London was a beautiful city. It was the capital of the British Empire, whose sun did not set in the whole world. As soon as he got off the train, Jagadish could see the glare of Grand London. There was a kind of simplicity in the air of Calcutta and there was an upper-class abomination in London. Jagadish had till now seen Calcutta, about which the great poet Ghalib of that time had said that the khakanshini (sitting in dust or modesty) of Calcutta was way better than ruling this city. And then he had also said that had he not been married and the responsibilities of the house were not on him, he would have left it all and settled in Calcutta.
London was the city of the rulers of the world. It is unknown whether Ghalib liked London, but Jagadish liked the city. An inquisitive person likes everything new. Jagadish wanted to know more about London, England and the mentality of the ruling half the world. What was it like in Britain? Jagadish’s father was an officer whose masters were English. His father had status and money, but he was not happy. Jagadish wanted to know why his father did not allow him to become an officer after passing the civil service examination. Why did he want Jagadish to be his own master when it was a complicated thing and there was a lot of uncertainty in it?
The burden of debt on his home was due to the economic failures of his father. Even after this, what forced his father to wish that his son would become a doctor and save his people from the epidemics spreading in their society?
Although Jagadish was educated only with British children, his father had many British friends and Calcutta was the residence of the British, he found that Anglicism was at its peak in London. Jagadish was now comfortable with the British. He had all his English friends who were good-natured. The British rule in Bengal was also going on almost properly. Even after this, what was it that made his father worry for his people and made him feel alienated from the British?
Jagadish had seen the people of Bengal, but not much. He was neither very old nor had that much experience. Jagadish enrolled at the University of London to study medicine. There used to be many world-famous doctors at the University of London. It was the year 1880. However, India’s first medical college was opened in Calcutta in 1835 under the supervision of Lord William Bentinck, which later came to be known as Calcutta Medical College.
But still, Calcutta did not have as many good doctors as the University of London and the facilities were incomparable. Jagadish had a BA from the University of Calcutta. For admission to the University of London, this diploma served as matriculation. Without delay and complications, Jagadish was allowed to get admission in the first year of medical education. In the first year, the study of physics and chemistry was almost the same as in Calcutta.
Jagadish was very comfortable in physics due to the teachings of Prof Lafont at the University of Calcutta. He had no difficulty with chemistry either. Since mathematics and biology were studied separately at University of Calcutta, biology and plant science were new subjects for Jagadish. Although many modern Indian universities have started teaching mathematics and biology in the same course, most universities do not teach these subjects together in the same degree course.
In London, Jagadish was taught biology by Professor Ray Lankester. This was a completely new and exciting subject for Jagadish and his professor was a great expert and an excellent teacher. The plant science subject was also easy initially, so the preliminary scientific examination in this subject was easily passed. The actual study of medical education started in the autumn of 1880 and now subjects like anatomy and surgery had also been included in this study. Jagadish was happy with his studies and kept his father informed by writing letters.
Meanwhile, the attacks of fever kept on coming and going as before. The best doctors at the medical college were treating Jagadish and his condition was improving, but his fever was not completely cured. Jagadish’s situation deteriorated as soon as he went to the dissection laboratory of the medical college. For a future doctor, what can be more frightening than the disease becoming the cause of disfigurement for him.
Doctors found that one of the reasons for the frequent return of the fever was a bad smell in the surgical laboratory. Whenever Jagadish went to the laboratory, he would get a fever. Perhaps he was allergic to the surgical laboratory’s smell. The doctors gave up when the fever did not go away, despite their best efforts. In this way, once the committee met, it was decided that Jagadish should leave medical studies.
Since the doctors were also the professors of the medical college, efforts were made to cure Jagadish and later it was also easy to decide that he should be advised to leave the medical course. Prof Ringer, the well-known hospital doctor, also called Jagadish one day and advised him that he should leave medical studies. Life is above everything. Jagadish was disappointed after Dr Ringer said this. He did not have as much trust in other doctors as he had in Prof. Ringer. He had treated Jagadish for a long time. Prof Ringer was a great doctor, a kind-hearted and pleasant person who always spoke to his patients comfortingly. For Jagadish, treatment from this doctor was important.
Jagadish was feeling even worse than if he had been weak in some subject and had to leave his studies due to failing in the examination. He had to leave his studies for his health. His father had been ready to take a loan for this purpose – a purpose for which his mother was ready to sell her jewellery.
After so many sacrifices, his parents had sent him to study in London. His parents must have cherished many dreams for Jagadish. Are all those dreams now shattered? Was the last wilderness of dreams shattered and destroyed? Do dreams also die prematurely?
When dreams die untimely, regrets and excuses, buried in the ashes of time, come to the door as an uninvited phoenix to read the mourning. Jagadish thought that had he never gone to Assam with his father’s friend for hunting, neither would he have mosquito bites, nor would he have the fever, nor would such a big problem have come to the fore. Jagadish felt that dreams are like gunpowder. A wrong decision taken in simple curiosity can turn all in to ashes. Jagadish may have felt this way but was he responsible for this horrific failure? He was once again standing on a mountain of uncertainty, whose future seemed like a bottomless abyss. Should he go back to India? Will he be able to dare to return to India with such failure?
Standing in the face of uncertainty and failure, Jagadish thought about his dacoit friend and began to reconcile himself once again. Life and robbery felt so similar. He used to say that robbery is an evil way of living but it teaches us about life’s most difficult situations. Looting is a brutal and reprehensible act that cannot be forgiven but robbers do not know how many times they have to make unsuccessful attempts. Somebody’s hand gets damaged by the bullets in defence. Few have to lose their feet and few have lost their hands, but life goes on.
While living in London, Jagadish wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, Ananda Mohan Bose, explaining his position. Ananda Mohan Bose himself was an educated person. He had gotten admission to Cambridge University and had passed the degree of Mathematical Tripos with first-class honours. At the University of Cambridge, those who passed the degree of Mathematical Tripos with first-class honours were awarded the title of “Wrangler”.
He was the “first Indian Wrangler” of Cambridge University. Ananda Mohan Bose advised Jagadish to study science at Cambridge University and he also wrote a letter of recommendation to Christ’s College, Cambridge, in praise of Jagadish. In 1881, Jagadish also got a government fellowship to study science at Christ’s College, Cambridge University, and he took admission there.
Once again, long-lasting fever had given a new way to Jagadish’s life. Who thought fever would change the course of his life? Who knew that the fever due to which Jagadish had started feeling very low, would take him to new heights of success and fame? Life’s trials are so absurd and confusing.
Excerpted with permission from The Scientific Sufi: The Life and Times of Jagadish Chandra Bose, Meher Wan, Penguin.