Rabindranath Tagore

A benevolent Zamindar

Mohammad Amjad Hossain | Published: August 03, 2018 20:27:15

A trek to Tagore's days and the spiritual home by Pamelia Khaled as was published in The Financial Express has inspired this writer to write about Patisar in Naogan district of Bangladesh. Shelaidah in Kushtia, Shahjadpur in Pabna and Patisar of Naogan had the footprint of Zamindar Rabindranath Tagore-a Zamindar who had devoted his life to alleviation of poverty from the society. By all accounts Rabindranath Tagore was an exceptional Zamindar who was a reformist. The main reason to send Rabindranath Tagore to look after 'Zamindary' in Birhampore Pargana was to face criticism against 'Zamindary' of his father Debendranath Tagore by Grambarta Prakashika. This weekly newspaper used to be published from Kumarkhali by Kangal Harinath Majumdar. It was critical of the 'Zamindary' system introduced by the father of Rabindranath Tagore.

The formation of Birhampore Pargana in Nadia district was perhaps not very old as no reference to it had been made in the statistical account of Bengal by W.W. Hunter or the Nadia Kahini by Babu Kumar Nath Mullick which, perhaps, are most authentic books on Bengal. During the Mughal period Pargana Birhampore was part of the Raja Bahadur of Krishnagar in Nadia. The 'Zamindary' was established by Bhabananda Majumdar of Krishnanagar.

There was a rebellion of Zamindars in North Bengal. Although Sitaram Roy was succeeded, he was defeated and executed in 1719. On successful suppression of the rebellion of Zamindars of North Bengal, the extensive Zamindary of Rajshahi was presented by Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan to his favourite Raghunandan. This Raghunandan was the founder of Natore Raj family. In fact, Pargana Birhampur was part of 'zamindary' of Natore Raj family and remained as such for quite some time. Dwarakanath Tagore, grandfather of Rabindranath Tagore, purchased the 'Zamindary' of Natore Raj in an auction in 1800. The area of this estate was spread over to Patisar of Rajshahi, now Natore, Shahjadpur of Pabna and Birhampore of Nadia, now Shelaidah of Kushtia. Tagore's zamindary was headquartered at Shahjadpur in Pabna but Rabindranath Tagore had spent most of his time in Shelaidah and partly in Patisar of Naogan. Padma and Gorai rivers occupied the mind of Rabindranath Tagore, apart from Baul culture in and around Shelaidah.

Tagore was a Zamindar who also emerged a reformist aiming to ensure emancipation of the downtrodden people of Bengal. In his letter from Russia, Rabindranath Tagore explicitly and emphatically mentioned about improvement of the condition of peasants through making them self-reliant. He strongly held the view that land did not belong to Zamindars, but to those agriculturists who cultivated lands. In his own way Rabindranath, though not being an agricultural scientist, introduced the cultivation of potatoes under a scientific method. Initially the cultivation of potatoes was undertaken at Shelaidah in cooperation with the poet-dramatist and agriculture expert Dwijendra Lal Roy, but without success. Having been unsuccessful, Rabindranath was not discouraged. His experimental project was carried out by his tenants. This was reflected in the report of 1899 which was recorded in land records of agriculture. The report said: "Experiments with Nanital potatoes were made by Mr. Rabindranath Tagore in the Tagore estate at Shilaidah in the Kushtia sub-division. The crop was not satisfactory due to defective cultivation. One of Tagore's tenants, howerver, working under more favourable circumstances obtained a bumper crop from a portion of the same seed and success of the experiences is said to have induced several neighbouring Rayots to take potato cultivation." Rabindranath had sent his son Rathindranath to America for higher studies in agriculture. When Rathindranath returned having graduated in Agriculture   science, Rabindranath established two experimental agricultural farms-one in Shelaihdah and the other in Patisar in 1910. Modern agricultural implements were imported from America and Rathidranath himself conducted tractors and trained a number of agriculturists to handle tractors. In Patisar, tractors, pump sets and fertilizer were introduced in farming to bring about changes in the method of cultivation. As a result, the production of agricultural products went up considerably. Cultivators increasingly took interest in purchasing tractors. Rabindranath charged a nominal fee of one taka per acre for the payment of the salary of the tractor driver.

