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Virendranath Chattopadhyaya

Virendranath Chattopadhyaya


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Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was born in India in 1880. He was the eldest son of Agonerath Chattopadhyaya, a Western-educated journalist and the principal of a college in Hyderabad.

Chattopadhyaya moved to Britain in 1901 to study law. A strong Indian nationalist, Chattopadhyaya established the Indian Sociologist journal in 1907.

In 1910 Chattopadhyaya escaped arrest by moving to France. He joined the French Socialist Party and wrote for the radical newspaper L'Humanité. He also established a new journal, Talwar. On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he was once again threatened with arrest and he therefore moved to Germany.

In 1920 Chattopadhyaya met the radical American journalist, Agnes Smedley, and together they set up Berlin's first birth-control clinic. Although they did not marry, they lived as man and wife. During this period Smedley met Emma Goldman. She later recalled: "Agnes Smedley was a striking girl, an earnest and true rebel, who seemed to have no interest in life except the cause of the oppressed people in India. Chatto was intellectual and witty, but he impressed me as a somewhat crafty individual. He called himself an anarchist, though it was evident that it was Hindu nationalism to which he devoted himself entirely."

Smedley told a friend: "I've married an artist, revolutionary in a dozen different ways, a man of truly fine frenzy, nervous as a cat, always moving, never at rest, indefatigable energy a hundred fold more than I ever had, a thin man with much hair, a tongue like a razor and a brain like hell on fire. What a couple. I'm consumed into ashes. And he's always raking up the ashes and setting them on fire again. Suspicious as hell of every man near me - and of all men or women from America...I feel like a person living on the brink of a volcano crater. Yet it is awful to love a person who is a torture to you. And a fascinating person who loves you and won't hear of anything but your loving him and living right by his side through all eternity! We make a merry hell for each other, I assure you. He is rapidly growing grey, under my influence, I fear. And that tortures me."

Virendranath Chattopadhyaya remained active in the Indian independence movement until his death in 1941.

Virendranath was the epitome of the secret Indian revolutionary movement, and perhaps its most brilliant protagonist abroad. He was nearly twenty years my senior, with a mind as sharp and ruthless as a saber. He was thin and dark, with a mass of black hair turning grey at the temples, and a face that had something fierce about it. He might easily have been taken for a southern European, a Turk, or a Persian. To me he seemed something like thunder, lightning, and rain; and wherever he had sojourned in Europe or England, he had been just about that to the British. His hatred for the islanders who had subjugated his country knew no bounds.

When Virendranath and I began life together, two eras and two cultures met. I was an American working woman, the product of a distorted commercial civilization, he a high-caste Indian with a cultivated, labyrinthine Brahminmind and a British classical education. Though he hated everything British, he had an even deeper contempt for an American capitalism which judged all things by their money value. His mind was modern, but his emotional roots were in Hinduism and Islam.

Agnes Smedley was a striking girl, an earnest and true rebel, who seemed to have no interest in life except the cause of the oppressed people in India. He called himself an anarchist, though it was evident that it was Hindu nationalism to which he devoted himself entirely.

I've married an artist, revolutionary in a dozen different ways, a man of truly "fine frenzy", nervous as a cat, always moving, never at rest, indefatigable energy a hundred fold more than I ever had, a thin man with much hair, a tongue like a razor and a brain like hell on fire. Suspicious as hell of every man near me - and of all men or women from America. My nervous collapse quieted him much. I told him once when I was on the verge of unconsciousness: "Leave me in peace; leave me alone personally; if I can't have complete freedom I shall die before your eyes." But he is ever now and then blazing up again. And he is always smouldering. I feel like a person living on the brink of a volcano crater. And that tortures me.


Early Years Edit

Aghorenath was born in Bhrahmongaon, Bikrampur (then in Bengal Presidency now in Bangladesh). After completing his initial education in Dhaka Collegiate School, he spent three and a half years in Presidency College, Kolkata before moving to University of Edinburgh on Gilchrist Scholarship for higher studies. [3] He excelled in his studies and secured the Hope Prize and Baxter Scholarship. [4] [5]

Career and Politics Edit

Upon his return to India, he accepted the invitation from Nizam of Hyderabad State to modernise the education system there. He began with an English medium school. With Nizam's support he founded the Hyderabad College with himself its first principal which later became the Nizam College. Later he also initiated efforts to start a College for Women as a part of Osmania University. He was instrumental in implementing the Special Marriage Act 1872 in the Hyderabad State, which was already in vogue in British India. Aghorenath was a prominent member of the intellectuals' collective of Hyderabad who debated on social political and literary topics. Around this time Aghorenath also got involved in politics. [6]

He had differences of opinion with the Nizam on the Chanda Rail Project and a displeased Nizam suspended him from his job and deported him out of Hyderabad on 20 May 1883. [7] [8] However a few years later he was recalled and reinstated. In fact it was Nizam who later provided a scholarship for Sarojini to pursue her studies in England. [9]

Back in Hyderabad Aghorenath continued his political activism and hence was forced to retire early and relocate to Kolkata. He and his wife Varada Sundari Devi set up residence at Lovelock Street, Kolkata. [ citation needed ]

Personal life Edit

Aghorenath was married to Varada Sundari Devi before he left for Edinburgh. During his absence Varada Sundari was an inmate at the Bharat Ashram, an educational centre run by Keshab Chandra Sen. She accompanied him to Hyderabad in 1878. The couple had 8 children four girls and four boys. Sarojini was the eldest.Sarojini Naidu describes her father as a dreamer and an intellectual with unending curiosity. It was this curiosity that turned him into an alchemist in search of a recipe for gold. [10] After she published her first collection of poems "Golden Threshold", the house where the family stayed in Hyderabad came to be called Golden Threshold. This is currently a museum . Second daughter Mrinalini completed her studies from Cambridge and later became the principal of Gangaram Girls' High School, Lahore, which is now known as Lahore College for Women University . Third daughter Sunalini was a Kathak dancer. Youngest daughter Suhasini was a political activist and first female member of the Indian Communist party. She married A.C.N. Nambiar but later they divorced.

Aghorenath's eldest son Virendranath was a leftist and was in the British Crime register for alleged revolutionary activities. [11] He spent his time in Europe, gathering support for activities against the British . During his stay in Moscow he fell victim to Stalin's Great Purge and was executed on 2 September 1937. [12] Youngest Son Harindranath was an activist, poet and actor. He received the Indian civilian award of Padma Bhushan in 1973. [13]

Final Days Edit

Aghorenath died at his Lovelock Road residence on 28 January 1915. [2] [14] [15]


Virendranath Chattopadhyaya

Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (1880 – 2. syyskuuta 1937) oli intialainen vallankumouksellinen, joka tavoitteli Intian vapautta brittiläisestä siirtomaavallasta aseellisella vastarinnalla. Hän matkusti ympäri Eurooppaa pyrkien luomaan liittolaissuhteita itsenäisyyttä tavoittelevalle Intialle. Hän oli Sarojini Naidun ja Harindranath Chattopadhyayn veli. [1]

Chattopadhyaya matkusti Lontooseen vuonna 1902 osallistuakseen Indian Civil Servicen virkamieskokeeseen. Siellä hän tapasi intialaisia nationalisteja, jotka kannattivat aseellista vastarintaa Intian vapauttamiseksi brittien vallasta. Vuonna 1910 hän joutui pakenemaan Britanniasta Pariisiin. Ensimmäisen maailmansodan alla hän siirtyi Saksaan pyrkimyksenä saada tukea Britannian viholliselta intialaisten itsenäistymispyrkimykselle. Saksassa hän osallistui Berliinin Intia-komitean perustamiseen. Komitea sai tukea Saksan ulkoasiainministeriöltä yhdessä Ghadar-liikkeen kanssa. [1] Yhteistyö saksalaisten kanssa johti hänet Sveitsiin, missä hän joutui salakuljettamaan aseita Italiaan vuonna 1915. Salakuljetusoperaatio keskeytyi intialaisten uskoessa, että brittien tiedustelupalvelu tarkkaili heitä. Chattopadhyaya luovutti aselastin Sveitsissä majaileville italialaisanarkisteille, jotka jäivät kiinni vuonna 1917. Hän oli poistunut maasta jo vuonna 1915 Sveitsin karkottaessa hänet puolueettomuutensa rikkomisesta. Karkoituksensa vuoksi hän ei ollut paikalla vastaanottamassa 2,5 vuoden vankeustuomiotaan, tuhannen frangin sakkoaan ja elinikäistä porttikieltoa. [2]

