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A Piece Of History

Once, Benito Mussolini (July 29, 1883 – April 28, 1945) had clicked a picture of noted Indian polymath, philosopher, poet, musician, and author Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941) in Rome. The Italian dictator’s camera caught the side-face of the Indian Nobel laureate (in Literature). The photograph was taken in 1925-26, when Tagore visited the European country twice.
This rare image of Tagore went missing long ago. However, it has recently been found in the Museum of Madhavi Mandiram Lokaseva Trust in Thiruvananthapuram. Dr G Ramachandran, who was a close associate of Tagore, as well as Mahatma Gandhi, had founded the Trust in southern Indian Province of Kerala decades ago.

Tagore's photo clicked by Mussolini.jpg
Tagore’s photo clicked by Mussolini

Tagore had visited Italy for the first time in 1925. In Rome, the visiting Indian philosopher met Dr Carlo Formichi, a Professor of Sanskrit Language at the University of Pisa and also at the University of Rome. Later, he travelled to India in order to meet Tagore. Mussolini reportedly sent numerous books of Italian literature to Tagore through the professor. As per records found in the museum, Professor Giuseppe Tucci accompanied Dr Formichi during his visit to the South Asian nation. Later, Dr Tucci joined Visva-Bharati University – founded by Tagore in Santiniketan on December 13, 1921 – as a Professor of Roman Language.
Tagore visited Italy again next year. During his stay in Rome, the Fascist ruler met his Indian guest, and told him that he had read Italian translations of Tagore’s works! The Indian philosopher showered praises on Mussolini, as he was pleased with the latter’s personality. Tagore failed to realise Mussolini’s diplomatic move. The leader of the National Fascist Party and then Prime Minister (from 1922-43) of Italy wanted to win Tagore’s trust in an attempt to boost his global image. He also clicked a photo of Tagore after their meeting.

Tagore & Mussolini.jpg
Tagore & Mussolini

French novelist Romain Rolland warned Tagore soon after he returned to India. The Frenchman informed the Indian philosopher about Mussolini’s (Fascist) activities in Italy, thus, helping him realise his mistakes. On August 5, 1926, Tagore wrote a letter to Charles Freer Andrews, a Christian missionary and an educationist of India, explaining his political ideas. Later, The Manchester Guardian magazine published the letter in which Tagore wrote that he would never back a ruler who launched attacks on Freedom of Expression. Then, Mussolini, too, strongly criticised the Indian Nobel laureate.
In fact, Dr Formichi had played an important role in misleading Tagore by providing him with wrong information about Mussolini. During their train journey from Genoa to Milan, Tagore asked the professor about the political scenario in contemporary Italy. Dr Formichi told the philosopher that Italy was going through a Political and Economic crisis after the First World War. Mussolini and his party seized the power through a bloodless revolution, as they had the mass support. The professor also said that Mussolini ensured peace and stability with public support.
A hesitant Tagore also wrote a letter to Mussolini in 1930, making his stand clear on contemporary Global Politics. A couple of years later, he created a cartoon of Mussolini!

Mussolini's cartoon by Tagore.jpg
Mussolini’s cartoon by Tagore

How the photograph clicked by Mussolini came to Dr Ramachandran?
Headmaster of St Joseph’s School Kulandi Swami introduced his student Ramachandran to Tagore’s verses. Dr Ramachandran met the great poet and philosopher in 1930, when Tagore visited Thiruvananthapuram. C F Andrews, too, was present on the occasion. During their meeting, Dr Ramachandran told Tagore that he wanted to study at Visva-Bharati University… and, the poet agreed to fulfill his wish. In December, Dr Ramachandran and his brother Raghuviran arrived in Santiniketan. Dr Ramachandran met Mahatma Gandhi at Santiniketan in a rare first and became a follower of the Indian anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist.
According to Managing Trustee of Madhavi Mandiram Lokaseva Trust Sister Maithili, Tagore, himself, gifted his photo, clicked by Mussolini, to C F Andrews, and Dr Ramachandran received that from Andrews!

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