(a brief history of the Students’ Home, drafted by the Founder himself – Swami Nirvedananda)
On the Way to Permanence
At that moment, something cropped up from an unexpected quarter and eventually changed the entire course of events. The late Srijut Rajani Mohan Chatterjee very kindly proposed to make a gift of 20 Bighas of lands in favour of the Students’ Home. Nobody had approached him for any help; the offer was spontaneous. But the land situated on the Bistupur road (now Sir Ramesh Mitter road) just to the north of Dum Dum Aerodrome, appeared to be a rather unattractive. It was full of wild growth and had a look of desolation. Moreover, the place was practically cut off from Calcutta by a dearth of public conveyance. There was no regular bus service and the nearest railway station was a mile and a half away. Mr Chatterjee was, therefore respectfully requested to sell the land and contribute the proceeds towards the contemplated purchase of the Mati Jhil land. But this was not to be. He clung to his own proposal.
Soon after this, however, the Mati Jhil scheme had to be abandoned on other grounds. This had a very chilling effect. The hope and enthusiasm worked up by the scheme came down at once to zero. Something had to be done immediately to brace up the workers. At this stage, everybody considered it wise to fall back upon Mr. R.M. Chatterjee’s offer. However unattractive or inconvenient the eland might be, it could at least serve the purpose of accommodating the Vocational Section of the Home. The residential section could wait to be lodged in a more suitable place when available. This idea appealed to the generous donor, who executed his deed of gift in April, 1928, and went a step further to make a handsome donation of Rs. 6,000/- towards the initial outlay of the Vocational Section.
Though the problem of finding a permanent residence for the Home had to be put off for the time being, the Vocational Section venture as hailed with delight. Since Srimat Swami Brahmananda’s suggestion of a wing for vocational education, many an attempt of a sporadic nature had been made from time to time for working it out. While in the Corporaition Street House, book-binding had for a time come to be a vocational work of absorbing interest. During the same period, practical agriculture in a garden at Sodepur lent kindly by the Late Srijut Krishnamohan Dey of Haritaki Bagan had been taken up by two enthusiastic students after completing their University course. In the Banka Rai Street the incident of playing the porter followed by portrait canvassing has already been described. In the Haldar lane, canvassing of books by one student, holding of a tailoring class and revival of book-binding by some others under what was styled the “students’ Self-Help Syndicate” may be mentioned in this connection. Moreover publication of two small books, “Swami Vivekanandna on India and Her Problems” and “Swami Vivekananda on Religion and Philosophy,” belongs to this period. Through all these efforts, creative energy appeared to be seeking an outlet for building something substantial in connection with vocational education. And this energy rushed out when it found a suitable opening through the late Mr. R. M. Chatterjee’s gift of land.
Meanwhile two more workers joined the Home, both in 1925. One, an ex-Student, joined immediately after passing his M. A. examination and the other, a very patient and intelligent matriculate, had been ushered in by Swami Ashokananda. The zeal for expansion and consolidation, that became so prominent in the Haldar Lane House, may be ascribed, to a considerable extent, to the advent of these two energetic and self-less workers. Undoubtedly it was this that enabled the Home to spare one worker for building up the Vocational Section.
The third worker, who had joined in 1922, took upon himself the onerous task of turning the desolate plot of land into an agricultural farm. His courage and persevering zeal made him equal to the task. Away from him colleagues in Calcutta, he chose to lead a solitary and absolutely simple and rigorous life in a place that might very well be described as a wilderness. And apology for a hut was put up on the grounds and this served as his bed room, kitchen, dining room and also as a store-room for all sorts of materials required for constructing the farm. Soon, however, he was joined by an Ex-Student Sri Mathuramohan De, who came immediately after his B.A. examination and stayed for an about two years.
On the 2nd July 1928, the land became a scene of festivity. Many people came to join the rural festival, though the place at that time was not at all feet for receiving guests. No road, no house, and the inconsiderate July clouds! Yet, there was a large gathering and all enjoyed the festival held in connection with the first Reunion of the Students’ Home. The farm gradually took shape. It was fenced all round; a tube-well was sunk; a banglow with a corrugated iron roof and thatched shed for workers, a godown, a cow-shed and a few huts were put up one after another. A number of men were engaged on the farm. Milk, fruits and vegetables found their way to the Calcutta market. There were occasions when one or two students walked out of the Halder Lane House with a load of farm produced on their head and went about hawking in the neighborhood. One day, one of them sat on the footpath in front of the Bowbazar market and sold the goods in the finished style of a confirmed greengrocer! They were all post-graduate students. Sometimes others would take part in vending others materials. And this they would gladly do of their own accord. Was it not shocking to the polished urbanity? Of course, marketing would normally be carried on by the farm employees. Another selfless and energetic ex-student joined the farm as a monastic worker towards the end of 1929, and he is even now in charge of the Vocational Section. One other Ex-Student after passing the B. Sc. examination, started his monastic life with nearly six months’ labour on the firm, after which he went over to other centres of the Ramakrishna Mission. Thus from July, 1928, farming went on in full swing and continued on that scale for a little more than four years. Of this period, the farm has a history of its own, replete with many events of unusual interest. The monastic workers of the farm of that period have a rich a fund of experience colored variously by joy and pathos, surprise and disappointment, courage and sacrifice, the comic and the sublime.
