History needs to be documented or it is lost. But what if, those who document this history or in this case ancient scriptures and texts, themselves, are lost? They are forgotten and remain unknown to general public unless someone digs them out. Manmath Nath Dutt was such an author and Bibek Debroy is that “someone” who dug him out. It needed revisiting history, removing of the dust of time settled on it, to dig deeper by going through complex, sometimes incomplete layers and to make sense out of it which Mr. Debroy has done so perfectly in this book.
Mr. Debroy explains how he came about writing this book. While comparing his own translations from his predecessor translators’ work he noticed Manmath Nath Dutt’s name way too often. He says “Whatever I wanted to do, he seemed to have worked on it earlier.” However, there was no information about him at all! He adds further “Who was Manmath Nath Dutt? It was as if his spectre started to haunt me. But almost nothing was known about the man behind the spectre, the man who had left his footprints in the sands of time for me to follow.”
This book is sort of a Biography, though Mr. Debroy stresses that it is not. That is because he says it is not complete and has many gaps. In anyway it still gives a rough picture of the life events of Manmath Nath Dutt. How and when he started with his translating of scriptures. How Mr. Debroy established where he was from, was the most fascinating account! The kind of research he has done to trace his birth place is nothing short of detective skills! He has picked up those very small ordinary looking cues that others will easily miss or ignore. It has definitely taught me to pay attention to the small details which we usually tend to swish by.
Not only his birth place, he also tracks down where he got his education from, his family, his less known works. He listed all the books he authored. He also went hunting down the old streets of Calcutta to connect the dots. Mr. Debroy highlights the extraordinary knowledge and talent of Manmath Nath Dutt as a translator and author and the reason why he is still more or less unknown. It is with his effort that we now know about this “Translator Extraordinaire” and his amazing work that never got the recognition it deserved.
I can confidently say that this book is an education in itself. Not only it provides so much information about Manmath Nath Dutt’s life and his work but in a way it also teaches us how to research. In his Epilogue he states “As I started to dig, some facts tumbled out. Some of it was circumstantial evidence and quite a bit was speculation, though it was informed speculation. Except for a few bare bones that were hitherto known, the facts, the circumstantial evidence and the speculation are all new and are reported in the pages that follow. We learn about a man, and in the process, also learn about the nineteenth-century Calcutta.” And that is indeed true! Because I did learn a great deal about that era and how things were in those times.
I cannot imagine the kind of hard work that must have gone into collecting all this data, looking for cues and information so critically, minutely and in analyzing it further. I highly recommend this book for everyone. It’s a must read, especially for every history and theology enthusiast.