A Tribute

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya

Amitava Bhattacharyya

Professor Ramkrishna Bhattacharya (RKB) passed away in a New Kolkata Hospital on 02.10.2022. He was one of the Indian stalwarts belonging to Classical Marxist School who preferred to call himself an unrepentant Marxist-Leninist. He made many pioneering and path-breaking contributions to different fields of studies. He was an erudite with a purpose; all his acquiring of knowledge, their analysis and deliverance of his opinions and conclusions were dedicated to the sole aim of spreading Marxist ideas and strengthening the fight for revolutionary socialism.

Though a college and university English Literature professor RKB spent more than three decades in meticulous and intensive research on the materialist philosophies of ancient India, especially on the Carvaka/Lokayata school. Like pre-Socratic philosophers of ancient Greece in this country also no written main text or commentary of the Carvaka/Lokayata has been found till date. So RKB took the mammoth task of reconstructing the philosophy of Carvaka/Lokayata from the writings of other ancient philosophical sects as it was done by the Western scholars to reconstruct the philosophies of pre-Socratic times. In this regard Dakshina Ranjan Shastri, Mamoru Namai and Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya were his predecessors but by his erudition and analytical vis-a-vis rational way of thinking RKB actually started a new era in the studies of materialism in ancient India. He was very successful in reconstructing some main tenets of Carvaka/Lokayata philosophy by finding out unexplored ancient and medieval sources mentioning philosophical traits of Carvaka/Lokayata while eliminating many references which were considered as pure Carvaka/Lokayata sayings by his predecessors. He also refuted many of the false accusations made to defame Carvaka-s by their opponent idealist philosophers. He even showed with examples and information collected from ancient Brahminical, Buddhist and Jain sources both from North and South India that how ancient idealist philosophers like Sayana-Madhava had distorted the Carvaka shloka/s to prove them hedonists. His profound knowledge of Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit helped him a lot in successfully finding out information on Carvaka-s from ancient and medieval Indian philosophical and other sources, like books of polity, drama etc. This path-breaking research on Indian materialism brought international fame for him as an eminent Indologist from all over the world.

As a believer in classical Marxist school RKB always believed that Marxism is a world-view, a method of thinking; it was neither a system nor a restricted philosophy. So he opined that there is every scope on working and constructing a Marxist theory in the fields on which Marx or Engels did not say much. He engaged himself in the stupendous work of creating an outline of Marxist aesthetics in Bengali in the line of Lucas etc. He advocated for dual parameter of historic sense and aesthetic quality as stated by Engels for judging a literary piece. His mastery over many ancient and modern Western languages abetted him to make his endeavour in this field a success.

RKB played an important role in explicating the history of nineteenth century Bengal Renaissance and early twentieth century liberation movement of Bengal in a way which is not at par with the prevailing paradigms. He was an authority regarding writings and historical contributions of Rammohun Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Akshya Kumar Dutta, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya, Peary Chand Mitra, Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobinda Ghosh, Brahma-bandhab Upadyayaa, Bhupendra-nath Dutta and published a vast amount of literature on them. He was also a specialist in Partition or Swadeshi movement of Bengal (1905-1908) and the author of an invaluable book on that movement.

Keen interest in classical Indian and Western literature tempted RKB to interpret them in the light of Marxist way of thinking. He was as familiar with the Poetics of Aristotle as with the New Theatrical theory of Bertolt Brecht. From Homer to Maha-bharata, from Sophocles to Kalidasa he traced out the reflection of society in those literatures along with their literary credentials. He also made important contributions on the literature of Shakespeare, Keats, Auden, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyaya, Bibhutibhushan Mukhopadhyaya, Sukumar Roy, Leela Majumder and last but not the least, the great Shibram Chakraborty.

He was a prominent historian of science also. His great work on the Sulbasutra-s, “The origin of geometry in ancient India” was highly commended internationally. He also made memorable contributions on scientists like Aryabhata, Copernicus, Galileo, Samrad Jagannatha and others. His writings on Indian numerals and observatories drew attentions of many readers.

After the collapse of Soviet Union and Socialist bloc in the last decade of twentieth century numerous short Bengali writings of RKB in popular form stood as the lighthouse for the many socialist and progressive circles in Bengal. His writings inspired generations of left party workers and individuals to go forth with the flag of human emancipation. His Bengali books on Materialism, Dialectics and Marxism with comprehensive format and lucid language got many readers.

He was an eminent left student leader of Bengal in late sixties and early seventies of the last century entrusted with the post of the president of BPSF affiliated with CPI. After the early seventies he was not officially attached to any party but always used to declare that “I am with the Communist Party in historical sense.”

He preached the tangible optimism throughout his life and denounced the naive optimism. He did not engage himself in quest of any Ultimate truth or etc. but always took the Lenin’s word, “the concrete analysis of the concrete situation” as his motto. He always remained very harsh on reactionary forces and on infantile disorder of left politics with his outstanding skill of polemics. He never compromised as an author, never became a part of any establishment. Big publishing and media houses were almost untouchable to him. He was never ready to coordinate with the enemy camp. All his Bengali writings, scholarly or popular, were published in Little Magazines. He has proved that legendary scholarly works on philosophy, literature, history of science can be successfully done in Bengali little magazines. He was one of the icons of the Little Magazine movement of Bengal.

Author of 30 books both in English and Bengali, writer of more than 200 scholarly essays in esteemed international journals and numerous articles in popular form RKB left an intellectual treasure box for future researchers and a very powerful theoretical arsenal for the left party workers and individuals.


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Vol 55, No. 18, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2022