21 August, 2011

Life and works of Acharya PC Ray

Talk by Prof.S Chatterjee

Science can afford to wait but Swaraj cannot ...
P C Ray

The prolonged Indian Freedom struggle, and its chronicling in retrospect seem to focus only on the efforts by a select few national heroes. Whereas the freedom struggle itself was brought to its momentum by hundreds of intellectuals and revolutionaries, thousands of toilers and millions of the masses. Reminiscing the contributions by many other great minds are certainly needed to expand the understanding of our History, legacy of our struggle, to further interpret the current state of affairs.

Prafulla Chandra Ray, the entrepreneur and scientist behind the Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, who was dearly called as Acharya Ray played an important role. Acquainting with his life and works, certainly help us to understand the Indian freedom struggle better from other necessary dimensions.

On the 15th of August, 2011 a talk about the Life and Works of PC Ray by Prof. Chatterjee was organized at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, IISc,Bangalore. This informative talk, followed by a detailed discussion session certainly threw light upon the life of the great confluence of an academician, entrepreneur, scientist, historian, nationalist, pacifist and patriot that Acharya PC Ray was.

Prof.Chatterjee traversed through the life, ideals, work and accomplishments of Acharya Ray in an exhilarating talk which span for about an hour. Prof.Chatterjee communicated all the dimensions of this multi-faceted being in the most convincing manner. The correlation that was brought between science, scientists and their social responsibilities were elucidated in a comprehensive and riveting manner.

PC Ray apart from being the entrepreneur behind the Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, was one of the important scientific visionaries of pre-independent India. Under his guidance, his students would go on to expand the realms of scientific contribution in India. His students were of the likes of Meghnad Saha, Atul Chandra Ghosh, and others who made significant contributions to develop science and technology in India.

Acharya PC Ray was contemporary to Rabindranath Tagore, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Subhash Chandra Bose, MK Gandhi and other influential personalities during the Independence movement. PC Ray had his own crucial contributions to the Freedom struggle. Apart from propagating science and grooming technology, PC Ray was known to have sheltered numerous revolutionaries and provided them with support for their work.

Prof. Chatterjee in his talk brought out the contradiction between today's statesmen and the so called 'intelligentsia', with that of the statesmen and intellectuals of the era of PC Ray, using PC Ray's notions about self-reliance and sovereignty as examples.
The audience resonated to this contradiction, when excerpts from Acharya PC Ray and another modern statesman were quoted for comparison.

PC Ray in his Essay “India before and after the mutiny” written in 1885, makes a profound analysis of the British rule in India:

"England unfortunately now refuses to recognize the hard and irresistible logic of facts and does her best to smother the nascent aspirations of a rising nationality. The selfish, and therefore, harsh and cruel exigencies of an alien rule have imposed various disqualifications and disabilities upon the children of the soil.... The lamentable condition of India at present is due to England’s culpable neglect of, and gross apathy to, the affairs of that Empire. England has failed, grievously failed in the discharge of her sacred duties to India... Tomorrow you will be the arbiters of the destinies of 250 millions of human beings, your fellow subjects. We fervently hope your advent to power will be a death knell to the existing un –English regime... I was a believer in those days in the doctrine of mendicancy and with child like simplicity held that if the wrongs and the grievances under which our country groaned could be brought home to the British people, they could be remedied. The disillusionment was not long in coming...

The great mutiny had entirely unhinged the financial equilibrium. In 1857 the public debt had stood at 60,000,000 pounds. In 1863 it rose to the incredible sum of nearly 110,000,000 pounds. Thus the indirect expenditure incurred for mutiny amounts to almost 45,000,000 pounds. And it is notorious that England did not contribute a farthing to India as financial help.... India is a famished nation rather than of Rajas and Nababs....A government which can squander 10,000,000 pounds on palatial barracks, but cannot spare a farthing for laboratories should forfeit the title of a civilized government....The Indian government is essentially a tax squeezing machinery and not a government for the people...."

And here's an excerpt from one modern Indian statesman, who has the following perception of the same relationship, and was quoted by Prof.Chatterjee towards the end of his talk:

Today, with the balance and perspective offered by the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight, it is possible for an Indian Prime Minister to assert that India's experience with Britain had its beneficial consequences. Our notions of the rule of law, of a Constitutional government, of a free press, of a professional civil service, of modern universities and research laboratories have all been fashioned in the crucible where an age old civilization met the dominant Empire of the day. These are all elements which we still value and cherish. Our judiciary, our legal system, our bureaucracy and our police are all great institutions, derived from British-Indian administration and they have served the country well. Of all the legacies of the Raj, none is more important than the English language and the modern school system. That is, if you leave out cricket!
Like in the audience at the talk by Prof. Chatterjee, it is hard to guess that the above mentioned statesman is the Dr.Manmohan Singh, exhibiting what could be termed an anti-nationalist stand.
This instigated a good round of discussion amongst the panel members. Arguments whatever arose, ultimately ended up rebuking the statements that were made by Dr.Manmohan Singh in his convocation speech at Oxford University in 2005.
Also detailed questions about Acharya PC Ray's principles happened to be discussed, during which again the multifaceted maverick that PC Ray was was much discussed and reminisced further.
One important aspect of the talk itself was the manner in which it was presented by Prof.Chatterjee. The audience present can be categorized conveniently as the intellectual elite and mostly apolitical. Prof. Chatterjee, nonetheless was able to communicate all the aspects of the life of Acharya PC Ray in a subtle but impacting manner, which certainly got the audience thinking in relation to the current scenarios. And that was the objective of the talk, which was well accomplished.
Slides of the talk by Prof.Chatterjee: http://bit.ly/rrek5w

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