The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 16, 2000


Subhas Chandra Bose

Sir C. V. Raman

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Subramania Bharati

Chittaranjan Das

Sir Mokshagundam Viswesvaraya

Mother Teresa


Subhas Chandra Bose
(January 23, 1897-?)

AFTER Japan surrendered in 1945, Subhas Chandra Bose decided to contact the Russians in Manchuria and move to Moscow to draw support for the war of India’s liberation. The ill-fated plane took off from the Saigon Airport at 5.30 p.m. on August 17, 1945 and stopped over in Tourane, where Subhas Chandra Bose and his party stayed overnight. When it resumed flight, the plane crashed soon after takeoff, killing all on board.

Subhas Chandra BaoseIt comes as a surprise that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the firebrand revolutionary, was in his early years all set to renounce the world and become a sanyasi. He travelled in the Himalayas, met many hermits, and at the end of it was thoroughly disappointed with the experience. He came back and resumed his studies at Scottish Church College, graduated with a first class in philosophy and left for England to compete for the Indian Civil Service. He was successful but he soon resigned and joined the freedom struggle. He met M.K. Gandhi in 1921 who directed him to work with Chittaranjan Das (Later because of his revolutionary activities Bose was arrested and deported to the Mandalay jail. He was released in May 1927, because of his failing health).

Netaji was not exactly comfortable with Gandhi’s non-violent methods, so he parted ways with him and founded the ‘Forward Bloc’. He was detained again in 1940 and was kept under house arrest. In January 1941, he made a dramatic escape disguised as a Muslim, and after a long detour reached Berlin. Whatever hope he had of drumming up support for India’s liberation were dashed as Hitler was too preoccupied with his own problems.

Disappointed, he went to Singapore in 1943, to boost the flagging morale of the Indian National Army, founded by Rash Behari Bose and Captain Mohan Singh. Netaji declared India free, and formed a provisional Government. As an ‘independent country’ Bose’s India declared war on Britain and the USA but not on China and Russia.

In March 1944, the INA crossed the Indian border with the cries of ‘Delhi Chalo’. As many as 16000 INA soldiers were martyred in action because their leader had demanded: ‘Give me blood and I promise you freedom.’

Netaji’s life is the stuff thriller novels are made of, and today, more than half a century after the air crash, many admirers of Netaji still believe that he is alive, but so far no one has been able to come up with any substantial proof. Unfortunately after independence, the successive governments did not do much to recognise the immense contribution he and his soldiers made in making India free.Top


Sir C. V. Raman
(November 7, 1888 –November 21, 1970)

WHEN Sir C. V. Raman was in Stockholm to receive his Nobel Prize, they raised a toast and invited him to have a drink. The vegetarian and teetotaller scientist politely refused, upon which one of the hosts remarked, ‘You delighted us this morning with a demonstration of the Raman Effect on alcohol; why not continue the celebration by showing us the effect of alcohol on Raman?’

Sir C. V. RamanThis prodigious genius was only twelve when he finished his school education. When in 1901 he walked in as student of the Presidency College, Madras, to attend his B. A. class, other boys made fun of him. Even his teacher, Professor E. H. Elliot, thought that a little schoolboy had walked in by mistake. Soon he excelled in the college, and he was scheduled to go to England for higher studies, but owing to his frail physique he was not thought fit to travel. Raman did not lose heart, and made a firm resolve to make his researches in India itself.

Impressed by his brilliance, Sir Ashutosh Mookherjee offered him the post of Palit Professor of Physics at the Calcutta University in 1917. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1924, followed by a knighthood in 1929. He became the first Indian scientist to win the coveted Nobel Prize (1930) for ‘Raman Effect’ a discovery that showed that a change occurs in the frequency of light when passed through a transparent medium. The effect is important in the study of molecular structures. Raman also made significant contributions to the study of synthetic diamonds, a study that led to better understanding of X- Rays. He made a special study of acoustics, especially the working of the tamboora. He moved to Bangalore in 1933 to become Director of the Indian Institute of Science, and ten years later founded the Raman Research Institute there. He was honoured with a Bharat Ratna in 1954.

