Purba Midnapur, Paschim Midnapur
Religions - Tribes
Drought - Disaster


Rishi Rajnarayan Basu

Sri Haripada Mondal

.:: Personal Reminiscences of Rajnarain Bose ::.

The exact time when I was introduced to the late Babu Rajnarain Bose, latterly the president of the Adi Brahmo Samaj, I do not recollect. It must have been before 1868. For in 1867 the late Babu Nabagopal Mitra, the editor of the National Paper, organised the Hindu or National Mela, which began to meet once a year in the Bengali month of Chaitra, where poems expressive of national sentiment were recited, lectures laying before the public schemes of national improvement were delivered, exhibitions of native industry were held and games and acrobatic feats were performed. As far as I remember I took part in the gathering held in 1868 by reciting a piece of poetry, recounting the military exploits of a Bengali prince named Bijay, who in ancient times invaded Ceylon . I derived my first nationalistic impetus from Babu Rajnarain and he put into my hands the story of the conquest of Ceylon by Bijay. A truer and more sincere patriot than Rajnarayan Bose I have never seen; and when the National Mela was started he hailed it with his whole heart, and enthusiastically backed Nabagopal Mitra in his endeavours, and inspired the young men with a passionate love for our country and our people.

Properly speaking Babu Nabagopal Mitra had derived his idea of the National Mela from Rajnarain Bose. A pamphlet written by the latter, added to the report of what he was doing at Midnapore to awaken the sentiment of patriotism in the hearts of men, first opened the mind of Nabagopal Mitra to the idea of an annual National Exhibition.

But Babu Rajnarain was known pretty well to us, members of the Brahmo Samaj, from 1865 when we read and admired his Bengali sermons preached at Midnapore, and known at that time as “Rajnarain Boser Baktrita.” These sermons, now rown obsolete, moved us wonderfully at that time. And it is a memorable fact of history that no less a person than Keshab Chandra Sen, was won over to the cause of Brahmoism by reading those sermons. One must speak very highly that these sermons are attractive, both from that of the great love of nature that we find in them.

When Babu Rajnarain retired from his work at Midnapore and came to dwell in Calcutta in 1867, I was drawn to him like iron to a loadstone. I beame a regular visitor to his house, and hung on his inspiring words. Such sweet, sincere, modest and unassuming piety I have seldom seen in men. Rajnarayan Babu knew that I did not accept all his views, specially on religious and social questions, yet he drew me into his embrace and began to unfold to me the experiences of his life. Those experiences were wonderful. During the pretty long course of my life, I do not remember having seen many men with that free, open and generous heart, that sincere desire for his country's good, which reverence for everything good and great, that ardent love of knowledge and that childlike simplicity in trusting others. Indeed, his very laugh was characteristic. It showed the purity of the soul from which it proceeded.

Incidentally let me relate something about that laugh. In the year 1877, 1 was the Sanskrit teacher in the Hare school. There amongst my fellow-teachers was a revered old man named Nilmani Chakravarty who was known amongst us as a model teacher, for his great ability and his dutifulness as a teacher. One day when talking of Rajnarain Bose, whom he had known in life, the old Brahmin joined his hands and said, “Oh! You speak of Rajnarain Bose, he is no man, he is a devata or angel!” I was taken by surprise on hearing such a remark falling from his lips, for I had known him as a man of conservative views and not very friendly to the Brahmo Samaj. Then followed the following conversation:

Myself —How is it Sir, you speak so highly of Rajnarain Bose, who is a member of the Brahmo Samaj?

Nilmani Babu —1 say nothing about his being a member of the Brahmo Samaj but he is a man of exceptionally pure mind, the like of him I have seldom came across.

Myself —What led you to think so?

Nilmani Babu —None but a man of heavenly purity of mind can laugh so. His very laugh shows he is not of this world.

Myself —Was there any special occasion whew you observed him so laughing?

Nilmani babu —I have seen him and admired the simplicity and purity of his mind on many occasions, but one occasion I specially remember. It was in the house of the late Pandit Raj Krishna Banerji of Sukea Street, the well-known friend of Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. On that occasion Babu Rajnarayan was stretched on an arm— chair reading a newspaper, and Raj Krishna Babu and myself were at a little distance, engaged, in conversation. In the midst of our talk RaJ Krishna Babu looked up to the wall and found a lizard chasing a spider. The latter was soon within the jaws of its pursuer when Raj Krishna Babu cried out——-”Look here, Rajnarin Babu, you speak so often of the goodness of your God, will you tell me what goodness is there in making that poor spider fall into the jaws of that lizard?” Whereupon Rajnarain Babu looked up, laughed heartily, making that house ring with his laughter, and said— “Ah poor God, he must establish his goodness, after giving satisfactory answers to all the questions that may arise in the minds of doubters, a harder lot surely than is generally meted out to mortal men! My friend, divine goodness is established on another basis than that. Ha! Ha! You think you have got a crushing argument! Not a bit of it. I believe God is good even if 4thousands of lizards eat up thousands of spiders.”

