How to hail Chitta Ranjan? To honour him as a Vaishnava to the marrow, a highly literary figure, a politician of the front rank, a man endowed with oratorical gifts, an unrivalled Bar-at-Law, a potential leader, a hero who knew what fighting means, is in no way adequate. The most befitting epithet for this unique personage would be “Deshabandhu” [the friend of the country] for his unstinted sacrifice for his country and countrymen.
Rare is the man whose life far exceeds his great achievements. Also rare is the man whose message to the world is his life itself. But in the life of Deshabandhu we find a rare combination of both these high qualities.
Chitta Ranjan had been to England to sit for the Indian Civil Service. Unfortunately, nay, fortunately, he headed the list of the unsuccessful. Had he won the “Heaven-Born Service”, he would certainly have become a civil servant. And who could guarantee that he would not have exerted his unusual power to climb to the highest rung of the ladder? And if he had done so, how could opportunity have knocked at his door and asked him to mix with and work for his countrymen whom he so sincerely loved? What Providence wished from Chitta Ranjan was a great service to his Motherland. The devoted son was ever confident of his Motherland’s brightest future. His deep patriotism gave a significant meaning and purpose to the exalted glory of India all over the world. It happened that during his stay in that foreign land a meeting was once held at Oldham under the Presidentship of Gladstone. In a speech on “Indian Agitation”, Chitta Ranjan’s tone and expression left no doubt that he was a citadel of strength:
Gentlemen, I was sorry to find it given expression to in Parliamentary speeches on more than one occasion that England conquered India by the sword and by the sword she must keep it! (Shame.) England, gentlemen, did no such thing. It was not her sword and bayonet that won this vast and glorious empire; it was not her military valour that achieved this triumph. (Cheers.) England might well be proud of it. But to attribute all this to the sword and then to argue that the policy of the sword is the only policy that ought to be pursued is to my mind absolutely base and quite unworthy of an Englishman. (Hear, hear.)
The years 1907 and 1908 shall shine perpetually in the history of Bengal. The current of true patriotism simply inundated the four frontiers of the province. On the fourth of May, 1908, in the small hours of the morning, Sri Aurobindo was arrested, and soon he was considered to be the supreme leader of the firebrand revolutionaries. The two significant features of the Alipore Bomb Case were the unexpected acquittal of Sri Aurobindo and C.R. Das’s swift flare-up into fame. Das was then a junior counsel. Bhupal Bose, the father-in-law of Sri Aurobindo, appointed Byomkesh Chakravarti to defend his son-in-law. The old man dismissed Das as a child, saying, “I should not commit the charge of the case of my son-in-law to a younger counsel.”
But somehow Chitta Ranjan Das felt an inner urge to participate in the defence of Sri Aurobindo, his dear friend, whom he had first met in England. In those days, he used to communicate with the spirit-world with the help of a planchette. One day a particular message was received by him repeatedly.
“You must defend Arabinda.” To the query who he was, the reply came, Upadhyaya. Requested to be more explicit, the “spirit” replied: Brahma bandhava upadhyaya [a fire-soul of patriotism]. From that day on, it became quite clear to Chitta Ranjan that he would have to conduct the Alipore Bomb Case.
Meanwhile, for some reason or other, the counsel Byomkesh Chakravarti was dispensed with and C.R. Das was called in.
On this occasion Sri Aurobindo’s sister, Sarojini Ghosh, played a significant role in saving her brother. She raised subscriptions and even begged from door to door, appealing to the very rickshaw drivers and the coolies who, on their part, never failed to respond to her throbbing appeal. At last, on the 18th of August, 1908, in /Bande Mataram,/ she issued the following appeal:
I am sincerely grateful to my countrymen and countrywomen of different provinces, creeds and grades of society for their kind response to my appeal for funds for the defence of my brother, Srijut Aurobindo Ghosh. The time has now come to engage a counsel to defend him in the Court of Sessions.
Perhaps the public have not hitherto had any accurate idea of the probable expenses of my brother’s defence. My legal and other advisers tell me that the amount required would not fall short of sixty thousand rupees. But only twenty-three thousand rupees have been received up to date.
May I not hope that the balance will be received shortly?...
Deshabandhu’s love and affection for Sri Aurobindo will be evident from the following incident. When some of the friends of Sri Aurobindo made a fervent request to him to conduct the case to the best of his ability, he was deeply pained:
Am I less anxious than any of you to get Aurobindo released?
On another occasion he said that while defending Aurobindo he felt that he himself was the accused and he was arguing his own case. What a sense of identification he developed with his intimate friend!
While closing the Alipore Bomb Case, he made a short and eloquent speech. His prophetic voice will ring in the ears of posterity for all time:
...My appeal to you is this — that long after this turmoil, this agitation will have ceased, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India but across distant seas and lands....