Vuonna 1917 hän siirtyi Tukholmaan osana yritystään saada ruotsalaisia sosialisteja tavoitteidensa taakse. Hän teki yhteistyötä maanmiehensä M. P. T. Acharyan kanssa ja yritti suostutella myös hollantilaisia puolelleen tuloksetta. Tammikuussa 1918 hän ja Acharya onnittelivat itsenäistynyttä Suomea ruotsalaislehtien Svenska Dagbladetin ja Aftonbladetin kautta saadakseen Suomelta sympatiaa Intian itsenäisyyskamppailulle. [3]

Ruotsista Chattopadhyaya poistui, kun Britannia painosti Ruotsin hallitusta luovuttamaan hänet. [1] Hän palasi Berliiniin, missä hän asui yhdessä rakastajattarensa Agnes Smedleyn kanssa vuosina 1920–1928. [4] W. Somerset Maughamin kirjassa Ashenden: The British Agent esiintyvä hahmo nimeltä Chandra Lal sai innoituksensa Chattopadhyayasta. [2] Chattopadhyaya kuoli Stalinin vainoissa vuonna 1937, jolloin hänet ammuttiin. [5]


In England

In 1902, Viren joined the University of Oxford, while preparing for the Indian Civil Service. Later, he became a law student of the Middle Temple. While frequenting Shyamji Krishnavarma's India House at 65 Cromwell Avenue in London, Viren became closely acquainted with V. D. Savarkar (since 1906). In 1907, Viren was on the editorial board of Shyamji’s Indian Sociologist. In August, along with Madame Cama and S. R. Rana, he attended the Stuttgart Conference of the Second International where they met delegates including Hyndman, Karl Liebknecht, Jean Jaurès, Rosa Luxemburg and Ramsay MacDonald, among others. Vladimir Lenin attended, but it is not certain if Viren met him on this occasion.

In 1908, at "India House" he came in contact with a number of important "agitators" from India: G. S. Khaparde, Lajpat Rai, Har Dayal, Rambhuj Dutt and Bipin Chandra Pal. In June 1909, at an India House meeting, V. D. Savarkar strongly advocated assassinations of the Englishmen in India. On 1 July, at the Imperial Institute in London, Sir William Curzon-Wyllie, political aide-de-camp at the India Office, was assassinated by Madanlal Dhingra, who was deeply influenced by Savarkar. Viren published a letter in The Times on 6 July in support of Savarkar, and was promptly expelled from the Middle Temple by the Benchers . In November 1909, he edited the short-lived but virulent nationalist periodical Talvar (‘The Sword').

In May 1910, seizing the opportunity of tension between England and Japan over the Korean peninsula, Viren discussed the possibility of Japanese help to Indian revolutionary efforts. On 9 June 1910, along with D.S. Madhavrao, he followed V. V. S. Aiyar to Paris, to avoid a warrant issued for his arrest. Upon reaching France, he joined the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO).


Virendranath Chattopadhyaya - History

With the failure of the Indo-German Zimmermann Plan, in 1917 Chattopadhyaya shifted the Berlin Committee to Stockholm. In 1918, he contacted the Russian leaders Troinovski and Angelica Balabanova, the First General Secretary of the Communist International. In December, he dissolved the Berlin Committee. In May 1919, he arranged for a secret meeting of Indian revolutionaries in Berlin. In November 1920, in his search of financial and political support exclusively for the revolutionary nationalist movement in India, Chattopadhyaya was encouraged by M. N. Roy (with Mikhail Borodin's approval).

In May 1910, seizing the opportunity of tension between the United Kingdom and Japan over the Korean peninsula, Chattopadhyaya discussed the possibility of Japanese help to Indian revolutionary efforts. On 9 June 1910, along with D. S. Madhavrao, he followed V. V. S. Aiyar to Paris, to avoid a warrant issued for his arrest. Upon reaching France, he joined the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO).

The various publications of Chattopadhyaya on Carvaka/Lokayata have been praised as pioneering and important contributions to the studies by Ramakrishna Bhattacharya. However, Bhattacharya also questions Chattopadhyaya analysis. For example, Ramkrishna Bhattacharya states, "Chattopadhyaya did not deny Ajita Kesakambali was a materialist, but chose to emphasize that 'Ajita was no less a philosopher of futility and moral collapse than the Buddha, Mahavira, Purana and Pakudha [. ]". Bhattacharya notes that "Chattopadhyaya brands Ajita's teachings as a philosophy of the graveyard".

The main concentration of the book is to present an analysis of Caraka Samhita, the crucial source book on Indian medicine. According to Chattopadhyaya, "discarding scripture orientation, they [the Indian physicians] insist on the supreme importance of direct observation of natural phenomena and on the technique of rational processing of the empirical data. They go even to the extent of claiming that the truth of any conclusion thus arrived at is to be tested ultimately by the criterion of practice". For them, "everything in nature occurs according to some immutable laws, the body of which is usually called svabhava in Indian thought" and "from the medical viewpoint there can be nothing which is not made of matter". They even say that "a substance is called conscious when it is endowed with the sense-organs". Further, Chattopadhyaya shows: :"If anywhere in ancient Indian thought we are permitted to see the real anticipation of the view that knowledge is power – which, when further worked out, assumes the formulation that freedom is the recognition of necessity – it is to be found among the practitioners of the healing art".

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya obtained his academic training in philosophy in Calcutta, West Bengal under eminent philosophers like Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and S. N. Dasgupta. After standing first in philosophy at University of Calcutta both in B.A. (1939) and M.A. (1942), he did his post-graduate research work under Prof S. N. Dasgupta. He taught philosophy at the City College of Calcutta for three decades. Subsequently, he was appointed a UGC Visiting Professor at the universities of Andhra Pradesh, Calcutta and Poona. He remained associated with the activities of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPHR) and the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS) of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) under various capacities. His second wife was the renowned educationist and Tibetologist, Dr. Alaka Majumder Chattopadhyaya (1926–1998).

Communist leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad in his overall appreciative review of the book criticised Chattopadhyaya for not explaining "in a sufficiently convincing way as to why Lenin thought it necessary to go to Hegel in his later years", as evident from his Philosophical Notebooks of 1914.

On 22 September 1914, Sarkar and Marathé left for Washington, D.C. with a message for the German ambassador, Von Bernstorf. He ordered Von Papen, his Military Attaché, to arrange for steamers, and purchase arms and ammunition, to be delivered on the eastern coast of India. On 20 November 1914, Chattopadhyaya sent Satyen Sen, V. G. Pingley and Kartâr Singh to Kolkata with a report for Jatindranath Mukherjee or Bagha Jatin. Bagha Jatin sent a note through Pingley and Kartar Singh to Rash Behari Bose, asking him to expedite preparations for the proposed armed uprising. In 1915, Chattopadhyaya went to meet Mahendra Pratap in Switzerland and tell him of the Kaiser's personal invitation to meet. He was dogged by the British agent, Donald Gullick, and an attempt was made to kill Chattopadhyaya.

It was an introductory book that examined Indian philosophy through an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on anthropological, economic and philological studies. The book traced the philosophical development in India from the Vedic period to later Buddhism. In this introductory study, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya targets another important myth that overshadows the study of Indian philosophy – that of the presupposed predominance of shastrartha or textual interpretation. He views the development of Indian philosophy as the consequence of real clashes of ideas – "contradiction constituted the moving force behind the Indian philosophical development". Dale Riepe in his review of this book says that Chattopadhyaya "combines the analytic sagacity of Hume with the impatient realism of Lenin".

