Saturday, 21 September 2013


Michael Madhusudan Dutta

Michael Madhusudan Dutt or Michael Madhusudan Dutta was a popular 19th century Bengali poet and dramatist. He was born in Sagordari, on the bank of Kopotaksho River, a village in Jessore District, East Bengal (now in Bangladesh). His father was Rajnarayan Dutt, an eminent lawyer, and his mother was Janaki Devi. He was a pioneer in Bengali drama. His famous work Meghnad Bodh Kavya, is a tragic epic. It consists of nine cantos and is quite exceptional in Bengali literature in terms of style and content.

From an early age, Madhusudan desired to be an Englishman in form and manner. Born to a Hindu landed gentry family, he converted to Chiristianity to the ire of his family and adopted the first name Michael. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets in Bengali literature and a father of Bengali sonnet. He pioneered what came to be called Amitrakshar Chhanda (blank verse).

His childhood education started in a village named Shekpura, at an old mosque, where he went to learn Persian. He was an exceptionally talented student. Ever since his childhood young Madhusudan was recognized by his teachers and professors as being a precocious child with a gift of literary expression. He was very imaginative from his boyhood. Early exposure to English education and European literature at home and in Kolkata made him desire to emulate the proverbially stiff upper-lip Englishman in taste, manners and intellect. One of the early impressions was that of his teacher, Capt. D. L. Richardson  at Hindu college. His adolescence coupled with the spirit of intellectual enquiry convinced him that he was born on the wrong side of the planet, and that conservative Hindu society in early nineteenth century Bengal (and by extension Indian society) had not yet developed the spirit of rationalistic enquiry and appreciation of greater intellectual sophistry to appreciate his myriad talents. He espoused the view that free thinking and post Enlightenment West would be more receptive to his intellectual acumen and creative genius.  
Madhusudan embraced Christianity at Mission Church in spite of objections of his parents and relatives on February 9, 1843. Dutt was particularly inspired by both the life and work of romantic poet Lord Byron. The life of Dutt closely parallels the life of Lord Byron in many respects. Like Byron, Dutt was spirited bohemian, romantic, albeit being born on the other side of the world, and as a recipient subject of the British imperialist enterprise. However, the lives of the two can be summed up in one word : Audacity. Madhusudan was a gifted linguist and polyglot. Besides Indian languages like Bengali, Sanskrit and Tamil, he was well versed in classical languages like Greek and Latin. He also had a full understanding of modern European languages like Italian and French and could read and write the last two with perfect grace and ease.

Sarmishta (spelt as Sermista in English) was Madhusudan’s first attempt at blank verse in Bengali literature. It is a type of verse used in poems. In this type of verse every line of the poem should have exactly 14 letters. Kaliprasana Singha organized a felicitation ceremony for Madhusudan to mark the introduction of blank verse in Bengali poetry, Observed :

“ As long as the Bengali race and Bengali literature would exist, the sweet lyre of Madhusudan would never cease playing.”

In his “The Autobiography of an unknown Indian”, Nirad C. Chaudhuri has remarked that during his childhood days in Kishoregange, a common standard for testing the level of erudition in the Bengali language during family gatherings (like for example testing the vocabulary stock of a would be bridegroom as a way of teasing him) was the ability to pronounce and recite the poetry of Dutt, without the trace of an accent.

In a trip to Varsailles, France during 1860, Madhusudan had to suffer the ignomity of penury and destitution. His friends back home, who had inspired him to cross the ocean in search of recognition, started ignoring him altogether. Perhaps his choice of a lavish lifestyle, coupled with a big ego that was being hostile to native tradition, was partly to blame for his financial ruin. Except for a very few well-wishers he had to remain satisfied with many fair-weather friends. He was head over heels in debt. As he was not in a position to clear off his debts, he was very often threatened by imprisonment. Dutt was able to return home only due to the munificent generosity of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. For this, Dutt regarded Vidyasagar as Dayar Sagar ( the ocean of kindness) for as long as he lived. Madhusudan cut off all connections with his parents, relatives and at times even with his closest friends, who more often than not were wont to regard him as an iconoclast and an outcast.

