Nirad C. Chudhary (23rd Nov, 1897-01st Aug, 1999) was a great Indian scholar of English language and literature. He was a well-read person and claimed that he had read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ two hundred times.
Apart from English, he knew Bengali, Hindi, Latin, Greek, French, German and Sanskrit languages and their literature too. He had an Honors Degree in History, but he couldn’t complete his Post-Graduation as he was too busy in reading English Poetry then.
The encyclopedic range of knowledge that he had was well-suited for a professor’s job, but without being a post-graduate, he had to satisfy himself with a clerk’s meagre income, and afterwards, a journal editor, a private secretary, a news writer etc.
Among eight children of his family he was the most unfortunate. In his brothers, there were advocates, doctors, engineers and his sisters were wealthy homemakers while Nirad had to hide himself from creditors being unable even to pay for the books of which he was addicted.
Though, he got the chance of promotion in his clerical job, but during his study leave he read ‘The Scholar Gypsy’ of Matthew Arnold and it influenced him so much that he chucked up the promotional examination and decided to go on the road of Scholasticism.
As the fate decided, he went through many odd jobs, some of them were congruent with his literary taste and some of them were just a way to make the ends meet. Yet, he never stopped his reading and writing.
In 1951, he published his autobiography ‘The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian’, and it stirred the whole social-political scenario of India. Mr. Chaudhary was no more unknown now. But it wasn’t very fruitful for him instantly. He was compelled to take retirement from AIR (All India Radio), at the age of 55, without any gratuity and termination benefit.
He was in a forced penury then. At this time, the French Ambassador in India offered him the editorship of embassy’s English bulletin. And thus, when he started writing in French embassy, the BBC offered him a sponsored trip to Europe of eight weeks in which five weeks were to be spent in London, in exchange of a series of talk on that country. It was in 1955.
So, it was his maiden visit to England and whatsoever he knew erstwhile about England was roughly through books. Although, he gave talks to BBC but after returning India he wrote this travelogue.
The book is divided in 4 parts among 26 chapters. He was surprised to see the British were living up to their literature that he hadn’t expected. He was a staunch Anglophile and this statement in the book proves it –
“ In that short space of time, I saw more paintings, statues, work of Arts in general, more plays, fine buildings, gardens and beautiful landscapes; heard more poetry and music, ate and drink better; and all together had a more exciting and interesting time than in all the rest of my life. Hardly less important is the fact that among all these things were a great many that I had longed to see since my boyhood.”
He had studied about Britain so much that he often told routes to taxi drivers while roaming in London.
Mr. Chaudhary says that London is historical and young at the same time. London is so big and complex that most visitors can get lost in it- physically and intellectually. He visited Rome and Paris also and tried to go to every museum and art exhibition there.
He was very keen of studying sculptures, architectures, artifacts, operas, wines and behavior. He wrote about these things comparatively from India’s social, political and cultural habits.
Mr. Chaudhary perceived the British as taciturn often. They aren’t in the habit of starting a conversation just out of curiosity or boredom, according to him. At one place, he compares that living in the tropics we (Indian) like to relax, lose control of our appearance and behavior, and thus create differences through our failure to keep the track while the people of the west are braced up by the cold to exercise greater with power in casting themselves in a uniform mould.
The English men do not disclose their position to the world or how much money they own/earn. And with a comparison, he clarifies that our (Indian) religiosity covers every aspect of money making, including the dishonest and violent. But England, to him, appeared like a country of easy-money but in a moralistic way. How far it is true now, I can’t be sure.
Spending is the positive urge of the British and saving, the corrective – the English people have always desired a much more generous thing and that is ‘style in living’. As money-making is a serious pursuit in Indian life, contrary to this, Mr. Chaudhary observed, ‘Love’ is the primary motivation of European people in life. In regard to Love, Hindu society and the Western society stand at opposite poles. I think i would have to read about this more to know what is actually true now.
Talking about Shakespeare he says that Shakespeare is an amusement in England (seeing the celebration and commercialization at Stratford-upon-Avon) while he is a culture in India.
Another aspect of the British life is that, as described by Mr. Chaudhary, they take a lot of pleasure in visiting country houses, museums, theaters, parks, gardens and exhibitions, and in this way, they try to glorify and to keep in touch with their inheritance.
He has also given his thoughts on European politics. According to him, the British politics has achieved its saturation point where they no longer can strive for any radical change-it’s a state of equilibrium.
The well-fare state there has erased almost all inequalities and gave freedom to all. Their urbanization plan for the industrial worker was far better than any colony here allotted for Indian Civil Servants.
In politics, India has to go a long run yet to achieve that equilibrium dealing with every type of inequalities waiting at every nook and corner of the country. So, politics is very important for India; as Mr. Chaudhary has put it, “India without politics is a bare expanse of pelly worldliness while England without politics is by far the most attractive part of Europe.”
English people are very serious about religion. There, the so called upper-class are more religious than the common people, as perceived by Mr. Chaudhary, while in India, the situation is exactly opposite. Here, religion belongs to people and the upper classes boast of their irreligiosity.
A great thing, he described while comparing the religion, that Indian drags their religiosity up to politics where they can worship some politicians like God- I saw a clip in which an Indian was worshipping Trump- the first politician who tasted such adoration was Nehru, and in the present time you can observe who it is, I just wonder what a clear view Mr. Chaudhary had.
So, that was about ‘A Passage To England’ in brief, as far as I think it is the first travelogue of Europe in the modern age written by an Indian, such an Indian who was always berated by his contemporaries as ‘Anti-nationalist’ and ‘Pro-British’, but he never gave a damn about it.
Mr. Chaudhary always considered himself as a cosmopolitan. Though, he was a born writer, but it took much to prove his genius. In 1970, he was offered to live in London permanently where he remained till his death. He lived for more than 101 years. his last book ‘Three Horseman of the New Apocalypse’ was published in 1997 when he was of 98, and it is a record in writing world even today.
It is possible that many people can avoid this book as an obsolete piece of literature, but, for me, it was like a great opportunity. Mr. chaudhary’s command over English is marvelous. Every now and then he put poems by classical poets and sometimes uses French and Latin that was surely not for me, I am ignorant of the both. His tone is often sarcastic.
P.S. – The photos are borrowed from Internet owing full credit to the original creator/owner.
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