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  • houndbee
  • Posted: SwB Team
  • Dated: 12 December , 2010
  • Responses: 0

Bengal had Rabindranath

The Bengal Renaissance has been written about, talked about, celebrated, commemorated… and relived in so many ways, in print, in song and in spirit. Subrata Dasgupta’s Awakening : The Story Of The Bengal Renaissance from Random House is a new celebration of the times gone by, in time for the Tagore Sesquicentennial.

For a few glorious decades in the nineteenth century, Bengal would witness a revolution like it never had before, and never would since. It was a revolution of the mind and of a handful of men and women, but it would change the fabric of Indian society irrevocably.

 It began with a band of Englishmen, led by the brilliant Orientologist, William Jones. Then there was the enigmatic Rammohun Roy who invented a reformed Hinduism called the Brahmo Samaj; and his close friend, David Hare, who conceived the idea of an institution which could teach the youth of Bengal Western thought, an idea that became the Hindu College.

 There was the ‘poet, philosopher, madman’ Derozio who inspired a generation of youths at the Hindu College; the tempestuous Michael Madhusudan Datta who created new forms of Bengali verse on European lines; and Michael’s well-wisher, the scholar Vidyasagar, who fought fiercely for the cause of Hindu widows and women’s education. There was Bankimchandra, a civil servant who helped create the novel in Indian literature. There were two remarkable women, Rassundari Devi who taught herself to read and write and was the first Indian woman to pen her autobiography; and the ill-fated Toru Dutt who wrote poems and novels in English and French at a time when women could scarcely read.

 There were Jagadish Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray, two lonely workers in laughably primitive laboratories who became the frontiersmen of modern Indian science; and Vivekananda, the monk who preached a new form of Vedantism, both at home and abroad. There was, finally, the hypnotic, impossibly gifted Rabindranath Tagore, the very epitome of the Bengal Renaissance, Renaissance personified. Woven into these lives was Calcutta, the ‘second city’ of the British Empire; and a constellation of places of learning.

For the first time comes a gripping narrative about the story of the Bengal Renaissance and the extraordinary men and women who were part of it. How did such an astonishing flowering come to take place? And how did it change India? Immaculately researched, told with colour, drama, and passion, Awakening is a stunning achievement.

Subrata Dasgupta is Director of the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Louisiana where he also holds an Eminent Scholar Chair. He has worked for many years on the Bengal Renaissance.

In our History section, in hardcover, 416 pages, Rs. 499. ISBN 9788184001259

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