IN Edinburgh’s Morningside Cemetery are the graves of Annapurna Turkhud Littledale, known to her family and friends as Ana, together with her infant son, Denzil. Who were they?

Ana was born on January 31, 1858 and died on July 2, 1891, at the age of 33. A small group of people who have been affected by her life story have raised funds to rectify the omission of a public memorial to her.

Roger Jeffery, Hauke Wiebe and Bashabi Fraser will be unveiling a plaque in her memory at Morningside Cemetery, close to where she and her baby son are buried, at 5pm on Sunday. The date has been chosen to mark the anniversary of her death.

Ana’s father, Dr Atmaram Pandurang Turkhadekar, was a social reformer who founded the Prarthana Samaj, inspired by the Brahmo Samaj, a religious reform movement led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the Tagore family. Along with Ana’s mother, Radhabai, they formed a prominent, well-educated and influential Marathi family in Bombay.

Their acquaintances included reformists from across the country. Atmaram was described in obituaries as a “mild Hindu” who held “very advanced views, too much so for the peace of mind of some of his colleagues”. His progressive character enabled his friendship with Rabindranath Tagore’s older brother, Satyendranath Tagore, India’s first Indian civil servant (before his appointment, only British people could be civil servants there!).

All these connections and this context of intricate networks led to Ana meeting Tagore.

Ana was the second daughter but Atmaram had sent all three of his girls – Durga, Ana and Manak – to Britain for their higher education. After Ana returned in 1877, the great Indian poet, writer and thinker Rabindranath Tagore stayed for a time in Atmaram’s home, with the objective of improving his English with Ana’s assistance, before Rabindranath set sail for England to study at the University of London.

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He was 17, she was nearly 20. His family felt he should become acquainted with English culture and ways and conversant in spoken English before he set off. He stayed with the Turkhuds and the task of “anglicising” the shy Tagore fell on Ana’s shoulders. Ana was fluent in English, French, German and Portuguese. She knew some Sanskrit and had some training in music. Tagore writes that he half expected her to look down on him for what he called his own lack of scholarship but she didn’t. His random jottings provide impressions of a lively young woman who cheered him up in moments of homesickness.

Ana was a little older than Tagore and a liberal free spirit as well as being an accomplished young lady in Bombay society. The teenage Tagore was overawed and fascinated by her, and she fell in love with him. Their friendship teetered on the edge of something more. But Tagore was too shy to give in to her advances.

In fact, it is believed that Ana’s father sent a proposal for the marriage of Rabindranath to his daughter, but Tagore’s father, Maharshi Debendranath, the patriarch of the family, declined the offer. Such were the customs of the time and place.

However, Rabindranath did tell Ana that he wrote poetry. He read his poems to her and translated them for her. Ana asked Tagore to give her a name and he gave his young tutor an affectionate Bengali one, “Nalini”. It was a favourite name of his, meaning “lotus”.

And later, Tagore wrote several poems and songs where the name Nalini occurs. In fact, while Rabindranath was staying at Satyendranath’s judge’s residence at Shahibag in Ahmedabad, the poet had written poems in which the name Nalini appears, which preceded his meeting with Ana.

It was after his meeting her that his Petrarchan version of “Laura” found a personification for his platonic love. Bashabi Fraser, in her biography, Rabindranath Tagore (in the Reaktion Books Critical Lives series, 2019), notes two songs which had been written when Rabindranath was in the Turkhud household, later published in the collection, Kabi-Kahini / The Tale of the Poet, which Rabindranath’s fifth brother, Jyotirindranath sent to Ana, along with many similar poems. Ana said she had read the poems and knew them by heart.

In fact, in later years, when Rabindranath married, on December 9, 1893, he gave his wife Bhabatarini, a new name, Mrinalini, which is phonetically reminiscent of Nalini.

Tagore set sail for England in 1878. In 1880, Ana married Harold Littledale, an Irish professor of English Literature, vice-principal of Baroda High School and College. They had three children, Ana Nelline (and this name, clearly, is also reminiscent of Nalini), Olga and Harold.