In his writings, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya aimed to illuminate science and materialism in ancient India, and to trace their evolution. While commenting on his work on Lokayata, German indologist Walter Ruben called him a "thought-reformer", who was "conscious of his great responsibility towards his people living in a period of struggle for national awakening and of world-wide fighting for the forces of materialism, progress, humanism and peace against imperialism. He has written this book Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism against the old fashioned conception that India was and is the land of dreamers and mystics".

This book is about scientific method in ancient India and how societal divisions of the time shaped the development of science. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya chooses the field of medicine for the purpose, because, according to him, "the only discipline that promises to be fully secular and contains clear potentials of the modern understanding of natural science is medicine".

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (19 November 1918 – 8 May 1993) was an Indian Marxist philosopher. He made contributions to the exploration of the materialist current in ancient Indian philosophy. He is known for Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism, which is his exposition of the philosophy of Lokayata. He is also known for work on history of science and scientific method in ancient India, especially his 1977 book Science and Society in Ancient India on the ancient physicians Charaka and Sushruta. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian honour, posthumously, in 1998.

Chattopadhyaya was arrested on 15 July 1937 during the Great Purge of Stalin. His name appeared on a death list among 184 other persons, which was signed on 31 August 1937 by Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Zhdanov and Kaganovich. The death sentence was pronounced by Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR on 2 September 1937 and Chatto was executed the same day.

Chattopadhyaya's rational reconstruction of the history of Indian materialism in Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism and other texts, was one of the most significant contributions, states Rajendra Prasad. Chattopadhyaya's pursuit, notes Prasad, was "a result of much of his commitment to values of scholarship" as to the "communist movement" in India. His efforts to explain materialism and atheism in Indian philosophy in its antiquity, against the old fashioned conception that India was and is the land of dreamers and mystics, required "tremendous intellectual courage", yet "Chattopadhyaya never flinched in the face of isolation in his own profession".

According to Chattopadhyaya, states Riepe, "Buddha looked backwards to the tribal collectives and wanted to revive. the imaginary substance of the tribe. ". According to Dale Riepe, "Chattopadhyaya claims most of the ancient Indian traditional philosophers were atheists", and contrasting the approach taken by Debiprasad with the approach taken by followers of modern Western idealism like S.N. Dasgupta, Riepe writes: "Debiprasad's approach here is based on anthropological and archaeological findings, in sharp contrast to the mythopoeic constructions of the revivalists and Indian philosophers following the lead of modern Western idealism. Debiprasad's approach, in contrast to his teacher, Surendranath Dasgupta, is not simply ideological, conceptual and literary, as fine a work as Dasgupta has achieved, it is bound to the idealistic viewpoint even when he uses important physical data. Debiprasad stresses the need to establish the historical account of Indian thought on the basis of an objective and scientific approach. This implies the use of all relevant scientific methods and scientific knowledge in order to explain the rise of Indian philosophy and interpret its significance in the history of India."

In 1908, at "India House" he came in contact with a number of important "agitators" from India: G. S. Khaparde, Lajpat Rai, Har Dayal, Rambhuj Dutt and Bipin Chandra Pal. In June 1909, at an India House meeting, V. D. Savarkar strongly advocated assassinations of the Englishmen in India. On 1 July, at the Imperial Institute in London, Sir William Curzon-Wyllie, political aide-de-camp at the India Office, was assassinated by Madan Lal Dhingra, who was deeply influenced by Savarkar. Chattopadhyaya published a letter in The Times on 6 July in support of Savarkar, and was promptly expelled from the Middle Temple by the Benchers. In November 1909, he edited the short-lived but virulent nationalist periodical Talvar (The Sword).

From 1930 to 1932, Chattopadhyaya published 28 articles in Inprecor, the Comintern organ, about an ultra-leftist sectarian turn of the Communist Party of India. Between 1931 and 1933, while living in Moscow, Chattopadhyaya continued to advocate anti-Hitler activities, Asian emancipation from Western powers, the independence of India, and Japanese intervention into the Chinese revolution. Among his Korean, Japanese and Chinese friends was Zhou Enlai, the future Prime Minister of the People's Republic of China after its successful Revolution.

In Germany to avoid suspicion, he enrolled in a university as a student. As a student in comparative linguistics at the University of Saxe-Anhalt in April 1914, Chattopadhyaya met Dr. Abhinash Bhattacharya (alias Bhatta) and some other nationalist Indian students. The former was well-known to the influential members as belonging to the Kaiser's immediate circle. Early in September 1914, they formed a "German Friends of India" association, and were received by the brother of Wilhelm II. The Indians and Germans signed a treaty in favour of German help to oust the British from India. With the help of Baron Max von Oppenheim, who was an expert in Middle Eastern affairs in the German Foreign Office, Chattopadhyaya informed Indian students in thirty-one German universities about the association's future plans.

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya was born on 19 November 1918 in Calcutta. His father was a supporter of India's freedom struggle. It was probably his influence that initiated Debiprasad to two major passions in his life – Indian philosophy and politics he quickly progressed towards radical streams in both fields, developing a lifelong commitment to Marxism and communist movement. At a very early stage of his life Chattopadhyaya immersed himself in the left nationalist movement by joining the Association of Progressive Writers, which was formed in 1936.

In 1902, Chattopadhyaya joined the University of Oxford, while preparing for the Indian Civil Service. Later, he became a law student of the Middle Temple. While frequenting Shyamji Krishna Varma's India House at 65 Cromwell Avenue in London, Chattopadhyaya became closely acquainted with V. D. Savarkar (since 1906). In 1907, Chattopadhyaya was on the editorial board of Shyamji's Indian Sociologist. In August, along with Madame Cama and S. R. Rana, he attended the Stuttgart Conference of the Second International where they met delegates including Henry Hyndman, Karl Liebknecht, Jean Jaurès, Rosa Luxemburg and Ramsay MacDonald, among others. Vladimir Lenin attended, but it is not certain if Chattopadhyaya met him on this occasion.

His childhood nickname was Binnie or Biren. Virendranath was the eldest son (the second of eight children) of Dr. Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya (Chatterjee), a scientist-philosopher and educationist who was an ex-principal and professor of science at the Nizam College, and his wife Barada Sundari Devi, a poet and singer in a Bengali family settled in Hyderabad. Their children Sarojini Naidu and Harindranath Chattopadhyay became well-known poets and parliamentarians. Their daughter Mrinalini (Gannu) became a Nationalist activist and introduced Virendranath to many of her circle in Kolkata (Calcutta). A younger son Marin became involved with Virendranath in political activism.


Harindranath Chattopadhyay: A Life Lived to the Fullest

Sarojini Naidu and her sister-in-law Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay are two of the biggest names among the women leaders of the Indian freedom movement. But perhaps eclipsed by these two trailblazing women, stands Harindranath Chattopadhyay, Sarojini’s brother and Kamaladevi’s husband.

Harindranath Chattopadhyay (1898-1990) was a polymath, a true renaissance man, who deserves to be much better known. Variously talented – a first-rate, prolific poet in the English language, a playwright and stage director, a pioneer of nursery rhymes in Hindi (it was not his mother tongue), an inspired singer-songwriter in Hindi, a composer of tunes and a painter – Harindranath was many lives packed into one. He was an elected Parliamentarian to boot, a member of the first Lok Sabha, having been elected from the Vijaywada constituency.

Harindranath (Harin-babu) was born in one of the most extraordinary Indian families of the day. His father Aghorenath hailed from Bikrampur, now in Bangladesh, and had studied at Presidency College in Calcutta, and at Edinburgh University. He joined the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad and became the first Principal and one of the founding fathers of Nizam College.

He was also the first Indian to acquire a Doctor of Science (D Sc) degree from the University of Edinburgh. His interests took him beyond science and academia and he was also a writer of mystical poetry. Harindranath’s mother Baradasundari was a fine singer and wrote in Bengali.

Harindranath had many illustrious siblings. His sister Sarojini, the ‘Bulbul-e-Hind’, was the first Indian woman President of the Indian National Congress and herself a poetess of eminence. His brother was Virendranath, who had a highly adventurous life as an international revolutionary and who met a tragic end during Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s. Another sister Mrinali became an academic and Principal of Gangaram Girls’ High School in Lahore, now known as Lahore College for Women University, and is one of the biggest women’s educational institutions in the subcontinent founded through the philanthropy of Sir Rai Bahadur Gangaram (who also built large hospitals in Lahore and Delhi.) Yet another sister Suhasini was among the first Indian women communists and married to (but later separated from) A C N Nambiar, a close aide of Subhas Chandra Bose in Europe.

