Jadunath Sarkar as an Exemplary Student and how he Won the Daunting Premchand Roychand Scholarship

In the fourth episode, G.S. Sardesai narrates a thrilling account of Jadunath Sarkar's capacity for extraordinary hard work in earning the prestigious and incredibly tough Premchand Roychand Scholarship.
Premchand Roychand
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Read the previous stories in this series

Premchand Roychand
Jadunath Sarkar as I Know Him: A Heartfelt Portrait of the Great Acharya by his Close Friend, G.S. Sardesai
Premchand Roychand
Journeys with Knowledge: G.S. Sardesai's Notes from Travels with Jadunath Sarkar
Premchand Roychand
Jadunath Sarkar's Attachment to Sanskrit Literature and his Encyclopaedic Memory

THERE COMES A FLOW-TIDE IN JADUNATH’S Ganges-like expanse of memory when he can be induced to talk about the private life and administration of the Mughal Emperors and of the follies and foibles of the Mughal courtiers. Every small detail, name, place, date, source or what apparently would be considered as a useless trifle, he would deftly weave into his narrative so as to breathe life and light into them.

Once when we were visiting the Mughal palaces within Agra Fort, we stopped at the Diwan-i-Khas musing over the reception of the great Shivaji in that hall by Emperor Aurangzib. To amuse and instruct us, Jadunath staged there veritably a One-Act drama himself playing the role of the second-bakhshi Asad Khan, leading Shivaji to the foot of the empty imperial masnad, making him perform kornish and presenting nazars on behalf of Shivaji and his son; and filled the gaps in his action by courtierlike addresses.

Jadunath’s Family and Academic Distinctions

Jadunath, destined to write the history of the third son of Shah Jahan, was himself the third son of late Raj Kumar Sarkar, an enlightened Zamindar of Rajshahi in North Bengal. Jadunath was born on Saturday, second day of the dark fortnight of the month of Marga-shirsha of the year 1870 (10th December 1870) in the village of Karachmaria, Rajshahi district. He had his early education in the town of Rajshahi and passed his Entrance Examination in 1887 standing sixth in order of merit in the University of Calcutta. After having passed his F.A. Examination from the Rajshahi College, Jadunath entered the Presidency College at Calcutta from which he passed his B.A. Examination with Double Honours in History and English in 1891, and here he had to part with History for a time as he chose to take his M.A. degree next year in English.

Jadunath’ s M.A. result created a sensation in the University. He had thrown the previous records in English into the shade. He topped the list of successful candidates obtaining 90, 92 and 95 per cent in three papers, and a little less in other papers. On this account the Government offered him a scholarship for prosecuting higher studies in England, but owing to personal reasons Jadunath declined the offer and decided to work for the Premchand Roychand Scholarship. The Government offer was then accepted by one of his classmates, Mr. Albion Bannerji who proceeded to England and took the I.C.S. Examination along with Mr. Aurobindo Ghose, who had been already there. What Jadunath lost in the I.C.S. career, proved a permanent gain to history.

Jadunath’s preparation for the Premchand Roychand Scholarship gave a novel turn to his work in life and requires a word of explanation. That competition in early days was the highest, the most difficult and therefore the most coveted prize under the Calcutta University. The original character of the prize was later changed so that its history in early days cannot now be properly grasped.

Premchand Roychand
Making of a National Treasure: How the History and Culture of the Indian People was Written

A Bhatia merchant of Bombay, whose name the prize bears, suddenly amassed a large fortune during the cotton boom of 1866 and spent much of it in various useful charities. He made a gift of two lacs of rupees to the Calcutta University on the stipulation that the interest on the amount during the year (at first Rs. 10,000 later Rs. 8,000/- and finally Rs. 7,000/-) should be bestowed on a scholar of the highest academic merit displayed in the University Examinations. Severe written tests were attached to the award and there were certain years when no one was deemed eligible for it. Capacity for enormous labour during a number of years, keen aptitude for research, vast reading, a strong memory, proficiency in language, these were the essential qualifications for success in that hard competition. Those who succeeded in winning the scholarship proved to be men of exceptional efficiency and never failed to make a permanent mark in Bengali cultured society and public service.

Sharda Charan Mitra and Ashutosh Mukherji were among the predecessors of Jadunath in this rare honour. Sir Gurudas Banerji had failed in that effort as he stood second and as only one award was available. The Examination was necessarily very stiff and involved a special study of many subjects: the English language, History, Economics, Political Science, with extensive courses attached to each. For instance, the study of English required a complete knowledge of English philology, a thorough acquaintance with Anglo Saxon together with its later changes during medieval and modern times and an intimate knowledge of the different periods of English literature and its sources both in prose and verse. No limits were set in prescribing the questions to be set for that competition. One special requirement for the Examination lay in the deep study of the history of India with reference to original sources (especially, Asoka and Akbar).

Jadunath possessed special aptitude for such a hard test. He was from the beginning given to books and avoided publicity. With a rare fondness for reading, he was well-versed in English and Sanskrit. At first, he did not know Persian, but when he decided to take up the life of Aurangzib and the study of Medieval India as the subject of the original research required by the then terms of Scholarship, he learnt that language, in which alone the original sources of that period were available. Thus, he put in full four years of strenuous labour after passing his M.A. (1892) and appeared for the Scholarship examination in 1897 and obtained the prize. The award consisted of a gold medal and a cash prize of Rs. 7,000/- to be paid in five years.

Premchand Roychand
The Calculated Destruction of History Writing in India in Five Stages

After receiving the first two instalments, the candidate had to pass through another test which required the presentation of an original thesis in some unexplored field. For this, Jadunath first selected the early Mughal period of Indian History, but realising that this involved an extremely wide field and that older men like Beveridge were already working on it, he after considerable deliberation, decided to work on Aurangzib’s life, a subject which was full of varied incidents and offered a virgin field for investigation, as it had not till then been attempted by anyone else.

To be continued

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