The Domain of the Dreamers
A study of the
Department of English
University of Calcutta
Helped in research by Mousumi Mukherjee
Dreams being the realms of alternate realities, romantic
souls always search for them. The early patrons
and motivators behind the formation of the University of Calcutta were such souls – they dreamt of an
intellectually resurgent India. They selected the English language as the means of communicating the
new knowledge base, swallowing their individual egos regarding their national languages for a
long-term good. Before the formation of the University, the controversy regarding the language of
instruction was at the centre, and after it started its operations, the Department of English was to retain
its centrality of importance for a long time. However, from the time of its inception, the department was
able to groom people to think differently and to view the world around them with lots of empathy – it
churned out the true romantic dreamers who could envisage ideal alternate realities. This is truly a great
achivement for a Department that is nearly 150 years old and among the oldest operating departments
of all the modern universities in Asia.
The Background: The Need for English Knowledge
decline of the indegenous institutions of learning and the state of learning
in general in Bengal was noticeable at the end of the eighteenth century
– there were no printed books for the dissemination of
knowledge, and there were hardly any prose manuscripts. The teachers and senior students of the
Sanskrit seminaries made up the handful of cultivated intellect among the Hindus. According to Willium
Adam’s estimate of 1835, there were in avarage 100 such ‘tols’ in every district of Bengal with a total
of about 15,000 such educated people. Jagannath Tarkapanchanan, who died at the beginning of the
nineteenth century, was perhaps the last great giant of traditional Hindu learning in Bengal. Persian, the
language of revenue administration and of the law courts, was learnt mainly by the members of the
‘Kayastha’ caste, and it too suffered from a continued acquisence in an old system.
The education imparted initially
by the ‘patshalas’ and ‘maktabs’ and then by the ‘tols’ and ‘madrasas’
was limited to reading, writing, and accounting, and down the ages, had brought about an universal
torpor of the national mind. In 1811, Lord Minto wrote a memorable minute which drew attention to
the progressive decay of literature and science in Bengal.
The break up of the great
zamindars, who used to patronize traditional learning, was one reason for
decay and also the reason which prompted the urge for English knowledge. Rani Bhabani of Natore
and Maharaja Krishnachandra of Nadia were the last great founders of endowments of Hindu learning
Meanwhile, the Britishers
themselves had set up a few institutions of learning in Calcutta for imparting
quality education and for the detailed study of the oriental knowledge base – the Calcutta Madrasa,
founded by Warren Hastings in 1781; the Sanskrit College, founded on the advise of Jonathan Duncan
in 1792; and the Asiatic Society, under the leadership of Sir William Jones in 1794.
Ram Mohan Roy, certainly
not lacking in oriental erudition, was the most distinguished representative
of the new India that was emerging and was the first to protest against governmental encouragement of
oriental studies. An earnest patriot and a man of deep learning, he felt that at this stage of history, India
needed the light of new learning. So, he demanded English education for the intellectual advancement
of his countrymen. According to Alexander Duff, Ram Mohan Roy and David Hare initiated in 1815
the scheme for the Hindu College, which came into being in 1817.
English education was, however,
slowly spreading by then. The Baptist Mission College, founded by
Willium Carey in 1793 in Serampore, taught Sanskrit, Bengali and English to Europeans and Indians
alike. The College of Fort Willium, founded by Lord Wellesley in 1800, also paved the way for English
education by bringing together English officers and Indian scholars for learning each other’s language.
The Church of Scotland began its operations in 1823, and Alexander Duff came to Calcutta in 1830 –
their school soon developed into a college in 1840.
After the Charter Act of
1793, some suggestions were put forward by those interested in education
India – those deserving mention in this respect are John Shakespeare, J.H. Harrington and William
Carey. Probably in lieu of such recommendations, English classes were started in the government
schools and colleges of Calcutta, Benaras, Agra and Delhi between 1827 and 1832. The Indians too
started “pay schools” in and around Calcutta to impart English education – like Gour Mohan Auddy’s
Oriental Seminary; the Arpooly Patshala; and the school set up by the zamindars of Taki, under the
management of the Church of Scotland.
By 1832, the Anglicists were
to triumph over the Orientalists within the General Committee in
substituting English for the study of medicine. Lord Willium Bentinck, who was to substitute English for
Persian as the language of correspondence with “country” powers and native states, also asked for the
substitution of English in judicial practices as early as 1832.
On March 7, 1835, Macaulay,
the President of the General Committee, asserted that the market was
the most decisive test for understanding the popularity of English education – he showed that the
School Book Society had sold upwards of 31,000 English books in course of two years. Macaulay’s
rhetoric was to sweep Bentinck off his feet. The Government resolution as documented in the
Parliamentary Papers, Vol. XXXII was to reflect this: “His Lordship in Council is of opinion that … all
the funds appropriated for the purposes of education would be best employed in English education
alone” ( qtd. in Hundred Years 18).
Willium Adams was soon given
the commission to submit reports on the state of education in Bengal.
His three reports of July 1, 1835, December 23, 1835 and April 28, 1838, were formulated after he
had visited the interiors of Bengal. He was of the opinion that the people needed mental quickening. In
1835, a policy was adopted to this effect to aid and supervise schools teaching English. In Bengal, their
number trebled in the next five years.
One problem felt during the
age was the dirth of quality English teachers. Under the circumstances,
interesting to note, that the best repository was the army. Some of the best English tutors of the time
were drawn from the army – David Lester Richardson, famous for his Shakespeare readings, and
Leonidas Clint (educated at Trinity College, Cambridge) were selected for Hindu College; and
Corporal Graves (educated at Trinity College, Dublin) was chosen for Hooghly College.
Giving a solid foundation
to higher education through the establishment of an university was to be
next step. Lord Auckland’s minute on education policy of November 24, 1839, was to envisage a
defite scheme for higher education. The plans for establishing central colleges were soon to pave the
way for the University of Calcutta. In 1844, Lord Hardinge was to declare English education as a
qualification for public service. In 1845, a definite proposal for the foundation of a university was
adambrated by the Council of Education. Henry Seton of the Governor General’s Council drew the
attention of Hobhouse in 1846 to the issue of the importance of setting up the University of Calcutta.
When Lord Dalhousie became the Governor-General in 1848, he started visualizing an Indian
university. And by the time the University of Calcutta was to come into being in 1857, the Medical
College (founded February 1, 1835), the Civil Engineering College at Sibpur (1856), and the
Presidency College (rechristianed from the Hindu College in 1855), were already institutions of
academic eminence – all they needed was the umbrella of an university.
I. The Beginning [ 1857- 1906 ]
In July 1854, the Court of Directors of the East India Company sent
a despatch of the
Governor-General of India in Council suggesting the establishment of the University of Calcutta. The
University was founded on January 24, 1857.
In the first Convocation
Address, delivered in 1858, we find that Sir James William Colvile, our
Vice Chancellor, was well aware of the inherent paradox of implementing English education in India:
“We all know, that those who first undertook the task of transferring the treasures of Western learning,
and Western science into the Oriental mind … had to choose between conveying instruction through
the medium of English language, or through the medium of the Vernaculars. The first is a key which
unlocks the whole treasure-house; but it is one, which only the few can acquire, and it leaves a foreign
mark upon all to which it opens the door” (Convocation 3).
