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Dhirendranath Ganguly

Dhirendranath (an alienist?) in our judgement, may be considered one of the pioneers in the field of psychiatry and social science in India.

A product of so called Bengali Renaissance, Dhirendranath had multiple qualities. He was a psychiatrist, a dramatist, a science writer who wrote in Bengali, a psychologist, editor of Bengali quartarly magazine Manabmon and a Marxist social scientist. Apart from all these he had many more qualities. Inspite of all these he can easily stake his claim mainly as an original psychiatrist. Among those who have worked as psychiatrists for a long time in India, Dhirendranath was unique and independent. Yet Dhirendranath was not well known as a psychiatrist outside the circle of those patients who were greatly benefited by him. Still it may be recorded that he created a new genre in the field of psychiatry. We shall do our best to reveal that genre analysing his thoughts as also his great work-ability.

Dhirendranath was India's only follower of Nobel Prize winner and one of world's best physiologists I. P. Pavlov. Dhirendranath worked on the Indian soil principally basing his research on Pavlov's work on physiology and psychology. How far was he successful or what was his failure in such a field? This is mostly true in our country where it is indeed difficult to find a truly scientific mind.

Considering the above we shall judge the mental ability of Dhirendranath always remembering how great was his love for this fallen country of his. He never could think anything minus the welfare of the people of this country. That made him a silent worker sacrificing his personal ambition and social establishment.

Dhirendranath discussed and did his research on Pavlov all his life and he may easily be called a pioneer in this field in the whole of Asia. He introduced the talent of Pavlov as a scientist in our country otherwise the latter would have been known to only a few people confirmed in the text books only. He was the first to reveal the scientific genius of Pavlov and his influence on our daily life and thought and that alone accounts how a discussion on Pavlov and Dhirendranath is one and the same.

It has to be necessarily remembered that Pavlov was born in Tzaristic Russia, although he was a jew, and worked for 19 years in Post-revolution Russia. On the otherhand Dhirendranath was nutured in British India for 36 years. He started his research work on Pavlov in post-independent India.There certainly was a difference between Pavlov's Russia and Dhirendranath's Bengali society on social-economic ground. The uproar that took place due to Tzar Alexander's work on reformations in Russia could be compared to the changes in thought-current in so called Bengal Renaissance which affected every field of thought but access to European development in the medical science was not so easily available to Dhirendranath as it was to Pavlov.

As such the opportunities that Pavlov enjoyed on his way to become a scientist was not available to Dhirendranath. Also there remained a long tradition of research in the field of physiology in Russia. That helped Pavlov to adopt research on physiology as the goal of life for more easily which was denied to Dhirendranath due to such meagre facilities in India. There also was a lack of such researchers in India who continued any work of research unabated on any subject specially medicine. Further the science of psychology was by then coming out of philosophy and was almost being born as a separate and independent branch of medical science. In such an uncertain field of career Dhirendranath opted for reaserch and profession in the arena of psychology and he could see none who had done so in order that he could get an inspiration as a model. On the other hand Pavlov could drew his inspiration from scientists like Sechenov, Tsion and such other physiologists who were both powerful and worthy to be followed as ideal teachers. There was also a difference in the brain-type of Pavlov and Dhirendranath.

It was in 1936 that Dhirendranath came to know Pavlov suddenly in Australia through Dr. Bethune. Prior to this he had heard about Pavlov like other students but was get yet to understand the importance of his work. He came to know of it from the works of Pavlov that Dr. Bethune left behind on his way to Russia to attend the funeral of the former. Incidentally Dhirendranath stayed in the same house where Dr. Bethune stayed when he had gone to Australia to learn the process of manufacture of powdered milk. There he read the works of Pavlov and came to know the importance of research on neurophysiology which was to change the course of his desired career in life.

Next came a period of conflict. Inspired by Acharya Prafulla Roy's ideal to make India self-sufficient in the field of industrial business, Dhirendranath had thought of the manufacture of powdered milk and he was the only holder of such a certificate in that field in India. He graduated from Calcutta Medical College in 1931 and went for relief work in earhquake stricken Bihar and he had no ambition to be a practising physician at that time. On his return from Bihar he, therefore, concentrated on the business of manufacture of powdered milk following the call of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy to make the country self-reliant through the spread of Industrial Business and that really prompted him to go forward on the line of his choice without any thought for treatment of patients as a medical practitioner. He went to Australia to learn the trade of his choice but within a few years he realised that to pursue the same was not at all smooth and easy. Within a short period he faced a great crisis in the business of his choice and settled in his Bhowanipur residence closing the trade that he very idealistically started.

In such a tight corner as above, Dhirendranath had the only option to start a profession as a medical practitioner and that he did being a practising psychiatrist privately. The time was 1945-46 and Dhirendranath was about 35 years of age. Initially he started his medical practice in the rented house of Bhowanipur and later in the rented house at Shyambazar permanently. Here it needs be remembered that Dhirendranath faced extreme poverty during his student days and it was then that he came in touch with active left politics which made it easier for him to be a social scientist rather than a psychiatrist. That was also a time when psychiatry did not develop in our country as of today and that accounts for his work in that field as a pioneer scientist. He was extremely successful as a practising psychiatrist in the later stage of his life and if his original contribution in hypnotic suggestion- therapy could be recorded properly then he would have been known as a front-line psychiatrist of the world but that was not possible to be done and, therefore, it is not a place to discuss the same. Many do not know that apart from his social bondage he was attracted to revolutionary movements in pre-independent India and was attracted to Marxism reading such literature.

On his return from Australia he contacted the Russian Embassy to get hold of Pavlov's research works and pursue his studies in that direction. After this he was engaged in the business production of powdered milk for 12-14 years but was unsuccessful in doing so. That made him rent a house around 1947-48 in Bhowanipur and start practice as a physician. There were may choices in his mind at that time but there was an interim period when he was not associated with practising medicine. Tradition required him to learn the practice anew which was insulting to him and so he decided to work in such a field of medicine where he would not be compelled to work as an intern.

Perfect as the wing of a bird may be, it will never enable the bird to fly if unsupported by the air. Facts are the air of science, without them a man of science can never rise.