Pramatha Chaudhuri

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Pramathanath Chaudhuri
Pramatha chaudhuri.jpg
Born (1868-08-07)7 August 1868
Jessore, British India
Died 2 September 1946(1946-09-02) (aged 78)
Calcutta, British India
Pen name Birbal
Occupation poet, essayist, writer
Nationality British Indian
Period Bengal Renaissance

Pramathanath Chaudhuri (Bengali: প্রমথনাথ চৌধুরী) (7 August 1868 – 2 September 1946), known as Pramatha Chaudhuri, alias Birbal, was a Bengali writer and an influential figure in Bengali literature.

Profoundly patriotic and a stated cosmopolitan, aficionado of Sanskrit, Pramatha Chaudhuri had immense faith in the native genius of the Bengali. "Today if the traditional high Bengali with its stilted Sanskritic elements makes place, more and more, for a form of spoken Bengali, if 'current' Bengali is considered an effective medium of literature of Bengal (including the part that is now Bangladesh)- much of the credit must go to Pramatha Chaudhuri and his magazine Sabuj Patra," says Arun Kumar Mukhopadhyay.

Pramatha Chaudhuri was not only a pioneer; he was also a creative author of exceptional abilities in writing essays and fiction in specific. According to Arun Kumar Mukhopadhyay, "He is undoubtedly one of the most influential makers of the Bengali language and literature in the twentieth century."

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Born of Durgadas Chaudhuri, who belongs to the famous zamindar family of Haripur Village in Pabna (now in Bangladesh), Chaudhuri spent his first five years in Haripur and the following ten at Krishnanagar in Nadia (now in West Bengal). His father's tours of duty took him to many places in Bihar and Bengal Presidency. Chaudhuri recalls of his father, an aristocrat and a high-ranking official of the British Government, "My father, a student of Hindu College (now Presidency College, Kolkata), was an uncompromising atheist. For that matter, the entire Chaudhuri family were anti-god." Two prominent characteristics of his family set their firm impress on Chaudhuri in his boyhood – their zeal and sense of humour and an open philosophy of life. He grew up "in a paradise of paradoxical forces – the rural and urban, hunting and music, feudalism and free thought."

Life at Krishnanagar[edit]

From his fifth to the thirteenth year, Chaudhuri lived at Krishnanagar, renowned for its own sophisticated speech and wit and craftsmanship of Bharat Chardra that made a noteworthy contribution to the growth of literature in Chaudhuri. According to him, 'it (Krishnanagar) gave me speech and shaped my mind' (Atma Katha, An Autobiography). He further assists, "The moment I arrived at Krishnanagar, objects of visual and sensual delight began to enter into my being. I started an intimate acquaintance with the outer world, appreciating its beauty and growing familiar with sights and sound around me. That was indeed an auspicious introduction to that coveted world which philosophers call the world of aesthetics." (Atma Katha, An Autobiography).

"I started singing when I was very young," stated Chaudhuri in his Atma Katha, "With my naturally sonorous voice I could correctly reproduce the tunes that fell upon my ears." Chaudhuri's love of music derived from his mother and in the cultural atmosphere of Krishnanagar it developed into a passion for him.

In this period, Chaudhuri read in as many as six schools, ranging from Pathshala (traditional Hindu village primary schools in Bengal), through a Christian missionary institution, to the local collegiate school. In 1881, when he was in the Entrance class, malaria broke out in an epidemic form at Krishnanagar. Chaudhuri, a victim of that epidemic, remained unconscious for eight days and later was removed to Arrah, his father's semi-urban official station in Bihar. For the next three months, he put aside his texts and read the novels of Bulwer Lytton, George Eliot and Palgrave's Golden Treasury. In 1882, Chaudhuri returned to Kolkata and passed the Entrance examination from Hare School with first division marks.

Youth[edit]

Chaudhuri joined the Presidency College, Kolkata for the First Arts course. But he had to shift to Krishnagar again as an outbreak of dengue fever in Kolkata and joined sophomore year Arts class at Krishnagar College. Unfortunately he had to suspend his studies again and moved to his father in Dinajpur owing to persistent fever. Back in Krishnagar in 1886, he met Rabindranath Tagore, a friend of Ashutosh Chaudhuri, his elder brother, just returned from England. Later Ashutosh inspired his younger brother to learn French and Chaudhuri became an ardent student of French Literature and also obtained an absorbing interest in Pre-Raphaelite poets. Returning to Kolkata in 1887, he passes the Arts examination from St. Xavier's College, Calcutta with second division marks.