“If there be any one among us anxious to leave a name behind him, and not pass away into oblivion like a brute, let him devote himself to his mother-tongue. That is his legitimate sphere, his proper element.”  

One of the reasons for his decision to leave the religion of his family was his refusal to enter into an arranged marriage that his father had decided for him. He had no respect for that tradition and wanted to break free from the confines of caste based endogenous marriage. His knowledge of the European tradition convinced him of the superiority of marriages made by mutual consent.

Madusudan married twice. When he was in Madras, he married Rebecca Mactavys. Through Rebecca, he had four children. Michael returned from Madras to Calcutta in February 1856, after his father’s death. Michael later married Henrietta Sophia White. His second marriage lasted till the end of his life. From his second marriage, he had one son Napoleon and one daughter Sharmistha.

The tennis player Leander Paes  is the son of his great granddaughter.

Madhusudan died at Calcutta General Hospital on 27th June,1873. After death he was not paid a proper tribute for fifteen years. The belated tribute took the form of a shabby makeshift tomb. Madusudan’s life was a mixture of joy and sorrow. Although  it could be argued that the loss of self-control was largely responsible for his pitiable fate, his over-flowing poetic originality for joy was to become forever immortalized in his oeuvre. His epitaph , a verse of his own, reads :

“ Stop a while, traveler !
Should mother Bengal claim thee for her son.
As a child takes repose on his mother’s elysian lap,
Even so here in the long home,
On the bosom of the earth,
Enjoys the sweet eternal sleep
Poet Madhusudan of the Duttas.”

In the words of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the father of modern Bengali prose, the poet of Meghnad Badh Kabya thus :

“…to Homer and Milton as well as to Valmiki, he is largely indebted, and his poem is on the whole the most valuable work in modern Bengali literature.”

In word of Tagore :

“ The epic Meghnad-Badh is really a rare treasure in Bengali literature. Through his writings, the richness of Bengali literature has proclaimed to the wide world.”

Vidyasagar’s lofty praise runs :

“Meghnad-Badh is a supreme poem.”

Rabindranath Tagore would later declare:

“It was a momentous day for Bengali literature to proclaim the message of the universal muse and not exclusively its own parochial note. The genus of Bengal secured a place in the wide world over passing the length and breadth of Bengal. And Bengali poetry reached the highest status.”


John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801-1851), previously John Elliot Drinkwater, a Barrister and a law member of the Governor-General’s Council, was an Anglo-Indian lawyer and pioneer in promoting women’s education in 19th-century India. When his father added ‘Bethune’ to his name, he did likewise. In 1849, Bethune founded an institution for women’s education in Calcutta, then the Capital of British India. The institute later bore his name and became famous as Bethune College.

He was born in Ealing, son of Col. John Drinkwater Bethune of Salford, who had earned fame as the author of “History of the Siege of Gibraltar”.  A brilliant student, young John was educated at Westminster school, graduated as a wrangler from Trinity college, University of Cambridge. He was proficient in Greek, Latin, German, French and Italian and also earned fame as a poet. In 1848. he was sent to India as Law member of the Governor General’s Council. This school in Cornwallis Square was established by the late J.E.D. Bethune, for the education of the daughters of Native Gentlemen, and was the first of its kind in Kolkata.

The foundation stone of the handsome buildings was laid with great state in November 1850 by Sir John Litter, then Deputy Governor of  Bengal. The Buildings are spacious and admirably adapted for the purpose for which they are designed, and there is a fine residence for the Head Mistress. Besides his ordinary official duties he undertook the presidency of the Council of Education and took a keen interest in educational questions generally. The earliest school for Indian girls was opened at Gouribari in North Calcutta in 1819 by the Calcutta Female Juvenile Society, organized by Calcutta Baptist Mission Society. Ever since the School Society was established in 1818 by David Hare in Kolkata, the question of whether girls should be provided the same education as boys had been debated. Radhakanta Deb, one of the secretaries of the Society and a leader of the conservative section of Hindu society, had opined in favour of girl’s education and wanted girls to go to school along with boys. However, his views were not shared by others in Society. In 1821, British and Foreign School Society sent Mary Ann Cook to India to initiate women’s education. 

