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Nation-building – God, Derozio, and I

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, despite what the name may suggest, is one of the pioneers of Indian Nationalism, a pioneer of the Bengal renaissance, and is considered by many to be the architect of modern Bengal. English Literature students would know him for his poems such as “The Harp of India” and “To India – My Native Land.” Historians will know how his poetry inspired countless Indians to rise against the colonial powers.

Derozio’s life is fascinating, to say the least. Born in 1809 to a mixed Portuguese and English family, he grew up calling India his native land. In 1826, at the age of seventeen, he joined the erstwhile Hindu College, now known as the Presidency University, not to study but to teach English Literature and History. Yes, you read that right. Surprisingly still, all Derozio had were the next five years to leave a legacy, to do his part in nation-building, because by the age of twenty-two he was dead!

Again, you read that right. A man who died at the age of twenty-two is considered by many to be the architect of Modern Bengal. His professional life lasted just five years, but it was sufficient to launch a nation into a movement for freedom. One must ask, what exactly did he do? That is where his story connects with what we do as UESI.

In his five years as a teacher, he did three main things. He taught Literature and History, wrote poems, and spent time with his students. Of course, his teaching and writing were captivating, but it was the time he spent with his students that became life-transforming and nation-impacting. In these small group meetings, he challenged his students to look beyond their trivial pursuits of job, security, etc. He guided them to think critically and question the prevailing orthodoxy in Indian society at that time. He organized debated, invited speakers, and equipped his students to speak as well. By doing so, he prepared a generation of Indian thinkers, reformers, and even a pastor (Rev. Krishna Mohan Bannerjee).

In other words, he was (partly) doing the work of a graduate and staff, helping students impact their campus and the nation. So, when I think of this question, “What is my role in nation-building?” Derozio comes to my mind as an example. God used his story to challenge me during the days when I was praying over my decision to answer God’s call to students’ ministry.

Derozio attracted his students through his creativity in the form of poems, now we may or may not have that gift, but we all have our lives. May our lives testify God’s grace so beautifully that it may shine like a beacon of hope for others. Thus, I see my role in nation-building firstly by being a follower of Christ, by being the salt and the light, or as Paul would say a life worth imitating.

Further, Derozio taught, we also get opportunities to teach. I am quite sure that Derozio taught well or else why would the students be interested. When Jesus spoke, the people listened, they were amazed. May God help us to be faithful students of God’s word and His world so that His wisdom is reflected in our teaching. So that the Gospel is preached in all its simplicity and with all its power. To that end, I see my role as a teacher equipped to teach faithfully, and a teacher committed to pray and be well prepared.

Finally, Derozio spent time with students. He mingled with them as one of them. I see my role in nation-building as being a friend of the students God has entrusted me with. My relationship with them matters, without that relationship all I have are empty words, formal at best, and orders at worst. May the Lord help us to be friends with our students.

Derozio is not considered a legend because of his achievements, his legacy lay in what his mentees (his students) achieved. That is where I see my role foremost. I firmly believe that UESI is not the organization that will transform India, instead, the students of UESI will go on to do things that will transform India. I believe, God is at work in and through our lives to shape one student at a time and by doing so he is preparing the stage for them to be the new movers and shakers of our nation. It is a privilege to join hands with God in what he is doing.

Derozio may have been a prodigy, most of us may not be as gifted but we have gifts of other kinds. We have the gift of God’s grace which we have experienced personally. We have the gift of God’s call to serve students as graduates or staff and then we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which He gives as he deems fit. So, we are gifted too, let none of us doubt that. We share other similarities with Derozio as well, we work among students. Finally, we also have a ticking clock called “this life.” It is time to pray and act now.

Shashank S. Rawat a UESI staff based in Santiniketan, West Bengal along with his wife Asa and son Caleb

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