Redefining Humanism (Selected Essays of D.P. Mukerji)

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Item Code: NAF889
Author: Srobona Munshi
Publisher: Tulika Books
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788189487621
Pages: 110
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 190 gm
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About the Book


Written during a period of tumult and gestation in India's history, the essays in this book provide an intellectual's serious commentary on nascent nationhood. What makes this collection interesting is not just its historical value, but also its very evident contemporary relevance. Rare is the mind that can look critically at the present and read available signs to organize and project a picture of the future. Rarer still is the ability to pinpoint the exact issues that will define the grounds of national debate over the next half century. Written during the 1930s and 40s, these essays view problems of communal division, economic disparity, social injustice, neocolonialism and disunity in the Left with both an intellectual and a human eye. Mukerji sets forth a new kind of humanism, reflecting an understanding of troubled times and indicating ways of possible resolution.


About the Author


Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji (1894-1961) was a major social scientist of the country. He was Professor of Economics and Sociology at Lucknow University from 1949 to 1954 (having started teaching there in 1922), and then Professor of Economics at Aligarh Muslim University from 1954 to 1959. A man of great erudition, his interests were so wide-ranging that he might have said, with Bacon, 'I have taken all knowledge to be my province.' Apart from being a social scientist, Mukerji was a novelist, essayist and critic of note in his mother tongue, Bengali. He was a connoisseur of the arts, especially of music, on which he wrote several books, one co-authored with Tagore. His other publications include Personality and the Social Sciences. Basic Concepts in Sociology. Modern Indian Culture and Diversities.




Professor D.P. Mukerji (1894-1961)-DP Sahab or DP, as he was generally known with respect and affection-was already in the sunset years of his long and distinguished teaching career at the University of Lucknow when I became his student there in the early 1950s. He was a charismatic teacher attracting students across faculties. It was his lectures and informal conversations that led us to his English books (five monographs and three collections of essays) and to his articles in magazines, such as the Swarajya (Madras), and newspapers, notably the National Herald (Lucknow). Its renowned editor, Mr Chalapathi Rao, who was DP's friend and admirer (they met almost every evening at the Coffee House), hailed him as one of the 'glories' of Lucknow University.


The quality that most distinguished DP from other teachers, it seemed to many of us, was the conviction with which he put across to us the idea that the life of the intellectual was a challenge and a life truly worth living. It meant engagement with the adventure of ideas, but it was not a retreat into the ivory tower or the cloister. Unlike the bureaucracy (the IAS had emerged as an attractive career option), it promised a life of freedom and creativity, and unlike politics, it offered the life of responsibility and social virtue. In his vision of India's future, intellectuals, particularly those in the universities (research institutes had not yet made their appearance), were going to be significant role players.


Austere of countenance and rather frail in body (years later when I saw Houdon's Voltaire, the intensity of his expression put me in mind of DP), he was a passionate and critical thinker who encouraged us to take nothing for granted. The bane of intellectual creativity of India's public affairs, he used to tell us, had been Gandhiji's 'inner voice' and the Left's 'Party Line'! For himself, he once told me, there were few joys greater than to see the 'blossoming' of young minds.


Although the spoken rather than the written word was by common consent his forte, he was no mean writer in English. (He had not, however, exercised good judgement, it seemed to me, in the choice of the pieces that he had included in the three volume of articles). In Bengali, I understand, he was a prose writer of distinction, essayist, novelist and short story writer. Those of us who do not read Bengali are now deeply beholden to Professor Srobona Munshi and her colleagues (all teachers of English) at the University of Calcutta, Presidency College and Lady Brabourne College (both at Kolkata), for providing us with excellent English translations of eight essays selected from DP's collection Baktabya (1957).


I will not discuss the essays here as Srobona Munshi has done this with care and felicity of expression in her editorial introduction. 1 will only highlight a few general themes of DP's Bengali writings included in the present volume. I had also known his intellectual concerns from his English writings and from personal contact with him, which lasted just over a decade. His last composition in English (written late in 1960 at my request) was a brief tribute to his friend D.N. Majumdar. Reading the essays comprising this book has revived, if at all such revival was needed, my remembrance of DP as an intellectual, scholar and author.


