In 1889 Haffkine, former Vladimir Khavkin, a Russian Jewish, moved to Paris and started working in Pasteur’s world famous laboratory. His initial work on producing a cholera inoculation was successful. Haffkine then sought to test the vaccine under epidemic conditions. When Lord Duffin, ambassador to France and formerly viceroy of India, learned of his project he persuaded Haffkine to go instead to Calcutta, India, where hundreds of thousands died from ongoing epidemics. At first, he was met with deep suspicion and survived an assassination attempt by Islamic extremists; once stones thrown by the crowd broke glass instruments and a panic nearly ensued. Haffkine quickly pulled up his shirt and allowed another to plunge a hypodermic into his side. The curiosity of the villagers was thus aroused and 116 of the 200 peasants assembled volunteered for inoculation. None were to die in the epidemic, although nine of those who refused inoculation did.
At the outbreak of the plague epidemic in Bombay in October 1896, Haffkine was summoned to the city. He improvised a laboratory in the Grant Medical College and set to work on preventive and curative measures. A curative serum was tested in four months, but was not found to be reliable. Emphasis moved to a preventive vaccine using dead bacteria. A form useful enough for human trials was ready by January 1897, and tested on volunteers at the Byculla jail the next month. Recognition followed quickly. Aga Khan provided a building to house Haffkine’s “Plague Research Laboratory” and other prominent citizens of Bombay supported his researches. However, the medical community was not very sympathetic towards him. In 1902 the vaccine apparently caused nineteen cases of tetanus. An inquiry commission indicted Haffkine, who was relieved of the position of the Director of the Plague Laboratory. A review of this commission’s report by the Lister Institute in England overturned this decision, put the blame squarely on the doctor who administered the injections, and exonerated Haffkine. Since the Bombay post was already occupied, Haffkine moved to Calcutta, where he worked until his retirement in 1914. In 1925, when the Plague Laboratory in Bombay was renamed the “Haffkine Institute”, he wrote that “…the work at Bombay absorbed the best years of my life… “.
Mother Teresa, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was resident of Macedonia. At the age of 18 she joined a group of nuns in Ireland. After a few months of training, she was given permission to travel to India. On her arrival in India, she began by working as a teacher. She took her formal religious vows in 1931 at Darjeeling, and chose to be named after St Therese of Lisieux – the patron saint of missionaries. The widespread poverty of Calcutta made a deep impression on her; and this led to her starting a new order called “The Missionaries of Charity”. The primary objective of this mission was to look after people, who nobody else was prepared to look after.
She experienced two particularly traumatic periods in Calcutta. The first was the Bengal famine of 1943 and the second was the Hindu/Muslim violence in 1946 – before the partition of India. In 1948, she left the convent to live full time amongst the poorest of Calcutta. She chose to wear a white Indian Sari, with blue trimmings – out of respect for the traditional Indian dress. For many years, Mother Teresa and a small band of fellow nuns survived on minimal income and food, often having to beg for funds. Slowly her efforts with the poorest were noted and appreciated by the local community and Indian politicians.
In 1952, she opened her first home for the dying, which allowed people to die with dignity. Mother Teresa often spent time with those who were dying. It afforded many neglected people the opportunity to die knowing someone cared. Those in her dying homes were given the religious rites appropriate to their faith. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, she established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics. The Missionaries of Charity now has branches throughout the world including branches in the developed world where they work with the homeless and people affected with AIDS.
In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace”. Following her death, Mother Teresa was formally beatified in October 2003 by Pope John Paul II and is now known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
In December 1905, at the Benaras session of the Indian National Congress, the Extremists wanted to extend the Boycott and Swadeshi Movement to regions outside Bengal and also to include all forms of associations within the boycott programme and thus start a nationwide mass movement. The Moderates, on the other hand, advocated strictly constitutional methods to protest against the partition of Bengal. At the Calcutta session of the Congress in December 1906, as a concession to the militants, the goal of the Indian National Congress was defined as ‘swarajya’ or self-government. The word swaraj was mentioned for the first time, but its connotation was not spelt out.
