The Bengali Bhadralok has never been easy to define either as an individual or as part of a group belonging (essentially) to the upper castes—Brahmin, Kayastha, Vaishya. Others with not so privileged caste credentials also became part of the “bhadralok community”, getting there through sheer enterprise and hard work.
The historian Narayani Gupta, in an e-mail made the following observations: “The word is obviously a translation of ‘gentlemen’ and, since the concept of ‘class’ was not used in the 19th century, they fell back on caste, Brahmin, Kayastha, Vaidya. No one named them, but I would like to know if one of them did it, or whether they got together and had a mutual christening. I hear a lot about “boro lok” and “chhoto lok” which seems to be about wealth or its absence. If a “boro” is also a “bhodro”, that would make it perfect. But are they?” She posits thus and asks a question as well.
The answer is complex in the extreme. Wealth or its absence for the bhadralok is both important and, paradoxically, unimportant. It is, of course, helpful to have wealth but it is equally important not to talk about it. Wearing the mantle of a privileged existence lightly is important, a trait shared with the privileged classes in Europe and America.
In its institutional sense, the term was first used by Bhabanicharan Bandyopadhayay (1787-1848) in his literary works. Native clericals and petty officials serving the British state, new zamindars, and entrepreneurs were made themes of satirical works like Kalikata Kamalalaya (1823), Naba Babu Bilas (1825) and Naba Bibi Bilas (1831).
Education, good manners and breeding go hand in hand with the acquisition of wealth, though not necessarily so. Sensitivity to the finer aspects of life informed by the arts, namely music, literature, painting, architecture, it is widely believed, leads to more responsible social behaviour. The idea is largely true. However, with all such observations, there is a rider. Before this happens, there exists the very real possibility of committing acts of unbelievable cruelty and ruthlessness, in negation of all morality and ethics. Examples of such inhumanity can be found all over the world, in China, Japan, Europe, the Americas, Persia and India.
The bhadralok, before arriving at this appreciation of the beauties of life and its subtleties probably went through an “apprenticeship” in cruelty, hypocrisy, amoral social behaviour and, on occasion, abdication of social and political responsibility.
To quote Narayani Gupta again, “The Bangapedia has a long piece historicising its use (the term bhadralok). In its institutional sense, the term was first used by Bhabanicharan Bandyopadhayay (1787-1848) in his literary works. Native clericals and petty officials serving the British colonial state, the noveau riche, new zamindars, and entrepreneurs were made themes of satirical works like Kalikata Kamalalaya (1823), Naba Babu Bilas (1825) and Naba Bibi Bilas (1831). Bhabanicharan ridiculed the emergent class using the term bhadralok. The bhadralok did not really come from bhadrasan but from the clerical, commercial and the new landed class, who built their fortune through associations and transactions with the Europeans; after coming in contact with the Europeans and being influenced by them, they became indifferent about religion and (the) culture of their forefathers.”
It would be interesting to note the role of the (Hindu) Kayasthas during Mughal rule. The Mathurs, Lals, Srivastavas and Saxenas were an indispensable part of Mughal administration.
Independent film maker Judhajit Sarkar, himself from the same class, says bhadralok are not babus as a stereotype. “They resembled the British ‘gentle folk’ and were the first generation of [western] educated Indians. They imitated the manners of the Brits and flowered in the arts and education.
“Rather laid back, they were mostly comfortable in softer jobs. Riddled with contradictions, often termed hypocritical, they were in general good, honest people.” Now, though, they are “practically extinct, or worse still, resemble the other end—the rough, coarse people termed ‘chhoto lok’ (subaltern) by the same segment of folks once known as bhadralok.”
o digress with a purpose, it would be interesting to note the role of the (Hindu) Kayasthas during Mughal rule. The Mathurs, Lals, Srivastavas and Saxenas were an indispensable part of Mughal administration. They were both of the upper class and the upper caste, forming a quartet with the Rajputs, Banias and Brahmins, the “controllers” of all formal, codified knowledge at the top.
