Some explorations and beyond translations
Bibek Debroy | 03 Jun, 2019
Manmatha Nath Dutt – IV
In Bengali, Jnanendra Kumar wrote a multi-volume collation titled “vamsha-parichay”. This translates in English as description of lineages and is essentially a description of the lineages of zamindars. Published from the closing decades of the nineteenth century to the first couple of decades of the twentieth, this collation is extremely difficult to get hold of. In the seventeenth volume, there is a reference to Kashinath Dutta. We are told he died at the relatively young age of 32 and that he was so generous that after he died, the citizens demanded a road in Tala be named Kashinath Dutta in his memory. The eleventh volume mentions a Brahmo youth named Kashinath Dutta. It is certainly possible that there was more than one Kashinath Dutta. But it is much more plausible that the two Kashinath Duttas, both from the Hatkhola Dutta lineage, were identical. He is the one who was Subhas Chandra Bose’s great grandfather. He is the one who signed the petition on remarriage of widows. He is the one after whom the road was named. And since he was a Brahmo, if Manmatha Nath Dutt was descended from him, this is how Manmatha Nath Dutt came to marry into a Brahmo family and have that connection through Keshub Academy. In the Jnanendra Kumar collation, in the sixth volume, there is a stray reference to Manmatha Nath Dutt. We are told Manmatha Nath Dutt’s son was Lalbihari Dutt and that Manmatha Nath Dutt was descended from the Hatkhola Dutt family. We are also told Lalbihari Dutt was Shibnarayan Basu’s daughter’s son. Therefore, Manmatha Nath Dutt was married to Shibnarayan Basu’s daughter. This bit of circumstantial evidence, for what it is worth, suggests Manmatha Nath Dutt was also a zamindar from the Hatkholka Dutta family and the road in Belgachia was accordingly named after him. It is by no means certain that the two Manmatha Nath Duttas are the same. But it is extremely likely that they were. How many Manmatha Nath Duttas from the Hatkhola family were floating around? He was probably the Bhupati in Tagore’s novella. “Bhupati had inherited a lot of money and generous ancestral property, so it was quite natural if he didn`t bother to work at all…He had founded an elite English newspaper and that was how he decided to cope with the boredom that his riches and time, which was endlessly at his disposal, brought to him.” From the Subhas Chandra Bose autobiography, Kashi Nath Dutta’s son was Ganga Narayana Dutta. There is a Ganga Narayan Dutta Lane in the Beadon Street area. Ganga Narayana Dutta is said to have had two sisters and one brother, Gyanendra Nath Dutta. Might it be the case that the count is incomplete? As unsubstantiated speculation, might it be the case that Manmatha Nath Dutt was Kashinath Dutta’s son? Might it be the case that father and son had roads named after each other in close proximity? Or was Manmatha Nath Dutt Ganga Narayana Dutta’s son, with that count being incomplete? The time-lines fit for either possibility. The Dutta family and its descendants were all over the place in Calcutta and many localities and roads were named after them. The surname Dutta is spelt in different ways in English. However, for Manmatha Nath Dutt, let’s stick to the way he spelt it. Though descendants have traced branches of the family tree, some branches have still been left dangling and the tree isn’t complete. Manmatha Nath Dutt is part of one of those missing links.
