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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 15, April 13, 2024

Baikuntha Nath Acharya Outstanding educationist | Prof Radhakanta Barik

Friday 12 April 2024, by Radhakanta Barik



Who is this person and able to beat the Zamindars and civil servants of the village and planted his name in the minds of the villagers. He was an ordinary school teacher but turned into a household name in Odisha. People in Baragarh came to the bookshop demanded Acharya’s book. In the universities today Professors advise their Ph D students to take help the translation books of Baikuntha Acharya to improve one’s English which can help them to write their Ph D theses. The man a son of rich farmer of Gajarajpur and he went to Cuttack town during 1920s with five more including sons of the Zamindars to study in P M Academy and turned into an agnostic and rationalist. He came back after graduation from Ravenshaw college to the village where mud and water was there. He decided to open the High School and turned into an important school of the old District of Cuttack. This person turned into a legend in his lifetime as a great pedagogic

teacher. In rural Odisha where there was no road and no bus travelling and no electricity but the school turned into an awesome public institution which drew students from hundreds of villages of Cuttack and Puri districts of Odisha. The brilliant students came here to make themselves highly educated ones and average students came here to pass the Matriculation. The drought-prone area where two square meals were not available but children got motivated to come to the school. Students walking ten to 12 KM came on foot and started learning where he refused to hold a prayer in the morning to facilitate them to learn the texts by which they could earn their livelihoods.

A function was organised between two families one from Cuttack and the other from the suburban. The family in Cuttack introduced themselves from the village Gajarajapur. A village with ten lanes and two Zamindars of the British time and at least ten civil servants and dozen doctors and many school teachers but they gave the introduction to the village as the village as Baikuntha Acharya’s village. These adjectives need to be elaborated by us.

Once the protection of the region from flood was done with the embankment at the river Devi a branch of Kahtajodi. Rural areas got some life as floods used to wash away their main crop that was the Kharip. This incurred the huge loss and young of the place used to move to Calcutta to work in the jute factories. But it gave some protection to the agriculture. This region was without irrigation facilities. Depending on rains the poor farmers used to depend on money lenders and lenders in grains popularly known as Dedha.

Poor farmers used to collect the rice in the month of July and returned back in the month of September at one and halt time. This is the region controlled by the landlords and Maqdams and their Hench men gumasthas.

These villages of Cuttack district faced a tough time after 1940. Villagers went against the Zamindar, Maqdam and Gumasthas, All three were a part of Trimurti to harass the peasant classes. They rebelled against these people.

From 1940 to 1970 these proto peasantry rebels continued. There were local leaders but without any direction from national or state leadership. Those days the village Committees were controlled by the tinmuriti and their cohorts. Their children started going to Cuttack city for school education.

Many of them got jobs in police administration. They misappropriated so much money that they used to buy land of poorer families. In one night one police person bought 12actres land from a middle peasant. Their children got educated in the city and turned into officials. These officials worked with the ruling trimurti in rural areas of Cuttack district.

The father of Baikuntha Acharya with 9 acres of land sent his son to get an education in Cuttack city. Six from his village went to study in the city. Four belonged to landlord’s family and two of them from a peasant background. One of them belonged to cultivating family and the other one was a Brahmin boy. All of them studied in PM Academy. This was the time when the school was under tremendous influence of the Brahmos. The Head Master was a Brahmo and the rational intellectual environment was there.

Other five did not get so much influenced under the ideology. But Baikuntha Acharya was influenced by it. Others joined the jobs in the state government as police and one joined the sub register’s office. But Acharya joined Ravenshaw college and national movement already influenced the thinking of the college. His class mate from the school to college was Biren Mitra who took leadership of the student’s politics. He was the leader of students federation and turned into later chief minister of Odisha. He was the most popular politician from Cuttack town. He did well in the college and became a brilliant student from Patna university with BA Hons and distinction . He did not aspire to be Deputy in the government but returned back to his village and started High School with the help of some leading retired professionals of that time. One of them Madhu Biswal a Master in philosophy from Calcutta University. After working a school teacher and college teacher returned back to his village and create a model farming. In his farm all fruit trees and fish pond were there. He turned into a rich farmer with modern outlook. He encouraged Acharya to be head master of the newly started school.

There was opposition from Trimurti as they were powerful and wanted to keep their toe in public institutions. Alanahat High School was only public institution of that area of a hundred villages. Their power got articulated in playing politics with their nominee Padma Charan Swain a third-class student with graduation. He was son in law of a powerful landlord of the locality. As the trimurti turned active into politics but they failed to dislodge Baikuntha Acharya from Head Master of the school. That was the pre-independence in 1944 when the atmosphere of the region turned into conflict between Zamindars vs peasant classes. This environment shaped his political consciousness and he built the school singlehandedly. After winning the first battle against the trimurti he successfully chalked out the path of educational development of the region. There were some middle schools in the region.

The school had a big catchment area. One proof of his progressive thinking one finds the staging of working-class play in 1947 written by a well-known writer cum communist.

Acharya had a non-Brahminic approach to education. Brahmin boys used to prefer to vedantic learning which he openly opposed to. His brother’s son Sashikanta Acharya turned into an outstanding educationist and Principal of NIT of Raurkela and Silicher told me that his father wanted him to turn into the profession of Archarya which Baikunthanath Acharya opposed to and told his brother that let him go to Alanahat High school to get modern education. With his advice his father changed his mind and sent him to learn modern education from Alanahat High School. All his brothers and sisters studied from the same school and became doctors and Engineers. He himself turned into social activist and ran an orphanage in Raurkela and a well known philanthropist cum educationist.

