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HIS is the last and the most beautiful line of a famous Bengali song which attained wonderful popularity at the time of the Partition and Swadeshi agitations. The late Mr. Dwijendra Lal Ray, the most popular play-wright of Bengal is the author of the song. Two biographies of this great poet have of late been published in Bengali. Babu Devkumar Ray Chaudhury, one of the biographers and an intimate friend of Mr. Ray, describes how and when this song was composed. Mr. D. L. Ray was Magistrate-in-charge at Gaya in 1907, and Babu Devkumar, himself a poet of no mean repute, was a guest of his. So was also the late Babu Baroda Charan Mitra, the celebrated poet and Judge. The late Mr. Lokendranath Palit, I.C.S., the distinguished son of the distinguished father, the late Mr. T. Palit of Calcutta, was then the District Judge at Gaya, and he was a daily visitor to Mr. Ray. One fine evening Dwijendralal stood before them and sang the song in his unique voice and style. When he finished, it seemed that the air of the room was surcharged with love for the country. The effect was thrilling, and the friends lost their power of speech in wonder, awe and admiration. For a time they looked at the deep blue sky outside, and then suddenly, up rose Mr. Palit, grasped the two hands of Mr. Ray, and broke out:
Oh how wonderful-how magnificent! Let me confess, my dear Dwiju, it's undoubtedly the veryvery-very best and noblest national song that I've ever heard or read in my life. It's indeed a Divine inspiration!
Soon the song came before the country. From the streets of Calcutta it entered the innermost depths of villages in Bengal, ennobling, inspiring and strengthening the national movement. When the judgment of the country was passed, it ofcourse agreed with the verdict of Mr. Lokendranath Palit.
This is not the only song of Mr. Ray which has attained celebrity. Mr. Ray wrote poems and dramas innumerable, but there is no doubt that if he lives for any of his writings, he will do so for his songs. They are the life-breath of his dramas, and there are a good many of them
which may be mentioned. The above song is known in Bengal as the song of Amar Desh or My Country. There are at least two other patriotic songs-Amar Janmabhumi or My Native Land and Bharatavarsha-which appeal equally powerfully to imagination and patriotism. While the latter has a most forcible diction, the former sends imagination to a dreamland, such is the charm of its wording and sentiments.
Mr. Ray began his poetical career as a satirist. He composed a good many satirical and comic songs, and it may be said with confidence that they have to this day no equal in Bengal. Through these songs, Mr. Ray ruthlessly attacked every form of social abuse of the day. They left no sting in the heart of the reader, for they were not aimed at individuals; nevertheless they carried a needed lesson to the person who required it. The sham patriot who must live for his country at the cost of allowing his brother to die of cholera unattended, the so-called reformed Hindoo who is
a queer amalgum of Sasadhar (a Hindu revivalist), Huxley and goose," preaching profusely but practising none of his precepts, the Englandreturned sahib who smiles in the Parisian and coughs in the Russian fashion-these are all things of beauty and joy for ever, and there was a time when they were on the lips of everybody. Mr. Ray did not spare his own faults in composing these songs. He was a pucca sahib when he returned from England as agriculturist in 1886, and was appointed a Deputy Collector, but that did not deter him from writing his exquisitely fine satire on the England-returned. Mr. Ray was pre-eminently a hater of sham. Look at the merciless way in which he ridicules the man of fickle faith who changes his religion as often as he would change his coat. He is made to adopt Christianity for the sake of a girl and leave it for a kick of his father. He becomes a Brahmo for the fun of the thing, but has to abandon that faith when he is married in due course in accordance with the rites of Hindu orthodoxy. He turns an atheist, but leaves atheism on the birth of a daughter or two. And so on till the end. The finest touch of satire is reached when the man excuses himself at every change on the plea that everyone must act in the same way under such circumstances. Beautiful as these songs will read in paper, the fullest depth of their humour and satire can only be felt when they are set to the tune.
