The Tatas have all along been opposed to the idea of having a university in Jamshedpur. In fact, Tisco did not want even a college in the city. Which brings us to the saga of Medioma Dhanjishah Madan (1913 – 1962).
Dissidents give a character to a place, as much as devotees do. But since, as a rule, dissidents are always in a minority, very often hopelessly so, their objections run the risk of being drowned in the babble of praise produced by the poor of spirit. To talk of Jamshedpur without talking of M. D. Madan is akin to talking of the heavens without the sun or the stars. Madan’s expressed convictions had the fierceness of the sun at high noon, and his patience to convince others to share in his dreams of a social renaissance could rightly be compared to the calm of the stars on a clear night.
Scion of a wealthy and distinguished Parsee family, Madan fell under the spell of Gandhi’s teachings early in life. He participated in the ‘Quit India’ movement, courting imprisonment more than once; gave an exemplary account of himself as a self-taught labour leader owing no allegiance to any easily identifiable trade union body during the closing years of British rule; and threw up a high-ranking job with Tisco so as to be free to raise a college in Jamshedpur.
It was his Herculean effort to set up what is now the big and bustling Jamshedpur Cooperative College that brought Madan both sorrow and satisfaction. Sorrow because he was badly misunderstood by some of his dear ones, and satisfaction because a college in Jamshedpur meant the world to him. The top brass of Tisco tried to dissuade Madan from his objective but when they found that there was no way that he could be made to change his mind, they launched on a negative campaign, going to the extent of publicly giving voice to the ludicrous proposition that a college in an industrial place would be a cockpit of Communism!
The articulator of such a profound sentiment was none other than John Mathai, former Union finance minister and the then vice chairman of the Tatas; one is talking of the early 1950s. On the one hand, so soon after Independence, the air was rich with Nehruvian idealism that promised hope and happiness, especially to the young and brave of heart; and, on the other hand, Jamshedpur, touted as a bastion of enlightened enterprise, found itself in the grip of a dark cynicism.
Be that as it may, Madan was made of sterner stuff than what his critics had imagined. He resigned from his Tisco job and told his friends and supporters that he was free at long last to do what he wished most – to erect a college in Jamshedpur which would take care of the educational needs of children of principally working-class parents.
Madan was rightly a hero to many Jamshedpurians for as long as he lived, which was for a pitifully short forty-nine summers, but after his death the contours of his bold image began to blur. This was largely due to the extra care taken by the steel company to keep the man and his message away from public consciousness. At least some of those many who benefitted from his sacrifice and struggle could have come forward and let the world know about it, but unfortunately nothing of the sort happened. In the absence of any public recognition, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to write a few words about the selfless do-gooder who went from door to door for years together trying to sell shares to collect money needed to raise the proposed college.
Like a latter-day prophet determined to defeat the wilderness, Madan would gather mostly young people around him and, with everyone clapping enthusiastically, cry out to no one in particular, meaning anyone who was willing to listen : Jamshedpur mey college hoga, aaj nehin to kal hoga… (There will be a college in Jamshedpur, if not today, then tomorrow). It speaks volumes about the character of the man that despite the virulent opposition of his former employer, combined at times with the skepticism of many precisely for whose children the college was intended, Madan was able to give shape to the first and, to date, the only college in India to be erected with money partly raised from selling shares to the public. It is doubtful whether a seat of learning with a similar history exists anywhere else in the world.
One or two real-life incidents might help illustrate the kind of rare individual Madan was. Unlike the leaders of today, Madan practised to the ‘d’ what he enjoined upon others to do. One example of word and deed being one should suffice. Both his sons – Dhan and Meher – were excellent students and left high school with first-class grades. When the time came for them to join college, their father put them in Jamshedpur Cooperative College. Many of Madan’s innumerable friends were aghast that such brilliant students should be enrolled in what was still a fledgling institution with a future wrapped in uncertainty. On hearing of this popular reaction, the great man told his closest friends (which included my late father) that he could never ask other parents to send their children to his college if he were to send his own to Elphinstone or Stephen’s.