The family home in Hyderabad is now an annex campus of the University of Hyderabad and is known as the ‘Golden Threshold’, named after the first volume of poetry published by Sarojini. Harindranath described the Hyderabad of his childhood as a city straight out of the Arabian Nights, with sights of elephants, camels and men with daggers on the streets not quite uncommon. The siblings engaged in creative activities of various kinds, and one would imagine that their household was a miniature version of the famed Jorasanko Thakurbari (the House of Tagores) of Calcutta.

Beginning of a Creative Career

Harindranath published his first volume of poetry when he was only 19. The work, titled The Feast of Youth , drew instant appreciation from reviewers. Its foreword was written by eminent poet James Henry Cousins, where he referred to the author as “a true bearer of the Fire”.

While still in his 20s Harindranath staged his highly successful play Abu Hassan , an adaptation, largely in verse, of a tale from the Arabian Nights .

It ran very successfully in several places. In Bombay, it was staged at the Excelsior, where it pulled unprecedented crowds. And it is said that in Madras there were special local trains timed to bring the audiences to the show.

Marriage and Separation

Just into his 20s, Harindranath met and married Kamaladevi. She, the daughter of a civil servant, had been married at 15 and widowed soon, before she met Harindranath in Madras, where she had come for her education at the university. It was quite an unorthodox act – marriage between a Bengali Brahmin and a South Indian widowed girl. Both were driven by a fire to work for the common masses. They chose theatre as their immediate medium.

The couple went to England to sharpen their knowledge in the arts and humanities. While Harindranath joined the Fitzwilliam Hall and did research on ‘William Blake and the Sufis’, Kamaladevi joined the Bedford College and enrolled in Sociology and Economics. In a recommendation letter to the university, eminent poet Arthur Quiller-Couch, who had read Harindranath’s works, wrote of him: “We would have given Shelly and Keats a chance. Why not this young poet?”

During their London stay, they were also exposed to the dramatic traditions of the London stage as well as those of the Royal Academy of Drama and Arts. Harindranath published his poetry in several leading literary magazines. He also moved in literary circles and befriended several leading literary figures of the day, like Laurence Binyon who once wrote of him: “He has drunk at the same fount as Shelly and Keats.”

The young couple stayed in London for a few years but eventually dropped their academic pursuits and returned to India, where they thought they could do much more.

Kamaladevi and Harindranath did a number of plays together. During this time, their son Ram was born. Kamala also ventured into the feminist movement (an interest she would retain all her life) and met key suffragists like Margaret Cousins. She became involved in the All India Women’s Conference and contributed to the starting of the Lady Irwin College in Delhi. In 1926, she stood for the Madras Legislative Assembly elections from Mangalore and lost narrowly, by a margin of 51 votes.

However, with time, the couple began to lead separate lives. Kamaladevi was prominent in the handicrafts movement, helping organise the makers of traditional crafts, thus ensuring a fair livelihood for them. She rose in the Congress ranks and caught the attention and admiration of Gandhi himself. She was one of the early flagbearers of the Congress Socialist Party, a socialist caucus formed within the wider Congress platform, along with persons like Jayprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev and Yousuf Meherally.

Kamaladevi led a long life dedicated to the causes she had chosen. When the country became independent, a Cabinet berth or governorship was well within her reach. But she was more of an activist on the ground and took upon her herself harder battles. She was primarily responsible for settling the refugees of Partition in the colony which later emerged as Faridabad. She was the force behind the setting up of the All India Handicrafts Board, the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, and also the visionary behind the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National School of Drama, and the India International Centre. She was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan.

It is interesting to note that the first legal separation of any married couple in India was between Harindranath and Kamaladevi.

Literary and Theatrical Gifts

Harindranath continued on his path of song, drama, and other creative pursuits. He published an anthology of his playlets titled Five Plays in London. The volume had commendations from personalities like Rabindranath Tagore, Alice Meynell and Theosophist poet George W Russell. S. Fowler Wright wrote the foreword and compared Harindranath to Joseph Cornad.

Quite a few of his poems had philosophical and spiritual moorings. He lived for three years at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, and his literary output was very productive during this time. He wrote a poem almost every day and sent it to Sri Aurobindo for his comments. The Master also wrote back to him, offering new insights.

Sri Aurobindo in a review wrote of Harindranath: “We may hope to find in him a supreme singer of vision of God in Nature and Life and the meeting of the divine and human which must be at first the most vivifying and liberating part of India’s message to a humanity that is now touched everywhere by the growing will of the spiritualizing of the earth-existence.”

Among notable poems of this type is Shaper Shaped, which is commonly taught in universities across the country. In this poem, the poet reflects upon a change in perspective that he underwent upon gaining maturity, losing his egotistic way of thought and life. Its opening stanza goes as follows:

In the days gone by I used to be
A potter who would feel
His fingers mould the yielding clay
To patterns on his wheel
But now through wisdom lately won
That pride has gone away,
I have ceased to be the potter
And I have learnt to be the clay.

Some of his poems were greatly valued by no less than Tagore himself, who for a while even toyed with the idea of translating some of them into Bengali. Tagore was particularly fond of the poem The Flute, and he did translate it into Bengali. In a letter to the eminent musicologist and friend of Harindranath, Dilip Kumar Roy, Tagore wrote that “the Bengali language cannot contain him (Harindranath)”.

Harindranath’s mother tongue was Bengali but he hardly wrote any poetry or songs in that language. Throughout his creative life, he worked chiefly in English and in Hindi. During the Gandhian movements, he wrote songs in Hindustani, which were sung by a large number of people. This also led to his incarceration. A notable song from this period is Shuru Hua Hai Jung Hamara . Only towards the latter part of his life – during the Mukti Sangram of Bangladesh did he compose two songs in Bengali.

Harindranath showed great talent in writing Hindi nursery rhymes, many of which are still taught in schools. His poem Tati Tati Tota is famous in this genre. Another famous poem is Railgadi , which was sung by Ashok Kumar in the film Ashirvad , a film in which Harindranath acted and also sang. He also wrote the lyrics of the superhit song My heart is beating from the 1975 film Julie .

Harindranath also collected Jain parables and made poetry out of them. He was in touch with several mystics and considered Sri Ramana Maharshi as his Guru.

He was a very fine singer and composer too. A very popular song of his describing the mood of the labouring classes after a hard day’s work is Surya Ast Ho Gaya . Another song with a semi-classical base was Tarun Arun Se Ranjit Dharani . These songs also show his singing prowess. Many of these songs were very popular in the 1950s when the Indian People’s Theatre Association was sweeping the cultural landscape of the country and were sung by other great singers like Hemanta Mukhopadhyay.

Harindranath also did plays on saints like Tukaram, Raidas, Pundalik and Sakubai. His songs in these plays, bereft of any instrumental support, captivated the audience. He staged Tukaram very successfully on the London stage and he sang live in Marathi. He always made bold experiments in his stagings. In the play The Sleeper Awakened , he had his actors singing English verse to Vedic meter and the result was a tremendous thrill among the audience as they witnessed this creative marvel.

As a creative genius wanting to seek engagement with several art forms, Harindranath also involved himself with cinema. He performed in dozens of Hindi films – his most memorable role was in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Bawarchi (the Hindi remake of Tapan Sinha’s Bengali film Galpo Holeo Shotti ), where he played the role of the grandfather. Among the other films he worked in was the Navketan production Tere Ghar Ke Samne, and in the role of a ghadi-babu (a timekeeper) in the Guru Dutt production Saheb Bibi Aur Ghulam , where his character witnessed the decay of the Bengali Zamindari system.

He also worked in the first-ever Ivory-Merchant Production The Householder, where Satyajit Ray, who informally advised and helped the makers, saw his acting talent. Harindranath thereafter had a very affectionate relationship with Ray and he never declined any offer which his dear ‘Manik’ (as Ray was called in close circles) approached him for.

