Archive / Papers / The Papers of Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh


  1. Ancestry
    Ashutosh Ghosh was born on 7 January 1887 in Ramnagar of Dacca (now Dhaka) District in the old province of Bengal (latterly East Pakistan, and now, Bangladesh) in his mother’s ancestral home. The Ghosh’s themselves had their seat in Village Dasora in what was then the Manickgunge Sub-Division of Dacca District (please see Dasora property papers). Today, (visited in August 2002) the village has almost disappeared, and has been incorporated in to the town of Manickgunge, which is now the headquarters of the district of that name.The Ghosh’s of Dasora are Hindus, by caste Kulin Kayasthas. Although the traditional North Indian caste system comprised Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, in Bengal, the second caste of warriors was notably absent. The Kayasthas roughly equated with the Vaishyas, and by heredity expected to derive their income from business, ownership of land and/or employment. In the last two, Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh lived up to his heritage.The ancestry of the Ghosh’s of Dasora can be traced six generations before Ashutosh Ghosh to one Kamala Kanto Ghosh, who migrated from Dacca’s Vikrampur to settle in Dasora.It was (still is) customary for a horoscope to be drawn up immediately after the birth of a Hindu child. While the horoscope in this collection certainly details the time of Ashutosh Ghosh’s birth, it may have been drawn up at a later date.
  2. Family
    In the closing years of the nineteenth century, the Ghosh’s were minor landowners in Dasora. While not in the major landowning league of zamindars, they were none the less part of the local landed gentry with a substantial homestead. All the festivals in the Hindu calendar were observed with some ceremony in the house, which besides religiosity also indicated the relative prosperity of the worshipper.Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh was the elder son of Babu Gurugobindo Ghosh, who was reputedly Sheristadar (Office Superintendent) of a Court in Manickgunge. Babu Gurugobindo Ghosh died early leaving behind a young widow (his second wife) and children from his first wife: two sons (Ashutosh and Bhabatosh) and two daughters.Ghosh was a couple of years younger than his elder brother, was also an Officer of the Government of India, and died a few days after retirement and his large family of widow, four sons and three daughters were reputedly the first beneficiaries of a Family Pension from the Indian Government.In 1917, Ashutosh Ghosh married Niharbala (referred to in the diaries as ‘Nihar’), second daughter of Rai Sahib Manmohan Bose, a retired official in the Office of the Private Secretary to the Viceroy. Of Rai Sahib Manmohan Bose’s children, both the sons served the same office and were transferred to other departments of the independent Government of India.

    Ashutosh and Niharbala Ghosh had eight children, of whom only three survived beyond infancy. The only daughter (‘Atu’ in the diaries) was gifted, but typhoid carried her away in 1941 ‘a shock from which her parents did not recover’. The two remaining children were both sons, with ten years between them. The elder one, Panchugopal (‘Panchu’), served the Indian Railways, was the first Indian executive of the General Electric Company (G.E.C.) of India Ltd., and retired from that company after 33 years’ distinguished service; the second, Niranjan (‘Junu’ in the diaries), started his career in the Indian Air Force, but then moved over to Philips India Ltd., from which company he retired after 24 years’ service.

  3. Education
    Little is known of the education of Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh. He lost his father early in his life, and by a bizarre quid quo pro arrangement, took up residence with his cousin, Mohim Chandra Ghosh, a Deputy Magistrate & Deputy Collector in the service of the Government of Bengal. Mohim Chandra had himself lost his father and had been brought up by Asutosh’s father, Guru Gobindo Ghosh. As Mahim Chandra moved from one district to another, Ashutosh followed him. The only surviving document states that he passed his Intermediate Arts (I.A.) Examination from the Barasat Government School and due to paucity of resources, could not pursue any further studies.¬†With no management, the family’s fortunes had ebbed, and responsibility for looking after his widowed step mother and younger brother devolved upon him. He therefore pursued the course of action which seemed most expedient at that time. He enrolled himself at the Government Commercial Institute for a course that would have qualified him for a government clerkship, and in 1912, he duly passed the requisite examinations, and his services were placed under the Government of India

  4. Career in Government Service
    Ashutosh Ghosh’s generation were caught in a conundrum. On the one hand, they were influenced by the rising nationalistic sentiments of the age; on the other, was their basic need to earn a livelihood. As the obituary of one of his contemporaries, a cousin, the late Rai Bahadur Hemanta Kumar Raha, C.I.E., once Postmaster-General, Bengal & Assam Circle, stated: ‘the avenues for employment for the educated youth of the day were limited, and there were few avenues besides government service open to people of his background’. These were men, who on the one hand, respected the sterling qualities of the rulers, acknowledged the benefits that British rule had brought to the country; while on the other hand, dreamt of an independent India which would take its seat once again in the comity of Nations. The ultimate embodiment of this love-hate relationship with British rule was India’s first Premier, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.In Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh’s case, this displayed itself in a clear delineation between his life and his livelihood. To earn the latter, he had to perform certain duties, and this he fulfilled to the best of his ability, and that the fact his employer was the Crown was merely incidental. In his personal life, he remained true to his heart: very little Anglicism crept in to his daily life and habits. He continued to wear Indian dress, toast the King Emperor in water, and bought a spinning wheel as a covert symbol of support to Mahatma Gandhi’s movement to bring economic self sufficiency to India. Such was his demarcation between his official duties and personal life, that nephews of his, who participated in nationalistic revolutionary activity (and who would later be called ‘freedom fighters’) continued to accord him the respect of a saint to the end of his days (see ‘Death/Tributes’ files).The fact that this did not go un-noticed by his employers can perhaps be deduced from the honours he received ‘d0 or more aptly, did not receive. As was the case until recently, British civil servants received titles almost automatically on reaching certain grades of the bureaucracy and the link between the title and the post held was direct. As any perusal of the matter would reveal, most Assistant Deputy Directors-General of Posts & Telegraphs (or Assistant Secretaries to the Government of India) were created Rai Bahadurs, a step up from the Rai Sahib title Ashutosh Ghosh received four years prior to retirement.Among the more notable congratulatory letters received on the bestowal of his honour (and which feature in this collection) was a letter from Sir Thomas Stewart, a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, at whose hands he received the scroll and insignia of the title. The modern equivalent of a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council is a Cabinet Minister of the Union of India.