The Extremists, emboldened by the proceedings at the Calcutta session, gave a call for wide passive resistance and boycott of schools, colleges, legislative councils, municipalities, law courts, etc. The Moderates, encouraged by the news that council reforms were on the anvil, decided to tone down the Calcutta programme. The Extremists thought that the people had been aroused and the battle for freedom had begun. The Moderates saw in the council reforms an opportunity to realise their dream of Indian participation in the administration.
By 1907 session in Surat, Both sides adopted rigid positions, leaving no room for compromise. The split became inevitable, and the Congress was now dominated by the Moderates who lost no time in reiterating Congress commitment to the goal of self- government within the British Empire and to constitutional methods only to achieve this goal. The Government launched a massive attack on the Extremists. Between 1907 and 1911, five new laws were enforced to check anti-government activity. Tilak, the main Extremist leader, was sent to Mandalay (Burma) jail for six years. Aurobindo and B.C. Pal retired from active politics. Lajpat Rai left for abroad. The Extremists were not able to organise an effective alternative party to sustain the movement. The Moderates were left with no popular base or support, especially as the youth rallied behind the Extremists. After 1908, the national movement as a whole declined for a time. In 1914, Tilak was released and he picked up the threads of the movement.
While studying in Calcutta, In 1828, eight year old Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar lived at the home of a friend whose sister was a child widow. This was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s first experience of the hardships this custom imposed on women. Sometime later, his old guru decided to marry a young girl. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was enraged and demonstrated his anger by refusing his guru’s hospitality. Before a year had passed, the guru died and left behind a girl widow with nowhere to go and no means to support. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar vowed then to devote his life to improving the status of Hindu widows and encouraging re marriage.
When his opponents protested, he insisted they were misinterpreting scripture and employed a masterful command of Sanskrit to point out their ignorance. In his first tract on widow remarriage (1855) Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar claimed that this practice was permissible in Kalyug, the age in which he and his contemporaries lived. 2000 copies of this book was sold in first week, a reprint of 3000 soon sold out and the third reprint was of 10,000 copies. But not everyone was convinced. On the streets of Calcutta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar found himself insulted, abused and even threatened with death.
But Vidyasagar pressed on and urged the British to pass legislation that will allow Hindu widows to remarry. To support his request, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar collected almost 1000 signatures and sent his petition to the Indian legislative council. The council received thousands of signatures for and against this measure but the members finally decided to support the enlightened minority, The Hindu widow remarriage act was passé in 1856. Although, the value of this act for improving the lives of woman has been questioned, one cannot doubt Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s desire to create a more humane society.
Considering the great potential of recording industry in India, the Gramophone Company set up its office in Calcutta in 1901. Within a year or so, its leading technical expert F.W.Gaisberg landed in Calcutta with his recording team. At that time, they had to go wherever the performing artistes were located. Within six weeks they travelled to different parts of India and recorded over 600 titles. Over 500 artistes were recorded in different regional languages all over India. Most of them had to be trained to record songs from one minute to three minutes. Most of the artistes were professional female singers who agreed to special training required for gramophone recording.
The earliest recording made in India was that of Gauhar Jan, a Hindustani vocalist, in the year 1902. Although the recording was made in India, the disc was manufactured in England. So, at the end of the record she announced her name, to enable the technicians abroad to fix the right label to the disc. This practice of announcing one’s name at the end of a song continued until 1908, when the Gramophone Company of England set up manufacturing facilities in Sealdah, Calcutta. Many renowned maestros of classical music refused to record as they thought this would adversely affect the attendance at their concerts. That is why there is no recorded voice of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Bhaskarboa Bakhle, Alladiya Khan and other famous singers.
In the early years all recordings were done through acoustic technology through brass horns and the artistes were expected to sing in a loud voice. It was later in 1925, that the electric carbon microphone brought into fashion a new practice of recording folk and comic songs, devotional numbers and even full drama series with dialogues. Within a few years, many recording companies appeared on the scene but the Gramophone Company, with its trademark of an image of a dog listening to a gramophone horn with a ‘His Master’s Voice’ label enjoyed a virtual monopoly in India until the 1970s. In 2000, controlling RPG group changed the company’s name to ‘Saregama India Ltd’.