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Modernity and Its Adversaries

In his life, the 19th century poet and litterateur, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, embodied many of the contradictions that are characteristic of a society in transition. In the mid-19th century, many politically conscious Bengalis were aware of the demands made on them and their "moribund" culture by colonialism. Rejuvenating the Bengali culture and language from within or its radical overhaul, as Dutt advocated, was an issue that exercised many.

Modernity and Its Adversaries

Michael Madhusudan, Formation of the Hindu ‘Self’ and the Politics of Othering in 19th Century India

In his life, the 19th century poet and litterateur, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, embodied many of the contradictions that are characteristic of a society in transition. In the mid-19th century, many politically conscious Bengalis were aware of the demands made on them and their “moribund” culture by colonialism. Rejuvenating the Bengali culture and language from within or its radical overhaul, as Dutt advocated, was an issue that exercised many.


he advent of British rule was often seen as “providential” by those who had endured the viciousness of anarchy and lawlessness of the disintegrating Mughal empire. For the colonial elite of the 19th century it was a close encounter of two civilisations. In the ensuing comparison the west was often seen as an epitome of modernity and civilisation as against the medievalism of the east. Their interest in western civilisation was the end result of two mutually overlapping historical experiencescolonial rule and contact with a totally different culture.1 While the feudal elite viewed the British as invaders, imperial rule initially had a very positive image in the consciousness of the colonial elite.2 They saw British rule as harbingers of tranquility and peace. They also wanted the British to implant in the colonies the progress that characterised Europe and transform India in that image. Hence most of them had no hesitation in joining the English middle class who considered India to be their laboratory for experimentation of different ideologies.3 The Indian intellectuals of the early 19th century as differentiated from Intelligentsia4 had their own battles to fight. For them it was a war between the old and new, orthodoxy and reformation and modernity and medievalism; while old ideas and identities were sought to be demolished, new ones constructed. As a participant in this debate, Indian intellectuals not only had to fight the Europeans but also fellow Indians who opposed such transformation. In this gigantic tussle between the old world and the new, which was characteristic of what is well known as “Bengal Renaissance”, some modernists sought to compromise and adapt Indian traditions with features of European modernity while others were for a straightforward rejection of the “old” to make way for the “new”. The “modernity” project was for them a matter of faith, an issue of committed political intervention.

Poet-playwright Michael Madhusudan Dutt of 19th century Bengal was one such intellectual who was an ideologue of the Renaissance movement and an avowed modernist. He was a relentless admirer of European modernity, and followed it in every aspect. At the same time, once involved, he was committed to import the best traditions of this modernity into Indian (Bengali) literature. He was convinced about creating a modern identity for the Bengali language and literature and carve a niche for it in the “comity of nations”. Unlike other intellectuals of his time who were associated with socio-cultural organisations5 Michael Madhusudan’s ingenuous contributions was in the field of literature. It was his modernist inventions in literature which earned recognition for Michael Madhusudan Dutt as one of the foremost architects of the Bengali nationality – a major national group in south Asia. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in his tribute to the departed poet had said that the national flag of the Bengali nationality would have to carry the name of Michael Madhusudan.6 Shibnath Shastri considered the emergence of Michael Madhusudan as one of the most auspicious moments in Bengal’s history.7 He was one of the greatest figures not just of Bengali but of modern Indian literature.8 In fact Madhusudan has been often fondly addressed as ‘Mahakavi’ (poet of epics) and ‘Adikavi’ (first poet) in Bengali literature. Ironically it was the same Madhusudan who had once dismissed Bengali as a “language of the fisherman” incapable of producing great literature.

This essay seeks to examine the “modernist project” of this 19th century Bengali poet by tracing his personal life as well as his academic career to establish that he was “consistent” in his modernity. Madhusudan’s innovations were a covert political intervention. His “denationalisation” and literary innovations in the field of Bengali poetry attracted hushed but huge criticism which developed into a movement for “othering” him. The movement was led by a group which was trying to construct a Hindu “self” in colonial conditions. Madhusudan and intellectuals like him were seen as obstacles to this new Hindu “self” that was under construction. Our discussion is about the political meaning of this encounter in colonial India in the context of Michael Madhusudan’s life and career in 19th century transitional India.

The Poet and his ‘Inner domain’

Born on January 25, 1824, Michael Madhusudan Dutt (182473) came from an affluent Bengali family based in Sagardari village of Jessore district of Eastern Bengal. His father shifted to Calcutta in search of fortune and soon his family numbered among the affluent families of the city. Madhusudan, the only surviving child of his parents was among the first of Indians who had studied in the original, Homer, Virgil, Horace, Dante, Petrarch, Tasso and Aristo. He was a fan of William Wordsworth, Victor Hugo and Tennyson. He was so enamoured by the poetry of Milton and Byron that he wanted to write poetry in English and even migrate to England to pursue that ambition. He studied in Hindu College when the Derozian impact was still palpable. It was strengthened by David Lester Richardson who was his most influential teacher. Madhusudan dreamt of a “blue-eyed maid” as the love of his life and sighed for “Albion’s Land” as his final destination where he could pursue his ambition of becoming an immortal English language poet. But the turn of events proved otherwise. To avoid an early marriage, arranged by his parents

– an idea he abhorred, he first converted to Christianity (1843). It cost him his studies in Hindu College, he was ostracised by the conservative Hindu society of Bengal and his helpless parents had no option but to abandon their only son. Unperturbed, for some time Madhusudan shifted to Bishops College and then quietly slipped to an anonymous life in the other metropolis – Madras (1847). Although he could barely make two ends meet, two significant events took place in Madras: he fell in love with a Eurasian lady – Rebecca (their marriage took place on July 1848) and embarked officially on a literary career in the English language.

