Isvar Chandra Vidyasagar, a story of his life and work/Chapter 15

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In 1855, when the authorities resolved to start Government-aided English and Vernacular schools in the different parts of the country, they called on Vidyasagar for a report on the mode of instruction to be followed in these schools, and the scheme under which they were to be worked. Vidyasagar submitted an able report on the subject, which met with the approbation of the authorities. They then appointed him a Special Inspector of Schools on a monthly pay of 200 rupees in addition to his pay of 300 rupees for holding the post of the Principal of the Sanskrit College. He had thus a monthly salary of 500 rupees now. He was intrusted with the establishment and inspection of schools under the new scheme in the interior of the districts Nuddea, Midnapore, Hugli and Burdwan.

In his second report, Vidyasagar had suggested the opening of a Normal School to train up teachers for the newly established schools. The authorities saw the propriety of his suggestion, and, in the same year, a Normal School was opened in the premises of the Sanksrit College. Vidyasagar was charged with its management. At his instance, his dear friend, the famous author, Akshay Kumar Datta was appointed its first Head Master. Not long after this appointment, Akshay Babu was afflicted with a severe head disease, which grew so serious, that he was compelled to resign his office. Vidyasagar's great favourite, Ram Kamal Bhattacharyya, was then appointed to the post. Madhu Sudan Vachaspati, one of Vidyasagar's early playmates, was also another teacher of the Normal School.

As Inspector of Schools, he had usually to travel into the interior of the Hugli, Burdwan, Midnapore and Nuddea districts, and to come in contact with many wealthy and influential persons of the places he visited. He advised these respectable men to establish schools in their localities and estates. In this way, he made an acquaintance of Babu Jay Krishna Mukharji, the learned Zemindar of Uttarpara.

During these tours, Vidyasagar generally travelled in palanquins, and if he found any sick person, faint and feeble, lying on the way, he used to alight from his vehicle and take the poor sufferer into it. He then walked on foot himself to the next inn, where he placed the poor man under the care of the inn-keeper, giving him sufficient money to feed, and take care of, the sufferer. He never travelled without money in his purse. He always kept with him a stock of a sufficient quantity of coins of different values. Whenever a poor person presented himself, he was sure to give him some money in proportion to his need. He never sent away a beggar displeased.

Vidyasagar's heart was a fountain of sympathy and kindness. The tale of distress moved his naturally gentle heart, and he tried his utmost to relieve the distrest. There is no reckoning how many orphans he helped with food, books and school-fees. Whenever the tale of a poor boy reached his ears, that for want of means, the boy was prevented from obtaining education, he never failed to take the boy to his own house, and make proper arrangements for his education. It is said, that on one occasion, when he had gone on business to the house of Kali Krishna Datta of Dattapukur, a village in the district of 24 Fergannas, a poor Brahman orphan appeared before him, and, with tears in his eyes, narrated his sad story. Vidyasagar was so much touched at the tale of distress, that he wept like a child. He then took the poor boy with him to his own residence, and provided for his education. At this time, nearly one hundred persons were daily fed by him, both in Calcutta and at Birsingha.

We have said, that Vidyasagar never sent away a beggar without giving him or her some alms. The reader has already seen how fondly devoted he was to his mother. When a beggar appeared before him, and said that he was motherless, the very thought of the loss of mother drew tears from Vidyasagar's eyes, and he was sure to give the mendicant something more than he expected. On one occasion, it so happened that a beggar came to him, and represented falsely that he was motherless, under instructions of a neighbouring grocer. Vidyasagar came to know that his statement was untrue, and that he had, in reality, his mother living. He did not, however, send the beggar away, but gave him some alms, and advised him not to tell lies again. In fact, many poor persons thus deceived him with false representations that they were motherless, and drew out from his purse, money more than they expected.

Vidyasagar was, as if, spell-bound with the word 'mother.' He had never a very great taste for music. But whenever he heard any one sing a song, containing pitiful addresses of 'mamma', he was moved to the very core of his heart. He clasped the singer to his bosom, and did not know how to satisfy him. A poor, blind Mussulman beggar was in the habit of wandering in the streets a-begging and singing Syama-Sangits to his violin. These songs contained in them pitiful addresses of 'mamma,' which moved the filial heart of Vidyasagar. He used to send for this beggar, and hear his songs. As he heard the pitiful cries of 'mamma', tears flew in torrents from his eyes. He helped the Mussulman beggar liberally. When the poor, blind man's hut was destroyed by fire, Vidyasagar paid the whole cost of his new hut.

