Zamindar Rabindranath - 11 by Kumud Biswas SignUp

Zamindar Rabindranath - 11
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Continued from Zamindar Rabindranath - 10

Debendranath disobeyed his father but none of his own children followed his example. They obeyed him almost blindly. Born and brought up in a large city where he lived the first thirty years of his life and struck deep roots there his youngest son Rabindranath obeyed his order without grumbling and went to a rural place like Shilaidaha to manage the zamindari. This order did not specifically ask him to stay there. Like others who managed the zamindari before him he could as well have done the job from Calcutta through occasional visits to the estates. Then why did he leave the city? In Calcutta his life was not dull or uninteresting, but it was aimless. Did he think that going to Shilaidaha would give him a sense of purpose in life? With all its attractions did the city seem crowded to him? In one of his poems he described it as – ‘Iter pore it majhe manush kit/Naiko bhalobasa naiko sneha’ (It is only bricks piled on bricks and men live within it like worms and insects and there is no love and affection).

My Little Dreams3.jpgDid he write this merely to rhyme his verse or also to express his genuine feelings? The Tagore family itself had grown very big. After his marriage separate rooms with a small kitchen for exclusive use of his young wife had been earmarked, yet the vast sprawling mansions seemed overcrowded. As the poet wrote later in life in the charming poem Asha (already published in boloji in my translation as My Little Dreams) he fondly wished to have a small nest of his own. This was not possible at Jorasanko. Before going to Shilaidaha he had given a trial to this plan when for a few months he stayed with his family at Ghazipur. There he had even bought a small house to make it a poets’ corner which was however soon sold out. He could never forget the neglect he suffered in his childhood in the large aristocratic family. Did he think that his separate family establishment at Shilaidaha would give him ample opportunity to give personal attention to his children and save them from his own childhood experiences? Above all from his very childhood he was a great lover of nature. He loved the countryside more than the city. It was not a mere poetic fancy. To him nearness to nature was nearness to the divine. Though he never severed his connection with his ancestral home at Jorasanko yet the rest of his life either Shilaidaha or Santiniketan virtually became his permanent home. Situated in one of the most fertile floodplains Shilaidaha with its rich natural beauty must have been a great attraction to him.
Rabindranath had begun to look after the zamindari office at Calcutta from the middle of June, 1889. But his actual supervision of the estates began six months later when on 25th November along with his wife and two children he went to Shilaidaha. His nephew Balendranath and a lady attendant to his wife also accompanied him. Kuthibari was yet to be made ready for their residence. They therefore made the Padma boat their temporary home. Almost immediately after their arrival all except the poet fell into a misadventure on 27th November when they lost their way while exploring a sandy island and watching water birds in the river Padma. Some fishermen helped them to find their way.

In a letter to his niece Indira the poet gave a humorous description of this incident but it must have caused a lot of anxiety to him when it happened. But more important is what he wrote while giving a description of the place –

‘On the other bank at Shilaidaha near a sandy island our boat is now anchored. The island is totally bare and it is so vast that its other end is beyond our view. …. Living in Calcutta you forget how beautiful is this earth! Here on the banks of this little stream shaded by trees and plants every day the sun is rising and setting and over the vast endless expanse of this lonely island every night millions of stars are silently appearing – only if you live your life here you can realize how amazing and glorious are these events.’ 

So long he saw nature from a distance for a few fleeting moments and it cast a spell on his mind no doubt but now his encounter with the world of nature was close and complete and it absorbed his entire being. It enriched and fertilized his poetic mind as the monsoons and the flooding streams of the Padma enriched and fertilized the floodplains. And the yields of his highly imaginative mind were as rich as, if not more than, the golden harvests of the place. It let loose the floodgates of his vast creative energies and we may get a feel of the process if we read the writings of this most prolific period of his literary life. He wrote hundreds of poems and a large number of collections– Manasi, Sonar Tari, Chaitali, Chitra, Kanika, Kalpana, Kshanika, Katha O Kahini, Naivedya, Kheya - followed one after another in quick succession. [Interested readers may read many of the masterpieces from these collections already published in boloji in my translations listed here.]

