Anecdotes from the Acharya: The Sprawling Gurukulam of Jadunath Sarkar Home
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Anecdotes from the Acharya: The Sprawling Gurukulam of Jadunath Sarkar Home

Some anecdotes from Acharya Jadunath Sarkar's life as an ideal Guru

Sandeep Balakrishna

Sandeep Balakrishna

It is said that one hallmark of true eminence rests on a single word: hope. Hope and optimism that the life and work of stalwarts provide is what immortalises their name and legacy. Name, and not fame is the exact yardstick because fame is transitory, and in our times, fame is vulgar because it can actually be bought. The life and legacy of Acharya Jadunath Sarkar endures because it offers hope and optimism by the ton. Here is a heartfelt Message of Sir Jadunath Sarkar to Indian Historians dated 20 April 1957:

Time has now brought me to the brink of the great Ocean of Eternity, and as I look back I take the opportunity…to bid farewell to my friends and pupils, with gratitude for the love and kindness with which they have enriched an unusually long life.

My message to my pupils and my pupils’ pupils is one of hope, I bid them be of good cheer, because the opportunities for carrying on scientific research in Indian history on the Indian soil are now unimaginably great, and the right atmosphere for this type of work has also been created around us.

But today no genuine worker on Indian history is content unless he has mastered the language of the original authorities and can utilise the original records, despatches, state papers and inscriptions, which are the primary indispensable sources…Work in the right way, for the means are ready to hand, and the reward sure.

In 1957, Acharya Jadunath Sarkar could not anticipate or fathom the growing reality that academic history-sheeters like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Satish Chandra and gang were just waiting around the corner, sharpening their bloodied communist daggers to cut true Indian history into a thousand pieces. However, more than fifty years later, Romila Thapar’s mafia has not only been broken but all of them stand thoroughly discredited in their own lifetime. Indeed, but for their political clout in the Nehruvian court, the Leftist historical mafia wouldn’t have had the gall to shamelessly dismiss Sarkar’s work—this was the stalwart who singlehandedly pioneered the course of research in Mughal history. Jadunath Sarkar’s vast body of work continues to be studied, referenced and quoted as unimpeachable scholarly sources of Indian history.

Perhaps Acharya Jadunath Sarkar himself anticipated the future when he wrote

In God’s universe no good thing, no honest work is ever lost. The sound seed will bear fruit, it may be a hundred years afterwards.

It might and does sound incredible how just one man could accomplish so much in just one lifetime amid so many constraints. Acharya Jadunath Sarkar himself provides the answer in a tangential fashion. He describes his work in history research in a familiar, earthy idiom of “setting my hand to the plough.” In other words, his accomplishment was rooted in attitude and approach.

The Ideal Guru and Teacher

Most tributes to Jadunath Sarkar are consistent about this aspect and all of them express marvel and admiration at his method, discipline, and what is today dumbed down as “time management.”

Acharya Jadunath Sarkar was often compared to a ripe coconut—hard shell on the outside but soft, delicious, and nourishing inside. One can take the analogy further and invoke the word, Kalpavruksha (the tree that gives everything) applied to the coconut tree. It is said that there is no part of the coconut tree that is not useful. Jadunath Sarkar was also the lamp that lit a thousand other lamps. The number of students he inspired and groomed to become extraordinary scholars and researchers is legion. Indeed, reading accolades penned by his students is a great joy and pleasure by itself. They catapult straight from the heart and transform themselves into prose on paper.

Here are just two.

Tribute 1:

The very first thing that attracted me to Dr. Jadunath was the disciplined manner in which he walked to the college with books in hand, the measured way in which he spoke in the class, the precise notes he dictated and the very disciplined manner in which he conducted himself both inside and outside the class. It was a pleasure to hear Dr. Jadunath’s regimented words from the chair in the debates or in lecture halls.

Dr. Roy Choudhury

Tribute 2:

I found in him a great scholar, a perfect gentleman, and an embodiment of plain living and high thinking; and to all the alumni he appeared as an ideal… his lectures displayed an unfathomable depth of his understanding and knowledge of almost all the past as well as of the latest publications on the subject. Every lecture was supplemented by exact references to a large number of books and journals, with the names of their authors and library numbers for the benefit of the advanced students.

Dr. G.S. Das

Parental Care

Jadunath Sarkar took personal interest in imparting true education to his students and one important method was to take them on tours to historical places. He often fought with the college or university and insisted on the comfort and good facilities for both travel and lodging for his students and showed parental care on them. Once while descending from the hill of Rajgir, a fifty-three-year-old Jadunath Sarkar thought that he had found a shortcut to reach the bottom. Standing on a precipice, he jumped down into uneven ground covered with all kinds of shrubs and stones and badly hurt himself. Then he stood up, all cut and bruised and told the students that this was an unsafe route!

