Bankim Chandra Chatterjee – The first paragraph of the song Vande Mataram that was written. when he was actually considered a novelist and not a poet became the national song of all and sundry in the country during the struggle for freedom. The moderates, the extremists, the revolutionaries all took inspiration from the song. It is till as a national song. Madam Cama sang it throughout Europe and it became a source of inspiration for the Indians living specially in the USA, England and France.
“Vande Mataram !
Sujalam, suphalam Malayaja shitalam,
Sasya Syamalam Mataram !
Suhasinim sumadhura bhashinim,
Sukhadam, varadam, mataram !”
But for Bankim babu it was a problem where to fit in the song that was sung in the first session of the Indian national Congress in 1885. The song was just three times as long as the first paragraph. Where to adjust it which had become later on a symbol of national unity.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee Childhood
Bankimchandra, in his childhood, had heard a story from his grandfather about Sanyasi revolution. (It was actually against the tyranny of Muslim rulers) Bankim Babu conceived the idea and gave it the form of a novel Anandamath. The song in the novel, has been sung by the revolting Sanyasis in a temple.
As all feel Vande Mataram lives on in our thoughts. It so much enthused the national movement that the British government banned public singing of the song. But Nobel Laureate RabindraNath Tagore gave tune to the words. He defied the order of the government and sang it at the congress session in 1896 at the request of Bipin Chandra Pal, Sri Aurobindo, Surendra Nath Banerji and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
The large gathering sang it together for the first time. Later on as it became the national song it was recited when never any group of nationalists gathered together.
Courage is not anyone’s monopoly. Even a well-fed man may be a coward while one with poor health may be brave and courageous. The days of Bankim Babu were the days of torture of Indians by the British. The village primary school was opposite his house. But as the Pandit Mahase came to his house to teach him he would just look at the boys when they were in the school which was almost an open school with a thatched hut.
There was a road by the side of his house coming from the nearby market and going to the Ganga. Gora Sahibs (Englishmen) would come in boats; they would loot the market and go back with the booty. It was a common practice. One-day the gora sahibs came when ten years old Bankim was standing by the school. Vendors closed their shops and ran home. The boys and the Pandit too ran away. But Bankim took the cane of Pandit Maha Soy and stood in the middle of the road. His mother, sister, brother all tried to call him back to the house but he won’t go.
He had decided to face the sahebs. His father Jadab Chandra Chattopadhyaya was Deputy collector posted somewhere else. So there was none to convince Bankim not to face the sahebs. Now his mother Durgadevi, brothers and sister stood behind the half-shut door. As the village Kanthapura in Naihati frequently faced this danger being situated beside river Ganga the villagers had to face these foreigners who may even kill if they were opposed.
They came when the village had a deserted look. And found no one except a young boy of ten standing firmly with a cane in his hand in the middle of the street. They tried to grab the cane but the boy did not allow them to even come near him. The sahebs were rather afraid to enter the village. They returned to the boat empty handed.
It was a beautiful summer’s evening. The sky was clear. The stars were twinkling and the moon was shining when all of a sudden at about nine the whole house resounded with the sweet sound of conch shells. It was June 26, 1838. A baby boy was born to Jadab Chandra Chattopadhyaya and Durgadevi.
He was named Bankim the famous writer and poet. Since his childhood Bankim loved nature. As he grew he was admitted to Hooghly College. It was an hour’s journey in the river.He would generally lay down in the boat keeping the flowers presented to him by gardener to his chest. While patting them he would look to the sky and would start imaging about the vastness and independence of the sky above.
He saw birds flying and wished to be one of them. The waves would seem flowing ahead of them flowing into the future. He would look at the red horizon and think what is the purpose of life. What will I do in life? He would sink in his own world of thoughts. The scene was repeated every day the ideas were clinched daily.
After college Bankim was sent to study Sanskrit at Sri Rama Nyayama Gish’s house. His grandfather would wait for him for playing chess. Both enjoyed it. But sometimes he won’t play but would ask Mejo Thakurda (Grandfather) to tell him a story. Mejo Thakurda was a brilliant storyteller and who else would he find than Bankim to listen to it all engrossed.