A chance arrival in Calcutta a few years later (January 1856) marked the take-off in his literary career in Bengali language. He was asked to translate a Sanskrit play into English for a European audience. Madhusudan did it but felt that so much “money was being wasted on a worthless play”9 and given an opportunity he could write a better play himself. Before that as an author his first regular effort was The Captive Ladie: An Indian Tale in English which was published (1849) in Madras Circulator. The book received mixed responses. Undeterred he added Visions of the Past to the same book. His second publication too was from Madras and in English. It was entitled Rizia: Empress of Indie (1854). Besides these, he had successfully edited an English language magazine in Madras called Eurasian which often featured his own poetry too. He had however no education or experience in Bengali writing. His friends had no doubt about Madhusudan’s ability to write in English but his offer to write a drama in Bengali could only evoke derision in them. But the poet took up the challenge and to the astonishment of everyone produced Sermistha (1859) drawing upon stories from the Indian epic Mahabharata. After Sermistha, ideas for embarking on other larger projects came to him. “Now that I have got the taste of blood, I am at it again. I am now writing another play” – he wrote to his friend Gaurdas.10 It came sooner than expected under the title Padmavati (1860). To combine the “sublime with the ridiculous” he also authored a couple of farces in between – Is this Civilisation? (1860) and New Feathers on an Old Bird (1860). His experimentation with blank verse in Padmavati found its full fruition in Tillottama Sambhav Kavya (1860). In 1861 he sprang another surprise by publishing a cluster of short poems in Bengali based on the love tale of Hindu icons Radha and Krishna. It was called Bajrangana Kavya. This was followed by the epic composition Meghnad Vadh Kavya (1860) which became his jewel in the crown. Almost simultaneously he published another play Krishnakumari, (1861) based on a rajput legend. The year 1862 marked the publication of another masterpiece Virangana Kavya. After 1862 he did not complete anything grand which was truly his style. He wrote a number of sonnets which was introduced for the first time in Bengali literature. These were published in a collection calledChaturdashpadi Kavitabali (1866). Among these sonnets was the famous Kavi-Matribhasha renamed Bongobhasha. After that Madhusudan suddenly decided to give up writing and leave for England to pursue a law course. Michael begged not to be considered a “traitor to the cause of our native muse” for this act of secession.11 This was almost the end of his short but eventful literary career in Bengali language.

His success in the field of creative literature in Bengali was however marked by another tragedy. His extra-marital affair with another English lady Henrietta in Madras was exposed creating discord in his married life. His chance visit to Calcutta turned out to be permanent as Henrietta came down to Calcutta to live with him compelling Madhusudan never to return to his first wife and children in Madras. Although there was no evidence of his formal marriage to Henrietta, Madhusudan lived with her in marital bliss for the rest of his life. But unending poverty coupled with his extravagant lifestyle had been a source of not only distress but also of “afflictions aplenty” which eventually caused the death of both the poet and his beloved (1873).

Politics of Denationalisation

The 19th century Bengal Renaissance had three major currents

– (i) the Rammohan tradition (reformative), (ii) the Hindu College tradition (radical), and (iii) the Ramakrishna tradition (revivalist).12 Although the basic objective of all three was the regeneration of Indian society, the Rammohan tradition distinguished the realm of culture from political domain. It sought to suspend the pre-modern and usher in a modern era. But the break it sought with tradition was limited and deeply contradictory.13 The cultural regeneration that it inaugurated was confined within the Hindu elitist and colonial framework. It was a story of retreat and decline.14 The political agenda of the Derozians emanated from the contradictions of the Rammohanite initiative. Although the Derozians agreed with the basic objective of modernisation, it rejected the Rammohanite politics of “sythesis” in matters of reform. They objected that their predecessors never denounced the old while welcoming the new. The Derozians dubbed this theory of social reform without political intervention as “coming as far as half the way in religion and politics”.15 They looked upon the followers of Rammohan as “unscrupulous half liberals”.16 In October 1831, East Indian – the mouthpiece of the Derozians exposed the duplicity of the Rammohanites in their private and public acts.17

The Derozians refused to condone such contradictions between public and private domains or a compromise between integrity of thought and conduct. Modernity had to be in its totality. Therefore rationalist reform in religion had to be accompanied by similar modernisation in science, technology, education, polity, culture, and literature. Thus they made efforts which culminated in the establishment of the Calcutta Medical College in 1835 and Calcutta Public Library in 1836. Bangla Pathsala was established for the education of Bengali children in 1839. They were also connected with the growing political consciousness in the country. The Bengal British Indian Society (1843) and The British Indian Association (1851) owed their establishment to these “Young Bengalees”. Rammohan’s initiative for the freedom of press was continued by the Derozians and in 1835 Lord Metcalf restored the freedom of press in India. The British India Society (1839) was set up in England to mobilise English public opinion about the problems Indians faced.

It was the political conviction of the Derozians that there was nothing more essential than “a dissemination of European learning and science among her (India) people”. But if western modernity had to be introduced in India it could neither be piecemeal nor through arguments. It was to be praxis. The Derozians adopted westernisation to demonstrate their breaking out of old traditions as a means of advancing towards modernity.18 While they acted publicly against objectionable Hindu rituals, in the private sphere too they had no trepidation in changing food or faith. This was often seen as extreme Anglicism but in reality was a “denationalisation project” which was an inextricable part of their


Contemporaries were shocked mostly by the indulgence in the

socially forbidden food and drink in the “cutting their way through

ham and beef and wading to liberalism through tumblers of beer”.

But this was mainly the means of asserting the right of individual

judgment in matters of established customs, not unusual at a critical

point of development…Derozian aim was in truth to “summon

Hinduism to the bar of their reason”.19

Madhusudan Dutt was part of this intellectual-political tradition and a practising Derozian. It was a pleasant accident of history that brought him to his own vernacular. But when he did begin to write in his mother tongue it was not simply for a poetic objective. He wanted to make an intervention. He wanted to introduce modernity in the structure of Bengali literature which was still in its medieval stages. He was eclectic in choosing the elements of modernity. He wanted only to borrow the best elements of modern European literature and thought and was careful in not importing European literary achievements in toto as it would be unsuitable. In a famous statement to his friend he said, “In matters literary, old boy, I am too proud to stand before the world in borrowed clothes, I may borrow a necktie, or even a waist coat, but not the whole suit.”20 This was a political intervention in conformity with what Partha Chatterjee had found among the bilingual intelligentsia of contemporary Bengal. “The bilingual intelligentsia came to think of its own language as belonging to that of the inner domain of cultural identity from which the colonial intruder had to be kept out. Language therefore became a zone over which the nation first had to declare its sovereignty and then had to transform in order to make it adequate for the modern world.”21 Although Madhusudan had no formal training in Bengali, the power and richness of the language soon became evident to him once he started writing in his vernacular. In a letter to Rajnarayan Basu he wrote, “I had no idea my dear fellow, that our mother tongue would place at my disposal such exhaustive material and you know I am not a good scholar. The thoughts and images bring out words with themselves – words that I never thought I knew. Here is a mystery for you.” 22

