A man may desire victory always but he should welcome defeat at the hands of his own disciples
P.C Roy (2 August 1861 – 16 June 1944) was born in a village in Khulna (now in Bangladesh), is one of the famous scientists that India has ever produced. Considered as one of the components of the Bengal Renaissance, P. C. Roy was an eminent scientist, an exemplary entrepreneur, a patriot and a passionate teacher.
The founder of onetime famous Bengal Chemicals, Ray was rightly called the ‘Father of Indian Chemistry’ and among his path-breaking works was ‘The History of Hindu Chemistry’. A man of firm conviction and visionary zeal, Ray truly symbolized the best synthesis of Indian tradition, philosophy and a modern scientific outlook. Someone cherishing the spirit of extreme self-denial, like that of Mahatma Gandhi, Ray did leave a lasting impression on the Father of the Nation himself.
A more remarkable career than that of P.C. Ray could not well be chronicled”, wrote Nature, the famous international scientific journal, while commenting on the first volume of Ray’s autobiography.Prafulla Chandra Ray was the founder of the Indian School of modern chemistry. He was a pioneer of chemical industries in India. Ray’s activities were not confined to his laboratory and teaching. His activities concerned with all spheres of human interest—educational reform, industrial development, employment generation & poverty alleviation, economic freedom and political advancement of the country. He was a pioneer in social reform in the country. He took to social service with a missionary zeal. He was a great critique of the prevailing caste system in the Hindu society.
In his Presidential address to the Indian National Social Conference in 1917 he made a passionate appeal for removal of the caste system from the Hindu society. Ray was an ardent advocate of the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction in schools and colleges. In recognition of his contribution towards the advancement and enrichment of Bengali language, he was elected the General President of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad (1931-34). Ray symbolized the best of Indian tradition and philosophy.
Ray’s early education was in his village school, founded by his father. However, he made very little progress in this school as he used to be frequently absent from the school. In 1870 his father permanently shifted to Kolkata (then Calcutta) mainly for proper education of his children..In 1879 he passed the Entrance Examination and took admission into the Metropolitan Institution (later Vidyasagar College) which was established by Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. At that time the Metropolitan Institution had no science classes or laboratories and Ray attended lectures on Physics and Chemistry in the Presidency College as an external student. Here he was specially attracted by the chemistry courses of professor Alexander Pedler. While studying for his BA examination, he applied for and was awarded in 1882 one of the two Gilchrist Prize Scholarships after an all-India competitive examination. Without completing the course for his degree, Prafulla Chandra proceeded to Britain and enrolled in the BSc programme of Edinburgh University where he studied Physics, Chemistry and Biology amongst other subjects. But Ray did not confine his studies to only natural sciences. He also developed a strong interest in history and read books like Rousselet’s ‘L’Inde des Rajas’, Lanoye’s ‘L’Inde contemporaine’, ‘Revenue dex deux moneds’. He also read Fawcett’s book on political economy and ‘Essays on Indian Finance’. After obtaining his BSc degree from Edinburgh University, Ray embarked on his doctoral thesis (DSc) in the same university and completed his doctorate in 1887. He was awarded the Hope Prize which allowed him to work on his research for a further period of one year after completion of his doctorate. His thesis title was “Conjugated Sulphates of the Copper-magnesium Group: A Study of Isomorphous Mixtures and Molecular Combinations”. While a student he was elected Vice-President of Edinburgh University Chemical Society in 1888.
In 1889 Prafulla Chandra was appointed as Assistant Professor of Chemistry in the Presidency College at Calcutta. He soon earned a great reputation as a successful and inspiring teacher. He would recite poems of Rabindranath Tagore and quote slokas from ‘Rasa Ratnakara’, a book written by the ancient Indian Chemist Nagarjuna. He was very affectionate towards his students. He was overjoyed when they received awards of honors. He used to repeat the Sanskrit saying, ‘A man may desire victory always but he should welcome defeat at the hands of his own disciples’. Famous Indian scientists like Meghnad Saha and Shanthi Swarup Bhatnagar were among his students.