The Reverend Lal Behari Day, who had converted to Christianity, was a Christian missionary and a pioneer of Indian English writing. He was a journalist, writer and collector of Bengali folk tales, which he published in English.
He wrote about peasant life and the life of rural Bengal. His novel Govinda Samanta (1874) was celebrated as an account of the lives of the rural and working class populations and earned the admiration of Charles Darwin. Folk-Tales of Bengal (1883) was praised widely and is still regarded with great affection.
His personal life was marked by bold choices made from early youth. Day was born to a family of Subarna-banik caste in Sonapalasi near Burwan. He came to Calcutta and studied at Reverend Alexander Duff’s General Assembly Institution (now Scottish Church Collegiate School) where under Duff’s influence he converted to Christianity in 1843, when he was 19.
Day battled poverty after his father’s death and struggled to get educated. He had also been refused admission to Hare School — a stepping stone to Hindu College (now Presidency University) — by Hare himself because he thought “Duff’s pupils” would “spoil my boys” by trying to convert them into Christianity.
On receiving the news of the disruption of the Church of Scotland in May 1843, Day joined the Free Church. He was ordained in 1855 and appointed minister for the Khulna mission. He had learned Greek, Hebrew and Christian theology. In 1861, he was appointed the pastor of the Native Church at Cornwallis Square. After his ordination, Day had sparked off a controversy by demanding to be put on an equal footing as European missionaries. Duff objected to this, but Day got his due.
He taught English at colleges in Behrampore and Hooghly. He was made a Fellow of the University of Calcutta in 1877. He edited three English journals: Indian Reformer, Friday Review and Bengal Magazine.
“I see that the Reverend Lal Behari Day is Editor of the Bengal Magazine and I shall be glad if you would tell him with my compliments how much pleasure and instruction I derived from reading a few years ago, this novel, Govinda Samanta,” Darwin, author of The Origin of Species, had written. Day’s Bengali folk-tale collection, wonderful till date, is the first such collection in English.