As far as his achievements were concerned “Michael revolutionised the language of Bengali poetry by introducing the blank verse resulting in a spectacular change in poetic diction… (His) Meghnad Vadh Kavya had engrafted the exquisite graces of Greek mythology on Indian vernacular literature. Michael also redefined the Bengali poetry by the introduction of a new metre and a new spirit which conquered his readers by his sweep and power.”23 This was exactly what Madhusudan wanted to do. “It is my ambition to engraft the exquisite grace of the Greek mythology on our own; in the present poem I mean to give free scope to my inventing powers and to borrow as little as I can from Valmiki. Do not let this startle you. You shan’t have to complain again of the un-Hindu character of the poem. I shall not borrow Greek stories but write, rather try to write as the Greek would have done.”24 Interestingly Madhusudan himself was quite aware of the revolution he was creating in Bengali literature. After publishing Sermistha he wrote to Gourdas Bysack, “the book is destined to occupy a permanent place in the literature of the country…this Sermistha has put me at the head of all Bengali writers.”25 Again after the grand introduction of the blank verse in Bengali poetry he wrote, “I do not know what European told you that I had a great contempt for Bengali but that was a fact. But now I even go the length of believing that our blank verse “thrashes the Englishers” as an American would say! But jokes apart, are not blank verse in our language quite as grand as in any other?”26 In another letter too he wrote, “Take my word for it, that blank verse will do splendidly in Bengali and that in course of time like the modern Europeans we too shall equal if not surpass out classic writers.”27 Madhusudan was aware of the transition he was initiating to his language, “I began the poem as a joke and I see I have actually done something that ought to give our national poetry a good lift. At any rate that will teach the future poets of Bengali to write in a strain very different from that man of Krishnanagar – the father of a vile school of poetry” [Bharatchandra].28

Indeed it was in the hands of Madhusudan that Bengali language achieved its freedom from medievalism and began its march towards modernity. He had introduced the European sonnet style and blank verse in Bengali poetry. He used Sanskritised Bengali in his poetry and colloquial language in the tradition of Neel Darpan and Sadhabar Ekadashi in the two farces that he authored. This was because epics required classical language whereas satires based on contemporary society required the language of the period.29 There was thus no contradictions he evinced in using two different styles of Bengali in him.

Madhusudan was aware of the implications of the liberties he took in interpreting the Hindu epics in his creations. He wrote, “I must tell you, my dear fellow, that though as a jolly Christian youth I don’t care a pin’s head for Hinduism, I love the grand mythology of our ancestors. It is full of poetry. A fellow with an inventive head can manufacture the most beautiful things out of it.”30 Everything he wrote was devoid of traditional eulogies meant for gods and goddesses. What he spoke of was the struggle of a man pitched against divine powers. Even when the battle was lost the poet’s sympathies were with the vanquished. Even then the voice did not rise to praise the gods.31

It is not just the Hindu mythology that attracted him in his creation. He felt that the episode of Karbala in the history of Islam could form the theme of another magnificent epic.32 He wanted to write an epic on the theme of Sita’s ‘swayambvar’ from the Ramayana. In fact Michael was the first modern Bengali writer33 to have thought of using a Muslim source for their writing. His selection of Razia, the ruler during the Delhi Sultanate period, as subject for his writing was extremely unusual at that time.34 In fact in a letter to actor Keshab Ganguli he wrote, “We ought to take up Indo-Musssulman subjects. The Mohammedans are a fiercer race than ourselves and would afford splendid opportunity for the display of passion. Their women are more cut out for intrigue than ours.35

This was unthinkable in Madhusudan’s days. He was born in a culture which stubbornly was attached to its medieval past in the name of history. Despite the opening of a window it refused to let the air in. It was through Madhusudan’s effort that the Bengali language was able to bridge the gap of a thousand years and lay the foundation of a world literature.36 But as seen above he wanted to do more. In a letter he stated “There is nothing like cultivating and enriching our own tongue… when we speak to the world, let us speak in our own language… our Bengali language is a very beautiful language.” Regretting his inability to do more for the language he wrote to Gaurdas from Versailles in 1865, “Believe me, my dear fellow, our Bengali is a very beautiful language… such of us, owing to early defective education, knew very little of it and have learnt to despise it are miserably wrong. I wish I could devote myself to its cultivation. As you know I have not sufficient means to lead a literary life… If I have not done something in the literary line, if I do possess talent I have not the means of cultivating them to their utmost content and our nation must be satisfied with what I have done.”37 The poet had in fact immortalised his venture into English literature in preference to his vernacular in a moving composition:

Studded with invaluable gems

Is my own language

Yet discarding them

I roamed from land to land

Greedy of wealth

Like a merchant ship

From port to port

Then in dream one night

The goddess appeared to tell me

Your own language is full of wealth

Why then have you turned yourself into a beggar?

Why are you bereft of all the joy?38

As a poet Madhusudan functioned in the cultural domain but the political implications that lie behind his “failure” in English literature and his return to nativity are more profound. It was reflective of the cultural nationalism that the 19th century unleashed. The life and times of Madhusudan was the most critical period for the formation of Indian identity. As the British consolidated its colonialist grip over India, European influences began to make inroads into this 2,000 year old structure. The influence of European ideas in reshaping this ancient civilisation can be said to have marked the beginning of modernity in India. But it had also coincided with the multipronged attacks on it from the colonialists, missionaries and social reformers.39 The beleaguered civilisation tried to retaliate by the attempt to shape a Hindu identity for the Indians. It relied on revivalism brahmanism and other regressive elements to form its new Indian identity. This new identity was insular, exclusive, revivalist, communal and casteist in character. It was an “outburst of an injured Hindu masculinity or pride which had to come to terms simultaneously with political subordination and threats to its cultural survival.40

