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  • WHO WAS BAGHA JATIN?

On 10 September 2015, observing the centenary of Bagha Jatin’s martyrdom, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in a tweet: “His courage and sacrifice for our Motherland will always be remembered.” Bagha Jatin was a popular nickname fondly attached to the memory of Jatindranath Mukherjee (1879-1915) for his valour and vision.

Historian Tapan Raychaudhuri writes: “Bagha Jatin, alias Jatindradranath Mukherjee, is one of our legendary figures in the history of revolutionary efforts in India. The truth of this matter is unfortunately shrouded in inaccurate tales. Bagha Jatin was involved in the German Conspiracy Plot during the First World War, hoping to get arms from the Germans for a country-wide rising, but died fighting with the British army and police before the arms could arrive. (…) The Tiger had a very sophisticated understanding of the contemporary political reality. He (…) hoped to inspire his countrymen with the ideal of self-sacrifice in the cause of independence and by his own example fill them with courage. This accurate description of his struggle with the ruling colonial power shows the nature of the initiative and also the impact it had on the national psyche…”

People ask: “Who was Bagha Jatin?” There is a truncated list of Martyrs for Indian Freedom on the internet site of the WB Correctional Services.  Jatindra’s name has been omitted. Though since his college days, by accepting personal guidance from Vivekananda, Jatindra had chosen Calcutta as his headquarters, not even a blind alley of the City has been named after him. Though appointed Secretary by Henry Wheeler (the most powerful Financial Secretary to the Government), his office at the Writers’ Building (1903-1910) was a compulsory gateway to the Boss; there is no trace of it. Though he spent thirteen months at the Alipore Central Jail as an under-trial prisoner (1910-11), there is no where a plaque. Though Jatindra had selected Orissa to fertilize its soil with his gushing blood, do we know the way Orissa acknowledges this proud heritage?

Several associates of Jatindra Mukherjee remembered their Leader’s concern about capturing the Fort William to paralyse the colonial system of protecting the interest of the Crown. Some of them, even though divided into various political trends, united their voice in 1972 to ask for renaming the Fort William as Jatindra Mukherjee Qillah or Bagha Jatin Qillah. 87 members of both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, representing the major political parties, signed the Petition and submitted it to late Jagjivan Ram. Keeping in mind the seventy-fifth anniversary of India’s Swaraj, it may be an inspiring move to accept this proposal concerning the memory of this outstanding symbol of India’s fight for Freedom.

  • CHAMPION OF THE HELPLESS

Having lost his father Umeshchandra at the age of five, Jatindra and his elder sister Vinodebala had grown up under the stern and loving care of mother Sharat Shashi, poet and devoted reader of contemporary Bengali essayists. She had taught them the way of serving humanity as a service to God. At the age of fourteen, he spared no risk to tame a frightened horse in order to save the life of an infant in Krishnagar.

Personally encouraged by Vivekananda, Jatindra extended his social service to the way how to rid India of her foreign rulers. For improving his excellence in self-defense at the Gymnasium run by the Goho (Guha) family, dauntless Jatindra was fully abreast of the editorial dialogue between Bepin Chandra Pal and Rabindranath Tagore on the tragic problem of gratuitous insult received by the “natives” from the colonial rulers: the immediate solution Tagore could propose was the tonic of the “clenched fist”. Very soon famous as a “local Sandow” owing to his frequent interventions against conceited British military officers posted in the Fort William, in the winter of 1905, Jatindra took advantage of the visit of the Prince of Wales to distract the citizens raging against the Partition of Bengal.   Jatindra invented his own means to point out to the future Emperor that it was the dregs of the British society that had been appointed to govern India. The Prince on his return from India, on 10 May 1906 had, consequently, a long conversation with John Morley, the Secretary of State, on the ungracious bearing of Europeans to Indians.

