Why was he always in love with England, though he had never visited the land before the age of 57? These questions perplexed me and the only answer I could decipher is that perhaps Nirad Chaudhuri was in search of a home that he could call his own.
And perhaps this street in 1980s took him closer to the novels of Hardy and Austen. Lovers of literature not only see texts through their lives but also sculpt live through the texts they read. His textual affinity was coupled with the colonial aura he grew up with- we must remember that he spent his first 50 years in an empire where the sun never set.
His England was a realisation of certain dominant sensibilities and visions he idealised but they were far from reality. Places like 20, Lathbury road makes me wonder why people choose to migrate and why certain places receive more sanctity than others. For Nirad Chaudhuri, England was sacred and for some America is. The solution to this onerous puzzle cannot be found in better living standard or socio-economic conditions of higher wages.
Furthermore, certain places celebrate certain people. Nirad Chaudhuri would have been immensely happy if he knew about the blue plaque as it would fit his sensibilities perfectly. Even Oxford County Council was happy enough to remember this “an original thinker, forthright in his opinions and an internationalist, in the sense of one who embraces the best of all cultures but never loses his own.
In 1932, he married Amiya Dhar, a well-known Writer herself; the couple had three sons.
In 1938, Chaudhuri obtained a job as secretary to Sarat Chandra Bose, a political leader in the freedom movement in India. As a result, he was able to interact with political Leaders of India: Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the brother of Sarat Chandra Bose, Subhas Chandra Bose (also known as Netaji). A growing familiarity with the workings of the inner circle of Indian politics led him to be skeptical about its eventual progress, and he became progressively disillusioned about the ability of Indian political leadership.
Nirad C Chaudhuri is accused of being in secret connivance with the British and leaked information about the whereabouts of Sarat Chandra Bose. This may have led to arrest of Sarat Bose in 1941. Dr. Radha Nag showed the conflict of the 'writer' Nirad C with the 'person' Niradbabu in her Bengali book আত্মঘাতী নীরদ চৌধুরী 'Atmaghati Nirad Choudhuri'(Suicidal Nirad Choudhuri).
Chaudhuri authored numerous works in English and Bengali. His oeuvre provides a magisterial appraisal of the histories and cultures of India, especially in the context of British colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chaudhuri is best known for The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, published in 1951. Over the course of his literary career, he received numerous accolades for his writing. In 1966, The Continent of Circe was awarded the Duff Cooper Memorial Award, making Chaudhuri the first and only Indian to date to be given the prize. The Sahitya Akademi, India's national Academy of Letters, awarded Chaudhuri the Sahitya Akademi Award for his biography on Max Müller, Scholar Extraordinary.
In 1955, the British Council and the BBC jointly made arrangements to take Chaudhuri to England for eight weeks. He was asked to contribute lectures to the BBC, and wrote eight of these. His impressions of England and Europe were later collected in A Passage to England. The Continent of Circe, published in 1965, traces Chaudhuri's doggedly independent-minded ideas on the social, geo-political, and historical aspects of sub-continental India across millennia. An extended sequel to his famous autobiography, titled Thy Hand, Great Anarch! was published in 1988. His last book Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse, published in 1997, coincided with his hundredth year.
In 1990, Oxford University awarded Chaudhuri, by then a long-time resident of the city of Oxford, an Honorary Degree in Letters. In 1992, he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
Chaudhuri was a prolific Writer even in the very last years of his life, publishing his last work at the age of 99. His wife Amiya Chaudhuri died in 1994 in Oxford, England. He too died in Oxford, three months short of his 102nd birthday, in 1999. He lived at 20 Lathbury Road from 1982 until his death and a blue plaque was installed by the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board in 2008.
The dedication, which was actually a mock-imperial rhetoric, infuriated many Indians, particularly the political and bureaucratic establishment. "The wogs took the bait and having read only dedication sent up howls of protest", commented Chaudhuri's friend, Editor, Historian and Novelist, Khushwant Singh. Chaudhuri was hounded out of government Service, deprived of his pension, blacklisted as a Writer in India and forced to live a life of penury. Furthermore, he had to give up his job as a political commentator in All India Radio as the Government of India promulgated a law that prohibited employees from publishing memoirs. Chaudhuri argued that his critics were not careful-enough readers; "the dedication was really a condemnation of the British rulers for not treating us as equals", he wrote in a 1997 special edition of Granta. Typically, to demonstrate what exactly he had been trying to say, he drew on a parallel with Ancient Rome. The book's dedication, Chaudhuri observed, "was an imitation of what Cicero said about the conduct of Verres, a Roman proconsul of Sicily who oppressed Sicilian Roman citizens, who in their desperation cried out: "Civis romanus sum".
Student Historian Dipayan Pal wrote of Nirad C. Chaudhuri in The Statesman in 2016:
After his studies, he took a position as a clerk in the Accounting Department of the Indian Army. At the same time, he started contributing articles to popular magazines. His first article on Bharat Chandra (a famous Bengali poet of the 18th century) appeared in the most prestigious English magazine of the time, Modern Review.