Mapping the nation

Bipin Behari was an ardent supporter and member of the Indian National Congress from its earliest days. He believed that the Congress would bring about much progress in India and gradually the people of India would be capable of selfgovernance. His involvement with the Congress was not restricted to verbal approval; he gave it his labour and wealth in abundance. He would attend every session of the Congress, often disregarding his health and his own work.

Lucknow Congress 1899

The Indian National Congress was formed with the objectives of forging a spirit of nationalism and achieving political self-sufficiency. In 1899, the sixth session of the Indian National Congress was held in Lucknow under the presidency of Ramesh Chandra Dutta. Bipin Behari Bose was the local organising secretary. It is well- documented that due to Bose’s tireless efforts and attention to details, the Lucknow Congress was organised in an efficient and orderly fashion, achieving great distinction as an event in the annals of the Congress. If Bose’s vigilant and committed effort to this end was not the sole reason behind the achievement, it was certainly one of the essential ingredients of its success.His contribution to the Lucknow Congress was substantial, and he used all his might to hold it together and to stop it from collapsing into disorder. To ensure comfort of the Bengali delegates participating in the event, he set up a special Bengal camp in a house near his residence, employing his eldest son to oversee its operations.

The Congress Song

As mentioned earlier, when his acclaimed and much-reviewed poem the Congress Song was published, he pledged all the royalty from its sale to support the financially struggling Lucknow Congress. That Bipin Behari was a sincere follower of the Congress, and a genuine well-wisher of the nation, is glaringly evident from his poem Congress Song. The immediate impact of the poem cannot be overstated. It was reviewed and acclaimed across newspapers and monthlies both Indian and British and was universally hailed as an expression of “surge of patriotism swelling-up through the Indian hearts” [Pioneer, 1988].

Reddy, Sheshalatha. Mapping the NATION: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870-1920. Anthem Press, 2013.

That Bipin Bihari was a sincere follower of the Congress, and a genuine well-wisher of the nation, is glaringly evident from his Congress Songs. Not only did he provide aid to the Lucknow Congress financially out of his resources, but he also donated all the royalty from his book Country are more Estimable than Heaven Itself’, the second being ‘To the Delegates Proceeding to the 10th National Congress at Madras – 1894’, the third was ‘Education and Union’, while the last one was titled ‘The Congress Man’s Confession’. The first poem [Mother and Mother Country…] was written, published, and distributed in April 1888. 

Certain parts of this poem were so refined and elevated by the spirit of patriotism that the much-circulated magazine Pioneer published a review.

Pioneer, 8th May, 1888: It will surprise no one that the tumultuous surge of patriotism swelling up through the Indian hearts at the call of the Congress should find for itself a poetical expression. Impassioned feeling in every age has sought this outlet; and it is only natural that a Tyrtaeus should have arisen at Lucknow.We are favoured a copy of a poem, a choral ode apparently, which if not sung was distributed gratis at the “Grand Opening Meeting ” of the 20th April 1888. The first stanza has a lingering flavour of Hymns of ancient and Modern. The dawn of Western lore has come to the sleepers and Mother-India is already up and bids them be doing.First a prayer to the Queen Empress and England, nurse of liberty, and then to work – the work of a very early character on the world’s stage.

(The writer illustrates his meaning by quoting the 11th stanza and italicising its last line.)…If the last rhyme will not rouse and raise a man [quoting the last two stanzas] assuredly nothing will. But the whole Congress Poetry is better than Congress Catechisms.”

On 13th January 1900, the celebrated magazine Hitavadi wrote on the subject of this book: “Lucknow-resident Bengali gentleman Bipin-Babu has written a poem in English to light sparks of nationalism in the minds of his readers. We firmly endorse his passion and patriotism. That the royalty from his book is to be donated to the Congress Committee is an example of his generosity and greatness.” On 3rd January 1900, the Indian Daily Telegraph wrote thus.

Congress Songs and Ballads by Bepin Behari Bose, M.A. There is a story told of a budding poet who sent effusion in blank verse to Abraham Lincoln. The famous American President requested that the poem be put into rhyme because as he said “at present, it has neither rhyme nor reason.” The same fault cannot be found with the little pamphlet in which Mr. Bose expresses his views in poetic form. Notwithstanding the difficulty of a foreign language and the one that is not amenable to versification the rhymes have in the majority of cases very successfully dealt with. In the preface is an extract from a review that appeared in a contemporary [Pioneer] when the poem entitled Mother and Mother Country are more Estimable than Heaven Itself was published. 

The reviewer rightly stated that “If the last rhyme will not rouse and raise a man assuredly nothing will.” This is the rhyme referred to “’Tis come to this time, lo, nearer home. To rouse, to mould, to raise, all dull inertia ‘side well flung. We hie to the Congress.” The British newspaper titled Indian published the opinion below: “Indian” dated 19th January 1900: Mr. Bipin Behari Bose has published in aid of the Congress Committees’ funds a little collection entitled “Congress Songs and Ballads”.

To write poetry in a foreign language is a difficult task, which has tested the powers of the greatest masters of verse. But Mr. Bose’s work has an interest quite apart from any question of language or metre in the noble and patriotic sentiments to which he gives expression. His belief in the unity of India and the duty that falls on all Indians to work together for their suffering country, his hope in the new era, and his generous appreciation of the great Englishmen and Irishmen of the past cannot fail to redound to the credit of the writer. 

Bipin Bihari Bose’s poetic prowess didn’t merely find expression in English, he was equally adept at writing in his native tongue Bengali. In his last days he had commenced writing a book in Bengali titled Jatiya Jivan Geeta, which he ultimately failed to bring to completion due to severe ill-health, and had expressed regret at his failure to do so on his deathbed. He was not just an admirer of English literature due to his mastery of the said language, he was equally devoted to the cause of the Bengali language and its growth. In 1901, Bipin Bihari’s mother had passed away suddenly during a Calcutta trip made with the purpose of visiting her nephew. She was an earnest and compassionate soul who suffered greatly in others’ misery. Within a few days of the passing away of his mother Bimala, Bipin Bihari himself fell ill.

He had been suffering for some time from chronic indigestion. He travelled to Calcutta with his whole family aiming to avail superior treatment for his illness, and he started receiving medical ministrations while at his own Calcutta residence at 20 Grey Street. But as all renowned physicians failed to improve his health, his condition deteriorated day by day. Finally, on 15th December 1902, on a night of full moon, he breathed his last breath surrounded by his wife, children and relatives. He was cremated in the same cremation ground where, exactly a year earlier, his mother’s last rites were performed.

Officia Blanditi

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