Ram Camul Sen

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Ram Camul Sen

Ram Camul Sen (1783-1844) was a Bengali intellectual and entrepreneur. Part of a group that inaugurated the Bengal renaissance, he proved less a prolific writer and scholar and more a gifted organizer and administrator.

A Kashatriya by caste and, according to his own account, a descendant of the medieval Bengali king Ballal Sena, Ram Camul Sen left a Hooghly village for Calcutta in 1790, at the age of 7. His father was proficient in Persian and secured clerical positions, and Ram Camul himself learned English, Sanskrit, and Persian in the manner of the sons of the Calcutta elite.

Ram Camul found his first job in 1803, as a subordinate clerk's assistant in the Calcutta chief magistrate's office. The chief magistrate was evidently impressed with Ram Camul's industrious work habits. In 1804 two scholars associated with the Asiatic Society of Bengal invited Sen to work for the Hindoostanee Press as a compositor.

Despite a very low salary of 8 rupees a month, Ram Camul always performed far more than was expected of him, profited from his knowledge of English, and extended his range of contacts. In 1810, after he met the eminent Orientalist Horace H. Wilson at the Press, Ram Camul's fortunes took a rapid upward swing. The two men developed a warm friendship that lasted until Sen's death. Under Wilson's sponsorship, and utilizing the skills and techniques acquired during his employment at the Hindoostanee Press, Ram Camul began his extraordinary rise as an intellectual entrepreneur. By 1814 he had been appointed the "native" manager of the Hindoostanee Press.

In 1829 Wilson, then secretary of the Asiatic Society, proposed that members of the Bengali intelligentsia, including Ram Camul Sen, be admitted to membership in that association. In December 1833, shortly before Wilson's departure for England to be Oxford University's first Sanskritist, Sen reviewed his "29 years with the Society" in a letter accepting the post of native secretary.

A year later Ram Camul completed a project by publishing the second volume of his Dictionary of the English and Bengalee Languages, one of the best efforts of its kind in the 19th century and the earliest accurate and comprehensive dictionary of the Bengali language compiled by a Bengali. The introduction to the second volume is important not only for a linguistic analysis of Bengali but for its history of modern Bengali prose from 1800, when the missionaryWilliam Carey was hired to teach that language to civil service trainees at the College of Fort William.

Ram Camul, however, was best known during his own time as an efficient, activist intellectual whom the British frequently employed to help manage their newly introduced institutions, especially educational facilities. During the last 20 years of his life, he became the most influential Asian in associations as diverse as the Hindu College and the Calcutta Mint. Largely as a result of such administrative endeavors, when Sen died in August 1844, he left an estate estimated at 1 million rupees.

Further Reading

There is only one full-length biography of Ram Camul Sen in English, Peary Chand Mitra, Life of Dewan Ram Camul Sen (1880). As with most figures of the 19th-century Bengali intelligentsia, aspects of Sen's life and career are continually referred to in numerous books on modern Indian history, but he has not been the subject of a serious scholarly monograph. Some attempt to update Sen's role in the light of modern scholarship is made in David Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance (1969). □