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In the memory of Jadunath Sarkar

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Soumitra Das   |   Published 31.01.15, 12:00 AM

A nondescript building at 10 Lake Terrace, where Jadunath Sarkar lived after retirement and where he subsequently died, and from where the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (CSSSC) functioned from its inception in 1973 till it shifted to its Patuli centre in 2000, has been remodelled and will be reused as the Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre.

Although work on the building continues, this unit of the CSSSC, where a composite library, archives and display complex are being created, opens on Sunday.

Jadunath Sarkar (1870-1958), leading historian of the Mughal dynasty, the focus of whose life's work was Aurangzeb, was knighted in 1929. But once Leftist thinking came to exercise its hold on historiography, Sir Jadunath lost his position of pre-eminence. Although 'the Centre', as the CSSSC is popularly known, operated from the house in which he lived, he was barely mentioned, and the only reminder of his presence was a marble plaque at the entrance. The Leftist elite, after all, enjoys a commanding position over 'the Centre'.

Tapati Guha-Thakurta, director, CSSSC, says 'Jadunath's legacy was not easy to accept' for his loyalty to the British, and he represented 'old-fashioned' history-writing at a time when this discipline was dominated by Leftist thinking.

However, there is a revival of academic and intellectual interest in him. Historian Gautam Bhadra has written several papers on him, and Dipesh Chakrabarty has of late written Calling of History on Jadunath. An occasional paper on him by Chakrabarty will be released at the new resource centre. Both scholars are products of the 'Centre'.

Guha-Thakurta takes a personal interest in old buildings, and this was a chance to give it back that layer of history. While commemorating the historian, a semblance of its past appearance was to be retained and reconstructed.

Bhadra says emphatically that Jadunath was India's 'pre-eminent' historian. He was the first archive organiser and the Indian Historical Records Commission set up in 1919 owed its existence to his pioneering work. He was also a pioneer in gathering material on medieval history which can now be found in the National Library. He should be credited with establishing the modern discipline of researching and writing history. 'Today we may distance ourselves from his opinions and the conclusions he reached, but he must be remembered as the founding father of historical studies in this country,' signed off Bhadra.

Jadunath was born at Karachmaria, Rajshahi district, and he was educated at Karachmaria, Rajshahi town, and Calcutta. He passed his BA examinations with honours in history and English from Presidency College, and he won the gold medal in his MA examinations in English. No wonder he referred to his historical research as his 'literary work'.

Over five decades he established himself as a leading authority on the history of 17th and 18th century India, and of medieval India. His publications included Economics of British India, History of Aurangzib (volumes 1-5), Chaitanya: His Pilgrimages and Teachings and Fall of the Mughal Empire (volumes 1-4). Jadunath ardently pursued the study of English and Sanskrit, and realised the importance of Farsi sources in the reconstruction of the Maratha past.

Jadunath's wife left a will stating that the house should be sold after her death and the proceeds given to a hospital. Accordingly, the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) acquired the property and the sale proceeds were donated to the KS Ray TB Hospital in Jadavpur in 1973. The CSSSC, an ICSSR research institute, rented the house and subsequently purchased it.

Two upper floors were added to the building and the open spaces covered up to accommodate the offices, library and classrooms of the CSSSC for the first 27 years of its existence. Barun De was its founding director and over the years it has established itself as one of the leading research institutions of the country.

Architects Nilina Deb Lal and Sharan Lal, who handled the project, said although it was 'remodelled to accommodate new needs', it was a house with a 'historical element', regardless of whether it was a listed heritage building or not. So some motifs were reused and the red and ochre flooring, banisters and staircases were retained.

Funding for the project came from a culture ministry grant in 2010. It will bring together under one roof the special collection of rare books, journals, newspapers and photographs as well as its large analogue and digital archive of textual and visual material from 19th and 20th century Bengal and eastern India belonging to the 'Centre'.

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