Free Press Journal

Syama Prasad Mookerjee: Life and Times by Tathagata Roy-Review


Title: Syama Prasad Mookerjee: Life and Times

Author: Tathagata Roy

Publisher: Penguin Viking

Pages: 488; Price: Rs 599


A visionary, educationist, politician and statesman, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee has vastly remained unacknowledged by Indian history. And, it was only after 65 years of his death that a well-researched book on his life and work has been published. The book Syama Prasad Mookerjee: Life and Times by Tathagata Roy is an extensively researched book that provides insight to a multifarious action-packed man that Dr Mookerjee was. This is also the only book on him that gives voluminous detail of his last days before his mysterious death in 1953 in Kashmir.

While many don’t know that had it not been for Dr Mookerjee, independent India’s geography would have been quite different. It would not be any surprise if the state of Punjab would have been part of Pakistan and the state of West Bengal would have been part of Bangladesh. And this is not some concocted conspiracy theory by the author as it is part of documented history. While reading this book one might wonder how he would have perhaps been the right fit as India’s education minister.

The author mentions the presidential speech by Dr Mookerjee at the All India Educational conference in Nagpur in 1935, wherein he said, “It is incorrect to look upon educational institutions as factories to produce potential clerks and low-paid staff. We have to turn out students who are capable of providing leadership to our self-governing institutions… India today badly needs people who are imbued with the spirit of service and also innovative, courageous and liberal in outlook.”

On quite another context, had the Indian government considered Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s opinion on all-Indian Civil Code we would not be having it as a burning issue today. All the way back in 1951, Dr Mookerjee said, “Stand for one social doctrine. If you believe in monogamy as a social system is the best that India should have, then do not try to look at it through the Hindu door. Look at it through the human door and make it applicable to all. Behave like a secular State at least in this instance. Take courage in both hands and see that monogamy will be made applicable to all citizens of India.”

The book captures the emotions of the people of Kolkata beautifully as it describes the scene on the day when his body arrived “…That night many people slept on the road in front of 77 Asutosh Mookerjee Road, waiting for the body to arrive. The next day saw a deluge of humanity accompanying the body from the house to the Keoratala cremation ground, near Kalighat. B.C Roy, the CM of West Bengal, who was very close to the family, came to accompany the body. The crowd yelled at him, holding Congressmen responsible for his death.”

It is safe to say that this is certainly the first complete biography that we have on Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee and therefore, a must read.

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