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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 46, New Delhi, October 30, 2021

Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay: A Forgotten Multilingual Bengali Intellectual | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 29 October 2021, by Arup Kumar Sen

Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay (1894-1961) was a prominent Bengali intellectual who simultaneously belonged to the cultural world of Bengal and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Dhurjatiprasad’s formal educational journey was a non-conventional one. He passed the school-leaving Entrance Examination in 1909 in second division. However, he got highest marks in both English and Sanskrit in the said examination of the year. He passed the I. Sc. Examination from Ripon College in Kolkata (then Calcutta) in 1912 and got admitted to the same college in English Honours, taking Mathematics and Chemistry as pass subjects. He got first class marks in English and good marks in Mathematics in the B. A. examination in 1914, but couldn’t clear the Examination as he failed to secure minimum pass marks in Chemistry practical examination. Later, he did his Masters in both History and Economics from Calcutta University in 1918 and 1920 respectively. (See Rusati Sen, 2010)

The legendary vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, Ashutosh Mukherjee, had developed affection for Dhurjatiprasad and promised him teaching position at the University. However, he did not get appointment there. Dhurjatiprasad started his teaching career at Bangabasi College in Bengal and very soon joined the newly founded Lucknow University as a lecturer in Economics and Sociology in 1922. He taught there for 32 years. At the time of his retirement in 1954, Zakir Hussain, the then vice-chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and future President of India, persuaded Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay, popularly known as DP, to join the AMU as professor of Economics and stay there as long as he wished. In 1956, DP’s persistent throat problem was diagnosed as cancer. After serving the AMU for three more years, DP retired to live in Dehra Dun. He died in Kolkata in December 1961, the birth centenary year of Rabindranath Tagore. (See T. N. Madan, 1994)

DP’s first book in English titled Personality and the Social Sciences was published in 1924 by his friend Haridas Chattopadhyay from Calcutta. He sent copies of the book to eminent intellectuals in the world, including Bertrand Russel, and got their responses. Later, he wrote in his diary in 1956 that such recognition built his self-confidence but he did not feel the urge to get his doctorate (See Rusati Sen, 2010). The concept of personality had a seminal connatation in DP’s thought. In his article ‘Social Changes and Intellectual Interest’ incorporated in his last published book in English, Diversities: Essays in Economics, Sociology and Other Social Problems (People’s Publishing House Private Ltd., New Delhi, 1958), he explained the concept: “...personality is still a whole and neither the artist nor the philosopher nor the scientist is a special type of creature, but every man is an artist, a scientist and a philosopher at a certain time under certain conditions and opportunities” (cited in ibid.). This reminds us of Antonio Gramsci’s radical conceptualization of intellectuals.

DP was unhappy with the conventional mode of thinking in History and Economics. In his lecture delivered at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1946 (incorporated in Diversities, 1958), he stated: “Our history has not yet been written. A band of historians has appeared; but their Indianness I question...they have no philosophy of history” (cited in ibid.). He did not spare the Indian ‘Marxists’ of his time: “No continuous economic history of India has been attempted so far by an Indian. Its absence may connote laziness of our intellectuals, but for the Marxist, a disregard of it, in the name of action, is un-Marxist...The young Marxist may turn into a Fascist, and Marxism itself may lose its effectiveness in the maze of slogans”. (‘A Word to the Indian Marxists’, published in Views and Counterviews, The Universal Publishers Ltd., Lucknow, 1946, cited in ibid.)

It may be stated in this connection that DP considered himself to be a ‘Marxologist’. In fact, he was deeply interested ‘in the Marxian method rather than in any dogmas’. (T. N. Madan, 1994)

In his Bengali article ‘Arthashastrer Durgati’ (Dismal State of Economics) in 1935, DP advised: “Give farewell to theory and see what is happening all around. Then you will understand the precarious position of economists” (cited in Rusati Sen, 2010, translation mine). He clarified his own position in the article ‘On the Present State of Economic Theory for India’ (incorporated in Diversities, 1958, and cited in ibid.)”:

“After all, economics is related to the behaviour of men and women in their ordinary activities. It is becoming all too esoteric”. He further argued in the same text:

“Mathematics seems to have an ambition of becoming the new mysticism of the social sciences, economics in particular...When one looks for light one is naturally disappointed to find mist. I sometimes wonder if all this unintelligibility and mystification were the result of alienation of knowledge from life in the name of specialisation.”