Mejo Thakurda was very much pleased when he read in a journal Sambad Prabhakar that Bankim had participated in a poetry competition and had won the first prize. Bankim being a good orator and singer too recited the poem. It was just the beginning of his career as a man of letters.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee During College
Appreciating the talents of Bankim he was sent to the Presidency College, Calcutta to study law. The College was well known for a large number of great personalities who had studied there. In the 1856 July batch too Keshab Chandra Sen and Satyendra Nath Tagore were the class fellows of Bankim. It was a good trio. They became fast friends. The three great families were represented in the college. By that time Bankim had started writing poems.
His first collection of poems ‘Lalita O Manas’ was already published. It had two beautiful long poems. When Satyendra and Keshab came to know that the book has been written by Bankim they were greatly impressed by his skill and emotions. They were of course going to be prominent persons of their times.
It was during this period that Bankim got a chance of seeing Pandit Ishwar chandra Vidyasagar and Debendranath Tagore, father of Satyendranath who was the Acharya (Head) of the Brahmo Samaj. Brahmo Samaj was doing a lot of social work in Bengal. It was specially interested in widow marriage and the education of girls.
An event happened in the life of Bankim at this juncture that had a lasting effect on his mind. Satyendra arranged an outing to the Botanical Garden. Professor Ramchandra Mitra accompanied the students. There was a tree house too. They aimed to reach the tree house. But when they reached there an Englishman was already there. He did not want the natives to come there and shouted “who the devil are you”. Prof. Mitra was so much afraid of him that he started stammering.
They had to withdraw from there. Prof. Mitra gave a one-line sermon to the boys, “Let us forget and forgive; let us exercise the Christian virtue of forgiveness”. But Bankim could not forget this insult. It was too bitter for him to digest it throughout his life.
First War Of Independence
In 1857 when the first war of Independence broke out Banking had first crossed his teens. Naihati where the family lived was only an hour’s journey from Barrackpore where Mangal Pandey had started the revolution. In the beginning the Britishers were so confused that they started moving out of Calcutta thinking that it might be attacked by the mutineers (what they called the sepoys).
They wanted to go back to England. Within a few days a U turn took place. There were assured news that the fighters for freedom were defeated and were ousted from Delhi, Jhansi Ki Rani gave her life and Bahadur Shah Zafar the last of Mughals was arrested and deported to Burma. After the revolution was totally suppressed the Queen made a proclamation lauding the British forces.
During these days Bankim lived in a house in Calcutta. The family was worried about him. So Sanjib chandra his brother came to Calcutta to visit him. He found Bankim quite undisturbed. But Bankim was fighting a battle in his heart. Although he was not even twenty, he had his own views. All of a sudden he became emotional and said “I only wish we were more united. Our past is glorious. Our present is shaded in darkness. And without unity out future is weak. Only if there were more leaders like the Rani of Jhansi! I admire her courage”.
The British had made their plans. On the one hand they wanted to have the middle class educated young men to be drenched in western culture so that they may always favour the British regime. On the other they wanted to have close contacts with peasants. It was possible only through the people who were British in thought and education but native in colour and origin a new class of bureaucrats. Thus they decided to have new recruitments in the Executive and judiciary services. For the first they had to wait till 1885 when Indian National Congress was started by O. Hume.
Calcutta University was recently established. The University was going to hold a test for the admission in B.A. Bankim too filled the form. Of the forty who had filled the form only ten appeared and only two were selected. Bankim secured the first rank out of the two.
Before the University classes started Bankim received an offer the government. He was to be made a Deputy magistrate in the Executive Service. Bankim was not willing to join government service. He was not even twenty. But on the insistence of his father he took up the job considering it a course throughout his life.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee Wife RajLaxmi Devi
Only two months back he had married Rajlaxmi Devi who became a source of inspiration for him as a poet and a novelist when he started when he started writing in Bengali.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in East India Company
East India Company had many sources of income in India. They exploited the rural people i.e. the peasants while the government sided with them as well as the well-settled landlords. The land was very fertile. But the Indigo Act compelled the peasants to cultivate indigo (neel) in a part of their land to pay taxes.
