The self-taught naturalist

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By ASHIS DAS
  • Published 16.05.05
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Prolific writer: Bhattacharya was a science-populariser

The naturalist Gopalchandra Bhattacharya was obsessed with the study of various worms and insects such as the ant, grasshopper, butterfly, termite, spider, etc. Their technique to avoid enemy attention, stealing designs, skill in warfare, or lying in wait before hunting used to haunt him. By way of long periods of observation he understood the behavioural patterns peculiar to many species. The life and works of this researcher was highlighted at a meeting organised by the Gopalchandra Bhattacharya Bijnan Prasar Samiti recently.

Prof. Basudev Burman, former vice-chancellor, Kalyani University, while delivering the Gopalchandra Bhattacharya Memorial Lecture, said, “He had no degree from any university, nor had he any fascination for one. By sheer observation and experimentation he became a scientist of the first order.”

“My husband, my daughter and I love to read Gopalchandra’s popular science writings,” said Meera Bhattacharya, wife of the chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and chief guest of the meeting.

Dr Sumitra Choudhury, principal,Victoria College, described how Gopalchandra joined the Basu Bijnan Mandir at the call of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Basu in February 1921. Prabasi, a literary journal, had published an essay on the capacity of rotten plants to emit light. The Acharya was fascinated by the piece. He traced its author and appointed him his research assistant. In his youth Gopalchandra founded the ‘Kamal Kutir’, an educational institution for the spread of education among the downtrodden in Hindu society.

Debabrata Mondal, secretary, Gopalchandra Bhattacharya Bijnan Prasar Samity, recounted in his welcome address how he had met Gopalchandra and gradually became very fond of him. According to him, Gopalchandra used to stay in the same locality as he did. “We would see him walking on the roads clad in a dhoti and punjabi, and carrying an umbrella and a portfolio,” said Mondal. “We knew that he was the editor of Jnan--Bijnan, a science magazine. He was also a regular contributor to publications like the Ananda Bazar Patrika, Jugantar, Desh and various Puja numbers. I was astonished to find how such a big man was so simple in his daily life.”

The man who didn’t have a university degree received his DSc towards the fag end of his life. The University of Calcutta could not but honour in him in this way. Gopalchandra was also awarded the Rabindra Puroskar by the West Bengal government for his popular science write-ups.