Ramananda Chatterjee was arguably the most influential Indian editor in the last few decades of colonial rule. He began publishing The Modern Review in 1907. In an obituary of the departed editor in 1943, the historian Jadunath Sarkar wrote that the list of contributors in the 37 years that Chatterjee edited the journal was actually a dictionary of the greatest Indian intellectuals of that time, plus several notable foreigners. There is a dash of hyperbole here—no B.R. Ambedkar, for instance—yet the claim is not altogether off the mark. Every issue of the review packed a lot of intellectual punch. Besides the new Indian elite that devotedly followed The Modern Review every month, the British colonial authorities too read it closely to understand Indian nationalist opinion on contemporary issues.
An excellent collection of writings from the The Modern Review has now been published—Patriots, Poets And Prisoners: Selections From Ramananda Chatterjee’s The Modern Review, 1907-1947. The pieces selected for this book give us some idea about the quality of writers who contributed to the journal—Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sister Nivedita, M.K. Gandhi, Verrier Elwin, Premchand, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and several others. There is an essay in the book by Tagore in which he criticizes the cult of the charkha propagated by Gandhi. Bose interviews the French writer Romain Rolland at a time when Europe was hurtling mindlessly towards yet another conflagration. And of course there is the famous essay in the November 1937 issue, in which someone hiding his identity behind the pseudonym Chanakya warned readers that Nehru had the makings of a potential dictator. It was only revealed much later that the writer of that playful essay was Nehru himself. Read more