In those days the teachers were from Brahmin caste and they used abusive language against Dalits. He gave a strict warning to them not to use these vulgar words: “ Kandara Dandara: how you would learn? This word one hears from other High Schools but never from the teaching staff of the school. He employed a teacher from the Dalit community who turned into an officer later. Although teachers belonged to Brahmins and Karana some of them belonged to other castes. Nobody used this abusive language against Dalits or Muslims.

Modern education was to suit the interests of Brahmins and Karana as they belonged to leisure class and both wanted to enter into clerical jobs by memorizing the lessons. The school was surrounded by these villages which benefitted the school results and they used to memorise to get high marks and turn into professionals It is interesting to note here that those villages had hardly any educated boys or girls before the school got established. Today these villages have turned into ghost villages which have pushed their sons and daughters to cities and they got rehabilitated in the cities.

The Headmaster turned into a methodical teacher by helping them and others to memorise the textbooks. The best example is Brahmananda Acharchy nero surgeon and Professor of SCB Medial College of Cuttack. Told me that he faced difficulty understanding the lessons in English and Mathematics and came to take advice from the Headmaster who advised him to memorise things without understanding. Baikuntha Acharya was brilliant to brilliant students and he helped them learn in a modern sense. Other average students to whom he was brilliant helped them to memorize. Both the methods he used to apply.

He started disaggregating students into three groups; One group belonged to brilliant students where he used to teach English and Math. The other group into A section where he used to teach in simpler language. The third group where he used to teach in Odia language. They were the majority belonging to the poorer section of society and they turned matriculates and turned into state sector as teachers or clerks. This system got started by DPS in Delhi afterwards.

His brilliance got reflected in writing book on Structural approach to Translation which deeply thought out project. This project benefited millions of students to have a command over the English language by learning a foreign language by applying the translation method from their mother tongue to English. Some time back an Income Tax Commissioner Kamalakanta Mohapatra from our school gheroed by writers to take his help in translating Odiya books into English. My presence made me inquisitive to raise a question: When one of the leading writers Shri JP Das about how he learnt English, he answered that he learnt from Baikunthanath Acharya’s translation books. On another occasion, I met Chief of Conservator Shri Mahapatra who told me that after he got into IFS he started learning English by doing translations of books of Acharya. This is being used to improve English in Colleges and universities of Odisha where teacher advises their students to learn the English language with the help of these translation books.

He was careful using Odiya language in such a manner without Brahminic content. For example: Walking is the best exercise. But for the Sun India would have been hell. Both of these statements explain his philosophical choice. Sun is god according to the Brahmin community but he used it sanitation point of view. Walking was not accepted by the rich who used to travel in Palki carried by human beings. It is a criticism of social custom practised by the aristocracy. Not a single example explaining religious prejudice or caste prejudice. His rationality was opposed by his caste Brahmin who upholds social conservatism. He refused to hold the thread ceremony of his children and his daughter got opposition from his caste people at the marriage time.

He as an outstanding teacher always preferred good students in his school. His school system has five groups: One group belonging to English literature. He came to know about an outstanding English teacher in another school and he offered him with a higher salary to join Alanahat High School. Literature was taught seriously including Odiya literature and some of the outstanding teachers were there. Mathematics and Science teachers were there. The school had a science laboratory in those days Some of the outstanding teachers were teaching Social studies. Sanskrit was taught by some brilliant scholars including one who got the President’s Award for his contribution to Sanskrit writings. Today in the nineties he is an active scholar and produced books.

The school had a very poor track record of the sports teachers. Perhaps most of the students came from far-off places who walked so much and they had no energy to do sports. That was his weakness and he could not encourage students to opt for sports.

He managed school hostel in a rational manner. The school hostel had five hundred students one time. Students belonging each caste and religion were there. Once some students went to Head Master to improve the quality of food by putting little oil which he gave a calculation to the group consisting of city breed students that it would increase the cost of mess bill by ten rupees which would deprive many poorer students of their studies. This satisfied them. Students from far off places came to the school because of the hostel.

This school produced the best result in his forty years as Head Master. In the first batch of students, one got the best ten and turned into a Professor in Medicine. Then in the first decade of headmastership, another student got first position and turned into a Professor in an Engineering College at Burla. These students came from cultivating families and turned into brilliant educationists. In his career, he produced as many as twenty best ten students many of them working in various fields.

After retirement, I interviewed him and requested him to build another school to which he told me” From Where I would get the best teachers and teachers are the pillars of the school, not the building. He lived some years after retirement but he never wasted time. Once I went to meet him and he was busy in writing a book on Sanskrit play. In his school, most of the plays were written by him and there was an outstanding teacher dramatist who directed the plays. All his plays carry a rational and scientific spirit, including the play written by him on Einstein staged in 1966.

An outstanding teacher turned into a legend in his lifetime and the school created bread earners in thousands. As told by many Alanahat High School was the rice pot for many kitchens of the locality. People of a hundred villages remember him as a great teacher and the whole of Odisha remembers him as a teacher whose pedagogic approach to learning English made him famous. A great teacher is like a great scientist rarely born but in Odisha hundreds of great headmasters turned into school teachers from 1940s till 1980s. A generation of teachers built the schooling system in rural Odisha who turned into the backbone of modern educational system of Odisha.

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