GUWAHATI, March 13 - Today, the name Kashinath Barman may not ring a bell. But on the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary today (March 14), it is worth recalling that, more than a hundred years ago, Barman represented a class of teachers for whom teaching was a sacred mission.
In the early 20th century when the then British Government decided to re-introduce Assamese as a medium of instruction, it felt the need to have a good body of trained teachers to teach in the vernacular language in government schools from lower level upwards. So, modelled after the ecole normale in France, it set up a Normal School in Guwahati, but it was later shifted to Jorhat. The school trained teachers depending upon their performance records at different government Primary and Middle Vernacular (MV) schools across the State. Barman was in the first batch of teachers selected for training at the Normal School when it was shifted to Jorhat in 1914. After a four-year course, Barman completed the training, securing the first division and winning a gold medal. That was a school record as no one had secured the top position in the school before and nor did anyone for a number of years since. Later, he was appointed as headmaster at one of the practising units of the Normal School, known as Practicing Schools. He remained there from 1919 to 1942, though for a period of about a decade from 1930 to 1939 he had served as headmaster at the Kamalpur MV School.
Since Barman was meticulous in his teaching methods, he became a favourite teacher of Sarat Chandra Goswami, who was then the Superintendent of Schools and later became the Inspector of Schools of Assam. At the instance of Goswami, with whom he had had a personal rapport ever since their first meeting, Barman also edited the school�s esteemed magazine Prabhat for a time and extended his service as one of the compiler of the venerable Assamese dictionary Chandrakanta Abhidhan.
At the Normal School at Jorhat, Barman had been a colleague of Dimbeswar Neog, Harinarayan Duttabarua, Mitradev Mahanta, Prannath Bujarburua and Bhairav Khataniar, to name a few, before they, barring Bujarbarua, became celebrated names in the Assamese literature. While remaining devoted to teaching, Barman also stepped into the world of literature. Early in his teaching career, he had a collection of his short stories published under the title of Galpa Lohari and two other books called Amar Kahini and Nari-Ratna. But he essentially remained a teacher until then.
After he distinguished himself at the Normal School, and having earlier worked in different government schools from Tinsukia to Barpeta, he left Jorhat in 1942 following the commotion the WWII caused there and joined the Sivasagar Government High School as assistant headmaster (where the short-story writer and the past president of Asam Sahitya Sabha, Imran Shah, and actor-columnist Dilip Kumar Hazarika, who mostly writes under the pen name of Dikuha, were two of his students). He remained there for a decade before he retired from there in 1952. But as he loved teaching, he did not call it a day to his teaching career and joined a school in Namti, near Nazira, and worked there for a year before he quit to devote his time to writing. He eventually settled in Nazira and there he breathed his last in 1963 at the age of 68.
Although Barman�s output of literature is meagre, and neither did he did write any weighty tome, he became renowned for Nari-Ratna, a biographical book on some of the eminent women from across India who had set examples by standing tall in the male-dominated Indian society with their exemplary actions and achievements. Evidently, Barman had written the book, published in 1929, in order to inspire the womenfolk of Assam, especially the newly-educated emerging generation of Assamese women. It did inspire many, who, by taking a cue from the lives of women described in the book, strove to shine in their chosen callings. The noted poetess Nirmalprabha Bordoloi and author Nirupama Borgohain, for example, have gone on record as saying that they likewise had been inspired by the book in their childhood. The year of the publication of Nari-Ratna bears special significance in today�s context of women empowerment. The fact that a number of editions of the book have come out in print since the first edition was published way back in 1929 (the last was in 1995) is enough indication of its popularity even today. Nari-Ratna, indeed, was Barman�s chef-d�ouevre.
Says Assam�s leading intellectual Dr Sivnath Barman, the eldest son of Kashinath Barman, who, like his father, spent the better part of his life teaching: �By today�s standards, the book (Nari-Ratna) may not remarkable, but it certainly has a historical value today, as have the few other books that he wrote, even though no historians of the Assamese literature, save one, has taken note of the same as yet.�
Barman�s Shantidoot was also a pioneering book on Mahatma Gandhi in Assamese.
Additionally, Barman had written an Assamese text-book series called Atul Path, which was also published in Karbi language. The series was later modified under the name of Atul Pathmala and published by Macmillan & Co. The government-approved series ran in the Assamese medium schools more extensively for two decades from 1950 to 1970.