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Tagore and Malaria in Birbhum

Tagore and Malaria in Birbhum

Chittabrata Palit |

It is well known that Tagore was deeply concerned with the prevalence of malaria in the district of Birbhum where his two institutions at Santiniketan and Sriniketan were located. He was anxious to find out ways and means to eradicate malaria.  For this purpose, he set up the malaria eradication society as a health co-operative. Almost all residents,  including the  Santhal inhabitants, enrolled themselves as members. The co-operative  conducted sanitation campaigns in the rural areas, in bushes and ponds. The major work however was to arrange healthcare for the patients and provide quinine to the affected. However local people, especially santhals were so much attached to their traditional medicine that they often refused to take western medicine thinking that the state was trying to colonies their body. Apart from this east and west battle, the exercise involved lot of expenditure at the subscription was not enough to run the programme.

At this stage, Tagore’s friend Elmhurst from America with his bag of gold along with his friend and follower Harry Timbers to strengthen the hands of Tagore with men, money and material. More than that, they were sold to Tagore’s idea of rural reconstruction. The author then goes deep into the traditions of folk and tribal medicine in Birbhum. A son of the soil knowing every nook and corner of Birbhum and having a first-hand knowledge and research in folk and tribal medicine has opened a wide vista of experiments in alternative medicine. Together with it there is an excellent chapter on Tagore’s concern for rural poverty and health. This is not the romantic face of Tagore but like his black sketches of trembling humans, an unusual Tagore emerges in this remarkable account. But in all his activities, the poet received unstinted support from both Elmhurst and Harry Timbers. They illustrated what Tagore wrote on the Religion of Man. After all man is the divine manifestation of god. The two Americans took it by art. All three together fought poverty, malnutrition and malaria as service to god.
The  author has highlighted the main contribution of Harry Timbers in preparing a record of  malaria survey of India. The book was only expected from Suchibrata, in his ripe years of research. He is already a specialist in Santhal studies. He has now successfully taken his plan into the rural matrix of bold and beautiful Birbhum.

  chittabrata palit

Former Professor, Dept of History, Jadavpur University

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