Due to the limitations imposed
by the Indian Universities Act of 1857, the University of Calcutta, along
wi@Ith the other universities in India, could not establish its own classes for the Liberal Arts and
Sciences. It was only a body with powers to affiliate institutions, regulate syllabuses, and take
examinations. It had power to confer affiliation to suitable educational institutions. All teachings were
undertaken by colleges over which the University had loose control. Few government and other
colleges maintained MA classes. However, in the absence of requisite resources for the proper
funtioning of the Post Graduate sections in the colleges, the classes were perfunctorily discharged. The
University could only test candidates presented by the colleges.
II. The Indian Universities Act of 1904
Indian Universities Act of 1904 was to change all this –
it was to make the University a true
instrument for the advancement of learning. Since Regulations under the Act had to be framed, it
took till 1906 for its full-fledged implementation. And it was also at this moment that the
University got in Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, arguably, one of its ablest of Vice Chancellors.
III. The Coming on its Own [ 1906-1947 ]
It was not until the late years of the first decade of the 20th century, under the Vice Chacellorship of Asutosh Mookherjee (first tenure: 1906-1914), though the credit for pioneering the introduction of higher studies in English literature goes to the Department, that the classes at the Post Graduate level began in earnest, along with that of a few other disciplines.
Asutosh was to turn the University
of Calcutta from just an examining body into a proper teaching
university. He attempted to give instruction to MA students through university lecturers under the
University Act of 1904. In the following direction, Prof. H. M. Percival and Prof. M. Ghosh of
Presidency College were appointed University lecturers in English in 1907. Initially, the MA classes
were also held at Presidency College, Calcutta, and Cotton College, Guwahati.
A modest beginning was thus made between 1907 and
1916. The fillip was, however, provided by the
inspiration of King George V during his Coronation Visit to India in 1911-12. Soon, professorship was
created for the study of English at the Post-Graduate level.
Even as early as 1912, Asutosh
tried to bring back Prof. H. M. Percival out of his retirement in
England. However, Percival – who had taught at the Presidency College and had influenced the
famous Shakespearean scholar, Prof. Prafulla Chandra Ghosh – was unable to accept the ardent
request due to an ailing health. That there was tremendous interest in the study of the discipline is
evident from the fact that, even before the organization of the post graduate classes, 70 students
offered themselves for examination in 1912.
In 1913, the number of students
at the Post Graduate level for English stood at 203. The teachers
included Henry Stephens, T. S. Sterling, Rabindranath (Roby) Dutt, Heramba Chandra Moitra,
Prafulla Chandra Ghosh and J. W. Holmes. In 1914, just before the end of his tenure, Asutosh and the
Senate appointed Harendra Coomar Mookherjee as University lecturer.
With Prof. H.M. Percival
having kindly turned down Asutosh’s friendly request, Prof. Robert Knox,
MA, was to become the first University Professor of English (1914-19). The other three who followed
him in this post were Prof. Henry Stephen, MA, DD, PhD (1919-27), Prof. Joy Gopal Bannerjee,
MA (1927-36), and Prof. Harendra Coomar Mookherjee, MA, PhD (1936-40).
From a Minute of the Senate,
August 23, 1919, reviewing the condition of the Post Graduate
studies, one finds that the strength of students in the department stood at 521 – 300 in the Fifth Year
class and 221 in the Sixth Year. About 1920-21, the department also boasted of 22 teachers – one
Professor, and 21 lecturers, of whom 8 were part-timers. In 1925, the special distinction of University
Professor was conferred upon Prof. Heramba Chandra Moitra, MA, DLitt, and Prof. Prafulla
Chandra Ghosh, MA, for their contribution towards the Department.
When Prof. Subodh Chandra
Sengupta was a student (alumnus 1924-26), his teachers included such
distinguished people as Henry Stephen, Harendra Coomar Mookerjee, Joy Gopal Bannerjee, Prafulla
Chandra Ghosh, Heramba Chandra Moitra, K.C. Mookherjee, Srikumar Bannerjee, M. Ghosh, J.C.
Ghosh, Rajanikanta Guha, Kumudbandhu Roy, Suhaschandra Roy, Panchanan Ganguly, Ramaprasad
Mukherjee, Amiyakumar Sen and Mohini Mohan Bhattacharya.
Some of Prof. Sengupta’s
peers were also to leave their mark later in life – Achintya Kumar Sengupta
(modern Bengali writer), Himanshu Kumar Bose (Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court),
Probodhranjan Sen, Tarapada Mukherjee, and Amulyadhan Mukherjee.
By the time Prof. Sushil
Mukherjee (alumnus 1931-33) had entered the reverred portals as a student,
certain significant changes had taken place – the Dept. of English had been shifted to the newly
constructed Asutosh Building, and the Department had got its first Head of the Department of Indian
origin in Prof. Joy Gopal Bannerjee. Prof. Mukherjee respectfully remembers two teachers from
Presidency College for their extra-mural classes – Prof . Prafulla Chandra Ghosh and Dr. Srikumar
During poet Samar Sen’s time
(alumnus 1936-38), besides the “unforgettable” Prof. P.C. Ghosh, the
other stalwarts were Prof. Mowatt, Prof. R.N. Ghosh (Metaphysical Poetry), Prof. Humayun Kabir
(Wordsworth), Prof. K.C. Mookherjee (Classics), Prof. Milford (Classics), Prof. Tarak Sen
(Criticism), and Prof. Humphry House (Prose). The headship had by then gone to Dr. Harendra
Coomar Mukherjee. That academic activities were disrupted to an extent during the years of the
Second World War is inherent in Samar Sen’s remark that he had to give up his reseach because
German U-Boats used to sink the British ships bringing books over to India.
IV. The Handing Over of the Baton [ 1947-1965 ]
Department went through a period of slump starting from the 1940s
and ending in the 1960s.
Three major historical factors contributed towards it – reactionary attitude towards English language
and literature at the wake of nationalism and political independence, and the resultant growth in interest
in the vernacular languages; a temporary shift in significance from English towards Political Science and
Economics in the 1950s within the humanities; and the flourishing and coming into beings of other
universities within West Bengal and in other parts of India.
A few statistics clarify
the picture. At the pinnacle of its popularity during the 1920s and 1930s,
Department had to split up its student body into three sections for each of the two years; but by the
1960s, the number of sections came down to just one. Besides, while in 1921-22 the Department
consisted of 22 teachers, in 1948-49, the number came down to 16 - consisting of a Professor, 6
whole-time lecturers, 3 whole-time tutors, and 6 part-time lecturers. By 1956-57, the number of
teachers had further shrunk to 11 – consisting of a Professor, a Reader, 4 whole-time lecturers, and 5
Though down in strength –
in terms of number of students and teachers – the morale of those
associated with was quite buoyant. The smaller number was rather a blessing in disguise – it turned the
student body into a close-knit social group and helped in bringing the students in closer proximity with
From the nostalgic reminiscences
of Prof. Kajal Sengupta (alumna 1951-53) one is delighted to know
that during her time almost everybody in the Department knew each other. According to her, the heady
intellectual and cultural life of College Street used to sip into almost all students as soon as joining the
Department. She fondly remembers the palm-lined avenue between the magnificent façade of the
Senate Hall – the oldest of the University buildings – and the Asutosh Building. We also learn how she
used to like the frescoed walls of the Central Library – then crowning the third floor of the Asutosh
Prof. Sengupta has had the
dual opportunity of being either the student /colleague or both of some
luminaries like Mohini Mohon Bhattacharya, Dr. Subodh Chandra Sengupta, Sisir Kumar Das,
Probodh Chandra Ghosh, P.K. Guha, Dr. Amalendu Bose, Debdas Sen, Ramen Sen, Bhabatosh
Chatterjee, Jyoti Bhattacharya and Miss Amy Geraldine Stock. After returning from Oxford in 1958,
she joined the Department, then under the headship of Miss Stock, as a part-time lecturer in 1959.
