|Continued from Zamindar Rabindranath - 4
The grandson’s fame seems to have almost completely overshadowed that of the grandfather. Dwarakanath Tagore (1794-1846) is known today more as the grandfather of Rabindranath. Yet this grandsire of the Tagore brood was no mean achiever. In fact though the foundations were laid by his predecessors it was he who built the house of the Tagores as the most wealthy and aristocratic in Bengal.
The second son of his natural father Rammoni, Dwarakanath was adopted in his childhood by his eldest uncle Ramlochan who was childless. Ramlochan was the first of the Tagores who acquired zamindaris which consisted only of two mahals in the district of Cuttuck in Orissa and the Birahimpur mahal (Silaidaha) in Eastern Bengal. Their total income amounted to no more than thirty thousand rupees a year. Dwarakanath was only 13 years of age when his foster father died in 1807 bequeathing his properties to his adopted son. The zamindaris were initially managed jointly by his elder brother Ramanath and his foster mother Alakadevi. Dwarakanath took over their management in his own hand at the age of 16 or 17. It behoves the great always to be active. So was Dwarakanath. He did not remain satisfied with the management of these zamindaris alone, his interests were diverse. He learnt the English language well from an Englishman and engaged in business. When the post of Seristadar under the Collector of 24-Parganas fell vacant he secured that post probably with the help of Raja Rammohan Roy who himself was the Seristadar of the Collector of Rangpur. He proved extremely efficient and enterprising. In those days there was no bar to engage in private business while in service which Dwarakanath had done. When his businesses expanded he gave up his job under the Company to devote whole time in his own businesses in banking, shipping, mining, sugar, indigo etc and amassed huge wealth. He bought many more zamindaris in other districts of Bengal – Hooghly, Pabna, Rajshahi, Midnapur, Rangpur, Tripura etc. Today it is impossible to know their exact extent and their total annual income. That it was very large can be surmised from the fact that even after the loss of their major part after the death of Dwarakanath the total zamindari income at the death of his eldest son Debendranath in 1905 has been estimated by one scholar from available figures to have been around rupees 3 to 4 lakhs and after meeting all costs there was a clear profit of about rupees two and a half lakhs per year.
There were no management schools in those days and Dwarakanath learnt the tricks of his trades on the job while serving under the Company’s government. To equip himself sufficiently for efficient management of his zamindaris he took lessons in land laws from an Englishman called Ferguson who was one of the leading barristers of Calcutta at that time. He became so proficient that many zamindars in trouble came to him for advice and help. He was also very resourceful and solved many problems where no legal knowledge was of any avail. For example, once the traditionally troublesome tenants of Birahimpur mahal had petitioned the Collector of the district against their zamindar. In those days the Company officials were not models of virtue and many of them suffered the hazards of our tropical climate only to return home a small ‘nabob’ after a few years’ service. Learning that this particular Collector was sympathetic to the tenants and would most likely report against him Dwarakanath collected incriminating information about that official from various sources and confronted him personally to convince him that it was the tenants who were actually at fault; they were very reluctant to pay the rent punctually and compelled him to take suitable measures according to the existing laws which were often harsh. When the Collector proved adamant Dwarakanath showed him his tramp card and ultimately all ended well. A large portion of his income came from indigo cultivation which was carried on in a manner which could not always be called straight forward. He relied on European managers whom the tenants feared more than the managers who were native. Dwarakanath paid them handsome salaries and an additional 10% commission on total earnings. They had to deliver and if any one failed to do so he was fired without any ceremony. Other subordinate employees were however very poorly paid and taking advantage of the absence of the landlord they most often resorted to fishy practices to earn a few more rupees over and above their salaries.
Dwarakanath seems to have viewed his investments in landed properties as another business venture which he managed with ruthless efficiency. He treated his tenants as mere clients like in any other of his business ventures. And earning of profits seems to have been the ultimate criterion of his success. As he lived away from his estates no other kind of relationship had any scope to grow between him and his tenants. His zamindari officials were also small tyrants. The reputation which he earned as a zamindar could not therefore have been very good. A local journalist called Kangal Harinath is said to have chronicled the excesses and oppressions committed in those days in the Tagore zamindari. In judging Dwarakanath as a zamindar it should however be kept in mind that the time was very critical for the zamindars. Because of the depopulation caused by the 1770 famine large areas of their estates remained fallow and they found it very difficult to collect enough rent to deposit the government revenue in time to avoid the sale of their estates by auction. According to the Fifth Report of 1812 more than 50% of the original zamindars had lost their estates and the remaining had become very poor. To save their zamindari in desperation some of the zamindars kept gangs of professional robbers to supplement their income. Some had gumghars, a kind of dungeons, in their houses to deal with the troublesome tenants. Dwarakanath did not belong to this worst type of landlords. The means, like eviction or distraint for arrears of rent, employed in his zamindari were harsh no doubt but they were within the limits that were set by the law of the time. Not to have recourse to these means was the sure way to go into liquidation like those original zamindars who had lost their estates before him through their inefficiency.
Above all the way he used his wealth thus earned should absolve him of much of his infamy as a zamindar. Though more than 20 years younger than Raja Rammohan Roy he became a close friend of that great man and was associated with all his reformist activities, gave him moral support and rendered him financial help when required. He had the courage to stand by the Raja in his movement for the abolition of sati. All the British rulers before Lord Bentinck were afraid to implement this reform. It was the boldness and tenacity of the Raja and his followers like Dwarakanath that ultimately won over the British government in favour of this reform. Lord Bentinck’s wife referred to this fact in her letter to Dwarakanath when he visited Britain later in his life. Like Rammohan he was one of those pioneers who ushered in the modern age in our country. They were both the creatures and creators of modernity. He was a great patron of modern education and was one of the active organisers for the establishment of the Hindu College and made liberal donations. When the first medical college was established in Calcutta he introduced an annual scholarship of Rupees 2000 to encourage meritorious students. During his second visit to England he took two students with him for the study of medicine at his own cost. He was the earliest among the Indians who fought for the freedom of the press. When in 1824 the Governor-General John Adams took away the freedom of the press by law with the signatures of many leading men Dwarakanath submitted a petition to the Supreme Court. Failing to get relief there he went up to the Privy Council. During Lord Bentinck’s rule he made this law inoperative in Bengal through his personal influence over the Governor-General. His sustained efforts bore fruit when this law was repealed at last in 1835. He was the chief patron of the first Bengali newspaper Samachar darpan. He was one of the major partners of the first Indian daily the Bengal Hurcara. He started the journal Sambad koumudi under the editorship of Raja Rammohan Roy. The publication of the Englishman was possible only with his financial assistance. The Sambad pravakar run by the leading poet of the time, Iswarchandra Gupta, also received liberal financial help from him. In England he not only dazzled the royalties and nobles and earned the sobriquet ‘Prince’ but also developed lasting friendship with a scholar like Max Mueller who held a very high opinion about him. When his grandson Satyendranath went to England to take the ICS examination Max Mueller told him about his grandfather’s love of learning and music, sharp intellect and aristocratic character.
If we are to believe his great-grandson Rathindranath (the poet’s eldest son), the purpose of Dwarakanath’s visits to England was to seek from the British Crown the izara or permanent lease of the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. He took the aristocratic societies of both London and Paris by storm. He was well received by Queen Victoria and became one of her favourites. Dwarakanath’s ambitious project however came to naught as a result of his sudden death in England under mysterious circumstances. At home it took less than two years after his death for the huge empire he had built to crumble down like a house of cards.