Zamindar Rabindranath - 9 by Kumud Biswas SignUp
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Zamindar Rabindranath - 9
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Continued from Zamindar Rabindranath - 8

At the death of the poet’s grandfather in 1846 the Tagores faced the gravest crisis in the history of the family. His father Debendranath, then only 29, as its head with two young brothers and a burgeoning family, must have felt overwhelmed by it. It was a matter of great credit for him that out of the ruins he succeeded in salvaging a considerable part of the zamindari. Honesty and candidness in his dealings with the creditors stood him in good stead. When the remnants of the business left by his father also soon failed and thereafter one by one the untimely deaths of his two younger brothers followed in quick succession he seems to have become very cautious. He was not at all unintelligent. All the lessons in the management both of the businesses and of the zamindaris he received during his apprenticeship under his father were certainly not lost on him. Yet he does not appear to have taken adequate steps to recover the earlier prosperity.

The children of the family were still minors – his eldest son, Dwijendranath, was only 6 years old in 1846. Now his first concern was therefore somehow to tide over the crisis without taking any risks. Moreover the influence of the two conservative vaishnavite ladies - his mother and grandmother – the miraculous transformation of his personality developing an other-worldly outlook, his distaste for wealth and luxury and the way his father made money made him disinclined to be more enterprising in worldly affairs. Besides, the inroads the foreign culture was making into the native society – its language, literature, religion, social mores and way of life - he came to perceive as the biggest challenge. In his adolescence as a student in Rammohan’s academy he had already become acutely aware of this and with his fellow students had organized the Tatwabodhini Sabha for defending the native culture. After he took over the charge of the Brahmo Samaj on Rammohan’s death abroad he dedicated himself whole heartedly to that reformist movement. It was not the zamindari but the brahmo movement that became his top most priority. Under his influence all his sons also came to share his outlook and attitude.

The family was growing in size needing more money for its maintenance. But none appears to have tried to increase the income from the zamindari by its close supervision. On the contrary all of them appear to have indulged in activities which in nature were more social and public than selfish and became permanent liabilities eating away a good part of the family income. The only exception among them, Satyendranath, took the ICS examination and built an independent career. But he did do so not on his own initiative but being persuaded by his friend Manmohan Ghosh.

As a result of all these the management of the zamindaris considerably suffered. From time to time someone from the family remained in charge no doubt, but their supervision was remote. It was the employees who actually ran the zamindaris. The Babu - that is what the zamindar used to be called - generally remained in Calcutta and visited the estates only on occasions – to be specific, on two occasions.

The first was the Punyaha or the auspicious day, usually observed on the Bengali New Year’s Day on the first of Baisakh when the zamindar held a kind of a durbar at the field headquarters. On this occasion irrespective of the fact whether they owed anything or not the tenants came to pay their respect to the zamindarbabu with some payments and there would be arrangements for their entertainment, not at all lavish but modest. In reality it was a special collection day.

The second occasion was that dreadful day at the end of the fiscal year when it was absolutely necessary to ensure that the annual government demand was actually deposited in the treasury. For it was not rare that the zamindar’s Naib or even one of his co-sharers, in collusion with the corrupt employees of the collectorate, saw to it that the demand was not deposited in time and the zamindari put on auction. Visits at other times were more for excursion, hunting, fishing and picnicking with friends and relations. Rabindranath’s first visit to the zamindari during his adolescence was such an excursion when he accompanied his elder brother Jyotirindranath, then in charge of the zamindari, and took part in a tiger hunt. They were more for entertainment than in the interest of management of the zamindari.

This style of management very naturally grew out of the fact that the Tagores were Calcutta based. They did not live on the estates and were therefore absentee landlords. Rural Shilaidaha could never be an attractive place for the town bird Tagores. It took a considerable time to reach there using as many as three modes of transport – the train, the boat and the palanquin. The last named mode may sound very romantic today, but it was the most uncomfortable. The railways had reached the district no doubt but the nearest station was a long way off. The dusty roads were not many and rarely in good repair, during rainy months they degenerated into veritable quagmires. They were often infested by dacoits. Conveniences and creature comforts easily available in the imperial capital of Calcutta were totally absent here. Once you were there you were completely cut off from the vibrant urban society. You had to vegetate and stagnate. The lure of the metropolis was becoming irresistible also to the country people. Those among them who could afford - the landed aristocracy and the wealthy - were leaving their village homes and crowding in Calcutta. Shortly this thin trickle became a large flow when the more adventurous and mobile section of the rural society began to migrate to the cities in search of suitable opportunities.