In spite of all the honours showered upon him, he remained a humble human being to his last day. After he was knighted, a celebratory party was announced in his by the South India Club of Calcutta. He accepted the invitation, but added, ‘I feel that the man of science who looks forward to honours or rewards for his work must consider that his days are finished. That is the spirit in which a man of science should view his labours.’ In spite of the serious nature of his researches, he was a lively person. He once invested Rs 75,000 in a bank that later went bust. When he met the banker, Raman said, ‘For having duped a Nobel Laureate like me, you should be awarded a Nobel Prize.’ Top


Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
(October 31, 1875 -December 15, 1950)

WHEN the nation was celebrating the first dawn of independence, Sardar Patel could not afford to relax for he was given the thankless task of integrating the 562 Princely States into the Indian Union. Not many from the younger generation realise that but for Sardar Patel’s wise and firm moves, India, instead of being a giant nation, might well have split into many tiny states. The Times, London applauded his role saying that his efforts ‘in the integration of the States had won him a place in history and he would rank with Bismark or even higher in this regard.’ It is not for nothing that he is called the Iron Man of India.

Sardar Vallabhbhai PatelPatel was born at Nadiad in the Kaira district of Gujarat. He left for England in 1910, and returned in 1913 as barrister. His practice flourished, but he gave it up in 1919 in order to devote his energies to public work. When he came in contact with Gandhi, he gave up his European attire and he began to mingle with the poor.

After the Chauri Chaura incident, where the police had opened fire on a peaceful procession, and the mob then retaliated by setting fire to a police station and burning to death 21 constables, and one young son of a sub-inspector, Gandhi was so disturbed that he called off the civil disobedience movement for he felt that the nation was not ready for it. Many leaders disapproved of this; Patel was one of the few who stuck with Gandhi.

Patel was appalled by the ill-treatment of the downtrodden. He was disturbed by the plight of Indian women. In a meeting he castigated the people of Bihar for keeping their women in veil. ‘Are you not ashamed that you keep your women in purdah. Who are these ladies? Your mothers, your sisters, your wives. Do you really believe that only by keeping them in purdah you can look after their chastity?" He went on to add, "If I could, I would say to these ladies; rather than be wives to such cowardly husbands, divorce them.’

After successfully dealing with the Princely States, he went to Calcutta in 1950 because the Hindus of East Pakistan were being massacred. The situation was explosive with millions of Hindus crossing over to India. Patel dealt with Pakistan firmly on the issue, and the latter agreed to stop the massacre and signed a pact with India.

Not long afterwards, Patel’s health deteriorated and he died on December 15, 1950. C. Rajagopalachari had this to say when he heard about Patel’s death: ‘Vallabhbhai was born not a day too soon for India. But alas he died too soon. India wishes he had not found his rest in the mother’s lap so hurriedly when he was so much wanted for some time longer.Top


Subramania Bharati
(December 11, 1882 - September 11, 1921)

IT is September 1908, a train comes to a halt in Pondicherry. Among the hundreds that alight, there is a young poet with fiery eyes. He is on the run because the British have arrested firebrand leaders like Aurobindo Ghosh, V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, and Bal Gangadhar Tilalk. He must go underground and carry on writing revolutionary stuff to keep the movement alive. Once in Pondicherry he will resume publication of the journal India, and it will bear his name: Subramania Bharati, Editor.

Subramania BharatiSubramania Bharati was given the title of Bharati when he was barely 12 by a gathering of poets at the Zamin court. As he grew he flowered into one of the finest Tamil poets of the twentieth century. Born in Ettayapuram, Tirunelveli district, in the then Madras Presidency, Subramania or Subbiah was only fifteen when he was married off to a girl of seven. Within a year of his marriage his father died and he had to go to Banaras to live with his aunt. He grabbed the opportunity there to learn Sanskrit, Hindi and English.