The Kayasthas probably because of their broader education, communication skills and administrative abilities were liked by the Mughals and given important positions at court. From their employers, the Kayasthas learned to eat meat and developed delicious variations on Mughal cuisine.
Their adaptability also caught the eye of the British rulers of India, post-1857, after the First War of Independence, particularly in the north. The Kayathas took advantage of western education on offer and, learning the English language, discovered a whole new world of knowledge, especially in the sciences. The British wished to neutralise Muslim dissent and so made all occidental, hence modern knowledge, inaccessible except to the pliant micro-minority in the community.
The Kayasthas—just as they had during Mughal rule gained access to the intricate workings of the minds of their employers by learning Persian and Arabic—in the second half of the 19th century studied English with the same seriousness as they did Urdu. The Kayasthas in the 1920s, 30s and 40s played an important role in the everyday administration of British India as they have done these 70 years after independence.
The Khatris in Punjab came into their own during British rule, post the fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kingdom in 1840. Traditionally of business stock, they flourished even more as the possibilities of trade were enhanced. Both the English language and the new world of knowledge on offer were eagerly lapped up by many members of this community. They served the British India government as engineers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, civil servants and in the police and the railways. Many also prospered as businessmen. These trends were carried over into Independent India, with an addition; they also did politics exceptionally well.
ould one say that it was with the churning that resulted from contact with European thought, not just the mercantile aspirations of the East India Company, that enlightened figures like Raja Ram Mohan Roy came on the scene, fought the practice of Sati and succeeded in bringing about its abolition by the British? Sati was an inhuman act, depriving widows of their lives so that their male relatives could seize their movable and immovable property. It was practised mainly by the upper caste, hence upper class folk.
Through interaction with the Khiljis, Afghans and later still, the Mughals, meat—venison and goat—became acceptable. Chicken or woodcock may have entered the menu only after the British arrived.
It was the bhadralok’s desire to acquire wealth first and fulfil cultural aspirations thereafter. Folk traditions flourished in music, like the kirtan singing of the Vaishnav variety, and of the Ram Prasadi strain in praise of Kali, where she is depicted as a compassionate mother rather than exclusively as an avenger of evil. The creator of this genre of religious music Ram Prasad Sen (1720-1775), was a Shakta who became a court poet of Raja Krishna Chandra of Nadia (now in West Bengal).
Simultaneously, there was this movement towards classical music, for instance, the Bishnupur gharana of Dhrupad singers and instrumentalists and later the arrival in Calcutta of Wajid Ali Shah, Nawab of Avadh deposed by the British after the first war of independence in 1857. It may not be wrong to surmise that it was after his coming to Matia Burj, on the outskirts of Calcutta with his entourage of musicians, poets and cooks, that both classical music and (non-vegetarian) cuisine received a fillip in Bengal.
Through interaction with the Khiljis, Afghans and later still, the Mughals, meat—venison and goat—became acceptable. Chicken or woodcock, considered unclean by upper caste Hindus, may have entered the menu only after the British arrived. Cooking meat had become a serious matter and the Avadhi cooks from Matia Burj enhanced what was already there by making the art more subtle. So too with classical music: khayal, thumri, and tappa only became important after Wajid Ali Shah’s coming to Bengal. It was the bhadralok who benefited the most from these cultural inputs; though not necessarily only the wealthy members of the tribe. Even the lower middle class man had refinement. As a community they reshaped Bengali and by extension Indian aesthetics and creative arts in profound ways.
While Calcutta’s ruling elite was dominated by bhadralok there were exceptions, under exceptional political circumstances. Harekrishna Konar (1915-74) of the CPI(M), for instance, was a well-to-do farmer’s son but not upper caste. Jailed by the British for seven years in the Cellular Prison at Andaman & Nicobar Islands as a lad of 14, he was committed to the cause of peasant uplift and became a communist. He was responsible for getting a million acres of good benami farmland held by rich peasants and redistributing it among landless peasants of West Bengal.