Ana left Bombay for Edinburgh in early 1891, travelling with Henry Sewell, probably to be with her brother Dnyaneshwar, who was a medical student there. She died at the age of 33 in Marchmont from nervous exhaustion and septicaemia lasting six days, after giving birth to her son.

Dnyaneshwar attended her at the birth and stayed beside her when she died. Denzil died in Broughty Ferry four months later. Ana and Denzil are both buried in unmarked graves in Morningside Cemetery.

It is a complex and sensitive family story but the identification of the graves by the genealogist Caroline Gerard, allows us to imagine the wee bairn Denzil brought to lie beside his mother as an act of kindness to her memory. Such a tender suggestion goes beyond the circumstance of history. It is a tribute to love.

Among her descendants, it has been noted that Harold Littledale said of Ana: “She loved much.” But no trace of any memorial has been found.

Yet her story is haunting, singular, yet universal, memorable for what it tells us of the relations of women and men, of Indian and British identities, of the value placed upon education and social responsibility, and the personal, tentative, but lasting and strong connection between her own self-possession and self-determination and Rabindranath Tagore’s re-imagining of her as a Muse-like figure, “Nalini, the Lotus”. And it speaks of the power of poetry and song.

What does Ana’s journey mean for us today? What do we uncover when we recollect the historic chains that link Scotland with India?

An immediate answer would be that it emphasises what we know so well of British colonialism and patriarchal domination, and that these things apply within Scotland and within India as well as in terms of the exploitation by “Britain” of Scotland and India, and the domination of women by the patriarchy.

But it’s always a more complex story, or set or series of stories, and we should never allow these complexities to be oversimplified and written off. The priorities of education, of poetry and song, the virtues travel, of intellectual engagement, the arts and enlightenment, the broadening of the mind, the stimulation of music, the intrinsic optimism of curiosity, the healthy priority of enquiry, all these are bound up in Ana’s story as they are in Tagore’s.

Both were vulnerable creatures making their way as they might in a world not disposed to allow or encourage much liberty to their characters and capacities. Their lives were difficult then. How much more difficult would they be now, in 2023!

The director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs), Professor Bashabi Fraser, requested that a bust of a statue of Tagore should be placed in Edinburgh.

The present Consul General, Bijay Selvaraj and his staff at the Indian Consulate in Scotland have been working closely with ScoTs to have this statue commissioned and sent to Edinburgh.

Bashabi comments: “The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) very generously commissioned India’s leading sculptor, Ram Vanji Sutar, to sculpt this statue,and donated it to Scotland. It is now waiting to be installed in Edinburgh.

“Lady Joyce Caplan, the chair of ScoTs, and I, have both seen the statue and have been struck by the aesthetic appeal of this head of Rabindranath and we hope he can join his friend, Sir Patrick Geddes, whose bust is already in the garden between the Scottish Storytelling Centre and the Scottish Book Trust.”

Readers of these pages will have encountered my essays on Geddes, the founding Grandfather of the Scottish Renaissance movement and friend and advocate of Hugh MacDiarmid, so the connection from Ana, to Tagore, to Geddes, and MacDiarmid, is evident and real.

And there are more connections between Edinburgh and the Tagore family. Rabindranath’s grandfather, Dwarkanath, whom Bashabi Fraser calls “a leading light of the Bengal Renaissance”, was a business entrepreneur and philanthropist who funded many educational institutions in Calcutta and financed student doctors to study in Britain.

He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1842 (when he was the subject of a subject nation) and donated the Ragamala paintings to the University of Edinburgh. They remain with Special Collections at the Library there, which also houses the ScoTs Tagore Collection. Dwarkanath died in Surrey in 1845 and is buried in Kensal Green.

The memory of Ana Turkhud, Rabindranath’s Muse, whom he fondly named Nalini at her own request, is now being recovered and restored at her resting place, Morningside Cemetery, with her infant son beside her. Here’s my own translation of one of Tagore’s songs to Nalini:

As the lotus flower, so tenderly, opens itself to the sun,

So tenderly, Nalini, you open your eyes to me.

