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Nirad C. Chaudhuri

Nirad C. Chaudhuri (23 November 1897 1 August 1999) was a Bengali Indian writer and a commentator on culture. He was born in Kishoreganj, then in the Mymensingh district of East Bengal (formerly East Pakistan, now Bangladesh).

His life

He was educated in Kishorganj and Calcutta (presently Kolkata). For his FA (school leaving) course he attended the Ripon College along with famous Bengali writer Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. Thereafter, he attended the Scottish Church College, Calcutta, where he studied history as his undergraduate major. He graduated with honors in history and topped the University of Calcutta merit list obtaining a first class first, which was a rare distinction in those days. At Scottish, he attended the seminars of renowned historian Professor Kalidas Nag. Later after graduation, he enrolled for the M.A. level course at the University of Calcutta. He did not attend all of his final exams of the M.A. programme, and therefore did not earn his M.A. degree.

His major works

His masterpiece, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian published in 1951, put him on the short list of great Indian English writers. He courted controversy in the newly independent India in the dedication of the book itself which ran thus:


To the memory of the British Empire in India,
Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
But withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
"Civis Britannicus sum"
Because all that was good and living within us
Was made, shaped and quickened
By the same British rule.

The dedication, which was actually a mock-imperial rhetoric, infuriated many Indians, particularly the political and bureaucratic establishment. "The wogs took the bait and having read only dedication sent up howls of protest", commented Chaudhuri's friend, the editor, historian and novelist Khushwant Singh. Chaudhuri was hounded out of government service, deprived of his pension, blacklisted as a writer in India and forced to live a life of penury.



Although his autobiography was a brilliant attempt at a subaltern view of Indian history, the free and forthright views of Chaudhuri were not appreciated by the political establishment. Soon after publishing that book, he had to give up his job as a political commentator in All India Radio as the Government of India promulgated a law that prohibited employees from publishing memoirs.

In 1955 the British Council and the BBC jointly made arrangements to take him to England for eight weeks. He was asked to contribute lectures to the BBC. He contributed eight lectures on British life. Later these lectures are collected in the Passage to England modified and edited. E.M Forster reviewed it in The Times Literary Supplement. It is his largest selling book to date.

His 1965 masterpiece The Continent of Circe earned him the Duff Cooper Memorial Award, which was a rare honour for an Indian writer as he was the first, and still the only Indian, to be selected for the prize. In the board V.S Naipal was there to appreciate Chaudhuri's work for its insightness.In the prize giving ceremony he opined that a writer only can play the role of a Ganesha.
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