As was the son, so were the parents. Vidyasagar's father and mother, both were liberal to the core. They felt a great delight in feeding guests and hungry people. The father personally used to go to market and make purchases for the daily feast, and the mother took equal delight in doing the cooking and distributing the food to the guests and the hungry. Many stories are told of their liberalities. Vidyasagar's parents lived to a good old age and enjoyed the happiness of their conjugal love. But it is usually seen in the world, where there is excessive love between two persons, especially between husband and wife, the fancied slightest disregard of one, either in words or acts, wounds the pride of the other, who takes it to be an affront offered, and enters into dispute with the fancied opponent. Such was the usual occurrence with Vidyasagar's father, Thakurdas, and his mother, Bhagavati Devi. The reader is already aware that the husband, Thakurdas, was of a peevish temperament. His wife, Bhagavati Devi, also easily lost her temper. Consequently, their conjugal dispute was almost a daily occurrence, but it never had a long duration. When the quarrel grew rather serious, Bhagavati Devi used to shut the doors of her room, and lay there, giving vent to her pent up passion by angry words mixed with tears. Thakurdas would then be in great peril, but he had always a remedy, ready at hand. As soon as his beloved consort entered the room, he left the house and went out in search of a big fish. Having procured one to his mind, he returned home with it, and, with a heavy bang, threw it down, with great force, on the ground in front of his wife's room. No sooner did the sound of the big fish reach her ears, than Bhagavati Devi, at once ran cut of the room, and with a large fish-knife began dividing the fish, with a smile in her tearful eyes. How beautiful was the admixture of tears with mirth! Thakurdas, with wilful wickedness, would peremptorily tell her not to touch the fish, but his wife would not pay the slightest heed to his interaction, and thus won the victory. The other female inmates of the house were greatly amused, and smiled at the happy, speedy termination of the old couple's quarrel. Referring to this, Vidyasagar's son, Narayan Babu, 'said to us:—"My grandmother (Vidyasagar's mother) used to lend money to the lower class people of the village. When any of these poor persons could not repay their debts, she would go to their houses, and sometimes demand repayment in angry tones. She would say to them',—'If you do not repay your debts, how can I carry on the money-lending business?' When the creditors saw her in such passion, they tried to pacify her with gentle, flattering words. Some would relate, with tearful eyes, the tales of their distress; while others blessed her son, Vidyasagar, in her presence, and prayed to God for his welfare. My grandmother's passion would vanish in an instant; she would then say,—'Very good, never mind, pay your debts, when you find convenience. But to-day you must have Prasad (eat your rice) at mine.' The female inmates of their house sometimes gave her Muri (fried rice), cocoanut, Batasa (light sugar-cake) and other eatables. She would bring them home wrapped in a corner of her cloth. At noon, after she had done the cooking and fed the guests and dependents, she took her stand daily by the outer gates of her house. As a wayfarer or a peddler passed by her, she would take him in, and feed him with satiety. If she saw any one with a pale face, she would say to him.—'Oh! you have had nothing to eat to-day. Come, come to my house, I will feed you.' Whenever she got a big fish, her delight knew no bounds. She was very happy to divide large fishes with her own hands, and to feed people with them.

The reader has already seen that Vidyasagar was a great appreciator of merits. Besides, he was ever prepared to help the deserving in the way which would best suit the helped. He had known Babu Prasanna Kumar Sarvvadhikari for a long time. Prasanna Kumar had been a student of the Hindu College, where he had won a gold medal, besides a monthly scholarship of 40 rupees. He had gone to Dacca on appointment, which not suiting him, he had come back to Calcutta without the permission of the authorities, who were consequently highly dissatisfied with him. At last, at the earnest request of Vidyasagar, he was appointed as one of the lower teachers of the Hindu College on a monthly salary of 40 rupees. Subsequently, when the scheme of English instruction in the Sanskrit College was approved by the Education Council, and English was made a compulsory subject, Prasanna Kumar Sarvvadhikari, at the instance of Vidyasagar, was appointed first teacher of English in the Sanskrit College, and after him Babus Srinath Das, Kali Prasanna Chatarji, Tarini Charan Chatarji and Prasanna Kumar Ray were appointed teachers of English. This Prasanna Kumar Sarwadhikari afterwards became Principal of the Sanskrit College, and ultimately, one of the professors of the Presidency College, Calcutta.