Bhadralok means different things in different situations. It is, however, clear to the snob that those who work with their hands like peasants, folk musicians, mechanics, tailors, craftsmen do not quite make the cut.
In our time, we have Mamata Banerjee, fire brand chief minister of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. She is clearly of lower middle-class stock, though born a Brahmin. Abdul Jabbar, a tailor from mofussil Bengal and author of the Banglar Chaalchitra (Portrait of [Rural] Bengal), remains on the fringes. There is Manmohan Byapari, who has done a variety of jobs as rickshaw puller, cook in a school for poor deaf and dumb children, and five years in jail for being a Naxalite. He learnt to read and write in prison and eventually became a writer. His Iti Britey Chandal Jeebon (Interrogating My Chandal Life: Autobiography of a Dalit) has become a classic. He says “If I didn’t write I could kill somebody!”
Bhadralok is a word that means different things in different situations. It is, however, clear to the snob that those who work with their hands like peasants, folk musicians, mechanics, tailors, craftsmen of all sorts do not quite make the cut because of their lack of superior intellect and artistic judgement.
The bhadralok comes in more than one avatar. The late Ritwik Ghatak’s classic, Meghe Dhaka Tara, has a portrait of an old teacher of Sanskrit who comes as a refugee to Calcutta from East Bengal, which has recently become the eastern part of Pakistan. He is neither a civil servant nor a businessman, but by virtue of his thirst for knowledge and love of Sanskrit may be considered a bhadralok, albeit of the Brahmin/Hindu variety.
So the concept is elastic, embracing Bengalis across the class barrier, though rarely making it past the caste obstacle. The economically deprived upper-caste may have belonged to the bhadralok community and now exist as a kind of sub-caste. But they may hope to return to the fold someday. On the other hand somebody from an unprivileged caste could make his way in the world and knock on the doors of the “club” in the hope of admission, if not for himself, then at least his children.
This sort of bhadralok retains many of the prejudices and constraints imposed on him by religion and caste, while appreciating the availability of new kinds of knowledge and information. He has deep roots in the culture of his past and is nourished by the memories it evokes. There is a wrenching scene in Ghatak’s film, when the old man’s teaching of a small boy is interrupted in his spartan, almost makeshift home on the semi-rural outskirts of Calcutta, by the soul-stirring song of an itinerant Baul.
The words, “Majhee tor naam zani naa/aami daak di mukarey’, literally mean, ’’O boatman I know not thy name/ how shall I call out to thee?” The loneliness of living in an environment imposed by the blind dictates of history is evoked most eloquently in this scene and the dilemma of a humane, educated man who is trying to adjust to his new, diminished world. He is, despite frail health and financial fragility, honest enough to recognise that his beloved, dutiful daughter dying of TB, has worked herself to the bone to support an ungrateful family, ruthlessly exploited by everybody, including himself.
It was the Brahmo Samaj that became synonymous with the new Bengal and the new Bengali (thus possibly a bhadralok stand-in). It was the creation of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, landowner, scholar and thinking man.
One remembers a poignant scene at a hole-in-the-wall bookshop in the Grand Hotel arcade in Chowringhee, Calcutta. It was owned by Tapan Chatterjee, a middle-class bhadralok with a Master’s degree in history from Calcutta University. The year was 1982, just after the monsoon. A dhoti-shirt clad, tall, slim clerk in his mid-thirties, from a mercantile firm, was gazing wistfully at a sumptuously illustrated book on the art of the 20th century French master Henri Matisse. He asked the price and was told it was 800 rupees. A battle raged within him whether to discharge filial duty or indulge an artistic passion. After a 45-minute struggle, he gave in and spent possibly half to three-quarters of his salary in a reckless, irresponsible act befitting a poor bhadralok.
ore than any other it was the Brahmo Samaj that became synonymous with the new Bengal and the new Bengali (thus possibly a bhadralok stand-in). It was the creation of Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), a rich landowner, scholar and thinking man appalled by the fact that Hinduism had become mired in blind superstition, supporting inhuman practices such as Sati. He could not stomach the machinations of the upper-castes that would stop at nothing to consolidate their own economic and political position. Roy persuaded the British to ban Sati altogether. He attracted many members of the Bengali upper-class willing to step out of their self-imposed darkness into the light of a philosophy that held the promise of a happy, open life.
