As It Has Been Growing

(a brief history of the Students’ Home, drafted by the Founder himself – Swami Nirvedananda)

In Its Own Premises

In 1932, besides the first hostel building, another brick-built structure meant for kitchen and stores (and now simply for stores) was completed. The entire cost of this structure was met kindly by Srijut Nareshnath Mukherjee. With barely these two buildings, the farm banglow and a number of thatched huts at its disposal and on the strength of Kumar Hemendrakumar Roy’s ( of Dighapatia) kind promise of seeing to the erection of the next hostel building, the Students’ Home came to be lodged here, in its own premises, on the 22nd October, 1932. Workers and students were somehow squeezed into all available space and the small farm bunglow was set apart as a chapel. A second-hand car was purchased for conveying students to their Calcutta colleges. It was an old Oxford Morris car into which they would be packed like sardines. Sometimes it would attract a crowd of spectators on the public road when it would refuse to take start until it was pushed from behind through a fairly long distance. In spite of all these difficulties, everybody felt delighted to see the Home in its own premises at long last.

The whole outlook was extremely simple. Most of the workers lived in thatched huts. And there was nothing gorgeous about the brick-built structures. The hostel building was a one-storied house consisting of only three rooms and a verandah. It looked like a cottage. It was so designed on purpose.

From all angles the institution was to look like a Bramhacharya Ashram and yet it was to serve the purpose of a modern University hostel. This was a problem and it had to be tackled in connection with the shaping of each of its aspects. This was the central theme into which everything else was to be fitted harmoniously. So the site-plan and the design of the structures demanded much careful thought. These are important things, because they go to impart a definite form to an institution. And forms are vitally related to ideas. Hence, extreme care had to be taken to see that the Students’ Home might have a form that would express its central idea, that of a Brahmacharya Ashram. Mere imitation of Calcutta hostels, even with a little bit of tinkering, would, at best, give it the look of a European hotel in a congested city, featuring the urban civilization that has been rapidly developing in the West in the wake of Industrial Revolution. But a hostel of this type is ill-suited to a life of calm contemplation. More-over, Such a structure would be senseless where there was no question of congestion. The essential basis of a Brahmacharya Ashram is a spiritual one. Simple and high thinking are its keynotes. This was why in ancient days it would be lodged in cottages embosomed in sylvan retreats away from the city. And there is no reason why it should not be so even today. This is a necessity for the development of purity and concentration of mind, which alone can release higher mental powers and unlock the gates of pure intuition. Without purity and concentration of mind, education becomes a misnomer. During student life one has to be specially nourished by all that purity, simplicity, well-directed activity and serene contemplation can bring. Even a little hardship is not out of place. It makes one strong physically as well as mentally. Such discipline alone can equip a young man properly for facing the complexities of life without having to lose his grip on high and noble ideals. This was the basic idea of the ancient Brahmacharya Ashramas, and Swami Vivekananda wanted to revive it in our day as something indispensible for the manifestation of perfection that is already in man, which, according to him, is what is meant by true education. Western thinkers, like Mr. Aldous Huxley, hold that the University system of education all over the world should be reformed on these lines. Indeed, it is high time that Brahmacharya Ashramas were made necessary adjuncts of modern University life. Now, all these considerations were at the back of the site-plan, and building designs of the Students’ Home.

And there were other considerations as well. In order to awake cultural self-consciousness the Students’ Home precincts must have a definitely Indian outlook. Besides, most of the students were drawn from the lower middle class and there economic conditions would not justify considerable raising of their standard of living. Living in luxurious houses would make them averse to going back to their own homes and stir of in them ambitions that, under existing conditions of unemployment would scarcely have any chance of being fulfilled. Moreover, most of them would come from villages, so it would be in the fitness of things to teach them in a practical way how they might improve the aesthetic and sanitary aspects of their village homes, while yet keeping themselves well within their probable incomes. And their houses thus improved, might serve as models for others. Thus the Students’ Home if constructed on right lines, might contribute in a humble way towards the solution of the grave problem of rural reconstruction.

With all these objects in view, efforts had been made since 1922 to find a suitable place away from the din and bustle of the city, where the Students’ Home could have the required setting. When the land came to its disposal, the site-plan was made with a view to meeting all these requirements. At first the idea was to put up thatched cottages for students on two opposite banks of the big tank, keeping the other two banks for the temple and the library. Through the construction of thatched cottages with mud walls for the farm kitchen and godown, experiments had already been made to see how such structures could be improved from aesthetic and sanitary points of view and made suitable for students’ residence. But this idea had to be given up in view of the permanence of the institution. Then, brick-built structures with corrugated iron roofs and ceilings captured the imaginations.

At this stage, in 1931, Srijut Sushil Kumar Mukherjee volunteered to erect at his own cost a hostel building in order to demonstrate how an entirely brick-built structure could be made to look like a humble cottage. The generous well-wisher succeeded in his attempt and it was settled that two such buildings should be erected on both the northern and southern banks of the tank. Between the two, on each side with a little set back a proportionate two-storied building was to be erected.

