A BOOK IS BORN
A Brief Introduction to the upcoming Biography of
DR RAJENDRA PRASAD: THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF INDIA
By Dr BSM Murty
My long-awaited book, a biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad : First President of India, is coming out this month. Given below is the full synopsis, the contents, some acclamatory comments, parts of the Foreword by Shri Rajmohan Gandhi and my own Afterword, along with some photographs in the book. These can all be seen here.
The book has grown out of the conviction that among all the major political figures of the Indian freedom movement Rajendra Prasad remained closest to the Gandhian ideals of Truth and Non-violence. His contribution to the constructive work of social reform and inculcating true patriotic fervour among the masses on a national level has been incomparable. Even in charting the course of the freedom movement, defining its policy framework, and structuring a constitutionally sound democratic system for the nation, he occupies a position that remains unparalleled. He is like a colossus striding the Indian political arena for nearly three decades on either side of India’s tryst with freedom. Yet when we scan the ample historiography of the freedom movement, and the numerous biographies of its chief protagonists, we find very scanty references to his significant political contributions.
Except for Gandhi, Nehru, and a few other political leaders, on a diminishing scale, our biography bookshelf remains rather skimpy. It is surprising that, to my knowledge, no foreign writer has so far written a full-scale biography of Rajendra Prasad, and the few Indian biographies that exist are far from satisfactory. Most are mere unimaginative recapitulations of Rajendra Prasad’s Autobiography, at least in their first half, and, dull academic expositions, in the latter half. As John Carey writes in his recently published biography of William Golding (Faber & Faber, 2009), “bringing the past back, and breathing life into it, is what [biographies] are supposed to be about”.
The present book is an humble attempt to recreate a unique life of patriotic dedication - in times when a vast multi-cultural nation was awakening from its centuries-old deep slumber and inertia – striding along the path of immortality, following in the footsteps of Gandhi, the great modern crusader of truth and non-violence, of peace and harmony, with full conviction and faith in his master’s spiritual re-interpretation of modern Indian political history.
From the Foreword
The first and longest-serving president of our republic, Rajendra Prasad (1884-1963) shone as a star of the freedom movement in the two decades that preceded his presidency.
With Gandhi, who was 15 years older, Prasad served as an enthusiastic and faithful junior, except in the very final phase when almost everyone including Prasad stood on one side and an isolated Mahatma on the other. With the other stars of that period -- Patel, Rajaji, Azad, Nehru, Ghaffar Khan and Subhas, to name them in the order of their birth --, Prasad’s relationship was always of an equal. Often spoken of as ‘simple’, ‘God’s good man’ or ‘the least disliked’, Rajen Babu (the moniker millions used for the tall Bihari) was of course a good deal more than any of that.
Given his standing in the Indian imagination, it is a surprise that a substantial biography has not appeared before this. Fortunately, what has now come is an illuminating and absorbing study.
In producing it, Professor Mangal Murty has had several advantages. Mentally, he has lived with Rajen Babu for decades. Culturally, he has an instinctive affinity with, and intimate knowledge, of Rajen Babu’s background. Crucially, Prof.Murty the writer is at home in the modern world and in the worlds of literature, English and Hindi.
Rajendra Prasad has been a significant figure in the biographical and historical studies I have myself attempted over the last four decades. As a young man, I also had the chance a couple of times to call on President Prasad. From what I understood of him, I think that the man as well as the scholar in Rajen Babu would be glad that Prof.Murty has written this study.
New Haven, Connecticut,
USA, 28 May 2017.
From the Afterword by the author
Virginia Woolf’s stipulations on the art of biography, however, pertain more specifically to literary biography closer to the ‘rainbow’ rather than to a political biography tied up with the ‘granite’ world of facts, where the challenges before the biographer become more stringent. The ‘granite’ facts often are not only incontestable but also multi-dimensional and historically controversial. And the portrait-painting ‘rainbow’ aspect of the personality also becomes more constricted and inevitably subjective, particularly in relation to the multi-dimensionality of the facts and the subject’s inter-relationships with the other characters in the historical narrative. In other words, the nature of the historical narrative in the case of a political subject is significantly different from that of a semi-fictional ‘rainbow-ed’ character in a literary biography. There is assuredly more freedom in a literary biography for diverse interpretations of the subject’s personality than in a political biography with more constraints in subjective portrait-painting.