The first thing I would like to highlight is the broad range of DP's interests, which was nourished by both his vast scholarship and his sharp critical acumen. Daring us to broaden our minds, he used to rhetorically ask how we believed we could be good sociologists, that is students of social institutions, if we did not know their history, and how we thought we could be good students of history if we did not have a philosophy of history. This goading was ceaseless: when had we last been to a music concert; had we seen 'The Death of a Salesman': what did we think of it; what books had we been reading, but surely we knew that life was not about books but experience. And authentic experience required a holistic perspective. (Incidentally, Mr Ram Advani, Lucknow's famous bookseller, has written in a published article that it was DP who suggested to him to extend credit facilities to me when I was still a student.)


Specialization was for DP an abomination. He considered the unity of knowledge and the integrated life inseparable; in fact, he used to say that he was willing to be 'dragged to the stake' if his view was considered apostatical in the era of rigid disciplinary boundaries. He did not totally deny the pedagogic usefulness of disciplinary divisions, but emphasized the importance of gathering together the harvests-a task that he wanted sociologists to make their own. He used to call sociology (somewhat inelegantly, I am afraid!) the 'n+1th science'. One way to do this was to focus on thematic rubrics that inevitably spilled out of disciplinary boxes.


One such thematic focus was culture. His magnum opus in English was Modern Indian Culture (1942-48). He considered the anthropological concept of culture, and the empiricism and relativism that went with it, useful, but (to use one of his favourite phrases) only up to a point. It acted, he wrote in one of his essays, as 'a great shock absorber' and promoted tolerance (Diversities, 1958, p. 261). Anthropology would, however, amount to nothing more than an exercise in description unless it concerned itself with the remaking of culture (ibid., p. 265 ), and this essentially entailed a concern with values or, to put it in words of DP's choice, 'the philosophical attitude'. Culture ultimately was, he believed, about matters of style and taste, about discrimination and selection. We were spoken to about Ruth Benedict's formal (aesthetic) theory of cultural integration and persistence (Patterns of Culture), and about Malinowski's thesis of the mutual implication of freedom and civilization (Freedom and Civilization). Stepping outside anthropology, we were invited to consider Matthew Arnold's emphasis (in Culture and Anarchy) on the place of theoretical speculation and ideals of moral conduct ('sweetness and light') in literate (as against pre-literate) cultures.


DP did not shy away from the notion of levels of culture, for him it was a question of values, and like Nietzsche (who is cited in one of the essays in this book), he had a horror of nihilism. In DP's judgement, vulgarity was unquestionably a more serious threat to the decent life, to culture, than obscenity. It was the duty of the intellectuals to defend culture in every domain-at home and work; in the concert hall, the gallery and the theatre; in literature and in the sciences. Self-consciousness was the heart of the matter; 'the responsibility to increase awareness. rests squarely with the intellectuals, and with no one else' (p. 62 below).


In short, culture was concerned with perfection, with self-education. To clarify by comparison, the idea was, I think, the same as what the Germans of yesteryears called Bildung (and DP knew his Goethe); the Greeks of course knew it as paideia. In India in the twentieth century, DP hailed Tagore as the best exemplar of the ideal (Tagore: A Study, 1943/1972). Rooted firmly in tradition, Tagore was therefore strong enough to confront the West and to adopt from it selectively, indeed creatively. It was thus that his achievements as a man of culture were superior to those of both Bankim and Gandhi. He set high standards and escaped the crippling clutches of the artificially created (under colonialism), mimetic Indian middle class. Its culture was spurious, lacking in authenticity; Tagore's creativity was wholly genuine.


The relationship of the intellectual elite and the masses was, DP argued, crucial to the development of modern Indian culture. It had to be hierarchical; the elite had to instruct. (One of the books he asked us to read and ponder was Jose Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses, which, although about Europe, told a cautionary tale of general applicability of how masses let loose can produce widespread demoralization in society.)


In 'Intellectuals and Society', written in 1947-48, DP observed: 'Some sort of independence has at last been achieved-so, what should be our [intellectuals'] duty now? The answer to this question has to be found quickly and so simply and beguilingly communicated to the masses that they believe it to be in their own self-interest and accept it of their own free will' (p. 56). The intellectuals have to be the leaders. They have to refine the thinking of the masses, which (as Mao Tse-tung told Andre Malraux) tends to be sound though confused, and return its essence to them clearly articulated.


