Of the many stories current about Rabindranath the one I like most is the story of ‘Gurudev - Bhandare’. I of course feel that it is more appropriate to call it ‘Bhandare-Gurudev’, because it is actually based on a meritorious deed once done by Bhandare, a Marathi student of the Santiniketan ashram for children.
Bhandare got a seat in the Bithika, a long mud-built hostel with bamboo and straw thatching. In its front is the salbithi or the path that runs through the sal grove along which Rabindranath very often used to take his stroll. At one end was the Library and at the other end is Dehali, another mud-built house in which the poet lived. One day from Dehali he was going to the Library in his famous long gown and with a black cap on. As soon as he saw him Bhandare ran to him. The other children who were accompanying him were awe-struck. Hardly ten minutes had passed that the fellow had come to the ashram, and without asking anybody anything he is rushing to Gurudev! They saw from a distance that Bhandare was telling him something and Gurudev was gently smiling. It seemed that he was protesting but Bhandare was pressing him. At last he pushed something into the hand of Gurudev who, still smiling, accepted it and put it into the inner pocket of his gown. Very happy and smiling Bhandare came back to his companions. He did not bother to salute or show any sign of respect to the poet.
All asked him, “What did you give Gurudev?”
“Gurudev kaun? Woh to darbesh hai.” (Who is Gurudev? He is only a mendicant), replied Bhandare in his Marathi-Hindi.
“What are you telling? Don’t you know he is Gurudev?”
“Kya ‘Gurudev’ ‘Gurudev’ karta hai. Ham usko ek atthanni diya.” (Why do you insist that he is Gurudev? I have given him an eight-anna piece).
What was he saying? Is he mad? He gave half a rupee to none else than Gurudev himself!
On interrogation it was learnt that when he was leaving for Santiniketan his grand mother had asked him to donate something whenever he met any sannyasi or darbesh. Bhandare has only followed her advice and given the half-rupee. Oh yes, that darbesh at first refused to accept his donation but he has enough wit in his head and he does not give up so easily and it is not a matter of joke, he could ultimately give him as much as an atthanni.
It happened long forty years ago. Nobody ever suggested that atthanni was a small amount, but none could convince Bhandare that the recipient of his largesse was not a darbesh but Gurudev himself. I do not know how long Bhandare took to know about his mistake. Here it is also not very relevant.
In the meantime Bhandare made all know his real self. All the children were afraid, the teachers were all upset and everybody was desperately crying for help. The headmaster, Jagadanandababu, was earlier a staff of the zamindari of Rabindranath. He was an expert in keeping the armed guards in control. He also accepted defeat from this dare-devil boy and appealed to Gurudev for help. Gurudev called Bhandare and asked him, “Well, Bhandare what’s all these I hear?” Bhandare made no reply. In a piteous voice Gurudev continued, “Of all people it is you who have at last started all these? I am yet to see a boy better than you. And now I have to hang my head in shame before others only for you? Don’t you remember what a good boy you were when you first came here? Have you forgotten you even made gifts and donations then? You gave me once a full half-rupee? So far many boys have come and gone, but none has given me even a single pice. I have kept that half-rupee with great care. Would you like to see it now?”
I joined Santiniketan two years after this. At that time the late Marathi maestro Bhimrao Shastri used to lead the morning baitalik. He was succeeded by Shri Anadi Dastidar. After him it was Bhandare.
Long forty years have passed, yet I can visualize in my mind’s eye the young Bhandare leading all the boys and singing the baitalik –
Edin aji kon ghare go khule dilo dwar
Aji prate surya otha safal holo kar
(Today who has opened his doors
Today for whom this morning sunrise is fruitful).
*Original in Bengali from Choturanga by Syed Mustaba Ali, one of the earliest students of Santiniketan brahmacharyyasram, later a teacher of Viswabharati University. He is one of the front ranking writers in modern Bengali literature.