On 10 April 1906, armed with a Darjeeling dagger, Jatindra had to face a Royal Bengal tiger to a wrestling bout in order to save the life of an adolescent. On the point of exhaustion, after a while, Jatindra mustered the last drop of strength he had to plunge the dagger through the tiger’s neck. Taking upon himself the responsibility of curing the fatally wounded patient,” Suresh Sarbadhikari – the leading surgeon of Calcutta published a tribute to Jatindra, “The Nemrod of Bengal”: it won him the fond nickname of Bagha Jatin, remembering him for his tiger-like valour. Vivekananda’s brother, Bhupendranath Datta, mentions having talked to Jatindra in December 1906 – as yet convalescent after the bout with the tiger – during a  closeted meeting of the Jugantar leaders, presided over by Sri Aurobindo: he admitted that the much needed funds for furthering the movement could only be secured by dacoity; the victims would be informed it to be treated as a loan, to be repaid after independence.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Jatindra – still limping on his legs mauled by the tiger – enacted the crowning episode of this pageant in April 1908, at Siliguri railway station. Single-handed he felled four cheeky English military officers. The Indian press gave such a full focus on this rejoicing event that the officers’ legal advisor withdrew the case against Jatindra. Asked by the Magistrate to behave properly in the future, Jatindra regretted that he could not promise to refrain from similar action in his duty to vindicate of the rights of his countrymen.

  • RIPÖSTE TO REPRESSION

Strides of History took a faster tempo at this juncture.   Frequenting since its beginning the Anushilan Samiti, in 1903 Jatindra joined Sri Aurobindo as the latter’s right-hand man to prepare a powerful underground revolutionary movement, recorded as the Jugantar. by the colonial Police. Their final objective was to declare an 1857-type of war of independence throughout India with the participation of officers and soldiers from various cantonments. Contrary to the highly centralized organisation at Maniktala Garden under Barin Ghose as the leader, Jatindra the strategist had been creating decentralized and loose confederated regional centres under a local leader who ignored the responsibility given to the leader of his neighbouring unit. This pattern foresaw that even if a unit or two got paralysed by repression, the general scheme would continue to function undisturbed. Sensing that Barin’s spirit of untimely showdown was likely to drive him to an abrupt end, Sri Aurobindo warned Jatindra against visiting the Garden.

On 30 April 1908, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki – mandated by Barin – assassinated two innocent English ladies at Muzaffarpur, mistaking their coach to be that of an English magistrate black-listed by the revolutionaries. Out of the Jugantar activists thirty-three arrests were made and the Alipore Conspiracy Case started with Sri Aurobindo accused as the master-mind. Though Jatindra’s name was pronounced as “one of the principal leaders of the movement,” his strategy of a loose federation helped him to escape and to rally stunned absconding revolutionaries.

  • THE JATIN MUKHERJEE SPIRIT

Since 1908, repressive laws banning all associations left Jatindra with a massive task. First of all, provide proper defense to the accused militants. Secondly, undertake secret tours in the districts to consolidate the links between the units. Responding to his urge, in a consistent and coordinated way the absconding regional leaders reflected the one single policy summed up by the colonial Police as the “Jatin Mukherjee spirit.” Jatindra executed the third and significant task: registration of the Bengal Young Men’s Co-operative Credit and Zemindary Society at Gosaba, leasing from the philanthropist Sir Daniel Hamilton, a few acres of land to provide boarding and lodging to “wayward” young men.  Jatindra adopted the experimental method of his friend Shashibhushan Raychaudhuri, educationist: run night classes for adult villagers, polytechnique schools for volunteers, establishing rural libraries and charitable dispensaries with ayurvedic and homoeopathic facilities; encourage them with small-scale cottage industries, swadeshi good-stalls, clubs for wrestling, racing, rowing, gymnastics and… even cricket. Jatindra picked up competent candidates to practice shooting in the marshes. Sir Daniel offered more plots of land for another branch of this Society at Kaptipada near Baripada in Odisha.