There is another equally inspiring incident that figures in the strong oral tradition around Madan. In a sense, this is even more significant. If anything, it goes to prove once all over again that all pioneers are essentially individualists whose deeds are uplifted by their awareness of the value of teamwork. The story is told by more than one eye-witness of how Madan would bring home to his associates and fellow-workers the efficacy of collective effort. He would point his finger at himself and ask those milling around him: “Tell me, how many persons am I?” Somewhat taken aback at the seeming naivete of the query, they would hurriedly chorus: “Why, you are one!” He would say, “Fine,” and then come up with a second question, this time pointing to the person standing or seated closest to him, “And, pray, how many are you?” Again the same look of bemused incredulity on the face of the audience, and the person being asked would stutter, “I, too, am one.” “Right,” a beaming Madan would concur and immediately after would come the third question, “And how many are we, you and I?” More than one voice would be heard saying, “Two.” To which the middle-aged, bespectacled, intellectual-looking leader would roundly object, “Wrong, you and I are eleven; place the figure one by the side of the figure one, and what we have is 11.” The class in mathematical instruction would end with everyone breaking out into mirthful agreement. This is the way the shepherd of principles went about not educating, but enlightening his flock.
There is reason enough to believe that no one would be happier than the high and mighty if a second M. D. Madan were not to appear in the city where no one sighs or stirs without their express wishes. In Jamshedpur, dissidents are not burnt at the stake; more sophisticated methods of marginalization to begin with and ending with disappearance from public memory, are employed. A conspiracy of silence is assiduously worked out to descend on the memory of the people till such time when, abracadabra, it is as if the trouble-maker never existed.
George Anthony Hess, an American Jesuit priest who first came to Jamshedpur in 1953 and stayed on for the next ten years to make Loyola School one of the largest and most successful schools in eastern India, knew Madan from close quarters. Writing in the September 8, 1993, issue of Motif, the local weekly paper which folded up on December 31, 2007, after 35 years of publication, Father Hess recalled the example of Madan in shining words.
Fr. Hess: “In the 1950s, Mr. M. D. Madan flashed alternately the attributes of a stormy petrel and of a quiet retiring man. The latter is what I saw on meeting him occasionally to discuss his sons’ education. He was very concerned with the education of his two sons, Dhanjishah and Mehernosh… Interest in education for the young people of Jamshedpur led him to spearhead a movement for a college. The Tata Iron & Steel Co. was strongly against it. Their fear was that it would be a hotbed of politics and turmoil which would disturb the peace and tranquillity of Jamshedpur. The company, to avert the disaster which it felt a college would be, founded the Tata College in Chaibasa (where the administrative headquarters of the then undivided district of Singhbhum were located, some twenty-five kilometres away from Jamshedpur).”
After mentioning Madan’s conviction that ‘a city of the size and distinction of Jamshedpur should have a boys’ college on an outstanding scale,’ the respected priest critiqued the Tisco management’s opposition to the proposed institution of graduate studies in unmistakable terms. “A steel company is not just a mammoth machine consisting of furnaces and puppets to operate them. It is a human enterprise in which people are more important than rolling mills. Tisco has provided schools but, lacking its founder’s vision, it could apprehend only the disturbances which a college might bring. The hunger of the young for higher education and its ultimate benefit to the community was lost sight of.” Needless to emphasize, a more scathing indictment in the strictest parliamentary language would be difficult to come by.
Yet, the commemorative article also spoke of hope even as it dwelt on the injustices that a lone crusader for higher education was made to face. In what was one learned and respected educationist’s handsome, richly-deserved tribute to another, the article ended on a note of optimism that the latter would be long remembered. “Mr. Madan was an employee of Tisco, yet he pursued his vision of a great college against the opposition of the then administration… His college was founded, financed by numberless gifts, small and large. It was named the Jamshedpur Cooperative College because the whole community banded together in a cooperative effort. It flourishes today, a monument to a noble soul. Jamshedpur should long hold him in honour.”
