CIVIL

Great works of Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar in Burdwan Division-1869

Burdwan

We have said before, that latterly our hero had to seek healthy places for renovation of his impaired health, and that he generally resorted to Burdwan, which was one of the best sanitariums of the day. Vidyasagar had an old cook, by name Harakali Chaudhuri, who used to accompany his master in his sojourns. It is said, that one day, while at Burdwan, this Harakali reprehended a beggar woman, who had received alms from Vidyasagar in the shape of coins and cloth several times, for her impudence in coming to his master often for help. The kind-hearted Vidyasagar overheard this, and at once ordered retirement of the old servant on a monthly pension of two rupees. It is also said, that though the cook implored his master’s forgiveness, he did not forgive htm, but insisted on his retirement.

The heroic Vidyasagar was broken down by ill-health; he was enfeebled and reduced to a skeleton; yet there was no cessation of his benevolent works. In 1869, the fatal Malarial Fever broke out in Burdwan. It had made its first appearance in the year 1825 at Mahammadpur, a large village in the Jessore district, which was devastated by its ravages. In the course of the next 44 years it had ravaged the greater part of the 24 Pergunnas and Nuddea districts. It then crossed the Bhagirathi and suddenly appeared in Hugli and Burdwan. The sufferings and hardships of the poor people were quite undescribable. There was no reckoning how many persons succumbed under the fatal disease. The news-papers of the time, particularly the Hindoo Patriot, appealed loudly to Government for help. No sooner did the fearful tidings reach his ears, than the tender-hearted, benevolent Vidyasagar was moved to compassion, and hastened to the field of action.

This time he did not put up with his friend, Pyari Chand Mitra, but took up his lodgings in a separate rented house, where he opened a charitable dispensary for the poor sufferers. He devoted himself to minister to them by nursing them and supplying them with medicines at their homes. In his travels round the city he witnessed the pitiful state of the suffering people, and saw numbers dying from want of medical help. He heard that the Civil Surgeon in charge of the district had lent a cold ear to the pitiful cries of the poor. He informed Government of the terrible state of things. He was not content with mere writing. He returned to Calcutta and interviewed Sir William Grey, the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal on the subject, and caused temporary hospitals to be opened in different parts of the infected area, under the charge of able medical officers. He also caused the apathetic Civil Surgeon of Burdwan to be removed, and a sympathetic man posted in his place. He then came back to Burdwan, and applied himself in right earnest to relieve the afflicted of their miseries. In his own private dispensary he made provisions not only for the supply of medicines and diet to the sufferers but also money in cash for the food of the convalescent and the unaffected poor, without distinction of caste or creed. He provided them also with clothes, which cost him nearly 2,000 rupees. He was moved to all these acts of benevolence not by any desire for a name or fame, but simply by the impulse of his naturally kind heart. Yet the Hindoo Patriot and other leading periodicals of the time spoke of him in highly complimentary terms and gave him loud cheers.

In this work of love and charity, he was greatly aided by doctor Ganga Naryan Mitra, a medical practitioner, nephew of Pyari Chand Mitra. Ganga Narayaa was placed in sole charge of Vidyasagar’s dispensary. The fearful epidemic grew every day more and more serious and caused a great havoc among the people. The number of patients attending Vidyasagar’s dispensary daily rose by leaps and bounds, as here they were supplied with food and pice, besides free medicine.. Latterly, the number of patients rose so high, that Ganga Narayan asked his principal to be permitted to give Cinchona instead of pure Quinine, as the latter was much more costly than the former. But Vidyasagar did not approve of the plan. He said that the lives of the rich and the poor were equally valuable, and should be taken care of equally. He insisted on the use of Quinine, however costly it might be. He looked after the poor sufferers from hut to hut, and when he saw that the diseased was too feeble to walk to the dispensary, he made the medical officer attend the patient at his own hut, and he himself carried the medicine for him. He thus saved numbers of poor people from imminent death, who, but for his kind care and charities, would certainly have died.