When the differences of opinion amongst the members of the school society prevented Miss cook for taking up her task, she started working with the Church Missionary Society. With her efforts at least 277 girls had the opportunity of education in ten schools. Subsequently, at the initiative of  Lady  Amherst, wife of Governor General Lord Amherst, Bengal Ladies Society was set up. An official report in 1838 mentions 19 girls schools with around 450 students in different parts of Bengal.

Most of the schools were set up by Christian women and were part of the efforts for propagating Christianity. The Bengali elite were still not ready to send their girls to school. The Young Bengal group had been persistent in their advocacy of the cause of Indian women, Peary Chand Sarkar, a former student of Hindu college, then posted as headmaster of Barasat Government School took a leading part in setting up a free school for girls in 1847 in Barasat ( later the school was named Kalikrishna Girls High School). Most possibly, Bethune took a cue from this school, when he went there  for inspection as President of Council of Education. With the support of such people as Dakshinarajan Mukherjee, Ramgopal Ghosh, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and Modanmohan Tarkalankar, Bethune set up the secular Native Female School in 1849 and donated all his immovable property to the school. It was the first such effort in Kolkata and a major impact on society. The government took it over in 1856 and renamed it Bethune School in 1862-63. Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Dwarkanath  Vidyabhusan and other liberals supported the school for twenty years but the institution did not receive wide public support.

Bethune was closely associated with the Calcutta public library and translation activities into Bengali. He published a treatise on women’s education by Pandit Gour Mohan Vidyalankar and distributed it at his own cost. In 1849, soon after his joining as Law Member of the Governor General’s Council, Bethune prepared a draft to bring the British-born subjects of the crown under the jurisdiction of the courts and laws of the British East India Company. A powerful agitation by the Europeans scuttled the move. In the same year, when Michael Madhusudan Dutt published his English Book of Poems, Captive Lady, Bethune said that it was a folly for foreigners to attempt establishment as English poets, but if such talent was dedicated to the local languages, the country could greatly benefit.


Charles Freer Andrews was an English priest, educator and Indian freedom fighter who is best known as an associate of Mahatma Gandhi.  Andrews greatly admired the philosophy of the young Mohandas Gandhi and was instrumental in convincing him to return to India from South Africa, where Gandhi was a leading light in the Indian civil rights struggle.  He was affectionately known as Christ’s Faithful Apostle, based on the initials of his name,”C. F. A.”. And also, for his contributions to the Indian Independence Movement the Mahatma and the students at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi named him “Deenabandhu” or ‘friend of the poor’.  He was widely known as Gandhi’s closest friend and was perhaps the only major figure to address Gandhi by his first name, Mohan. 

Andrews was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne on February12, 1871. A brilliant student of King Edward VI School stood first in classical III at the age of fifteen. He could quote from memory long passages of Greek and Latin verses. Andrews was selected for a classical Scholarship at Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1883. In 1889  he again came to Cambridge to teach Theology. On March 20, 1904, Andrews came to India as a Christian Missionary and joined the staff of St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. Deenabandhu Andrews met Rabindranath Tagore in England in 1912 at the house of William Rothenstein. The beauty of Tagore’s poetry moved him and opened up new vistas before his mind. His meeting with Rabindranath Tagore further strengthened his kinship with India and he come to look upon Tagore as his Gurudeva. 