According to Nixon’s Report, during three years since May 1908, following the arrests and the protracted Alipore Case, and the publicity given to the revolutionary methods, Bengal knew “a very severe anarchical crime.” Jatindra with his followers executed several “acts of daring and desperate self-sacrifice… to revive the confidence of the people in the movement,” writes Arun Guha: “Nobody outside the innermost circle suspected his involvement. Secrecy was absolute in those days, particularly with Jatindra.” In addition to ten sensational operations, Jatindra chose to serve as a warning to the traitors of the people’s cause four daring murders: (a) August 1908: approver Naren Goswami, murdered inside the prison; (b) November 1908: Police Sub-inspector Nandalal Banerjee murdered on the open streets of Calcutta for having arrested Prafulla Chaki; (c) On 10 February 1909, Public Prosecutor Ashu Biswas murdered inside the High Court; (d) On 24 January 1910,  the dynamic Police Deputy Superintendent Shamsul Alam was shot dead within the corridor of the Calcutta High Court.

On 25 January 1910, unnerved by the assassination of Shamsul, Viceroy Minto declared openly how “a new spirit” – meaning Jatin Mukherjee – “of anarchy and lawlessness (…) seeks to subvert not only British rule but the Governments of Indian Chiefs.” Minto left India hurriedly. On the 27th, Jatindra was arrested along with sixty-six militants of the Jugantar. On 7 March 1910 began the Howrah-Sibpur Case – a sequel to Alipore Case – under the Sections 121-124, 302 and 400 of the Indian Penal Code. Hardinge, the newly appointed Viceroy, took no time in singling out Jatindra as “the one criminal” and concluded: “Nothing could be worse (…) than the condition of Bengal and Eastern Bengal. There is practically no Government in either province.”  Reason for shifting the Capital from Calcutta in turmoil to “empress Delhi”.

  • COMPLICITY WITH THE ARMY

The Barrister Kennedy had drawn Jatindra’s attention to the way Indian budget was being squandered by the Crown for protecting its territorial interests in distant nooks of the Empire. He wanted Indian soldiers to think and act patriotically. It turned out to be one of Jatindra’s original contributions: that of indoctrinating native soldiers in various British regiments inside India and all over Asia, inviting them to join the insurrection. During the Howrah Gang Case when, in 1910-1911, Jatindra with forty-six co-accused were tried, it involved charges of waging war against the Crown and tampering with the loyalty of Indian soldiers posted in Fort William and commanding other Indian cantonments. Several officers of the 10th Jats regiment were court-marshalled for complicity in sedition, before it was dismantled forthright. Recognising the 10th Jats case to be part and parcel of the Howrah Case, Hardinge wrote: “With the failure in the latter, the Government of Bengal realised the futility of proceeding with the former…”

During Jatindra’s trial several eminent militants – like Nikhileswar Ray Maulick and Naren Chatterjee – were singled out for maintaining their link with the army officers: first of all, taking them to the secret meetings at Nanigopal Sengupta’s house at Sibpur or, later, at the Khiderpur centre under the guidance of Sarat Mitra.  Secondly, moving about with them to meet officers in-charge   of barracks in Benares, Nainital, Lahore, Peshawar etc.

H.E. Arsenyev, Russian Consul-General in Calcutta, informed St-Petersburg on 6 February 1910: “Despite the British authorities’ desire to keep the affair from becoming public, some details have come to light (…) that conspiracy was connected with the liberation movement which had been gaining momentum in India in recent years…” About the conspirators’ trial, the Russian paper Zemschchina wrote that the sepoys had conducted themselves with great poise. They declared that they had joined a revolutionary union set up by Bengali patriots, and were aware of the fact that they wanted to overthrow British rule in India. They declared: “Don’t think there are only 25 such sepoys. Oh no! There are many such sepoys, and the fate of British domination in India is in our hands.” Even after the Howrah Case was over in April 1911, while Naren Chatterjee was absconding to avoid arrest, the Khidderpur group led by Ashutosh Ghosh and the Howrah group under Durgacharan Bose maintained contact with the native officers of the Fort William. Thanks to Jatindra’s strategy of a decentralized organisation, none of the under-trial militants of the Jugantar could be proved guilty, contrary to the accused in the Alipore Case under Barin’s heroic confession, except Sri Aurobindo who refused all  statement. There were only two militants in the Howrah Case who turned into approvers.