Around this time he was offered a job by the Zamindar of Ettayapuram. Eager to be united with his wife, Bharati accepted the offer, but he soon got bored, as his main job was to read out daily newspapers to his employer. Later he did a stint as teacher. Perchance he was offered a job as sub-editor by G. Subramania Iyer, the editor of the Tamil daily Swadesmitran, and the founder-editor of The Hindu. This job provided him with an opportunity to polish his craft as writer and poet. At the desk, he translated speeches of Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and wrote a poem, Vangame Vaazhka (long live Bengal), decrying the partition of Bengal.

In December 1905, he attended the All India Congress Session held in Benaras. On his way back he met Sister Nivedita, Vivekananda’s spiritual daughter, and came under her spell. He then had three goals: to liberate India, fight the caste system, and liberate women.

As Subramania’s writing became more and more caustic, he had to leave Swade-samitran in 1906. He was immediately grabbed by the publishers of India, a new Tamil Weekly. In 1912 he wrote three classic poems: Paanchaali Sapatham, Kuvil Paatu, and Kannan Paattu, besides translating the short stories of Tagore, scientific papers of J.C. Bose and the Bhagvadgita.

The last phase of the great poet’s life was full of disappointments and difficulties. He had an attack of diarrhoea in 1920. He might have survived, but he refused to take any medicine, and thus deprived himself the pleasure of seeing his motherland free.Top


Chittaranjan Das
(November 5, 1870 - 16 June)

IN 1908 while defending the accused in the Alipore Bomb Case in the court of Additional Sessions Judge of Alipore Mr Beachcroft, the defence lawyer, disturbed by the Judge’s manner, said: "It is a pity that you are on the Bench and I am at the Bar. If you had said this somewhere else, I could have given you a befitting reply." That was the fearless Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das who had taken upon himself the task of defending revolutionaries at his own expense.

Chittaranjan DasThe second of eight children, Chittaranjan Das went to London Missionary Society’s School, Calcutta, and then to Presidency College. Shortly afterwards he went to England to study law. In 1893 he returned to India and started practice as a barrister in the High Court of Calcutta, but success eluded him for quite some time.

Not many know that Chittaranjan Das was also a remarkable poet, but his reputation was overshadowed by his political activities. He wrote two volumes of poems Malancha and Mala. Towards the end of his life he wrote devotional songs in the Vaishnava tradition. He presided over the Literary Conference of Bengal in 1915. He was one of the founders and member of the editorial board of Bande Matram, an English daily started in 1906, and of Forward, an English daily that was the official organ of the Swaraj Party.

Chittaranjan joined the Indian National Congress as a delegate in 1906. In 1918 he stirred up a campaign against the proposed Defense of India Act, also known as the Rowlatt Act. After the Jallianwala tragedy and the martial rule that followed in Punjab, Chittaranjan Das did commendable work in the committee set up by Congress to inquire into the massacre. He met Gandhi while working on this committee, and supported him when the latter launched Satyagraha against the Act.

In 1920, when he was at the peak of his career, he gave up his practice in order to devote his energies to the freedom struggle. A few years later he donated his entire property to educational institutions and hospitals. For the undying love for his countrymen, he came to be called Deshbandhu - the friend of his country.

There was a rift between him and Gandhi in 1922, after the latter called off the Satyagraha temporarily, for Chittaranjan Das felt it was a setback to the freedom struggle. ‘Am I a rebel’, he asked, ‘I would rather rebel against the Congress and any institution in India if I felt that the realisation of the demand of Swaraj makes it necessary. I want Swaraj. I want my liberty.’