“I shall never forget that occasion and that laughter” said Babu Nilmani Chakravarti.

Now I must say something about these wonderful experiences of his life that he related to me. As one effect of these relations, he made me a strong advocate of temperance as a social duty. Born in a Brahmin family, who for generations had never seen any kind of wine, nursed in the lap of parents who hated intemperance from the bottom of their hearts, and early brought into contact with Peary Churan Sircar and Keshub Chunder Sen, the great temperance reformers of Bengal , temperance grew with me as I grew up. ., But there is no doubt about the fact, that as result of my personal contact with Rajnarain Bose, I imbibed a great horror of intemperance in every form and became an earnest advocate of the temperance cause.

Let me relate the bit of personal experience jn that Eespect that he spoke to me of.

His father Nanda Kisore Bose, of Boral, was a beloved disciple of Rajah Rammohan Roy. It was the custom with the Rajah to lake his breakfast in the morning in native Indian fashion, seated on the floor on a wooden plank seat, and taking his food directly with his fingers out of dishes served by a Brahmin cook; but in the evening he used to dine in European fashion, seated at the table with his friends and disciples when wine would form an article of diet Of course he took care to see that none exceeded the limits of temperance. He was so rigorously careful about this part of his duty that on one occasion, a friend, out of fun, craftily made the Rajah take one glass; later he took so much offence at this violation of his rule, that he did not see the face of that friend for months.” “He is no friend of mine,” said the Rajah, “who delights to set me intemperate.”

From Ram Mohan Roy's table the habit of drinking came to the first generation of educated Bengalis, specially to the reformer himself was given to drinking, of course, within temperate limits. Many of the advanced students of the Hindu College , with whom Rajnarain Bose read, amongst whom Michael Madhu Sudan Dutt was one, were also given to drinking. From class-mates and associates, Rajnarain Bose acquired a drinking habit in early boyhood. But drinking amongst these college students was at times carried to excess. Finding him running to excess at times his father became afraid and one day calling him to his presence opened a chest of drawers and taking out a wine-bottle and a glass, poured a glassful of and offered it to his son, with an injunction never to attend drinking parties amongs his fellow-students, but always to drink with his father He did not object to drinking, he said, but he hated intemperance. The warning of his father was of no avail; through the influence of class mates, the drinking habit went on developing itself, till Babu Rajnarain became a habitual and hard drinker. He kept to the drinking habit, even when employed as Headmaster of the Midnapore High School . His constitution which was naturally feeble, was further weakened by indulgence in liquor which, added to heavy mental work, served to break that constitution down altogether, and he had to retire froth his ‘work rather prematurely. But by the time he left that post he was a strong temperate man. As soon as he discovered the injury that his drinking habit was doing to his constitution and to his pecunniary and other interests, he gave up the habit, and formed an earnest resolution to dissuade ‘others from such a course. His temperance work was an important work towards the latter end of his connection with Midnapore. Pointing to his prematurely old and decrepit constitution, he would often say, “Look here this wretched body of mine is the relic of the havoc done by that cursed poison. Oh! In what an evil hour were we led into that path.” When listening to all he had done and suffered, my temperance sentiment greatly increased, and 1 always left him ‘with a strong desire to combat that evil.

His love of the Bengali language and his desire for the improvement of Bengali literature also inspired me with that desire and I began to cultivate it in addition to my Sanskrit studies. There was a characteristic incident which marked his desire for cultivating the Bengali language.