    What little is known of his official life is gleaned from the papers relating to his pension. Apparently, he was transferred to the Posts & Telegraphs Directorate as part of the measures taken on the recommendations of the Inchcape Committee on Indian Retrenchment. Details of his appointments to the posts of Superintendent, Chief Superintendent and finally, Assistant Deputy Director-General, are to be found in the folder marked ‘Official Papers’.

    One of his senior colleagues, who achieved greater fame subsequently, was Mr. (later Sir) Ghulam Mohammed, third Governor-General of Pakistan, and once Financial Adviser to the Government of India’s Communications Department. A letter from this gentleman forms part of this collection.

    The Government of India of the 1920s and the early 1930s continued six monthly perambulations between Simla (the summer capital) and New Delhi (the winter capital), and Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh’s diaries and books of accounts provide a fascinating account of these six monthly moves, details of the houses he lived in, and the staff that he employed. Almost every year, the family would travel all the way down to Calcutta, and then on to the ancestral home in Dasora, a journey of 3-4 days at least.

    With Lord Macaulay’s famous minute, English education started its march in India from Bengal, and it was the Bengalis who tended to man large portions of the government machinery. In both Delhi and Simla, these expatriate Bengali communities formed close bonds through associations like the ‘Chhota Simla Dharma Rakshini Sabha’ the Simla and Delhi Kali Baaris, and had a calendar of regular socio-religious events. Despite the occasional invitation to a Viceregal Garden Party or an official dinner (please see folder on ‘social life’), these expatriate Bengali associations were central to Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh’s social life. These were not the anglicised parties of the ‘heaven born’ I.C.S.; these were Indian gatherings of men who came from far less privileged backgrounds, and who had to work their way up from humble beginnings.

  5. Personal Life
    It has already been mentioned that Ashutosh Ghosh maintained a clear delineation between his official life and private life.Like most Victorians/Edwardians that the Bengali gentry of the age modelled their lives on, Ashutosh Ghosh’s life style was one of moderation and discipline. Most activities, work, recreation, exercise or meals, moved on a set, predictable pattern, and year followed year in a steady rhythm.Records were maintained meticulously. As the books of accounts, diaries and newspapers in this collection would testify, Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh assiduously maintained a daily record of events.Poverty and ill treatment in his school days (in the cousin’d5s house where he took shelter) apparently converted him to vegetarianism early in life. His other tastes in life too continued to be simple. His material needs were few, and the salary that he earned went to increase the ancestral acres in Bengal as well as to support various members of his extended family (see ‘Personal Correspondence’).

    Having had to first work his way up to a stage where he could support them, Ashutosh Ghosh married and had children at a relatively advanced age, and supporting his young family in his retirement must have been a concern to him. His initial plan was to retire to the ancestral property in Dasora, but the sudden death of his daughter in Dasora in 1941 put paid to those plans and he began travelling around the country in search of solace. By then, the War had come to India, and Calcutta was bombed in 1942, and like many of his class, Ashutosh Ghosh fled the city with his family.

    While the range of investment instruments he chose, indicate that he had possessed financial acumen, Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh allowed emotion to cloud his financial judgement. Many of his investments were made to support ‘nationalistic’ ventures, and most of these companies did not succeed commercially. When some of the local banks failed, a substantial amount of his savings went with them. In matters of property, he was, in addition, unlucky. The ancestral acres that he had so lovingly extended went with the partition of the country, sold for a pittance by his ailing and frail step mother as she fled East Pakistan. The bungalow which he finally constructed at Gopalpur, on the outskirts of Calcutta, at the behest of his brother-in-law, was never to be occupied by him or his family. He also appears to have bought and then sold property in Burdwan, in West Bengal, in his retirement years, but whether this was as an investment or for residential purposes is not clear.

    The second seems unlikely because for the rest of his life, Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh lived in rented accommodation in a part of Calcutta which would jokingly be called the ‘Rai Sahib’s/Rai Bahadur’s Colony’, where many retired senior government officials built houses. Papers relating to this tenancy are to be found among his ‘Personal Correspondence’.

  6. Death
    The closing years of Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh’s life proved to be a mixed bag. Almost until the end, he continued to enjoy good health, and led an active social life. He took pride in the elder son’s achievements; however, not having been able to see his sons ‘settled’ in the way he would have liked to must have clouded the last years.About twelve months before he died, a fall on one of his evening walks immobilised him, and double pneumonia claimed him on 23 December 1966. The tributes that poured in from friends and family (and which feature in this collection) indicate the ‘foot prints’ this man left in the sands of time.

Written by: Ayan Ghosh, based on the recollections of Panchugopal Ghosh and the late Niharbala Ghosh, respectively, the only grandchild, elder son and wife of the late Rai Sahib Ashutosh Ghosh. 9 August 2004.