Later in 1923 Chittaranjan Das formed the Swaraj Party. He wanted his people to fight the British on their own without expecting help from other countries. ‘The histories of the world have proved,’ he used to say, ‘that no nation can help another. As every person has to work out his future through his personal exertion, so is the case with a nation. It has to depend upon its own strength for achieving freedom. But if you depend on another nation, even in thousands of years you will not find the path of real freedom.Top


Mother Teresa
(August 26, 1910- 1997)

WHEN the twelve-year Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu of a little vil-lage in the former Yugoslavia, decided to become a nun, little did she know that destiny would lead her to the streets of Calcutta. Anyhow at the age of eighteen she went to Ireland and joined the Order of Loreto nuns and changed her name to ‘Teresa’. It is in Ireland that she heard a ‘call’ to go to Calcutta, where she arrived in 1929 as a teacher. She would devote the next seventeen years of her life to teaching.

Mother TeresaIn 1946, while she was travel-ling by train to Darjeeling, she heard a voice that bade her to leave the convent and start serv-ing the poorest of the poor. With only about five rupees in one hand, and a bible in another, she set up the Missionaries of Char-ity, and organisation devoted to serving the poor. The very first woman she picked up was dying in the street; rats and ants crawl-ing all over her. The sight moved her and she decided to make a home for the homeless which she called ‘Nirmal Hriday’. This was followed by ‘Nirmal Shishu Bhavan’ a home for the orphans. Over the years 10,000 children have been raised in these homes. Her other concern was lepers, who are usually abandoned by their own family members. She built ‘Prem Nivas’ for them and nursed their wounds. Because of her undying devotion to the downtrodden she came to be known as ‘the Saint of the Gut-ters’.

In 1971 the Pope honoured her with the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. The same year she was awarded the Joseph Kennedy Jr. Peace Prize, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, and to top it the Nobel Prize for Peace, in 1979. In 1991 she returned for the first time to her native Albania (Serbia) to open in Tirana a home for the poor.

Sometime before her death she told her admirers about a dream in which she saw herself at the gates of heaven. ‘ St. Peter said,’ the Mother recalled, ‘go back to earth, there are no slums here.Top



Sir Mokshagundam Viswesvaraya
(September 15, 1861 - April 14, 1962)

AFTER seeing the grandeur of the mighty Jog Falls in the present Karnataka State, most visitors are at a loss of words to describe its beauty, but in the visitors’ book there is an unusual remark: ‘Magnificent waste of energy.’ And this could have come only from an engineer of Sir M. Visveswaraya’s calibre. Revered by professional engineers, this genius was responsible for executing such engineering feats as the Krishanaraja Sagara Dam, Mysore, the Brindavana Gardens, Mysore, the Vidhana Sauda, Bangalore — the list is long. He was also a planner, economist, educationalist, and social reformer.

Sir Mokshagundam ViswesvarayaBorn in a poor family in the Chikaballapur Taluk of Kolar District, Karnataka, he did not let his poverty handicap his genius. "It is a blessing to be born a poor man,’ he often said, ‘as one would have many opportunities to rise high in life.’

He got his primary education in his village, and then at Central College Bangalore. After graduating in 1881 he went to Poona and passed with a first class Engineering. He served as Assistant Engineer in Nasik, Khandesh and Poona, and later at Sukkur Municipality where he designed and carried out water-works schemes. His services were also lent to the Hyderabad State to supervise and carry out huge engineering works. He retired from the British Service in 1909 on a special pension. He visited countries such as Japan and China. In China he was offered the post of Chief Adviser in Engineering to the Chinese Government, but he did not accept the offer.

After retirement Sir Viswesvaraya was invited by the Maharaja of Mysore to be the Chief Engineer to the Government. In 1912 he was promoted as Dewan of Mysore, a rare honour for an engineer. A multifaceted genius, Sir Viswesvaraya was the first to suggest the idea of offering scholarships to the backward classes. He wanted women to be given equal opportunities; advocated widow remarriage and eradication of the caste system; and was instrumental in founding the Mysore Bank, the Kannada Literary Academy, and the Mysore University. He failed to start an automobile industry in Mysore, but was able to set up the Premier Automobile Company, Bombay and the Hindustan Aircraft Factory, Bangalore.

Sir Viswesvaraya was knighted in 1915, and was decorated with a Bharat Ratna in 1955.

(To be concluded)
Text and illustrations by Kuldip Dhiman

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