Deeply loving the Department, she has been in association with it since for the past forty-plus years in
During the first half of
the 1960s, the Department was as active as ever, though its student strength
shrunk to just one section. Prof. Prasanta Kumar Sen (alumnus 1963-65) had as his student peers
Prof. Srobona Munshi (nee Mukherjee) and Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty. Besides the regular teachers,
Prof. Sen was greatly influenced by the lectures of four Guest Lecturers – Prof. Merium Allott, writer
of Novelist on Novel; Prof. Merilyn Merchant, a friend of T. S. Eliot (A sense of sorrow pervaded her
second lecture on news reaching that Eliot had died on the day); Prof. Swaminathan from Sagar
University in Madhya Pradesh, who gave 8-10 lectures on Shakespearean prosody; and Prof. Ian
Jack, who delivered some lectures on Keats (He had come after contributing to the Fourth Volume of
the Oxford History of English Literature).
Prof. Dipendu Charaborty
remembers that while Prof. Amalendu Bose was the Head, the other
teachers included Srichandra Sen, K.C. Lahiri, Probodh Chandra Ghosh, Nirmala Sinha, Debi
Bannerjee, Ramen Sen, Kajal Sengupta, and Jyoti Bhattacharya. For Prof. Chakraborty, the
high-water marks during those two stimulating years (1963-65) were the Departmental Re-unions of
1964 and 1965.
V. The Hot-pot of Socio-political and Cultural Brewing [1965-1977]
The socio-political scene in West Bengal had taken an U-turn
by the time Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty joined the Department in 1968, after
having taught at Visva Bharati (1966-68), – discontent was
“boiling bloody” among the younger masses, dearth of jobs had become a more serious problem, the
unsatisfied workforce was taking recourse to the extreme statement of strikes and the embittered
entrepreneurs were answering back with lockouts, the bitter rivalry between political parties had
started expressing itself in fangs and claws, the rising inflation was choking the middle-class and the
common masses, and the continuous migration from East Pakistan was adding to all the other
problems. The situation was just ripe for an extreme form of socialistic revolution.
Tracing back in time, one
finds that the Marxist leanings of some of the members of the Department
was not an overnight development. Samar Sen, himself with Leftist leanings, had remarked that during
his time (1936-38) the Andaman-returned revolutionaries were mainly turning towards Socialism. By
then, the Forward Block had been formed (1939) by ‘Netaji’ Subhas Bose; and Manebendranath
Bhattacharya (Roy), the closest of associates of Jyotindranath Mukherjee (‘Bagha Jatin’), had become
a member of the Communist International, and was working in different parts of the globe towards the
cause of Indian independence.
The early 1950s was to witness
the Tebhaga Movement, the Morich-Jhapi Movement, and the coming
into their own of the various scattered union movements. These changes were to influence a lot of
intellectuals of the time, including Jyoti Bhattacharya, a noted Professor of the Department later on. As
a member of the Workers’ Party, he had to go to jail following the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. He
came straight out of jail to teach the batch of Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty (1963-65).
Beside the changes within
the state and the nation, other global factors were also responsible for
pro-Left inclination of some of the students and teachers of the time – the Civil Rights Movement, the
Vietnam War, the Algerian Revolution, theWomen’s Movement, the Students’ Revolt in Paris, and the
spread of ‘New Left’ ideas within American universities. The ripples of these were to touch the
Department as well.
The Naxal Movement (1967-71),
though was able to garner a lot of sympathy from the students and
teachers of the Department, left most of them unaffected. Some, however, were involved in the dream
of a new form of society – among them Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty, Prof. Amitava Gupto (poet and
teacher in Maulana Azad College), Prof. Anil Acharjya ( teacher in Srirampur College) and Prof. Debi
Prasad Bhattacharya, were drawn by the attraction of such a vision and partook in the intellectual
activities of the time. Prof. Chakraborty, associated with the magazine ‘Anustup’, was certainly an
intellectual mentor for many of them. And the times were such that riding high on the waves of
sympathy, Prof. Debi Prasad Bhattacharya – who was hastily selected as a candidate - even
resoundingly defeated his fellow classmate and dear friend, Prof. Ram Krishno Bhattacharya in the
Students’ Union election of the time.
Prof. Debi Prasad Bhattacharya’s
batch (alumnus 1966-68) was probably the first to produce as many
as five first classes. The only student from Asutosh College, he was soon to get closely attached to the
cultural activities of the Department and become popular among his classmates. He respectfully
remembers his teachers like Prof. K.C. Lahiri, Prof. Probodh Chandra Ghosh, Prof. Nirmala Sinha,
Prof. Srobona Munshi, Prof. Ramen Sen, and Prof. Jyoti Bhattacharya, besides the exceptional
part-timers like Prof. P. Lal (St. Xavier’s College), Prof. Amrita Lal Ganguly (Bidyasagar College),
Prof. Jyitendranath Chakraborty (Asutosh College), and Prof. Shanta Mahalanobis (Lady Brabourne
Despite the bomb explosions
and political fervent on College Street in those days, Prof Bhattacharya
remembers that the departmental activities ran as usual. The Secretory of the Seminar Library was
elected in those days from among students, and Pradip Bhattacharya (later on, an IAS), a friend of
Prof. Bhattacharya, won it. On the cultural side of things, a Seminar was organised on Rabindra
Sangeet by the Department, and the Departmental Re-union of 1967 was a gala affair with
programmes held in the St. Xavier’s College Auditorium and the Anderson Club premises. Swapan
Gupta (alumnas 1965-67), famous singer and husband of Prof. Tapati Gupta (alumna 1967-69), sang
during the occasion of the Re-union.
By the end of the 1960s,
interest in English was again growing. Two reasons contributed towards
resurgence – first, the acceptance of English as one of the best linguistic means of communication
throughout the length and breadth of India; and second, the growing importance of the United States
and other English-speaking nations in terms of the control of global economics and politics. A direct
fallout of this was that by 1969, the number of sections had to be increased from one to two. The MA
syllabus was also enlarged to include Ancient Classics, Modern European Literature, American
Literature and a language course in Contemporary English for the literature course (Group ‘A’) and
three new optional papers for language course (Group ‘B’).
Some other positive developments
were also taking place. During 1970-73, Summer Institute in
English was organized with financial aid from the UGC for four years. Seminars were also held during
1974-75 in which some distinguished academicians from the British universities took part.
The political turmoil, however,
was still to continue, with the effect that the batch of 1973-75 had to
miss two years. Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta (alumna 1975-77) and Buroshib Dasgupta (alumnus
1975-77) were among the hapless many.
By the time the students
of the Department decided to put up a cultural programme in 1976, the
headship had changed hands from Prof. K.C. Lahiri to Prof. Probodh Chandra Ghosh. Two dramas
were staged and an absolutely beatiful souvenir was brought out by the programme committee.