Madhusudan as a complete renaissance man stood in sharp contrast to this new self. He was secular and a cosmopolitan par excellence. He had no pretensions to social reforms. Yet he regularly wrote effective essays on Native Education, Remarriage of Hindu Widows, Mussalmans in India, On the Dravida condemnation of Hindu Remarriage, Property Rights of Hindu Women and Defence of Secular Education, in contemporary print media to put forward his progressive views. They were obviously disliked by conservative sections of the society. Hence he was made the target of a new cultural politics that surfaced at the beginning of the 19th century. As a part of this politics he was ostracised from society, his literature was berated and his personal life brought into the public domain for vilification. Madhusudan was not the first target of such politics. Rammohan Roy had also experienced a similar campaign. The heterodoxy of Rammohan aroused vehement protests41 and sharp reactions.42 He was physically attacked,43 humiliated on the streets and the orthodox elements forced him out of the Hindu College committee.44 After Rammohan it was the turn of Derozio. The nascent Hindu identity had an acute threat perception from Derozio.45 The Hindu directors of the college concluded, “Derozio being the root of all evils and the cause of public alarm should be discharged from the College”. They added that “all those students who are publicly hostile to Hinduism and the established customs of the country should (also) be turned out…if any of the boys go to see or attend public lectures to be dismissed…books to be read and time for each study to be fixed”.46 Hence Derozio was removed from Hindu College for “practices inconsistent with the Hindu notions of propriety” and to “check as far as possible all disquisitions tending to unsettle the belief of the boys in the great principles of national religion. Derozio was dismissed to soothe “the public feeling amongst the Hindoo community” which he had reportedly hurt.47 Madhusudan did not face such condemnation as he was not in public service nor was he a social activist. But he too had to face the hostility of the contemporary Hindu idealists. Indeed Madhusudan’s ideas on the Hindus were common knowledge. On the Hindus of India he wrote, “…the Hindu, I say, is an aged race – tottering on the verge of a moral grave. It must die, for the ponderous and marble jaws of that grave are hideously yawning to swallow it and it is descending into the grave. The irresistible and fatal current destined to dash the once beautiful and proud vessel against the rock of destruction has set in – the train destined to blow up to atom the vast and antique fabric, once so superb and so magnificent, is already fired.”48 His un-Hindu treatment of the epics was only a reinforcement of his earlier views.

Michael versus Madhusudan: The Politics of Othering

Madhusudan was often presented as an ‘iconoclast’, a ‘renegade’ and a rebel. It was because he was found to be “intolerant of the hackneyed ways of following the beaten track”.49 His un-Hindu construction of Hindu icons like Rama, his embracing of an alien faith, his preferring to write in the ‘yavana’ language over his mother tongue and his dream of migrating to a ‘mlechcha’ country leaving his motherland were cited as reasons for such type-casting. The newspapers ridiculed him as ‘Bangali Shaheb’ (A Black European).50 On his death one newspaper asked the youth to take a lesson from Madhusudan’s life on the effect of excessive alcohol.51 The vilification campaign started after Madhusudan’s innovations took deep root in Bengali literature. The advent of Madhusudan in Bengali literature took place at a time when Bengali society was still immersed in medievalism. The only saving grace was the creative literature produced by Ishwar Chandra Gupta who can hardly be described as “modern”.52 The publication of Michael’s poetry and drama sharply divided the Bengali audience.53 While one section lapped up Michael’s creations the other opposed it. The latter criticised the poet’s liberty with the use of Bengali words and metre as “arbitrary”. They considered it “too free”.54 They ridiculed and jeered him by mocking his composition. The other group admired the introduction of blank verse in Bengali language and took it upon themselves to popularise Michael’s verses.55

The first biographer of Michael Madhusudan Dutta was Jogindra Nath Basu who did a commendable job in the 1890s to diligently collect evidence to piece together the life and career of the poet. Critic Pramatha Nath Bishi, who also authored a biography of the late poet, discovered that despite the good work Basu’s only objective of the biography seemed to be to depict that the tragedy in Madhusudan’s life was an inevitable and perfect nemesis for a renegade who had denounced his nationality and religion.56 Basu started off the biography with the following introduction,

We have no doubt benefited sufficiently from the introduction of English language and literature in our province but it has to be said that due to the cultivation of English language and literature, we have lost our national identity. The example of Michael Madhsudan Dutt is a glaring case in point. The prolonged cultivation of English will in the long run endanger the national existence of the Hindu Jati and its unique identity. It is therefore imperative at this point that Sanskrit be adopted to ensure our

national survival.... The life of Madhusudan, in fact, is a good

example that however talented or intelligent a person might be,

without proper self-restraint he could be heading for a terrible

tragedy. Those who due to their conceit of talent treat their own

religion with disdain and in pursuit of personal happiness and

selfish interests ignore duties to their parents and society could

learn a lesson from Madhusudan’s life.57

It has to be remembered that Madhusudan had experienced a sustained personal vilification campaign and ostracisation on the same issues during his own lifetime and this biography was written two decades after his death. In fact even his close friend Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay did not forgive him for his conversion to Christianity.58 A newspaper article had ridiculed Madhusudan as a “brown European”. In an article meaningfully entitled ‘Bangali Shaheb’ the author wrote, “Michael Madhusudan had visited England and many other places in Europe during which he, like a bee, tasted the nectar of its literary garden. But alas! On his return did he do anything to enrich our native literature? It seems he has only satisfied himself with the literary fruits of Europe but did not consider it worthwhile applying them in our own land.”59 Even the westernised classes to which he was supposed to have belonged deserted him and campaigned against him because he had exposed their duplicity and ambivalence. When he tried to get his two satires (Is This Civilisation and New Feathers on an Old Bird) staged in Calcutta, members of this class opposed it.60 They did not want to see themselves caricatured. They jointly condemned Madhusudan’s effort “in no uncertain terms”.61

Madhusudan’s controversial treatment of the Hindu epic Ramayana in his Meghnad Vadh Kavya (The Epic Tale of the Killing of Meghnad) was also not taken very kindly by the contemporary literati. One of the early attacks to the epic came from none other than Tagore himself who as a teenager had just started his literary career.62 Tagore was alleged to have written a “saucy essay denigrading Madhusudan”.63 The article entitled Meghnad Vadh Kavya was a critique of Michael’s treatment of the concerned episode in the Ramayana, published serially in Bharati, in the first year of its introduction. But the internationalist and humanist that he matured into, Tagore soon outgrew this adolescent prejudices and judgementality and retracted his opinion in his later life to write some highly perceptive appreciation of Madhusudan.64 In fact Tagore attempted to translate some of Michael’s poetry in English himself to enhance their international reach.65 Michael’s first biographer Jogindranath Basu, who himself was very critical of Michael’s un-Hindu approach, had serialised a write-up entitled ‘Meghnad Vadh Chitra’ in Nabya Bharat wherein he criticised Tagore for being uncharitable to Michael. In his reply Tagore wrote back that “if the critic was aware that the writer of that long forgotten article in Bharati was a mere boy of 15, he not only would have pardoned his audacity but also found elaborate criticism unnecessary”.66 Many years later another powerful poet and critic Buddhdev Basu was also reported to have written a very hostile piece on Madhusudan and unlike Tagore did not even retract his verdict.67

Madhusudan was of course on record for “caring a pinhead for Hindu religion” and his “despise” for “Ram and his rabbles”. He had no regrets about the un-Hindu interpretation of Hindu gods and heroes in his Meghnad Vadh Kavya. He wrote, “…as a tremendous literary rebel…I have thrown down the gauntlet and proudly denounced those [Ram and Laxman] whom our countrymen have worshipped for years as imposters and unworthy of the honours heaped upon them…let me hear what favour the glorious son of Ravana (Meghnad) finds in your eyes.

