Nirad C. Chaudhuri

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Nirad C. Chaudhuri
Native name
Bengali: নীরদ চন্দ্র চৌধুরী
Born(1897-11-23)23 November 1897
Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, British India (present-day Bangladesh)
Died1 August 1999(1999-08-01) (aged 101)
Lathbury Road, Oxford, England
Pen nameBalahak Nandi, Sonibarer Cithi Outsider, Now
Occupationwriter and commentator on culture
Genreliterature, culture, politics, war strategy, winery

Nirad Chandra Chaudhuri - CBE (23 November 1897 – 1999) was an Indian English-language writer.

Chaudhuri authored numerous works in English and Bengali. His oeuvre provides a magisterial appraisal of the histories and cultures of India, especially in the context of British colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chaudhuri is best known for The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, published in 1951. Over the course of his literary career, he received numerous accolades for his writing. In 1966, The Continent of Circe was awarded the Duff Cooper Memorial Award, making Chaudhuri the first and only Indian to date to be given the prize. The Sahitya Akademi, India's national Academy of Letters, awarded Chaudhuri the Sahitya Akademi Award for his biography on Max Müller, Scholar Extraordinary.[citation needed]

In 1990, Oxford University awarded Chaudhuri, by then a long-time resident of the city of Oxford, an Honorary Degree in Letters. In 1992, he was made an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).[citation needed]


Chaudhuri was born in Kishoregunj, Mymensingh, East Bengal, British India (now Bangladesh), the second of eight children of Upendra Narayan Chaudhuri, a lawyer, and of Sushila Sundarani Chaudhurani. His parents were liberal middle-class Hindus who belonged to the Brahmo Samaj movement.

Chaudhuri was educated in Kishorganj and Kolkata (then, Calcutta). For his FA (school-leaving) course he attended Ripon College in Calcutta along with the famous Bengali writer Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. Following this, he attended Scottish Church College, Calcutta, where he studied history as his undergraduate major. He graduated with honors in history and topped the University of Calcutta merit list. At Scottish Church College, Calcutta, he attended the seminars of the noted historian, Professor Kalidas Nag. After graduation, he enrolled for the M.A. at the University of Calcutta. However, he did not attend all of his final exams, and consequently was not able to complete his M.A.From 1937 to 1941 he worked as a secretary to Sharatchandra Bose (Subhas Chandra Bose'brother).[citation needed]

20 Lathbury Road, the former home of Nirad Chaudhuri, with its blue plaque.[1]
The blue plaque for Nirad Chaudhuri in Lathbury Road, North Oxford.[1]

After his studies, he took a position as a clerk in the Accounting Department of the Indian Army. At the same time, he started contributing articles to popular magazines. His first article on Bharat Chandra (a famous Bengali poet of the 18th century) appeared in the most prestigious English magazine of the time, Modern Review.[citation needed]

Chaudhuri left his position in the Accounting Department shortly after, and started a new career as a journalist and editor. During this period he was a boarder in Mirzapur Street near College Square, Kolkata, living together with the writers Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee and Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumder. He was involved in the editing of the then well-known English and Bengali magazines Modern Review, Prabasi and Sonibarer Chithi. In addition, he also founded two short-lived but highly esteemed Bengali magazines, Samasamayik and Notun Patrika.Fed up with Bengali insularity,he left Calcutta to settle down in Delhi,and took up a government job there.He worked for All India Radio from 1941 to 1952.But he found that Delhi,too,was full of Philistines.[citation needed]

In 1932, he married Amiya Dhar, a well-known writer herself; the couple had three sons.[citation needed]

In 1938, Chaudhuri obtained a job as secretary to Sarat Chandra Bose, a political leader in the freedom movement in India. As a result, he was able to interact with political leaders of India: Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the brother of Sarat Chandra Bose, Subhas Chandra Bose (also known as Netaji). A growing familiarity with the workings of the inner circle of Indian politics led him to be skeptical about its eventual progress, and he became progressively disillusioned about the ability of Indian political leadership.[citation needed]

Apart from his career as a secretary, Chaudhuri continued to contribute articles in Bengali and English to newspapers and magazines. He was also appointed as a political commentator on the Kolkata branch of the All India Radio. In 1941, he started working for the Delhi Branch of the All India Radio.[citation needed]

Chaudhuri was a prolific writer even in the very last years of his life, publishing his last work at the age of 99. His wife Amiya Chaudhuri died in 1994 in Oxford, England. He too died in Oxford, three months short of his 102nd birthday, in 1999. He lived at 20 Lathbury Road[2] from 1982 until his death and a blue plaque was installed by the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board in 2008.[1]

Student historian Dipayan Pal wrote of Nirad C. Chaudhuri in The Statesman in 2016:[3]

Why was he always in love with England, though he had never visited the land before the age of 57? These questions perplexed me and the only answer I could decipher is that perhaps Nirad Chaudhuri was in search of a home that he could call his own.