When the Tenth Departmental
Re-union was held in 1977, Prof. Bhabatosh Chatterjee had become
the Head. The other teachers of the Department included Probodh Chandra Ghosh, Sisir Kumar Das,
Dipendu Chakraborty, Debi Prasad Bannerjee, Jogeschandra Bhattacharya, Kalidas Bose, Karuna
Chakraborty, Sudeshna Chakraborty, Shanta Mahalanobis, Lila Moitra, Sushil Mukherjee, Asoke
Mukherjee, Srobona Munshi, Jharna Sanyal, Debdas Sen, Ramen Sen, Subhadra Sen, Amitava Sinha,
Kajal Sengupta, and Jyoti Bhattacharya.
Between 1965 and 1977, the
Department was probably culturally most active. Besides the Seminar on
Rabindra Sangeet in the late 60s, and a dual drama programme in 1976, a number of Re-unions were
also held. A drama entitled ‘Byapika Biday’ was staged at Kalamandir under the direction of Prof.
Dipendu Chakraborty probably during the Re-union of 1969. Another entitled ‘Cain’s Mango’by the
Cuban dramatist Abelardo Estorino was put up at the auditorium of the Max Mueller Bhavan in the
early 70s under the joint direction of Prof. Shanta Mahalanobis and Prof. Kajal Sengupta. The latter
included as performers Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty (Abel), Prof. R. Kapadia (Cain), Dwijen Bagchi
(Adam), and Prof. Kisua Musa (Eve).
The nerve-centre behind the
Re-unions of the time were Prof. Ashoke Roy (of Srirampur College;
later, Principal of Haripal College) and Ms. Sriti Roy. Since there was no organised body for the
alumni, it was the enthusiasm of the couple, along with a few more others both within and outside the
Department, which helped them in bringing the alumni together for Re-unions, picnics, and cultural
soirées. Within the Department, there were cultural and extra-curricular enthusiasts like Prof. Probodh
Chandra Ghosh, Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty, Prof. Shanta Mahalanobis, Prof. Jyoti Bhattacharya, and
Prof. Kajal Sengupta. It was a period which was to produce cultural personalities like Swapan Gupta,
Sriradha Bondopadhyay, B.N. Seal, Keya Chakraborty, Amita Dutta, and Anjan Dutta.
VI. The Years of Transition [1977-1990]
The late 70s and the decade that followed were to pave the way for major
in the1990s. By themselves, they too were years of fast-paced developments – headship became rotational,
the number of teachers increased, the MPhil programme was introduced, the number of research
scholars shot up, and the prestigious Mohini Mohun Bhattacharya Lecture series was introduced.
However, the most important of all the changes was the sea-change in attitude towards literature in
English by non-Britons and by writers writing outside the British Isles. This liberal acceptance of such a
vast treasure-trove was to lead to their gradual incorporation and canonization in the last decade of the
After Prof. Chatterjee, Prof.
Jyoti Bhattacharya and Prof. Ramen Sen were to follow as Heads of the
Department, respectively. Following Prof. Bhattacharya’s headship, as per UGC rules, the post
became rotational, conferrable on the senior teachers – the Readers and the Professors – for two
years; it was, however, allowed for teachers to serve more than one term. The Heads since Prof.
Bhattacharya were Prof. Sisir Kumar Das, Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty, Prof. Surabhi Bannerjee, Prof.
Sudeshna Chakraborty, and Prof. Krishna Sen. Since 2000, Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta has been serving
as the Head of the Department.
When Prof. Sumita Naskar
entered as a Post Graduate student in the early 80s (alumna 1980-82),
Prof. Jyoti Bhattacharya was the Head of the Department. She remembers him not just for his
unforgettable King Lear classes, but as a man with a golden heart. When she was undergoing a period
of physical and mental trauma following an accident, he came forward with loving care and went all the
way to help – to the extent of taking her to the Secretory to allow her the use of the lift from then on.
Prof. Naskar and some of
her friends had in Prof. Sudeshna Chakraborty (now in Paris) a role model
to follow. She was kind, smart, and taught Volpone extremely well. Prof. Sudeshna Khasnobis
mesmerized them with her memory ( I too was awe-struck by her phenomenal memory while attending
some of her Baudelaire classes, simply out of my curiosity for French literature): Prof. Naskar and her
five friends from Presidency and one from Loreto, who took up American Literature, used to
sometimes mischievously withheld the text from her, for which she usually asked during her classes on
Death of a Salesman, and not finding one, Prof. Khasnobis invariably taught from memory.
During Prof. Naskar’s time
the teachers included Prof Debdas Sen, Prof. Ashoke Mukherjee, Kalidas
Bose, Prof. Ramen Sen (Poetics, Milton), Prof. Lila Moitra (who was suffering from cancer), Prof.
Kajal Sengupta (Eliot, Chaucer), Prof. Debobir Dasgupta (Metaphysical Poetry), Prof. Jharna Sanyal
(Medireview), Gouri Ghosh (Antony and Cleopatra), Prof. Karuna Chakraborty (Tennyson), and
Prof. Arun Kumar Dasgupta (Metaphysical). During her time Prof. A.G. Stock came down to deliver
some lectures on Hamlet. A Re-union was held in 1981.
When Prof. Naskar became
an MPhil student in 1989, Prof. Sisir Kumar Das had become the Head
of the Department. She thankfully remembers the kind gestures on part of Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty,
who helped them with suggestions of essays, and Prof. Arun Kumar Dasgupta, who smilingly presided
over her seminar presentation by sitting in the first row without asking a single question.
By 1990, one finds that the
Department had inflated to include 32 teachers, with two posts for
Professors and one for Lecturer lying vacant. The teachers of the time included 3 Professors (Jyoti
Bhattacharya, Arun Kumar Dasgupta, Sisir Kumar Das), 5 Readers (Amitava Sinha, Dipendu
Chakraborty, Srobona Munshi, Sudeshna Khasnobis, Sona Ray), 5 Lecturers (Jharna Sanyal, Krishna
Sen, Surabhi Bannerjee, Amlan Dasgupta, Subhas Basu), and 19 Part-time Lecturers / Guest
Lecturers (Kajal Sengupta, Shanta Mahalanobis, Asoke Kumar Mukherjee, Subhadra Kumar Sen,
Abhijit Sen, Sukanta Chaudhuri, Aditi Dasgupta, Chidananda Bhattacharya, Nandini Das, Prabir Hui,
Bertram da Silva, Sunanda Sanyal, Mangala Gauri Ramani, Chitra Ray, Atish Ranjan Bannerjee,
Prodosh Bhattacharya, Ananda Lal, Tapati Gupta, Sanjukta Dasgupta).
VII.The Winds of Change [1990 - 2000]
1990s ushered in a flurry of activity within the Department
which were to lead to dynamic
changes, built upon the thrust provided by the developments both within and outside the Department in
the past few decades. Since economics and politics always affects culture, the changes in those arenas,
both at the micro and at the macro levels, certainly brought about some attitudinal changes to those
endearingly associated with the subject of Literature in English.
The decade also came with
rainbow hopes for West Bengal, and in comparison to the other two
decades that preceded it, this one did much to keep alive some of them and look forward to more.
