Was Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader and Italian dictator of the 20th century, a photography enthusiast?
A Gandhian institution in a village in Kerala claims that a black-and-white picture of Indian literary icon Rabindranath Tagore in its collection was taken by Mussolini when the poet called on him at Rome in the 1920s.
The picture might throw light on a lesser known side of Mussolini, whose image in history has not been a positive one due to his iron rule of Italy and the country’s alliance with Germany under Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.
The photo was taken when the Indian Nobel laureate visited Mussolini in Rome during his Italian tour in 1926. The reason that prompted the war-loving ruler to snap Tagore, a firm believer in peace and unity of humanity, still remains a mystery.
The picture shows Tagore with closed eyes and a flowing white beard.
One of the two copies of the photo, gifted to Tagore by Mussolini with his signature on it, is still kept as a treasure by the trust-museum, founded by Tagore’s disciple and freedom fighter Dr G Ramachandran at Neyyattinkara near here.
According to Maithili, Managing Director of Madhavi Mandiram Loka Seva Trust, the photo is kept at the museum in the Trust along with a large number of other pictures and a rare collection of pictures and documents of Ramachandran, eminent Gandhian and founder and Vice-Chancellor of Gandhigram Rural University.
"GR (as Ramachandran is known among his followers) got the picture from Deenabandhu C F Andrews, the British priest and supporter of Indian freedom movement." Tagore gave the picture to Andrews, who later gifted it to Ramachandran.
Ramachandran, who died in 1995, had kept the photo in his collection largely as a secret. He, however, used to mention it about to his close friends and relatives, Maithili said.
Influenced by the ideals of Gandhiji and Tagore, Ramachandran had spent his life working for community sanitation, basic education and welfare of the less privileged sections of society.