The true leaders, in DP's scheme of life, never acted for themselves, but on behalf of the group and eventually society. The leader was not an individual (vyakti)-individualism was the scourge of Western society-but a Person, purusha, and his task was purushakara. This idea elaborated into an ideology was called Purushavad by him, 'Personalism' in Srobona Munshi's translation. I would rather call it the ideology of Human Agency: 'Men make their own history', according to Marx, 'but they do not make it just as they please'. Even so, within the limits set by 'circumstances. transmitted from the past' (the historical situation), they make it. History moves in its own steam towards the next higher stage, but, DP maintained, it can be given a push and steered in a particular direction: 'every intellectual and intelligent man has the duty of constructing the right attitude to history' (p. 66 below). To say so meant, in Srobona Munshi's apt words, having 'faith in humanity and faith in history'. And since 'man is at the centre of Marxism', to hold such a view was, DP believed, in consonance with Marxism: 'Marxism is a modern version of the old Humanism' (p. 54).


Marxism was, of course, one of the abiding themes of DP's work and this interest is well reflected in the essays selected for this volume. He refused, however, to be called a Marxist; the most he allowed was the designation of Marxologist. It fitted with his temperament and his role as a teacher. The uncritical textbook Marxists of India infuriated him, but he saw a historical role cut out for them; hence his concern about Left unity, which finds expression in this volume.


Almost reversing his argument about the leadership role of intellectuals, DP believed that the Left leadership would fulfil its role under pressure from below, the peasants and the workers. One would have liked to have the two positions (about the role of leadership) not merely reconciled (DP's dialectical approach had bigger goals) but transformed into a higher synthesis. But then the scope of an essay is limited by its length. Moreover, DP often wrote under the pressure of the prevailing circumstances, and as these changed, this analysis also underwent a change. Many of the essays in this volume will seem dated (is the issue of Left unity dated?) to the readers, but their value lies in their being a commentary on changing times. The unity of the essays is conceptual and methodological. They are an important chapter in the intellectual history of modern India.

One last point before I conclude. DP has had his admirers but also his critics. One of the major grounds of criticism has been that in his conception of Indian culture the Hindu tradition is bestowed hegemonic status. From this perspective, the relationship of the Hindus with the various 'others' is that of patronage. Thus, DP argued that, in independent India, Muslims must be allowed political and social space, with opportunities for participation in culture (see pp. 59-60 below). His ideology of Purushavad also could be said to have Brahmanical roots. It is criticism that one would have liked him to answer. Maybe he thought that the cultural tradition with the longest history and the widest spread provided the most viable basis for the making of a significant cultural synthesis, that without it there would only be local experiments. But there had been, as he discussed in Modern Indian Culture, serious obstacles in the way of achieving such a synthesis in full measure, notably the lack of congruence of the primary values of the different traditions in the medieval period, and later, the negative impact of colonialism. The superficial character of some post-independence ventures in the field of culture generally left him cold, and at times even distressed. He did not, however, live long enough to make firmer judgements.


In the Preface to Diversities, D.P. Mukerji wrote (obviously teasingly) that his Bengali friends had 'ignored' his English books, and his non-Bengali friends 'had not read the Bengali ones'! In the latter conclusion he was of course right. When the present volume becomes available, the non-Bengali readers will have had one of their longstanding wishes fulfilled. I thank Srobona Munshi and her colleagues for their labour of love and compliment them for their love of scholarship. It is indeed a pleasure to commend Redefining Humanism: Selected Essays of D.P. Mukerji to the readers, including those who may have read these compositions in the original Bengali.




This book is the outcome of a project undertaken as part of the UGC 1 sponsored DRS (SAP III) programme of the Department of English, University of Calcutta. The context in which the project took off was the production of source material in English for research in the area of literary and cultural exchange between Bengal and Britain in the last two centuries. My choice of D.P. Mukerji's sociological writings in Bengali as material for translation was the result of several factors. Although the last post that he held was as Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at Aligarh Muslim University, it was as a pioneer in the study of sociology in India that D.P. Mukerji is better known in academic circles. Well versed in Indian history and philosophy, he was also conversant with the rational thought and liberal values of the so-called Western Enlightenment. His mind and work thus became the eclectic meeting ground of the intellectual traditions of India and the West. His books in English are well known to students of sociology. But his Bengali writings on social issues are as yet unknown to his non-Bengali readers. The essays translated in this book, it is believed, will thus provide additional material for interested scholars.