We will notice here, in passsing, the incident connected with Prasanna Kumar Sarvvadhikari's resignation of his office as Principal of the Sanskrit College. Some malicious persons insinuate that he resigned the post at the instigation of Vidyasagar. We will show that he had nothing to do with the resignation. On the contrary, he tried his best to induce Prasanna Kumar to withdraw his resignation.

Shortly after Prasanna Kumar Sarwadhikari had been installed as Principal of the Sanskrit College, he had a dispute with the Principal of the Presidency College on official matters. The Library of the Sanskrit College had all along been in a room on the second floor of the College-building. But the Principal of the Presidency College requiring it on urgent business, he directed the Library of the Sanskrit College to be removed to a damp, dark room in the lowest floor. The Library contained a good collection of valuable and rare books and manuscripts. Prasanna Kumar Sarwadhikari objected to the removal of the Library, on the score that the damp might cause a great injury to the rare collection. The Principal of the Presidency College was a white European. He referred the matter to the higher authorities, who decided in his favour, as is the usual occurrence in cases of dispute between a black native and a white European. The Library was removed to the damp, dark room. Prasanna Kumar naturally took this to be a downright insult, and highly resented it. From his long connection with Vidyasagar, he had acquired much of his habits and spirit. He at once sent on his resignation letter. We will now quote some portions of the letters that passed between Vidyasagar and the then Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, which speak for themselves.


"My dear sir,—

"When I had the pleasure of waiting upon you last, you were pleased to allude to the resignation of the officiating Principal of the Sanskrit College. But as I was not aware of all the circumstances connected with the affair, I could not tell you anything regarding the matter. I have since made myself acquainted with the facts of the case, and am inclined to think that the treatment of the Principal by * * * has been unnecessarily and unbecomingly harsh, as will, I believe, appear to you also on perusal of the papers enclosed. * *


"I have, therefore, tried my best to persuade him to withdraw his letter of resignation. But he says***

(Sd). "Isvar Chandra Sarma."


'My Dear Pundit, –

"I am sorry you have not been able to induce P. C. Sarbadhicari to withdraw his resignation, because I feel sure it is a step which he will regret, and I am always sorry to lose the services of good officers, especially if it be for an inadequate cause.***

"As to the fitness of the room for the reception of the Sanskrit Mss. I will make enquiry.

"Believe me yours sincerely,

(Sd). "Cecil Beadon."


"My dear sir,

"As I am inclined to suspect that he may have also represented the matter to you in the same light, I beg to assure you that I had no hand whatever in inducing Babu P. C. Sarbadhicari in forming his resolution. On the contrary, as I was under the impression that the severance of his connection with the Sanskrit College would be injurious to that institution, I tried my best to make him withdraw his resignation, though without the desired effect.

(Sd.) "Isvar Chandra Sarma"


"My dear sir,

"You may be quite sure that if I had had the least suspicion that Babu P. C. Sarbadhicari had acted under your advice in resigning his appointment in the Sanscrit College, I should not have asked you to try and induce him to reconsider what I thought a hasty and unasked for step.

"Yours Sincerely

(Sd.) "C. Beadon"

Shortly after English had been made a compulsory subject, and the students had been compelled to keep pass-marks in English as well, the Calcutta University was instituted, and along with it, the system of Entrance and Arts examinations was introduced. Some more English teachers were, therefore, appointed in the Sanskrit College. About this time, one Kali Charan Ghosh, a mere youth, became Vidyasagar's especial favourite. Though he was young in age, he had acquired a good English education. Vidyasagar, therefore, apointed him temporarily as teacher of English, on probation.

