Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road – The Road To Swadeshi Enterprise

Joydip Sur

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road, more commonly referred to as APC Road stretches from the Shyambazar Five-Point Crossing in the north to Vidyapati Flyover at Sealdah in central Calcutta. Together with Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road it forms the longest thoroughfare in the city. On the way there are a number of important intersections including Khanna Crossing, Beadon Street Crossing, Manicktala Crossing, Rajabazar Crossing, College Street Crossing and Mahatma Gandhi Road Crossing.

The decision to rename Upper Circular Road as Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road was taken at a meeting of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation on January 3, 1958. It was an apt tribute to Prafulla Chandra Ray who founded Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works at the rented premises of 91, Upper Circular Road and spent his life in a single room at the University College of Science, also located on the same road. Ray was also a great admirer of Kesub Chandra Sen, whose residence now houses Victoria Institution, another landmark on the Upper Circular Road.

Origin Of The Road
The Upper Circular Road was constructed after filling up the Maratha Ditch (also referred to as Mahratta Ditch) in 1799. The Maratha Ditch was a three-mile- long moat excavated around Calcutta in 1742, as a protection against possible attacks by marauding Bargis (Marathas). The English had sought the permission of the Nawab Ali Verdi Khan to dig a seven-mile-long trench, however, after completion of just three miles in six months time the work was abandoned as the Bargis did not venture near Calcutta. The ditch proved to be useless when Siraj-ud-Daulah attacked the city and ransacked the British settlement in 1756.

Later, the ditch came to denote the boundary of the town of Calcutta and became a prominent landmark. According to HEA Cotton the ditch degenerated into an “open sewer,” “receptacle of all filth and garbage” and a breeding ground for germs and disease. Decades later, the ditch was filled up in 1799 to build the Upper Circular Road (present day APC Road) and the remaining part of it was filled up in 1892–93. James Long in his book titled ‘Calcutta in the Olden Times – Its Localities’ stated that during this time only three houses existed along the Upper Circular Road stretch.

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray
Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray was a man of science, academician, social reformer and an entrepreneur. He is regarded as the father of Indian school of modern chemistry and a pioneer in chemical industry. Born on August 2, 1861, at Raruli in the district of Khulna (now in Bangladesh), he spent the major part of his life in Calcutta.

Ray’s activities were not confined to his laboratory and teaching. His activities concerned all spheres of human interest—educational reform, industrial development, employment generation and poverty alleviation, economic freedom and political advancement of the country.

Ray was a great patriot determined to put his knowledge in use for the benefit of his countrymen. At a time when nationalist enterprises were few and drugs and pharmaceutical products had to be brought from outside, Ray set up Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works in 1892. The drugs produced from indigenous materials included Ayurvedic items as well as standard British pharmacopoeia preparations. Patriotic minded distributors like Bottokristo Paul and doctors like Radhagobindo Kar and Nilratan Sircar helped to popularise the indigenous drugs and acids. In 1901 Ray converted it to a limited company. His enterprise was hailed for showing “Signs of resourcefulness and business capacity which should be an object lesson to capitalists of this province.”

He was a great critique of the prevailing caste system in the Hindu society. Ray was an ardent advocate of the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction in schools and colleges. In recognition of his contribution towards the advancement and enrichment of Bengali language, he was elected the President of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad (1931-34).

He lived a life of extreme self-denial and became a symbol of plain living. He lived in a single room at the University College of Science on Upper Circular Road whose furniture consisted of an iron bedstead, a small table, a chair and an almirah with shelves full of books, most of which were English classics. Ray was a voracious reader of literature, history and biography and well versed with politics and economics. He was proficient in half-a-dozen languages. He authored the book, ‘A History of Hindu Chemistry from the Earliest Times to Sixteenth Century’ and also published his autobiography, ‘Life and Experience of a Bengali Chemist’.

“A more remarkable career than that of P.C. Ray could not well be chronicled”, wrote Nature, the international scientific journal while commenting on the first volume of his autobiography. He died on Friday, June 16, 1944 at the age of 83.