(a brief history of the Students’ Home, drafted by the Founder himself – Swami Nirvedananda)
A Step Forward
Thus, within the humble precincts of the Corporation Street house, the infant institution gathered strength, spiritual as well as material, before the urge for further expansion came through the second worker. It came in March, 1923, when through the generosity of one of the early visitors of the home, Srijut Nareshnath Mukherjee, the Home was shifted to a three-storied house at 6A, Banka Rai Street, in the Bowbazar area. Its monthly rent was Rs. 125/-, and a considerable portion of this, during the first year of occupation, was paid by Naresh Babu himself. This house was much bigger than the previous one. Here the number of students rose to fourteen, eight of them being free, two part-free and four paying.
This calls to mind a pertinent question made a few years back by the late Srijut Ramanimohan Chatterjee, The then Vice-Chairman of the Calcutta Corporation. “Why should you admit poor students only?” he asked, “Why should anybody be deprived of the benefits of the training simply because he can afford to pay his expenses?” Since then the admission of paying students, but not more than one-third of the total number, has been a permanent feature of the home. Moreover, it has been found by observation that this intermixing of paying and non-paying students has a salutary effect on both groups.
It was in this house that Sir Manmathanath Mukherjee started zealously to gather round the Home a group of earnest souls of light and leading and formed with them what was then called the Board of Sympathizers. This house also saw the opening of the Building Fund in 1923 by the late Srijut Jogendranarayan Saha Ray, raja of Largarh, with a donation of Rs. 4000/-. This was really a wonderful feat of charity! A permanent residence of the Home was at that time no more than a faint dream, yet it was on this that the Raja had the boldness to stake such a large amount. The Building Fund, thus started, might never fructify. Indeed, this fund had to pass through two barren years before it found its next donor. However, the unique distinction of being the first donor of the Building Fund of the Home will go down with his name to posterity. He is, alas, no longer in our midst. May his soul rest in peace! While in this house, the Students’ Home won another patron, Srijut Charuchandra Das, who chooses to remain always in the background. Since then his regular and substantial annual contribution towards the maintenance of the Home has been one of the mainstays of the General Fund. No other single donor has yet done so much for this Fund.
This house also was sanctified by a visit from Srimat Swami Shivananda. It was a very short one. On his way from another place to the Belur Math, he just stopped for a while to see the new premises. His inspiring presence, although brief, had its sure effect on the inmates.
Through the enthusiasm of some of the inmates a monthly manuscript journal made its first appearance in 1924 under the title ‘Yugavani’. It changed its name after two years and appeared as the ‘Vidyarthi’. It has continued its existence up to the present day under the joint editorship of a fresh batch of students every year.
Another incident of this period cannot be overlooked. One day the students requested the Secretary to let them have a sumptuous dinner. The latter told them, “Very well, you will get it. But only on one condition. Everyone of you will have to make an honest effort to earn as much possible in the course of one day and this money will be spent on the feast. Any deficiency will be met from the Home funds. You have to make a sincere attempt and that is all; it does not matter if you fail to earn anything.” All these, however, were said in a facetious mood. Yet the effect was electric. The students jumped at the proposal! But they did not know how they might exchange a day’s labour for money. It was rather a puzzling problem. Yet they were determined. They retired in a body, put their heads together and hit upon an idea. Very early next morning, all of them went out to serve as porters in the Sealdah and Howrah stations and the Hogg market. They were dressed like menials, and one of them, a post-graduate student and the eldest son of a District Judge, did not forget to leave behind his gold-rimmed spectacles. Yet their looks betrayed them. They were earnest, but people refused to hire them. Only two of them were lucky enough to earn nine annas in all. This was their total contribution towards the feast. But, that day, they earned something more valuable than money. Had they not realised their humanity, for a while, from the shackles of bourgeois convention? And this made them so happy. The thrill of this noble experience and the discovery of the dignity of labour overwhelmed their young hearts with pure joy born of freedom.
Egged on by this experience, one of the inmates immediately after his Intermediate examination took to canvassing portraits on marble slabs and earned a decent amount. After gradation the same young man opened a betel shop in a public street. It is interesting to note that this young man came from Sir P.C. Ray’s district. A year later, another young man earned the entire cost of his admission in the B.Sc. class by selling books on commission.