The first comic play of Mr. Ray is Ekghare or The Excommunicated. It is full of "withering sarcasm, as said by the late Babu Rajnarain Bose and was an attack on the leaders of the orthodox movement. The book has a history of its own. When Dwijendralal returned from England, he married a daughter of Mr Pratap Chandra Majumdar, a famous Homeopathic practitioner in Calcutta. The marriage was celebrated in the Hindu way, and he was anxious to return to the bosom of the old society. But the leaders of orthodoxy would not allow him to do so. Pandits demanded money when their opinions were sought by the friends of Mr. Ray, and this injustice and shamefacedness made him rebel against the society. The stinging satire of the book created a sensation and its banters produced heart-burning in the noted quarters. We read in his biographies that a Bengali gentleman went to a bookshop to purchase a copy of the book. He went through it then and there, and tore it to pieces at the time of leaving the shop. This shows that the book served well the purpose for which it was written.
While he attacked orthodoxy, he did not spare those who went to the other extreme. The artificiality, greed of money and the luxurious living of the Indo-English stung him to the core, and the result was a comedy called Prayaschitta or Rightly Served. The obvious object of the comedy was to teach that it was well for the Bengali to live in his native way. These books have been criticised on the ground that they are guilty of exaggeration. But no comedy can avoid exaggeration, and it may be said without hesitation that there was a real need for both of these plays in Bengal when they were published.
The other comic plays he wrote with no more definite object in view than provide innocent amusement for theatre-goers. The bad taste of the existing farces pained him deeply, and he turned the tide by his powerful pen. The exquisite but refined humour of these plays made the whole Bengali Society roar in laughter. Who can indeed help it when he finds a lover devouring sweets in the sheer despair and putting up flesh in the utter exhaustion caused by the pangs of separation, and who can help it when he is seriously advised by Mr. Ray not to be re-born on Thursday afternoons which are considered particularly inauspicious by the Hindu almanac ?
Mr. Ray's wedding took place in 1887. He was a loving and devoted husband. Properly speaking, his literary career began in 1894. With a loving wife of many virtues and accomplishments, this was a period of unalloyed domestic enjoyment to him, and this happy period continued till the death of his wife in 1903. The happiness which he enjoyed at home was successfully transmitted to his literary productions, and it is worth recording here that all his comic plays and songs were published in this period. He also tried his hand in the composition of serious dramas, and produced three of them in this period, The first was on the basis of the unfortunate story of Ahalya who was beguiled by Indra and was turned into stone, the second was on Sita, the model of Indian womanhood, and the third was on the basis of the historical story of Prithwiraj of Rajasthan and his wife Tarabai. Pashani or The Stone statue and Sita received high encomium from the Bengali reading public, and these two books will for long occupy a high place in the Bengali literature, be they considered from the standpoint of character painting or the arrangement of the plot. Saint Gautama is simply superb, and his Sita is even more noble than the Sitas of Valmiki and Bhababhuti. Tarabai was not as successful as the above two, but in spite of its defects it established the reputation of Mr. Ray as a writer of historical plays in which he was latterly so much to shine. These books were, however, criticised on the ground that verse, especially blank verse, was not suitable for drama. Many including the late famous poet, Nabin' Chandra Sen, were of this opinion, and Mr. Ray accepted this view and definitely abandoned the idea of writing dramas in verse.
