Dr. AMARNATH JHA: A TRIBUTE
By K. K. PRASAD, B.A., LL.B.
The death at Patna on September 2, in his fifty-ninth year, of Dr. Amamath Jha is an incalculable loss to Educational India and has come as a particular shock to all those who have had the privilege of knowing him, for it means not merely the disappearance of an outstanding personality, but verily the end of a certain tradition–what may be called the ‘Jha Tradition’. Of ancient lineage and lofty birth, Dr. Jha was the elder of the two distinguished sons of a great father, the late Mahamahopadhyaya Sir Ganganath Jha, veteran educationist and Vice Chancellor, and probably the greatest authority, in his days, on Sanskrit; the younger being Mr. Adityanath Jha, who crowned a brilliant educational career in the Allahabad University by topping the list of successful candidates in the I. C. S. examination of 1934, and is now, at a comparatively early age, the Chief Secretary to the Government of Uttar Pradesh. Dr. Jha was unquestionably a man of great intellectual attainments and extraordinary versatility. A profound scholar in Sanskrit, he was equally learned in Persian, Urdu, Bengali, and Hindi. And, in English, which was his chosen field, he was reputed to be the ablest professor in all India. Primarily a man of letters who began his career as a Reader in English, he ultimately, by force of brain and character and a highly cultivated mind, won a wide intellectual position in the whole of the North.
An ardent educationist that he was, Dr. Jha was a fervid champion of the teaching profession, whose lot he always sought to improve and whose rights he never failed to defend. He brought to the study of their problems a trained mind and a profound vision. His counsel was of high value in the wide range of educational and cultural problems which the transition in India has brought about. Despite a somewhat forbidding manner and look, he loved his students well and was proud of not a few of them (and he had good reason to be), for many of them are men who achieved distinction later in life and are to be found today occupying positions of high responsibility in the service of the country. He was justly proud of the fact that the Allahabad University, generally contributed the largest number to the Civil Service, both at the Centre and in the State. To every student of his who asked for it, when he went to take leave of him after the Final examination, he used to give a testimonial such as he deserved, which was sure to be his passport to a career, and he needed no other. In his later years it used to be said that he was utilising nearly all his salary in ‘scattering largesse’ to the needy and deserving students of Allahabad University whose brightest product he himself was.
For long the Head of the English Department of the (Allahabad) University to which he was appointed when only thirty-two, he rose in the natural course to be the Vice-Chancellor, almost succeeding his father, and later of the Banaras Hindu University in succession to Dr. Radhakrishnan. But even when he was not the Vice-Chancellor he was still a power in the former, for such was the personal ascendancy which his personality, position and intellect obtained for him in the University. His handling of problems was rivalled only by his handling of men, and in both he was consummate.
Dr. Jha’s official career, when late in life he accepted, reluctantly I should think, the Chairmanship of the Public Service Commission, first of U. P. and next of Bihar, added nothing to his fame, which endured to the end as that of professor. In that sphere he was pre-eminent, and his lectures which thrilled, countless batches of students of the Allahabad University and occasionally also of Oxford University which he visited as exchange professor, are perhaps his finest memorial, for he was a supreme example of the Indian’s mastery of the graces, subtleties and nuances of the English language. Young men of the present generation cannot easily realise the awe and fascination which he inspired, or the weight attached to his lightest word. It was this fascination that made him the object of a cult, an honour which none of his compeers in the University or outside enjoyed.
Dr. Jha’s special excellence lay in the field of speech, and he was perhaps never more happy than when he was on his feet. He was a most accomplished speaker and self-possessed debater, whom it was at all times a pleasure to hear. His speeches were no polished orations (which, even in the case of some of our most distinguished men, are often the result of prodigious labour and brain torture), for he invariably spoke extempore, inspired by the occasion. Electrifying as they were in their effect, they were, for sheer grace, vigour and finish, seldom equalled and never surpassed.
In debate he was formidable, and his mere presence on the scene seemed to extinguish other people. He had a stature physical as well as intellectual, which made even men of considerable stature look small. At the same time he could be remarkably cool and composed. The most violent attack from the other side he would brush aside in a sentence, generally of studious Courtesy, and resume his theme, lending an air of intellectual distinction to his performance. And what was really striking was the readiness, the keenness and the felicity of his verbal wit.
It is difficult to do justice to the charm of Amarnath Jha’s conversation, never lapsing into the commonplace and ever lively and brilliant, enriched by anecdote and spiced with wit. To listen to him was to enjoy an intellectual repast, and it was something always to be taken for granted that where sat ‘A. J.’ there was the King of the Table.
Endowed with a fine and fastidious literary instinct which never failed him when he took pen in hand, he was one of the neatest and daintiest of letter-writers–and he mostly wrote his letters in his own flawless hand. Even his most casual letters were a delight, being matchless specimens of the epistolary art, revealing the craftsman and cultivated man he was, while his more elaborate ones could be described as patterns of prose, which were not unoften distinguished by passages of rare beauty.
Dr. Jha was an insatiable reader with a passion for the splendours of literature–rather of many literatures, and his library containing a vast number of books was a little Bodleian in itself.
Beneath his somewhat rough exterior there glowed a heart full of warm human sympathies. In spite of his many preoccupations, he moved much in the larger world and was a familiar and prominent figure in social circles. A most welcome guest in many a home, he was also a splendid host. With all this, there was still in him an aspect of loneliness, perhaps also a vein of melancholy, which one could not fail to notice: early in his career he had been deprived of that beneficent influence which is the peculiar gift of one’s partner in life.
Not unjustly, perhaps, is a feeling of disappointment entertained by many of Dr. Jha’s admirers that he had not reached the heights which were expected of him. The reason for this is to be found in the fact that he, an intellectual aristocrat every inch, found it somewhat difficult to fall in line with the democratic forces of the new order. But this does not in the least detract from his celebrity, for he was Amarnath Jha–a fascinating, highly-gifted, exceptional man.