On his first visit to the zamindari as its manager Rabindranath stayed with his family at Shilaidaha for about a month. It was more like an excursion which he greatly enjoyed. But from this short visit he got a glimpse of the beauties of the place and the simplicity of the villagers. His love for Shilaidaha and the river Padma was yet to become intimate and deep. Moreover, the family accommodation was yet to be made habitable and he had to live mostly on boats. He therefore went back to Calcutta. But before his next visit he took a break for three months and accompanied his ICS brother who, along with his friend and colleague Lokendranath Palit, visited Britain on furlough. On his return he went back to Shilaidaha alone; his family joined him later because the children were very small at the time. He made zamindari headquarters Shilaidaha his home and the centre of his activities roughly for the next ten years.
The poet never kept a diary. But throughout his life he wrote innumerable letters. Those he wrote during his stay at Shilaidaha to his favourite niece Indira were subsequently published in extracts as Chhinnapatravali. It was later published in English translation also as Glimpses of Bengal. They are as good as poetry full of poetic description of the physical beauty of the place and its joyful enjoyment by the poet. Here and there they also mention how simple, poor and helpless his tenants were which made him feel not pity but a deep sympathy, respect and love for them. Otherwise they do not contain any account of his zamindari activities. His Jivansmriti (Reminiscences) is also not of any help because it ends before his coming to Shilaidaha. To know how he discharged his managerial functions we have to seek information chiefly from his eldest son Rathindranath’s On the Edges of Time and Pitrismriti and the letters his father wrote him. Other sources are the poet’s biographies by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay and Prasanta Kumar Pal and letters written to some of his functionaries and acquaintances. Another very important source is Sachindranath Adhikary’s Shilaidaha O Rabindranath. Recently a book has been published on Kangal Harinath which also contains some information.
Like many Bengal zamindars the Tagores were absentee landlords and managed their estates through their employees. To make their tasks easier some zamindars sublet chunks of their estates which the Tagores never did. They depended on their employees. We do not know how many employees worked in the field offices of the Tagore zaminmdari.. But they do not appear to have been too many. Below the zamindar there was the Naib or head official who was responsible for the official and field works of all the mahals. To assist him there were officials like the Khajanchi or treasurer/cashier, Seristadar or today’s Burrababu, Muhuriar or writer/clerk, Amins or surveyors, Tehsildars or rent collectors, security staff like Paiks and Barkandajes whose responsibility also included the security of the entire zamindari property. It was not uncommon that a neighboring zamindar encroached on your property, particularly in riverine areas where rivers change their courses almost continually While the headquarter office had the full complement of such establishment other smaller subordinate offices at Patisar and Sajadpur must have had fewer staff. The various kinds of works these functionaries had to perform may be guessed from their nomenclature. To supervise them meant that the zamindar himself should be well-versed in them.
The kachhari or the zamindari office was located on the ground floor of the Kuthibari.at Shilaidaha. Some of the employees were local who were daily commuters while others who came from distant places lived in a mess they ran in a nearby building provided by the zamindar free of rent. After the poet’s wife came to Shilaidaha she started a vegetable garden and the employees’ mess began to enjoy a free share of its produce. The office guard was not a rice eating Bengali but a Punjabi whose main diet was hand made rotis. The ration of atta which he received from the Bengali office babu was not enough for him. In desperation he appealed not to the zamindar but direct to the poet’s wife and his prayer was instantly granted. There was a Muslim employee – Momin Mia was his name – engaged in a menial job and commuted from a nearby village who once absented himself from his duties without prior notice. Below in our translatio is his story as told by the zamindar himself in the sonnet Karma nincluded in the collection Chaitali, -
In the morning I don’t find my servant.
The door stands open
The water for my bath hasn’t been drawn
Last night the idiot was absent.
Where are my washed clothes
Where is my breakfast?
Everything is getting late
I am waiting extremely annoyed
When he comes back
I shall teach him a lesson I thought.
When it was already too late
He came and stood before me
Paid his obeisance with folded hands.
Greatly enraged I told him, ‘Be off,
I don’t want to see you any more.’
Hearing this he stood stupefied
And blankly looked at my face
For a few moments he had no words
Then he told me in a trembling voice,
‘Last night my little daughter died.’
Saying this with his duster he promptly left
And began dusting everything as usual
As he always does.
He remembered this incident again and again later in life and in an essay commented that Momin's real status as a man, where as father he was equal in status to the poet, was hidden under his status as an ordinary servant. One was a Punjabi and the other was a Bengali Musalman; but among the employees the number of Bengali Hindus was preponderant. We shall talk about them in our next blog. In passing let us mention that the zamindar’s father-in-law and brother-in-law were also employed by the estate. Did they enjoy any special favour from the zamindar? So far nowhere have we come across any such instance. On the contrary the zamindar himself used to occasionally enjoy the favours from his mother-in-law at Patisar where his father-in-law was stationed. The poet specially loved the sumptuous meals prepared by this lady.