"All my smiles are gone in this evening of life; they are asleep by the side of tears. Thus wrote the poet in a pitthy Bengali poem a few years after the death of his dear wife. This portrays the true picture of the plays he was producing after the tragic event referred to. His wife died in 1903 leaving a son who is still a student and a daughter who is now daughter-in-law of the Hon'ble Babu Surendra Nath Banerjea. After this we seldom meet him as a writer of comic plays and songs. Henceforth he dedicated himself to the production of serious and patriotic plays, and almost all his plays of this kind are tragedies. The loss of the dear partner of his
life cast a deep gloom over him, and he was not able to get rid of it till his end in 1912, the forty-ninth year of his life. He was a most openhearted man of jovial disposition, loving and loved by all who came in contact with him. But there came a change over him after the death of his wife. He was the same kind and loving friend, but he was no longer the same jolly man. He became moody. In the midst of joviality, he used to become serious and gloomy and it is believed that this mental depression was one of the causes of his premature death. As usual, he was pressed by his friends and relatives to marry again, but he remained firm in his determination not to commit the same foolishness. "How must a man merry ?"-was his only reply to times many them. He used to say that a second marriage was not a marriage in the proper sense of the word. It was only feeding the lower desires of life. Such marri ges might be necessary at a certain stage of the society. A man or a woman must be free to contract such marriage if he or she thought it necessary, but it was better to avoid it. It may be thought that a man holding such an opinion must bear prejudice against widow remarriage, but such was not the case with Dwijendralal Ray. However that may be, as he was still being pressed by his friends for marriage, one day he thrust a note into the hands of one of them and asked him to show it to all who might come to induce him to marry. was written in Bengali and ran thus: The uote "Dr. "Cr.
"1. It is a mistake to marry at all. Those who desire marriage for the second time require treatment.
A PATRIOT-POET OF BENGAL
"1. Who is to look after my household? Answer-It is a meaningless word to him who has no house.
"2. Who is to look after me in my old age? Answer-Susi and Giris (his sister-in-law and her husband).
"3. Who is to look after my children? Answer -Their guardian-tutor.
"4. A bride's father would be saved by my marriage, as I would not take money? AnswerI am not selfless enough to marry for this reason only.
"5. It was not the wish of my wife that I should marry a second time in case of her death.
"5. Life will be purposeless without marriage? What would be the object of my future life? Answer-To serve the mother tongue."
The above is taken from Babu Devkumar Ray Chaudhury's biography of the poet, and it shows that he could be humorous in the midst of deep sorrow. But the temper indicated by the above is not just the kind of temper required to produce comic literature, and it was well that he bade adieu to it.
"I have wasted half of my life in jest," the poet says somewhere. So he was no longer to jest. He was now to learn "how to shed tears in deep sympathy." His object was achieved, and he learnt the lesson under the guidance of the best of teachers, Time. The time was propitious for him. It was indeed the time most suitable for such a lesson. Bengal was then a vale of tears, It was the time of the Partition of Bengal. It was exactly in the year of the Partition that his first patriotic play, Pratap Singha, was published. There was immediately a stir in the Bengali community. Another Bengali play of the same kind-Pratapaditya by Pundit Khirode Prasad Vidyabenode had been in the field, and both received a most hearty welcome from the Bengali public. They drew enormous and unparallelled crowds to the theatre halls, and were eagerly discussed by every gathering that met. Thanks to a historical novel by the late Mr. R. C. Dutt, the life of the great hero of Rajputana was already familiar to the people of Bengal. Bengali students learn the histories of Rajputana and Maharastra, not from their text books on history, but from the admirable novels of Mr. Dutt, Rajput Jeeban Sandhya and Maharastra Jeeban Prabhat, and it may be said with certainty that these novels are better history than many of the so-called histories of the day. It was due to these two books that Rana Pratap and Sivaji became objects of worship in Bengal. Dwijendralal Ray touched therefore a familiar chord, and the response was immediate and full. The historical character of Rana Pratap was preserved, but the poet sought to impress a moral on the public through him. Throughout the book he has tried to prove that narrowness and bigotry cannot win. According to him, Rana Pratap fought more for the race and racial pride than
for the country and therefore he failed. The best character in the play is not the Rana, but his brother Sakta, the cosmopolitan, who married. a Mahomedan wife. It is needless to tell the student of history that his Sakta is the creation of his imagination with the exception of the
When Pratap Singha was receiving the homage of the theatre-goer, Mr. (now Dr.) Pramathanath Banerjee requested Mr. Ray to write a drama on Durgadas, the Rathore hero. Durgadas was an embodiment of the virtues of selflessness, faithfulness and dutifulness, and a nobler character than his does not exist in the whole history of Rajputana. So he at once agreed, and the play was shortly published. This play has, too, a moral like the other. Durgadas was an ideal man, he had no narrowness, no bigotry, but still he failed to drag the nation out of the mire. And why? Because the nation was divided against itself, manhood was gone. Durgadas is a tragedy in spite of the successes of the hero, and its tragic character lies in the fact that his successes led but to the grave.
