ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

A Poet and a Landlord

The Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Rabindranath Tagore in 1913 included a prize money of £8,000. It is commonly assumed that Tagore spent this entire sum on the asrama school in Santiniketan, and later for setting up his dream project – the Visva-Bharati University. The truth, however, is quite different. This note attempts to revisit the “will” of the poet, arguing that his decision regarding the investment of the substantial sum reveals a complex story in which the need of the peasants of his zamindari and that of the community in Visva-Bharati were held in a delicate ethical balance.

I am grateful to Amiya Kumar Bagchi for explaining the fine points of rural credit and rural banks to me. I take this opportunity to thank the following: The New India Foundation which awarded me a fellowship to pursue my research on the history of Visva-Bharati; Tapati Mukherjee, Director, Rabindra-Bhavana for kindly giving me permission to access the digitised archives; the staff of Rabindra-Bhavana Archives, Santiniketan, who have been unstinting in their assistance; and, Achyut Chetan for his valuable comments on the first draft.

On 20 September 1944, Rabindranath Tagores Nobel Prize money and its investment were discussed in a meeting of the Samsad (governing body) of Visva-Bharati. The discussion was sparked off by a letter written six years earlier by the institutions karma-sachiva (general secretary) Rathindranath Tagore. In this letter, dated 30 January 1938, Rathindranath had apprised the members of the Samsad about the loss of a substantial sum of money, Rs 1,33,571-4-6 (Rupee-Anna-Paise) huge by any estimate of that time.

Interestingly, the loss was not in the finances of Visva-Bharati, but was in the accounts of the Patisar Krishi Bank, a rural bank located in Kaligram, which was part of the Tagore zamindari in Bengal. The bank had failed to pay the interest which had accumulated to Rs 59,657-0-4, thus raising liability as on 12 February 1938 to Rs 1,93,228-4-10. The money had been advanced as credit to the peasants in the estate of Kaligram, but they could not pay this back. This turned the investments into a bad debt (Samsad Reports 1944: 168).

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


To gain instant access to this article (download).

INR 59

(Readers in India)

$ 6

(Readers outside India)

Support Us

Your Support will ensure EPW’s financial viability and sustainability.

The EPW produces independent and public-spirited scholarship and analyses of contemporary affairs every week. EPW is one of the few publications that keep alive the spirit of intellectual inquiry in the Indian media.

Often described as a publication with a “social conscience,” EPW has never shied away from taking strong editorial positions. Our publication is free from political pressure, or commercial interests. Our editorial independence is our pride.

We rely on your support to continue the endeavour of highlighting the challenges faced by the disadvantaged, writings from the margins, and scholarship on the most pertinent issues that concern contemporary Indian society.

Every contribution is valuable for our future.