Widowhood was ‘coerced celibacy’,defined a stalwart of the historic Bengal Renaissance in a solidly-argued write-up in The Calcutta Review in 1855. The author was a member of Derozio&’s Young Bengal group- Peary Chand Mitra.
It was significant as a year later The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856 came into effect. Needless to say, Mitra was one of the closest comrades-in-arms of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar.
But his claim to fame does not rest on his proximity to the scholar reformer. Mitra authored the first novel in Bengali, Alaler Ghare Dulal under the pen name Tekchand Thakoor.
It instantantaneously earned for him a high appreciation and he was dubbed Charles Dickens of Bengali Literature.
It was first serialised albeit partly in a Bengali monthly Masik Patrika (edited by Peary Chand jointly with legendary surveyor and Trigonometrician Radhanath Sikdar) in the 1850s.
The monthly was exclusively meant for women, aimed at emancipation of the other sex from the darkness of conservatism.
The novel which lashed out at the plight of wayward youth in Bengali households. It was translated into English by three authors one of whom was Peary Chand himself.
An Englishman, G D Oswell, too penned an English version, The Spoilt Child: A Tale of Hindu Domestic Life (1893). Sangbartak, a little magazine have brought out a preservable 900- plus page special issue as a tribute to this pioneer.
The editorial team, led by Prasun Dhar deserves kudos for judicious choice from collection of Peary Chand&’s works including Alaler Ghare Dulal (first published in 1858), Mawd Khaoa Baro Dai Jaat Thakar Ki Upay (a social protesr against alcoholism among youths in colonial Bengal) and Krishi Patha (Agricultural Readings) and thoughtful essays by wellknown scholars like Swapan Basu, Chandidas Bhattacharyya, Alok Ray, Gautam Niyogi , Parthapratim Bandyopadhyay and Abhra Ghosh, Suranjan Midde and Ashok Chattopadhyay Excepting very few, every article is well-researched.
Suranjan Midde points out that long before Antonio Gramsci formulated ‘subalterns’, Peary Chand took up the cause of the ‘wretched of the Earth’ especially ryots trampled by ‘Zemindars’, created by the Permanent Settlement, let alone Ramkrishna Bhattacharyya&’s logical critique of subatern historians like Sumit Sarkar on the role of leaders of Bengal Resaissance. .
Nearly 200 pages contain reprint of Peary Chand&’s English writtings like Marriage of Hindu Widows , The Zemindar and the Ryot and Commerce in Ancient India.