Tagore, who made a selection of his own poems for Kadi O Komal with Ashutosh Chaudhuri's collaboration, was a frequent visitor in the Chaudhuri residence in Mott Lane, Kolkata. Ashutosh married to Pratibha Devi, a niece of Tagore and Pramatha to Indira Devi, the daughter of Satyendranath Tagore, Rabindranath's elder brother. Chaudhuri later recalled, "The aesthetic envioronment of the Tagore house whetted my appetite for music. To cap it all, there was Rabindranath's personal affection for us." Noteworthy, Chaudhuri's wife who was later known as Indira Devi Chaudhurani, was a renowned connoisseur of Rabindra Sangeet.

Chaudhuri's attraction towards poetry began when he started attending the discussions between his brother and Tagore. In Atma Katha, He later asserted, "Poetry became meaningful to me. Our pursuit of it was promoted by Rabindranath's presence in person. That created an amazing atmosphere in our family.

Chaudhuri returned to Presidency College in 1888 and the following year received the bachelor's degree with first class Honours in Philosophy. Then he toured far and wide, visiting many places, including Asansol and Darjeeling in Bengal, Sitarampur in Bihar, Raipur in Madhya Pradesh and during this period he learned Sanskrit and Italian. While in Rajshahi (now in Bangladesh) at Lokendranath Palit's residence, Chaudhuri, along with Tagore and Palit, spent hours discussing the course of literature which was later chronicled in his Panchabhut. He got his M.A. in English from Presidency College, standing first in the first class.

Works[edit]

Qualifying for law thereafter, Chaudhuri joined the firm of Ashutosh Dhar, a solicitor, as an article clerk. Chaudhuri sailed for England in 1893 and returned three years after as a Barrister-at-Law, having been called to the bar at/by the Inner Temple. Meanwhile, between, 1890 and 1893, two of this original essays and two stories, Phuldani (The Flower Vass) and Torquato Tasso, were published. Khayal Khata (A Scrap Book) was the first piece that appeared under the pen name Birbal in a Bengali journal Bharati in 1902. He wrote Ek Tukro Smritikatha (A Handful of Reminiscence), in 1908.

With a colloquial style in Bengali Prose and the dominating element of reason and rationality, Chaudhuri as the editor of Sabuj Patra made his first appearance. Around the magazine developed an assembly of authors, a fraternity that regularly gathered in Chaudhuri's Bright Street house.

Later life[edit]

Chaudhuri held a high place in the literary field for thirty years though the number of his contributions in prose and poetry was not large. These comprised tow books of poems, a few collections of short stories and several books of essays. But they made an extensive impact on Bengali literature.

As a Barrister-a-Law, he practiced in Kolkata High Court, but did not take this occupation seriously. For some time he was a lecturer at the Law College, University of Calcutta and also edited a law journal for a period. The closing years of his life he spent at Santiniketan.

Early writings[edit]

Early prose[edit]

Pramatha Chaudhuri's literary productions, though little before the Sabuj Patra phase, gave adequate indication of his aptitude as an author. The preparation for the Sabuj Patra movement went on invisibly between 1880 and 1914. His works occasionally appeared in the periodicals, Sadhana and Bharati, influenced by Brahmo Samaj and run by the Tagore household and the Sahitya, an orthodox Hindu journal edited by Suresh Chandra Samajpati. Chaudhuri's Bengali translation of Etruscan Vase by French author Prosper Mérimée of whom Tagore incidentally tried to dissuade him from translating, with an essay named Adim Manavi (First Woman) appeared in Sahitya in 1891. Chaudhuri's representation of Carmen, from French, never published. He wrote Torquato Tasso Ebang Tanhar Sidhha Betaler Kathopokathan, a translated piece from Italian, for Sadhana in 1893.

Jayadeva (Bharati, 1890) was Chaudhuri's first original prose to be published. Though he followed a conventional style of writing here, he did not accept Jayadeva, the composer of Gita Govinda, as neither a first-rank poet nor he would recognize him as a pious person and convincingly established its depiction of sensuous delights. Bharati published it, though Tagore differed from Chaudhuri's revolutionary point of view.

As it is said, his first work as Birbal was Kheyal Khata, published in Bharati, 1902. Of it he asserted, "The subject may not be serious but it must have truth in it. Still better if embellishment can be added. Worn-out thoughts and ideas are as unacceptable as worn-out coins. My preferences lean to the lighter side of life. Tit-bits, apparently insignificant, are my favorite cup of tea. Literature, I strongly feel, has to be tuned anew to save it from static melodrama. Our country badly needs today a good bath in the sunshine of gaiety and humour – if not for our happiness, for our mental health."

