Continued from Zamindar Rabindranath - 6
We do not know of any other Bengal zamindar of the time who invested his capital gained from the landed properties in risky ventures like Dwarakanath. He was a class by himself. And in a sense his story is tragic, not only for his family but also for the Bengali race as a whole. He failed to find a successor both in the family as well as among the fellow members of his race. In assessing him we forget that he was more an entrepreneur and a businessman than a zamindar.
One is always alert, active and eager to take risks earning each penny by the sweat of his brow, with a burning passion for achievement of something more ambitious and big. The other is without any initiative and ambition, averse to any kind of physical exertions, living a lazy easeful life on an unearned income. And money and the laws of economics and commerce have a morality of their own. Often, if not always, they are at variance with our common moral standards.
Dwarakanath’s family does not appear to have appreciated this. Socially his alien way of life was also not to their taste. Debendranath’s parting of the ways from that of his father seems to have been because of these.
|At the time of the achievement of Independence industrially Bengal was the most advanced. Today it is near to, if not at, the bottom! Successive governments have singularly failed to generate sufficient private industrial initiative and produce captains of trade and industries.
After the Charter Acts of 1813 and 1833 opportunities were open to all, not excluding the Indians. Foreign rule did not debar them from availing of these opportunities. Dwarakanath was the earliest of the Indians who succeeded in availing them. But his success was short lived. There was none to follow the lead he gave.
Another Indian business house for example, the house of the Tatas, appeared on the Indian industrial scene in 1868 almost half a century after Dwarakanath had begun his business ventures. Today it has grown into a multinational giant of immense worth while the house of Dwarakanath lost virtually all of its material possessions by the time of the death of his famous grandson Rabindranath. [Few bother to know in what penury the poet lived the last days of his simple life at Santiniketan.]
During the British rule Bengal became the main hub of industrial activities in India. But here the role of the Bengalis was minimal. At the time of the achievement of Independence industrially Bengal was the most advanced. Today it is near to, if not at, the bottom! Successive governments have singularly failed to generate sufficient private industrial initiative and produce captains of trade and industries. On the contrary there has been a phenomenal proliferation of labour union leaders among the Bengalis whose only business seems to choke all industrial growth by their paralysing innovative militant actions like gheraos and wildcat hartals and bandhs.
Dwarakanath was the first Bengali millionaire. Today India has been producing many millionaires, but form Bengal there is few. The Bengalis do not seem to understand that poverty is a matter of shame, not of pride. Worst of all the communists who have ruled the state for more than three decades now seem to thrive only on the miseries of the people. Their achievement in the industrial sector, like in many other spheres, is not nil but negative.
Permanent Settlement also gave the rural economy of Bengal a completely different shape from what it was before the coming of the British. It was diverse. Agriculture was not its only economic activity. Villages had their industries not in large factories but in their cottages and homes. During a part of the year they gave the villagers employment in non-agricultural activities and an additional income. The craftsmen were organized in various castes like the guilds in medieval Europe and through the practice of the same trade through generations they acquired great skills.
The famous muslin of Bengal is only one example. Their products sold not only in the local markets but also in foreign marts. Its prosperity attracted the European traders as carrions attract vultures. The main motive of their explorers was to find a way to the source of these products. Columbus undertook his voyages actually to find the East Indies. His discovery of the West Indies instead was an accident. It took about a century for the British to kill the industries and the skill and the enterprising spirit of rural Bengal which increasingly became dependent only on agriculture. Vagaries of the monsoons and an oppressive and exploitative land system emasculated the once vigorous population till its poverty became legendary. Deprived of their power and will to mould their own destiny the villagers became resigned to an uncertain fate. None made any attempts for their economic recovery.