Days of Promise
Within two years the house on the Banka Rai Strret proved inadequate for the home. It wanted to grow to bigger dimensions. In April, 1925, it was removed to a more commodious house, a three-storied building at 7, Halder Lane in the Bowbazar area, and here the Home spent the next six years.
On the 14th of July, 1925, the Home received for the last time its august visitor, Srimat Swami Shivananda, the then President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. His Holiness came in the morning and to the intense delight of all, spent the whole day and night there. Srimat Swami Subodhananda came with him and went away in the afternoon. That day saw a festival attended by nearly fifty monks. Srijut Mahendranath Gupta surprised all by his unexpected arrrival in the evening. The Home still cherishes the sweet memory of this day when great souls met to inspire its inmates and sanctify the house.
Immediately after removal to this house the number of students leaped up to twenty-four, and the number of the free students was exactly doubled. During this period of six years the total number went up to twenty-six, the number of free students to seventeen and of part-free students to six.
The fairly impressive look of the house and rather the decent number of students seemed to raise the status of the Home. Before coming to this house, only penetrating insight could assess the potential worth of the infant institution. While now, even a passing observer could feel that a useful institution was in the making. So now, the home attracted a good deal more of public attention and patronage.
The immediate effect was the consolidation of the Board of Sympathisers into what has since been known as the Advisory Board under the distinguished presidency of Sir Manmathanath Mukherjee. This was, surely, the most significant event of this period, as it led the Home rapidly through its subsequent stages of growth. And for this, the Home will ever remain grateful to the late Srijut Jogindranath Mukherjee of Pataldanga, whose philanthropic zeal infused vigour into his friends and stirred them up to something substantial for the institution. Alas! He did not live to see how the newly formed Advisory Board exerted itself to work out his earnest desire. His eldest son, Srijut Sushilkumar Mukherjee, however, stepped into his shoes and has proved himself to be one of the worthiest friends of the Students’ Home.
The Advisory Board was formed in 1926 with nineteen prominent citizens of Calcutta. Their immediate concern was to find a permanent residence for the Home. The idea was to build the necessary structures on a suitable plot of land somewhere in the suburbs of Calcutta. Such a place would best suit the purpose of the Home, which was to be fundamentally a Brahmacharya Ashram with a wing for vocational training and scope for academic education through the Calcutta colleges. All these required money. The Building Fund, started two years back by the late Raja of Lalgarh, was to be augmented. The Advisory Board bent its efforts to this end. Some of the members took up the work in right earnest and spared no pains in collecting money for the purpose and in going about inspecting suitable sites for the Home. The names of Sir Manmathanath Mukherjee, Srijut Jatindranath Basu, the late Rai Nagendranath Banerjee Bahadur, Srijut Satishchandra Sen, the late Srijut Srigopal Bhattacharya deserve mention in this connection. In this course of one year the Building Fund was tripled and by 1929 it rose up to nearly Rs. 18,000/-.
It may be noted that appeals for the Building Fund had been issued and efforts for securing suitable land in the suburbs had been made since 1922. An attempt to lease a big plot of land at Jadavpur at a nominal rent from the Calcutta Corporation had ended in failure before the Advisory Board was formed. Desbandhu Chitttaranjan Das, the Then Mayor, had kindly promised his help in carrying out the project, but unfortunately his life had been cut short before he could do anything. However, in 1926 all this was past history.
After inspecting a number of places, the Board selected one of them and prepared a scheme for acquiring it. According to this scheme, ninety bighas of land, known as Mati Jhil land in Dum-dum, were to be purchased with Rs. 75,000/-; sixty bighas were to be bought by some of the members for themselves with Rs. 60,000/- and the remaining thirty bighas were to go to the Students’ Home at a cost of Rs. 15,000/-, which its Building Fund, at the moment, could afford to spend. A plan showing how the land was to be divided between the parties was kindly prepared by Mr. A.C. Mukherjee, an eminent engineer of Calcutta. The title deeds of the land were passed on to Mr. J.N. Basu, Solicitor, for scrutiny. Thus everything was almost settled. Hope and enthusiasm were at a high pitch.