A meeting of minds

09 May 2011
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East and West combined 94 years ago when Scotland's town planning expert Sir Patrick Geddes met India's most famous writer Rabindranath Tagore.

The first 1917 meeting in Darjeeling of Ballater-born Sir Patrick Geddes and the Nobel prize-winning Bengali poet and novelist was to be the beginning of a lasting friendship and working relationship between the two men.

Both shared similar ideas on education and the environment and co-operated on plans for an international university in India 'to bring East and West together for the benefit of humanity.'

Geddes (1854 - 1932) was a botanist, ecologist, sociologist and town planner. He has been hailed as one of the founders of modern town planning and has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci and praised by Einstein for his innovative thinking.

International in outlook, he helped develop cities as far apart as Delhi and Edinburgh. As well as touring the United States, Geddes planned the Hebrew University at Jerusalem and founded the Scots College in Montpellier, France.

Sir Patrick Geddes and Rabindranath Tagore

It was in India that Geddes spent much of his working life, producing plans for 50 Indian cities between 1915 and 1929. In 1918, he became the first professor of civics and sociology at the University of Bombay, an institution he had helped to found.

"I merely started with this one simple idea that education should never be dissociated from life..." Tagore to Geddes, on plans for an International University in India.

The close friendship Geddes established with Tagore resulted in the creation of an international university, Visva-Bharati, in West Bengal in 1921.

Geddes was knighted in 1931, shortly before his death in 1932. By that time he had written about economics, sociology, history, art, museums, politics, agriculture, gardening, geology, religion, philosophy, travel, housing and poetry.

Tagore was also extremely accomplished. Regarded by many as the greatest writer in modern Indian literature he became the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. He also established a whole new dance form called Rabindra Nritya, was an educationalist, a political thinker and philosopher.

Tagore's strong links with Scotland date back to his grandfather Dwarkanath Tagore who was given the Freedom of the City award by Edinburgh in 1845.

Tagore was also a fan of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns whose 'Auld Lang Syne' inspired the Indian poet's well-known song 'Purano shei diner kotha' (Memories of the Good Old Days).

Both Geddes and Tagore have left an enduring legacy in a number of educational partnerships between Scotland and India.

Scotland and India's educational links

These collaborations include Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between Dundee University of Abertay and the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Allahabad and between the Universities of Edinburgh and Delhi to promote joint research and student exchange programmes.

Glasgow Caledonian University and Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research in New Delhi have also entered a partnership to deliver programmes which could see thousands of people in India spared unnecessary amputation through diabetes. It has forged partnerships with the MV Diabetes Research Centre in Chennai, Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai and Max Health Care, also in Delhi.

The 150th anniversary of the birth of Rabindranath Tagore and his connections with Scotland were celebrated by Edinburgh's Napier University in 2011.

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