Let us here leave Sri Aurobindo to speak about the loving sacrifice of C.R. Das and the divine mystery involved in the matter.
He came unexpectedly — a friend of mine, but I did not know he was coming. You have all heard the name of the man who put away from him all other thoughts and abandoned all his practice, who sat up half the night day after day for months and broke his health to save me — Srijut Chitta Ranjan Das. When I saw him, I was satisfied, but I still thought it necessary to write instructions. Then all that was put away from me and I had the message from within, ‘This is the man who will save you from the snares put around your feet. Put aside those papers. It is not you who will instruct him. I will instruct him.’ From that time I did not of myself speak a word to my counsel about the case or give a single instruction, and if ever I was asked a question, I always found that my answer did not help the case. I had left it to him and he took it entirely into his hands, with what result you know.
Sister Nivedita was one among those who highly appreciated the rare sacrifice made by Chitta Ranjan in the interests of Aurobindo. She said, “I knew you to be great, but did not know that you are so great.” She then pinned a dark red rose into the buttonhole of Chitta Ranjan’s coat.
“A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman of the next generation.” (James Freeman Clarke) This pleasant-sounding statement cannot be applied to patriot-politicians like C.R. Das. “With me,” says he, “work for my country is no imitation of European politics. It is a part of my religion. It is a part and parcel of all the idealism of my life.”
When his only son Chira Ranjan was eagerly prepared to go to jail for the country, his relatives and friends advised Chitta Ranjan to dissuade him from doing so. At this Chitta Ranjan was more than angry with them. “When will you understand this simple truth, that I must send my own son to jail first and then only am I entitled to invite the Bengali youths to launch into the service of the Motherland?” More surprise awaits us. A deep and tranquil smile played upon his eyes the moment he heard that his wife Basanti Devi and his sister Urmila Devi were asked to step into the police station, for he realised that the hour of victory was fast approaching.
His sense of duty: his father, Bhuvan Mohan Das, had declared insolvency. Nobody could lay any claim on his debt, and according to the British Law the son was exempt from being charged. But the deepest sense of duty in the devoted son Chitta enjoined him to free his father. When a sum of Rs. 75,000 was made over to clear off the father’s debt, Justice Fletcher, with a heart full of admiration for Chitta Ranjan’s unprecedented deed, declared, “An act of this kind is not to be seen even in Europe.” Soon after this momentous event took place, his aged father died.
Chitta Ranjan had a helping hand even in social reform. The deplorable condition of Indian widows cut him to the quick. He made bold to say that it is mere stupidity on our part either to force the widows to marry once again, or make them practise celibacy the rest of their lives. According to him, it is to the widows that the chance should be given to choose their future state and not to the so-called social reformers.
Untouchability was altogether foreign to his nature. He failed to put up with the haughtiness of the higher-class people. He utterly disdained their merciless conduct towards the low. His sympathetic heart voiced forth: “Next time, how I wish to take birth among the untouchables and devote myself to their service!”
I am now tempted to relate an interesting as well as arresting incident which will display Chitta Ranjan’s love and reverence for Sri Aurobindo. Deshabandhu was then the Editor of a popular periodical, Narayan. Nolini Gupta had sent a contribution entitled Arter Adhyatmikata (Spirituality in Art)2 from Pondicherry for publication in 1917. Chitta Ranjan was enamoured of the article and was certain that the actual writer could be nobody else save Sri Aurobindo, covering himself with a pseudonym, for the word “Nolini” also means “lotus”, just as “Aurobindo” means “lotus”. “Gupta” means “hidden” and was taken to be the indication of Sri Aurobindo’s living incognito. Considering that it was no longer necessary for Sri Aurobindo to remain hidden from public view, he published the said article under the name of Aurobindo Ghosh instead of Nolini Gupta. Soon after, Sri Aurobindo wrote to his dear friend Chitta that he was not the writer of that article, but that there was actually one among his associates in flesh and blood bearing the name Nolini Gupta. Of course, at present Nolini Gupta needs no introduction.
1925 — Deshabandhu left the earth. The Master-Seer of the Age, from his silence-hushed Ashram, telegraphed a message to a daily journal that had wired for a comment. “Chitta Ranjan’s death is a supreme loss. Consummately endowed with political intelligence, constructive imagination, magnetism, a driving force combining a strong will and uncommon plasticity of mind for vision and tact of the hour, he was the one man after Tilak who could have led India to /Swaraj./”
Tagore’s glorious tribute to the mighty departed soul runs:
With thee came down the immortal breath.
This thou booned us with thy body’s death.3
“Time,” says Gandhi, “cannot efface the memory of a man so great and good as Deshabandhu. At this time of trial for the nation, there is no Indian who does not feel the void created by his death.”
Bengal suffered a tremendous blow. Deshabandhu was a man of fifty-five when Death snatched him away. His life was a short, but a very full and busy one. Even those who did not know him at close range felt his death as a personal loss.