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.
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.