It was due to Ray’s genius and Harinbabu’s screen presence that all three roles in Ray films – the magician Borfi in Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen , Sir Baren Roy in Seemabaddha , and the polymathic Sidhu Jyatha in Sonar Kella – are firmly etched in the minds of anyone who has watched them. Interestingly, these were the only Bengali films Harindranath acted in.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee held him in great esteem and it is no surprise that two memorable Hindi film roles Harindranath did were in Mukherjee films – Ashirvad and Bawarchi .

Mukherjee once said that his films were marked by a simple idea that Harindranath had given him – that it is simple to be happy but so difficult to be simple. This was also used as a dialogue line in Bawarchi .

When the country became independent, Harindranath too endeavoured to play a more direct role in public affairs. He contested and won in the first General Elections to the Lok Sabha from Vijaywada as an Independent candidate (supported by the Communist Party of India). In Parliament, there were occasions where he, with his characteristic sense of humour, cut jokes at the expense of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. On a personal level, Nehru was fond of him. After one term, Harindranath had had enough and that was the end of his direct engagement with politics.

Harindranath remained active till his last years. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 1973. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 92.

Persons like Harindranath Chattopadhyaya were products of the cultural flowering of their times, the tremendous morally orienting atmosphere of the freedom struggle, and the optimism of ushering in of a more humane era after the Independence. But the optimism of even an individual like Harindranath took a jolt as he saw how the country had deviated from the path envisaged during the freedom movement. A fine expression of this mood was in his poem, the inspiration of which came while watching a Republic Day parade. He recited this in a meeting with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The opening lines go as follows:

The older is marching
the younger is marching
and right through their marching
One hunger is marching

What were the factors that informed the flowering of such a versatile artist as Harindranath? Can he be called a product of the Bengal Renaissance? He was born to Bengali parents and, to be sure, his beginnings were shaped by his parents and the general ethos of the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century. But he had soaked the cultural traditions from across the subcontinent, and made himself one with hopes and aspirations, trials and tribulations of the different peoples who inhabit this land.

Whether it was the culture of the Nizam’s Hyderabad, or influences as wide as Sri Ramana, Sri Aurobindo, other spiritual luminaries of the Indian spiritual firmament, or the spirit of the freedom movement, or even the international awakening among the toiling classes that was brought to the centre stage by the Communist movement, he did not close himself to any of them. He imbibed it all into his person, and the outward expression was nothing short of marvellous.


Revolutionary vagabond

With the failure of the Indo-German Zimmermann Plan, in 1917 Viren shifted the Berlin Committee to Stockholm. In 1918, he contacted the Russian leaders Troinovski and Angelica Balabanova, the First General Secretary of the Communist International. In December, he dissolved the Berlin Committee. In May 1919, he arranged for a secret meeting of Indian revolutionaries in Berlin. In November 1920, in his search of financial and political support exclusively for the revolutionary nationalist movement in India, Viren was encouraged by M. N. Roy (with Borodin's approval).

He went to Moscow with Agnes Smedley and they became companions, sharing their lives until 1928. Under her influence, Viren coveted the influential position M. N. Roy enjoyed in Moscow. The next year, he was received by Lenin, along with Bhupendra Nath Datta and Pandurang Khankoje. From May to September, he attended the Indian Committee of the Third Congress of Communist International in Moscow. In December 1921 in Berlin, Viren founded an Indian News and Information Bureau with his correspondent Rash Behari Bose in Japan.

According to Sibnarayan Ray, Roy and Viren were rivals for Agnes: "Roy would have liked to work with him since he admired the latter’s intelligence and energy. (…) By early 1926 Chatto had got into good terms with Roy." [8]

At Roy's instance, League against Imperialism. On the eve of Roy’s mission to China, in January 1927, Chatto wrote to Roy asking "if there is anything further you wish me to do…” On 26 August 1927, he wrote to Roy, after the latter's return to Moscow from China, asking to help him "directly" to gain admission to the Communist parties of India and Germany. After being advised by Roy, Chatto joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). [9]

In 1927, while working as the head of the Indian Languages Section of the KPD, Chatto accompanied Jawaharlal Nehru to the Brussels Conference of the League against Imperialism. Viren served as its general secretary. His younger brother Harin went to Berlin that year to meet him and Agnes. On learning of Jawaharlal Nehru’s becoming president of the Indian National Congress, Viren asked him – in vain – to split the party for a more revolutionary programme of full independence from British imperialism.

From 1930 to 1932, Viren published 28 articles in Communist Party of India. Between 1931 and 1933, while living in Moscow, Viren continued to advocate anti-Hitler activities, Asian emancipation from Western powers, the independence of India, and Japanese intervention into the Chinese revolution. Among his Korean, Japanese and Chinese friends was Zhou Enlai, the future Prime Minister of the People's Republic of China after its successful Revolution.

Agnes saw him for the last time in 1933 and remembered later:


For the memory of “Chatto”: Virendranath Chattopadhyaya and his anarchist tendency as a way for Indian independence

The whole story of Indian independence struggle against British empire was a glamorous saga with many dedications and it epitomizes the courage held by a nation despite its people were trampled under imperial yoke. However, it seems to indicate the larger picture of Indian independence movement has been narrated from how Gandhi launched his famous Satyagraha as a mean to resist and his teachings on non-violence and the political demands of the Indian national congress. Yet, many seem to have forgotten some of the unsung heroes who pulled themselves together against the oppressive rule of British empire. In particular, the bunch of Indian students and activists located themselves in England and across the Europe in the early 20 th century opted for method of sabotaging and conspiring against British interests. The name of Virendranath Chattopadhyaya or commonly known as Chatto remains in the annals of history as a decorative personality symbolized the fortitude and passion for intrigue, above all he was an anti imperial fighter to the core who ardently believed in international support as a vital factor to fight against British and he was one of pioneers in Berlin committee. His intriguing manners and nature of a revolutionary vagabond had aspired famous British Writer Summerset Maugham to carve the character called Chandralal who was portrayed as an Indian revolutionary in his short story Giulia Lazzari. However, his wandering across Europe and the United States have fret his biographers in gathering a coherent picture about his activities. Born on 31 October 1880 in Hyderabad, India, and younger brother of famous poet Sarojini Naidu, Chatto arrived in Britain in 1903 to compete for the Indian Civil Service exams and hoped to enter India’s ranks of metropolitan trained lawyers. Enrolled as a law student at Middle Temple he was not politically active, but by 1908 he had become involved with the revolutionary nationalists at “India House”, a north London hostel for Indian students. Described by pro-Empire journalist and editor of the Times newspaper Valentine Chirol as the most dangerous organization outside of India’, India House was a hub for revolutionary anti-colonial activity until former resident Madan Lal Dhingra assassinated political assistant Sir William Curzon Wyllie in London on 1 July1909.In the months before the murder, Chatto had been involved in a public dispute in the Times with Shyamaji Krishnavarma – founder-editor of The Indian Sociologist and proprietor of India House – over the radical direction of the Indians in Europe.

In the aftermath of the assassination of Curzon, his attitude towards Indian nationalist in Europe became more lenient as he wrote an article in Times justifying the motives of the assassin of Curzon which finally resulted in his expulsion from Middle Temple in 1909. The assassination of Curzon set a bad atmosphere for Indian activists living in Britain as the criminal investigation division in Scotland Yard began to keep a closer on the activities at India House. In 1910 Chatto fled for Paris and joined the Paris Indian society under “Madame” Bhikaiji Kama and he took the shared editorship of Cama’s paper “BandeMataram”. The most recent research publication by British Scholar Ole Birk Laursen has presented some historical evidence that suggesting Chatto was mainlining an affinity with French anarchist movement during his stay in Paris. However, lack of constant evidence and Chatto’s nomadic life style as a mover from place to place hasjeopardized historians to assess this charismatic character’s relationship with European anarchist movement. His association with French anarchists and other Marxian revolutionary groups in Paris brought him to the eyes of French intelligence network, especially his influence upon French anarchists was vividly impacted in publishing anti British views in France. As an example Chatto befriended famous French anarchist Jean Grave and Grave later becamea sympathizer for Indian struggle against British, he indicted the British for extracting capital from India, leaving famines and thousands of deaths in the wake, and for using Indians in capitalist wars against the Boers or the Germans. However, the activities of Indian nationalists in Paris were weaken after the deportation of Savarkar in 1910 and Chatto briefly moved to Switzerland and then to the United States. After the outbreak of First World WarChatto tookinitiative in forming Indian Independence Committee under the tutelage of German foreign office. His idea of collaborating with European anarchists for the cause of Indian independence was a notable one and in the summer of 1915, Chatto and Hafiz contacted the well-known anarchist Luigi Bertoni and his comrade Arcangelo Cavadini with a proposal to smuggle arms and poison from Germany into Switzerland to be used against the Italian cavalry and for armed insurrections later on. At that time Switzerland was also a ‘rallying ground, operational base and contact zone for various anti-colonial groups and individuals. However, as the mission of either agitating an insurrection or assassinating Italian prime minister did not get succeeded, he moved to Constantinople for another clandestine typed operation to remove some British interests.

