Evaluating Nirad C Chaudhury : a Bengali Writer in English
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Evaluating Nirad C Chaudhury : a Bengali Writer in English

Nirad C Chaudhury is universally recognized as the greatest master of English prose from India . He was born in East Bengal and died at the age of 101 in England. His works were an unabashed paean of English rule. Nirad wrote some of the finest prose and was conferred a CBE by Queen Elizabeth II. He probably holds a world record for writing a book at the age of 99.
Nirad C Chaudhary is a writer much acclaimed in England, but little heard in India. Born in 1897 in Kishoreganj then part of East Bengal in the days of the Raj, Nirad grew up as a normal Bengali intellectual. Indian writers in English like Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul have hogged the limelight, but the original Indian writer in English who made a mark in the west is Nirad C Chaudhary.

His early life was nondescript as he worked for the government (All India Radio) and earlier as a clerk in a military store. In 1951 his book ‘Autobiography of an unknown Indian’ was published. The book immediately won literary acclaim, but people and the government in India were not amused. The book was widely condemned in India and Chaudhary had to resign his job with All India Radio and forgo his pension. People felt the book was an unending paean of the British Raj. .

Chaudhry did not retract, but his admirers in England invited him for a lecture series in 1955. This was his first visit to England at the age of 58. His lectures were published in book form under the title “Passage to England’ and won critical acclaim.

Chaudhary's next book ‘Continent of Circe’ in 1965 stirred a hornet’s nest. In this book Choudhry traced the course of Hindu civilization in the subcontinent. He concluded   that it was based on the theory of race superiority. The book got negative reviews in India but was acclaimed abroad .It earned him the Duff Cooper Memorial award in 1966. Till date he is the only Indian who has won this award.

Nirad also wrote a biography of Max Muller titled ‘Scholar Extraordinary’ in 1968. By now his relations with the Indian establishment had improved and people had come to realize that Nirad had done India proud. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award for excellence for this book in 1975. The wheel had now turned full circle; In the meantime Nirad  had relocated to England and settled down at Oxford. He was awarded a D Lit by Oxford University and in 1992 he was conferred a CBE by the British crown.

 Choudhury continued his writing work in England and published a string of books. Notable among them are Clive of India, (1975), Hinduism: A religion to live by (1979) and Thy Hand: Great Anarch!! (1987).

 Chaudhuri commenced his last book when was well past 90 and at the age 99 published Three horsemen of the New Apocalypse.   He died soon after at the age of 101 at Oxford in 1999.

Many people felt that Nirad Chaudhury was anti Hindu and pro British.  This is not the case as he was a staunch Hindu and followed all the tenets of Hinduism. The strain of his writings is pro –Hindu. His reaction to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was typical of the man. He wrote that that the Muslims had no cause to complain for the loss of one Masjid when they had destroyed thousands of temples in the course of a thousand years.

 Nirad C Chaudhury is now recognized as one of India’s greatest writers in the English language.  Not many know that Nirad also wrote in Bengali his mother tongue.  He wrote 6 much acclaimed books in Bengali.

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Comments (3)

Very interesting post. Thank you.

Absolutely wonderful, thanks so much for this article. What an interesting person he was a Hindu as well who lived to a ripe old age, a Master of English is worth celebrating.

amitava nag The Statesman reviewed a bengali book on 09.04.2001 with the heading "Taking on Nirad C Choudhuri" in Calcutta Notebook column which I would like to share: "Radha Nag's recently-published Atmaghati Nirad Chandra is a welcome answer to Nirad C. Chaudhuri's Atmaghati Bangali and two-volume Atmaghati Rabindranath. In more than a decade since the publication of the first volume of this trilogy on the dire self-destruction of the Bengali people and their greatest poet, no Bengali has raised his voice against this charge - perhaps because it was framed by a Bengali who penned them in a respectable university town in England, clad in a Bengali dhoti, sitting on a Bengali mat. Nag's beautifully-produced 80-page volume bears ample proof of its author's commendable economy of expression. She has used NCC's Bengali works to show that obscenities abound in them. The writer who held an honorary D.Litt. from Oxford, it seems, could not make his points without outraging the proverbial British sense of decency. Chaudhuri the author, shows Nag, had been so trapped by Chaudhuri the man that he often makes unseemly self-revelations. And it may not be improbable that he was deliberately ribald to cater to popular tastes. Nag's book is written in a delightfully ironic style and if she's sometimes hard on Chaudhuri, she has been so for the sake of truth." The link of the pdf version of the book is  http://www.slideshare.net/radhanag50/atmaghati-nirod-choudhury-by-dr-radha-nag-bears-ample-proof-of-its-authors-coomendable-economy-of-expression-the-statesman-calcutta-note-book-09042001?ref=http://www.slideshare.net/amitavonag/newsfeed?redirect=1 via @Atmaghati Nirod Choudhury by Dr. Radha Nag bears ample proof of it's