Such a resurgent mood was certainly to affect the insiders of the Department and make them take
The effects were for all
to see – the senior scholars set the precedence for original thinking,
result that even the juniors joined hands in reading and publishing more articles and works; the
Department got a Centre for Translations, mainly due to the enthusiasm of Prof. Surabhi Bannerjee; a
thoroughly refurbished Post Graduate syllabus was unveiled in 1994, which tried to incorporate all the
new trends (which was modified again in 1999); keeping in mind the convenience of the students, the
examination procedure was divvided between Part I and Part II, to be held at the end of two
successive academic years; seminars and guest lectures became more frequent; the Mphil programme
became more and more well-composed; the Seminar Library got a new lease of life under Prof.
Sanjukta Dasgupta; the classrooms got equipments like microphones; the departmental rooms, the
Seminar Library, the room of the Head, and the common Staff Room got a new colourful look under
the ongoing renovation scheme of the State Government; and the former students gladly came forward
in giving permanence to the student-Department relationship by forming a registered forum for
exchange in the form of an Alumni Association.
When I joined the Department
as a Post Graduate student (alumnus 1994-96), Prof. Surabhi
Bannerjee was serving as the Head of the Department. Our’s was the first batch to enjoy the new
thoroughly revised syllabus, and to find relief in separation of the course into Part I and Part II, each of
one year duration, having four papers each. It was during our time that the syllabus incorporated an
optional paper on Indian Writing in English, and a 50 marks section on Literary Criticism from Aristotle
to the present time.
We were unlucky to miss Prof.
Jyoti Bhattacharya, who retired sometime before we started our
classes, and Prof. Tapati Gupta, whose area of assignment was yet not decided while reshuffling the
new syllabus. However, those of us sitting in the front rows, could savour to the fullest the high density
of content of prof Arun Kumar Dasgupta’s lectures on King Lear. Some other teachers were equally
brilliant in their areas – Prof. Krishna Sen (James Joyce, O’Neill, Miller, Literary Criticism), Prof.
Jharna Sanyal (Chaucer), Prof. Srobona Munshi (Metaphysical Poetry, Whitman), Prof. Dipendu
Chakraborty (Plays of Eliot and Becket, Literary Criticism), Prof. Subhas Basu (Hamlet, Bacon),
Prof. Sudeshna Khasnobis (Baudelaire), Prof. Shanta Mahalanobis (The Winters Tale), Prof. Amitava
Sinha (Dickens, Fielding, Twain), and Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta ( Emily Bronte, American Literature,
I shall also never forget
the lectures on Milton by Prof. Amlan Dasgupta, who taught us for sometime
before shifting to another university.
While Prof B.N. Seal was
very nice to know as a person, there were other exceptional Guest lecturers
too – Prof. Debi Prasad Bhattacharya of Kalyani University (Browning, Anand, Literary Criticism),
Prof. Deb Narayan Bannerjee of Burdwan University (Classics), Prof. Chidananda Bhattacharya of
Rabindra Bharati University (Group B), Prof. Ram Krishna Bhattacharya of City College (Keats), and
Prof. Kajal Sengupta of Presidency College (Congreve). We were to have three young part-timers too
– Prof. Tirtha Prasad Mukherjee, Prof. Anindo Basu Roy, and Prof. Shantanu Majumdar.
My friends and I had a grand
time both within and outside the classes. The repurcussions of our class
experiences often spilled over to our llocal hangouts – Rally’s, Rakha-Da’s canteen of CU,
Ratan-Da’s canteen of Presidency, Putiram’s, and the Coffee Houses of College Street and Central
Avenue. It was always a pleasure to spot some some our teachers – Prof. Debi Prasad Bhattacharya,
Prof. Jharna Sanyal, Prof. Deb Narayan Bannerjee, and Prof. Ram Krishna Bhattacharya – in the
Coffee House of the Hasting’s Mansion, after walking up the old eroded staircase of that building.
For me, there were other
innocent pleasures intimately associated with the Department too, as can
the case of any other student of any time – like walking up to the small portico adjoining Room # 28
(earmarked then for the American Literature classes) and having a grand view of the old colonial
buildings of the Medical College, slyly making portraits at times of teachers and fellow students in
between taking down notes, enjoying the smell of books of the College Street stalls suspended in the
humid air of the rainy season, and getting involved in singing sessions between classes and during off
periods. Such fervently felt moments cannot but be framed in one’s memories !
2000 was the year when the
headship changed hands from Prof. Krishna Sen to Prof. Sanjukta
Dasgupta in the month of June. Continuing over to the year 2001, we find that the Department has 5
Professors – Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty (Gooroodas Bannerjee Chair), Prof. Surabhi Bannerjee
(Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Academics), Prof Krishna Sen, Prof. Sudeshna Khasnobis, and Prof. Jharna
Sanyal – and 5 Readers – Prof. Srobona Munshi, Prof. Amitava Sinha, Prof. Sona Roy, Prof. Tapati
Gupta, and Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta. Gracing the posts of Lecturer are Prof. Sumita Naskar, Prof.
Shantanu Majumdar, and Prof. Tirtha Prasad Mukherjee.
The Department by 2000 had
much to feel good about – the Department was coming alive with
cultural activities; the Alumni Association was formed; a lot of seminars were taking place, including an
Inter-University Students’ Seminar; the Department had the regular presence of a Fulbright scholar (
Prof Huck Gutman of Vermont University followed his immediate predecessor Prof. Valerie Minor of
the University of Minneapolis); and most importantly, everybody in the Department were feeling happy
about the changes that were taking place.
Research Work in the Department
Researches are indicators
towards the original contribution of a particular department towards the
permanent knowledge base. In the metropolitan universities and in the universities of other developed
nations, research and other forms of original contribution are accorded the highest priority. So, for the
teaching community associated with such academia, it is a “publish or perish” scenario.
Sir Asutosh Mukherjee’s dream
was that the University would prove itself not just as an institution of
excellance in impartation of knowledge, but also through its quality of research. From his Convocation
Address in March, 1907, one finds it was his conviction that “…unless the University can show
substantial amount of research … the University can hardly be regarded as appraaching the realisation
of its ideal” (Development of PG Studies 2).
When Asutosh became the Vice-Chancellor,
Doctor’s degree in Medicine and Law were already in
existence. However, the University had to wait till 1908 to confer its first Doctorate degree in the
Liberal Arts and Sciences. As for the Department of English, it had to wait for another 10 years to
award Harendra Coomar Mukherjee with the coveted PhD degree.
While during the 1940s, the
Department used to offer the two doctorate degrees of DPhil and DLitt,
now in 2000-2001, it offers the two-year study-cum-research programme of MPhil and a full-fledged
research programme of PhD. It is interesting to note that even during the lean years of the Department
during the 1940s, those associated with the Department were carring out research activities – in 1943
alone, one DLitt and two DPhil degrees were awarded, one of the recipients of the DPhil degrees
being Srichandra Sen.
The MPhil programme was started
in the 1980s during the headship of Prof. Sisir Kumar Das. The
1988 batch produced 7 successful candidates and the 1989 batch produced 5; during 1990, 8
candidates were undergoing the course. The batch of 1997 had 8 candidates, of whom 4 submitted
their papers and 3 secured First Class; the other 4 have recently submitted their papers. For the
present batch (2000-2002), the number of candidates stand at 7.
