When her proud masters scourge her like a dog,
If her wild cry be borne upon the gale,
Our bosom to the melancholy sound
Should swell, and we should rush to her relief,
Like some, at an unhappy parent’s wail!
He goes on to talk of taking on the oppressor ’till every tyrant dread our feet, or till we find our graves’. He asks the rest of his community ‘in their interest to unite and be cooperative with the other native inhabitants of India’. Any other course, he added, would subject them to greater opposition than they had already faced. In the brief span of his life, he made a mark as a poet, a teacher, a social reformer and a journalist. These blended together to produce the heady cocktail that was Derozio’s personality.
He left school, where he was a brilliant student, at the age of 14 and embarked on a literary career when he was barely 18. His critical review of a book by the influential German philosopher Immanuel Kant, as well as his long poem The Fakir of Jungheera, was instrumental in winning him an appointment as Lecturer in English at the famous Hindu College (later Presidency College) in Kolkata.
By all accounts, he was a dedicated teacher and, as a high school student, it is this aspect of his nature that I find the most interesting.
He was no ordinary teacher. He was passionate about his subject and he linked it directly to life. While taking his classes he not only taught his subject, but through it, he also advocated a proper philosophy of life as he understood it. Blind belief and superstition which plagued the Indian community then were anathema to him, and he impressed upon his students the need for a rational and objective outlook towards life.
His involvement with those whom he taught was not restricted to the classroom—he interacted with them informally as well, and tried to shape their minds. Writing about them, he said:
Expanding like the petals of young flowers I watch the gentle opening of your minds.
How refreshingly different this is from the attitude of other teachers, the majority of whom merely teach a prescribed syllabus and are least interested in any personal interaction with the learner!
His student followers, many of whom were subsequently to leave their mark on society in Bengal, were called Derozians, and their motto was: ‘He who will not reason is a bigot, he who cannot reason is a fool, and he who does not reason is a slave.’
As one can well expect, Derozio got into trouble. Parents came to college complaining that their sons were being led astray. Derozio shrugged off the charge, but he had altered many minds, and he had to pay the price: he was sacked.
He turned to journalism with his usual gusto but died prematurely from cholera, which at that time was fatal.
To me, Derozio stands for living life one hundred per cent, with full honesty, integrity and commitment. He was never afraid of the authorities and he refused to compromise on the core issues of his life. It is this fortitude that attracts me to his personality. I hope to be inspired by his glorious legacy—both as a teacher and as a creative thinker.