But the ‘neel kar sahebs’ as the Englishmen, appointed to collect the tax, were called compelled the peasants to cultivate neel in whole of their land as it procured a high export price. As the food crops were ignored it led to almost starvation. The Englishmen responsible for collections were so cruel that they would burn and ransack villages, kill people and bribe the police to hush up the matter.
Even the executives officers sided with them. The area where Bankim was appointed was named as Morrelganj after the name of Morrell who was the Tax Collecting Officer.
This area came under the jurisdiction of Khulna where Bankim was posted. Although most of the villages did what Morrell asked them to there was a village Barkhali where the villagers under the leadership of Rahimullah fought against the hardships caused by Morrell.
One night the whole village was burnt by goons of Morrell. Rahimullah was killed and his body disappeared from the scene. The crime was supervised by two of the friends of Morrell. When Bankim came to know about the incident he issued an non bailable warrant against all of them. He was approached through an accomplice who tried to bribe him. On his refusal he was threatened. But he had the courage to do what he felt right.
He sent a police force to arrest the sahebs. To escape his anger Morrell and his friend Lightfoot took a small boat and went into the sea. What happened to them is not known. But his other accomplice Hilley disguised as a fakir reached Bombay. Before he could board a ship for England he was arrested and brought to Calcutta. But the people of Khulna were so afraid of the neel sahebs that no one was ready to give evidence in the case.
Bankim had no other option but to ask another magistrate to judge the case and stand as a witness himself. Hilley was punished, of course, but neither the government not the Zamindars were happy with him as a magistrate. The only way to teach him a lesson was to transfer him to some other place smaller than Khulna.
His new posting was Baruipur in southern Bengal. The atmosphere there seemed quite peaceful. Here for some days nothing happened. But instead of facing an Englishman he had to face the Indian landlord. His brother Puranchandra had come on a visit. The whole family was gathered around the tea table. But that very day Bankim had punished the Zamindar for torturing and extorting money from the poor peasants. The Zamindar had sent his goons to teach Bankim a lesson.
The situation was very grim, as it was not possible upon it. Bankim just wanted to have a little of time. He told them to wait for half an hour so that he may see the case afresh and asked his servant to serve them tea and tobacco. Bankim and Puranchandra exchanged their dress with those of the two servants in the house and moved out of the house covering their faces as if to save themselves from cold. As soon as they were out of the sight of the goons Bankim with his brother ran to the police station.
The officer incharge was surprised to see the Magistrate in such a dress. But the police raided the place and arrested the goons. The Zamindar was fined.
Bankim had yet to show his courage in one more case. He was going in a Palki. The army personnel did not allow a piece of road to be used by civilians. The Commanding Officer Colonel Duffin thumped at the gate of the Palki. Bankim had to jump out. He asked who he was. Instead of replying the colonel pushed him off the road. Bankim field a suit against Duffin.
The whole country was stunned to know that a native (Bankim) had dragged a British army officer to court. People from different places in Bengal came to hear the proceedings of the case. Colonel Duffin was ordered to ask forgiveness. The use of the road was opened to everybody.
These three incidents and the way Bankim did his judicial work increased the displeasure of the British. It was decided to withhold his promotions and to transfer him frequently. Bankim tolerated all this, as self-respect was more satisfying to him. Moreover he wanted sometimes to concentrate upon his literary and social activities. Unlike the coming generation of moderates Bankim had no inkling to surrender and get subdued.
Sometimes women play a very important part in making or spoiling the career of their husbands. Rajlakshmi Devi, the better half of Bankim played a very important role in upbeating the novelist in Bankim. It was most probably his first novel. He remained awake late in the night and finished it.
Rajlakshmi Devi asked him what he had written. “A novel in English” was the prompt reply. When its name was asked he said he wanted to name it “Rajmohan’s wife.” Rajlakshmi Devi wanted him to write it in Bengali so that she could have also enjoyed it. But according to Bankim a novel could be written in English only as the Indian languages are not suitable for creative writing. He said it was the reason that no novel had been written in an Indian language including Hindi, Bengali, Tamil or Telugu.
