Nirad C. Chaudhuri Biography

(Indian writer)

Birthday: November 23, 1897 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, British India (now Bangladesh)

The only Indian ever to be awarded the prestigious Duff Cooper memorial Award, Nirad C. Chaudhuri was one of the best known Indian fiction authors of 20th century. Born in British India, his writings reflect the history of India in the context of British colonialism. He was a writer par excellence who over his long and productive career had produced several novels and biographies which earned him numerous awards and accolades. A fiercely independent man, he never feared to court controversy and in the very first book he wrote, he worded the dedication in such a way that was sure to infuriate the Indian official class. But here was a man who didn’t care a damn about what others thought of him. That was what set him apart from many a writer of his time. He was good friends with the equally fiery writer and novelist Khushwant Singh. Chaudhuri was deeply distressed by the hypocrisy he observed in the Bengali society, in particular that which stemmed from caste and social distinctions, and was fierce in his writings about them. He had several political connections that not only made him disillusioned with Indian politics, but also led him to be involved in controversies.
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Spouse/Ex-: Amiya Dhar

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Died on: August 1, 1999

place of death: Oxford, England

Childhood & Early Life
He was born into the family of a country lawyer; his mother didn’t even know how to read, as was common with most women of those times.
After receiving his primary education from Kishorganj and Calcutta, he went to Ripon College, Calcutta. Then he studied history as his undergraduate major at the Scottish Church College, from where he graduated with honors.
He enrolled for M.A at the University of Calcutta but did not appear for all of his exams, and thus failed to clear the course.
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His first job was as a clerk in the Accounting Department of the Indian Army. It was during the same time that he also started writing articles for magazines. His first article that was published was on the Bengali poet, Bharat Chandra.
He did not find his work as a clerk to be very interesting. With his journalistic career picking up, he decided to ditch his job in the Accounting Department and became a full-time journalist.
By now he was acquainted with the writers Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee and Dakshinaranjan Mitra with whom he was sharing accommodation. He began editing the popular English and Bengali magazines, ‘Modern Review’ and ‘Prabasi’, respectively.
Over the 1920s he also founded two Bengali magazines, ‘Samasamayik’ and ‘Notun Patrika’. These magazines did gain a reputation for their literary content, but were short-lived.
He was appointed as a secretary to Sarat Chandra Bose, a political leader in the nationalist movement in India, in 1938. Because of this position, he became acquainted with several political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Subhas Chandra Bose.
Working in close proximity with politicians made him realize several truths about the politics in India and made him skeptical about India’s future. He became very disillusioned with the Indian political system.
Even while working as a secretary, he continued writing articles for newspapers, in both Bengali and English. He also worked as a political commentator for the Calcutta branch of the All India Radio before working for the Delhi branch in 1941.
He had always been a journalist, but it wasn’t until he was 53 that he brought out his first book in English, ‘The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’, in 1951. The book created much controversy at the time of its release as it infuriated a lot of Indians, especially the bureaucratic class.
Because of the book, he lost his job at the All India Radio as government rules prohibited government employees to publish memoirs. He was also deprived of his pension and was blacklisted as a writer.
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However, his fortunes changed when the British Council and the BBC invited him to England in 1955 and requested him to contribute lectures to the BBC. He accepted it and contributed eight lectures on British life which were later collected in the ‘Passage to England’.
In 1965, he published ‘The Continent of Circle’, a collection of essays in which he discussed the Indian society from a socio-psychological perspective. In the book he presents a different viewpoint that goes against the “pacifist” theory that most people associate with India.
In 1970, he left India to settle in Oxford, England and spent his expatriate years, thinking and writing about India.
A prolific writer, he continued writing till the end of his life. His book, ‘Thy Hand, Great Anarch!’ (1987) was an autobiographical sequel to ‘The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’, which he had written decades earlier.
Major Works
His first book, ‘The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’ is considered to be his magnum opus. It was a memoir detailing his life from his birth in a small town, to his growth as an individual in Calcutta. The book stirred a lot of controversy but also made him immensely popular as a writer.
Awards & Achievements
His book, ‘The Continent of Circle’ won the prestigious Duff Cooper Memorial Award in 1966, making Chaudhuri the first Indian to have won the prize.
He was presented with the Sahitya Akademi Award for his biography on Max Muller, ‘Scholar Extraordinary’ in 1975.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married another well-known writer, Amiya Dhar in 1932. The couple had three sons.
He lived a very long and productive life. He was actively writing well up to the end of his life, publishing his last work at the age of 99! He died in 1999 of natural causes, just two months short of his 102nd birthday.

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