In the 1950s, Shantiniketan was a magnet for students from across India as a result of the enlightened atmosphere it provided. This is a story I heard from both Dr Prithvindranath Chakravarti and Dr Chittapriya Mukherji, the son of Rabindranath Tagore’s biographer, Sri Prabhat Kumar Mukherji, on separate occasions. Both men spent their formative years in Shantiniketan during a time while Tagore was alive.
Along with Dr Mukherji’s elder brother, Sri Supriya Mukherji, they had formed a friendship with a visiting Gujarati student. Having arrived in Shantiniketan as a strict vegetarian, this student, whom we shall refer to as Sri G, proceeded to assimilate with all aspects of Bengali life. He started eating the occasional omelette, soon graduating to fish and then to meat. In fact, his liking for meat grew to the extent that he soon decided to procure his own ingredients. He made friends with the famous science fiction writer, Sri Jagadananda Ray, who was then the Sarvadhyaksha at the school, quickly earning the right to borrow Sri Ray’s ancient gun by promising him specimens of wild fowl and birds. He often disappeared on hunting trips to the Sal forests that covered large areas around Shantiniketan and Bolpur at the time, coming back with braces of mallard ducks and jungle fowl.
On one occasion, he invited a group of friends, including the two Mukherji brothers and Dr Chakravarti after a particularly successful hunt.
After the wonderful meal, the guests were feeling generous towards the world at large and their host in particular. The servings had been very ample and one of the young men asked Sri G, whether he would be able to go along on the next trip to the jungle. Sri G proudly declared that he was a good hunter, but these had been very easy targets, as they sat drowsily on the ground, wings held aloft, refusing to budge even when he fired into their group. He also remarked that they were rather repulsive to look at. A collective hush fell over the guests. Where had he found these birds, someone asked quietly. On the road to Barddhaman, came the reply. This was enough to make them realise that they had just feasted on vulture! The birds lived in a waste dump where carcasses of large animals such as cattle were disposed of. Sri G had unknowingly fed them vulture meat!