But, when the boys saw that their teacher was of the same age with them, they refused to take lessons from him. Besides, some of them tried to treat him with, unbecoming contumacy and contumely. When Vidyasagar was apprised of the misbehaviour of the refractory boys, he was greatly annoyed, and called for the names the ringleaders and instigators. But no one ventured to give names. No one admitted the offence. Vidyasagar was a great enemy of untruth. He knew that the boys were actually guilty, but he could not discover the leaders. He therefore, drove the whole class away. The boys, in a body, complained against him to the higher authorities, who called on him for an explanation. He wrote In reply that in these small matters, the Principal ought to have the sole control, and that if, in such cases, the boys were permitted to bring complaints against the Principal, it would be very difficult to keep them in check. The authorities concurred with him, and returned to him all the papers connected with the case. The boys had been in great glee that they had complained against Vidyasagar, who in consequence would soon be taken to task. Some of them even ventured to declare openly, that he was sure to lose his appointment, and conseqnently would have to turn a petty chapman. But when they heard that the authorities had returned the case to him they were, as if, struck by a thunderbolt. By and by, the guardians of the boys came to know of their wickedness, and upbraided them severely. The guardians then went to Vidyasagar, and requested him to forget and forgive. He instructed them to send their wards to Kali Charan Babu.

The boys had now no other alternative left, than to go to Kali Charan, whom they had so unreasonably insulted, and ask his forgiveness. Kali Charan took the boys with him to Vidyasagar, who now asked the ringleaders that were in front, who should turn a chapman, whether they or he? The boys hung down their heads in shame, and could not utter a word. He then asked Kali Charan, if they had asked forgiveness of him. The latter replied, that he had at first declined to come with them, but at their earnest solicitation, after admission of their guilt, he had brought them to him (Vidyasagar), and that he could now do with them as he pleased. Vidyasagar then said to Kali Charan,—'If you request me to forgive them, I will forgive them, otherwise not.' Kali Charan was now put on the horns of a dilemma. After much reflection, he said,—'They have committed a greater offence against you than against me. Please, do as you think fit. Do not throw it on my head.' The boys fell to Vidyasagar's feet, and with tearful eyes, craved his forgiveness, promising never to do so again. Vidyasagar now forgave them, and told them to go to school. Dear reader, do you see the beauty when strength of mind is combined with kind forgiveness?

It is not very difficult to forgive an offender, when he admits his guilt and repents of it, and it is almost a daily occurrence. But it is not so easy for a man of influence to ask forgiveness of his inferior, for the superior thinks it beneath his dignity to do so, and his pride is wounded. But one, who can do so, must be considered to be truly great. On one occasion, it so happened that Vidyasagar, relying on the misrepresentation of a man, whom he had believed to be a trustworthy person, did, Pandit Tarakumar Kaviratna a piece of injustice. But he subsequently found out that he had been circumvented by malicious reports. He at once called upon the injured person at the latter's residence, and with tearful eyes and pitiful tones, implored his forgiveness, saying,—'Kaviratna, I have unjustly done you a great wrong. Please, tell me how can I redress it?' What greatness of heart!

Vidyasagar was kind and affectionate, equally to his family, relations and friends. Babu Syama Charan Bisvas, one of the late Vice-Chairmen of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, was among Vidyasagar's particular friends. In Calcutta, his house stood in front of that of Vidyasagar; but his ancestral home was at village Paintel, in the Hugh district, some 19 or 20 miles off Calcutta. At the urgent request of his dear friend, Vidyasagar once visited Paintel. Many poor people of the locality came to him to beg for assistance, and he distributed his charities liberally. The people of that place, even to the present day, remember his name with grateful tears. After his return from Paintel, he had an attack of Fever, accompanied with polypus and bleeding of the nose, which, neessitated the use of snuff for some time, but, in a short time, he gave it up. It is said, that he acquired the habit of smoking tobacco, when he was 31 or 32 years old, under the following circumstances.

Doctor Navin Chandra Mitra of Barasat, who lived in Jhamapulcur, Calcutta, was in terms of intimate friendship with Vidyasagar. His brother, Kali Krishna Mitra, was also familiar with him. Vidyasagar used now and then to visit Navin Babu. The doctor was a great smoker of tobacco. One day, as he was engaged in conversation with Vidyasagar, the page presented a hookah to smoke from. The host requested his visitor to smoke, but the latter declined. At last, at the earnest solicitations of his friend, he drew in a little smoke to oblige him. The next day, when he called again, he himself ordered the page to get tobacco ready. The boy presented the hookah, and he consumed the tobacco to ashes, without offering his friend to smoke out of it. He thus formed his habit of smoking tobacco. But he never disturbed his servants and maids in their sleep or when they were busy with some other work, either for tobacco or betel. Sometimes he prepared both, for his use, with his own hands. He used to have small bits of divided betel-nuts and other spices ready at hand, and he prepared and chewed betels at pleasure, without any body's assistance. He never threw away surplus bits of nuts or other spices, but put them into phials for future use. Though he was very liberal in charities, yet in his own house, he was most economical. His maxim was 'Waste not, want not.'