Banga Bhasha banam Babu Bangla orfe Sadhu Bhasha (Bengali Language vis a vis Traditional Bengali) and Sadhu Bhasha banam Chalit Bhasha (Book Language versus Colloquial Language) were two articles published in Bharati in 1912. According to Arun Kumar Mukhopadhyay, "He injected vitality into Bengali prose – a force imbedded in this very nature of spoken language. This resulted from his realization that a language is far removed from the way people speak it, loses the throb of life." In four essays written in this period, Chaudhuri made his views about the proper diction of prose clear –

  • 1. "Bengali language can be revitalized only if our writers avoid the tendency to make it sweet and sonorous. What they should do, instead, is to make it lively and living." (Malat Samalochana or Jacket Criticism, 1912)
  • 2. "I love the Bengali language and admire Sanskrit too. But admiration does not necessarily mean blind adherence – at least I do not belong to that school of thought. My writing pulsates with life only when its language is the way I speak it. I will therefore advocate uniformity between the written and the spoken word – disharmony I hate most… We should go all out to whet our language, unloading all unnecessary burdens. I agree to the incorporation of such expressions s must be incorporated, provided one can appropriately adjust them to one's own style. But thus far and no further. No begging or borrowing either of words or of ideas." (Kathar Katha, 1902)
  • 3. "It is an irony indeed that the more removed words are from the spoken, the more egoistic our writers become. That paradox has to be removed altogether." (Banga Bhasha banam Babu Bangla orfe Sadhu Bhasha, 1912)
  • 4. "In respect of the etymology of words the Bengali language is very akin to French. I am quoting below an English writer's views on the French language. It will be clear to readers that Latin and French are as interrelated as Sanskrit and Bengali:

'With a very few exceptions, every word in the French vocabulary comes straight from Latin. The influence of pre-Roman Celts is almost imperceptible, while the number of words introduced by the Frankish conquerors amounts to no more than a few.'

If we substitute 'Bengali' for 'French', 'the primitive tribes' for 'pre-Roman Celts', 'Sanskrit' for 'Latin' and 'Muslim' for 'Frankish', the above excerpt will be an exposition of the Bengali language.

It follows, therefore, that the characteristics of French literature exist in Bengali literature – in fact they ought to exist. The above English critic said further:

'French Literature is absolutely homogeneous. The genius of the French language, descended from a single stock, has triumphed most – in simplicity, in unity, in clarity, and in restraint."' (Sadhu Bhasha banam Chalit Bhasha, 1912)

In Bangla Sahityer Nabajug (A New Era in Bengali Literature), published in 1913 in Bharati, Chaudhuri analyzed the character of Bengali literature of the time and indicates the affinity of the new literature to the mass.

Early poetry[edit]

Sonnet Panchasat, his first collection of poem was published in 1913. It was a collection of fifty sonnets in which Chaudhuri "did succeed in marrying rhyme and reason". In a letter dated 22 April 1913, Tagore wrote to Chaudhuri of this collection, "I am delighted to have read your Sonnet Panchasat. I do not recall coming across this type in our Bengali literature. Every single line is worth attention. That proves how sincere you have been. A steel knife, as it were, its sharp-edged simile dazzles. Nowhere do sobs choke or shadows dim it. Only a few blood strains are barely perceptible. You have indeed added a new string of steel to Saraswati's Veena."

In a letter dated 6 November 1941, to poet Amiya Chakravarty, Chaudhuri revealed, "My sonnets represent largely my interest in experiments. I wonder, therefore, if they will stand the literary test. If some of them do, unhesitatingly I shall attribute my success to the rigorous rules of sonnets. It is likely that my sonnets breathe more artificially than art."

Chaudhuri's second collection of verses, Padacharan, which he dedicated to poet Satyendranath Dutta, was published in 1919. These poems were written between 1911 and 1916 and according to Chaudhuri, "Presumptuous though it may appear for a prose writer to intrude into poetic field, I have ventured nonetheless in the firm belief that, if anything, my poems have rhyme and, may I add, reason as well."

