Translation: Vidyasagar

When in Class X, a prose in our Bengali text was an extract from a piece by Rabindranath Tagore on Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The concluding part of the extract remained etched in my memory for  its sheer strength and its scathing nature. Below is my translation from the original piece in Bengali. Tagore talks about Vidyasagar in the context of the contemporary Bengali society. The result is ‘character-worship’ and a frank self-analysis in equal parts.

As this is based on my recollection and as I could not immediately find a reference, there is a possibility of minor variations from the original text.

Vidyasagar was a singular individual in his contemporary Bengal society. There wasn’t a soul there who was in the same class as him. The absence of an equal companion kept him in eternal solitude his entire life. He was not a happy man. He did not find the genuine humanness that he felt constantly within himself reciprocated in the masses around him. His favours were returned with ingratitude and he did not get help when he needed it. He observed regularly that- we begin but do not follow through, we boast but do not put in the efforts, we do not believe what we proclaim and we do not act according to our beliefs; we can fill reams of pages with our words but are shy of making the smallest sacrifice, we are content with our display of conceit but do not try to attain competence. We expect from others at every instance but pierce the sky in criticizing them. In the mercy of others we find respect, in imitating others we rejoice, in hoodwinking others lies our politics and bathing in the self-indulgence for our own verbose manners is our ultimate aim. This weak, puny, arrogant and quarrelsome race revulsed him, as he was in every way their opposite.

Just like a huge tree rises above the forest surrounding it, Vidyasagar had similarly risen high into the quiet above the din of the Bengali society cutting free of its dwarfing binds. From there, he blessed the hungry with fruits and the scorched with shadow. However, he was completely free from the noise of our numerous short-lived associations and committees. Today, he isn’t there any more for the starved, sick, orphaned and helpless masses. However, the unwithering banyan that he has planted in the soil of Bengal has become the pilgrimage for the entire Bengali race. Gathering there, leaving behind our impunity and our fruitless pretense, laying aside our fine arguments and coarse inertia, we will imbibe the lesson of simple, strong and unrelenting greatness. Today, we recognize Vidyasagar as the embodiment of knowledge and compassion. However, the more we venture into the danger-filled wide worlds of our work, the more we grow accustomed to the gutsy and the excellent in its myriad avatars, the more we will realize that the principal pride of Vidyasagar’s character is neither compassion nor knowledge but his unconquerable courage, his unwaning humanness. And the more we realize it, the further will our education move towards completion, the will of the Almighty will be fulfilled and the persona of Vidyasagar will remain inscribed as an everlasting figure in the life of the Bengalis as a race.

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