For reasons that are not quite clear the community was drawn to the arts, the Tagore family being perhaps the exemplars. The Rays of Garpaar in old Calcutta also distinguished themselves in the arts. The most celebrated of the Rays was Satyajit (1921-92), an immortal of cinema.
Wikipedia calls the Brahmo Samaj “a community of men who worship Brahman, the highest reality. The Brahmo Samaj does not discriminate between caste, creed or religion and is an assembly of all sorts and descriptions of people without distinction meeting publicly for the sober, orderly, religious and devout adoration of ‘the (nameless) unsearchable, Eternal, Immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe’. The idea of a niraakar prabhu or formless God is out of the Upanishad. The concept turns up in Islam with Allah seen as the ‘Formless Master of the Universe’.
Brahmo Samajis saw sanity and order in the occidental education offered by their rulers; it was deliverance from centuries of dark superstition. It was a walk into the sunlight. Talented young men (mostly) from the privileged classes embraced western science, literature and philosophical thought without abandoning their own culture; rather they struck a balance between the two. The result of this exercise was spectacular. They made significant inroads into medicine, engineering and law. Satyendranath Tagore (1842-1923) became the first Indian to join the ICS in 1863. Kadambini Ganguli, (1861-1923) was the first woman medical graduate in Asia.
For reasons that are not quite clear the community was drawn to the arts, the Tagore family being perhaps the exemplars. It produced three singular visual artists including Rabindranath, poet, essayist, short-story writer and thinker of international standing, who in his sixties turned out to be a painter with grace and a surprisingly modern sensibility. His nephews, Gaganendranath (1867-1938) and Abanindranath (1871-1951) were painters of considerable sensitivity and with a rooted Indian sensibility.
The Rays of Garpaar in old Calcutta also distinguished themselves in the arts. Upendrakishore Roychoudhury (1863-1915) was a poet, writer, illustrator and inventor of the half-tone block and the colour block in printing. His translations in Bengali of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana for children are both entertaining and illuminating.
His son Sukumar Ray (1887-1923) is considered the father of nonsense verse in Bengali. He wrote hilarious stories for children and drew marvellous pictures to go with them. The most celebrated of the Rays was Sukumar’s son Satyajit (1921-92) who began as an illustrator of books and advertising campaigns in the 1940s, and then became an immortal of cinema after his first fiction film, Pather Panchali (1955). It was adapted from Aam Atir Bhepu, a classic of Bengali literature by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. Satyajit Ray had a long and distinguished career in cinema and came to be recognised as one of its masters. He was also an exceptional writer of detective fiction for teenagers and the creator of Professor Shanku who asked fundamental existential questions in a science fiction series.
In commercial Hindi cinema there is Bimal Roy, who began as a cameraman with B. N. Sircar, a well-heeled bhadralok and his New Theatres based in Calcutta. He made Udayer Pathey and Anjangarh, both didactic and of socialist intent. By the time he came to Bombay his vision had become gently humanistic and he made Do Bigha Zameen, about the migration of peasants to the city having been cheated out of their land in the village.
Roy turned to the perennial middle-brow favourite of Bengali literature, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, and made three of his novels, Parineeta, Biraj Bahu and Devdas into successful films, maintaining artistic integrity without major concessions to box-office demands. His most successful pupil was Hrishikesh Mukherjee of bhadralok background, maker of films like Anuradha, Anupama, Satyakam.
