Shyamali Khastgir: Artist and activist in the footsteps of Gandhi and Tagore “using creativity in a positive way” – West Bengal

Shyamali Khastgir with her Rajasthani doll illustrating the dangers posed to children exposed to nuclear radiation – Photo: Ludwig Pesch (1 March 2011)

Shyamali Khastgir, June 23 1940 – August 15 2011

Shyamali Khastgir, who died on Independence Day 2011 after suffering an earlier stroke, transmitted her passion for life most expressively through her eyes. Her look was direct, searching and was described by some as dhukko (sad). It was also beautiful, reflecting the depth of her love of life and for all living, and the intensity with which she cared about a future in which she would take little direct part.

The daughter of painter and sculptor Sudhir Khastgir, a prominent member of the Bengal School of Indian Art, and of a mother who died tragically when Shyamali was very young, she grew up in DehraDun and was educated at Santiniketan. At the age of 21 she married Tan Lee, and the family lived in Kolkata where their son, Ananda, was born in 1966. Following a move to western Canada associated with Tan Lee’s work, Shyamali began to reflect on the environmental and human costs of economic and military development, becoming active in various groups sharing these concerns. She integrated these interests with her own background, seeing the relevance of Gandhi and Tagore to both the objectives and mode of dissent being practiced, and devising a unique style of cooking that integrated locally derived ingredients with aspects of Indian cuisine. […]

The influence of Tagore was further evident in the creative ways in which she expressed her varied commitments. A talented artist herself, she created posters that conveyed her convictions with striking force, and devised puppet shows that transmitted her messages to many who would not have received them otherwise. In this, as in all her life, Shyamali reached out to others without prejudgment or distinction, and for this she won the abiding affection of many. […]

Source: The Indian Express, Sun Mar 15 2009

Video interview (Bengali spoken):
Shyamali Khastgir on ill effect of nuclear power

Artist and activist Shyamali Khastgir began to reflect on the environmental and human costs of economic and military development, becoming active in various groups sharing these concerns. She integrated these interests with her own background, seeing the relevance of Gandhi and Tagore to both the objectives and mode of dissent being practiced >>

Shyamali Khastgir took to the medium of art to train young minds to appreciate nature and work for the preservation of environment, among other things. Piyasree Dasgupta finds out more […] 

“I was extremely shocked when India first tested a nuclear weapon,” she recollects.

So, Khastgir, who is also known as a peace activist, kept frequenting India even during her stay in America. She decided that she wanted to come to India and help people discover “invention” in better ways than making bombs.

“My father was an art teacher in Dehra Dun and I was sent to Santiniketan to study. He had great faith in Tagore and Nandalal Bose’s idea of education,” she reminisces. So, when Khastgir, then divorced, finally returned to India, she decided to spread her message through what she knew best — art.  […]

“Education through liberal arts is something that’s still catching up in India and West Bengal, especially, though Santiniketan used to be a seat of the same in the past,” she explains.

She hopes, and so do we, that she succeeds in teaching the generations to come, ways of using creativity in a positive way.

Source: For peace on earth – Indian Express
Address :
Date Visited: Sat Feb 23 2013 12:21:49 GMT+0100 (CET)

Learn more about Santiniketan artist and activist Shyamali Khastgir >>

“The smart boy or clever girl who is deprived of the opportunity of schooling, or who goes to a school with dismal facilities (not to mention the high incidence of absentee teachers), not only loses the opportunities he or she could have had, but also adds to the massive waste of talent that is a characteristic of the life of our country.” – Nobel Awardee Amartya Sen in The Argumentative Indian (Penguin Books, 2005), p. 344 | Find this and other books published in India >>

Related: Tribal Children’s Right to Education | Childhood | Ekalavya (Eklavya, Eklabya), EMR & Factory schools | Childrens rights: UNICEF India >>

Book synopsis (Bengali publication)
Swapner Santiniketan O Anyanyo Rachana

Shyamali, the daughter of sculptor-painter Sudhir Khastgir and student of pedagogue Acharya Nandalal Bose had been brought up with the background of the teachings and ideals of Santiniketan which she followed throughout her life. But the Santiniketan she dreamt of was never supposed to be confined within the geographical boundaries only. Even harsh protests used to come out of her every time she noticed any deviation occurring there. This book reflects her comprehensive views regarding her very own Santiniketan.

112 pages, 1st Edition [2013]
ISBN: 978-93-80542-34-8

Price Rs. 100.00

Source: Monfakira publishing (“non-academic, rather experimental”)
Date visited: 22 March 2020

Watch “The Good Ancestor – The Legacies We Leave” (3 min.): An animation that explores the legacies we might leave for future generations >>

Links to some of the most important organisations, thinkers and doers that are leading the way and that have inspired the book The Good Ancestor by Roman Krznaric >>

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See also

Audio | Santali Traditional and Fusion Songs: Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust – West Bengal

Banam (Santal string instrument)
– eBook: Banam Making Workshop at Bishnubati | Daricha Foundation
– Video: Banam Raja | Interview with Nunulal Marndi | Reviving the Huka Banam

eBook | Background guide for education

eBook | Free catalogue: Banam: One of the ancient musical instruments of the Santals

eBook | Free catalogue: Museum of Santal Culture (Bishnubati) – West Bengal

eBook | “Santals Celebrate the Seasons”: Creativity fostered by Ashadullapur Gramin Silpa & Sastha Bidhan Kendra – West Bengal

India’s tribal, folk and devotional music: Secular and ceremonial songs

eJournal | Writing and teaching Santali in different alphabets: A success story calling for a stronger sense of self-confidence

Infusing the Santhali Element in Schooling by Rina Mukherji

Museum collections – India

Museum of Santal Culture Bishnubati

Music album and video by Santal village children and youths (DVD, CD): “Children see world around them differently” – West Bengal & Odisha

Music and dance | Adivasi music and the public stage by Jayasri Banerjee

Puppetry | Santali Chadar Badni / Chadar Bad(o)ni”| Daricha Foundation
– eBook: Cadence-and-counterpoint-documenting-santal-musical-traditions
– Video: Damon Murmu | Sahadev Kisku | Shibdhan Murmu

Santal | Santal creation myth | Santal Parganas | The Santals by Boro Baski

Santal cultural traditions documented on the Daricha Foundation website

Santal flute music: Audio resource by – West Bengal & Jharkhand

Santali language | eBook | A Santali-English dictionary –

Santali script – Ol Chiki

Santal mission | Santali songs recorded in 1931 at Kairabani (Jharkhand)

Santal music | Santal Musical Traditions: National Museum (exhibition catalogue)

Video | Santali video album “Ale Ato” (Our Village)

Video & eLearning | “Cadence and Counterpoint: Documenting Santal Musical Traditions” – A virtual exhibition on Google Cultural Institute