Rajlakshmi Devi was a little upset. She immediately put a question, “of what use is it then, this language of ours.” When she was told that it was for discussions between uneducated people she was rather amused. She said it was not her view. He believed in what others say about our languages. Otherwise being educated why he conversed in Bengali. Bankim agreed with his wife’s contention.
Since Bankim became Deputy Magistrate he had started wearing European dress trousers and coat and had to join their parties too. The day he had talks with his wife he was a little tense. She noticed it and asked if he had a problem again with neel-kar sahebs.
No, he said. But he was not satisfied with his novel. He tried to eat Koi fish with his fork and spoon. But it won’t come in his grip while Rajlakshmi Devi was enjoying eating it with her fingers. Bankim threw away the fork and spoon and started eating with his fingers.
That week was full of surprise as he discarded the British clothes too and started wearing choga chapkan the loose Indian dress. He discarded the fork and spoon too. He would go to court in the new dress and adopted it for whole of his life.
Late in the night Bankim sat down at his desk. He had resolved not to write in English but in Bengali. He arranged his papers and wrote on the first page.
Durgeshnandini (A novel in Bengali)
In his childhood his grandfather had told him a story. He wanted to give it the garment of a novel. Actually most of his novels out of the ten that he wrote were based on the stories told by Mejo Thakurda (his grandfather). Durgeshnandini was not complete when he was transferred to Baruipur in Southern Bengal. In the peaceful atmosphere he was able to complete it.
As Durgeshnandini was his first novel in Bengali he wanted to get it evaluated. He actually wanted to know that if it interested the people he would continue writing other novels the themes of which rang in his mind. He invited the pandits of Garulia for their comment.
His brothers and some friends were also invited. Bankim read his novel aloud to this wise gathering. It continued for two days. The audience was overjoyed. They had never heard such sweet dreamlike theme composed as a novel in their own language. It was a success beyond the expectations Bankim himself. The novel was published in 1865 when Bankim was just twenty seven. It was appreciated and lauded throughout the country.
It was a historical novel and echoed Bankim’s thoughts during college days when he used to say “Our past is glorious.” He felt pride in belonging to Bharat the land of the brave. Within a few days he wrote two more novels ‘Kapalkundala’ and ‘Mrinalini’. The first one was classed with the famous novels of the world. He became famous throughout the country. People formerly adored him for his courage against the British bosses.
Now they appreciated his genius in creating indomitable literature. He started writing his novel ‘Bishabriksha’ in a serial in a magazine ‘Bangadarshan”. It made him a public figure. As a novelist Bankim became so famous that his novels have been translated in many languages. He does not belong to Bengal but to the whole country.
After Bankim was no more Aurobindo Ghosh wrote for him, “Bankim, the greatest of novelists, had versatility developed to its highest expression. Scholar, poet, essayist, novelist, philosopher, lawyer, critic, official, philologian and religious innovator, the whole world seemed to be shut up in his single brain.
He had a genius for language and a gift for law; he could write good official papers and he could write a matchless prose; could pass examinations and he could root out an organised tyranny, he could concern himself with the largest problems of metaphysics and with the smallest details of word formation; and a feeling for the sensuous facts of life and feeling for the delicate spirituality of religion; he could learn grammar and he could write poetry”.
Although Bankim believed in social reforms and the upliftment of women, he had some difference of opinion with the great men working in Brahmo Samaj. He did not believe in writing articles or corresponding in English as the activists in Brahmo Samaj did. His friend Keshab Chandra Sen had become the Acharya of Brahmo Samaj. Keshab Chandra believed that a country cannot win freedom without education and social upliftment.
Bankim agreed with him. When Keshab Chandra insisted upon him to join him in the social work he told him that there was a bit of misunderstanding between the two. He told his friend and rightly too that his novels often mentioned widow marriage, women’s education, education of children and many other social reforms. But he believed that a writer lives in his books. He has a limitation that he speaks not directly but through the characters he creates. Keshab Chandra doubted that not much can be achieved only by writing.
