embassies of Lithuania and Israel, it recounts the time Flaum spent in Santiniketan from 1922-24.
It also contains copies of letters, some of which have not been published before, between Flaum and Tagore from 1922 to 1940.
It was during a lecture by Tagore at a Jewish synagogue in New York that Flaum met the poet in the early decades of the 20th century. She was then doing a teacher’s training course at Columbia University.
Flaum, who was born in Lithuania in 1893 and died at the age of 70 in Israel, offered to teach at his school in West Bengal — a proposal that Tagore agreed to.
She taught German language at Visva Bharati and was the headmistress of a nursery school in Santiniketan, which Tagore turned into an educational institute and later a university.
The book describes how during her stay in Santiniketan, Flaum interacted with leading figures of India’s independence movement, including Gandhi, Annie Besant and Sarojini Naidu.
The letters to “Gurudev” included one where she expressed anguish over World War II and referred to “brutal Hitler and Mussolini.
“(They) sometime will pay for their deeds of treachery over humanity,” she wrote.
Tagore named her Shanti (peace), which was the title that Flaum gave her publishing house. She brought out a biography of the poet in 1946.
It is not every day that we find such strong historical and cultural connections between three countries — India, Lithuania and Israel — in such a fascinating story,” the ambassador of Israel to India, Daniel Carmon, said at the book launch.
Describing her as a feminist at a time when feminism wasn’t a common practice , he said she did not look at India through the eyes of a tourist, but as a woman who cared for other women.
Author Lev called her the unofficial ambassador of India , and said his main motivation behind writing the book was to give a first-hand account of Tagore and Santiniketan through the eyes of Flaum.
This is my small contribution to the legacy of Santiniketan and Tagore, he said.
Lev, who conceived the idea of the book, approached the Lithuanian Embassy in 2016, proposing that he translate her diaries into English.
Stressing the importance of the book, Laimonas Talat-Kelpsa, the ambassador of Lithuania to India, said his country had lost about 95 per cent of its Jewish population during the Holocaust.
It is our duty today to rebuild of what we have lost, bring it back to our national memory and make it a part of our life, he said.