  • GERMAN COLLABORATION

Home interned even after release, dismissed from his job, Jatindra managed to meet the Crown Prince of Germany on visit to Calcutta in 1912. Jatindra obtained from him the promise of arms and funds from Germany in case there was an insurrection during the imminent War between England and Germany, aiming at overthrowing the British rule in India Putting an immediate end to all violent action as riposte to the Government repressive measures. Judging from the lull till Jatindra’s return to violence in 1914, the Authorities concerned did not fail to notice the rigorous command Jatindra had over the violence he had unleashed before going to prison. One of the most threatening events of the return of Jugantar with its policy of counter-repression was the revolutionaries’ helping themselves with 50 sophisticated Mauser pistols with 46,000 rounds of ammunition from the godown of Rodda & Co, an English firm.    J.C. Nixon, Director of Surveys shared the militants’ sentiment of personal devotion for Jatindra: “He seems to have had a most extraordinary influence over his followers, who looked upon him with something approaching reverence and awe.” Since 1906, by batches, Jatindra had been arranging trips abroad for his emissaries for higher education along with two more objectives: (1) learn as much as possible the techniques of military craft, with manufacture and proper use of explosives; (2) create a public opinion favourable to India’s will to get rid of British domination. Tarak Das in the United States represented the most loyal model of this mission. Others like Shrish Sen, Guran Ditt Kumar, Adhar Laskar, Satyen Sen, Khagen Dasgupta, Surendra Bose in Europe and America showed their efficient devotion to it.  As soon as the War was declared, active in Germany – inspired by the Jugantar – Virendra Nath Chattopadhyay (“Chatto”, brother of Sarojini Naidu) came to an agreement on a 15-point Treaty – known as Plan Zimmermann – with the Imperial German Government: Germany was to give Indian revolutionaries arms, explosives, monetary help necessary and officers. But all possibility of any German or Turkish army advancing on a liberation mission was excluded. Shrish Sen as Jatindra’s emissary was at once contacted by Chatto.

Requested by Chatto, Baron Von Oppenheim of the German Foreign Office informed Indian students in thirty-one German universities about this Plan. An immediate response came from a large number of students and professors – Hindus, Muslims and Parsis – hailing from various parts of India.

Whereas Jatindra’s emissaries in America – mainly Tarak Das and Bhupen Datta (Vivekananda’s brother) – had been simultaneously trying to contact the German Crown Prince about his promise, by October 1914 they received invitation from Chatto to join him in Berlin. N.S. Marathe and Dhiren Sarkar (brother of Benoy Sarkar) had carried a message from the Kaiser himself for Von Bernstorff, the German Ambassador in Washington to sanction funds to help an insurrection in India. Military Attaché Von Papen received order to arrange for steamers on the Californian coast and purchase adequate arms and ammunition to be delivered at the Eastern coast of India. German consulates in New York, Chicago and San Francisco supplied money and facilities to Indians rushing to join Chatto in Berlin. Gadhar members had already started reaching India by the thousands.