Bankim insisted, “To me it seems that a single idea communicated to the people in their own language will bring about greater results than all that out English speeches will ever be able to achieve. I write for the people in their own language. I have projected a magazine to better the communication.”
On the use of English Bankim’s opinion was. “Just as we ought to address ourselves to the people of our own province in their language, we have also to make ourselves intelligible to them, speaking the other Indian language, and also to the governing race. There is no hope for India until people of different states understand and influence each other, and bring their joint influence to bear upon the British.”
The difference between the two was quite apparent. While Keshab Chandra believed more in social reforms Bankim’s heart throbbed with patriotism. Keshab Chandra of course appreciated that the younger generation is much influenced by Bankim’s thoughts on politics, society and comparative literature. But his question was when Bankim had roused their patriotism by referring to the country as mother how did he visualise the geographical entity as mother.
It was here that he decided to give the mother a geographical entity. He had already done it by writing Vande Mataram. He decided to place it at a proper place in his visionary novel Anandmath. Besides being his best novel and otherwise too the best novel in India it was an apt reply to the question of Keshav Chandra Sen. “Perhaps this will help to reveal the motherland as something more than a stretch of earth, or a mass of individuals!” Murmured Bankim.
There was a big gathering of the old students union of Calcutta University. It was rather a fair of young men all intelligent people setting in different areas but inspired by only idea the glorious past and the future independent of the country. Some of them were discussing the “Native Marriage Act” and how Brahmo Samaj took it.
In another corner a young man was telling his friends how his first meeting with Sri Ramkrishna Paramhans inspired him. There was also discussion about the Vernacular Press Act under which the British could ban any writing. There was no freedom of press.
How long could such things continue they argued. The function was called and arranged by Satyendranath Tagore the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore. Rabindranath had to entertain the young.
Rabindranath did not know many in the fathering. But he noticed a gentleman who was a part of the gathering and aloof from it too. His shining eyes and soft smile charmed him. He wanted to know who he was. Rabindra Nath searched for his brother who was engrossed in talks with his friends. At last he came to know that the gentleman was Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.
He had a longing for a long time to see this great novelist whose great works Kapalkundala, Bishabriksha, Chandra Shekhar, Rajsingha he had read a number of times. When it was time for the guests to leave the function many of them asked this distinctive man what his next novel would be. Bankim smiled. He himself was not yet sure if he would write any more before finishing Anandmath the masterpiece.
After a long time he had found a sequence in which to put the song. The novel was published and was immediately translated in a number of languages. The famous novel was followed by Debi Chaudhurani and Sitaram. Both were based on history and were full of the feelings of patriotism.
When Bankim retired in 1891 he was in poor health. He fell seriously ill in the beginning of 1894. Rajlaxmi Devi always insisted upon him to take his medicines. But now at the fag and of his life books on philosophy were his medicine. He was now more interested in Hindu Philosophy. He was rather sad that although he had written much he could not write a book on Rani of Jhansi.
Her courage fascinated him. His health deteriorated all the more. It was at this juncture that his younger brother Puran Chandra came to him with a letter from the British government honouring him with the C.I.E. After Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar he was the only Indian to be honoured by the title. Puranchandra was very much excited. He did not realise that bankim was not pleased at all. As he had an asthmatic attack it was difficult for him to speak. Still in his voice hardly audible he said. “Honour shown by the British is a symbol of slavery for us.
They confer favours from their position as the ruling class. This award underlines our relationship, that of master and slave.” Then he kept quiet for some time. He rather murmured ‘What does one do with life?’ It was a permanent question with him since his childhood. Ultimately he gave a reply himself, “acquire knowledge to learn the truth”.
There were drops of perspiration on his forehead. His face was calm as he closed his eyes and breathed his last on April 8.1894 much before the country was independent but after giving Vande Mataram to the nation which inspires the people even to da Long after his demise Aurobindo wrote about him ‘The body of work he gave us in nearly forty years of intellectual activity amounts to ten novels, two critical works on religion and some scattered literature. Small in quantity, it is pure gold in quality. And it may be that in no case would he have written much. Nature gives us quartz profusely and missed alloy in abundance, but pure gold in parcels and infinitesimal portions”.