But the bhadralok, up or down the socio-economic ladder was not always in pursuit of aesthetic perfection. Siddhartha Shankar Ray, barrister-at-law, former Congress chief minister of West Bengal and maternal grandson of the Congress leader and barrister Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das (1870-1925), was instrumental in wiping out the Naxalites from West Bengal in general and Calcutta in particular.
He sought the help of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which fought elections at the state and national level, and got its cadres to work with the state police to murder the Naxalites who looked to Mao Zedong for inspiration in their armed struggle to seize power.
The bhadralok has a cultural counterpart who follows a different piper. Centuries before the Brahmo Samaj, and after it, upper caste Hindus were drawn to Shakta or Tantric traditions. They were devotees of Kali.
In the early 1970s, radical students of Calcutta and Delhi Universities believed it was Ray who had helped a student Naxalite, Trinananjan Mitra, of sound bhadralok stock, to escape to Paris. Mitra did not look back; he made good as a banker in Luxembourg.
Ray was among those who advised Indira Gandhi to impose an Emergency in 1975 to crush her political opponents. It was an act of folly that led to the slow but sure destruction of the Congress. It is also notable for the surge of the Hindu right wing Bharatiya Janta Party which got 282 seats in the 2014 elections, an absolute majority.
It is worth noting that the bhadralok has a cultural counterpart who follows a different piper. Centuries before the advent of the Brahmo Samaj, and even after it, upper caste Bengali Hindus were drawn to Shakta or Tantric traditions. They were devotees of Kali and devotional songs in her honour known as Shyama Sangeet were sung with almost as much fervour as Vaishnav kirtans by devotees of the Radha-Krishna sects. The Vaishnav kirtan was closest in spirit to the song of the Hindu and Muslim Bauls who sought to find a bridge between the sorrows and travails of this world and the beauty and harmony of the next, much like the Sufis.
Those in Bengal who believed in driving out the British through violent means, like the Jugantar Party (that conducted the Chittagong armoury raid in 1930), were likely Kali devotees, as were members of the Anushilon Party that planned to seize power for a fortnight from the British. Their adolescent enthusiasm was nipped in the bud by Charles Teggart, English head of the Criminal Investigation Department in Bengal. It was said, with reason, that many of the Naxalites were also Kali devotees. If true, that might explain the ferocity of the bhadralok Ray’s reaction.
s a class they were never numerous; no elite ever is. But as intermediaries, whether as civil servants in the administration, police or judiciary, and as a new class that spoke the language of the rulers and thus worthy of emulation the bhadralok had an influence disproportionate to their numbers. In time, they came to dominate the professions and academia and the most gifted showed the way for others.
For all that, their career is a study in contradiction as the bhadralok both cemented the empire and helped to undermine it, in the first case as the heart of the imperial bureaucracy and in the second as unruly outliers who turned the weapons of the enlightenment back on their mentors. Though essentially an aristocracy of merit, birth and caste were never absent from the reckoning. They became both a metaphor for civilised behaviour as well as for an arrogant insularity that prompted a sigh and eye roll from non-Bengalis.
The bhadralok is an aspirational figure born of contradictory impulses.
The individual, from mid-19th century British India to present times, has had an unusual career. He/she cannot clearly be called bourgeois in the western sense, and may be of feudal zamindari background directly or even indirectly, may be involved in anti-establishment activities or even challenge the authority and/or validity of the current Indian state or, ironically, be an instrument of its governance. In a moment of soul-searching or, very likely, exasperation, they could also opt out completely and become an outsider, live abroad, if finances permit, or fade away quietly. They spanned the gamut from the deep scholarship of a J. N. Sarkar to the troubling legacy of a Syama Prasad Mookerji.
The bhadralok is thus an aspirational figure born of several contradictory impulses. We generalise at our peril but there are some identifiable markers. One, as already noted, is the desire to spend money without appearing vulgar or ostentatious. Another is the inability to succeed in business not for lack of talent but a surfeit of hubris. There is a barely concealed loathing of manual labour and pride in “intellectual” work, which may often be routine file pushing.