Babu Nilambar Mukharjt, late minister of the Cashmere Raj, and present Vice-Chairman of the Calcutta Municipality, was one of the scholars of the Sanskrit College in Vidyasagar's time, and was a great favourite with him. Vidyasagar's impression was, that he would become a great man, which was eventually fulfilled. Nilambar Babu had always a great reverence for Vidyasagar. Even when he rose to the highest post in Cashmere, he consulted him (Vidyasagar) on important State affairs. Before he threw up the high office, he had consulted the learned Pandit and obtained his permission. Since his appointment as Principal of the Sanskrit College, Vidyasagar had made provisions for monthly stated allowances for several poor, but respectable families. It is said, that he had settled upon Bhuvan Mohon Singha, son of Babu Jagaddurlabh Singha of Barabazar, who had, in former days, given shelter to Vidyasagar and his father, a monthly allowance of 30 rupees. After Bhuvan Mohan's death, his wife used to receive the stipend. His son-in-law was also one of Vidyasagar's favourites, and obtained from him pecuniary helps now and then. About this time, he settled upon Syama Charan Ghoshal, a relation of his, a monthly allowance of ten rupees. Besides these fixed stipends, he helped occasionally many poor, high-class people with gifts of money. We have no means of knowing all his charities; because, to avoid exposure and humiliation of the recipients, he made the gifts most privately. In this respect, he followed Christ's precept,—'Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth'.

Before Vidyasagar's time, Sanskrit Lilavati and Vijaganita (Algebra) were used in the Sanskrit College, but he introduced, in their stead, European Mathematical works. Pandit Priya Nath Bhattacharyya was a professor of Mathematics at that time. He subsequently studied the civil law under Vidyasgar's instructions, and, at his instance, obtained the post of a Munsiff.

An association, called the "Bethune Society", had been formed in memory of the late J. E. D. Bethune, one of the greatest friends the country ever had, mainly through Vidyasagsr's exertions. It was at a meeting of this Society that his essay on "Sanskrit Language and Belles-lettres" was read. It is said, that Prasanna Kumar Sarvvadhikari read an English translation of the essay. However that might be, there can be no doubt, that it is a most learned dissertation. It was first published on the 18th April, 1856. The pamphlet contains 89 pages, demy 12 mo. Considering the weight and importance of the subject, it must be asserted, that the discussion has been very brief and limited. The author has admitted it himself. He says:—

'This essay was first read at a meeting of the Bethune Society. At the earnest request of many of my friends, I, under the permission of the President, published at that time 200 copies of the book, and distributed them gratis.

'According to general practice, such essays become the sole property of the association at which they are read. I, therefore, offered to the President to purchase its copyright. But he kindly made it over to me gratuitously. Accordingly, I issue a reprint of the book.

'I am well aware, that the compilation is not as perfect as it ought to be, considering the importance of the subject discussed. In fact, out of the vast number of Sanskrit Literary works, only the names of a few have been mentioned. But it must be borne in mind, that only one hour's time is allowed by the Bethune Society for the reading of an essay. Consequently, keeping in view the shortness of the time allowed, the briefest method possible has been adopted.'

Vidyasagar had a great mind to discuss the subject at great length, and present it to the public, but, to the misfortune of Bengal, he could not carry out the project for want of time. The language of the short treatise, however, is very plain and elegant.

On the 9th December 1854, appeared his Sakuntala, a Bengali version of the Sanskrit "Abhijnan-Sakuntalam." It is not written in a dramatic form, though the original is one of the best dramas in Sanskrit. Some portions of the original text has been translated literally; while of others, the purport only has been taken. It is superfluous to say that, in excellence and beauty, it surpassed all its predecessors.