The spirit of Rajendranath Mookerjee

first_imgRajendranath, better known as Sir RN Mookerjee, and still faintly remembered as such for a stretch of the road in Kolkata from Central Avenue in the East down to the junction of Old Court House Street leading to Dalhousie Square – the Mission Road and adjacent Mission Row has been named after him, although very few persons nowadays actually remember or know the reason why he is so famous. Not far from that road and beside the old mission church stands a very well–constructed stately building called Martin Burn House. Viewed from Bow Bazar Street opposite Lal Bazar State Police headquarters, the roots of a large banyan tree have almost hidden the nameplate. Also Read – A special kind of bondYes, this happened to be – not too many years ago, even till the 70’s of the last century – the Principal Office of an Indo–British conglomerate of which Sir Rajen, and after his passing away on May 15, 1936, his worthy son, Sir Biren, were senior partners. A partnership firm between a noble English gentleman, Sir Thomas Acquin Martin and Rajendranath in 1892, then engaged primarily in laying waterworks and civil constructions in different cities across India, the business entity was christened just Martin & Co., instead of Martin Mookerjee & Co. purposely to avoid racial prejudice in British India. Association of a native with a venture would have then jeopardised its business prospect. Also Read – Insider threat managementAnd later on in 1946, after amalgamation with another large firm Burn & Co., which was acquired earlier in 1927 by Rajendranath, it came to be known as Martin Burn & Co. The business interest got precedence and the name of the Mookerjees remained effaced, although very active till the end. The man who almost single-handedly took the partnership company to dizzying heights, his senior, Martin deceased in 1906, was not one born with a silver spoon in his mouth, nor a city-bred person. Elder to Acharya J C Bose, Rabindranath and Swami Vivekananda by many years, Rajendranath was born on June 23, 1854, in a non-descript village called Bhabla in the Basirhat Sub-Division of North 24 Parganas. His father died when he was just six years old, Rajendranath was brought up by his mother – a resolute lady – and other elders of the joint family. Having his early education in the village pathshala where he was taught the three R’s orally, writing on the palm leaves, Rajendranath had his learning thereafter in English, first in Barasat, then in Agra, and finally in London Missionary Society’s Institution at Bhawanipur, Calcutta. Rajendranath studied Engineering at the Presidency College – BE College at Shibpur still not been established then, but refused the job of a surveyor of a Bheel – a large water body – as he was hell-bent on doing business on his own and not serving under anybody – a rather exceptional wish amongst the Bengalis. It did not matter if this meant angering his relative who gave him shelter in the city and who ordered him out of the house for not listening to his bidding. He started living in a hostel with his friends and earned his living by teaching Mathematics part-time in a girls’ orphanage. The much-needed break came one fine morning as he was talking to his friend, the renowned Ram Brahma Sanyal, newly appointed Supervisor, in the Alipore Zoological Gardens then being laid out. They could hear loud voices at a distance. Coming closer, a European Saheb was seen trying to explain in his best Hindi and Bengali to the mistris and the masons how a particular construction should be carried out but the latter failing to comprehend it. Rajendranath at once understood the Saheb Engineer’s instructions and begged leave to clarify, to complete satisfaction of the mistris. This pleased the Englishman and he began to inquire the whereabouts of Rajendranath who told him the challenge of his life – starting a business of his own. The Saheb was no other than Sir Bradford Leslie, Chief Engineer to the Corporation of Calcutta, reputed as the maker of bridges. The floating pontoon bridge which served as a link between Calcutta and Howrah for long fifty years prior to the present Cantilever bridge and the Jubilees Bridge over the river Hoogly were two of his early creations. Sir Bradford asked Rajendranath to meet him next day at Palta Waterworks. It is an interesting story about how Rajendranath bagged the job of laying and maintaining waterworks with a meagre sum of Rs 1000 received as a loan from one of his friends, how he became an expert in this field and finally met Acquin Martin. The story, though not exactly one of the rags to riches, has been immortalised inimitably by KC Mahindra, his confidante and later on one of the founders of the modern day corporate giant – Mahindra & Mahindra, in the book Sir Rajendra Nath Mookerjee: A Personal Study (1933). Rajendranath, by dint of hard work, honesty and intelligence, rose to be the builder of many a landmark edifice in Calcutta – those of Standard Chartered Bank, Esplanade Mansion opposite the Governor’s House, Victoria Memorial Hall, West Bengal Assembly building, the beautiful Universal Temple dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna at Belur, the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission in Howrah. The list is long – all architectural masterpieces – and the reason why Calcutta, said to be a city of palaces and the second most important centre of power after London of the British Empire, might as well be called a Martin Burn city is Rajendranath, its architect par excellence. Martin & Co had even the distinction of constructing many a government building in Bihar and UP – the Government House and PWD Office in Ranchi, the Secretariat, Post & Telegraph Offices, Water Tower, the High Court in Patna. Similarly, the UP Government Council Chamber and Post & Telegraph Office in Lucknow. Even as a Chairman of the Engineering Committee formed in 1921, comprising mainly of engineers of the ruling class, to find out the most suitable type of bridge over the Hoogly, he had the forward-looking vision of recommending the cantilever sort, much against the wishes of his mentor, Sir Bradford Leslie. Not just city planning. Rajendranath has to his credit running of narrow gauge trains, sort of tram, known as Martin rails, between the city and the mofussil areas in a bid to bring them closer and managing a host of industries dealing with iron, electricity, cement, railway wagons, shipbuilding, tea, timber, etc. The Bengalis, it is said, are not very fond of industries, business and commerce but Rajendranath has not only disproved this observation; he was the most successful businessman, the foremost industrialist Bengal has ever produced. Sadly and most, unfortunately, almost all the industries owned and managed by the erstwhile monolith firm, Martin Burn & Co. have become a thing of the past – the last to fall was Burn Standard & Co., but if we have to revive industrialisation in Bengal, even prove the “Make in India” initiative a success story, we need to resurrect the spirit of Rajendranath, the spirit of much talked about ‘Start-Up’ ventures exhibited long before – as a tribute to him on his 165th Birthday (June 23). (The views expressed are strictly personal)last_img