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Adventures of a cultured Indian in Europe: The life and time of Hiranmoy Ghoshal

Hiranmoy Ghoshal's diaries reflect, in a way, scholarly attempts to create and project Indian culture, especially in the context of engaging/clashing with the West and other powerful Asiatic cultures, which was an important aspect of the Indian nationalist movement.

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Dr. Hiranmoy Ghoshal (Photo: Youtube)

Hiranmoy Ghoshal (1908-1969), an academic, polyglot and diplomat who served at the Indian Embassy in Moscow under Ambassador S Radhakrishnan) from 1947-1951, was an eyewitness to the Nazi invasion of Poland, where he eventually settled down and started a family. His daughter Mira S Ghoshal, the last survivor of his family, still lives in Poland.

In recent times there has been a lot of focus on the theory that new ideas often arise through the movement of scholars between institutions and in particular between different institutions in different countries. As Feiwel Kupferberg notes in his essay,  creativity is a highly complex phenomenon involving different aspects which can be captured by three different 'models': the 'migrant' model, the 'stranger' model and the 'traveller' model. The protagonist being discussed in this essay, career and travels made him play the role of each three in the form of an expatriate’s model yet struggling to retain his Indian roots. 

Ghoshal, born in undivided India in 1908, came from an upper-middle-class Bengali family. In 1929, having graduated in Philosophy and Romantic studies from the University of Calcutta, Hiranmoy went to England, where he studied law and subsequently did his doctoral study on the dramas of Anton Chekov. He also underwent training as a linguist and was fluent in several languages.  He settled down in Poland and began working as a lecturer of modern Indian languages at the Oriental Institute at the University of Warsaw from 1935-1936, and he also taught English and Hindi at the Eastern Institute. 

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, he got trapped in Warsaw but managed to return to India in March 1940, taking with him his Polish fiancée (later wife), Halina Nowierska. He wrote and published his memories of the September campaign and life in occupied Poland which came out in the form of a Bengali book published in 1941.  This was perhaps the first and only Indian eyewitness account of the outbreak of the Second World War and the German blitzkrieg in Poland along with the fall of Warsaw in Bengali, published from Calcutta in 1941 after his return to India. This book along with another one focussing on his personal experiences about the German policy of occupation in Poland titled Kulturkampf was published in an abridged form in Poland as Ksiqga Walhalla in 1971.

Poland diaries

After returning to India, Ghoshal had become actively involved in the campaign against the Nazis and tried to reveal the truth about the Nazi occupation in Poland. He wrote several articles in miscellaneous Indian newspapers and journals, lectured and broadcasted on All India Radio. From 1943, he worked in the Bombay office of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, where he dealt with the affairs of Polish refugees in India. 

In 1946 he moved to Delhi, where he started working at the Ministry of Information and Radio and at All India Radio. In 1947 he became a cultural attaché and the first secretary of the Indian embassy in Moscow. Dr Ghoshal was employed as Additional Secretary (Cultural Relations) at the Indian embassy in Moscow between 1947 and 1951. After his service was terminated in 1951, he travelled around Europe during the early 1950s.  Subsequently, he returned to Warsaw University and resumed teaching there until his death in 1969.

Apart from his published books mentioned above, Hiranmoy Ghoshal left behind several other books, both fiction and non-fiction, along with some unpublished diaries. The unpublished diaries of Hiranmoy Ghoshal were written during the early 1960s in Poland and focus on the period between 1947 and 1951/52. The diaries are in the nature of personal reminiscences covering a range of fascinating issues which include his personal struggle and tragedies, a personal description and comparative analyses of pre-Second World War and post-Second World War Europe, as he travelled from Moscow to London seamlessly across the ‘iron curtain’ but left not totally unaffected by it. Particularly important is his comparison of the city of Warsaw during the 1930s when he had first seen it and his encounter with the post-war city in 1951. 

In between, there are fascinating recollections of his association with Indian nationalist leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose (who visited Warsaw in July 1933), the expatriate Indian revolutionary groups in various locations in Europe, Indian artists and authors of note like for instance Sudhin Ghose and also his critique of the nature of the global policymaking (like for instance, India joining the Commonwealth) pursued by India after independence during the Nehruvian period, for which he particularly blamed a self-centred bureaucracy rooted in colonial legacy and a weak political leadership failing to correctly judge India’s direction in global politics following independence. 

Clash with embassy

His critique of the way in which the activities in the Moscow embassy were being run included rather controversial outbursts against important personalities like Ambassador Radhakrishnan, the eminent philosopher and India’s second president who had also served as India’s second ambassador to the Soviet Union, during whose tenure Ghoshal got dismissed for being heavily critical of the policies being advocated and pursued. 

Ghoshal advocated a more open policy making and greater engagement with the wider world advocating greater Eurasian linkages and central Europe, highlighting cultural affinities and old historical connections and common heritage.

Hiranmoy Ghoshal's diaries reflect, in a way, scholarly attempts to create and project Indian culture, especially in the context of engaging/clashing with the West and other powerful Asiatic cultures, which was an important aspect of the Indian nationalist movement. Such projections were, however, diverse in nature, heavily influenced by personalities and their own social backgrounds evolving over time. Their belief in a mainstream Indian culture did not necessarily lead them to accept the dominant Congress-influenced nationalist constructions and the Nehruvian models of India’s global branding.  

Perhaps their regular interactions with the expatriate Indian community, somehow, made all of them interested in issues and debates on the nature of Indian civilisation and destiny while not abandoning the belief in the possibility of something like that actually existing in a composite form through cooperation and greater interactions between like-minded cultures and nations. 
Ghoshal’s experiences, as revealed through his writings, make an interesting study of how essentially expatriate Indian intellectuals would try to engage with such challenges and opportunities in the context of global disruptions brought upon by colonial dominance and the Second World War and the early Cold War dynamics. Greater awareness about such personalities is required to make our understanding of India’s contemporary history and global connections  more complete.

(The author is a professor at the Department of History, University of Calcutta. Views are personal)

References:

Feiwel Kupferberg, ‘Models of Creativity Abroad: Migrants, Strangers and Travellers’, in European Journal of Sociology, Vol. 39, No. 1, 1998, pp. 179-206

Hiranmoy Ghoshal, Mahattar Juddher prothom Addhay (Calcutta: The National Literature Company, Sravan 1348/July 1941)

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