ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ramananda Reviewed

A tribute to Ramananda Chatterjee (1865-1943), the "Father of Indian Journalism," whose bold yet plain-speaking editorials were also lessons in how to evade censorship and prosecution while cleverly commenting on controversial realities. The who's who of the intelligentsia wrote for him at the same time as he sought to create Modern Review's identity by welcoming divergent perspectives within every issue. He aimed for clarity and accessibility of style, resisting both the flowery language fashionable among Bengali upper class English language writers and readers and the pressure to take sides in competing forms of aesthetic and cultural propaganda. In today's climate of intolerance, Chatterjee's Modern Review remains a valuable model.

Ramananda Chatterjee, sole founder and editor of the Modern  Review from 1907 to his death in 1943, has been called the “Father of Indian Journalism,” a tribute soon followed by a lament for the paucity of heirs to this legacy (Modern Review 1965). In his essay, “The Independent Journal of Opinion,” historian Ramachandra Guha has called attention to the independent humanistic vision that the Modern Review fostered. Guha (2004) mentions Seminar and the Economic & Political Weekly as current publications comparably independent of parties and ideologies. These analogies, however, give little sense of the way in which Chatterjee’s monthly became nothing less than a public institution for English-language readers in India during the Indian nationalist movement, as well as an emblem worldwide of the emerging modern nation. The 72-volume run of Modern Review now moulders in a few university libraries, while the name Ramananda Chatterjee is largely forgotten.

In a belated birth centenary commemoration (Roy 1979)—Chatterjee was born in 1865—regret already mingles with reverence as former colleagues and younger admirers measure the condition of journalism in post-independence India against Chatterjee’s standards and idealistic vision. Contributors to Modern Review constitute “an almost complete dictionary of the leaders of the intelligentsia of India during 37 years,” according to Jadunath Sarkar, a historian of Mughal India who himself ranks high on the list of the journal’s regulars. Journalist Chanchal Sarkar pronounces him an “extinct giant,” “a mastodon”; writer Nirad Chaudhuri recalls his own youth, when Modern Review and Prabasi (its Bengali counterpart, which Chatterjee also edited, from 1901 until his death) constituted “a fair portion of my literary fare,” even as he relegates Chatterjee’s thoughts and achievements to “history”; “time-barred for an epoch which is completely different from that in which he lived.” And, in fact, the Modern Review has faded from Indian political and historical consciousness.

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