Ascetic scientist

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray's was a life of genuine celibacy and tranquil serenity. This illustrious savant of Bengal came into the world a century ago. The year 1861 is indeed memorable in the history of awakening India, for that year Mother India gave birth to three mighty sons. Pandit Motilal Nehru's name will shine perpetually, not only as Jawaharlal's illustrious father, but more for his part in the freedom movement of India. Tagore, the International Figure, poet, artist and mystic, is an ever-lasting name. Prafulla Chandra Ray's contribution to the world of chemistry is magnificent.

Ray's very name awakes an unflagging zeal, an arduous tapasya in the hearts of indolent and ease-loving Bengali youths. His great sacrifice is familiar to Bengalis of all ages. He carried out his self-imposed duties … propagating the principles of chemistry, he fought like a giant in the atmosphere of bondage in a poverty-stricken country. In him we find a superb scientist, industrialist and educationalist. In the fields of politics and social reform, too, he had a helping hand. But he always wanted to remain behind the silent curtain of anonymity. Many of his pupils have become great in the world of chemistry. As he was the pioneer, he had to fight against stupendous odds. However, his contribution to the history of chemical science is highly original. Among his dear pupils, nay, his intellectual heirs, Meghnad Saha, Nilratan Dhar and Jnanendra Chandra Ghosh have won world-renown.

No doubt, Ray cannot be classed with Newton, Faraday, and such others. But in his case the most striking achievement is this: that he held the banner of science and marched through the stormy night of India's prolonged bondage under foreign yoke.

It is quite interesting to note that J.C. Bose and P.C. Ray were life-long friends. For about thirty years they worked side by side. They inspired and appreciated each other highly. These two eminent personalities — Jagadish Chandra and Prafulla Chandra — were also ardent adorers of Bengali literature.

"The Laboratory of Sir P.C. Ray is the nursery of the young chemists of New India." Such was the tribute paid to him by the well-known French scholar Sylvain Levi.

Prof. Sir William Ramsay, at the end of a lecture by P.C. Ray at the Chemical Society in Burlington House, London, said, "We had the privilege and pleasure of listening tonight to that eminent Indian chemist whose name is already familiar to us for his most interesting researches on nitrates, and who, unaided, has kept the torch burning for years in that ancient land of civilisation and learning."

In 1901 he founded the Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works with a sum of Rs. 800. It has now an authorised capital of Rs. 34 lakhs. And we are not to forget his firm conviction that there is no royal road to success. He sowed the seed, we now reap the fruit thereof.

Like Tagore, he too was knighted. On the occasion of his receiving Knighthood, Sir W. J. Pope in his capacity as President of the Chemical Society congratulated him thus:

"It is the sincere hope of the members of the Council that you may long be spared to continue your unique work in connection with the development of chemical research in India."

Dr. P.C. Ray (A.D. Sc. of Edinburgh), when he came to attend a conference in Madras, was asked how many children he had. He took out of his pocket a long list of seventy-three, all of them his eminent pupils. He loved them more dearly than he could ever have loved his own children if he had had any.

Rabindranath said of him that Dr. Ray was a living illustration of ekoham vahusyam (I am alone, I want to be many). Truly has Ray diffused his own being among his intimate disciples — his love of science, his love of free Indian culture, his love of country.

Finally, we can say that his was the life that perfectly synthesised the nobility of character of ancient Indian sages, and the love of equality of the West.