Between 1974 and 1990, the
Department had conferred 33 candidates with the PhD degree. In 1990,
6 theses were under examination and 12 candidates were undergoing the programme.
Since the 1990s, the interest
in doing research seems to have increased a few folds, and now almost all
the senior teachers have their hands full with research scholars. These new scholars are exploring the
new areas of Postcolonialism, Culture Studies, Postmodernism, Feminism, Deconstruction, Indian
Writing in English, Commonwelth Literature, Indian Literature in Translation, and Third World
Literature, and also enthusiastically embarking on inter-departmental areas.
The Names Associated with the
Sir Gooroodas Bannerjee
Prof. Mohini Mohan Bhattacharya
Gooroodas Bannerjee, MA, DL, was the first Vice-Chancellor
of the University of Indian origin
(January 1, 1890 – January 1, 1893). Born in 1844, he graduated with BA from Presidency College,
Calcutta. He received his MA degree from the University of Calcutta in 1864. After getting his BL
degree, he joined the Calcutta High Court in 1872. In 1877, he became a Doctor of Law. In 1878, he
was appointed the Tagore Law Professor and he delivered lecture on “The Hindu Law of Marriage
and Stridhan.” He was honoured with the post of Puisne Judge of the Calcutta High Court in 1889. He
was a man who represented the best in typical Hindu culture. Gentle and liberal in his attitude, he
congratulated the first lady graduates in Arts and Medicine in 1891. In the very same year, he raised,
for the first time in the history of the University, the question of including vernacular languages and
literatures – like Bengali, Hindi and Urdu - as disciplines. He became a member of the Indian
Universities Commission of 1902. Like Asutosh, he was deeply attached to the University. He was
offered a PhD (Honoris Causa) by the University in 1908.
A Chair was instituted in
his name by the University during his birth centennary year of 1944-45.
first Professor to adorn it was Prof. Mohini Mohan Bhattacharya. The others who have followed are –
Prof. Amy Geraldine Stock, Prof. Amalendu Bose, Prof. K.C. Lahiri, Prof. Probodh Chandra Ghosh,
Prof. Bhabatosh Chatterjee, Prof. Jyoti Bhattacharya, and Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty.
Prof. Mohini Mohan Bhattacharya, MA, LLB, PhD, was the first
Sir Gooroodas Bannerjee Professor
of English (1945-1955). A brilliant scholar, he became a Premchand Roychand Student in 1918. He
received his PhD degree from the University in 1932 by working on “Platonism in Spenser.” A number
of his publications were “well-known” (Hundred Years 384).
When Prof. Subodh Chandra
Sengupta, himself a Premchand Roychand Student of 1928, was a Post
Graduate student (1924-26), Prof. Bhattacharya was a young part-timer dividing his time between the
High Court and the University. Within the University, he used to take his classes both at the Law
College and at the Dept. of Enlish. A storehouse of Greek and Elizabethan lore, he used to lecture
Prof. Sengupta and his contemporaries on Landor’s Imaginary Conversations and take them through
“Aesop and Rhodope”, “Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth” and “Calvin and Melanchton”.
Prof. Kajal Sengupta (alumna
1951-53) dearly remembers him as “a good man”, though slightly
“retiring in his nature”. His gentleness is manifest in the encouragement he provided to Ms. Sengupta
and her friends when they put up a play for the Department. Extremely serious about his classes, he
hardly used to absent himself. According to Ms. Sengupta, he was “a great Spenser man”.
In his memory, a Lectureship
was instituted in 1979, which was to be delivered every alternate year
an invited distinguished educationist. Prof. Subodh Chandra Sengupta inaugurated the series (1979), to
be followed by Prof. Srichandra Sen (1979), Prof. Amy Geraldine Stock (1981), Prof. John Carey
(1983), Prof. Kitty Scoular Datta (1985), Stephen Spender (1989), Ramen Sen, Arun Kumar
Dasgupta, David Lean, U.R. Annanthamoorthy, Jonathan Cook, and Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak
Cultural Activities, Journal, Trips, Symposiums and Seminars
The Department was a pioneer within the University in the
field of starting an academic journal pertaing
to the various areas of English literature and language. Now known as Journal of the Department of
English, it was previously known by the name of Bulletin of the Department of English. The students
too had their own journal, known as Ripples, which is now defunct and requires immediate revival.
Various Departmental trips
had been held from time to time, rejuvinating the spirits of the students
teachers of the time. During Prof. Ramen Sen’s time, a trip was organised to Jhargram. Another was
organised to Digha, when the students stayed up at the ‘Saikatabas’, during Prof. Jyoti Bhattacharya’s
time. In both of them, Prof. Kajal Sengupta took part heartily. In 1999, two trips were organised
under Prof. Somdatta Mandal to Darjeeling and Gangtok in May-June (in which I was a party to the
crowd) and to Waltare and the Araku Valley in December – both of them were immensely enjoyed by
the 1997-99 batch students.
The Department has always
played a host to the cultural vibrancy of its students and teachers. Its
students regularly takes part in the Inter-Departmental ‘Campus’ competition. Way back in the early
50s, an all-women play entitled ‘Everybody Comes to Mabel’ was staged by Prof. Kajal Sengupta
and her friends. It was appreciated by Prof. Mohini Mohan Bhattacharya and was later staged again at
the Governor’s House in Calcutta in presence of the then Governor, Dr. Harendra Coomar
Mookerjee. Besides the Re-union meets and the seminar on Rabindra Sangeet in the 60s, the
Department put up a beautiful two-drama programme in 1976. The dramas ‘Mudran Kanya’ and ‘Ekti
Abastab Galpo’ were both directed by Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty, and in the former, actor Anjan
Dutta played a role. They were held at Muktangan and were attended by Mrinal Sen, Bimal
Mukherjee, Rudraprasad Sengupta, Ajitesh Bannerjee, and Anup Kumar (Mrinal Sen liked the acting
of Anjan Dutta and through Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty approached him). Cultural activity followed in
1977 too, during the Tenth Re-union. On April 30, a gathering took place at the Parish Hall of St.
Paul’s Cathedral in which Swapan Gupta and Anjan Dutta sang, Asoke Mukherjee recited, and
Paramita Choudhury and Dwijen Bagchi put up a dramatic sketch. The main cultural programme was
held in the Asutosh Centenary Hall of the Indian Museum on May 1 with an opening song by Prof.
Manjusree Bhattacharya, a sarod recital by Prof. Bhupen Sil, and two plays - ‘The Private Year’ of
Peter Shaffer, directed by Prof. Shanta Mahalanobis ( in which Anjan Dutta was ‘Ted’); and
‘Parabas’ of Manoj Mitra, directed by Prof . Dipendu Chakraborty. During the Re-union of 1984, the
play ‘Antigone’, scripted by Anjan Dutta and directed by Prof. Dipendu Chakraborty was held at the
Centenary Hall of the University. It casted Chanda Dutta as Antigone and Dwijyen Bagchi as Creon.
Three students of the Department made it proud in 1997 by winning the prestigious Shakespeare Quiz,
organized by the British Council at Dalhousie Institute. In the year 2000, a play called ‘Measure,
Unmeasure’, written and directed by a student – Tuhin Sanyal – was well acclaimed and accepte by
the Shakespeare Millennium Archive at Staford upon Avon.