In course of time, the designs of other structures were made, which matched with the rest. Considerations of beauty, utility and economy received equal attention along with the central ideas of purity and simplicity. The whole plan to so designed that the residential area with a fairly vast expanse of attached lands furnished with tanks and gardens might harmonies with the natural background of a Bengal village and at the same time have an air of holiness about it. It was to be neither a pleasure garden nor a soldiers’ barrack. It had no room for frivolous luxury nor for lifeless and mechanical artificiality. Sanctity and beauty were to go together. This was why, dominating the scene, as it were a temple was to rise on the eastern bank of the tank. And a temple of the learning in the form of library was to come next in order of importance on the opposite bank.

In 1933, the second hostel building was erected diagonally across the tank from the first one and its cost was paid entirely by Kurmar Hemendrakumar Ray of Dighapatia according to his promise. With two buildings containing six rooms at their disposal the students could now live at ease. Also, to their immense relief, on the eve of the new session of that year a new Ford school bus was purchased with money raised mainly by the kind efforts of a member of the Advisory Board, Rai Kedarnath Khandelwal Bahadur, the then President of Calcutta Stock Exchange. The inmates had no pang to part with their jolly old Oxford Morris.

In 1934, the third hostel building was put up by Srijut Charuchandra Das who had for sometime been urging the management to increase the number of students. With the completion of this structure the number of the students shot up to thirty –three.

At this stage the number of students could not possibly be raised any further. The bungalow used as the prayer-hall was too small for the congregation of so many students. A temple with a suitable prayer hall became a crying need. In 1936 this was completed through the munificence of Smt. Hemlata Ray, the pious wife of Kumar Hmandrakumar Ray of Dighapatia. And it was opened ceremonially by Srimat Swami Virajananda on the occasion of Sri Ramakrishna Centenary Celebrations on the Students’ Home premises. That very year the number of students went up to thirty-eight.

In 1938 the second Reunion of students and ex-students was held after the Kali Puja. But as ill luck would have it, they had to assemble under the shadow of the passing away of Srimat Swami Suddhananda, the then President of the Ramakrishina Math and Mission. However, the scheduled business was gone through with due precision. A number of resolutions were passed. According to one of these a standing committee of ex-students was formed to serve as a permanent link between the present and the past; and according to another resolution the Silver Jubilee of the Home is being celebrated this year. Since its inception the Ex-students’ Standing Committee has been functioning well and has already put in some solid work and it is to its efforts that the present success of the celebration is to be ascribed.

In the course of the same year, after a lull of three years, a number of buildings were ercted. The fourth hostel building was kindly completed by Kumar Hemendrakumar Ray of Dighapatia and the fifth, a two-storied one by Kumar Pramathnath Ray of Bhagyakul. Also a fairly big kitchen and a dining hall were erected generously by Srijut Gnanendrakumar Roy Chowdhury, zeminder of Baliati in the district of Dacca. Lastly, a hospital building, known as the Medical Ward, was erected and properly equipped through the munificence of Sir N.N. Sircar, K.C.S.I. To all these donors and to all others who have been pleased to contribute generously towards the growth of this institution up to its present stage, the Students’ home owes a deep debt of gratitude. The immediate effect of these new structures was to raise the number of students to forty-four in 1939.

Between the years 1933 and 1935 the permanent residence of the Students’ Home was sanctified by the august visits of Srimat Swami Vijnanananda and Srimat Swami Akhandananda. Between 1933 and 1939 five other ex-students joined the Home as monastic workers and this made it possible for three of its workers to go in for theological study at Mysore and then to take up Mission work in other centres. In 1934 some students put in substantial service under the Mission in connection with the Behar earthquake relief.

Since the Students’ Home moved into its own premises the neighbourhood has improved considerably. During this period the Jessore Road has been macadamized and regular bus service has been opened, connecting the place with Calcutta by two different routes. Bistupur Road, in front of the Students Home, that was one of the most neglected roads in the district, has been tar-macadamised through the efforts of the Home management, and it has been renamed Sir Ramesh Mitter Road. To the south of the Home precincts the Dum-Dum Aerodrome has expanded and given rise toa fairly big colony for its officers. All jungle in the vicinity of the students’ Home premises have been cleared by the aerodrome authorities, who have acquired extensive lands nearby for seeing to safety of aircrafts in flight. By the by, in 1938 the Home narrowly escaped losing some land in this way. As an anti-malarial measure, all tanks, ditches and water-logged areas within one mile from the Aerodrome have been getting treated regularly with the necessary chemicals. Indeed the Aerodrome authorities have changed the entire outlook of the place in the course of last three years. Close by, Srijut Sushillkumar Mukherjee has built a fine house that has certainly gone to enhance the beauty and respectability of the locality. And the gradual development of nearly thirty-one acres of the Students’ Home land has been adding considerably to these.

As It Has Been Growing
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 2 [Home in Embryo]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 3 [Gathering Strength]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 4 [A Step Forward]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 5 [On the Way to Permanence]

As It Has Been Growing: Part - 7 [Where It Stands]