  • RASHBEHARI BOSE

Drifted away from the mainstream, momentarily dejected, Rashbehari accompanied Motilal Roy and Amarendra Chatterjee to the flood relief in 1913, to meet Jatindra. Before Sri Aurobindo left for Pondicherry in 1910, both of these Jugantar leaders had received from him the instruction to follow Jatindra. Faithful to his mission of an insurrection Jatindra set ablaze Bose’s passion, while the latter discovered in Jatindra “a real leader of men.” During several meetings with Bose, one day Jatindra asked him whether he could arrange for occupying the Fort William. Accepting the challenge, Bose set out negotiating with a new set of native officers, distinct from those contacted earlier by the team of Naren Chatterjee. In need of a further moral sanction for serving as Jatindra’s assistant, Bose sent Motilal to Pondicherry: Motilal returned in November 1913 with Sri Aurobindo’s full approval. Owing to his familiarity with Benares, Bose received the charge of North Indian units and barracks. In addition to the organisation in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, Jatindra chose to guide emissaries in Europe and America. The Berlin Committee was to raise an army of liberation by recruiting Indian soldiers from various Anglo-Indian regiments imprisoned in the Middle East: synchronizing with the insurrection from Bengal to Peshawar, they would reach Peshawar through Afghanistan. In a pincer’s movement, the Gadhar leaders under Tarak Das, would storm through Thailand and Burma, reach Calcutta, seize the Fort William and join Peshawar.

In November 1914, Satyen Sen reached Calcutta, with V.G. Pingley, Kartar Singh Sarabha and an important number of Gadhar militants. Tegart had recorded Jatindra’s strategic winning over the Sikh soldiers out of the 93rd Burmans regiment (on the eve of their leaving for Mesopotamia). Jatindra took Satyen to the garden at Baranagore where they interviewed these soldiers. After several talks with Pingley and Kartar Singh, in the third week of December 1914, Jatindra sent them to Bose with necessary instructions. Bose learnt from them that in addition to four thousand Gadharites who had already returned from America, many more would arrive once the rebellion broke out. Obeying Jatindra’s wish, from Benares Bose sent Pingley with Sachin Sanyal to Amritsar for meeting Mula Singh (who had received Satyen at Shanghai). Invited by Bose to appraise the situation in Upper India and to expedite preparations for the rising, Jatindra with his family, Atul Ghosh and Naren Bhattacharya set out “for pilgrimage” to Benares, in January 1915.

Despite having won over the 16th Rajput Rifles in garrison in Fort William through Havildar Mansha Singh, Jatindra had preferred waiting for the insurrection till the delivery of the German arms, which would be valuable and indispensable. In the German Foreign Office papers, we come across Bernstorff acknowledging on 7/12/1914 Papen’s purchase of 11.000 rifles, 4 million cartridges, 250 Mauser pistols, 500 revolvers with ammunition for India. Further on 9 January 1915, Von Oppenheim confirmed the arrival of Professor Barakatullah in Berlin from Washington (collaborating with Tarak Das, Jatindra’s emissary) and that 30.000 rifles, 5000 automatic pistols were ready to be despatched. But according to Bose’s hasty estimation, the Gadhar militants, growing impatient for action, were reliable for the purpose, Therefore Jatindra –the Commander-in-Chief – accepted Bose’s proposal and sanctioned 21 February 1915 as the date of insurrection.

  • FAILURE: A DOUBLE BETRAYAL

The first blow came in spite of Bose’s watchful eyes: he was far from doubting the betrayal of Kripal Singh, a police agent who had been keeping the Imperial Authorities abreast of the decisions taken by the leaders of the rebellion.  Even on learning that the plot was going to miscarry, Bose turned to Jatindra asking for money. Jatindra, accordingly, improvised an unforeseen feat with two taxi cab dacoities on the 12th and the 22nd February 1915, collecting 40,000 rupees, a fabulous booty.