And perhaps this street in 1980s took him closer to the novels of Hardy and Austen. Lovers of literature not only see texts through their lives but also sculpt live through the texts they read. His textual affinity was coupled with the colonial aura he grew up with- we must remember that he spent his first 50 years in an empire where the sun never set.

His England was a realisation of certain dominant sensibilities and visions he idealised but they were far from reality. Places like 20, Lathbury road makes me wonder why people choose to migrate and why certain places receive more sanctity than others. For Nirad Chaudhuri, England was sacred and for some America is. The solution to this onerous puzzle cannot be found in better living standard or socio-economic conditions of higher wages.

Furthermore, certain places celebrate certain people. Nirad Chaudhuri would have been immensely happy if he knew about the blue plaque as it would fit his sensibilities perfectly. Even Oxford County Council was happy enough to remember this “an original thinker, forthright in his opinions and an internationalist, in the sense of one who embraces the best of all cultures but never loses his own.

Major works[edit]

His masterpiece, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, published in 1951, put him on the long list of great Indian writers. Chaudhari had said that The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian is 'more of an exercise in descriptive ethology than autobiography'. He is concern with describing the conditions in which an Indian grew to manhood in the early decades of the century, and as he feels that the basic principle of book is that environment shall have precedence over its product; he describes its affectionate and sensuous detail the three places that had the greatest influence on him: Kishoreganj,the country town in which he lived till he was twelve; Bangram; his ancestral village; and Kalikutch, his mother's village. A fourth chapter is devoted to England, which occupied a large place in his imagination. Latre in the book he talks about Kolkatta, the Indian Renaissance, the beginnings of the nationalist Movement, and his experience of Englishmen in India as oppposed to the idyllic pictures of a civilization he consider perhaps the greatest in the world. These themes remains preoccupations in most of Chaudhari's work, as does his deterministic view of culture and politics. He courted controversy in the newly independent India due to the dedication of the book, which ran thus:

To the memory of the British Empire in India,
Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
But withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
"Civis Britannicus sum"
Because all that was good and living within us
Was made, shaped and quickened
By the same British rule.

The dedication infuriated many Indians, particularly the political and bureaucratic establishment. "The wogs took the bait and having read only dedication sent up howls of protest", commented Chaudhuri's friend, editor, historian and novelist, Khushwant Singh.[citation needed] Chaudhuri was hounded out of government service, deprived of his pension, blacklisted as a writer in India and forced to live a life of penury. Furthermore, he had to give up his job as a political commentator in All India Radio as the Government of India promulgated a law that prohibited employees from publishing memoirs. Chaudhuri argued that his critics were not careful-enough readers; "the dedication was really a condemnation of the British rulers for not treating us as equals", he wrote in a 1997 special edition of Granta.[4] Typically, to demonstrate what exactly he had been trying to say, he drew on a parallel with Ancient Rome. The book's dedication, Chaudhuri observed, "was an imitation of what Cicero said about the conduct of Verres, a Roman proconsul of Sicily who oppressed Sicilian Roman citizens, who in their desperation cried out: "Civis romanus sum".[4]

In 1955, the British Council and the BBC jointly made arrangements to take Chaudhuri to England for eight weeks. He was asked to contribute lectures to the BBC, and wrote eight of these. His impressions of England and Europe were later collected in A Passage to England. The Continent of Circe, published in 1965, traces Chaudhuri's doggedly independent-minded ideas on the social, geo-political, and historical aspects of sub-continental India across millennia. An extended sequel to his famous autobiography, titled Thy Hand, Great Anarch! was published in 1988. His last book Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse, published in 1997, coincided with his hundredth year.[citation needed]

At the age of 57, in 1955 for the first time Chaudhari went to abroad. After coming back he wrote a novel Passage to England(1959). In this novel he talked about his visits account of five weeks in England, two weeks in Paris and one week in Rome. He has given all these figures only as he wants to show the intensity and range of the experience he went through in these eight weeks. During this period he visited statues, paintings, plays and other work of arts. He also visited buildings, landscapes and gardens and also heard music and poetry.