There is a Bengali website known as “abasara” (leisure). It seems to have antecedents in an older version that was a monthly magazine, also known as “abasara”. An old listing of Bengali magazines tells us the editor of “abasara” from 1314-17 was Nabakumara Dutt, from 1317 to 1321 it was Surenchandi Dutt, from 1321 to 1322 it was jointly Lalbihari Dutt and Sharacchandra Ghosh and from 1322 to 1323 it was Sharachhandra Ghosh. Note that these are years as per the Bengali calendar. Therefore, 1314 is 1908 and 1323 is 1917. Writing on the “absara” website on 30th August 2016, Dilip Das gave us an account of what the old “absara” was like. The first issue was printed in 1904 and the last issue was printed around 1917. Like Manmatha Nath Dutt, we know nothing about the first editor, Nabakumar Dutt. He died in 1912 and his son, Surenchandi Dutt took over. However, Surendchandi Dutt also died early, when he was only twenty-three years old. Therefore, in 1915, Surenchandi Dutt’s paternal uncle (his father’s younger brother), Lalbihari Dutt replaced him. And he was succeeded by Sharacchandra Ghosh, someone outside the family. In other words, Nabakumar Dutt was Manmatha Nath Dutt’s brother’s son and both paternal uncle and nephew died in the same year, 1912. That’s a bit of a coincidence. Dilip Das makes a comment about this old magazine. It was not only neutral. It was indifferent to the events that went on, all around. It completely ignored them, especially stuff that was political. This was also true of Manmatha Nath Dutt and his writings too. The uncle/father wrote in English, the nephew/son wrote in Bengali. But they shared this trait. Jnanendra Kumar’s collations also tell us that a zamindar named Lalbihari Dutt spent a lot on public works, though Manmatha Nath Dutta’s name doesn’t figure in that context.
In the initial years, Manmatha Nath Dutt gave his address as Beadon Street or Nayan Chand Dutt Street. But later, such as in the 1904 Metaphysics book, his address shifted to Baranagar. The addresses mentioned as Manmatha Nath Dutt’s addresses are: (1) 65/2 Beadon Street; (2) 40 Nayan Chand Dutt Street; (3) 3 Furriapukur Street; and (4) Elysium Bower, Baranagore. Elysium Bower was clearly the name of a house and Baranagore is too broad an area to pin it down in any way. A minor point about Keshub Academy though. Normally, though not invariably, Manmatha Nath Dutt described himself as the Rector of Keshub Academy. The Kesub Academy in question is off Beadon Street (Ward No. 26). The address is actually 147/G, Ramdulal Sarkar Street. Today, Keshub Academy is a government school and it isn’t surprising that it maintains no records of its past. There are no records of past Rectors. This is the area where Manmatha Nath Dutt lived, and worked, for a large part of his life. Till 1909, Manmatha Nath Dutt described himself as Rector, Keshub Academy. Sitanatha Tattvabhushan (1856-1945), born Sitanath Dutta, was an extremely influential writer. Initially close to Keshub Chunder Sen, he eventually joined the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj and became its official theologian and Secretary, finally becoming President of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. In 1900-01, he delivered a series of lectures on Vedanta before the Theological Society, Calcutta. In 1909, these lectures were published in the form of a book. In the book, Sitanath Tattvabhushan was described as Head Master, Keshub Academy. A Rector is a bit like a Principal. It is certainly possible for a school to have both a Rector and a Head Master. But that seems unlikely, especially if someone of the stature of Sitanath Tattvabhushan is involved. It is much more likely that in 1909, Manmatha Nath Dutt ceased to be Rector of Kesub Academy and the nomenclature Rector was replaced by the term Head Master. And perhaps he moved to Baranagore because he no longer needed to be close to the school. Baranagore/Baranagar is part of Kolkata now. It used to be the outskirts then. At that time, Baranagore would have reminded people of Ramakrishna Math and Swami Vivekananda.
I explored the other addresses, 65/2 Beadon Street; 40 Nayan Chand Dutt Street; and 3 Furriapukur Street. Fariapukur (Furriapukur) is an area near Belgachia in north Calcutta. Furriapukur Street has become Shibdas (Sibdas) Bhaduri Street. Shibdas Bhaduri was the famous football player who was Mohun Bagan’s captain when Mohun Bagan defeated East Yorkshire Regiment in 1911 and won the IFA Shield. This is Mohun Bagan territory, with Mohun Bagan Row, a souvenir shop named “Striker” and several sports shops. But 3 Shibdas Bhaduri Street (3 Furriapukur Street) is a disappointment. It is a gift and toy shop, 21st century Kolkata and not 19th century Calcutta.
Beadon Street is a different matter. This stretch of Beadon Street is now Abhedananda Road. Further down, it becomes Dani Ghosh Sarani. Oriental Seminary isn’t far away, nor is Keshub Academy. Suddenly, you are in the midst of old Calcutta. The roads become narrower, vehicles rarer. Every third house is an old one – dilapidated, abandoned, unoccupied. They loom like eerie ghosts from some bygone past, single-storied, double-storied, sometimes even three stories. Where is 65/2 Beadon Street? I can’t find it. The numbers aren’t sequential.