We find an echo of these contradictions in the varying fates of Manik Bandhopadhyay, short story writer and novelist of exceptional talent, fervent communist, and his brother. His older, estranged brother was a magistrate in the late 1930s-40s and became a judge in Calcutta after independence.
Manik, author of classics like Dibaratrir Kavya, Padma Nadir Majhi and Putul NacherIti Katha, died stone-broke at 46 in 1956. Money had to be collected from friends and admirers to conduct his funeral. His brother after the event, said, “What a pity Manik’s last journey had to be paid for by strangers, why weren’t we informed?”
In the last 50 years, the non-Brahmo bhadralok gradually gained ascendance. The CPI(M) government in West Bengal ruled 34 years, till Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress swept them aside in 2011.
There is a distinct inclination towards left politics and contempt for those who mix religion with worldly matters. In uncertain times, though, even the well-heeled bhadralok may consult the better class of godman! Jyoti Basu, the fierce, unbending communist chief minister of West Bengal could not stop his second wife Kamala from going to Mahanananda Maharaja, a popular spiritualist. Basu also had an exceptionally well-stocked bar. N. S. Madhavan, retired IAS officer and Malayalam writer, remembers Basu’s generous hospitality when he went to dinner at his home along with fellow probationers from the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy during their Bharat Darshan.
heir driving impulses make the bhadralok hard to read as a class. Although there is a superficial resemblance they are not really like the 19th century Russian landowners or the French bourgeoisie who took to business while simultaneously revealing a taste for culture, nor yet the English aristocracy who mostly loathed culture. We are thus left with the unsatisfactory conclusion that they are as much an idea or concept as a physical entity.
The British employed them extensively in the last five decades of their rule in India (1900-1947) at the middle level in the judiciary, police and other areas of civil administration. This was particularly true of (undivided) Bengal. The pattern continued after Independence, even in the Marxist administrations. But in the last 50 years, it is the non-Brahmo bhadralok that gradually gained ascendance. The CPI(M) government in West Bengal ruled for 34 years, till Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress swept them aside in 2011.
The Marxists looked to bhadralok administrators because of the prestige they brought to a dying party. These administrators gave legitimacy to the government while party functionaries fed their egos and wallets at the expense of the people. The same is true of Mamata Banerjee. The malleable upper-class bhadralok continue to enjoy certain economic and social privileges because of his one-time reputation for probity.
Perhaps it is an urban legend but the reputation for fair play has sunk deep roots. Manik Sarkar of the CPI(M) was the longest serving chief minister of Tripura (a state bordering Bangladesh), ousted by the BJP earlier this year. Even his bitterest political foes believe he is scrupulously honest. These qualities, not necessarily acquired through religious instruction, are among the reasons for the regard, sometimes grudging, even their loudest detractors show them.
The other reason for their reputation rests on their role in the Indian renaissance of the 19th century. The British, prompted by imperial curiosity, set up institutions like Fort William College and the Asiatic Society to fathom the nuances of Indian culture. It began a truly creative phase in the bhadralok’s seeking of excellence for its own sake.
Since this class was basically bourgeois, they were the ones who triggered the renaissance in education and the arts. The national bourgeoisie was also at the helm of the freedom struggle.
Among their most enduring contributions is Rabindranath Tagore’s open university Santiniketan, created as an alternative to urban institutions of education like universities in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Lahore and Lucknow, that laid emphasis on occidental knowledge, particularly the sciences. At Santiniketan classes were held in the open to evoke perhaps the Gurukulas of ancient India. But the atmosphere was remarkably free from cant. Tagore’s outlook was catholic, although he did believe a connection existed between cultures in Asia and he was particularly appreciative of Chinese and Japanese philosophy. No doubt the interaction with Japanese culture, a sustained affair from 1916, when Tagore first visited Japan, to the outbreak of World War II in 1939, inspired the direction that art would take in Santiniketan.
