Clamorworld Special: Forgotten Heroes Of India- Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy


August 2 marked the 157th birth anniversary of the grand old Entrepreneur of India but how many of us really remember. Yes, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy was born on this day in 1861 in rural Bengal. A Chemist and educationist par excellence, even the Royal Society Of Chemistry honoured his life and works.

He can also be credited for kindling the fire of entrepreneurship in British ruled India. He was the founder of Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals. This was the first pharmaceutical company established in India. The genius of the legacy he bestowed upon us is unparallel. I remember even while we were in school my granddad swore by the inimitable charm of the sticky red, ‘Jaba Kusum Taila’ and my mum credited her long tresses to the magic of Cantharidine oil.

No, you are mistaken if you thought this was an article about hair care advice! My reference to these was merely to prove the brilliance and power of the entrepreneurial initiative undertaken by this chemist more than a century ago.

Nature, the famous international scientific journal, while commenting on the first volume of Ray’s autobiography said, “a more remarkable career than that of P.C. Ray could not well be chronicled.” A symbol of frugal living and simple lifestyle, Ray Championed the cause of unity and equality and always made a passionate appeal to remove the scourge of casteism.

In 1885 Ray obtained his BSc degree and in 1887 he was awarded the DSc degree of the University of Edinburgh. He stayed a total of 6 years in England and returned with the resolve to make Chemistry a way of life in India.

Finally, in 1892, Ray started his Bengal Chemical to fan the fire of nationalism and create jobs for the unemployed youth. He had to work very hard to achieve this. In his own words, “Every afternoon on returning from the college (4:30 pm) I used to go through the previous day’s orders and to see that they were executed promptly. The migration from my college laboratory to the pharmacy laboratory was to me a recreation and a change of occupation. I would at once throw myself into my new `job’ and work at a stretch from 4:30 pm to 7 pm and clear the file. When work is coupled with a keen sense of enjoyment it does not tell upon your health; the very idea of locally manufacturing pharmaceutical preparation, which hitherto had to be imported, acted like a tonic.

Bengal Chemical and its visionary founder won accolades for the novel concept but sadly the memories of the founder are relegated to the forgotten pages of history. The Government of India has now decided to put the landed assets of Bengal Chemical on sale now. Some have called it a ‘sale of a dream’ but will it also be the death of the dreamer and his memories. Let us keep the fire of national pride that this grand old entrepreneur kindled centuries ago!


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