Along comes a postman, astride his bicycle. There can’t be a better person to ask. He points me in the right direction. Yes, there is a 65/2 Beadon Street. Yes, someone lives there. No, he has no idea who lives there. No, he has never delivered letters to anyone there. Following his directions, I identify a very small grocery store. Ah, yes. 65/2 Beadon Street? 65/2B Beadon Street is the house next to the grocery store. Someone does live there. Bang on the door and someone will emerge. I look up at the two-storied house, made of wood. The upper floor is falling apart. There is a large metal yellow demolition notice from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation on the front door, proclaiming “Dangerous/risky house.” Grass and weeds are sprouting from the threshold and the lintel. The adjacent house, also falling apart, shows no signs of occupancy either. That must have been 65/2A Beadon Street and the two together would have been 65/2 Beadon Street. A very large house, perhaps six rooms on the first floor and six on the ground floor. Perhaps a printing press and an office on the ground floor, with living rooms on the first floor. Dare I bang on the door of 65/2B Beadon Street? What if the house falls down? I bang and a lady emerges, thirty something. I explain what I want. What do I want? I want to know who owns the house, what are its antecedents? By now, a small group of around six curious onlookers has gathered, with two street dogs for company. “I don’t know,” the lady says. “Let me call my mother-in-law.” The mother-in-law emerges, sixty something. “We have been here for the last fifty years,” she says. “We don’t own the house. No one does. There was a gentleman named Chandrasekhar Gupta. He used to run hospitals. But they ran into losses and the government took them over. When Chandrasekhar Gupta died, he had no heirs. He never married. My family used to work for Chandrasekhar Gupta and we have stayed on. I have no idea if Chandrasekhar Gupta owned the house. We will stay here until the Municipal Corporation kicks us out.” I have a strong urge to explore the house, venture upstairs. But the state of the house and the state of the stairs deters me.
Time to explore 40 Nayan Chand Dutt Street. Nayan Chand Dutt Street is quite unlike what it seems from Google Maps or Google Earth. It is a very narrow road, U-shaped. It emerges from Beadon Street, meanders and again emerges on Beadon Street, right next to what would have been 65/2 Beadon Street. Back and forth, there is no 40 Nayan Chand Dutt Street. It ends at 38 Nayan Chand Dutt Street. Like Manmatha Nath Dutt himself, 40 Nayan Chand Dutt Street does not seem to exist, except in the books. However, it might have existed. At the corner, where 65/2 Beadon Street would have ended, had there been another house, it would have been 40 Nayan Chand Dutt Street. Perhaps 40 Nayan Chand Dutt Street eventually became part of 65/2 Beadon Street and the two houses were combined. As I walk up and down Nayan Chand Dutt Street, I find a man sunning himself and ask him about 40 Nayan Chand Dutt Street. “There is no such house,” he remarks. “I have been here for a long time. Nayan Chand Dutt Street ends at number 38. Do you want to buy an old house?” Since I have no such intention, he loses interest. “Ask the tea-stall owner. He has been here for thirty years. He has seen the times when mutton used to be 1 paise a kilo.” The tea-stall owner is supremely uninterested, but volunteers the information that there is a really old man who lives in a house further down. He might know. I go and knock at the door of that house. “My father is sleeping,” he responds. “He is almost ninety. It is time for his afternoon nap.” When I request him to ask his father, I am summoned in. This is also an extremely old house, falling apart. I climb upstairs gingerly, the staircase is damp and dark. There is a very old grandfather clock ticking away. “I was born in 1930,” the gentleman says. “When I was young, I have heard my father mention Manmatha Nath Dutt as a famous author. No, we never had his books at home. Most of the houses in this neighbourhood have no valid property papers. No one knows who owns them. Ours is one of the few houses that has valid papers. We bought it legally. But we have no money to repair the house and the municipal corporation has served us with a demolition notice. Since the houses don’t have property papers, they can’t be bought or sold. Like me, these houses will also die, some day.”
