The Calcutta Review, 3rd Series/Volume 16/Asutosh and Chittaranjan

4215059The Calcutta Review, 3rd Series — Asutosh and Chittaranjan: A Study1925Nripendrachandra Banerji


The passing away of Sir Asutosh Mookerjee and Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das—twin-souls, however contrasted and separated by accident and circumstance within a year’s swift interval, has been nothing short of a national tragedy. And yet adversity hath its uses and the secret of individual and collective progress is the capacity to transmute death into life. And thus India needs to be told from many an aspect of that in the life of both which can never die. India needs to assuage her thirst in that fount of rasa which coursed through that divine lilā that manifested itself in the stage of being as the composite personalities of an Asutosh and of a Chittaranjan. And once she has learnt to drink deep in that fount she will qualify also to march to the tune of the varied play of these two lives—so deep, so intense, so comprehensive, so vital, so sweet and withal so strong.

‘Sweet and strong’—these were indeed the key-notes of that compacted and synthetised harmony which made up our beloved Asutosh and our dear Chittaranjan.

The strength of Asutosh—that which earned for him the sobriquet of the Bengal Tiger and the strength of Chittaranjan the Deshabandhu were, however, of a quality, apart. As an associate of both, I have had opportunities of judging about this quality in both stalwarts and though subtle things are difficult to discriminate and describe in concrete language, I have still an overpowering, an overmastering sense of power as expressed in both lives. Asutosh’s strength lay concentrated in the brain: Chittaranjan’s in the heart. The one dominated by sheer, uncompromising hard logic and ratiocination: the other by a drive of warm impulse that irrigated, inundated the dry wastes of the analytic, the probing intellect.

Asutosh was strong in a strength of memory, of marshalling of legions in the domain of fact : his being flowed in an equable, restrained, disciplined, channel—a clear, pellucid stream with the back-washes of diplomacy well-hidden from view : his fights were with weapons forged in the armoury of the adversary and he himself never disdained to don the uniform of the master whom he castigated and chastised as only a Brahmin versed in the strategies, old and new, can. A mathematical precision, a consistently continued march along high-ways and by-ways was his : he knew when to strike : he knew how to sharpen the weapons and how to use them : and when he struck, he struck as with a sledge-hammer. The enemy was stunned into defeat. Who can ever forget how the skilled generalissimo of the University forces had docked, ticketed and labelled every one of his lieutenants and privates, and called them up to fill their places in the fateful hours of strife? There was not a single distinguished graduate in Bengal whom he did not know by face and name—whom he had not cared to befriend and counsel—and to pull by the legs on occasion : and not a day passed when the sanctum of the Russa Road house was not trodden by the feet of pilgrim-academicians, and when the atmosphere there was not charged with loving kindness for some and blasting irony for others. For Sir Asutosh was nothing if not an accurate judge of ‘men’ and ‘manikins’ and to each variety he dealt out his gifts of forceful comradeship and scorning pity in appropriate measure. There was not the minutest nook in the spacious domains of the University, post-graduate and under-graduate with which he was not familiar : and he assayed his task of educational reconstruction with a mastery of details that was almost ‘uncanny’ and a vision of the Ideal that was almost prophetic. His soul was wrapt up in the coils of manly education for the upper and middle classes : and knowing as he did that Gokhale’s dream of universalising elementary education among the broad masses of India would not materialise for obvious reasons, he worked along other ways for the same ends. His dream was to create a band of intellectuals in the land whom sheer-hunger-urge would compel to descend into the arid plains of unlearned human dwelling and give of their best there.

But there was one thing which possibly escaped him and that was the gap created by this same education between the city-dwellers and the village-dwellers. He lacked also possibly, being a city-bred man himself, in that real contact with the village economy without which no bridging of the gulf between the classes and the masses is possible. And possibly he forgot also that a negative urge could never produce or stimulate a positive patriotism : starvelings could possibly not really be the active instruments of salvation for India’s pauper millions.

But within these limitations, it must be confessed that Asutosh has beaten the Bureaucracy at its own game, that he has infused the breath of Asianism and Humanism into the corpse of a sterilised University system; rescued it from stiff-necked pedants and wily charlatans, made of it a magazine of free ideas and the rally-centre of Bengal’s higher culture. In fact, he has attempted and achieved a most difficult task : he has created a State within the State—a State of autonomy for teacher and taught within the State which is yet a stronghold of orthodox irresponsibility. Sir Asutosh has been a supreme adept in repelling all invasions, from all quarters, of his kingdom—he repelled the Swadeshi attack of twenty years ago as much as the more insidious invasion of the Curzonian diplomacy and stiffened the defences : he successfully side-tracked the big assault of the Gandhi-Dasite wreckers (of whose company my humble self was also one) and after having weathered the storm, piloted the boat safe to harbour athwart the sly skirmishings of the new Reformed regime and across the now-famous Government House thunders. And this was how the Bengal Tiger “tigered” it all across the trail—and silenced lesser beings into atrophy or compelled them into homage.