How well Jamshedpur has remembered this great constructive dissident to whom it owes a debt so deep and profound that it can never be repaid, is illustrated by the fact that his birth and death anniversaries come and go without being noticed by anyone; not a line appears in the local papers about his qualities as a man and his achievements as an educationist and citizen. One would have thought that a small fraction, even a microscopic fraction, of the thousands of men and women who graduated from the college would have the character to arrange for a gathering or two each year to commemorate its founder. In the absence of anything of the kind, the young adults of the city – on whom, quite understandably, so much depends by way of the healthy development of the local community – are denied the opportunity of learning the facts of Madan’s illustrious life. The total absence of responsibility shown by the citizenry in general and the college’s ‘old boys and girls’ in particular stems from an overall pernicious subculture actively pursued by the corporate daddies that practice of dissidence of any sort – or even recalling memories of dissidence which might indirectly show the steel major in poor light – is simply not acceptable. Sycophancy and fear are clearly the overriding characteristics of the general behavioural pattern here.
Professor Satyen Bose, the famous physicist whose name is joined for all time to come to that of Albert Einstein, said: “When you doubt, your knowledge grows.” In Jamshedpur, one will find tonnes of technical information, especially if it is to do with steelmaking or heavy engineering that one is seeking, but knowledge is difficult, if not impossible, to come by. The chief reason for this is that questioning officially-sanctioned practices or attitudes is strictly prohibited. No one may doubt, unless he wishes to bring upon himself the wrath of the tinsel gods of industry, the truth or the wisdom of what is handed down from above, thereby often making for a modern equivalent of the story of Andher nagri choupat raja – taka ser bhaji to taka ser khaja (The dark kingdom of the wayward king…) that one had read in an early school text. Doubting the supposed unalloyed benevolence of the provider of pakora aur pagar (bread and salary) is a pariah act for which retribution can range from professional persecution to social ostracism.
In view of the fact that the Tatas were responsible for starting such world-class institutions of scientific research as the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore or the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay, it is indeed unfortunate and somewhat mystifying that the same group should have actively discouraged the people of Jamshedpur from using their own heads all along the hundred plus years that the steel company has been in existence. No wonder, it vehemently opposed Madan’s efforts to start Jamshedpur’s first college which, they must have felt, would contribute to equipping the inhabitants of the place with the ability to think for themselves.
One November evening in the year 1992 there came to the office of Motif a Jewish American couple in search of M. D. Madan as an important part of the larger story of Tisco and the steel-engineering settlement of Jamshedpur. Blair B. Kling introduced himself as a professor of history at the University of Illinois and said that he was engaged in writing an account of the composition, character and performance of the Jamshedpur working-class. In fact, Professor Kling, as I was to soon discover, was no newcomer to the history of Jamshedpur. Reading his research paper entitled, ‘Voices of the Workers, Jamshedpur 1922’, one found a scholarly mind that was not prepared to accept anything given to him by the company’s public relations people without first determining its veracity. (1922 was a particularly turbulent year in the history of Tisco when the management and the workers found themselves locked in a tussle that refused to be easily solved. The determination of the workers, expressed in a strike that lasted for more than a month – September 19 to October 20 – was matched by the ruthlessness of the Parsee-American-British management to stamp it out.)
Besides Jamshedpur and quintessential dissenters like M. D. Madan or Professor Abdul Bari, Kling had felt drawn to at least two other Indian subjects. One was Rabindranath Tagore’s fabulous grandfather, Prince Dwarkanath, and the other the indigo disturbances in Bengal during the period 1859 to 1862. His books on these two subjects are painstakingly researched and well-written. Professor Kling’s wife, Julia, a clinical psychiatrist, showed an interest in Madan’s life and times that seemed to equal her husband’s.
The visitors asked to know about Madan from my father, who was then in his early eighties. They said they had come to know from different sources in the city about my father’s close friendship with the educationist. The gist of what father said was that one had to meet Madan in person to believe that such a one actually existed. He narrated a couple of incidents that underlined the loftiness of Madan’s mind and the originality of style in which he expressed himself whether in word or in deed.
Professor Kling was to hear so much from so many people in Jamshedpur about Madan, many of whom had never met the man but learnt about him from their fathers, uncles or elderly neighbours, that even while he was in the city he decided to write Madan’s biography. So, with the intention of obtaining authentic material about their father, he got in touch with Madan’s children. (Gulnar Madan, the educationist’s wife, had died years earlier.)
