Debiprasad Bhattacharyya (1930-2002) After a distinguished academic career which saw him switch from the science discipline at the Intermediate level to the Arts, Shree Bhattacharyya did his graduation in English honours. This was followed by a brilliant Masters English Calcutta University. Thereafter, Debiprasad Bhattacharyya, joined Scottish Church College as a lecturer. He left an indelible mark as a teacher and scholar, loved and admired alike, by his colleagues and students than a decade that he spent there. In the early 70’s he joined Jadavpur University in their Comparative Literature Department. Here his polymathic genius found a more congenial milieu to further develop, enrich and express itself. Prof. Bhattacharyya was a polymath in the truest sense of the term. His scholarly attainment in English, Bengali and Sanskrit is well known and acclaimed. However, what is not so universally known was his amazing proficiency in French, German, Greek and Latin.
Prof. Bhattacharyya, recognished the primacy of scholarly pursuit over career. In a choice between the two, he easily opted for the former and set aside career consideration with utmost disdain.
He was a prolific writer with scores of articles and papers published in both popular (among them Statesman, Telegraph, Desh, to name a few) and learned journals. (eg. Journal of the Ramkrishna Mission Institute of Culture Quest and the Bhavan’s Journal). His subjects ranged from the topical to the highly pedantic. He was a regular speaker at Ramkrishna Mission Institute of Culture, where his distinguished audience would listen to him with rapt attention on such esoteric subjects as Hinduism and Spiritualism.
This book comprises almost all my articles published in various journals and periodicals, covering a period of four decades. Every book ought to have a title, and I knew it like everybody else. What I did not know was that finding a title would turn out to be a stupendous job. How insuperbly difficult the seemingly simple task of thinking up the title of a book would be, I realized first when I had just finished making a list of my hitherto published articles. The topics of these articles seemed, to my dismay, to defy any attempt of a rational arrangement. These include great names in the world of Letters and in the realm of Spirit — great writers and thinkers on the one hand, and great sages and saints on the other. I mention a few to illustrate this somewhat bewildering range and variety of subjects : The Bhagavadgita and T. S. Eliot, Sri Ramakrishna and Bertrand Russell, Swami Vivekananda and Arnold Toynbee, Anandamayee Ma and Marcel Proust, Vedanta and Romain Rolland. I have put these names in pairs not to suggest any possible relation but to bring out the embarrassing absence of any.
However, on pondering the matter, somewhat ruefully, the semblance of a pattern gradually to emerge out of this helpless medley. This pattern, broadly speaking, would be a bipolar division; on one side of the great divide would be India, the predominantly spiritual ancient India, which is the theme of the first article of this book entitled “India is Different”, it is the English translation of the original German title, “Indien ist Anders” — a fascinating (and fairly long) travelogue by a highly cultivated and intelligent German visitor to India during the early sixties, Maximilian von Rogister. Even in the midst of his numerous and lively preoccupations, the persistent and dominant concern of the writer was a direct encounter with what he repeatedly refers to as “der alt-Indische Geist”- “the spirit of Ancient India”. (I may note here, incidentally, that my article on this German book appeared in The Bhavan’s Journal serially in 1974-75. 1 do not know whether the book has been translated yet into English).
This “alt-Indische Geist” is, in an important sense, the dominant theme of this book. It comes out in three ways: as in the three essays on the Bhagavad-gita, and the two on Vedanta and on Vaishnavism; in the essays which deal with a few modern embodiments of supremely exalted spiritual statute of this “alt-Indische Geist” - notably, Sri Ramakrishna and Anandamayee Ma while Swami Vivekananda, who essentially belongs to this category, performs the additional and vital function of a bridge between this Spirit of ancient India in its pristine purity and the Spirit of the modern Occident (Sri Aurobindo, who at a certain stage of his spiritual life, was deeply inspired by Swamiji, may be rightly included in this category, subject to certain important modifications); thirdly, on the two essays, “Hinduism and Romain Rolland”, and “Hinduism and Arnold Toynbee”, certain salient aspects of the ancient Indian Weltanschauung are presented as seen through the eyes of two distinguished modem Western savants.