The eight essays translated in this volume are taken from a collection entitled Baktabya, roughly translated as 'Statements', published in 1957. They were composed much earlier. The five essays in Part One of the present volume were written between 1947 and 1949 while the three essays in Part Two first appeared in the years 1933 to 1935. The latter three though written earlier are placed after the first five not only because that is how they appear in Baktabya but because this seems to be the proper arrangement. The author's emphasis on history and the scientific interpretation of history in the five essays of the first Part seems to culminate, as it were, in his exegesis of the meaning and method of history in the three essays of the second Part. A simple working glossary has been compiled from secondary sources and appended at the end in the interest of the reader for D.P. Mukerji did not provide notes or references in his writings. Only such names mentioned in the essays as are not very widely known have been included in the glossary. Also, we have not been able to trace some of the mentioned authors and, as the names appear in the essays in the Bengali script, we are not even sure if we have spelt them correctly in the English transcription.


I am grateful to all the translators of the essays for their enthusiastic participation in the project, their timely submission of manuscripts and above all for their patience. Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta wishes to acknowledge her debt to Dr Dipannita Datta for her invaluable assistance in translating the essay 'Further Thoughts on Faith in Man'. Professor Jharna Sanyal would like to thank Ms Paromita Sanyal for her help in translating 'For Personalism:


Against Individualism'. Ms Debjani Roy Moulik has assisted me in my editorial work as has Ms Chandosi Sanyal and I am very thankful to both of them. Professor Krishna Sen, Coordinator of the first phase of the DRS programme and Professor Tapati Gupta, former Head of the Department of English, have both given me their unstinted cooperation at all times. Professor T.N. Madan, one of the most distinguished scholars to have been taught by D.P. Mukerji, has put me in his debt by graciously writing a Foreword for this book. I am indebted to Professor Alok Ray whose biography of D.P. Mukerji in Bengali has supplied me with many details of his life. I have also benefited from the learned introductions by Professor Saroj Bandyopadhyay, Professor Ujjwal Kumar Majumdar, and the late Ananta Kumar Chakrabarty to the Collected Works in Bengali of D.P. Mukerji in three volumes published by Dey's Publishing, Calcutta, 1985-1987. Special mention must be made of the moving tribute written for the last of these volumes by the eminent economist Professor Ashok Mitra who was much influenced by D.P. Mukerji. I would also like to thank Ms Indira Chandrasekhar, Rani Ray and Devalina Mookerjee of Tulika Books for all their help and for doing their part of the job so well. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Suranjan Das, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta, for his interest in our work and for helping it to see the light of day.




Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji, affectionately called DP by his students and admirers, has commanded the respect of all those who have known him either personally or through a study of his writings. He wrote in English as well as in Bengali. Those who have read his writings in English have been, by and large, uninformed about his Bengali writings. The purpose of this book is to overcome this problem by making available in English some of his Bengali essays. These essays were written during the years of the Freedom Movement and Independence. Though some of his immediate concerns have receded into the background, his major engagement in these essays deserves a fresh look. This engagement, as the title of the book suggests, is to redefine humanism. He examines humanism with reference to both European and Indian thought and concludes that in this age of the erosion of faith in God what is needed is faith in man. But this faith in man must go beyond that of thinkers such as Rousseau or Gandhi. DP proposes here an interesting idea, the idea of purushavada which can be roughly translated as personalism. DP pursues this idea in relation to history. The importance of history lies in showing us that even a philosophical outlook has to be considered in its historical context. Just as it is necessary to have faith in man, it is necessary to have faith in history. And history reveals to us that man is unable to attain full humanity mainly because of class divisions. DP's engagement with humanism thus has a contemporary relevance. Even a reader who has carefully studied his writings in English will find much that is valuable in these Bengali essays written more than fifty years ago.


DP was born on 5 October 1894 in Srirampur in Bengal's Hooghly district, the original home of his grandmother on the father's side. The male line of the family came from Narayanpur, close to Bhatpara, in what is now the district of North 24 Parganas. DP's father Bhupatinath, a law graduate of the University of Calcutta, practised law at the Alipur-Barasat court and made Barasat his permanent place of residence. Bhupatinath's father, Kalidas Mukhopadhyay, had been the Headmaster of Hooghly Branch School and, later, Assistant Professor at Hooghly College where he earned renown as a teacher of English and History at a time when not many Indians were appointed to teaching posts. Among his students were Syed Amir Ali, Hon'ble Justice Shamsul Huda and Hon'ble Justice Zahid Suhrawardy. DP's mother Elokeshi Devi was the daughter of Hemchandra Chattopadhyay who was a favourite student of Alexander Duff. An M.A. in Philosophy from Calcutta University, Hemchandra taught in Hooghly College before he turned to law, taking up practice at the Hooghly Court where he became exceptionally eminent in the field of Criminal Law.