The activities carried out by Virendranath Chattophadyaya in the troubled period of Europe during First World War shows his ardor on setting the platform for Indian nationalism or cause of freedom even though his hobnobbing with European anarchism was less compatible with his nationalist sentiments. In 1917, it was purely evident that German war machinery was at ebb and Russia was in the verge of Bolshevik revolution. Given the context in rise of Soviet state, Chatto attended Second International in Stockholm with the expectations that the issues on Indian independence would be a concern for European socialists and anarchists. However,it soon became clear that their request to discuss the colonial question and Indian independence at the peace negotiations was denied by the European socialists.

The next turning point of Chatto’s life was shaped in post war Berlin between 1921 and 1927. During this period, he became acquainted with famous anarchists like Emma Goldman and remained an anarchist for another few years as he believed it would succor his ambition of Indian independence. Having smelled his deep motive of using anarchism as a part of his anti-colonial project, Emma Godmen stated “He called himself an anarchist, though it was evident that it was Hindu nationalism to which he had devoted himself entirely”.

He spent his time as a recluse and a weary rebel in the last phase of his life and the idea of anarchism was drifted away from him as he gradually approached systematic study of Communism. He finally moved to Moscow and continued to publish several articles and monographs till early 30’s. The records remain quite obscure about his last years in Moscow and it was certain that he finally became a victim of Stalin’s purge as the Russian records have aptly indicated that Virendranath Chattophadyaya was executed on 2 nd of September in 1937. The character of Chatto embodied an inner strength of an anti-colonial revolutionary figure mainly lived and fought outside India for the cause of freedom. His peripatetic travels open a window onto the prefigurative politics of Indian anti-colonialism and its imaginary futures, its contact zones and shared affinities with other forms of radical internationalism, in both content and methods.


South Asian Transnationalisms : Cultural Exchange in the Twentieth Century

South Asian Transnationalisms explores encounters in twentieth century South Asia beyond the conventional categories of center and periphery, colonizer and colonized. Considering the cultural and political exchanges between artists and intellectuals of South Asia with counterparts in the United States, continental Europe, the Caribbean, and East Asia, the contributors interrogate the relationships between identity and agency, language and space, race and empire, nation and ethnicity, and diaspora and nationality.

This book deploys transnational syntaxes such as cinema, dance, and literature to reflect on social, technological, and political change. Conceiving of the transnational as neither liberatory nor necessarily hegemonic, the authors seek to explore the contradictions, opportunities, disjunctures, and exclusions of the vexed experience of globalization in South Asia.

This book was published as a special issue of South Asian History and Culture.


Virendranath Chattopadhyaya - History

Western Women in leftist and national movements (2)

The intertwining lives of what was called as the Left Quartet – M N Roy, Evelyn Trent, Virendranath Chattopadyaya and Agnes Smedley are rather very engaging. The lives of men and the lives of the women ran on almost parallel lines.

Roy and Chattopadyaya the best known pioneers of Indian communism were both born in 1880s to Bengali Brahmin middle class families. Both were exposed as school boys to the dynamic nationalism of Vivekananda, Nivedita and Aurobindo. They both were influenced by militant politics of Bengal and the early armed resistance. They were ardent nationalists, participated in the extreme–wing of the nationalist struggle and were involved with Germans in trying to promote revolutionary activities in India during the First World War. By the early 1920, they were operating on the same terrain and came into bitter conflict over which one was to be accepted as the leader of the Indian Communist party.

There are also interesting parallel developments in the stories of two American women.

Both Evelyn Trent and Agnes Smedley were born in 1892 in the USA and were radicalized by labour, feminist and anti-imperial struggle of that period. Both were politically active in California during 1915-1916 and met briefly in New York before their dramatic confrontation in Moscow in 1921 as consorts of two Indian revolutionaries who were vying for the attention of Lenin and the Communist International.

They both had stressful life, in addition to the strain of living with Indian revolutionaries who were lionized because of their active association with Communist movement but, were forced to live as fugitives on the run to avoid arrest or deportation by American and European Governments.

The dedication of these two women to the cause of Indian Independence was remarkable. Yet, neither visited India.

But around 1925, both the sets of couples separated. The women never again got directly involved with Indian nationalism or Indian communist movement.

Agnes Smedley became an internationally known writer because of her subsequent links to Communist movement in China.

And Evelyn went into oblivion from mid-1920s and distanced herself from India, the Indian communist movement and the Indian national movement.

Although each pair lived and worked separately, they all converged in Moscow in 1920 during the Second World Congress of the Communist International.

It was a turbulent time in India also, when events in India were gathering momentum, when Lala Lajpat Rai formed (1920) the All India Trade Union Congress and when Gandhi’s first large Civil Disobedience campaign was attracting masses in unbelievably huge numbers.

By about the same time, civil disobedience was marred by a stray incident of violence. That led Gandhi to call off the massive protests, just at the point it could have grown into a full scale revolution. The events happening in India overshadowed the irksome relations between Roy and Chattopadyaya.

The period of 1921-22 was significant in the Communist movement and in the Indian national movement as well. M N Roy and Virendranath Chattopadyaya met in Moscow in 1921, as delegates to the second Congress of the Communist International.

Interestingly, at Moscow, there were involved discussions both among the Bolsheviks and the Indian groups over the merits and de-merits of non-violence over revolutionary uprising. It was also a period when Marxism was discussed in India along with the tactics of Gandhi and Lenin. And, that led to heated discussions and controversies

When the Roy and Virendranath Chattopadyaya met in Moscow in 1921, their main political differences began to sprout from their conflicting assessments of the Indian political scene. Chattopadyaya was in favour of a united front of all anti-imperial forces, whether Communist or not, to overthrow the British Rule.

Roy however was reluctant to lose the identity by joining with other Indian nationalists. He was concerned with building a viable Indian Communist Party to lead the anti-imperialist movement and to lend a Socialist direction to the Free India.

The groups aligned to Roy and to Chattopadyaya fought tooth and nail over the issue. They parted bitterly.

At Moscow, the idea advocated by Roy won the approval and the Communist International permitted Roy and Evelyn for launching the Communist Party of India from Tashkent in 1921.

Virendranath Chattopadyaya (1880-1941) , born in a Bengali family settled in Hyderabad (Deccan) , was the eldest son (the second of eight children) of Dr. Aghorenath Chattopadhyaya (Chatterjee), a scientist-philosopher and educationist, who was an ex-principal and professor of science at the Nizam College, Hyderabad, and his wife Barada Sundari Devi, a poetess and singer.

Their children Sarojini Naidu and Harindranath Chattopadhyay became well-known poets and eminent parliamentarians. Their daughter Mrinalini became a Nationalist activist and introduced Virendranath to many of her circle in Calcutta.

Virendranath went to Britain in 1901 for studies, but got involved with extreme Indian nationalists in London and with Irish revolutionaries. Fearing arrest, he escaped to France in 1910, where he worked with French Socialists and the Indian revolutionary Madam Bhikaji Cama. At the outbreak of the War he left for Germany.