He was a noble fellow and but for that scoundrel Bibhishan would have kicked the monkey-army into the sea.”

Consistent with this stated position, he saw more virtues in Ravana than the timid Rama. For him Ravana was the hero of Ramayana. He admired the demon character for his “masculine vigour, accomplished warriorhood and his sense of realpolitik and history. He accepted Ravana’s adult and normal commitment to the secular, possessive worldliness and his consummate lust for life. On the other hand he despised Rama and his rabble because they were effeminate, ineffective pseudo-ascetics who were austere not by choice but because they were weak.”68

Such “blasphemous” interpretation of the holy epic infuriated Jogindra Nath Basu so much that he found similarity in the lifestyle of Madhusudan with Ravana and drew a simile between the tragedies of Madhusudan with that of his idol Ravana. He felt both fell for the same reason: conceit and lack of selfcontrol.69 Kali Prasanna Singha who had earlier arranged a felicitation for the poet had in a review of Meghnad Vadh Kavya written that because the villains of Ramayana like Ravana and Meghnad had been turned into heroes by Madhusudan and had been bestowed with such high virtues that Valmiki, the author of the original, would have turned in his grave.70 Another review appearing in Amrita Bazar Patrika mocked the KAVYA calling it ‘Chuchundar Vadh Kavya’ (the Epic Tale of the Killing of a Mouse).71 One of his severest critics along with Rajnarain was Ramgati Nyayratna who reviewed his Meghnad but was unwilling to accept its worthiness totally. He commented “No matter how proud the poet is of himself, and how much support he gets from other knowledgeable people… we have to say candidly that no one in this country has been able to like his blank verse apart from a handful of people like ourselves.”72

But a look at Madhusudan’s writings and letters would reveal that he was not critical against just Hinduism. He had held similar views against ritualism and obscurantism in all religions including Christianity and Islam. His fight against the hegemony and authoritarianism of the church to which he was affiliated is well known. In a letter to a friend Madhusudan enquired about a common Muslim friend and asked whether he could not yet be initiated into the food and drink prohibited in Islam.73 He supported the endeavour to introduce modern education among Muslim women to overcome their backwardness.74 Even though he was not a reformer he wrote on such subjects as the education of the natives (March, 1851), the remarriage of Hindu widows (May 1851) and judged the Mughal rule as juxtaposed against that of the British rule. His views were bold and progressive and upset not only the fellow Hindus but also the British.75 His views on educating Hindu women too were commensurate with modernist stand.

In India I may say in all the Oriental countries women are looked upon as created merely to contribute to the gratification of the animal appetites of men. This brutal misconception of the design of the Almighty is the source of much misery to the fair sex, because it not only makes them appear as of inferior mental endowments, but no better than a sort of speaking brutes…In a country like India where nurse-ship generally devolves on the mother, the importance of educating females (the source from which men gathers his first rudiments of knowledge) is very great; for unless they are enlightened they spread the infection of their ignorance in the minds of those they bring up. Extensive dissemination of knowledge amongst women is the surest way that leads a nation to civilisation and refinement for it is women who first give ideas to the future philosopher and would be poet.76

Suitably, he dedicated his magnum opus Virangana Kavya to none other than Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar because it was the latter, who had worked tirelessly to uplift the condition of Indian women. The dedication was not a simple act of academic ritualism but again a political statement in support of his modernist intervention; it was in the nature of moral support to the first organiser of the feminist movement in India. He had even composed a full sonnet on Vidyasagar. In a strongly worded statement Madhusudan stated that if the Manu-Samhita did approve of the practice of polygamy in Hinduism it should be thrown into river Buriganga, a remark that provoked sharp reactions from the guardians of Hindu society.77

In a similar attempt his biographers and critics had frequently tried to construct a “tragedy” out of Madhusudan’s life.78 Despite being born in an affluent family, he had to live in abject poverty, shift from place to place, live on borrowed money, abandoned by parents, ostracised by society, afflicted by scores of diseases which shortened his life culminating in a painful, lonely death. These were the aspects of poet’s life which were pieced together to construct the “tragedy”. The construction of Madhusudan’s life as a tragedy was part of the same political agenda under discussion. It aimed at demonstrating the nemesis of a renegade. It was started by his first biographer Jogindra Nath Basu. In case of others it was out of sheer romanticism. If poverty and pain were the criteria, the poet Nazrul Islam’s life was more qualified than Madhusudan. Even fine recent biographers like Gulam Murshid and the literary chronicler like Sisir Kumar Das could not escape the temptation of constructing a tragedy in Madhusudan’s life. In a nuanced construction, Murshid found that the tragedy about Madhusudan was that he was far ahead of his times.79 Murshid’s own work however shows that Madhusudan was the product of the very transformation that modern India was experiencing under colonial conditions. He was one of the pioneers of modernity in India like his illustrious predecessors and contemporaries beginning with Rammohan Roy. While Rammohan, Vidyasagar and Derozio worked in the field of social reform, Madhusudan‘s field was creative literature. In this sense he was born at just the right time and his ideas were topical. His contemporary socio-cultural environment inspired him to make a modernist intervention in the domain of language, culture and nation. Sisir Kumar Das arguably found his revolutionary interventions in cultural domain to be the cause of his tragedy.

