A better and deeper appreciation of Madhu-babu’s life, work and worldview is possible by referring to Mahatma Gandhi who invoked Madhubabu’s name in the context of the whole nation whenever issues concerning economic and intellectual upliftment of village people were taken up in numerous platforms centring on the freedom struggle. One comes across at least seven volumes of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi from 1932 to 1945 in which Madhubabu’s name has been invoked by Gandhiji in the context of a variety of issues affecting our freedom movement.
One may refer to November 18, 1932 when Gandhiji sent a telegram to Madhubabu tendering apology to him for having sent a condolence letter when he was given the false information that Madhubabu had passed away. He began the telegram by stating: “Long live Madhusudan Das.”3 He went on to say that because of his stupidity he came to believe that Madhusudan was no more and added that God willed otherwise and it was proof enough that He would take more service from Madhusudan for long years to come.4 Gandhiji also issued a statement5 on Madhusudan Das tendering apology to him and it was published in the Bombay Chronicle on November 19, 1932. He did not live long and died in 1934. However, Gandhiji, having been deeply impacted by his exemplary ideas, reflected them in his writings and educated the whole nation for implementing them and reaping benefits for the long suffering people of our country.
Mahatma Gandhi issued a statement on Untouchability on November 14, 1932 and it was published in Bombay Chronicle the next day, that is, on November 15. In that statement he referred to Madhubabu’s name and described him as a great philanthropist. Gandhiji also wrote that Madhubabu learnt the modern process of tanning and statistically proved the enormous economic loss suffered annually by our country ‘owing to the superstition of untouchability masquerading under the name of religion’.6 It is well known that Mahatma Gandhi understood the human and moral degradation suffered by our people, particularly the so-called untouchables and the country as a whole, on account of the scourge of untouchability. However, he acknowledged that Madhusudan Das proved statistically the economic loss arising out of untouchability.7 He explained it by saying that the higher castes always looked down upon the so-called untouchables who dealt with dead animals and dressed their skin. It is because of that hatred and abhorrence of the high castes for people dealing with dead animals and their skin that adequate skill in that field could not be developed and in the process enormous economic wealth associated with leather and its by-products could not be tapped. The economic degradation of India on account of untouchability proved to be a bane on our village economy which always remained woven around agriculture without credible and viable alternative occupations as a source of livelihood for the rural population.
In a piece entitled ‘Advice to a Harijan Worker’ 9 published in Harijan Bandhu on September 3, 1933 Mahatma Gandhi referred to the plan of some of the Harijan workers to take up leather work and stated that it was not enough to make slippers only. Stressing that the work of tanning assumed more importance for our villages than mere leather work, he asked a question: “What did Madhusudan Das do?”10 Answering it he stated: “He gathered the tanners of Utkal and studied how they did tanning.” Then Gandhiji observed that Madhusudan Das was dissatisfied with the level and quality of tanning and, therefore, sailed to Germany, learnt leather work there and brought an expert from that country and set up a factory in Cuttack. It is educative to learn from Gandhiji’s writings that many so-called untouchables learnt the work of tanning because of the dedicated efforts of Madhusudan Das and wrote: “Like Madhusudan Das you should first master the craft. It cannot be done in one month’s time. You can do very well, if you learn it properly. I can make arrangements for your training.”
The narrative given by Gandhiji about Madhu-sudan Das testified to the deep impact of Madhubabu’s ideas and activities on his mind. It is proved beyond doubt that he considered Madhubabu as a role model in the field of tanning and projected his Utkal Tannery as a fine example of an enterprise to develop the skills of the people, use animal hides for generating wealth and create a culture of quality consciousness for producing high standard leather products.

On March 14, 1940, slightly more than six years after the passing away of Madhubabu, Gandhiji, while delivering a speech at the Khadi and Village Industries Exhibition in Ramgarh, recalled the name of Madhubabu for bridging the gulf between intellect and hand.31 He stated that as compared to the modern city civilisation the handicraft civilisation would endure provided a correlation could be established between brain and brawn.
He then said: “The late Madhusudan Das used to say that our peasants and workers had, by reason of working with bullocks, become like bullocks; and he was right.”32 Adding further, he continued by saying: “We have to lift them from the estate of the brute to the estate of man and that we can do only by correlating the intellect with the hand.” Thereafter he observed: “Not until they learn to work intelligently and make something new every day, not until they are taught to know the joy of work, can we raise them from their low estate.”33
It is rather revealing that on October 22, 1937, while speaking at an Educational Conference, Gandhiji drew a parallel between Madhubabu and Leo Tolstoy. He said in his speech: “The late Madhusudan Das was a lawyer, but he was convinced that without the use of our hands and feet our brain would be atrophied, and even if it worked it would be the home of Satan.” Then he stated that “Tolstoy had taught the same lesson through many of his tales”.34 All such pronounce-ments of the Father of our Nation brought out Madhubabu’s high stature and profile and his far-reaching significance beyond the frontier of Odisha and India.
One finds that Gandhiji continued to invoke the name of Madhubabu till 1945. He did so while delivering his speech35 at the All India Spinners Association, organised in Sevagram on March 25, 1945, and that too in the context of his grand quest and plan for moving people from agriculture to other professions, such as spinning and khadi and village industries, for earning their livelihood and putting an end to the dichotomy between intellectual and physical work. He supported his stand and conviction in that regard by saying that “...agriculture by itself cannot develop the intellect as much as khadi and other village industries can.” He then added by stating: “As the late Madhusudan once said, constant company of bullocks turns men into bullocks.”36
The copious references made by the Father of our Nation to Madhubabu’s contributions for educating the people and nation as a whole testify to the abiding relevance of his work for national reconstruction. In juxtaposing Madhubabu’s name with the hallowed name of Leo Tolstoy, Gandhiji was underlining the former’s global significance. All these bear testimony to his exceptional qualities and deeds which need to be reiterated for the benefit of the younger generation.
 By Satya Narayan Sahu
Courtesy: Mainstream Weekly

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