The 1990s also saw a series
of important seminars and symposiums. The centre for translations
brought over William Radice, Soumitra Chatterjee, Joy Goswami and Sunil Gangopadhyay from time
to time. Ketaki Kusari Dyson and Helen Cooper were invited over for delivering lectures. In 1995, a
National Seminar on Keats was held (in which as a student, I delivered the inaugural paper) to mark
the occasion of the bicentinnial of Keats’ birth. In 1995, Siddhartha Biswas and I represented the
University in the State Level Students’ Seminar on Keats at Visva Bharati. We were accompanied on
the occasion by Prof. Tirtha Prasad Mukherjee. In 1999, the students of the time, especially Debarati
Biswas and Mousumi Mukherjee, took the initiative to start a series of students’ seminars. The theme
of that year was “Shakespeare Today: Interpretations and Reinterpretations”. Prof. Shanta
Mahalanobis and Prof. Debi Prasad Bhattacharya presided over the functionalities and the universities
like Rabindra Bharati, Visva Bharati and Kalyani took part. In 2000, it was held on the theme of
“Popular Culture and Literature” with the universities of Jadavpur, Rabindra Bharati and Kalyani taking
part in the proceedings.
The Changing Perspective of Women in the Department
The women started entering
the Department as students by the mid 1920s. During Prof. Subodh
Chandra Sengupta’s time, they were so afraid of their male counterparts and so shy that they used to
enter the classes along with their teachers and leave with them too. By Samar Sen’s time, the students
had developed their own excuses, often cultural, to approach the ladies. The lady students, in spite of
that, continued to sit separtely within the classes for some more years.
Attitudes, however, were
changing fast. During the early 50s, we learn from Prof. Kajal Sengupta
mixed groups were forming. Her close coterie consisted of Sanat Bhattacharya (one year senior),
Krishna Bose (acdemician, MP), Benod Roy Choudhury, Rani Roy and Dhritikanto Lahiri Choudhury
(writer). Prof. Subodh Chandra Sengupta has related in his own humorous fashion a particular incident
to mark the changes: he had to pluck two students (Prof. Krishna Bose and Prof. Kajal Sengupta)
from the class when he found their gentle whispers to be louder than his voice (Actually, they were
unaware that their voice had risen that far because they had run into the class in sweltering heat and
were sweating all over).
Coming to the late 50s and
the 60s, we find that the number of lady students in the Department was
a rise, and some posts too were filled up by the likes of Prof, A.G. Stock, Prof. Nirmala Sinha, Prof.
Lila Moitra, Prof. Shanta Mahalanobis, and Prof. Kajal Sengupta herself. From the late 70s, however,
they became the majority and contributed profusely towards the development of the subject. The
number of female teachers within the Department was on the rise from the mid-60s and at present
stand larger in number than the male teachers. But more important than their numerical strength is the
fact that they have acquired by merit what was their due by keeping in stride with the changing
Some of the Teachers Who Have Served the Department
Prof. Henry Stephen, MA, DD, PhD, was a savant and saint
of the Church of Scotland who joined the
Department after serving in the Scottish Church College. He was a noted philosopher who wrote
Problems of Metaphysics. Asutosh appointed S. Rdhakrishnan in place of Prof. Seal at his
recommendation. He was to be the second University Professor of English (1919-27).
Heramba Chandra Moitra, the Principal of City College, had
the distinction of being made a
University Professor. A pious Brahmo and a devout theologian, he was an adoring pupil of Charles
Tawney. A staunch Puritan, he was steeped in Carlyle, Emerson and Wordsworth.
Prof. Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, who also had the distinction
of being a University Professor, was a
‘Presidency’ man. Heavily-built, of middle height, with round face, flat nose, twinkling eyes and baldish
head with a touch of grey, he used to come to the Department wearing a coat over his dhoti with a silk
shawl over his shoulders. He used to enter, flanked by the Presidency students, carring a ‘Gladstone’
bag in his hand. He used to negotiate the steps of the Asutosh Building (no lifts then), hurriedly and at
ease. An admiring student of Prof. Percival, he used to refer to him often, and the death of his mentor
brought tears to his eyes. He taught Chaucer and Shakespeare and used to become the characters. He
used to laugh heartily, and wanted the students to join in his tears and laughter, failing to comply to
which were betrayal.
Prof. Rajanikanta Guha, a nationalist and an associate of
Aswinikumar Dutta, had a record of political
suffering. He used to teach Prof. Subodh Chandra Sengupta and his fellow classmates the speeches of
Burke. With his armoury of words, including Bengali coinages like “eye-shame” and “one-housed”, he
carried out the second impeachment of Warren Hastings.
Prof. J.C. Ghosh, who used to teach the literature of the
Victorean era, went to Oxford to resume his
research on Otway. He edited for Clarendon Press the works of Otway, and wrote a history of
Bengali literature in English.
Prof. Kumudbandhu Roy was a brilliant student who stood first
in English in Matriculation,
Intermediate, BA and MA (both with first classes). He was a contemporary of J.C. Ghosh and
Subhashchandra Ray. He was matter-of-fact and so alert that it was difficult to catch him unawares.
He ran away from home to join the jatrawallahs (the roaming actors), and was later entrusted by his
brother to the care of the swadeshi leader Aswinikumar Dutta. Later, he joined the K.N. College,
Berhampore, to study English under Prof. E.M. Wheeler, arguably one of the best English professors
of the time along with Prof. H.M. Percival.
Prof. Joy Gopal Bannerjee, MA, the third University Professor
of English (1927-36) was the
professor of poetry. Short, thin, immaculately dressed in dhoti and kurta and a flowing shawl, with a
prickly moustache, sharp eyes, and pointed nose, he used to enter Asutosh Building with body stiff,
and his head erect. A typical principalled Brahmin, he was never prepared to lower his head before
anybody. He loved Romantic Poetry and wrote profusely on Shelly in the Calcutta Review. He was
the President of the Poetry Society of Calcutta till his death.
Harendra Coomar Mookerjee served the University in many capacities
– as Lecturer, Secretory,
Council of Post-Graduate Teaching in Arts, Inspector of Colleges, and University Professor of English
(1936-40). He became a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. He was a member of the
Constituent Assembly and also its Vice President. He died in harness as the Chancellor of the
University and as Governor of West Bengal. He made donations to his University from time to time of
the value of nearly Rs. 22,00,000.
Amy Geraldine Stock was the second Gooroodas Bannerjee Professor
of English from 1956.
She was the Head when Prof Kajal Sengupta joined the Department, and the the latter remembers the
former as a loving and extremely helpful lady. She was deeply committed to the well-being of the
Department and kept in touch with all the developments of it even after she went over to Somerset,
Prof. Nirmala Sinha, the mother of Prof. Amitava Sinha, was
a typical middle-class Bengali widow
who used to take her classes wearing her saree in the traditional, casual style. She used to teach fiction
and made a huge impression on her students by her command of English.
Amalendu Basu was lovable for his students because of his
digressions, which were very
illuminating. He was in favour of revolutionizing the syllabus and was able to do so. He introduced a
number of special papers including American Literature. He was also bold enough to think of taking in
young scholars in the Department – Prof. Srobona Munshi (nee Mukherjee) and Prof. Dipendu
Chakraborty were the first to be considered when it was decided to expand the number of sections
from one to two.