There is one other important drama which Dwijendralal Ray wrote with an aim. It is Mewar Patan or The Fall of Mewar. The execution of the book is excellent, but conception defective. It is unfortunate that the poet set up in this drama an artificial quarrel between Universalism and Nationalism, and deliberately gave the superior place to the former. Nationalism, rightly understood, can have no quarrel with Universalism, and that Nationalism is no Nationalism at all which quarrels with Universalism. If the Nationalism as displayed by some of the characters in the drama was defective, it would have been enough to teach the right kind of it. However that may be, one may boldly say that the lesson that was sought to be impressed was lost upon the people, and even this book they accepted and applauded as a gospel of Nationalism. The quarrel referred to was ignored by the general public as a most minor matter.
It has been said by an English critic that success is the only test of merit. If by "success" we are to understand the applause and patronage of the people in general, then it must be said that the above three dramas were highly successful. It would however appear to many that their real value does not lie so much in the intrinsic merits of the plays as dramas, as in the useful service they rendered at an important period in our
national life. Mr. Ray has observed somewhere that his dramas must not be considered as political essays. The people however accepted them as such. They may or may not survive the ravages of time, but that does not imply that they had no use in the economy of Bengal's national life.
These plays are valuable for another reason, In spite of their imperfection, it was through them that the real Dwijendralal came out to the public. Dwijendralal Ray has produced works of art, but it is not as an artist that he is adored by the populace in Bengal. He is admired and adored as a poet of patriotism, and there is no doubt that his was a highly patriotic soul. Mr. Ray has said himself that he could never feel easy after he had sung his famous song, amar Desh. He was an official, a Deputy Magistrate, but we found him singing national songs with procession parties in Calcutta, attending the famous Partition-day meeting at Bagbazar, and so on. His patriotism was based on love and not on hatred. We find ample evidence in his letters and conversation that he for ever refused to admit that race or class-hatred could ever be a factor of a nation's progress. It is this patriotism-noble and unalloyed that he propagated through his dramas. They are the embodiment of a highly patriotic soul, and as such they are valuable. The entire teaching of the above pieces may be summed up by citing one line of a song of Mr. Ray, viz.. Giachhe desh duksha nai, abur tora manush haMourn not for the country fallen low, be men again.