It was the crucible for two of India’s greatest artists, Binode Behari Mukherjee and Ram Kinkar Baij. Binode Behari, with one good eye which he would lose to a botched eye operation in his fifties, was a Bhadralok from the solid middle class of Behala in Calcutta. Ram Kinkar was a barber’s son from Bankura, picked up by Ramananda Chatterjee, editor of Modern Review and an enlightened Brahmo.
But there is more to them than the arts. In an email, Jawahar Sircar, former CEO of Prasar Bharati, says of the bhadralok: “Since this class was basically bourgeois, they were the ones who triggered the renaissance in education and the arts. The national bourgeoisie was also at the helm of the freedom struggle, though some of its members sided with the British.”
After independence, “They seized political power [in West Bengal] from 1947 till 2011, through the Congress and Left governments as the leadership of both arose from this class. In 2011, they surrendered power to a person [Mamata Banerjee], who was strictly speaking not from this class but one who treasured its values in Rabindra Sangeet, other aspects of culture but was equally at ease with the lowest orders.”
hen there is the figure of Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945), most unusual of Bengalis. Alongside his brilliant intellect, he had a highly developed sense of right and wrong. This trait, always present, came to the fore after he graduated in philosophy from Scottish Church College, Calcutta in 1918, and came under the influence of Swami Vivekananda and that of his master, Ramakrishna Paramhansa.
He went to England at his father’s insistence and studied at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and then sat the Indian Civil Service (ICS) examination, standing fourth. But he did not enter the service, joining the Indian National Congress and became one of its most charismatic leaders in the 1920s and 30s. Elected Congress president in 1938 and 39 he resigned over differences with Gandhi.
The standards set by bhadralok define Bengali culture. Even in the 35 years of left rule, the bhadralok in that set-up was not shattered. The subaltern class that rules both West Bengal and Bangladesh swears by this cultural approach. It is [a]live and kicking.
He left India in 1940, with the British hot on his trail. Arriving in Germany in 1941 he thought of forming a nationalist Indian army to fight the British. After his meeting with Adolf Hitler, he formed an army of Indian soldiers of the British forces defeated by Rommel’s troops in North Africa. Then after the fall of Singapore to the invading Japanese, he recruited Indian prisoners of war to form the Indian National Army (INA). He was killed in a plane crash while fleeing to the Soviet Union after the Japanese surrender in August 1945.
There are at least two other, equally distinguished individuals of the Bose tribe, Jagdish Chandra (Basu) and Satyendra Nath, both scientists, both revered in their lifetime and after. The second is the lesser known, perhaps because his universe was a quantum field, one of the most fiendishly elusive concepts in science. He was a co-creator of the Bose-Einstein Statistics in collaboration with Albert Einstein. It describes the behaviour of a class of particles named bosons, after Bose. It is worth noting that the so-called God Particle, the Higgs Boson, belongs to this class. So while he was not awarded the Nobel because the particle was just a postulate, his name will be spoken by every physicist down the ages. That is an honour even Stephen Hawking missed.
hat of the future, then? As things stand, the tribe seems to have reached a crossroads. According to the cultural historian Sumanta Banerjee, “The domain of the bhadralok has been taken over by a new class of professionals and entrepreneurs. The new bhadralok and his ‘bhadramohila’ spouse are mainly prominent as executives in the multinational and Indian corporate sector, the IT sector and as entrepreneurs in hotel, tourism and entertainment. Brought up on a hybrid culture of Western and Hindi mass media, they are dissociated from the past bhadralok culture. This changing class character of the bhadralok, and his increasing desire for upward mobility to integrate with the global market economy is diluting his essential identity. How many among the second or third generation immigrants in the US, UK or Europe, speak and write in Bengali?”
But Jawahar Sircar is more optimistic. “The standards set by bhadralok define Bengali culture. Even in the 35 years of left rule, the bhadralok in that set-up was not shattered. The subaltern class that rules the Bengal and Bengali Muslims of both West Bengal and Bangladesh swears by this cultural approach. It is [a]live and kicking.”