Political biography, therefore, is different, though being in the same genre of life-writing. It tilts closer towards history than to fiction, to facts than to imagination. It must necessarily have more of ‘granite’ than of ‘rainbow’. In fact, political biography is generally to be written under far more constraints than a literary biography even which Woolf finds ‘most restricted of all the arts’. Also, whereas in a literary biography the biographer has more freedom to speculate and imagine and concentrate on the literary works of the writer – essentially more akin to imagination than to facts - in a political biography the primary focus is on the political events and the subject’s personality as it is reflected in the political mirror. A political biography has a national context with its own related historical and socio-cultural parameters. It also has to trapeze forward, as it were, with other equally notable political figures standing close beside its subject, keeping a focused eye on their complex reciprocal interrelationships. It is also obliged to keep its appraisal of the contemporary political issues in relation to the subject fairly objective and persuasive from a perspective relevant to the biographer’s own times. And in its depiction of the subject’s personality, it must be true to the innate character and thought of the person. And for this the biographer must allow his subject ‘to determine the tone and texture of his life story’. In consequence, therefore, a near-living portrait of the subject – convincing enough for the biographer’s generation - must emerge which is fully credible in the midst of all the constraining factors.
As Michael Holroyd, Bernard Shaw’s famous biographer says: ‘Writing a biography has to do with trying to let the person live again, in a different time, for the reader’. For achieving this, the biographer and his subject must ‘move on the same level of history’, through a process of ‘biographical transference’ whereby the biographer must possess the nimbleness to simultaneously remain ‘inside the narrative as well as outside’ and yet ‘create a sense of sequence and coherence’. Another prerequisite is that the new life story must present a fresh version of ‘past history in the generation’s new language’ and follow ‘the curve of a new generation’s curiosity’. Obviously, these and many more such are constraints that tie the hands of a writer who is attempting to write a political biography. Whatever Virginia Woolf said in her celebrated essay ‘The Art of Biography’ about ‘the marriage of granite and rainbow’, – at best a hazardous union – the artful mixing of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, has greater relevance to ‘literary biography’ than to ‘political biography’ which is characterized by the near total supremacy of fact over ‘fiction’ (or an imaginative moulding of the material). All details of historical events and facts have to be carefully selected, sieved and checked for accuracy in full accordance with the character and personality of the political protagonist. Besides, as Holroyd says: ‘all biographies are in a sense group biographies’, created with the protagonist in the centre of the narrative with peripheral presence of the other major players in the political drama. It is ‘like a game of chess’ in which, he continues ‘you can’t just move the pieces where you want’. There is already a larger design of a past period of history in public domain in which the biographical narrative has to be placed so as to subserve the demands of verisimilitude with factual accuracy. The challenge, in fact, is to recreate, without prejudice, authentic history with a feel of ‘living’ history ‘as it was to those vanished people’ [DM]X Obviously the political biographer’s job entails more challenges as it demands more strenuous efforts ‘to mediate between granite and rainbow with consistency and balance’, as Woolf puts it.
A biography is also like a mosaic of facts, observations, comments and the protagonist's asservations all arranged into a natural looking pleasing design, very similar to a musical symphony of sounds from different consonant instruments playing together. The lay reader is soon immersed in its music enjoying the harmony achieved in the effect. It is only the critic, the expert scholar, who looks into the warp and woof of the woven patterns - the precision, authenticity and the aptness of the citations and the events in focus. I must admit that in writing this book I have had a bias for the lay reader over the scholar. (Critics, of course, are a class apart - to be wooed and cajoled rather than to be over-awed by.) I have tried to make my story as reader-friendly as possible. A biography is best told, I believe - and in keeping with the persona of the protagonist - in the narrator's steady voice and tone to sound soothing and easy on the 'listening ears' of the reader.
In another sense, a biography is like an afterlife for the subject where the soul incarnates into a new body in the words of a semi-fictional narrative. Even the corporal form recreates itself into a new palpable form, a kind of a painted portrait, an artistic sculpting into a statue bestowing a kind of permanence or immortality. A political biography thus becomes a real-life narrative of a memorable personage who remains a part of the living history of a nation as an inspiration for the posterity. Dr Prasad himself muses in his diary how he could write the story of his life only up to a point in his autobiography and diary notes and the story thenceforward could only be ‘written by somebody; if there is anything worth recording in it’ And then he adds in a sombre tone: ‘We are rather poor in biography writing and poorer still in reading biographies. The result is ignorance of the life story of many who would pass in many countries as heroes….It is a pity that even stalwarts are forgotten no sooner than they have breathed their last.’