Rajnarayan Basu was a childhood friend of Madhusudan on whom the poet was ever dependent for inspiration and critical assessment. He needed the views of erudite scholars like Rajnarayan to sustain his creative endeavours. In fact it was Rajnarayan who on reading Madhusudan’s early writings in Bengali language assured the poet of “immortality”. Yet the same Rajnarayan altered his views after the death of the poet. He found his views, innovations and attitude too alien for Indian culture.80 At any rate he found Madhusudan’s work lacking in nationalist elements. “No other poet shows so few traces of national spirit [Hindu] as Michael Madhusudan”.81 In the 1860s Rajnarayan was supportive of Madhusudan’s creative endeavours but subsequently he withdrew his appreciation saying “when Madhu’s poetry was first published…I was extremely partial to it but now the enchantment of a new love has gone and I am able to assess its faults”.82 A look at Rajnarayan’s works would make it amply clear what Indian culture and nationalism meant to him. Rajnarayan Basu was part of the conservative Brahmo group who had broken away from the Brahmo Samaj movement originally founded by Rammohan Roy. In 1861, he founded at Midnapore a Society for the Promotion of National Glory and issued a prospectus for a Society for Stimulating National Sentiment. In a famous lecture Rajnarayan asserted Hindu superiority as the keynote of his movement. He along with Nabagopal Mitra and Jyotirindranath Tagore founded The Patriots’ Association in 1865. His greatest achievement was the organisation of an annual fair – the Hindu Mela which for several years was an event of great significance and around which nationalist sentiments were generated. Rajnarayan Basu was the person under whom the word Hindu became synonymous with Indian and Indian nationalism was virtually Hindu nationalism. As the eminent historian Sushobhan Sarkar has stated, “on the morrow of mutiny, Hindu national consciousness in itself crystallised round the figure of Rajnarayan Basu.”83 Another ally of Basu, Bhudev Mukherji for half a century after the mutiny wrote essays and historical pieces and even advocated the establishment of a Hindu state in India under the leadership of Mahraja Ramachandra – a descendent of the Maratha warrior Shivaji with Hindi as the language of Indian unity.

It is evident that Rajnarayan was out to belittle the poet’s literary achievements due to reasons non-literary. Like the newspapers of his time he too did not take kindly to a man who turned his back on his own religion.84 Vidyasagar too, had not liked the liberties Madhusudan took with Hindu mythology in his Tilottama Sambhav Kavya. It was not surprising. After all Vidyasagar despite his modernist ideas and reform initiatives was a rejecter of external signs of westernism and was rooted in traditional brahmin literati culture.85 It had hurt Michael no end. He wrote, “I have heard that V[idyasagar] has been speaking of it with contempt. This does not surprise me. He cannot know much of the master-singers whom the author of Tilottama imitates in whose school he has learnt to write poetry. This ebullition of ill nature on the part of V[diyasagar] has lowered (him) in the estimation of a few of the serious minded men of the day in this city. At least that is what I hear.”86In fact the bramanical “ideology of discipline” and “public control over public life” had penetrated deep into so-called popular Hinduism in Bengal well before the colonial presence.87 It made Madhusudan very happy when Vidyasagar revised his opinion about Tilottama. Jubiliant, he wrote to Rajnarian, “The renowned Vidyasagar has at last condescended to see Great merit in it and the Someprakash has spoken out in a favourable manner.”88 His excitement continued even two years later as was evident in his letter to Rajnarain.89 Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was a junior but more illustrious contemporary of Madhusudan’s. In an article entitled, ‘Bengali Literature’ published inCalcutta Review two years before Madhusudan’s death, Bankim at the same time praised and criticised Madhusudan. He did not find Madhusudan to be a great poet but was willing to consider him as one of the best contemporary poets in Bengali language.90 He found few literary virtues in Meghnadh Vadh Kavya but very little in his Sonnets.91 Two months after the poet’s death Bankim published an obituary in the form of an assessment of the late poet’s works in Bangladesh journal. Although it was suitably respectful to the departed soul, the assessment was described by Ghulam Murshid as “lukewarm”.92 Bankim’s trepidation in wholeheartedly accepting Madhusudan also has to be understood from the structure of his consciousness. It has been argued that Bankim’s secularism was suspect and Hindutva was dominant in his consciousness. “To him Hinduism was a perfect synthesis of beauty, truth and goodness and to this gave expression in his writings and through rationalistic discourses.”93 In three of his novels, Mrinalini, Anandamath and Sitaram he imagined freedom from Muslim rule and the establishment of a Hindu kingdom in India. Bankim’s evaluation of Madhusudan also can perhaps be judged from the moralist position he held in some of his novels like Sitaram, Vishbrikshya (‘The Poisonous Tree’), Mrinalini, and Anandamath. The personal life of Madhusudan was not unknown to Bankim and it is unlikely, considering the moralist position he took in the two above mentioned novels, that he took a considerate view of it in the mid-19th century Bengal. The national self of Bankim’s imagination as was constructed through his literary works would find it difficult to accommodate a modern Madhusudan in it. Hence he was politely “othered”. Many years later another powerful poet and critic Buddhadev Basu had written a very hostile piece on “Michael” belittling his achievements.94 This prejudice of an otherwise liberal Buddhadev against Madhusudan was actually a “revelation” to a lot of his own admirers.95

This othering of Madhusudan did not however end with his life. After death, it was his body which was refused to be owned. As a Christian he was a native – neither White nor Anglo-Indian. He had ceased to be a Hindu after conversion. So neither community came forward to claim his body for funeral rites. Madhusudan wanted to be buried next to his wife which required Christian burial. But the church to which he belonged was reluctant. The late poet hardly had any relatives left to complete the mortuarial rites. Under the circumstances it was his friends who were members of the Bengali elite who were expected to shoulder the responsibility. But they maintained a potent silence. It was the untiring efforts of Manmohan Ghose whom the poet had helped while in England which ultimately convinced the church to allow the poet to be buried next to his wife according to Christian burial. The burial of the epic poet of Bengali literature was completed without any significant attendance from the contemporary literati of Bengal.96

As seen the “othering” of Madhusudan was a revivalist intervention of the non-secular forces who were working to construct a Hindu identity for modern India.97 But Michael was nonchalant about his critics during his lifetime. Although he brushed aside his critics as “fire away my boys, the numy-pamby wallahs…be hanged to them”98 or “hang the insects of the day”99 he was also saddened by their tirade. He wrote “these men my dear Raj, little understand the heart of a proud, silent, lonely man of song.”100 Despite his deep emotional attachment to Bengal and Bengali language Madhusudan tried to ensure that his children were brought up as European which has been seen by many as contradictory to his nationalism. But the poet did so perhaps only to ensure that his children, already product of mixed races and cultures did not go through the dualism in their identity and suffer the painful experience of othering by the society that he did.