After development the land wore quite an inviting look. Soon it became evident that here the permanent residence of the Students’ Home could very well be built up. Only one difficulty stood in the way. A big stretch of marshy land lay by its side. Before this land could be purchased and reclaimed, the place would be unsuitable for students’ residence on sanitary grounds. It was an abandoned brick-field belonging to the Government, who were not in a mood to sell it right away. Through the kind efforts of the late Rai Nagendranath Banerjee Bahadur and some other friends, however, the initial difficulties were tided over, and the land, majoring 63 Bighas and 12 Cottahs was eventually purchased in 1929 with Rs. 6,360/- paid entirely by the late Raja of Largarh, Srijut Jogendranarayan Sahas Ray. In the following year, the mercy land was considerably reclaimed by excavating what has come to be called a lake at a cost of nearly Rs. 8,000/-. The lake, with a spreading banyan tree at its head, has come to be the beauty-spot of the entire area. A few more acres of adjacent land were also purchased. Thus the area of the Students’ Home land came altogether to ninety-two bighas, that is, nearly thirty one acres.
A plan for the residential section was drawn up by Srijut Anangamohan Saha, B.A., B.E., a member of the Advisory Board, and one of the most sincere and selfless friends of the Home. In fact, throughout the period of construction, beginning with the erection of the farm banglow, he gladly shared from time to time the hardships of the pioneering life with the monastic workers in the farm. For his ungrudging and substantial labour of love the Home will ever remain grateful. According to the plan, a fairly big tank was excavated and furnished with a pucca bathing ghat in 1931. And towards the end of that year the foundation of a hostel building was laid by Srimat Swami Shuddhananda of hallowed memory. The cost of this, the first building of the Students’ Home, was met entirely by another member of the Advisory Board, Srijut Sushilkumar Mukherjee. It is significant that the urge for putting up the structure came from the donor himself.
Thus, by a strange irony of fate, the land, that had been particularly thrust upon the Home by a magnanimous donor and had been accepted only for its Vocational Section in April, 1928, began to take shape, within a couple of years, as the permanent residence of the Students’ Home. The problem that had been worrying all concerned since 1922 was now solved, and that in rather miraculous way by unseen forces through the late Srijut Rajanimohan Chatterjee. His memory will remain enshrined in the annals of the Home, for, it was through him, primarily, that this struggling institution got a permanent footing.
While the land was being made ready for its permanent residence, early in 1931, the Home was sifted, on economic grounds, to another rental house in the neighborhood. The Halder Lane house had proved expensive; it had practically consumed nearly Rs. 2,000/- of the General Fund bank balance. The new house at 7/1, Abhoy Halder Lane, a two-storied one, was rented on Rs. 120/- per month and here the Home had to spend only about a year and a half. Adequate measures were taken to get the Home through this brief period of financial strain. It is noticeable that during this period the total number of students came down to twenty-two. Yet this was the period during which vigorous efforts were made for speeding up the construction works, so that the Home might be moved permanently to its own premises as soon as possible.
At this time another problem cropped up and caused a good deal of anxiety. At least two workers had to go about the city every day on Students’ Home duty, particularly in the morning and afternoon. Where were they to be lodged when the Home would be removed to its suburban house? And then, there might be some students of the Medical College or the Science College, who might not afford to live at such a distance from their respective colleges. The problem, however, was luckily solved when, in 1931, a pretty small two-storied building at 53, Gurpar Road became the property of the Students’ Home by virtue of a deed of gift executed generously by Srijut Gokulchandra Das. The offer had come unexpectedly through one of the earnest friends of the Home, Srijut Sudhirchandra De. To him as well as to the donor the Home owes a deep debt of gratitude. The house, though very humble, has served up till now as the Calcutta Office of the Students’ Home.