The memory of the Indian Independence Struggle has its share of both happiness and sadness. Increase in the population of India is certainly a matter of concern, the farmers committing suicide is unnerving, the lynchings taking place in the name of religion is extremely disturbing, price rise of the vegetables is an added pressure on the monthly budget, the cases of child abuse, rape, molestation reflect the moral downfall of Indian society and that’s not all but many more agonizing and devastating situations and incidents have engulfed this sixty-eight-year-old free India.
Amidst all these miseries, we Indians still have our share of joy. Some gems are/were born and made India proud by reaching to great heights in various fields of the international arena. Indians, irrespective of any generation, look up to them for inspiration. Among those greats, today, I have brought a basket of selected few individuals who became the ‘First Indians’ to write their country’s name in a glorious way and Bengal stands tall as a common region of theirs. Presenting those Gems of Bengal, who had proved their worth within their region, Bengal, and also in the country but later they even got crowned as ‘First Indian’ among the worldwide greats.
Satyendranath Tagore – The first ICS Officer
Though the Tagore family has made a lot of contribution to the country in many ways and influenced the society very strongly, Rabindranath Tagore is the most remembered member among the Tagore family. This practice has done a little injustice to Satyendranath, the second elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore. Basically, the difference got created because of the field of career chosen by the two brothers. Well, about Rabindranath I will discuss afterward in this article but for now, it’s Satyendranath Tagore who was born in 1842. He crafted a history and gave a reason to India and Bengal to gush about him, and, why not?
Under the British regime Indians were not appointed for some government posts. Gradually, from 1832 onwards the British rulers started appointing Indians and then came the ICS Act of 1861 and the Indian Civil Service got created. Indians were permitted for this job and recruitment was to be done through a competitive examination but it was held in England. It was tough because one had to go far away from India to England and compete with the English candidates. In 1862 two Indians sailed to England with a dream in their eyes to become an ICS. One succeeded and the other one didn’t and it was Satyendranath who became the ‘First Indian’ ICS. This is an honor which is to be cherished by the Tagore family, by Bengal and certainly by India too. He stayed there for a year or so for training, after its completion he came back to India and worked as an ICS Officer almost throughout India. He was a writer and social reformer too. At the age of 80 in 1923, he left this world forever.
Rabindranath Tagore: The Nobel Literature Laureate
Who is unaware of this name? His personality is of rare distinction. He was a Bengali novelist, poet, lyricist, and music composer, which is popularly known as Rabindra Sangeet, short story writer, even penned dance dramas, painter and above all he established a university in Santiniketan known as Visva- Bharati University. It’s not the end of his creation. He wrote and composed the National Anthems of India and Bangladesh. Even, the original script of Sri Lanka’s National Anthem was written by him.
All those mentioned above are just a part of his achievements. We cannot forget his being the very first Nobel Laureate of India but that’s not all. In 1913 when Tagore received Nobel Prize for Literature for his literary work ‘The Gitanjali’ he made an extraordinary mark in the international arena by being not only the ‘First Indian’ writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature but the first non-European writer too, to achieve that great height. Oh! What a creator he was. He first breathed on this earth in May 1861; started penning down from a very early age but paused forever in August 1941 when he was eighty years old.
Swami Vivekananda: Messenger of Peace and Unity
He was named as the Cyclonic Monk of India by the American press in September 1893 when he addressed the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America…’, and right on that note, he received a standing ovation from everyone present in the hall. It was he the ‘First Indian’ who familiarized the West with the Indian philosophy of Vedanta and Yoga, led the Hindu religion to earn the status of a major world religion in the 19th century and he did all this when he was just thirty years and eight months.
Vivekananda was born on 12th January 1863 in Calcutta, presently Kolkata, and was known as Narendranath Datta. He was a voracious reader of all types of books. He was a graduate and trained classical singer too. Later, became a monk and he was the disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Ramakrishna Mission was first set up by him in 1897 at Belur but the saddest part is, his life on earth was too short. Vivekananda was of thirty-nine years only when he left for the heavenly abode in 1902. No one can deny that in his short lifetime Swami Vivekananda, the monk from Bengal, was instrumental in uplifting the name of India by placing Hinduism on the global map of religions.
Mother Teresa: Kindness Personified!