We have said before, that Pyari Chand Mitra and our hero were intimate friends. On the former’s death, the latter treated his family with the same tenderness and affection. Pyari Chand’s first son, Babu Khetra Nath Mitra is at present a Munsiff, and his youngest son, Avinas Chandra Mitra, is Serishtadar of the Judge’s Court at Burdwan, His son-in-law, Babu Giris Chandra Basu, is the managing proprietor of the Bangabasi College at Calcutta. Vidyasagar loved Giris Chandra most dearly. The two families are still in very good terms of friendship.

Although Burdwan had lost its former salubrity of climate, it was all these attractions and his former love of the place that made Vidyasagar visit it now and then. The people of Burdwan knew him too well to forget him. Whenever he alighted at the platform of the Railway Station, the poor surrounded him on all sides, as they were sure to get from him something. On one of these occasions, a poor, ragged, little boy with a pale countenance approached our noble hero and begged him for a pice. The lad’s fleshless body and wan face moved him to compassion. Besides, the sorrowful, pale countenance of the beggar boy had something of a peculiar illumination in it. Vidyasagar was a little curious about him, and began to talk with him in rather familiar tones. He said,—’Suppose, I give you four pice.’ The boy did not know Vidyasagar personally, and he thought naturally that the man was jesting. He said,—’No use of joke, sir; kindly give me a pice.’ Our hero replied.-‘This is no joke; if I do give you four pice, what would you do?’ The boy said.—’I would lay out two pice in buying something to eat, and give the other two pice to my mother.’ Vidyasagar then said,—’And if I give you two annas?’ The boy now thought, that the man was really making fun of him, and was about to recede, when our hero caught hold of his arms, and said,—’Now tell me the truth, what would you then do?’ The poor boy’s eyes were now full of tears, which trickled down his breast; he said,—’In that case, I should buy rice for four pice and give the rest to my mother, for that will defray our expenses for another day.’ Vidyasagar again asked him,—’And if I give you four annas?’ The boy was still in the hold of our hero; he had no means of escape, unless and until he answered the question. He therefore replied,—’I would reserve two annas to cover our expenses for two days, and the other two annas I would lay out in purchasing mangoes. I shall sell them for four annas, that will again defray our expenses for two days and serve me to have a capital of two annas, which I might lay out in dealing in mangoes, and thus manage to feed my mother and myself for some days.’ Vidyasagar was greatly touched by the tale, and gave him a rupee. The boy bounded away highly delighted. About two years after this, Vidyasagar again went to Burdwan. As he was about to enter the shop of a former acquaintance near the Station, a stout and strong boy advanced and saluted him, and then said,—’Would you please, sir, come and take your seat in my shop.’ Vidyasagar was taken by surprise, and he asked the youth,—’Who are you; why should I go to your shop?’ The boy said with tears in his eyes,—”About two years ago, I begged you for a pice; you kindly gave me a rupee. Out of that rupee, I bought rice for two annas, and laid out the remaining fourteen annas in dealing in mangoes. I made a little profit by selling them. By degrees I had a small stock, and I have now turned a chapman of petty miscellaneous articles. Would you, please, come and have a look into my shop.” Vidyasagar then recollected the little incident of two years back. He blessed the youth and accompanied him to his shop, to his great satisfaction.

Even when so busily engaged in his labour of love at infected Burdwan, his own health completely broken down, he never forgot his literary work. Here he composed his Bhranti-Vilasa, compiled from Shakspeare’s “Comedy of Errors.” The language of the book is sweet, melodious, and humorous. What wonderful powers of translation did Vidyasagar possess. How beautifully he has clothed foreign language and ideas in his native dress, and made them peculiarly his own! The plot of the Comedy of Errors is rather complex. In spite of this difficulty, he has so nicely narrated it in his Bhranti-Vilas, that the excellent humour displayed in the original has not lost its force in the translation. To say the truth, Bhranti-Vilasa is an excellent novel in Bengali. The readers of Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare are well aware how difficult it is to turn a play into a novel This difficult task has been very nicely accomplished by Vidyasagar, He has displayed the same skilfulness of attractive expression in his compilation of the Bhranti-Vilasa, that he has displayed in compiling the Sitar Vanavasa from Bhavabhuti’s excellent drama, the “Uttara-Charita.” If Vidyasagar had favoured us with some more translations of Shakespeare’s plays, the Bengali language would surely have attained far greater improvement.