The conditions of Indians in South Africa who were deprived of social rights on the grounds of racial discrimination agrieved Andrews deeply. He was shocked to hear about the indentured labour system. When he went to Durban in January 1914 with Gopal Krishna Gokhale, he met Mahatma Gandhi who was fighting for the rights of Indians. His sympathy for the Indians in Fuji was intensified when he read the book “The Fuji of today”. When Gokhale died, Andrews took up his unfinished work of redressing the distress of the Indians in Fuji. He worked very hard to bring and end to the heartless system of indenture, and this was finally accomplished on January 1, 1920. He was in South Africa and Kenya several times, upholding the Indian honour and self-respect against insults and racial discrimination. He was with Gandhiji on several occasions, and always there in Gandhiji’s times of special need-in sickness, and during the great fasts of self-purification, as at the Round Table Conference in London. His temporary home in India was Santiniketan. He along with W. W. Pearson worked in Santiniketan to share the burdens of Rabindranath Tagore. He loved Santiniketan as it was to him abode of boundless peace. Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudev Tagore were the closest associates of Andrews. He was ‘Charlie’ to both of them. He supported Gandhiji’s campaign of non-violence. He loved and revered Gandhiji as he believed that deliverance of the suffering people of India would come through him, he pleaded strongly for India’s independence. The Post and Telegraph department   paid homage to this great friend of India by issuing commemorative stamp on the occasion of his birth centenary.  Andrews wrote his own story “what I owe to Christ” in 1932 and several others like “Christ & Labour”, “Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas” and “Documents relating to the Indian Question” etc.

Charlie Andrews died on April 5, 1940 during a visit to Kolkata and is buried here. He is widely commemorated and respected in India, and was a major character portrayed by British actor Ian Charleson in the 1982 film “Gandhi” by Richard Attenborough.


David Drummond was a native of Fifeshire, Scotland, born in 1785, eleven years before the death of Robert Burns. Drummond was inspired by the ploughman poet, which filled all Scotland. A few of his songs, in the homely Doric of the native land, became popular. In 1813 Drummond left Scotland forever, and landed in India. He lived with a friend (Mr. Christie) at Berhampore for a short time, and was then appointed as an assistant on Rs.125 a month, with board and lodging, in the proprietary school of Messer’s. Wallace and Measures. A few years after he became sole proprietor the Dhurmotolla Academy under him speedily attained the highest position amongst the educational establishments of Kolkata, and aided high class English education among the European Children, as well as to Eurasians and natives. The impetus given by Drummond to education in Kolkata awoke a spirit of competition; the means of education multiplied, and a healthy rivalry between schools of various sorts produced the happiest results.

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was given formal education at this school of David Drummond, during his childhood (from eight to fourteen years of his age). Drummond was a good example of the best type of the old scotch Dominic, a scholar and a gentleman, equally versed and well read in the classics, mathematics and metaphysics of his day. His culture and power of independent thinking impressed young Derozio. Drummond believed that opinions should be formed on the basis of Science, logic and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or any other dogma. The years Derozio spent at Drummond’s Academy were enough to school him in the classics and gave him an understanding of Western traditions.


In the year 1829, shortly after the publication of his Objections to phrenology, the intense application of stress coupled with improprieties in diet, completely broke down the health of Drummond.  Drummond sought to regain health by a residence in the Straits of Malacca, and left the care of his flourishing school to a Mr. Wilson. When he returned in 1830, with health little improved, the Academy had lost ground, and he was unable to carry on the heavy duties which the labour of a large school implied. Soon afterwards, with the money derived from the sale of the goodwill and furniture of his school, he retired to the General Hospital, where he remained for years an invalid. He could not teach, but he could write, and he thought he saw an opening for a weekly paper. Under the auspices of Drummond as proprietor, editor, reporter, the Weekly Examiner, “a journal of politics, news and literature” had an existence of nearly two years (1839-41). To this weekly newspaper both Dr. John Grant and Dr. D. L. Richardson frequently contributed, to help their old friend in his new venture; but the burden of the whole laid heavily on Drummond. By the middle of 1841, Drummond was again prostrate with spine disease. Unable to sit up to write or even to write in bed, his editorials were dictated in spasmodic gasps between the intervals of weakness and bodily agony. At last he gave the struggle up. After staying in India for 30 years on April of 1843, at the age of fifty-six, David Drummond, interloper and schoolmaster, slept the sleep that knows no waking, to such a life, at least, as that through which he had passed. Over the remains of David Drummond in the new Burial Ground, Circular Road, there is a monument erected by his friends and pupils, on which are recorded respect for his character, admiration for his talents, and esteem for his worth.

   Research  -Santanu Roy.
   Picture Courtesy - Sudip Ghosh.        

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