As my song has slipped passed the threshold of sleep

And lifted its shroud to the day,

Dawn comes to the world, a new life appears

And awakens to new poetry –

Each morning I’ll come and sing sweetly, smile gently and hope

To awaken you quietly, brightly to see

Night is leaving, and sunshine arriving, the prize

Freely given, like this, to your opening eyes.

It’s possible the song arose from an episode Bashabi Fraser tells of in her biography of Tagore: “On one occasion, after telling Rabi of the Western custom that anyone stealing a lady’s gloves while she was asleep won the privilege of kissing her,

Ana promptly fell asleep in an easy chair in the room and woke up sometime later.

“Casting a furtive eye to her side, she was surprised to discover her gloves untouched. However, not to be deterred by his mentor, Rabi told her he wrote poetry, which she showed a deep interest in, so the youthful pair spent time with Rabi reading and translating his poems to Ana, who was an appreciative listener.”

“Rabi” is also the word for the sun, so when the song speaks of sunlight and song opening day to the sleeper, the suggestion of nature at work is already quite clear.

Tagore is one of the giants, a titan in Indian and world literature. Remember the African Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka’s thought that if you wanted to start somewhere to engage with the plenitude of great artists who keep giving, you could do worse than look at the triumvirate of Shakespeare, Beethoven and Picasso.

Once you’ve explored the sheer range and extent, the subtleties and intimacies, the strengths and weaknesses, the details and minutiae, the greatness and magnitude of their works, you have some measure of value for everything else in this world.

In our world, in Scotland, Tagore, and in a different sphere, Patrick Geddes, and then Hugh MacDiarmid, might help us do the same thing. And this story takes us to one of the most essential parts of it. It’s a love story, that crosses all borders and languages.

It ventures to take us into a place where rules don’t apply or else need to be broken. It reminds me most of the feeling in what I take to be one of the most beautiful love songs I know, a Hindi song, “Lag Jaa Gale”, which I first heard on radio, performed by Lata Mangeshkar, the Indian Nightingale.

The music is by Madan Mohan Kohli (1924-75) with lyrics by the poet Raja Mehdi Ali Khan (1915-66). It was translated into a version in Bengali by Miltu Ghosh and Shipra Bose in 1968 and it has been performed by singers in Pakistan, in Tamil and Telugu. In other words, its international provenance is unlimited.

Lata Mangeshkar’s voice is unique: piercing, plaintive, compelling, strong, full and passionate yet also poignant and urgent. You can find it on YouTube, recorded (dubbed) for the 1964 Bollywood film, Woh Kaun-Thi? (Who Was She?): Lag Jaa Gale - Sadhana, Lata Mangeshkar, Woh Kaun Thi Romantic Song and again in another beautiful, softer, acoustic, immensely lovable version, by the band, SANAM, with Sanam Puri (vocals), Samar Puri, (guitars), Venky S (Bass) and Keshav Dhanraj (Cajon), which is equally haunting: Lag Jaa Gale (Acoustic) | Sanam is also available on YouTube.

Thinking of Ana’s story, and of Tagore’s long-lasting, lonely love for her, and of what it might remind any one of us of, I played this again to myself recently and, for a while, I was lost in a faraway world.

Now hold me close

Now hold me close, and nobody knows, what lasts, this night, in the rain?

Who knows of this night, but our lives, while we’re here, for now, and never again?

The moment is ours, what knowledge we learn, by this, is yours, and is mine,

Given or lent, come close, closer still, and our hearts shall be filled by design

This moment is ours, is mine, is yours, by good fortune but never again

Perhaps, we have this, in your life, and in mine, we have this, as now becomes then

Come close, come closer, come closer to me, for I cannot come close to you now

Our tears will wash the world away and our hearts all that love will allow

And our eyes will be washed in the tears of our love and as tears disappear in the rain

They shall all wash away and leave us behind never to see them again

All are welcome to join us for the unveiling of the plaque.