In Madhusudan we can see the encounter of two sets of politics – one, of Madhusudan himself and two, of the others around him. In the first kind of politics, Madhusudan perpetuated the tradition of the Derozians of making an explicit political intervention by denationalising himself to denounce the pre-modern elements in the Hindu identity. It aimed at demonstrating that there was nothing worthwhile in perpetuating medieval practices in the name of Hindu identity. It was a protest against the duplicity between the private and public practices, which had become the hallmark of the followers of Rammohan Roy after his demise. The other set of politics centred on Madhusudan was an endeavour started by his contemporaries and then followed by apostles of the Hindu identity, to persistently show that the tragedy in the poet’s life was a perfect nemesis for a renegade who dared to denounce the identity bestowed on him by his ancestors through birth – the Hindu identity. In the ensuing encounter of these two sets of politics, Madhusudan emerged victorious proving the triumph of modernity over medievalism, the superiority of a liberal, secular, democratic and cosmopolitan Indian identity over the parochial, sectarian and communal identity. In his own life however his Bengali identity was overwhelming. He was aware of it. It was perhaps this reason that the poet who had once tried “to cross the vast Atlantic waves, for glore or (even) a nameless grave” wanted to be remembered as a poet born in Bengal, at the fag-end of his life, as was evident in his self-composed epitaph,

O Passer by

Pause a while, if you are

A Bengal born


In this grave

Sleeps on the feet of mother-earth

As a child rests in his mother’s lap

Sri Madhusudan,

The poet born in the family of the Dutta’s

A native of Sagardari

On the bank of river Kapotaksha

The noble Rajnarayan was his father and

Jahnavi, the mother.

Madhusudan was successful in his dream. He was victorious in the encounter between modernity and medievalism. The politics of othering was boomeranged by history. The poet who was not found nationalist enough or not considered a great poet was now crowned the ‘Mahakavi’ of Bengali literature and the name by which the Bengali nationality would be known. It was the same Bankim Chandra, who now wrote,

Time is favourable, Europe is helpful, pleasant breeze is blowing;

the time is right for hoisting our national flag. Write the name

of Sri Madhusudan on it and let it flutter.101




1 Tapan Roychowdhury, Three Views of Europe from Nineteenth Century Bengal, S G Deushkar Lecture, 1981, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, K P Bagchi and Co, Calcutta, 1987, p 2.

2 Ibid, p 9. 3 Eric Strokes, The English Utilitarians and India, Oxford, Delhi, 1989, p 18.

4 K N Panikkar, ‘Culture and Ideology’ in Culture, Ideology, Hegemony: Intellectual and Social Consciousness in Colonial India, Tulika, New Delhi, 1995, pp 86-107.

5 K N Panikkar, op cit. 6 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay ‘Mrito Michael Madhusudan Dutta’ in Bongo Darshan, Bhadra, 1280. 7 Shibnath Shastri, Ramtonu Lahiri O Tatkalin Bongo Samaj (in Bengali), New Age Publications, Calcutta,1909, second reprint 1957, p 202.

8 William Radice, Foreward to Ghulam Murshid, Lured by Hope: A Biography of Michael Madhusudan Dutta, translated from English by Gopa Majumdar, OUP, Delhi, 2003, p ix.

9 Ghulam Murshid, op cit, p 117.

10 Madhusudan to Gaurdas Bysack, March 19, 185?.

11 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, June 4, 1862.

12 Monotosh Chakravarty, Hindu College O Unish Sotoker Banglar Samaj

(Bengali), Subornorekha, Kolkata, 1997. 13 Sumit Sarkar, ‘Rammohan Roy and the Break with the Past’ in his

A Critique of Colonial India, Papyrus, Calcutta,1985, pp 117.

14 Ibid.

15 Sushobhan Sarkar, ‘The Derozians 1833-57’ and ‘Derozio and Young

Bengal’ in Bengal Renaissance, Papyrus, Calcutta, 1979, reprint 1985, pp 26-31 and 101-12.

16 Ibid.

17 It wrote, “What his (Rammohan’s) opinions are neither his friends nor foes can determine. It is easier to say what they are not than what they are. His followers, at least some of them, are not very consistent. Sheltering themselves under the shadow of his name they indulge in licentiousness in everything forbidden in the shastras as meat and drink; while at the same time they feed the brahmins, profess to disbelieve Hindooism and never neglect to have pujas at home”, cited in ibid.

18 Ibid, p 88.

19 Ibid.

20 Madhusudan to Gaurdas Bysack, mid-July 1858.

21 Partha Chaterjee, Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Post-Colonial Histories, Oxford, Delhi,1997, p 7.

22 Cited in Bishnu Dey, op cit.

23 Sisir Kumar Das, op cit.

24 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, end of June 1860.

25 Madhusudan to Gaurdas Bysack, March 19, 185?.

26 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, April 24, 1860.

27 Madhusudan to Keshab Chandra Ganguli, April 1860.

28 Madhusudan to Rajnarayan Basu, April 24, 1860.

29 Madhusudan was quite aware that he was creating something of the epic proportion. See for a discussion Hirendra Chattopadhyay. ‘Shilpito Swa-Birodh: Prabandher Shilpi’ in Tarun Chottopadhyay (ed), Buddhadev Basu: Monone Anweshane, in Bengali, Pustak Bipani, Kolkata, 1988, pp 219-43.

30 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, May 15, 1860.

31 Ghulam Murshid, op cit, p 211.

32 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, around June 14, 1861.

33 Krishnaram Das and Sitaram Das who did use Islamic subjects before him but they belonged to the medieval period (17th c).

34 Ghulam Murshid, Lured by Hope, etc, p 93.

35 Madhusudan to Keshab Ganguli, September 1, 1860.

36 Monotosh Chakravarty, op cit, p 115.

37 Ibid, p 157.

38 Translation adopted from Amalendu Bose, op cit.

39 Atul Chandra Gupta (ed), Studies in Bengal Renaissance, National Council of Education, Bengal, Calcutta, 1958, revised, 1977. See Introduction by the editor; Kamal Kumar Ghatak, Hindu Revivalism in Bengal: Rammohan to Ramkrishna, Minerva, Calcutta, 1991, pp 1-13.

40 Amiya P Sen, Hindu Revivalism in Bengal 1872-1905: Some Essays in Interpretation, OUP, Delhi, 1993, p 3.

41 Shibnath Shastri, op cit, p 98.

42 Sushobhan Sarkar, ‘Ram Mohan Roy’ in On Bengal Renaissance, Papyrus, Calcutta, 1979, reprint 1985, p 24.

43 Shibnath Shastri, op cit, p 104.

44 Ibid. It was also reported by Shibnath Shastri, op cit, p 65. The above mentioned derogatory songs in colloquial Bengali went as follows: Surai Meler Kul/Betar BariTthana-kul/ Beta Sharvonasher Mul/Ong Tatshat Bole Beta Baniyeche School/ O SheyJeter Dofa, Korley Rofa/Mojaley Tin Kool.