Prof. Probodh Chandra Ghosh was a romantically
bent person who used to teach Romanticism. He
loved acting and was always drawn to the “theatre” aspect of drama. He used to teach with his eyes
closed, to the effect that Prof. Kajal Sengupta and some of her friends got the chance one day to carry
on telephonic conversation through long pipes that she was carrying back home for her father. Prof.
K.C. Lahiri had the same habit of teaching with eyes closed and with similar catastrophic effect –
students used to enter or leave his classes at will, though he never used to mind.
Prof. Jyoti Bhattacharya was a noted Shakespearean and Renaissance
shcolar. He was an excellent
administrator who always made sure that the MA examinations were completed within a fortnight. In
1982, when a few chairs collapsed under the weight of students in the Ballugung Science College, he
immediately shifted the venue to the Hazra Law College from the next day. He was a member of the
Workers Party and became a Minister of Education of West Bengal during the United Front rule. He
helped in organising a trip to Digha. He came out of the jail to teach the batch of 1963 and had a
tremendous impact with his baritone voice. Another teacher who had a beatiful voice and used to
recite well was Prof. P. Lal.
Ramen Sen was a short, round, good-natured person. He was
soft-spoken and introvertish. But
Prof. Kajal Sengupta still remembers his gesture of helping her out when she slipped while walking
over the rocks in Jhargram. While bombs exploded in College Street, he used to lock the doors and
ask his students not to get frightened with his remark, “It doesn’t matter, my friends”, himself staying
absolutely calm and absorbed in his lecture.
The Distinguished Alumni
The Department has the distinction of churning out people
who have excelled in various walks of life. It
has produced historians, linguists, theatre and movie personalities, writers, journalists, lawyers,
administrative heads, politicians, cultural personalities and philosophers, besides academicians and
The names of its distinguished
alumni spells like who’s who: Sir Jadunath Sarkar (historian, Vice
Ch ancellor of the University of Calcutta), Jibanananda Das (poet), Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee
(linguist, philologist), Bishnu Dey (poet), Sisir Bhaduri (theatre and movie personality), Lila
Majumdar (writer, alumna 1928-30), Dr. Sushil Kumar De, Subho Ranjan Dasgupta (journalist),
Rama Prasad Mukherjee (lawyer), Samar Sen (poet, alumnus 1936-38), Amiya Chakraborty
(poet), Ashoke Mukhopadhyay (founder of ‘Theatre Workshop’), Achintya Kumar Sengupta,
Dharani Ghosh (theatre critic, journalist), Sisir Mukherjee (lawyer), Arun Bhattacharya (poet),
Chidananda Dasgupta ( film critic, alumnus 1942-44), Manasi Mukherjee (singer), Phani Bhusan
Chakraborty (lawyer), Rudraprasad Sengupta (founder of ‘Nandikar’), Neil O’Brian (quiz
personality, member of ICSE board, associated with Oxford University Press), Anjan Dutta (actor,
singer, movie director), Aloke Gupta (lawyer), Buroshib Dasgupta (journalist, publisher, alumnus
1975-77), Samik Bandopadhyay (theatre critic, academic, associated with Seagull and Oxford
University Press), Amal Bhattacharya, Krishna Bose (academic, MP, alumna 1951-53), Keya
Chakraborty (theatre personality), P. Lal (poet, caligraphist, founder of ‘Writers’ Workshop’),
Sankarlal Bhattacharya (journalist), Arun Kumar Das (lawyer), Swapan Gupta (singer), Ranjan
Bandopadhyay (journalist), Sriradha Bandopadhyay (singer), Amita Dutta (danseuse), Dhritikanto
Lahiri Chaudhury (writer, alumnus 1951-53), and Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak (philosopher,
academic, critique, alumna 1959-61: left half way), besides a lot of others.
The Millennial Promise:
The Future of the Department
Department is now poised at a critical juncture under the
headship of Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta.
The 90s have increased the expectations, and the Department too seems prepared to deliver a lot of
promises. As progressive in her outlook as her predecessors, her dream is to transform the
Department into a heated cauldron for academic and cultural activities, for administrative brilliance and
original thinking. She and the other respected teachers have been taking decisions which will reap rich
harvest in the years to follow. There are plans to augment the Seminar Library, modernize the syllabus
in due course of time, beautify the premises, increase the exposure of students to noted scolars through
seminars and symposiums, and encourage cultural and extra-curricular activities. The teachers of the
Department are also thinking seriously about the need of computers for the benefit of the students.
Besides the presence of Prof. Huck Gutman, a Fulbright scolar from Vermont University, Prof.
Jashodhara Bagchi and Prof. Meenakshi Mukherjee’s presence as Guest Lecturers would certainly
bring the students in close vicinity of scholars of eminence in the months to follow.
With globalisation having
opened up new prospects for those well up in their knowledge of English,
students of our Department stand a very good chance of roping in the opportunities. Their ability to
understand human relations and to organise group activities will certainly help them in various fields. All
they now need to do is to choose from the multiple vistas available – academics, administration,
advertisement, cultural pursuits, defence, fashion designing, interior decoration, journalism and media,
management, publishing, and transcription. However, whatever they do, their intimate association with
literature, fine-tuned by the Department, will always concretely help them in being affable and
empathetic beings who can share the radience of their heart with all their fellow creatures.
Bhattacharya, Debi Prasad. Interview [Over the phone]: Taken by Sujash
Bibliography of Doctorate Theses in Science and Arts Accepted by Indian
1943-45. The Inter University Board of India, 1946.
Bibliography of Doctorate Theses in Science and Arts Accepted by Indian
1950-52. The Inter University Board of India, 1953.
Chakraborty, Dipendu. Interview [Tête-à-tête]: Taken
by Sujash Bhattacharya. Calcutta: December,
Dasgupta, Buroshib. Interview [Over the phone]: Taken by Sujash Bhattacharya.
Dasgupta, Sanjukta. Interview [Over the phone]: Taken by Sujash Bhattacharya.
Convocation Addresses, University of Calcutta: 1858-1876. [Bound
Development of Post Graduate Studies in Arts and Letters in the University
1907-1948. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1949.
Hundred Years of the University of Calcutta: 1857 - 1956. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1957.
Lahiri, K.C. “Our Department.”Souvenir ’76: Department of English, Calcutta University. 1976.
Mukherjee, Sushil. “In Memorium.” Souvenir ’76: Department of English,
Naskar, Sumita. Interview [Over the phone]: Taken by Sujash Bhattacharya. Calcutta: January, 2001.
Sen, Prasanta Kumar. Interview [Over the phone]: Taken by Sujash Bhattacharya.
Sen, Samar. “Looking Back – Without Nostalgia.” Souvenir: Tenth Re-union
1977, Dept. Of
English, Univ. of Calcutta. 1977.
Sen Gupta, Subodh Chandra. “Dotage and Anecdotage.”Souvenir: Tenth Re-union
1977, Dept. Of
English, Univ. of Calcutta. 1977.
Sengupta, Kajal. Interview [Tête-à-tête]: Taken by Sujash Bhattacharya. Calcutta: November, 2000
Supplement: Journal of the Department of English. Vol. XXIV. No.1. Calcutta:
Posted on the web by Huck Gutman, Professor of English at the University of Vermont (USA) and Fulbright Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Calcutta, 2000-2001.