Indeed, Chaudhuri's poems "sparkle with wit". For example, one can site his poems like Balika Badhu, Bernard Shaw, Dwijendralal, Byartho Jiban, Upadesh, Atma Katha and Taj Mahal. In Byartho Jiban, he proclaimed, "I do not wield my pen to please readers". As a poet, Chaudhuri was neither pessimistic or an escapist nor even sold to romanticism or emotion. He was a passionate lover of this universe and joyous minstrel of the modern mind.

Sabuj Patra[edit]

Appearance[edit]

Cover of Sabuj Patra, edited by Pramatha Chaudhuri.

Sabuj Patra (Bengali: সবুজ পত্র, "Green Leaf"), was a liberal and pro-Tagore Bengali magazine, edited by Pramatha Chaudhuri, made its debut in April, 1914. In the very first issue, the editor clarified the ideals and objectives of the magazine:

Literature shakes man out of his slumber in relation to the world of reality. If our forerunners can appreciate the spirit of Sabuj Patra and join hands with us they will be able to see the mental and moral void in Bengali character and thus render a great service to the nation...There is no denying fact that our contact with Europe has given us ability to shake off our inertia both objective and subjective. The great joy that emanates from this emancipation is the soul force of any creative literature. It does not matter where one picks up the seed of a new idea; what does matter, however, is his ability to cultivate it in his own environment. This is a great lesson Europe has to offer…That we have today turned towards India's hoary past and have set our selves to glean rich resources from it is unquestionably the outcome of the new educative influence of Europe...The modern European literature may not be akin to the ancient Indian in character but there is, I feel, an affinity of spirit. The new generation is fortunate that it can gather fruits from both indigenous and foreign sources. To me, the literature that reflects this new age is worth its name, the rest can be rejected as junk. Novelty is not our aim at all. Ours is a mission to mirror meticulously a momentous moment in modern Bengal. Within its limited space and power, Sabuj Patra will help writers to express their thoughts concisely but cogently because we believe that literature is not the product of forced regulations but of self-restraint. And the more one is aware of his area, the more disciplined is his writing. Sabuj Patra will attempt to earmark that area. (Sabuj Patrer Istahar, Manifesto of Sabuj Patra, 1914)

Of the name of the journal, Chaudhuri asserted:

The new leaf is green, a wonderful amalgam of aesthetic and spiritual beauty. It is encircled by blue on its right, yellow on its left, violet and red within its eastern and western ends. The green dynamic mind works a wonderful synthesis between the finite and the infinite, the east and the west, reminiscences and reckoning … we have look forward to the day when this green ripen to red, the buoyant vibrancy to a full-blooded vigour. This, however, can only occur if we discover our own selves and dedicate them to sublimation. Worshipping the alabaster image of the Goddess of Learning, be it of East of West, is not our cult. Instead we are solemnly placing an earthen pitcher in our temple and planting a budding green leaf in it. Unlike traditional temples, dark and dingy, ours will be a tall and stately structure, allowing profuse air and light to enter from all corners of the globe. Thus the green will flower into its fullness. Above all, people, irrespective of caste, creed and colour, will have easy access to our temple. But there will be no corner for dry leaves. (Sabuj Patra, April, 1914)

Char-Yari Katha[edit]

Char-Yari Katha (Bengali: চার ইয়ারি কথা, 'Tales of Four Friends'), published in 1916, is Chaudhuri's magnum opus as a storyteller. A rare presentation and superb implementation, this story depicts Chaudhuri's evident art and artifice. "All the four episodes of it emanate from the world of memory, in some cases factual, and in others factious… A study in depth, however, reveals that Char-Yari Katha weaves a yarn which is neither fact nor fiction." [1]

Synopsis[edit]

Each tale in Char-Yari Katha is narrated by the protagonist of the story. The first tale is told by Sen, a youth who during a walk along the banks of Ganges in Kolkata, encountered a beautiful English-woman. He instantly fell in love with her and she too gave him a meaningful smile just before he found her a lunatic, escaped from an asylum. Her pathetic laughter and excruciating scream while being dragged away broke the magical charm and destroyed Sen's delusion. He realized, "From the moment the eternal feminine was lost to me forever but I my own self."

The second tale, told by Sitesh, portrays the protagonists quest for eternal feminine in many souls and his failure to find anyone. On a drizzly afternoon in London, Sitesh found her lady love, an English girl, with whom he fell in love at the first sight. He begged her for a second visit. The girl put her card in his pocket and made him promise that he would not open it for five minute. After five minute he took the card out just to realize his guineas were pinched. The girl was nowhere to be found by then.