This proved disastrous for the countryside. Most of its common services were traditionally provided by the rural rich. They excavated ponds and tanks, built roads and entertainment centres, ran schools and charitable dispensaries, patronized village craftsmen and artists. They created many endowments for these purposes. These were viewed as religious duties of the rich and earned them spiritual merits. They were ensured of the enjoyment of their fruits in an afterlife. After the departure of the providers of these community services the villages began to degenerate and became the breeding grounds of malaria, cholera and other epidemics that periodically swept away thousands. Foremost among the migrants were zamindars who also thus became absentee landlords. A few of the ‘Rajbatis’ they built in Calcutta are yet to be demolished and can still be seen. In effect most of the zamindaris came to be run by the employees whose chief functions were collection of rents, deposit of government demand and feeding the lazy landlords, who, away from their estates enjoyed life in the cities indulging in things which in some cases at least were often not very noble. The conditions of the poor tenants who fed them with their flesh were none of their concerns.

Our poet was an exception. Instead of making Calcutta his headquarters and occasionally visiting the zamindaris he went to stay at Shilaidaha, first alone and later with his family. From there he visited Calcutta, Santiniketan, Cuttak and other places whenever it was needed. After he took charge visits by his friends and relations to the zamindaris also increased in number. All of them were not merely for fun, in many ways some of them proved very productive indeed. For example, his famous scientist friend Jagadishchandra Bose was a frequent visitor. The poet’s wife was an excellent cook and the scientist was very fond of a dish this lady cooked with turtle-eggs which were profusely available in those days in the islands and the banks of the river Padma. After a good mid-day meal he used to have a siesta and he insisted that the poet must give him a new short story to read after he woke up from this short siesta. This is how many of Rabindranath’s great short stories came to be written. Another visitor was the poet’s writer friend, Dwijendralal Roy. He was an agricultural scientist and the deputy director of the state agriculture department. During his visits the poet consulted him for the improvement and modernisation of the primitive agricultural practices of his tenants by introducing machineries, manures and new crops.

To put himself firmly in the saddle the young zamindar ignored all inconveniences of rural life and began to acquaint himself thoroughly with the place and its people. He began to tour his charge extensively and intensively in the boat called Padma his grandfather had built for this purpose. Travelling in country boats itself is quite hazardous. It is specially so on a river like Padma. During the greater part of the year, particularly in the rainy season, this section of the river is in high flood. It becomes very wild and its vast expanse and sharp and treacherous currents make it difficult even for expert sailors to sail on it only with poles and paddles without a motor. During storms which are very frequent in this region it is totally impossible to sail. On many occasions our poet faced hazards which could prove fatal. He was a very good swimmer, but he knew quite well that to swim in the tame Ganga near Calcutta was one thing, to swim in the wild Padma was completely different. Yet braving all these he not only traveled by this boat but also lived on it for days together. Eventually the river Padma and the boat Padma both became great loves of his life. They witnessed all his works both as a zamindar as well as a writer during this period of his life and became inextricably associated with them. His love for this river was so deep and abiding that his poem on the river Kopai near Santiniketan, written later in his life, begins with the reminiscences of the river Padma. The crew and the cook too – all of them muslims – were devoted to him not only as servants but also as his close companions.

This is how Rabindranath began his zamindari career. He did many other things which were quite revolutionary both by contemporary as well by today’s standards. Unfortunately we are not prepared to take troubles to know them. This has given ample scope to some people to present a distorted view of him as a landlord. In order to dispel it in our subsequent posts one by one we shall recount his works as a zamindar. 
 
Continued to Zamindar Rabindranath - 10 
 


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10/18/2011
More by :  Kumud Biswas
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