The chief defect of the above dramas is that their characters are not life-like. They are either too good or too bad. Babu Navakrishna Ghose observes in his biography of Mr. Ray that Mr. Lokendranath Palit used to call Durgadas a bundle of qualities. So he is, and so also are most other characters. If they are not bundles of qualities, they are bundles of sins, Except one or two, the characters in these plays are not troubled by a conflict of emotions. The heroes are almost all so many incarnations of singleness of purpose. In a word, the principal characters in these plays are idealistic and not realistic. It is not recognised in these dramas that the life of a man is but the resultant of many forces acting from different directions. A man is actuated by various motives even at one and the same time. It is not unoften that one and the same action is inspired in life by different motives, some good, some bad. It was
toy or deati
Mr. Palit who pointed out this to Mr. Ray, and he learnt the lesson from him. Mr. Palit was a singularly well-read man, and he produced a great impression on the poet. He therefore began to try his hand in the production of realistic plays and live-characters, and he succeeded to a certain extent, though not to a very great extent. Nurjehan, Shajahan and Chandragupta are the result of this effort, and considered from all points of view these are perhaps the best dramas of Mr. Ray. It is in Nurjehan that we first come across a real internal struggle, a strong conflict of emotions. The world-famous consort of Selim is actuated by hundred different feelings in her actions-feelings some of which, at times, she was trying to conceal from herself. But even this character is not so intricate as one would like it to be. The character of Aurangzeb in Shajahan is admirably drawn up, and it is one of the most successful characters of Mr. Ray. He is neither the villain of the Hindu writers, nor the idol of worship of the Mahomedan writers. One of the most remarkable characters of Mr. Ray is certainly Chanakya, the Indian Machiavelli, and chief minister of Chandragupta. It has its merits and demerits, but on the whole it is unique. It is not known what sort of man the historical Chanakya was, but Mr. Ray's Chanakya is a strange mixture of sanity and insanity, hardness and softness; a weird touch has made the character almost uncanny. But Mr. Ray has failed to make a great diplomat of him. The Machiavellian side of his character is very imperfectly developed. The reader feels fascinated with him because he appears to him not of this earth, earthy, but he is at the same time sorry that it is not the traditional Chanakya he meets. A certain mysteriousness hangs about the figure all along, and that is the principal charm of the character. There is little in him to identify him with his traditional namesake except the name and his own confession. This defect is probably due to the fact that there is so little in history and traditions to help the author in the successful drawing up of this side of Chanakya's life. I am also disposed to agree with the late Babu Baroda Charan Mitra that intricacy was so much out of tune with Dwijendralal Ray that it was difficult. for him to conceive intricate characters. On the whole, however, it must be admitted that Mr. Ray's Chanakya is a really artistic production.
I have not exhausted the list of Mr. Ray's publications, but I stop only to mention the names of Sinhal Bejoy or The Conquest of Ceylon,
The above episode serves to illustrate another important trait of his character-his sturdy independence. Sir Rabindranath was a dear friend of his, all his life he was an ardent admirer of
published after his death, and Lyrics of Ind, af Sir Rabindranath, but he did not spare him when
collection of his English poems. These lyrics are nearly the earliest productions of Mr. Ray, and they were warmly received by Indians and Englishmen alike.
One noticeable incident in the career of Mr. Ray is his clash with Sir Rabindra Nath Tagore, his once dear friend. Dwijendralal Ray was an upholder of morality in literature, and mysticism in poetry never appealed to him. Sir Rabindranath is preeminently a mystic poet, and Dwijendralal came to hold that some of the poems of the great poet bore no meaning. Besides this, somehow or other, he also came to think that some other poems of Sir Rabindra were not in keeping with the eternal principles of morality. He contributed an article on this subject to a Bengali magazine and a bitter controversy followed for sometime between the adherents of the two poets. This embittered the feelings of Mr. Ray, and he went so far as to write a parody on Sir Rabindra and had it staged at a Calcutta theatre. It is a relief to learn from Babu Devkumar that Mr. Ray confessed it to him as a great mistake of his life.
While the extreme length he went must be regretted by all, there is no doubt that the whole controversy arose out of Mr. Ray's zeal for morality. He was an agnostic all his life, though we are told that a change was coming over him at the later period. Like many of the agnostics of the past, however, he was a man of sterling moral worth a worthy son of a worthy father, Dewan Kartikeya Chandra Ray of the Krishnagar Raj, named after Raja Krishnachandra of Plassey fame. A close friend of Pundit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Babu Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and many other great men of the then Bengal, Dewan Kartikeya was a remarkable man of his time. He was a man of varied gifts, but the greatest of them was perhaps his unimpeachable character. Pundit Sivanath Sastri, the recognised leader of the Brahma Samaj, has observed in one of his books that Dewan Kartikeyachandra led an ideal life at Krishnagar at a time when that town was notorious for giddy immorality. Dwijendralal Ray fully inherited his father's moral fervour, and much may be forgiven of a man whose failings rose from virtue's side. X