Umbika Churn Rai (1827-1902) my great great grandfather, was the founder of the modern Roy family of Behala. He himself was the great grandson of Raja Daibaki Nandan Rai who is said to have brought the family to Behala from Anarpur at the time of the Mahratta invasions. Daibaki Nandan was probably gifted land at Behala as was customary towards Brahmins. The legend is that upon his arrival, a famed band of local dacoits/robbers gave him an ultimatum to surrender the family’s jewels or fight. Daibaki Nandan stood and fought, had his arm cut off by a scimitar, and died bleeding. The family then fell materially for two generations and were “toll pandits” or “tree-shade teachers” under Jagat Ram Rai and Durga Prasad Rai.
Umbika Churn was Durga Prasad’s third son. He was a brilliant ambitious man, well-built and over 6 ft tall, who taught himself English, attended the madrassa started by Warren Hastings to learn Persian, and was well-versed in Sanskrit. Being knowledgeable of Sanskrit, Persian and English at a time of conflict of laws between English, Muslim and Hindu systems, he started as a translator in the Alipore Court under Sir Barnes Peacock (1810-1890). When Peacock went to the new Supreme Court in Calcutta in 1859 as its first Chief Justice, Umbika Churn went with him and rose to become the first Chief Translator. He was made a Rai Bahadur at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Rai Bahadur Road in Calcutta is named after him.
The Golden Book of India published at the time of the Victoria Jubilee said Umbika Churn was a descendant of one Raja Gajendra Narayan Rai, Rai-Raian, a finance official under the Great Mughal Jahangir.
There will be much more about him here in due course. Most interesting is the fact that Chief Justice Peacock who had been his mentor, when he returned to England in 1870, later wrote asking him and his eldest son Surendranath for help on behalf of his son, a lawyer, being sent to Calcutta from England. Suren, himself a lawyer at the time, wrote back and assured him he would help find the son work in Calcutta!
I shall upload that correspondence when I am able to.
From Facebook 18 June 2013:
How interesting to find an 1847 depiction of the famous Calcutta Madrassa originated by Warren Hastings (1732–1818) ! … My paternal great great grand-father breached Brahminical rules by insisting on learning Persian there — it was a time of much confusion of laws: Persian was still the, or at least an, official language of the courts, just giving way to English while Hindu law required Sanskrit… Umbik Churn Rai (1827-1902) had had Sanskrit lessons at home, acquired English, and now learnt Persian: he started as a young man as a Court translator in the Alipore Court, came to the attention of the newly arrived Judge, Sir Barnes Peacock (1810-1890), who took him with him in due course when he became the first Chief Justice of the new Calcutta High Court in 1859? 1862?, and made him Chief Translator … We have a fragmentary letter somewhere from Peacock, after retirement in England, written to Umbik’s son, my great grand father, saying his son was coming to Calcutta from England and could be please try to help him find work! A time of camraderie…
And along with Hastings’s Madrassa came Hindu College too, also depicted as of 1847, which became in due course Presidency… Associated to it was a Hindu School too, and our family legend went that Vidyasagar (1820-1891) himself, took his friend Umbik’s eldest son, SN Roy (1860-1929), my great grand father, by hand as a child to attend it.
Surendranath Roy was my paternal great grandfather. He was an eminent statesman of his time, sometime President of the Bengal Legislative Council, and close political friend of CR Das who led the Indian National Congress before MK Gandhi. SN Roy helped pioneer Indian constitutionalism under several British governments: Carmichael, Ronaldshay, Lytton, the Simon Commission too.
SN Roy was a pioneer of primary education, and a legislative expert on local and general public finance as well as the federal politics of his time, authoring books on the “Princely” States of Gwalior and Kashmir, and proposing the origins of what became the Rajya Sabha. He also protested the Salt Tax as early as 1918. SN Roy Road in Kolkata is named after him. The first photograph is of him as a newly graduated advocate-at-law, the second may have been after his book on Gwalior was published in 1888. He also gave the Tagore Law Lectures in 1905, on the subject of customary law; these are available at India’s National Library. His friends included the academician Ashutosh Mukherjee and the scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose. His role in the development of the legislative process in Bengal after the Morley-Minto reforms will be described further here in due course, as will be his role as a pioneer of primary education.
Postscript: We did not know until recently he was present and badly injured, along with Ardeshir Dalal, by Bhagat Singh’s bomb thrown in the Central Legislative Assembly on 8 April 1929 during the Simon Commission deliberations. He died seven months later.
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