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Nirad C. Chaudhuri

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Subject: Scholar Extraordinary, List of biographers, WikiProject West Bengal/to do, Political views of Subhas Chandra Bose, Duff Cooper Prize
Collection: 1897 Births, 1999 Deaths, Bengali Historians, Bengali People, Bengali Writers, Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, Critics of Islam, Historians of South Asia, Indian Autobiographers, Indian Biographers, Indian Centenarians, Indian Essayists, Indian Historians, Indian Literary Critics, Indian Memoirists, Indian Political Writers, People from Kolkata, Recipients of the Sahitya Akademi Award in English, Scottish Church College, Calcutta Alumni, Surendranath College Alumni, University of Calcutta Alumni
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Nirad C. Chaudhuri

Nirad C. Chaudhuri
The blue plaque for Nirad Chaudhuri in Lathbury Road, North Oxford.[1]
Born (1897-11-23)23 November 1897
Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, British India (now Bangladesh)
Died 1 August 1999(1999-08-01) (aged 101)
Lathbury Road, Oxford, England
Pen name

Balahak Nandi, Sonibarer Cithi

Outsider, Now
Occupation writer and commentator on culture
Nationality Indian
Period 1930s–1999
Genre literature, culture, politics, war strategy, winery

Nirad C. Chaudhuri (Bengali: নীরদ চন্দ্র চৌধুরী Nirod Chôndro Choudhuri) (23 November 1897 – 1 August 1999) was a Bengali−English writer and man of letters. He was born in 1897 in Kishoreganj, then part of Bengal in British India, now in Bangladesh.

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[2]

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 Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).


  • Biography 1
  • Major works 2
  • Social views and writing style 3
  • Controversies 4
  • Honours 5
  • Books 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Chaudhuri was educated in 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

20 Lathbury Road, the former home of Nirad Chaudhuri, with its blue plaque.[1]

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[3] from 1982 until his death and a blue plaque was installed by the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board in 2008.[1]

Major works

His masterpiece, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (ISBN 0-201-15576-1), published in 1951, put him on the short list of great Indian writers. He courted controversy in the newly independent India due to the dedication of the book, which ran thus:

The dedication, which was actually a mock-imperial rhetoric, 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. 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.

Social views and writing style

Although he was highly critical of the [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.

His prose was highly influenced by Sanskrit and the older version of the Bengali language, the Shadhubhasha (সাধুভাষা). 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 (though not as common as in Hindi).


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 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).



Chaudhuri wrote the following books in English:

  • 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:

  • 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.  
  2. ^ List of Sahitya Akademi Award winners for English
  3. ^ Symonds, Ann Spokes (1997). "The Chaudhuris". The Changing Faces of North Oxford. Book One.  
  4. ^ a b Chaudhuri, Nirad (1997). India! The Golden Jubilee [Granta 57] (Spring ed.). Granta. pp. 209–210.  
  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

  • Chadhuri's Blue Plaque at Lathbury Road in North Oxford
  • Naras page
  • Pictures at age 93
  • From Banglapedia
  • Merchant Ivory documentary
  • The unrepentant vision - a portrait of Nirad C. Chaudhuri at 95Documentary on YouTube
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