Biography writing has several other facets, one of them being the time perspective. There are mainly three possibilities in the time perspective. The first one, of the near variety, written in the subject’s life-time – with or without the scaffolding of an autobiography available at that time - is likely to have lesser durability due to the possibility of later, fuller biographies, though it must have the enviable advantage of having personal conversations with the subject and similar conversations with his/her friends and adversaries, with plenty of new resource materials available for use. But it has the disadvantage of a parallax distortion, being too close in time with the subject. The second possibility, of the far variety, is when the obituaries have been written and read and a final appraisement, possible on the basis of contemporary men and materials, is more easily available as resource. The third possibility, farthest and the last, is when the biography is attempted decades after the protagonist has already been a part of history, with most of his/her contemporaries gone from the scene, and much of the source materials either already vanished or too difficult to trace. Most of the biographies of Gandhi, Nehru – and even Rajendra Prasad - pertain to the first two categories whereas the present biography of Dr Prasad belongs to the last category. Yet it has an advantage of another kind where the biographer has the rare benefit of a long and close association with the subject for over two-generations as well as the advantage of a time-perspective of decades gone by.
Dr Rajendra Prasad had a long and sustained personal relationship with my father, Shivapoojan Sahay to whom this biography is dedicated with the obituaral observations of Dr Prasad (on my father’s death) written barely weeks before his own death. This long association had begun since the non-cooperation movement and had continued with growing congeniality till the very end, with the latter’s demise preceding the former’s only by a few weeks. Occasional instances - particularly in the post-independence phase - of my father’s presence in this biography, therefore, occur briefly at places. And there was at least one significant occasion when I met Dr Prasad at Sadaqat Ashram in May, 1962, soon after his return from Delhi.
I remember that summer afternoon distinctly, a week or so after his coming to Sadaqat Ashram, when I got an opportunity to meet and pay my respects to him. I had gone there with Dr Ramji Varma, a close associate of Dr Prasad - their association going back to the Hazaribag jail days when both were imprisoned during the latter’s incarcerations in the early thirties of the Civil Disobedience days. Dr Varma was related to me and I owed this privilege of a close half-hour meeting with Dr Prasad solely to him. When we met Dr Prasad, he was sitting on that concrete platform beneath the mango tree in front of his old cottage . He was wearing a half-sleeve khadi vest and dhoti, and was sitting on a mat. Dr Prasad started by asking me about my father’s health and welfare. My father, too, was not keeping well at that time and had not till then come to meet him. But I answered all his queries about my father and the work he was engaged in. Dr Varma mostly kept enquiring about Dr Prasad’s health and his future plans. When I asked him about the manuscript of his ‘Atmakatha’ which my father had redacted for publication, he said that all his papers still remain unsorted and he hoped to get that done soon. This was the only time when I had an opportunity of meeting him personally, but I treasure that half-hour’s memory, particularly now that half-century later I have the privilege to retell his life story….
1.House of Gorakh Prasad in Motihari
where Gandhi first stayed in April, 1917
2.Ancestral house at Jiradei
4. Chhapra Zila School today
5.Hazarimal Dharmshala where the indigi farmers'
statements were recorded.
6.Abandoned ruined kothi of an Indio planter near Motihari
7.Cottage at Sadaqat Asram where Rajendra Babu lived before going to Delhi
8.The concrete platform in front of the cottage where I met him.
9.Rajendra Babu giving inaugural address at 1956
Annual convention of Bihar Rashtra Bhasha Parishad Patna
10.Rajendra Babu after retirement leaving for Patna
(13 May, 1962)
11.Room at Sadaqat Asram where he breathed his last
(28 Feb., 1963)
12.Shri Mahendra Prasad
13.During critical illness in 1961
14.'Desh' Hindi weekly edited by Rajendra Babu
15.Dr S. Radhakrishnan, President, awarding 'Bharat Ratna' to Dr Rajendra Prasad
(C)Dr BSM Murty [photos -1 to 4,6 to 9, &11]
Photos:5, 10, 12 to 15 (Courtesy: Rashtrapati Bhawan Photo Archives, with permission)
I. THE BEGINNING
1. Childhood at Jiradei
2. Education at Calcutta University
3 Law Practice
II. THIS IS MY INDIA
1. Passage to Champaran
2. Call of the Indigo
III. INDIA MUST AWAKE
1.The Imperial Theme
2. The Receding Goal
3. Back to Gandhi
IV. CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
1. A Pinch of Salt
2. Strife and Tumult
3. Exit Gandhi
4. The Threshold of Power
V. TRYST WITH DESTINY
1. Freedom and War
2. The Darkening Horizon
3. Quit India
4. Freedom Divided
VI. DAWN OF FREEDOM
1. The Midnight Saga
2. Writing a Constitution
3. India becomes a Republic
4. The Interim President
VII. THE PRESIDENTIAL DCADE
1. A New Beginning
2. Presidential Itineraries
3. Into a Second Term
4. The Last Phase
5. A Deedful life
1.Dear Mangal Murty,
Your book sounds wonderful, and should prove to be most important. I am delighted to learn of your project and plans and strongly encourage you to complete your Biography. Thank you very much for taking the time to outline it to me, and please let me know when you have completed your work, and when it will be published. With my warmest regards and all best wishes,
Prof. of History, University of California
Los Angels, USA
2.Dear Dr Murty,
Thank you for sending me the extract from your biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad. I agree that not sufficient attention has been paid to important role. I wish you all the best with the book when it is published. Yours sincerely,
3.Dear Mangal Murtyji
It is with admiration that I have read this excerpt from your Rajendra Prasad biography. Please accept my congratulations. An English-language biography of Rajen Babu has been needed for a long time; many will be grateful for your effort, now and in the future…. I respect you for your service, and I honour the life and work of your revered father, Acharya Shivapujan Sahay. With regards and best wishes,
4.Dear Dr Murty
I have looked up your extract on your blog. All looks well and I wold not quarrel with anything you have written personally…. I wish you every success with your book. I am writing a book on EM Forster's connections with India. I travel to Delhi occasionally. Perhaps we might meet.