It occured so early as soon after the death of ‘Mr. David Hare, the philanthropist. After his death Mr. Hare's pupils, friends and admirers formed a society in his memory, where they used to deliver lectures on social, educational and philanthropic topics. As one of the pupils and admirers of David Hare Babu Rajnarain belonged to this Society and was naturally asked by his friends to deliver one of those lectures. He agreed to do so but only on one condition, namely, if his friends would allow him to read his paper in Bengali not because he was a bad writer of English; for his English compositions have won universal applause, but because he wanted to show the way to his English-educated countrymen of honouring their mother-tongue. This novel proposal of his was hailed with ridicule by his English- educated friends, for they had very great contempt for the language of the people. This may sound strange in the ears of the present generation of Bengalis; but it is a fact, that the first three or four generations of our educated men had acquired a passion for speaking and writing English and despised their mother-tongue, as fit only for women and the ignorant poor. Rajnarain Bose was certainly one of those who rescued the mother-tongue from that contempt. When therefore he proposed to read his paper in Bengali, his friends were taken by surprise. “What! write your address in Bengali! What a strange fellow you must be to court popular contempt', said they. But Babu Rajuarain remained firm and his address came on in due course. Many educated men kept away from the meeting for fear of meeting a contemptible exhibition. That only shows. what a change have men like Rajah Ram Mohun Roy, Akshay Kumar Datta, Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Maharashi Debendra Nath Tagore and .Brahmananda Keshub Chandra Sen, effected in the habits and tastes of the people, by speaking. to them in their own language. En our boyhood a public lecture in Bengali was curiosity and whoever wanted to address their countrymen publicly were obliged to do so in English. Public addresses in Bengali were so unusual that even in the ministrations of the Brahmo Somaj, the language used by the preachers in those days was high flown and figurative, full of alliteration and cumbrous; Fortunately there has come a change. Now we have speakers who can fluently and eloquently address the people in their own homely language.

During the Brahmo Marriage Bill controversy of 1871 and 1872, Babu Rajnarain as the president of the Adi Brahmo Samaj, took a side opposite to that of the progressive section of the Samaj and did not see the necessity of a new law for legalizing the reformed marriages. We, who belonged to the progessive side and were under Keshub Chunder Sen, were earnestly struggling to have a law passed. So there was a conflict with him in a lecture delivered at a meeting held in opposition to him. Yet in our private meetings I never observed for a single day any lack of affection on his part. He always accorded to me a warm. reception whenever I approached him.

Latterly he settled down at Deoghar and spent his last days there. But though retired he knew no “rest. His mind was busy working on those subjects in which he had been taking interest almost from his early youth. Here he composed some of his most remarkable, books. One of those books indirectly gave an impetus to the organisers of the Hindu Dharma Maha mandal.

I called on him at Deoghar, more than once, and was struck to find the rapid development of his spiritual life. He always lived in an atmosphere of spirituality as it was generated by his studies of the Upanishads, of Hafiz, of Madame Guyon, and many other mystical writers. His absorption in these writers was extreme. I remember one instance. On that occasion, I was on my way to the North-Western Provinces and the Punjab accompanied by three or four young men. We decided to pay a visit to Rajnarain Babu at Deoghar on our way. We had intimated our desire to him and received a cordial invitation. On the day of our arrival at Deoghar we were rather late for breakfast, on account of the arrival later than appointed hour of the train. Upon our arrival as soon as our name was announced to the old sage by the servant he issued out of his rdom with open arms and gave me a hearty embrace.

Within a few minutes our conversation turned upon some spiritual topic, which so much absorbed Rajnarain Babu, that he lost all sense of time, and of the needs of his guests, and went on quoting the rishis and Hafiz, and other favourite authors, till he suddenly left the drawing room where we were seated and brought a common place book, where he had extracted some sayings of one of these masters and began to read them to me, full of enthusiasm. All the time I was feeling :a little uneasy, for the thought of attending to the
needs of my companions was present in my mind, but 1 was feeling all the time a sort of delicacy also in checking his growing enthusiasm. At this point his eldest son Jogin came to my rescue, by timely coming in and calling them away for their bath. The advent of his son roused him from his absorption. He sprang to his feet with a hearty laugh, saying—”Ha! ha! what a fool I must be in detaining people from their necessary refreshment at such an hour All right; of all these things afterwards.”

In fact his stay at Deoghar made that place for pilgrimage for his friends and for educated Bangalees in general for whosoever amongst our educated men went to that station was sure to call on him and to cultivate his society. Why educated men alone, his name was honoured even by the ignorant poor of the station, even by the professional priests of the Famous temple of Vaidyanath of that place One incident I remember which illustrated that fact very forcibly. On that occasion I was on my way to Deoghar. When our train arrived at Madhupur, a number of pandas or priests attached to We temple of Vaidyanath invaded our carnage, as their usual practice is, to see if there was any pilgrim, bound for the temple, needing the services of officiating priests. A panda came to the door of my carriage and enquired of me if 1 was a pilgrim bound for the temple of Vaidyanath and if I wanted a panda. Then took place the following conversation.

Myself —Yes, I am bound for that place of pilgrimage, but I have a panda of my own.

Panda —Who, Sir, is your panda?

Myself —Rajnarain Bose.

Panda —Oh, that is our second Vaidyanath.