The Third tale is told by Somnath, who, in order to be cured from insomnia, went for a change of climate to a small town in England's South West Coast Path. In hotel met a calm and compassionate young girl whom he named Tarini and affectionately called Rini. The affair went on more than a year and Rini seemed to take interest on Somnath. But at last he found that he had been used by the girl to make her fiancé jealous.

The last tale, which is quite different from the previous three, is told by Roy. Anna, a maid servant where Roy lived as a paying guest in London, fell in love with him. But neither had she given any indication of her love nor did Roy realize anything by himself. After ten long years, he received a long-distant call from a battlefield in France where Anna met her death while serving as a nurse and the call, at last, disclosed her love for Roy.

Criticism[edit]

Tales of Four Friends, a translated edition of the story in English by Indira Devi Chaudhurani was thus criticized: "Tales of Four Friends is an Indian attempt to write the counterpart such tales as Mr. Kipling's Without Benefit of Clergy and Pierre Loti's Romantic accounts of exotic amours. We need only add that Mr. Chaudhuri's style is worthy of the high reputation his magazine has own as a record of all that is best in contemporary Bengali literature." [2]

Annada Shankar Ray's comment is suffice to indicate the importance of Char-Yari Katha in Bengali literature, "The eternal aroma of a romantic mind is at the heart of Char-Yari Katha. It is at once pleasant and poignant. Another Char-Yari Katha cannot be had for the asking. One cannot just walk back into youth and folly. Indeed, it is the swan song of second youth longing for the earlier one." (Birbal, 1941)

Bibliography[edit]

Non-fiction prose[edit]

  • 1. Tel Nun Lakri, 1906 – Collection of Socio-political Essays.
  • 2. Birbaler Halkhata, 1917 – Collection of Essays.
  • 3. Nana Katha, 1919 – Collection of Essays.
  • 4. Aamaader Shiksha, 1920 – Collection of Essays.
  • 5. Du-Yarki, 1920 – Collection of Political Essays.
  • 6. Birbaler Tippani, 1921 – Collection of Short Essays.
  • 7. Rayater Katha, 1926 – Rayater Katha and other Essays.
  • 8. Nana Charcha, 1932 – Collection of Essays.
  • 9. Ghare Baire, 1936 – Collection of Essays.
  • 10. Prachin Hindusthan, 1940 – Collection of Essays.
  • 11. Banga-Sahityer Sanskhipta Parichaya, 1944 – Girish Ghosh Lecture, delivered at the instance of the University of Calcutta.
  • 12. Hindu-Sangeet, 1945 – Collection of Short Notes on Music
  • 13. Atma-Katha, 1946 – Autobiography
  • 14. Prabandha Sangraha, Vol.I, 1952 – Collection of Selected Essays.
  • 15. Prachin Bangla Sahitye Hindu-Musalman, 1953 – A Treatise
  • 16. Prabandha Sangraha, Vol.II, 1952 – Collection of Selected Essays.

Poetry[edit]

  • 1. Sonnet Panchasat, 1913 – Collection of 50 Sonnets.
  • 2. Padacharan, 1919 – Collection of Poems.
  • 3. Sonnet Panchasat and Anyanya Kabita, 1961 – Collection of all Sonnets and Poems.

Fiction[edit]

  • 1. Char-Yari Katha, (Tales of Four Friends), 1916 – Story.
  • 2. Ahuti, 1919 – Collection of Short Stories.
  • 3. Nil-Lohit, 1932 – Collection of Stories.
  • 4. Nil-Lohiter Adi-Prem, 1934 – Collection of Stories.
  • 5. Ghoshaler Tri-Katha, 1937 – Collection of Stories.
  • 6. Anukatha-Saptak, 1939 – Collection of Short Stories.
  • 7. Galpa-Sangraha, 1941 – Collection of Stories.
  • 8. Galpa-Sangraha, 1968 – Collection of Stories (Revised Enlarged Edition).

Collected works[edit]

1. Pramatha Chaudhuri Granthabali, 1926 – Collection of Prose and Poetical Works.

Further reading[edit]

  • Samsad Bangali Charitabhidhan (Biographical Dictionary), ed. by Anjali Bose, Sahitya Samsad, Kolkata. ISBN 81-86806-98-9
  • Makers of Indian Literature: Pramatha Chaudhury, Arun Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, ISBN 81-260-1426-1

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Page 38, Makers of Indian Literature: Pramatha Chaudhuri, Arun Kumar Mukhopadhyay
  2. ^ June, 1944, Times Literary Supplement