It is not a far-fetched argument to say that what Dwarakanath did, whether he intended it or not, were the first steps to that recovery. Indigo plantation earned a bad name because of the inhuman exploitative mode of operations adopted by the planters and factors. Instead of persuading the peasantry with incentives by sharing the enormous profits they resorted to force and cheating. Otherwise it gave a chance for the village economy to diversify. Both Rammohan and Dwarakanath welcomed its introduction. Could it be like jute which soon gave birth to the vast jute industry of Bengal? As a cash crop the cultivation of jute became a great boon to the villagers. Tea, which became another major industry of Bengal, was first imported from Assam to Bengal by Dwarakanath. He was again the first to set up sugar factories in rural areas. He was a zamindar of a different kind. He married agriculture and industry in a manner that could result in the economic recovery and prosperity of the Bengal countryside.
Dwarakanath’s eldest son Debendranath did not follow his father’s example. Nor did he follow the examples of other zamindars either. He made a conscious choice and his life took a different course exclusively along a spiritual, intellectual and cultural channel. In the worldly sense a man apparently worthless and a failure he set the pattern of his life as an ideal for all the members of his family to follow. And what that family achieved at the cost of their material possessions to the last farthing no amount of money can buy. In the process the contributions it made not only to its native land but also to humanity at large have made it unique. The subject deserves an exclusive treatment. For the present we have to see how he fared as a zamindar.
At the time of his father’s death Debendranath was 29 and his two younger brothers Girindranath (1820-1854) and Nagendranath (1829-1858) were 26 and 17 respectively. He had accepted the entire burden of the liabilities as a moral obligation which as one of the shareholders he could have legally refused to do. His action cannot be said to have been at all business-like. Fortunately his father had kept aside a part of the zamindaris in a Trust, otherwise the brothers, accustomed to a life of affluence, would have become paupers. All of them were already married and the size of the family had increased. As its head Debendranath’s first and foremost concern at this time was therefore to tide over the crisis. To clear all dues he first sold out the zamindaris which did not constitute the Trust. He also enforced extreme economy in his household expenditures and gave up many luxuries. After the failure of their banking business he made a feeble attempt to revive the Carr-Tagore & Company. It also failed. According to Kshitindranath this was largely due to the unbusiness-like action of Debendranath and Girindranath.
His youngest brother had very little sense of responsibility. He was a kind of a playboy and to pay for his prodigality once Debendranath had to sell the entire collection of his books. He depended heavily on his other brother Girindranath whose business sense was sharp. It was his able husbandry that helped the family gradually but surely to steer through this adversity. But as ill luck would have it this brother died prematurely at the age of 34 in 1854, just 6 years after his father’s death. Two years later the youngest brother also died leaving a childless widow. Her attempt to adopt one of Girindranath’s sons was foiled by Debendranath through a long drawn court case.
Many critics consider this as a great blemish in the character of Debendranath. But it must be remembered that his motive was to ensure more egalitarian inheritance of the properties by preventing one of the heirs getting a bigger share. Girindranath’s widow does not appear to have taken it very kindly. Shortly she set up a separate house with her children in the adjoining building when Debendranath wanted to stop idol worship in the family. But this never broke the family bonds. All along the children of Debendranath remained more close and dear to Girindranath’s wife than to their own mother.
Dwarakanath was famous for his public charities. According to a report published in a contemporary magazine of the Christian Missionaries there was no public cause which did not benefit from his liberality. His son continued this family tradition. The financial burden on account of these further increased considerably when Debendranath took charge of Rammohan’s Brahmosamaj. His obsessions were the reform of the native religion and the promotion of native culture. In these he was never niggardly. His sons and nephews were still minors. Though he did not quite like it yet he had to look after the zamindaris for some time. But his visits to the estates appear to have been infrequent and their purpose was mainly the spread of the brahmo movement than supervision of the zamindaris. They were run chiefly by the employees. We have seen that the others to whom he delegated this work from time to time did their duties more or less in the same fashion. When our poet’s turn came he did it very differently.
Continued to Zamindar Rabindranath - 8
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