With best regards,
Author of ‘The Butcher of Amritsar’
Other Important blogs you may like to see here:
2010 : Sahitya Samagra : 5 Oct / 2011 : On Premchand: (26 May) / Has Hindi been defeated by English? : Shivpujan Sahay : (7 Dec) / 2012 : Memoirs on Prasad and Nirala : (25-26 Oct)/ 2013 : Sheaf of Old Letters (10 Oct) / 2014 : Shivpujan Sahay Smriti Samaroh:( 27 Jan) / On Amrit Lal Nagar: (18 Aug)/ On Bachchan : (27 Nov) / 2015 : On Renu: (3 Mar) / On Trilochan: (1 Apr) /Odes of Keats + Shantiniketan: (25 May) / Premchand Patron Men: (3 Aug)/ Suhagraat: Dwivediji's poem: (13 Nov)/ 2016 : Three stories of JP:(6 Jul) / On Neelabh Ashk: (24 Jul)/ / Dehati Duniya: (8 Aug)/ Anupam Mishra: Paani ki Kahaani :(Dec 25) / 2017 : Doctornama: memoirs of Shivpujan Sahay (July 10): On Prithwiraj Kapoor (Nov 6) / Rajendra Jayanti Address @ Bihar Vidyapeeth, Patna (Dec 14)/ 2018:हिंदी नव जागरण, शिवपूजन सहाय और काशी (1 Mar)/ Tribute to Kedar Nath Singh (25 May) / राहुलजी और हिंदी-उर्दू-हिन्दुस्तानी का सवाल (12 Jun)/ Neelabh Mishra (16 Jun)/ Death of Shivpoojan Sahay(17 Jun) / बाबा नागार्जुन (1 Jul)
Extracts from my forthcoming biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad
Some extracts from my forthcoming biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad are also available on this Blog (Scroll by year and date), plus some other articles on him.
2011: The Indigo Story (28 May) / A Planter’s Murder (17 Jul) / The Butcher of Amritsar (July 18) / 2014: The Seven Martyrs, The Last Act, The Pity of Partition, Lok ewak Sangh (14 Sep) / Early childhood in Jeeradei ( 3 Dec) / 2015: Congress in disarray, Swearing of First President (30 Jun) / 27: Clash of Convictions: Somnath (27 Aug) / Presidential Itineraries ( 8 Oct) / Congress at crossroads ( 20 Dec) 2016: Election for Second Term (15 Mar) / Visit to Soviet Union (13 May) / Limits of Presidency, Code Bill (24 Aug) / The Last Phase (28 Aug) 2017: Dr Rajendra Prasad: On Kashmir Problem ( 12 Jul) / The Swearing in of Dr Rajendra Prasad (24 July) / Remembering Dr Rajendra Prasad (Patna Univ Centenary) (15 Oct) / Dr Rajendra Prasad & Bihar Vidyapeeth (14 Dec)
You may also visit my Hindi blog –
You may also visit my Hindi blog –
vagishwari.blogspot.com mainly for articles on Shivpoojan Sahay, and my translation of Shrimad Bhagawad Geeta and Ramcharit Manas( retold)
My new address : Dr BSM Murty, H-302, Celebrity Gardens, Sushant Golf City, Ansal API, Lucknow:226030. Mob. 7752922938 & 7985017549 Email: email@example.com
All matter and photos, unless otherwise indicated, are © Dr BSM Murty,