Accepting the futility of restraining activities of Indian patriotic leaders like Taraknath Das, Maulavi  Barakatullah, G.D. Kumar or Harnam Singh abroad, encouraged by the Anglophile President Wilson, the British Foreign Office intensified its intelligence network on American and Canadian soil. An agent was introduced in the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. Having recruited refugees from Eastern and Central Europe, a strict chain-work watched the shipping of all Germany-bound contraband materials. Appointed by Calcutta Police, W.C.Hopkinson (WCH) who had followed Taraknath to America, discovered that the wayward living of the Jugantar leader Chandra Kanta Chakrabarti with his friend Ernst Sekunna could be of an immense help. The building No. 494 East 141st Street at New York owned by Sekunna had an apartment rented by the Vedanta Centre presided over by Swami Abhedananda who had initiated Chandra as a Brahmachari; Chandra had rented the entire basement for living with Ernst. The housekeeper was a Czech refugee who informed W.C.H. that the basement was frequented by many Indians arriving from India, England, France and Germany and a host of doubtful literature and newspapers from all over the world was to be often found. An ideal prey for an adventurous housekeeper who was a member of the Czech network of counter-espionage directed by E.V. Voska. On learning from W.C.H. the scheme of Jatindra to free India with German collaboration, Voska rushed to inform the pro-American, pro-British and anti-German T.G. Masaryk (the future President of the Czech Republic). The U.S. Authorities passed the news immediately to the British Police. Ross Hedviek, a Czech author, writes that had not Voska interfered in this history, nobody today would have heard about Mahatma Gandhi, and the Father of the Indian Nation would have been Bagha Jatin.

Whereas, in Balasore, Jatindra sacrificed his life after enacting with four associates a heroic battle against an armed regiment of Police on 9 September 1915, Rashbehari Bose fled to Japan, convinced that by sparing his life, better chances of revolution would loom in the future.

IX     BAGHA JATIN : IMPACT ON THE NATIONAL PSYCHE

Historians like Bhupendrakumar Datta have compared the vacuum created by the self-undoing of Jatindra on 9 September 1915 with the people’s spontaneous mourning for Gandhiji on 30 January 1948. Jatindra’s loyal disciples sensed that there is no room for dejection in the life of a revolutionary. On returning from South Africa in that significant year 1915, Gandhiji discovered an entire generation prepared to rise in the name of the Motherland; drawing inspiration from the doctrine of passive resistance that Jatindra had received from Sri Aurobindo and had transmitted to his followers, Gandhiji skilfully obliterated the “armed riposte to violence imposed” from it, and promising to win over self-rule (swarajya) within a year, he imposed his absolute faith in “non-violence”. Diffident, Jatindra’s associates delegated Bhupendrakumar Datta to consult Sri Aurobindo. In 1920, on returning from Pondicherry, Datta informed his Jugantar fellows that the Master thought the promise of swaraj within a year was not quite reliable; Gandhiji had come with a tremendous force and deserved collaboration but, warned Sri Aurobindo: “Do not make a fetish of non-violence and feel free to resume action as you choose.” Gandhiji himself acknowledged that trained by Jatindra’s loving personality, the Jugantar revolutionaries added a special distinction to his project of Satyagraha.

Gandhiji’s repeated failures led the Jugantar men to serve him with their decision to undertake their initial project of “violence”. They would announce it in 1923 by celebrating the 9th September (Jatindra’s self-giving in 1915). Datta wrote: “Bhagat Singh requested me to send him Jatindranath’s photos and some literature on Balasore. In Benares, too, we had then a powerful organisation. Thus, the Balasore Day was celebrated from Bengal to Punjab. Amar-da (Chatterjee) issued on that very day the Swadesh (“Motherland”), a new daily, almost all the pages full of photos and exploits of the heroes.” Two editorials in the following days intimated the readers of the Englishman about the return of the revolutionaries with their violent riposte.

From Bhagat Singh up to Surya Sen (“Master-da”), from Surya Sen up to Subhas Bose (“Netaji”) Bagha Jatin’s revolutionary vision of a free India swept the Indian sky like the phoenix. While in 1925 in an interview with Charles Tegart, the Commissioner of Calcutta Police, Gandhiji qualified Bagha Jatin as “a divine personality”, Tegart did not reveal to him his own thought: “If Jatin were an Englishman, the English people would have built his statue next to Nelson’s at Trafalgar Square.”