Trial By Fire

As a genuine Guru, Jadunath Sarkar followed the traditional method of teaching. Whether it was his direct disciples or other researchers or scholars, he would first put them to rigorous test. Typically, this involved making them wait for several hours or days. Then he would casually ask leading questions to gauge their level of knowledge and genuine interest before opening up the inexhaustible reserve of his knowledge. He could quickly see through the superficial and the sham. In the words of Suraj Narain Rao who sought Jadunath Sarkar’s guidance on some manuscripts, "Like the old Rishis Sir Jadunath also believed in carefully testing the seriousness of purpose in a student before admitting him to his fold."

Quite naturally, the other side of this coin was the fact that Jadunath Sarkar didn’t spoon-feed his students and scholars who sought his guidance. The ancient Indian ideal of learning was dear to his heart: you don’t know a subject until you can command it at will. And self-learning and self-mastery was the only method to gain such command. However, once the student showed this promise, Jadunath Sarkar would fully open himself up. He not only offered the guidance of a Guru but in countless cases, gave monetary help from his own pocket to the deserving pupil. In the words of Dr. Roy Choudhury:

There are hundreds of [scholars] today who have been actually created by [Jadunath Sarkar], but one never hears him parading anyone of them.

Self-Effacement of a Different Standard

This is the other, unknown trait of Jadunath Sarkar’s nobility: a thorough distaste for snobbery and show-off. He was genuinely disgusted by the pompous displays of alleged learning by half-baked scholars. One is reminded of that other great savant, Prof Mysore Hiriyanna’s silent reproach of a half-baked scholar who boasted for two hours about the list of books he had read and all the hard work he had put in to produce some work. Prof. Hiriyanna listened to his extended gloating patiently without a single word. At the end, the half-baked scholar understood the meaning of his silence and left the room with a respectful Namaste. And as we have already seen, like Prof Hiriyanna, Jadunath Sarkar too, quietly helped poor and meritorious students with financial assistance.

In the same vein, Jadunath Sarkar prized scholarly integrity as an abiding value in and by itself. Which is why he could never succeed in his administrative functions as the Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University. He could never compromise or be politically correct because his

one passion in life had been to fathom out the truth, establish the historicity of facts and to interpret them was found to be lacking in that undefined commodity known as tact.

This tactlessness also showed up in other areas of his scholarly life.

Jadunath… carries his dislikes to an excessive degree as it appears to the average man. But at the bottom of that dislike lies a very strong aversion for untruth, dishonesty and scissor and paste type of research. Plagiarism he hates and he is the last man to mince matters.

Indeed, this is a far cry from Jadunath Sarkar’s era to an age where plagiarism is justified under the garb of some mythical and unattainable “unity of mission” or whatever other justification offered for stealing scholarly work. Prof Dipesh Chakraborty in his fine book, evocatively says that for Jadunath Sarkar, history research was akin to a lifelong penance for which an inner attitude of a monk had to be consciously cultivated. Given this, one can only imagine why Acharya Jadunath Sarkar had such undisguised contempt for plagiarism and copy-paste “research.”

The Gurukulam of Acharya Jadunath Sarkar’s Home

The students and scholars who had passed Acharya Jadunath Sarkar’s rigorous tests had the inestimable fortune of residing in his home as family members. Indeed, Sarkar kept track of the more promising students. He would be regularly informed of their successes or future pursuits. He also frequently wrote them letters and postcard notes offering advice, guidance and encouragement. In some cases, he would recommend the exact college in which they should enrol for a particular specialisation or subject.

Jadunath Sarkar’s home in Cuttack, Patna, Darjeeling or Calcutta was always open for them. His sprawling and well-stocked library was at their disposal provided they conducted themselves properly. Equally, Smt Sarkar’s “kitchen did not make any distinction between her own children and the students or the research scholars that lived in the house. That lady from within the house was a mother to the scholars living in Dr. Sarkar’s house.”

We can close this essay with a brilliant anecdote narrated by Dr. Roy Choudhury who got admission at the Patna university.

When this news reached him, Jadunath Sarkar wrote a postcard giving details of the “amount of hackney carriage fare that had to be paid from the Patna railway station to his house at Bhikhnapahari in Patna.” Sarkar wanted his student to stay at his own home, not outside. This is how his house looked like:

Sir Jadunath’s house in Patna at that time had a separate wing consisting of a few rooms used as his library by him and by his research scholars. Dr. K. R. Qanungo who was then writing his book on Sher Shah, Dr. K. K. Basu, Head of the Department of History in Bhagalpur college, S. C. Sen Gupta, a research scholar from Bengal used to be in that wing where a separate room was also allotted [me].

Each night, all of these scholars and students had to compulsorily have their dinner in the main house with Acharya Jadunath Sarkar. It was family time in the Acharya's Gurukulam.

When Roy Choudhury informed one night that he was shifting to the university hostel, Sarkar was surprised. He said, “I did not know that you were inconvenienced here. I did not ask you to come to Patna to prosecute your studies for M.A. while living in a hostel.”

Roy Choudhury got the message. The next day, he sent word through Jadunath Sarkar’s son that he had abandoned the hostel plan. For the next two years, he stayed at Acharya Jadunath Sarkar’s house and finished his course.

And then, Roy Choudhury asks a profoundly searching question: “How many Gurus of this type exist now in India?

|| Sri Rama Jayam ||

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