45 Sushobhan Sarkar, op cit, pp 101-12; Nimai Sadhan Bose, Indian Awakening and Bengal, Firma KLM, Calcutta, 1960, reprint 1990, pp 69-91; Sumit Sarkar, ‘Complexities of Young Bengal’, 19th Century Studies, No 4, October 1973, pp 506-07; Gautam Chattopadhyay (ed), Awakening in Bengal in Early Nineteenth Century (selected documents), introduction, Vol I, Calcutta 1965, p lix.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid.

48 Michael Madhusudan Dutta, ‘The Anglo-Saxon and the Hindu’, Lecture-I available in Kshetra Gupta, op cit, pp 624-39.

49 Shibnath Shastri, Atmacharit:Autobiography of Shibnath Sashtri, translated by Suniti Devi, Riddhi India, Calcutta, 1988, p 210.

50 ‘Bangali Saheb’ in Sadharani, 8 Bhadra 1281 Saka quoted in Swapan Basu, ‘Samakalin Patra Patrikay Madhusudan Prasanga’ in Sukumar Roy (ed), Madhusudan Byakti O Srishthi (in Bengali), Calcutta,1995, p 65.

51 Ibid. 52 Shibnath Shastri, Atmacharit: Autobiography of Shibnath Shastri,

translated by Suniti Devi, Riddhi India, Calcutta, 1988, p 205.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid, p 47.

55 Ibid, p 205.

56 Pramath Nath Bishi, op cit, preface, p i.

57 Jogindra Nath Basu, op cit, p 46.

58 Ghulam Murshid, Lured by Hope, etc, p 26.

59 ‘Bangali Saheb’ in Sadharani, 8 Bhadra 1281 Saka quoted in Swapan Basu, ‘Samakalin Patra Patrikay Madhusudan Prasanga’ in Sukumar Roy (ed), Madhusudan Byakti O Srishthi (in Bengali),Calcutta 1995, p 65.

60 Ghulam Murshid, Lured by Hope, etc, pp 126-27. 61 Ibid. 62 Prasant Pal, Ravi Jivani, Vol-1, 1861-1878, Ananda Publishers, Calcutta,

1982, pp 263-66. 63 Amalendu Bose, op cit, p 3. 64 Ibid. 65 Prasant Pal, Ravi Jivani, Vol-vii, Ananda Publishers, Calcutta, p 123. 66 Ibid, Vol-iii, p 232. 67 Ibid. 68 Ashish Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under

Colonialism, OUP, Delhi,1983, pp 18-19. 69 Jogindra Nath Basu, op cit. 70 Kali Prasanna Singha cited in Swapan Basu, op cit. 71 Cited in ibid. 72 Quoted in Ghulam Murshid, Lured by Hope, etc, p 209. 73 He wrote to his friend Bhoodeb Mukhopaddhay about a common

Muslim friend Abdul Luteef “Make my Salam to …old friend Abdul Luteef. He is a clever fellow isn’t he? Does he drink grog and eat pork or is he still a Bismillah sort of chap- eh? Has the learning of the feringees done anything in that way?” Michael to Bhoodeb, Madras, May 27, 1849.

74 Ibid. 75 Ghulam Murshid, op cit, p 98. 76 Michael Madhusudan Dutta, ‘An Essay on the Importance of Educating

Hindu Females with Reference to the Improvement Which It May Be Expected to Produce on the Education of Children in Their Early Years and the Happiness It would Generally Confer on Domestic Life’, award winning essay written for a Competition, 1842, reproduced in Kshetra Gupta, op cit, pp 622-24.

77 Cited in Swapan Basu, op cit.

78 Allmost all his biographers found Madhusudan’s life to be a tragedy. Even Sushobhan Sarkar, op cit and Sisir Kumar Das, A History of Indian Literature, Vol viii, 1800-1910, Sahitya Academy, Delhi, 1991, were no exception though they were not writing any biography. Each had a different reason for describing it as a tragedy. But mostly it was due to the sorry “end” that the poet experienced to his life.

79 Ibid, p 211. 80 Rajnarain Basu cited in ibid, pp 209-11. 81 Ibid. 82 Ibid. 83 Sushobhan Sarkar, op cit, p 34; Nemai Sadhan Bose, op cit, pp 263-65 84 Ghulam Murshid, Lured by Hope, etc, p 210. 85 Sumit Sarkar,‘Vidyasagar and Brahmanical Society’ in his Writing Social

History, OUP, Delhi, 1997, pp 216-81. 86 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, end of June 1860. 87 Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, ‘Caste, Widow Remarriage and Reform of

Popular Culture in Colonial Bengal’ in Bharati Ray (ed), From the Seams of History: Essays on Indian Women, 195, OUP, Delhi, pp 9, 11, 14 and passim, cited in ibid.

88 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, end of September 1860.

89 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, beginning of February 1862. “You will be pleased to hear that the great Vidyasagar is almost a convert to the new poetical creed and is beginning to treat the apostle who has propagated it with great attention, kindness and almost affection. He is not quite habituated to the new music yet but of the genuine character of the poetry he does not appear to entertain any doubt.” So impressed he was with Vidyasagar that he wrote a sonnet on him, dedicated his most important work to him, contributed for a construction of a statue and rated him as “the first man among us”.

90 ‘Bankim Chandra’, Calcuttta Review, Vol 52, No 102, 1871, cited in

Ghulam Murshid, Lured by Hope, etc, p 210. 91 Ibid. 92 Ibid. 93 Buddhadev Basu, ‘Michael’ (1946) now available in Sahitya Charcha,

Kolkata, 1954, reprint by Deys Publishing, Kolkata, 1976, pp 23-37. 94 Ibid. 95 Hirendra Chattopadhyay, op cit. 96 Ghulam Murshid, op cit, pp 206-10. 97 Arabindo Poddar, Renaissance in Bengal: Search for Identity, IIAS,

Shimla, 1977, pp 33-37 for a discussion on the construction of Hindu

identity in 19th century Bengal. 98 Madhusudan to Keshab Ganguly, April 1860. 99 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, June 1860.

100 Madhusudan to Rajnarain, June 1860.

101 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay ‘Mrito Michael Madhusudan Dutta’ in Bongo Darshan, Bhadra, 1280 (translation mine).

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