Patisar was dominated by money lenders during the period of Rabindranath Tagore. Since he received complaints from his peasants about ruthless operation by money lenders, Rabindranath Tagore collected money from his friends to establish an agriculture bank at Patisar in 1905 to popularise the cooperatives system to drive out moneylenders from Patisar. Credit was granted to the poor agriculturists and others with a view to boosting agricultural products and promoting the cottage industry as well. The agriculture bank began its operation with Rs 90,000 in paid-up capital. The depositors used to receive an amount of interest to the tune of 7.0 per cent while his debtors used to pay at 12 per cent per annum. The basic purpose of establishing Agriculture Bank was to free the poor cultivators from the clutches of money lenders. Rabindranath took so much interest in development of the cooperatives system and welfare of the poor peasants, who were his tenants, that Rabindranath Tagore invested in the bank his entire one-lakh twenty thousand rupees which he received as the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.

It is true the poor people at Patisar succeeded in paying back loans to money-lenders while it is equally true that money lenders had to leave Patisar because of operation of the Agricultural Bank. Majority of agriculturists in Patisar were Muslims. On the other hand, it is disheartening to know that the Agricultural Bank could not operate more than twenty years because of mismanagement and misuse of funds of the bank by the managerial members. Rabindranath Tagore also established a school in the name of his son Rathindranath at Patisar. The architectural design of Kuti Bari was similar to that of Kuti Bari at Shelaidah and Shahjadpur in Pabna. Apart from visiting Kuti Bari in Shelaidah several times this writer has had the opportunity to visit Kuti Bari in Patisar in July of 1967 after covering as a representative of the Central News Organisation of Radio Pakistan the inauguration of Governor House at the Maharaja Dighapathia Palace in Natore by Governor Abdul Monem Khan on July 24 and Kuti Bari at Shahjadpur in 2000 while travelling with the caravan of Kachi-Kanchar Mela to attend celebration of two decades of establishment of Rimi Jimi Kachi-Kanchar Mela at Shahjadpur. 

Possibly Rabindranath Tagore was the only Zamindar who granted audience to peasants to listen to their grievances against managerial members of his estate. It is interesting to note that a ceremony was conducted to introduce Zamindar Rabindranath Tagore following his assuming responsibility by members of his managerial team. Rabindranath Tagore did not accept placing his tenants separately on this occasion. Rabindranath Tagore did not accept division between Zamindar and tenants. Rabindranath Tagore directed his managerial team that there should be no discrimination in his estate between Zamindar and tenants. The reply of the managerial team was that we should follow the tradition. At one state the managerial team threatened Rabindranath Tagore to resign but Rabindranath Tagore did not change his mind and directed them to place a carpet where his tenants and Rabindranath Tagore sat together.

At Patisar, Rabindranath introduced a husking machine to break rice from paddy. Rabindranath was of the opinion Patisar was basically a paddy-growing area. Rabindranath used to examine documents relating to his estate but never signed without examining them. Every morning Rabindranath developed a habit of discussing with his tenants the problems they were confronted with, apart from listening to their stories of sufferings in conducting their life every day. A graphic picture is available in Rajshahi by British Civil Servant Mr. Maley, who gave a graphic picture of how Rabindranath Tagore looked after his estate: "It must not be imagined that a powerful landlord is always oppressive and uncharitable. A striking instance to the contrary is given in the settlement officers' account of the estate of Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet whose name is worldwide. It is clear that to poetical genius he adds practical and beneficial ideas of estate management, which should be an example to the local Zamindars."

Patisar went to Rabindranath Tagore in 1922 following apportionment of the asset of Tagore family while Shelaidah estate went to Surendra Nath Tagore, nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. Accompanied by C.F. Andrews, an Anglican Priest and Principal of Delhi St. Stephen College and a friend of Rabindranath and nephew Surendra Nath, literary scholar and translator, Rabindranath Tagore paid his last visit to Patisar in 1937 where all sections of people gave farewell to Rabindranath Tagore where District Magistrate of Rajshahi Ananda Sankar Roy, a renowned writer of India, was present. However, Rabindranath Tagore paid last visit to Shelaidah in 1923 following apportionment of the asset of Tagore family where a farewell reception was accorded to Rabindranath Tagore by Munshi Nooruddin Ahmed, husband of this writer's paternal aunt. He was Chairman of Shelaidah Union Council. It was a heart-breaking scene where peasants of all sections were seen emotional, indeed. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made an announcement to establish Rabindranath University at Shelaidah, but no effort was made to fulfil his idea. In fact, Rabindranath Tagore was contemplating establishment of Visva Bharati University at Shelaidah.

Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former President of Toastmaster International Club of America, writes from Virginia.

Email: amjad.21@gmail.com

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