The Bengal Tiger

Can a University rank high among the greatest Universities of the country by the ceaseless toil and unflagging zeal of a single individual? Sir Ashutosh Mukherji's life is a reply in the affirmative to such a question. The name and fame of Calcutta University would not have extended far beyond its own jurisdiction but for Ashutosh. His stupendous sacrifice was not for personal name and fame. He realised the fact that in serving the University alone, to the best of his capacity, he could be a devoted child of Mother Bengal. He became sacrifice itself in order to adorn the University with unprecedented glory.

It is from him that his brothers and sisters of Bengal came to learn that, though under foreign yoke, they were not under foreign tongue. The Bengali language had to come to the fore. That Bengali is taught even in the highest course, — i.e., in M.A. and the postgraduate studies which he introduced for the first time in the University — is due to his prodigious labour extending over years. Come what may, ever a "view-changer" was he. The education he sought to impart in the University was not the so-called education stamped with official approval by our alien rulers. The education he desired to give — rather, gave — was well calculated to foster in the student community the innate sense of true dignity, manhood, and individuality. Neither was he unaware of the fact that eminent scholars of foreign countries had to be brought to the University to impart to the students an education of a very high order. And in this connection his far-flung invitation did not go in vain. The world-renowned Paul Vinogradoff from Russia; one of the foremost oriental scholars, Sylvain Levi, from France; the great Oldenburg from Germany; from England, Thomas, having an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Eastern lore; and many others from foreign shores who were truly eminent in the several walks of life came to Bengal to add to the glory of Calcutta University.

Ashutosh himself was a well-stored mind and a well-arranged intellect. Vast was his learning, broad was his scholarship, unrivalled was he as a debater. Amazingly, he won the P.R.S. (Premchand-Roychand Studentship), which was then the most coveted academic distinction in Bengal.

The milk of human kindness overflowed in him. During his incumbency as the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, he once happened to notice that a boy was failed in one subject by one point only. Thereupon he sent for the Head Examiner and made a personal request to him to re-examine the paper of the student and see if he deserved to get one mark more, remarking that the fate of a whole family might depend on this one point. To the joy of Ashutosh the boy easily obtained even more than one point. This shows the magnanimity of his heart and the wide view of things that he was wont to take.

When his fame had already spread far and wide, once, at Patna, a motor driver who drove him to his destination invited Sir Ashutosh to dinner at his humble cote, hardly believing that his request would be complied with. In the evening he failed to believe his eyes when he saw Sir Ashutosh come for dinner. The driver treated the illustrious son of Bengal with a dinner to the best of his ability, and Ashutosh's heart gave a throb of joy to receive such an unostentatious but cordial reception.

That he was an all-rounder is clear from the fact that when he was a student of the F.A. class he committed to memory all the books of Paradise Lost that had been prescribed for the class, though his forte was mathematics.

Surprise awaits us at the very start of the career of this great son of Bengal. He became the examiner of mathematics at M.A. level the very year after obtaining his own M.A. degree with the highest scholarship. The mathematician in him gradually developed much originality in solving some problems. Later, his feats of cleverness were highly appreciated not only in his own province but also at Cambridge. Mere appreciation of his originality was not sufficient for Cambridge. They embraced him as a member of a Mathematical Association there. The solutions that he offered are known as Mookerjee's Theorems.

Now let us pin our attention on his indomitable spirit. Once he had to visit Aligar as a member of the University Commission. On his way back, while he was travelling in the First Class compartment, an English military officer, who was a co-traveller, threw Mukherji's indigenous shoes off the train out of contempt while he was napping. On awakening, Ashutosh found his shoes missing and the officer sleeping, but he could see through the whole matter. He in no time threw out the coat of the military officer. When the officer woke up, he made an enquiry about his costly coat, to which Ashutosh's bold heart voiced forth, "Your coat has gone to fetch my shoes."

Still more bold was his conduct when he defied the request of Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, on the strength of his fathomless devotion for his mother. Lord Curzon made a request to Sir Ashutosh to pay a visit to England so that the Britons could see a specimen of the scholars produced by British education in India. As his mother would not allow her son to cross the seas, Ashutosh had to decline the request of the Governor-General of India. At this Lord Curzon wrote:

"Tell your mother the Viceroy and Governor-General of India commands her son to go."

The Bengal Tiger showed not the slightest trace of fear. The citadel of strength replied: "Then I will tell the Viceroy and Governor-General of India that Ashutosh Mukherji refuses to be commanded by any other person except his mother, be he Viceroy or be he somebody higher still."

The French scholar Sylvain Levi's words reverberate in our heart: "Had this Bengal Tiger been born in France, he would have exceeded even Clemenceau, the French Tiger. Ashutosh had no peer in the whole of Europe."