The eldest son of his parents, DP studied mainly at Barasat Government School and for a short while at Hare School in Calcutta. He passed his Entrance examination in 1909 and stood first in the university in English and Sanskrit. However, his inclination for science made him take up the Intermediate Science course in St. Xavier's College, Calcutta. Missing a year on account of illness, he took the examination in 1912 from Ripon College where he also enrolled for the B.A. degree with Honours in English but with Mathematics and Chemistry as subsidiary subjects. Securing first class marks in English and fairly good marks in Mathematics, he failed in his Chemistry practicals, allegedly for losing time while helping out a fellow student! His association with Ripon College was of great significance for he found there some of the foremost teachers of his time who left a powerful impression on his young mind. About this time DP fell seriously ill. He went to Darjeeling to recuperate and it was there that he met and came to know at close quarters the philosopher Acharya Brajendranath Seal. Meanwhile, DP's father had decided to send him to England to complete his education at the London School of Economics. Accordingly DP set sail for England but fell so sick on the way that he had to come back home from Colombo. A year passed by in sickness and depression but he finally appeared for his BA examination in 1916 from Bangabasi College, Calcutta. After graduation he took up the MA course in History at the University of Calcutta and simultaneously the study of law at the Law College of the same university. Abandoning the law course, he somehow managed to take the MA examination in History in 1918 which he cleared without great distinction. His indifference to studies this time was induced by psychosomatic disorders exacerbated by the death of his second brother a few months before the examination. DP was later to dedicate Personality and the Social Sciences, his first published book, to the memory of this brother. He later recalled how much he was helped during this trying time by his lifelong friend Satyendranath Bose whom the world knows as a physicist but whose range of learning and skills seemed phenomenal to those who knew him closely. In July 1919, DP married Chhaya Devi, daughter of Probodh Chandra Bandyopadhyay; their son Kumar, an only child, was born in February 1927. DP earned his second MA degree in 1920 in Economics (then known as Political Economy) and was placed second in the first class. His father had died shortly before the examination.


In this first phase of his life, DP was greatly influenced by several members of his family and by his teachers in Ripon College. His father had been a student of science with a good command of English language and literature. DP's interest in History was inherited from his father and his paternal grandfather. His respect for science was due to the influence not only of his father but also of Professor Satish Chattopadhyay of City College and of Acharya Ramendrasundar Trivedi of Ripon College who contributed the scientific temper and methodology to DP's intellectual equipment. Music was possibly the greatest love of DP's life. His admiration for the serene purity of dhrupad was in line with his father's distinct preference for that pristine form of Indian classical music. DP's mother came from a family' of music lovers. She herself was a good singer of tappas and her father's house was a seat of soirees of classical music. Her nephew and DP's cousin Tripuracharan Chattopadhyay (whom the younger members of the family called Tipuda) had a melodious and sonorous singing voice. An MA in philosophy and a sceptic, Tipuda was the friend, philosopher and guide of DP's youth. As for his teachers, DP was singularly fortunate in being taught by a galaxy of them, the best in Bengal of that era. In his Reminiscences, DP writes about the heady mixture of a variety of intellectual fare that he was exposed to. He writes of Ishan Ghosh's teaching of History in school; of Acharya Ramendrasundar, Janakinath, Kshetramohan, of Aghor Chattopadhyay's Chemistry classes in college; of Henry Stephen and Manmohan Ghosh and their English lectures and of the philosopher Brajendranath Seal at the University of Calcutta; of the association with Pramatha Chowdhury, the doyen of Bengali prose writers, with Rabindranath Tagore and Patrick Geddes; of the distant light shed by Acharya Jagadishchandra Bose and Acharya Prafullachandra Ray; and of the hovering presence of Abanindranath and Gaganendranath with their art and of Radhika Goswami, Keramat Khan, Viswanath Rao with theirs. 'All of them, I thought, were telling me not to be satisfied with small things', DP wrote.




















Faith in Man



Further Thoughts on Faith in Man



For Personalism: Against Individualism



Marxism and Humanism



Intellectuals and Society









The Meaning and Method of History



The Meaning and Method of History:



European Experiences



History and Class Conflict






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