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PK De Sarkar, the Bengali who taught India how to master the language of England

9 July, 2020 22:18:02
PK De Sarkar, the Bengali who taught India how to master the language of England

Does the name Prafulla Kumar De Sarkar ring a bell of familiarity among readers? No? Well, people hardly recognize him by his official name now. Born in 1892 in Rangpur, erstwhile, East Bengal., Prafulla Kumar completed his graduation from Rajsahi College and then landed in Calcutta to study at Calcutta University for his Master’s degree. He took admission in the university and simultaneously took up a job in the British concern, Martin Burn Company to supplement his income.   Everything was running smoothly until one day when an experience changed him and left him scarred for the rest of his life. He needed to consult a book for reference. So he went to his office library to look for the text and all hell broke loose. A black native had stepped inside the sacrosanct library reserved for whites only! He was bitterly insulted and asked to leave immediately. 

P K De Sarkar

Unbeknownst to himself, the librarian did a noble deed for all Bengalis that day. He was employed by the British and he had simply performed his duty. He just wanted to pass on the message that no matter how sincere and good worker you may be or how close you may be to your masters, you can never cross the line and being a native, you are not allowed to break rules and enter the hallowed portal earmarked for the whites.  

Prafulla Kumar was not the kind to be cowed into submission. He was an obstinate man who left the job when he was denied entry in the library. He vowed to teach English to Bengalis.

He went back to his village and took up a job as school teacher. He devoted his free time to write a grammar book in English language. He would try to find out the stumbling blocks in English grammar that impeded the smooth journey of Bengalis learning English. He probed specific areas where Bengali students floundered. Keeping these factors in mind, Prafulla Kumar continued his task vigorously and finally, completed his magnum opus, A Text Book of Higher English Grammar, Composition and Translation, which was first published in 1926.

a Kumar De Sarkar (P.K. De Sarkar in short), teacher of Rajshahi Bhola Bishweshwar Hindu Academy, was immediately noticed and very well received. It gradually elbowed its way to be the number one choice of students learning English grammar. Even Nesfield’s grammar had to take a back seat as the student-friendly book by P.K. De Sarkar became the bible of Bengali students learning English. 

After Partition, Prafulla Kumar shifted base from Rajshahi in 1948 and settled in Calcutta with his family. But he never took up any job here. His family had it easy and led a well-off life from the royalty he received from his book. He was often approached by book publishers with offers to work as editor or author. He would gladly oblige but he never accepted any cash in lieu of his contribution. Those assignments were his labour of love. An avid cricket fan, Prafulla Kumar accepted   tickets for cricket matches as honorarium in lieu of his involvement in the project. 

At least 20,000 copies of his book are still sold annually. Prafulla Kumar De Sarkar died in 1974 at the age of 82. As long as he was alive, every year he used to make changes or rectify sections, add a few chapters or eliminate a few sections of the book to move with the times and make it up-to-date and contemporary. Bengalis will forever be grateful to this brilliant son of the soil who taught them not to be cowed down by the intricacies of English grammar and showed the way to tackle the hitches and master the language. 

Story Tag:
  • Schools, Bengal, Education, Books

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