They were not all. During this period Rabindranath wrote many novels, plays, essays and composed hundreds of songs. Most unique are of course the large number of letters he wrote to his beloved niece Indira and many short stories which have few parallels in world literature. These letters are as good as poems and defy translation. They have been published in excerpts as Chhinnapatravali. Together with the short stories they give us a glimpse of the way he gradually became acquainted not only with the world of nature but also with the world of men and ultimately fell in love with both. In the letter mentioned above he wrote to his niece how hurriedly he had to finish it because of the abrupt arrival of a moulavi with some tenants.
It was not so easy for the tenants to meet the zamindar whenever they liked. Scion of an aristocratic family the poet went out of his way to meet the common people by demolishing the traditional system followed by the landlords. They were always surrounded by armed guards. To meet them the tenants must have some good excuse. But Rabindranath was to change all that. During this first stay there was a small beginning. The poet’s wife also began it in her own modest way. While the poet remained busy with his zamindari work the nephew arranged to entertain his aunt in a novel manner. Folk singers of the locality were called and they sang popular folk songs. The lady made liberal payments; she often presented them items from her own wardrobe! In time she would become ‘the mother’ to the poor employees of the zamindari. Balendranath made a collection of these songs and Rabindranath would continue this work and would make many of these rustic singers and composers famous. One of them was a postman called Gagan Harkara. The famous Tagore song– ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’, now the national anthem of Bangladesh, was set by the poet to the tune of Gagan’s most popular song – ‘Amar moner manush je re ami kothay pabo tare.’

The poet fell deeply in love with the place and its simple people and how he became their ‘moner manush’ we shall tell in our next blog. 

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More by :  Kumud Biswas
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Comments on this Blog

Comment Debraj Bhattacharya, Thanks a lot for your comments. I could not complete the subject because I fell seriously ill. In 2013 I had a brain operation. As an old man I have been suffering from various ailments. Enough material is at my disposal but unfortunately I am unable to work at present. My contact address is You are welcome to discuss the problem at length. I wanted to present Tagore as a great man and not only as a great poet.

09/03/2015 05:19 AM

Comment Dear Mr Biswas, I enjoyed reading your article. However it stops somewhat abruptly and does not give an account of what Rabindranath did as a Zamindar. I am not sure whether that is at all available. Debraj Bhattacharya Institute of Social Sciences Kolkata

Debraj Bhattacharya
08/31/2015 05:18 AM

Comment Dear Dipankar, My experience is not very different, but the fact remains that boloji is an exception and its editor has maintained its reputation of publishing serious matters. But there may be very few readers. I don't generally bother. I write to please myself. Recently a new contributor named Mr. H.N.Bali has been posting really good write-ups. I hope you will enjoy them. I like them very much. Please try to post your contributions more often.

10/13/2012 04:09 AM

Comment Kumud-babu, I always enjoy reading your Tagore pieces. They are most informative. Of course, I miss out some of them too, partly because my visits to the site have turned somewhat infrequent. It's best that I do not discuss why I shy away from the site more than I used to in the past. I write less of course, but whatever I do write I post them here. Normally, few people receive comments on the site, but that is the case with many other sites too. You cannot blame people for not taking the time to write a comment unless you are a close friend or truly talented. To avoid this problem, some sites have introduced a "like" button. Not that it means much. One can always click on the button without really pondering over what you read. The latest piece I submitted here took me around a year and a half of thinking. I did not even sit down to work on it till I was mentally and spiritually prepared. It was displayed on the home page for a day and vanished afterwards. On the other hand, I did receive a very short comment on it from my son and I know that he did mean what he said. As opposed to this, for the same composition, two persons began to follow me on my own website. They did not comment, but they did press the "like" button. They appeared to be seriously into poetry and that made their gesture look genuine. I hope that you will ultimately collect your tagoreblog and publish a book. That will attract some readership. I have no idea where I am headed.

Dipankar Dasgupta
10/13/2012 03:07 AM

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