Most of Beadon Street is dead now. The vibrancy of Kolkata is elsewhere. It is hard to imagine that in the second half of the nineteenth century, the vibrancy of Calcutta was here, in and around Beadon Street. This was Calcutta’s Drury Lane, in more senses than one. Kolkata’s Star Theatre is now in Bidhan Sarani (Cornwallis Street). The old Star Theatre, demolished by the Calcutta Improvement Trust in 1931, was in 68 Beadon Street. From 65/2 Beadon Street, the site is less than a stone’s throw away. Great National Theatre was in 6 Beadon Street, later replaced by Minerva Theatre in 6/1 Beadon Street. Bengal Theatre used to be where the Beadon Street Post Office now.
It is worth repeating the Society’s objectives, “1. To undertake the publication of rare Sanskrit texts not published before. 2. To undertake the publication of cheap editions of texts already published. 3. To publish popular editions of works relating to the antiquity of Indian literature. 4. To publish such works of oriental scholars as have gone out of print. 5. To undertake translations of standard Sanskrit works into various living languages.” Of these, one has already highlighted publication of “works of oriental scholars” and “cheap editions of texts already published”. There is only one single instance of publication of “rare Sanskrit texts”. This is the 1908 “The Dharma S’astra Text, Sanskrit texts of sixteen samhitas”. This first volume only had the Sanskrit texts. “We have followed the Bengal recension which is generally regarded as the most genuine and reliable”. The English translations, and a few more Sanskrit texts, were published in the second volume. This still leaves the translations and “popular editions of works relating to the antiquity of Indian literature”.
If Manmatha Nath Dutt is remembered at all today, it is as a translator. And since the translations he is usually identified with are those of the Mahabharata, the Vishnu Purana and the Markandeya Purana, where he did draw on the work of others, it is often assumed that he exhibited no originality. As a general proposition, that is certainly not true. The dharmashastra texts, the Agni Purana and the Garuda Purana are cases in point. Roughly at that time, some of the dharmashastra texts were being translated by George Buhler and Julius Jolly under the Sacred Books of the East series. Later, more were translated by Ganganath Jha and Pandurang Vaman Kane. In very recent times, Patrick Olivelle has translated a few more. However, all these translations are usually of the more important dharmashastra texts. For the minor ones, the Manmatha Nath Dutt translations still remain the only translations in English. There is still no translation of the Garuda Purana in English other than the Dutt translation. A translation of the Agni Purana was recently brought out by N. Gangadharan. Until the 1980s-s, the Dutt translation was the only English translation of the Agni Purana. Despite this, there was a tendency to be excessively harsh on Manmatha Nath Dutt. His translation of the Mahanirvana Tantra was published in 1900. Arthur Avalon’s translation of the Mahanirvana Tantra was published soon after, in 1913. About his predecessor, Arthur Avalon said, “Yet of all the forms of Hindu Shastra, the Tantra is that which is least known and understood, a circumstance in part due to the difficulties of its subject-matter and to the fact that the key to much of its terminology and method rest with the initiate. The present translation is, in fact, the first published in Europe of any Indian Tantra. An inaccurate version rendered in imperfect English was published in Calcutta by a Bengali editor some twelve years ago, preceded by an Introduction which displayed insufficient knowledge in respect of what it somewhat quaintly described as “the mystical and superficially technical passages” of this Tantra…The translation published is that of the first part only. It is commonly thought (and was so stated by the author of the Calcutta edition in English to which I have referred) that the second portion is lost. This is, however, not so, though copies of the complete Tantra are rare enough.”