Apart from his views on Hinduism, which I have sometimes criticized, Arnold Toynbee appears in three other essays in his own right as a great historian, one of the greatest in the Occident since Edward Gibbons, whose monumental magnum opus, the twelve-volume “A study of History” is a supreme masterpiece of what he himself calls “intellectual creation”.
Another supreme exemplar of modern Western intellectual culture at its very best, who appears in three of my essays, is Bertrand Russell. In his easy and consummate mastery over an incredibly wide range of subjects and intellectual interests he can only be compared with Aristotle, for here is a man who would write with equal competence two books - to give Only one example as different in their themes as “An Analysis of Mind” and “Analysis of Matter”, and the only Western philosopher who can be matched with him in the charm and brilliance of his writings is Plato; and it is he, more than any other writer, who taught me to enjoy good English prose of unsurpassed felicity and charm. It may be noted here that my main article on Russell entitled “Russell’s Conception of the Good Life” had been delivered as a lecture in 1972 at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture on the occasion of the birth centenary of Russell and subsequently published in the Bulletin of this Institute. Having read a condensed version of it in the Bhavan’s Journal, Mumbai, Lady Russell wrote a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Institute requesting him to send her a copy of the original article. To be thus rewarded was more than I had ever expected.
Of the purely literary essays in this collection the two longest are on T. S. Eliot. Literary criticism, in French as well as in English, has always fascinated me as a study, and the critic I admired most and held in the highest esteem as one of the greatest of all times, is T. S. Eliot. My essay entitled “T. S. Eliot - a Great Critic”, written shortly after his death, is a tribute to this great poet-critic from whom I had learnt so much ever since my student days. The other article on Eliot, “T. S. Eliot - on Shakespeare”, which appeared in “Quest”, a prestigious quarterly in those days, seems to have been well received in literary circles.
Besides these two fairly long articles, there are three shorter ones - on Shakespeare, Rabindranath and Marcel Proust. Incidentally, reading Proust’s 3000 page novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, in his untranslatable French prose has been the most intense literary experience of my life, it is a pity I have had to content myself with only a brief article on the author of what has been regarded by many - rightly, I think - as the greatest novel of the last century.
Finally, (not to mention two or three shorter pieces) I have included in this book an unpublished article of mine on Sanskrit to impress upon the reader the importance of the study of this great language as an indispensable instrument for a real understanding of “der alt Indische Geist”. In this last article and in another, which is on Vaishnavism, diacritic marks would not be used in transliterating Sanskrit words owing to computerized printing; in most of the other articles, diacritic marks have been used in Sanskrit words. This is an inconsistency which I very much regret.
I have already, in this preface, referred to the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. I can hardly find words to express my profound sense of gratitude to this paramount cultural institution not only of Kolkata but of India, for almost all the major articles included in this book were lectures delivered at the institute and subsequently published in the prestigious monthly Bulletin. I feel extremely happy to have this opportunity to acknowledge gratefully my incalculable indebtedness to this great Institute.
I am also deeply grateful to the then Editor of “The Prabuddha Bharata” for having published what I consider one of my major and most important articles: “Hinduism and Arnold Toynbee” (1976). I also feel indebted to the then Editor of The Statesman, Kolkata for publishing another article of mine on Toynbee: “Arnold Toynbee’s Conception of the True
Scholar” (1969). As for my three articles on Sri Sri Anandamayee Ma, they were all written on the occasion of her birth centenary in 1996. I heartily thank the publishers of the two Centenary Commemorative Volumes which came out to celebrate this occasion and the Managing Editor of “Ma Ananadamayee Amrita Varta”, Varanasi.
There is one acknowledgement, of a different kind, which I must make at the end. This is due to Sri Sundaram Ramakrishnan, Executive Secretary of “The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan”, without whom this book could never have been published. It was to his generous encouragement and persistent support that I owe the publication of this book which had for years remained a dream to me - to me and my wife, who is no more. It was on his suggestion, at the very beginning, that I had changed the first word, “Ancient” to “Ageless”. For all this, and more, I shall ever remain grateful to him and the great Bhavan.
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