It was a crestfallen Kling that I met some days prior to his leaving for Delhi on his way back to the United States. What he said was simply unbelievable. Madan’s children told him that after the death of their mother they had burnt all letters and other papers belonging to their father. It was not clear whether they were acting on their mother’s instructions, but it is difficult to believe that they would have taken such a drastic decision on their own. The net result of this was that invaluable correspondence between Madan and an array of nationalist leaders of the stature of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Jayaprakash Narayan was lost forever. An act of cruel thoughtlessness had deprived the city and the nation of many documents of immeasurable value. The question of a book on the great man, as Professor Kling sadly admitted, now seemed out of the realm of possibility. What demons possessed the perpetrators of this crime against history will have to remain a matter of speculation.
Which brings us to the vexed question of whether many of our great men and women wouldn’t have been even greater in the performance of the difficult roles they had assigned themselves if they had received the support of family and friends. Unfortunately, this support was frequently denied to them. Apart from Madan, the name of at least one other great Parsee comes to mind in this connection – Madame Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama, who was hounded all through her epochal political life by the total opposition of her own family and that of her husband and his family. How sad it must have been for the exiled nationalist, credited with having first envisioned how the flag of an independent India might look, to fight all alone for the cause of her country and her people in a cold, unfeeling Paris, thousands of miles away from her beloved Bombay. When she was allowed to return to the city of her birth after thirty-five years of exile, she was but a physical wreck. She passed away on August 16, 1936, “unhonoured and unmourned”, to quote her biographer, K. A. Sethna.
Madame Cama, who came close to such dissimilar figures as Savarkar and Lenin in course of her political travels in Europe, was born the same year that Rabindranath Tagore was born. And, yet, not a word about her adorned our newspapers when they were crowded to congestion commemorating the Bard of Jorasanko.
But it is not just history which has been unkind to many who deserved better. It is a fact that some of the tallest men and women committed to staking their very lives, if need be, for the betterment of society, have had to contend with the non-support, if not active opposition, of numerous fellow-creatures. This unfortunate attitude on the part of some people has had the effect of making things that much more difficult for selfless pioneers. In this connection an incident that happened before my very eyes deserves mention. It happened a short while after M. D. Madan’s untimely death in 1962.
A frequent Bengali-speaking visitor to our house was engaged in a conversation with my father about this and that till it got directed to the subject of Mr. Madan. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the visitor used a derogatory expression to describe Mr. Madan, which made my father fly into a rage. The expression used will be instantly understood by anyone born to the Bengali language – Pagla Modon (that mad-cap Modon; Modon is a common first-name among Bengalees). Father ordered the visitor to make his exit as fast as his legs could carry him and not to show his face in our house again. My father was usually a man of peace and of a pleasant disposition, but he could react with fury on matters close to his heart. If anything, that incident underlined the deep respect and fond affection in which my father held his late friend. That unfortunate incident also underlined for me the fact that our lives are fashioned to some degree or the other by our contact with other lives. My father’s credentials as a good and simple man with progressive ideas about life and life’s creatures must have been formed at least partly by his knowledge of and exchanges with extraordinary people like M. D. Madan, Professor Abdul Bari, Kedar Das and others of their ilk.
Sometimes the thought comes to mind that perhaps an element of exalted madness is indeed necessary to make mountains walk and the seas to divide. If Mr. Madan had lived a little longer, it would have swelled his brave heart to see hundreds of young men and women jostling among themselves at admission time each year for a berth at the same college which had once been dismissed by many, if not all, as the impossible dream of an incurable madman. Perhaps Dryden would have thoroughly approved of Madan’s paagalpan – “There is a pleasure sure in being mad which none but madmen know.” Indeed, a variety of meanings can be coaxed out of the word ‘madness’, depending on who is the diviner – the poet Dryden or the silly man who was driven out by father for his rank irresponsible remark.
( Vidyarthy Chatterjee writes on cinema,society, and politics.)