Manmatha Nath Dutt was much more than a translator. In addition to translations, the corpus includes retelling stories (Gleanings), books on Hinduism (Ayurveda, Metaphysics, Domestic Duty), a book on the Buddha and a monograph on the Posta Raj. Since these have not been reprinted and are no longer readily accessible, it is worth explaining what they contain. The 1900 “A Short Sketch of Posta Raj Family” is a monograph of 31 pages, it is not even a proper book. Towards the end of the 17th century, when the English moved from Hooghly to Sutanuti/Calcutta, Lakshmikanta Dhar, a member of the subarna banikcommunity (a trading community that dealt primarily in gold) accompanied them. He was Lord Clive’s banker and financially helped Clive in his fight against the Nawab. He continued to financially help the English in their wars against the Marathas. As a token of gratitude, the East India Company offered him, among other things, the title of “Maharaja”. Lakshmikanta Dhar desired no such honour for himself. His daughter’s son was Sukhomoy Roy and that honour was bestowed on him. Among other things, Sukhomoy Roy built the road from Cuttack to Puri, so that pilgrims visiting the Jagannath temple in Puri would have an easier time. The word “posta” means quay, embankment or jetty and this was a jetty on the River Hooghly used by the zamindars (from Jorasanko). Most Bengalis have forgotten the history and remember the place only because of a nonsense rhyme written by Sukumar Ray. “Shuntey pelum Posta giye, tomar naki meyer biye.” Zamindars often commissioned such histories and Manmatha Nath Dutt was accordingly commissioned for a history of Posta Raj. In the nineteenth century, the other great translator, into English, of the Mahabharata was Kisari Mohan Ganguli, a contemporary of Manmatha Nath Dutt’s. It is not widely known that, in similar vein, Kisari Mohan Ganguli was commissioned to do a brief history of the Andul raj.
Despite it being a brief monograph, quite a bit of what is known about Posta Raj comes from Manmatha Nath Dutt. “The Subarna Baniks are the Banker caste of Bengal. The members of this community are proverbially famous for their opulence. They trace their descent from Sonaka Adya, a Baisya, who migrated from Ramgarh in Ayodhya, many centuries ago, to the Court of Adisur, the then king of Bengal. The first seat of this caste sill bears the name of Subarnagram or the golden village, so called in honor of the great gold merchant….When the English left Hughly to avoid the persecutions of the Mahomedans and settled further down the river in three of the most marshy and malarious villages that ever stood on the banks of the Ganges, – a few native bankers shared their ill-fortune and followed them to these marshes, knowing full well with their usual shrewdness that trade and prosperity would flourish wherever the English would go….His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Delhi, in appreciation of the loyal feelings and philanthropy of Maharaja Sukmoy Roy Bahadur, conferred on him the titled of Maharaja and gave him permission “to command over four thousand men and use a Palkie with fringes around it” in the fortieth year of His Majesty’s reign.”
1. Shibnarayan Basu was born in 1813 and died in 1861. Hence, for Manmatha Nath Dutt to be married to Shibnarayan Basu’s daughter, the age fit is less than perfect. But it is possible, since this would have been Manmatha Nath Dutt’s second marriage, after Charubala’s death.
3. The Hatkhola Duttas were into printing and publishing, though usually in Bengali, not English. For example, Prananatha Dutta (1840-88) and his younger cousin, Girindrakumar Dutta (1841-1909) were from the Hatkhola Dutta family and published an illustrated Bengali monthly magazine known as “basantaka”. Girindrakumar Dutta was a minor novelist (in Bengali).
4. For example, the Agni Purana translation or the Buddha book are exceptions to this rule.
5. The Vedanta and Its Relation to Modern Thought, Sitanath Tattvabhushan, H. C. Das, Elysium Press, Calcutta, 1909.
6. The Agni Purana, N. Gangadharan, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1984-87.
7. The Great Liberation, Mahanirvana Tantra, Translation and Commentary, Arthur Avalon, Ganesh and Company, Madras, 1913.
8. Translated as “Heard your daughter’s getting married, From Posta, the news I carried.” https://web.archive.org/web/20091023233140/https://geocities.com/aboltabol_new/english.htm
9. A more comprehensive one was commissioned later. See, A Short Sketch of Maharaja Sukhmoy Roy Bahadur and His Family, Benimadhub Chatterji, Star Printing Works, Calcutta, 1929. This is a revised edition. The original edition was from 1910, shortly after Manmatha Nath Dutt did his version. The Dutt version must have been less than satisfactory.