And yet who can ever forget the innate sweetness of this fighting Brahmin, the purity of his domestic life, the stern simplicity and swadeshism of living and dressing in which he revelled, the silent charities of his household? In ancient India this man among men would have carved out a bigger Nalanda—in modern Europe he would have carved out a free republic like another Hindenburg. But in modern Bengal he could only fashion a semi-democratic oasis in the Desert of Autocracy.

And Chittaranjan! The tears for the Deshabandhu, the country’s devoted friend and the refuge of the poor, the depressed and oppressed are not yet dry in an admiring and mourning people’s eyes and to write about him without passion or prejudice, understatement or overstatement is hard indeed. And yet as one who suffered and fought alongside of that Big Soul, fought for his innermost ideas and idealisms even when outwardly seeming to fight against certain modes and passing phases of his life, I make bold to say that there was hardly a greater born in Bengal—in the plane of activity after Sree Chaitanya. For Chittaranjan had in him the makings of a modern Chaitanya from the start : and while the secret of Asutosh’s being was Sakti, a lava-flow of Power and Energising, the secret of Chittaranjan’s life was that higher attribute which we call Prema, the liquid fire of Love—selfless, disinterested and pure—the prime mover of social forces. It was given to him to love greatly and those who love greatly suffer greatly also. This was the kingly dower, the royal largesse with which the Divine Lover had blest him ; this is the heritage he has left us. Chittaranjan was a lover and a poet—a princely Bhogi (enjoyer) and a still more princely Tyagi (sacrificer). This prodigality, of bounty was Chittaranjan’s master-bias. He lived and loved, enjoyed and sacrificed, suffered and fought—with a sheer abandon that recked of no limits and with a passionate ecstasy that sometimes seemed to run into an apparently wasteful excess. And thus as a lawyer he spent his own money over the cases of indigent clients and settled and started many such in life—as a poet his songs were songs of the wild, restless, elemental sea—as a humanitarian he could never despise even the fallen woman and has enshrined the tragic tribe in melodious lines of haunting love—as a music-lover, he went into raptures over Kirtana-songs, singing of the eternal love-play between the eternal types of man and woman of whom Krishna and Radha are exemplars. And when this prince among art-lovers and song-lovers came into the arena of politics, he came like a stormy petrel—wrecking, dashing, swaying millions to and fro—and all by sheer power of love. His was not the reason-monger’s art—he did not dilettantise like many a sickly, cynical latitudinarian in this land of be-dimmed stars and be-fogged suns—he appealed, he exhorted, he gathered and rallied thousands with the power bred of burning love. I know of the agony of his soul—I know of its crystal purity—I know of its hatred of shams and frauds—I know also of its impassioned zeal of obdurate opposition to its cherished ideas and programmes—I know of the fever, the fret, the worry—I know also of the superlative strength of this Himalayan personality and the break-neck speed of its Everest expedition in politics. I know of Chittaranjan the ascetic—as deeply as of Chittaranjan the revolutionary. Both were parts of one rounded whole—for his asceticism was coloured with the rose-hues of dreamy love—it was not of the orthodox, reactionary, dogmatic, stolid type which renounces the world and renounces humanism in the process, which exercises the flesh and lashes the Devil but cannot root out the desire for name and fame, which talks of God and His saints and feels of self and its satellites : and his revolutionarism was not the crude theory of a cruel physical retaliation. ‘red in tooth and claw’ which defeats its own end and in trying to subdue one evil creates hosts of other evils but the saving gospel of a revolution of ideas and mental processes and outlook which, once accomplished, history may be trusted to take its course and the genius of Revolution may forge its own weapons according to stress of circumstance.

And thus it was that this lover of man wept and fought, sacrificed his all, suffered and enjoyed in the act—and was called away to the bosom of the Lover of Lovers when he had realised through his finite being a rasa-lilā, a sweet love-play, the meaning of which only He knows but the portent of which all India and Bengal are to read in the signs of the times—and to read out of all the glories and lapses, all the triumphs and failures of the movement for freedom which this political ascetic, this mighty delight-seeker in storm and thunder, this unwearied activist, and this unabashed poet of the Epic of Love on the stage of a federating, race-fusing, west-assimilating, East-reviving India led through fire and water.

This is not a political article. This is written by a man of some little culture for ‘culturists’ and cultured. I ask : is there a finer task than to bathe in this tossing stream of Love-culture which carried Deshabandhu through the eddies and whirls right into that greatest mystery which we mortals call Death and the Divine Immortals possibly hail as Life?

Bengal wants a synthesis—Asutosh’s brain and Chittaranjan’s heart—the co-ordinate play of intellect and love—the correlate flow and fructification of Sakti and Prema which alone can bridge the yawning chasm between the upper and middle classes and the ‘great unwashed.’ For will she in God’s infinite mercy long wait for such a consummation for the Hour brings the Man.

Nripendrachandra Banerji

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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