Virendranath (Chatto) was a smart polyglot (he knew English, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, Italian, Russian, Persian and several Indian languages including Telugu) and had a way with women. He was a sort of Don Juan Casanova made many a romantic conquest. The women for some reason were fascinated by him. He had many marriages: an English woman (1910) Irish woman (1912-1914). From 1920-1928 he lived with Agnes Smedley and, in 1930 he married a Russian woman, Lydia Karunovskaya.

It was his involvement with Agnes Smedley that was most significant. It was during 1920 that Virendranath Chattopadhyaya met Smedley in Germany to where she had moved to escape the heat of pursuit from the American police because of her involvement with the Indians who had been indicted in the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial. They lived together for the next several years in Germany and other places and were involved with various left-wing causes

Agnes Smedley lived with Virendranath Chattopadhyaya from 1921 to 1928. (He became a member of the Communist Party of Germany – KPD but she was not). In her autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth (1929) , Agnes wrote :

“The first person I met in Berlin was the Indian revolutionary leader Virendranath Chattopadhyaya. In New York, I had often heard of him as one who had helped form an Indian Government-in-exile and build up a world-wide network of Indian revolutionary activity. In a very short time I had entered into a union with him. ”

“ I married an artist, a revolutionary in a dozen different ways, a man of truly ‘fine frenzy’, nervous as a cat, always moving, never at rest… a thin man with much hair, a tongue like a razor and a brain like hell on fire.” ― Smedley’s letter, pg 230

Smedely described Virendranath the revolutionary :

‘ Virendranath was the epitome of the secret Indian revolutionary movement, and perhaps its most brilliant protagonist abroad. With a mind as sharp and as ruthless as a sober. He was thin and dark—to me he seemed like thunder, lightning and rain’. ‘His mind was modern, but his emotional roots were in Hinduism and Islam. Everyone understood and loved Viren few understood me’.

According to Sibnarayan Ray, Roy and Viren were rivals for Agnes: “Roy would have liked to work with her since he admired the latter’s intelligence and energy.

Chattopadyaya and Smedley broke up in 1928. Their life together had been turbulent mainly due to clashes over issues of class and cultural background.

In the year that led to her break with Viren, Agnes began to speak critically of Indian society and the need for reformations. She was especially disturbed about the issue of birth control. “India produced droves of ‘weak slaves’ and the Indians as also those sympathetic to Indian cause would be in stronger position if they acknowledged ‘India’s case’. The change should come from within the Indian society. They do not have to need British government or Christian missionaries”.

“My alliance with Virendranath terminated early in 1928. To me he was not just an individual, but a political principle. For me , he embodied the tragedy of a whole race. Had he been born English or American, I thought, his ability would have placed him among the great leaders of his age. Despite all this, I could not take up life with him.

Agnes saw Viren for the last time in 1933 and remembered later:

“Hitler was threatening, and Viren had left Germany for the Soviet Union, where he was connected with the Academy of Science in Leningrad. Upon my arrival in Moscow he came to me. …For me, he embodied the tragedy of a whole race. Had he been born in England or America, I thought, his ability would have placed him among the great leaders of his age… He was at last growing old, his body thin and frail, his hair rapidly turning white. The desire to return to India obsessed him, but the British would trust him only if he were dust on a funeral pyre. What happened to him after that I do not know.

(From Agnes Smedley, China Correspondent, first published in 1943 pp.15-23)

During 1930s,Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was working at the Indian Department of the Institute of Ethnography of the Academy of Science in Leningrad.

His last wife and colleague, Dr. Lydia Karunovskaya, the head of the Indonesian Department at that time, later said that Viren was arrested in 15 July 1937 during the Great Purge of Stalin. It was much later revealed that Virendranath was one among the 187 marked for execution. The sentence was pronounced on 2 September 1937 and Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was executed on the same day.

In his Autobiography, decades later, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote of Virendranath Chattopadhyaya:

“An entirely different type of person was Virendranath Chattopadhyay, member of a famous family in India. Popularly known as Chatto he was a very able and a very delightful person. He was always hard up, his clothes were very much the worse for wear and often he found it difficult to raise the wherewithal for a meal. But his humour and light heartedness never left him. He had been some years senior to me during my educational days in England. He was at Oxford when I was at Harrow. Since those days he had not returned to India and sometimes a fit of homesickness came to him when he longed to be back. All his home-ties had long been severed and it is quite certain that if he came to India he would feel unhappy and out of joint. But in spite of the passage of time the home pull remains. No exile can escape the malady of his tribe, that consumption of the soul, as Mazzini called it… Of the few I met, the only persons who impressed me intellectually were Virendranath Chattopadhyay and M.N. Roy. Chatto was not, I believe, a regular communist, but he was communistically inclined.”

Agnes Smedley (February 23, 1892 – May 6, 1950)

Agnes Smedley was born in Osgood, Missouri on Feb 23, 1892 as the second of five children. In 1901, when she was nine years of age, her family moved to Colorado. Smedley grew up under straitened circumstances. At an early age she began working after school to help support her family and she dropped out of school completely in 1907.

At age of 16 she left home after her mother’s death and not willing to suffer her father’s cruelty to her and to her siblings. Later, she described herself as one who was a ‘poor white trash engaged in a brutalizing struggle to overcome their environment’.

And, over the next several years she studied and worked at a variety of jobs in the West and Southwest – from tobacco stripper, stenographer, waitress, book agent or ‘just plain starveling’- and went through a brief, unhappy marriage. She then realized that ‘for women marriage meant nothing but imprisonment and humiliation’. After divorcing in 1916, she left the Southwest in her early twenties for New York City, where she worked and attended classes at Normal School. In March 1912 (when about twenty) Agnes was elected as the Editor-in-Chief of the School’s weekly magazine – The Normal Student. While in New York, she became involved in politics and the birth-control movement.

Smedley, who worked for Indian nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai, in New York, soon became involved in his cause. She took up a room near Lajpat Rai’s house worked as his Secretary in the morning attended classes at a New York University college and, in the evening listened to Lajpat Rai on Indian History, culture and freedom movement.

She treated Lajpat Rai as a ‘father figure’. She said ’ I loved him as I might have loved my father… I learnt more from him than I could have leaned from any other source’. Lala Lajpat Rai introduced Agnes Smedley to radical ideas and to issues concerning India’s struggle for freedom and to other Indian nationalists

Agnes Smedley was also attracted by Russian revolution and to the struggle of the Ghadar Party of California. But, Lajpath Rai was alarmed when she got too radical and attempted to form a radical Indian National Party. Her idea was to turn it into a sort of parallel Indian government, a radical body representing Indian interests abroad. She sent letters (signed by her as Bose) appealing to Trotsky and other Bolsheviks seeking support for Indian independence and for the revolutionary groups working for Indian cause in America and elsewhere.

Her correspondence with Bolsheviks and radical groups was intercepted. She was arrested by the U.S. Naval Intelligence Bureau in 1918 under the Espionage Act, not only on charges of aiding Germany (in the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial), but also on the counts of disseminating information on birth control methods.

Agnes was described in the charges as ‘the the directing genius behind the plot’. The arrest of Agnes Smedley was reported in New York Times of 19 March 1918. She was released on bail set at $10,000. Because of the Birth-control charges filed against Agnes, a campaign by Liberal women groups headed by Margret Sanger helped her release.

Again on 11 June 1918, a second indictment for violating the Espionage Act was filed against Agnes Smedley, in San Francisco, along with several Indian revolutionaries and American liberals. Since the Indian revolutionaries were said to be in league with Germans (who in 1918 were American enemies), all the defendants were charged as ‘German conspirators’ and were found guilty of conspiring to launch military expedition.

On 14 October 1918, Agnes Smedley made an appeal against her sentence but, did not succeed. She was sent back to jail’ and, was released after eight months in prison.

During her prison-time, Agnes came in contact with an assortment of rebels: uncompromising crusaders for birth control (Kitty Marian) liberals who opposed US intervention in Russian revolution (Mollie Stelmer) and some socialists. That drew Agnes closer to the socialist ideas and, alienated her from American-establishment views.