Myself —What do you mean by that? He does not believe in your idolatry; he observes no caste; he is a member of the Brahmo Samaj; how do you call him your second Vaidyanath?

Panda —Whatever he may do, he is not a man, he is a heavenly being.

The last occasion when I met Babu Rajnarain was also characteristic. Received the news in Calcutta that he had a stroke of paralysis and was very seriously ill, I went to Deoghar to see him and found him laid up and unable to speak. That was the last interview, for he passed away a few days after. At Deoghar I found the whole town on tiptoe with anxiety. I saw a Christian gentleman, a retired high Government official who had settled down there, spending his days and nights by his bedside looking after his treatment and nursing and I also noticed men attached to the temple of Vaidyanath calling morning and evening to inquire about the state of his health. When leaving Vaidyanath after two days, I travelled back to Calcutta , in the same train with a well known Bengali writer belonging to the party of retrogressive Hinduism, who was also returning from Deoghar, whither he had gone to spend a few days with his spiritual preceptor, a Hindu mendicant, who lived on the hill called Tapopahar. His guru, he said, had told him to return home, because he, the guru, wanted to run to Deoghar to see Rajnarain Bose, who was seriously ill.

Thus there was some such thing in that remarkable man which attracted all classes; and in his presence people forgot all their sectarian differences. There runs a story 4n educated Bengalee circles that on one occasion Babu Bhudev Mukherji, the famous Bengali writer and leader, who was also Rajnarain Babu' s class-fellow in the old Hindu College, took off from his own person his sacred Brahminical thread and wanted to put it on the latter' s shoulders, saying—”Rajnarain, Rajnarain, though born a Sudra, you are a better Brahmin than myself. I wish I had that piety and spirituality in me.”

Midnapur people still cherish his memory with fond reverence. When ill-health compelled him to resign his post there and, come away, they held a meeting in his honour, purchased a piece of land, built a house upon it, and presented it to him with a request that he would settle down amongst them, spend his last days there, which, however, he could not do.

One fact in connection with the reverence cherished for his name by his Midnapur friends seems to be worthy of mention. Amongst his old friends was a man, the father of a local pleader, who had scant regard for the Brahmo reformers. But he had personally known Rajnarain Babu and so great was his regard for him, that as soon as the latter's name was mentioned in his presence, he would join his hands in humble reverence and declare—”He is no man, he is one of the heavenly beings.” And when the reason was asked he would say, “None but a heavenly being can laugh so heartily before friend and foe; he does no tlive in the atmosphere in which ordinary men live; his mind soars up high in the upper air and the little things of life do not touch him.”What a correct estimate of his character was made by an orthodox Hindu!

One striking trait of Babu Rajnarain's character was his inexhaustible fund of humour. He had a keen sense of the funny side of human life. His memory was full of comic stories, which he delighted to respect to his friends, making the place ring with laughter. One incident in this connection I still remember. A number of Brahmos had gathered at Harinabhi, a few miles to the south-east of Calcutta in connection with the anniversary ot' the local Samaj- Babu Rajnarayan Bose was one of them. On the day of the festival our joy was great. After our evening meals we sat together talking and laughing and enjoying each other's company. My presence opened up the heart of Rajnarain Babu, as it were, and he went on entertaining the company with his droll stories. Spurred on by a sort of competition I too went on matching story with story, till a late hour of the night. In fact the excessive strain of that night told upon my constitution and made me ill. Rajnarain Babu laughed and said to me— “There must be something in you that draws out the comic in me. ” i said, “It is because I have a zest for the comic side of life.” He had a stock of stories from all races, principally from the Persian, the English and the French.

Let me conclude by noticing a remarkable feature of his character. His desire for using his powers for the good of others was so great that during all stages of his life, that kind of work engaged his uppermost thoughts. I have already stated how one of his books suggested the idea of the National Mela to Babu Nabagopal Mitra and how another book composed in his last days suggested the idea of the Hindu Dharma Mahamondal. But that habitual propensity of his mind menifested itself in strongest relief at Midnapur during his residence there. He brought into existence so many Societies for promoting so many objects, that a man one day observed, “There is no respite from Rajnarain Balm's new objects and new associations; it seems necessary that a Society should be established, with the declared object of putting down societies. Its name should be Sabha-Nibarani Sabba or a Society for preventing the foundation of Societies, and its members should bind themselves to rush with arms and stickles into all places where members of any Society meet and disperse them by force.”

Thus loved and honoured by all and highly esteemed by those who knew him by nearer contact Rajnarain Bose passed away leaving behind him a memory that will never perish. Certainly he was one of the makers of Modern Bengal.

—Sivanath Sastri.

(From the “Men I have seen”).

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