Sri Aurobindo remembered Jatindra Mukherjee as his “right-hand man” and exclaimed: “A wonderful man! He was a man who would belong to the front rank of humanity. Such beauty and strength, I have not seen. And his stature was that of a warrior.”

 

THE AUTHOR

Prithwindra Mukherjee (Born 1936, Kolkata) since his childhood listened to tales of his grandfather Jatindranath Mukherjee or JNM (more popularly known as Bagha Jatin) from Bordi, the latter’s elder sister and alter ego, Vinodebala Devi. Inspired by written notes left by Bordi, since 1955 PM set out his investigation on Life and Times of JNM. It all began with correspondence with people who had known JNM. In 1963, invited by Bhupendrakumar Datta, one of JNM’s loyal disciples and eminent Jugantar leader, he could interview surviving revolutionaries connected with JNM. Along with other documents from the State and National Archives, recommended by Prime Minister J. Nehru, PM was the first to consult the microfilms on the Indo-German Collaboration (an original contribution of JNM) as intercepted by Anglo-American Intelligence service during World War I.

Paris-based since 1966, PM could consult major European archives, especially the data available at the India Office Library in London. Detecting in PM’s stock important materiel serving as “missing link in our history” the internationally renowned professor Raymond Aron advised PM to weave his PhD thesis around the life and times of JNM, “the Thinker in Action”: Intellectual Roots of India’s Freedom Movement (1893-1918). A Fulbright scholarship enabled PM in 1981 to discover valuable documents in US archives from coast to coast. An English edition of the French thesis is available with Manohar Books, foreworded by Jacques Attali.While launching an abridged Bagha Jatin published by NBT, H.E. Pranab Mukherjee qualified the book to be “an epitome of the history of our armed struggle for freedom.” Life-long research led PM to discover that JNM embodied the yearning of a people, an epoch, a movement aspiring for a divine life.

Known as a poet, a versatile exponent of Sri Aurobindo’s teachings, PM writes and publishes simultaneously in Bengali, French and English. Among titles in  comparative and creative literature and musicology his cognitive study on the scales of Indian music (Hindustani and Karnatic) has been welcomed in the foreword by Pandit Ravi Shankar as “monumental”. One of his poems in French on Shiva Nataraja has been set to tune by veteran composer Henri Dutilleux as the opening episode of his Correspondance, opus for voice and orchestra; for other episodes the composer chose texts by Soljenitsyne, Rilke and Van Gogh. Regularly programmed by major concert halls of the world, PM’s poem has been translated into a dozen languages.

A founder member of the French Association of Literary Translators, PM had been nicknamed “Mr France” in Pondicherry for his talks on French literature and his first-hand French to Bengali titles penned by Albert Camus, Saint-John Perse, René Char… In France he is known for translations of Sharatchandra, Banaphul, Shankar, anthology of ten centuries of Bengali poetry, study on the Charya-pada (recommended by Bernard Pivot of the French TV in his Bibliothèque idéale (“The Ideal Library”), Baul, philosophy of Samkhya, trilingual edition of 108 poems by Rabindranath Tagore, etc.

Author of a dozen LP introducing Indian music – classical and folk – PM issued in collaboration with the Radio VPRO-Holland the first digital record of Baul songs, with Basudeb and Shibsundar Baul, accompanied by Sudhir Baul (flute) and Notandas Baul (percussion).

Appointed Chevalier (Knight) in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture (2009), Chevalier (Knight) in the Order Academic Laurels by the French Ministry of Education (2015), in 2014 the French Academy chose PM for the Hirayama Award recognising the totality of his publications; in 2013 the Bangladesh government honoured him as a freedom fighter. In 2020, the President of India awarded him the Padmashree distinction.

The views expressed are his own