Agnes Smedley became thoroughly disenchanted with the United States. Late in 1919, after serving out her time, she boarded a freighter bound for Europe, and finally reached Berlin, Germany. She lived in Germany from 1919 to 1928. While in Berlin, she taught English at the University of Berlin, did graduate work in Asian studies there, wrote articles for several periodicals, and helped establish Germany’s first public birth-control clinic.

In Berlin, looking for the newspaper of the Indian exiles on whose behalf she had been imprisoned, she met the revolutionary leader Virendranath Chattopadhyaya in 1919. The two soon got caught up with each other. Smedley lived with Chattopadyaya for eight years, working along with him, studying Indian history and Chinese nationalism etc.

During May 1921, She accompanied Virendranath Chattopadyaya to Moscow with a view to attend the Third World Congress of the Communist International – June 22-July 12, 1921. From May to September, they both were in Moscow.

While in Moscow, Viren and Agnes had interactions with M N Roy, who was already well established there. According to Sibnarayan Ray, Roy and Viren were rivals for Agnes.

In Berlin, Agnes Smedley and a group of progressive physicians with some financial aid from Margaret Sanger set up the first state birth-control clinic. But later, the German republican government took over the clinic and established several others which flourished until the Nazis came to power and women were ‘ordered back to the bedroom’. With Hitler threatening, Virendranath left Germany for the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad and Agnes obtained a position with the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1928, as a special correspondent in China.

Smedley and Chattopadyaya broke up in 1928. Their life together had been turbulent due mainly to clashes over issues of class and cultural background. Though she admired Viren in many ways, she said ‘I could not take up life with him’. Her life had become very stressful. She took psychoanalysis treatment in an attempt to combat depression and, as a form of therapy, she began writing the autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth (1929).

Agnes Smedley, unlike Evelyn Trent, did not disappear but remained active till her last years. She was involved in the Communist movement in Germany and China and with Indian movement in 1920. She however never visited India. For her, India was a vision or a fascinating idea though she kept in touch with Nehru. She got more interested in China, reporting from there.

In 1928 Smedley went to China as special correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung. From her base in Shanghai she travelled widely reporting enthusiastically on the growing communist movement. She lived on and off in China from 1928 to 1941. In 1930, Agnes befriended the great writer Lu Xun whom she called ‘the man who became one of the most influential factors in my life during all my years in China’ . Together with other intellectuals in mid-1932 , the two formed the first ‘League of Civil Rights’ in China to urge democratic rights and an end to the torturing of political prisoners.

By September, 1937 Agnes was on her way to Suiyuan and Chahar provinces where the Red Army was fighting. Although in constant pain from back injury, she reported about the condition of the wounded, about the starvation and rampant disease and appealed for medical aid for the absolute need for ‘travelling dispensaries and public health workers’. She soon became a sort of ‘wandering first aid worker’ herself, often treating soldiers from her stretcher when she could no longer sit or stand. While at the front , Agnes finished a new book ‘China Fights Back’ before leaving for Hanzhou in 1938.

[ In the meanwhile, when Agnes Smedley was in China, on 29 March 1929, the police in Meerut, India, arrested about thirty-five Indian communists on charges of ‘conspiracy to deprive the British King of the sovereignty ‘. Agnes Smedley was prosecuted in absentia. Many of the arrested had translated into Urdu and published the articles sent from Berlin by Agnes Smedley (but, the parties had never met). In one the articles she had predicted a war between Britain and Soviet Union. Another of her articles was her moving tribute to Lala Lajpat Rai whom she loved as her’ father figure’. Lala had died at the hands of the British police during a protest march in Lahore. Agnes had written poignantly expressing her shock and remorse for the death of the departed leader. Her note was published in India during April 1929. The Meerut case dragged for three years, till 1933.]

In mid-1938 Agnes became a special wartime correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. During her travels with the Red guerrillas left behind of the Red Army , she lectured and inspected hospitals and reported on the extent of American aid to the Japanese war machine. In ill health and unable to stay with the guerrillas, Agnes decided to leave China and go back to the US.

Smedley returned to the United States in 1941 and continued to write and speak widely in support of radical causes and also on behalf of the Chinese communists. Her Battle Hymn of China (1943) is considered an excellent example of war journalism. Her speeches and sentiments, however, provoked an increasingly hostile response.

During 1944, Agnes Smedley came under FBI surveillance and strict censorship and she was branded as ‘a notorious communist expert on Far East ‘. Her file recorded her as: ‘Agnes Smedley: native Born Communist’. Her mails were examined before delivery. After she received a mail from a German communist in Mexico on 22 October 1944, the surveillance was intensified and, she came to be suspected as a Soviet agent. In mid July of 1946, FBI put Agnes Smedley on its Special Security Watch list of suspected Soviet spies who were marked for ‘custodial detention’.

American media, at the behest of FBI, talked about Agnes Smedley as Soviet spy. She retaliated by threatening legal action against the Government agency, and the media, whereupon the Secretary of Defense admitted that the charges against her by the FBI rested on no evidence. And, the investigations against Agnes Smedley were suspended in May 1947.

Agnes Smedley continued to write about the need for a new social order and a new foreign policy on the basis of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms – Freedom of Speech and Worship and, Freedom from Want and Fear. The FBI again, noted in her writings and speeches shades and overtones of left-ideology and , renewed surveillance against her.

In 1949 , General Douglas MacArthur released an army intelligence report that outrageously charged Agnes Smedley with being a ‘Soviet spy at large since 1930’. Agnes Smedley, however, continued her fight confronting her adversaries with steely righteousness.

At a press conference and on Mutual Broadcasting System , Agnes Smedley flatly denied the charges made against her and threw a challenge calling General MacArthur ‘a coward and a Cad’. She dared him to waive the immunity he enjoyed and be prepared to face a suit for libel.

On 15 February 1949, Col. George Eyster told New York Times:’ I believe, Miss Smedely should not have been mentioned by name until appropriate authorities had investigated her’. On 18 February 1949, the Army apologized and retracted the charges made against Agnes Smedley. But, the surveillance against her continued.

The era of McCarthyism had become intolerable. Despite her public posture of defiance, Agnes was deeply distressed. Her health began to deteriorate. She could not sleep without drugs and she developed heart troubles. Her friends too came under watch and were harassed. To save them from further trouble, Agnes Smedley decided to move away from the conflict-zone.

In the fall of 1949, Agnes Smedley, in disgust, sought refuge in England, where she worked to complete The Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh, a biography of the Chinese communist military leader Zhu De.

She died in the UK after surgery for an ulcer , on May 6, 1950.

During her last days , Agnes longed to return to China, saying: ‘As my heart and spirit have found no rest in any other land on earth except China, I wish my ashes to lie with the Chinese Revolutionary dead.’

Her wish was fulfilled a year after her death, when her ashes were interred at the National Revolutionary Martyrs Memorial Park – the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery- in Beijing in 1951.

Her book on Zhu De was published posthumously in 1956.

Agnes Smedley had a remarkable life. Agnes emerged from hard poverty to become a country school teacher, a writer a participant in Margaret Sanger’s birth control movement a self-appointed warrior for the poor a socialist a journalist and, a freedom fighter. She was, for a major part of her life, on the battlefront of American politics, the Indian struggle for independence, and the Chinese Communist revolution. Agnes Smedley is regarded as of one of the most significant female political figures in recent American history. It is sad that due recognition and regard is not accorded to her and her work.

Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya (wife of Viren’s brother Harindranath Chattopadyaya) writing of Agnes Smedley, in 1986, said :

“She strode forward into some of the stormiest earth shaking events of international history. She braved wars and shattering turmoil because of her single-minded devotion to the downtrodden, and the oppressed.”

Let’s talk of Evelyn Trent and Ellen Gottschalk the women intimately related to Roy’s life, in the succeeding parts.

Sources and References

The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule by Kumari Jayawardena

Age of Entanglement by Kris Manjapra

Many pages of the Wikipedia

Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt

India & the United States: Politics of the Sixtiesby Kalyani Shankar


Watch the video: Indian revolutionary Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (July 2022).


Comments:

  1. Chavatangakwunua

    I decline.

  2. Aryeh

    Do you have a migraine today?

  3. Boothe

    some strange relationships turn out.

  4. Rooney

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  5. Kellan

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  6. Samucage

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