Traveller Rabindranath – 6 by Kumud Biswas SignUp
Traveller Rabindranath – 6
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His first 3 letters our poet seems to have sent from Brighton, but his 4th letter he sent from London. At this time Taraknath Palit, a successful barrister of Calcutta and a close friend of Satyendranath, was visiting England. He had admitted his son Lokendranath in the University of London. His ultimate object was to prepare him for the ICS examination. He came to Brighton and advised his friend to keep his young brother outside the protective walls of the family home so that he could grow up independently as an adult capable of facing the world on his own.  Moreover, a small private academy of a small suburban town which taught its students dancing and singing was not the place for training for a career in law or civil service. Here there was no university or the Inns of Court. So by the middle of January 1879 after a stay of barely 3 months at Brighton our poet was moved to London.
Our travel with the poet has in fact become a time travel and to satisfy our curiosity here we shall take a short break and travel farther back in time to see why and how this business of visiting Britain by the Indians to become an ICS or barrister began. According to the Proclamation issued at Allahabad in the name of the Queen on 1st November, 1858, among other things, the assurance was given that all Indian subjects of Her Majesty “of whatever race or creed, may be freely and impartially admitted to offices in our service, the duties of which they may be qualified, by their education, ability and integrity, duly to discharge.” Rudely shaken by the Mutiny the British authorities gave assurances not only to the native rulers and princes but also to the newly emerging English educated middle classes to lure them away from the path of sedition and rebellion. This was not a small pittance which was being enjoyed by hundreds of natives serving their English masters as menials and petty subordinate officials. This was something really big. And the mood of the English educated natives of the time may be gauged from the concluding paragraph of Bankimchandra’s essay – Bharatbarsher swadhinata o paradhinata, already published in boloji in my translation – “We want to conclude that in modern India there is racial domination and in ancient India there was caste domination. None of them is acceptable. It must however be admitted that because of foreign domination Indians with higher learning and intellect are finding it difficult to flourish according to their abilities. This is a kind of great oppression. The foreigners have deprived us of a share in higher administration and without experience in administrative work we cannot develop our administrative capabilities. This is thwarting our progress. In ancient India men of higher intellect and learning did not suffer from this handicap. At the same time now we have got the scope to learn European science and literature. This good fortune has been possible because of foreign rule. Thus our subjection has caused us loss in some respects but gains in other areas. Comparatively in ancient India people of higher classes could enjoy the fruits of freedom to a great extent. The common people seem to be rather better off in modern India.”
The first Indian Western-style secular university established on 24 January 1857 at Calcutta produced only two graduates for the first time in1858 and Bankim was one of them. On the 6th of August of the same year he was appointed a deputy magistrate. It was two months before the issue of the Queen’s Proclamation. Even if his appointment had been delayed he could not have been appointed to any higher administrative post immediately after the Proclamation because it was still the exclusive preserve of the Haileyburians – the Europeans recruited by the East India Company through the patronage system and trained in its Haileybury College. Three more years were to pass for the introduction of the new system of recruitment through open competition. The Haileyburians considered such recruitment humiliating and contemptuously called the ICS who replaced them - the Competition-wallas. It was open to the Indians also in principle but in practice it was very difficult for any and every eligible Indian to avail of this opportunity. The examination was held in London. The British were yet to get the shock of the First World War and the Russian Revolution and agree to the native demand of increased Indianization of higher administration and holding of the ICS examination simultaneously in India also. For a teenager to go to a foreign land to take this examination was not so easy. It was a very costly affair too which not many Indians could afford. Initially among those who could afford few could dare. From Bengal one boy named Manomohan Ghosh first dared. He persuaded his friend Satyendranath Tagore to accompany him in his foreign sojourn. These two friends were the first two Indians to appear in this examination. Satyendranath passed and unfortunately Manomohan failed. But this indomitable man became a barrister. Thus the English educated Indians who considered it beneath their dignity to become either a petty clerk or some such subordinate official and aspired to a higher station in life began to visit England. In the beginning their aim was either the ICS or law. Many of those who failed to join the ‘heaven-born’ service - the ICS – used to become barristers; instead of passing a stiff competitive examination attendance in a few dinners in the Inns of Court was often enough for that. In time they would become very rich and form a sizeable part of the Congress Party also. Gandhiji himself was a barrister! Taraknath Palit had assured our poet at Brighton that as a barrister he would undoubtedly be very successful! As fate would have it, in the end however Gandhiji was to miss his Gurudev as a senior colleague in his profession. Temperamentally he was different and unique; he could not fit into any common pattern. Though he became a lawyer so was our Mahatmaji too. They were their own models. When young they were completely unaware of their own ultimate destiny.
In the above quoted paragraph of his essay Bankim very succinctly expressed the sentiments of the English educated Indians of the time. Foreign rule meant oppression no doubt but through it our contact with the West made us modern. The progressive element of our society was full of admiration for their literature, science, technology, social and political ideas and institutions and did its best to learn and imbibe them. Men like Bankim, Tagore , Gandhi and a host of other greats arose in our midst. They absorbed what was best in that civilization and reformed our society keeping their feet firmly on the native soil. They never severed their roots. But there was a darker side also. A considerable section of this English educated people was dazzled by the outward show of the Western society and slavishly imitated them and completely forgot their native roots. One of the uniquely English political systems – the parliamentary democracy – was adored by these Indians. Our poet was no exception and the first thing he did in London was to pay a few visits to the Parliament House while in session. It was this that he described in his fourth letter which we propose to deal with in a nutshell in our next blog. It may be mentioned here that he never approved of the blind imitation and adoption of this system by the Indians. Interested readers may read his Rayater katha already published in boloji as The Story of the Rayat in my translation. Next he wrote more letters criticizing the Bengali segment of the visitors of England of that time calling them Inga-Bangas or the Anglicized Bengalis. In the hand of a satirist this criticism could have been quite vitriolic but our poet is full of humour and fun. This will be the subject of another blog. In the meantime let us wait to accompany the poet to the Parliament House.


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