Actually, DP had a holistic approach to social sciences and was against the fragmentation of knowledge. In his inaugural address at the AMU in 1954, DP argued: “...economics is a part of the disciplines known as humanities. Economics is a cultural subject; and culture is a dynamic social process, and not another name for traditionalism” (incorporated in Diversities, cited in ibid.). It may be mentioned here that DP wrote the editorial of the first issue of Economic Weekly, launched by Sachin Chaudhury in Bombay in 1949.

In his remarkable presidential address at the first Indian Sociological Conference in 1955, DP suggested that ‘the study of Indian traditions’ was the ‘the first and immediate duty of the Indian sociologist’. (See T. N. Madan, 1994)

In the course of time, DP emerged as a public intellectual in North India. To put it in the words of one of his bright students at Lucknow University, T. N. Madan: “DP’s reputation as a teacher was not confined to the students of economics and sociology, but was generally acknowledged at the university level...Outside the curricula, his talks and newspaper articles covered the graphic arts, music, cinema, literature, and politics” (ibid.). In 1938, DP was persuaded to become the Director of Information of the government after the Congress had formed the ministry in UP, and he took the noteworthy initiative in the establishment of the Bureau of Economics and Statistics. He quit the assignment three years later when the Congress relinquished office and happily returned to the University. In the wake of the formal proposal for the partition of the subcontinent in 1940, DP addressed the dangers of ‘civil hatred’ and the possibility of ‘Hindu or Muslim revivalism’. He was a member of the Uttar Pradesh Labour Enquiry Committee in 1947. (See ibid.)

Ironically, Dhurjatiprasad stated in Bengali in 1944: “I wrote books and articles in English mainly for saving my job” (cited in Rusati Sen, 2010, translation mine). In fact, he made significant contributions to the world of Bengali culture, literature and literary criticism with his unique prose style, and established connections with world literature. He was organically connected with the literary world of Bengal, particularly with the two prestigious literary magazines, Sabujpatra edited by Pramatha Chowdhury and Parichay edited by the eminent poet, Sudhindranath Dutta. Dhurjatiprasad wrote a number of Bengali short stories and the novel trilogy — Antyahsila, Abarta and Mohana. The great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore had an affectionate relationship with him and they had conversations among themselves. In one of his songs, Tagore jokingly expressed that we are scared of Dhurjati’s criticism. In 1943, Dhurjatiprasad wrote a book on Rabindranath Tagore, Tagore: A Study (Padma Publishers Ltd., Bombay, 1943), in which he made assessment of diverse aspects of Tagore’s creative journey as well as his social and political thought. It should be stated here that Dhurjatiprasad had a profound understanding of Indian classical music. (See Rusati Sen, 2010 and Ashok Mitra, 1982)

The tragedy lies in the fact that we have almost forgotten Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay and his seminal contributions to the diverse branches of knowledge and creativity. T. N. Madan, in his centenary tribute to his teacher, lamented:

Today, thirty-three years after DP’s death, his published works are hardly known among the younger generation of sociologists. They are not a significant part of the teaching of sociology even at Lucknow University. His books are out of print and not readily available in libraries...The neglect of DP’s work is a comment more on the character of the academe in India than on the true worth of his contributions as a social analyst and critic, and as a superb teacher.

Presumably, the considerable body of DP’s published work in Bengali...has fared better. But I do not really know”. (T. N. Madan, 1994)

The Bengali Marxist economist and critic, who at a time was groomed by DP, testified in his reflections on Dhurjatiprasad in the early 1980s that the fate of Bengali writings of Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay is no better: “Other than those merely doing their research in Bengali literature, none bothers about the writings of Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay in recent times”. (Ashok Mitra, 1982, translation mine)

The critical spirit and writings of Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay represent a heretical tradition from which we can draw our insights in addressing political and cultural challenges of the 21st century.

References:

  • Ashok Mitra, ‘Prasanga Dhurjatiprasad’ in Achenake Chine-Chine O Annanya Probondha (Bengali Book), Dey’s Publishing, Kolkata, 1986.
  • Rusati Sen, Dhurjatiprasad Mukhopadhyay (A monograph in Bengali), Sahitya Akademi, 2010.
  • T. N. Madan, “D. P. Mukerji 1894-1961: A Centenary Tribute”, Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 2, September 1994.
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