It is said, that Vidyasagar finished the composition of this book in 15 days, during which he wrote for a quarter of an hour every day before going to dinner. It must be said that fortunately for the country Vidyasagar gave up Mathematics as a dry subject, and applied himself to the study of Shakespeare with his friend, Ananda Krishna. If he had not done so, how could the readers of Bengali ever expect to get such an excellent translation of the great poet of the world? The same was the case with Macaulay. He also thought Mathematics dry and insipid, and paid greater attention to Literature. Had he not done so, most probably the world would have been deprived of his numerous excellent literary works. It may consequently be deduced that God opens to men of talents their ways of work according to their respective natural propensities.

The Bhranti-Vilasa was the last of his school-books. All such books that he wrote were printed and published in his life-time, with the exception of two, the Basudeva-Charita, noticed before, and the Ramer Rajyabhisheka (Coronation of Rama). The last-named book was under print in 1869, and only six forms of it had been printed, when Vidyasagar was told that another book bearing the same name by Sasi Bhushan Chattopadhyay had already appeared. He, therefore, stopped the publication of his book. Sasi Bhushan once said to one of his friends:—”After my Ramer Rajyabhisheka had been published, Vidyasagar one day personally called at the Press where the book had been printed, and purchased a copy of it. I was not then present at the Press. When I came to the Press and heard of it, I at once ran to the Sanskrit Press Depository with a copy of my book. I met Vidyasagar there. I saluted him, and presented him with the copy. He smiled, and said;—”I have already bought a copy of your book. Very good, I accept your present. The book has been nicely got up.'”

The six forms already printed show that the language of Vidyasagar’s book is more concise and refined. The same beautiful language, the same vigorous flow of style, and the same nice arrangement of thoughts and expressions are found here as in his “Sitar Vanabasa.” Of course, it must be admitted that the Bengali language has now-a-days taken a different course; but there was a time, when Vidyasagar’s language was the best model—when writers of Bengali imitated his style.

Pyari Chand Mitra, under the pseudonym of Tek Chand Thakur, wrote his books in an easy, provincial style, and tried to turn the course of the Bengali language into a different channel; but he failed to leave a standing land-mark for the succeeding generation of authors to follow. It was the talented writer Bankim Chandra Chatarji that succeeded in giving the Bengali language a new shape, which he formed by a combination of the styles of Vidyasagar and Tek Chand. As the chemical combination of two substances of different attributes produces quite a new substance, so by the combination of the two different styles of Vidyasagar and Tek Chand, Bankim Chandra has given birth to a new style. At the present time, this style is imitated in most cases, though endeavours are being made in some quarters to give it a still newer shape, by casting it in Bankim Chandra’s mould, but, at the same time, adding to it something more. The language of the Tagores of the present day might be mentioned by way of illustration. The Bengali language is, no doubt, under change, and there is no certainty what form it will ultimately take; but whatever shape it may take, it will always recall Vidyasagar with sentiments of profound veneration, and the writers of Bengali will ever be under a deep debt of obligation to him and pay homage to his feet, in as much as the Bengali language, however newly shaped, must bear some shade of the elegance and beauty of the great writer’s style.

The Bengali language has its origin in Sanskrit. As a matter of consequence, the inflexion of gender and other changes are formed in accordance with the rules of the mother tongue. But in most cases, the practice is at present being deviated from. Bankim Chandra’s language shows that in some cases he has strictly followed Sanskrit in the inflexion of his words, while in others he has quite deviated from it. This deviation is almost general with most of the authors of the present day, with the honourable exception of the very able and thoughtful writer, Kali Prasanna Ghosh of Dacca. Some are still of opinion, that Bengali should follow its mother language in the inflexion of gender and other changes, and a deviation from it would make it incorrect. In the correct use of the inflexions, Kali Prasanna Ghosh has no equal. But the modern writers of Bengal do not like to bind themselves to follow Sanskrit in every respect. In fine, the Bengali language, like the English, is under change. But we must repeat again, that however alteration it might undergo in shape, beauty, or melody, it must always remain deeply indebted to Vidyasagar. It will not be an easy thing to discard him altogether; his frame-work must unavoidably be taken up.


SOURCE: Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar(1820–1891), a story of his life and work by Subal Chandra Mitra-1902

Bhagabati Devi, Vidyasagar's mother.

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