Social views and writing style[edit]

Although he was highly critical of the post-independence Congress party establishment, Chaudhuri was more sympathetic to the right-wing Hindu nationalist movement in India. He refused to criticise the destruction of mosques: “Muslims do not have the slightest right to complain about the desecration of one mosque in Ayodhya. From 1000 AD every temple from Kathiawar to Bihar, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas has been sacked and ruined. Not one temple was left standing all over northern India. They escaped destruction only where Muslim power did not gain access to them for reasons such as dense forests. Otherwise, it was a continuous spell of vandalism. No nation with any self-respect will forgive this. What happened in Ayodhya would not have happened had the Muslims acknowledged this historical argument even once.”[5]

Chaudhuri was also deeply distressed by what he saw as the deep hypocrisy in Bengali social life and in particular those that resulted from class and caste distinctions. His historical research revealed to him that the rigid Victorianesque morality of middle class Bengali women was a socially enforced construct, that had less to do with religion, choice and judgment, but more to do with upbringing, social acceptance and intergenerational transference of values.[citation needed]

His prose was highly influenced by Sanskrit and the older version of the Bengali language, the Shadhubhasha.[citation needed] He had little respect for the proletarian language, Choltibhasha (চলতিভাষা ) or Cholitobhasha (চলিতভাষা), which he regarded as being common in taste and scope. He avoided the use of words and very common expressions originating from Arabic, Urdu and Persian in modern Bengali.


Nirad C Chaudhuri is accused of being in secret connivance with the British and leaked information about the whereabouts of Sarat Chandra Bose. This may have led to arrest of Sarat Bose in 1941.[6] Dr. Radha Nag (রাধা নাগ) showed the conflict of the 'writer' Nirad C with the 'person' Niradbabu in her Bengali book আত্মঘাতী নীরদ চৌধুরী 'Atmaghati Nirad Choudhuri'(Suicidal Nirad Choudhuri).[citation needed]



Chaudhuri wrote the following books in English:[citation needed]

  • The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951)
  • A Passage to England (1959)
  • The Continent of Circe (1965)
  • The Intellectual in India (1967)
  • To Live or Not to Live (1971)
  • Scholar Extraordinary, The Life of Professor the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Muller, P.C. (1974)
  • Culture in the Vanity Bag (1976)
  • Clive of India (1975)
  • Hinduism: A Religion to Live by (1979)
  • Thy Hand, Great Anarch! (1987)
  • Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse (1997)
  • The East is East and West is West (collection of pre-published essays)
  • From the Archives of a Centenarian (collection of pre-published essays)
  • Why I Mourn for England (collection of pre-published essays)

He also wrote the following books in Bengali:[citation needed]

  • Bangali Jibane Ramani (Role of Woman in Bengali Life)
  • Atmaghati Bangali (Suicidal Bengalee)
  • Atmaghati Rabindranath (Suicidal Rabindranath)
  • Amar Debottar Sampatti (My Bequeathed Property)
  • Nirbachita Prabandha (Selected Essays)
  • Aji Hote Satabarsha Age (Before a Hundred Years) (A Hundred years ago)


  1. ^ a b c Warr, Elizabeth Jean (2011). The Oxford Plaque Guide. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-0-7524-5687-4.
  2. ^ Symonds, Ann Spokes (1997). "The Chaudhuris". The Changing Faces of North Oxford. Book One. Robert Boyd Publications. p. 90. ISBN 1-899536-25-6.
  3. ^ Pal, Dipayan (19 May 2016). "An unknown Bengali in Oxfordshire". The Statesman.
  4. ^ a b Chaudhuri, Nirad (1997). India! The Golden Jubilee [Granta 57] (Spring ed.). Granta. pp. 209–210. ISBN 9780140141474.
  5. ^ Ram ki Nagri, once again Daily Pioneer – 3 October 2010
  6. ^ "Netaji kin want Nirad files".
  7. ^ "The Nirad C. Chaudhuri Page". Retrieved 11 July 2012.

External links[edit]