A life that was dedicated for destitute and downtrodden. She made an unknown country her motherland and served it selflessly. Though in 1910 she was born in former Yugoslavia, she later came to India and resided here till the end of her life in 1998 as an Indian citizen. Kolkata became her home and she founded the Missionaries of Charity to do her social service which has many branches worldwide.
Mother’s dedication was praiseworthy so she received many honors and awards for her selfless service and among them, one that she received was the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979. Once again, the ‘First Indian’ who became the Nobel Laureate for Peace was from Bengal.
Pt. Ravi Shankar: The Music ‘Mantrik’
He was such a musician who not only enthralled the music lovers of India or just the East but mesmerized the West too through his sitar recitals. Pt. Ravi Shankar popularized sitar, a musical instrument, and the Indian classical music in the West. He gave music to movies as well as collaborated with different greats and produced brilliant music. Though he was born in Varanasi, left it while he was very young and later juggled between India and America. In India, it was Kolkata where he stayed and the city became witness to many experiences of his life.
In 1920 at the time of his birth who had known that one fine morning Pt. Ravi Shankar, the musician, and composer would become the ‘First Indian’ to receive Grammy Awards (1967). He went onto receive two more Grammy Awards (1972 and 2001) which make for three Grammy Awards in total and becomes yet another ‘First Indian’ to receive this many Grammy. Another feather in his cap is the Lifetime Achievement Grammy (posthumously) made him the first Indian to receive so. His music that connected the East to the West made him known as Godfather of World Music. At the ripe age of 92 Pandit Ravi Shankar succumbed to his illness in 2012.
Satyajit Ray: King of Movies
A filmmaker, a story writer, a music composer, a film critic, an illustrator, a publisher and many more hats he donned. Ray was from Kolkata and he made some mind-blowing Bengali movies and it is said that his movies were a symbol of humanism. His movies reflect his control of every aspect of the filmmaking and never forsook the humanistic approach. His trilogy ‘Pather Panchali’, ‘Aparajito’ and ‘Apur Sansar’ made a strong impact worldwide.
1921 born, Satyajit Ray made 36 movies which include feature films and other forms, was the scriptwriter of all as well as directed, designed costumes and what not. His caliber as a filmmaker was such that he became the ‘First Indian’ to receive the Honorary Oscar as Lifetime Achievement award in 1992 just a few days before his death. He is the only Indian film personality to be honored with an Honorary Doctorate by Oxford University, second after Charlie Chaplin in the world. Enormous awards are in his kitty and he even received amazing tributes of which I share one: “… I feel that he is a “giant” of the movie industry. Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.” said by Akira Kurosawa the legendary filmmaker of Japan who himself is one of the world’s greatest directors.
Suchitra Sen: The Gorgeous Actress
The greatest actress of Bengali movies and also acted in a few Hindi movies was born in 1931. She is known to be the Greta Garbo, the Hollywood actress, of India as she too entirely quit the public life at the age of forty-eight/forty-nine. She maintained complete secrecy and kept herself out of public view; her family accepted her decision and strongly co-operated with it till her death and cremation in January 2014. Her persona was glamorous and beauty was eye-catching. In Bengali movies, she was mostly paired with Uttam Kumar, the greatest hero of his time, and the onscreen pair was a treat to watch for every cinema lover.
The stature of this great actress is incomparable. It is reflected in the applauds she received while addressed as Mrs. Sen or Sir in Bollywood. This Bengali actress emerged as the ‘First Indian’ to receive the Best Actress award in an International Film Festival. She was awarded this honor in the Third Moscow International Film Festival for her performance in Saat Paake Bandha, a Bengali movie, in 1963.
Amartya Sen: Nobel Prize Winning Economist
He happens to be the ‘First Indian’ to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. Born in 1933 and is still active in his own field of work. The Nobel Prize in Economics is originally known as the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences which Sen received in 1998 for his contribution to the field of welfare economics.
Amartya Sen is an economist and a philosopher too. He worked as a professor in many universities in India and abroad. Sen is a distinguished name in his field who is a proud recipient of many awards and honors.
The aforementioned eight gems of Bengal have given enough reasons to Bengal and the Bengalis to cherish about but the fact is those ‘First Indian’ recipients were/are proud Indians first. Naturally, the rest of the motherland does not lag behind in expressing their feeling. It treasures the gems equally.