Ashutosh Mukherjee was a giant amongst the many glittering stars who featured in the Bengal renaissance. In this piece, Advocate V Sudhish Pai, highlights both the great man’s polymathic personality, his achievements as a jurist in Kolkata High Court and his role in creating Calcutta University: “If greatness comprises character and intellect of the highest order and is to be judged by the enduring value of someone’s thoughts and actions, Ashutosh Mukherjee was, beyond question, one of the most outstanding men. His life is a story of one signal achievement after another. Mathematician, lawyer, judge, jurist, educationist—he was all this and more. It would be impossible to do justice to content so manifold and life so full in a short article. May 25 marks the centenary of his passing, so this is an attempt at remembering his many contributions.

Ashutosh Mukherjee was born on June 29, 1864. He was a mathematical prodigy. His mathematical papers—some of them written while he was still at school—were published in journals of national and international repute. He secured first class firsts in both BA and MA Mathematics, winning coveted prizes. He then took to law and secured a doctorate. He was equally at home in other subjects. To say he was a genius would be erring on the side of restraint.

Mukherjee built a highly successful career with a combination of intellect and industry. He was appointed the Tagore Law Professor at Calcutta University in 1898 and authored the book, The Law of Perpetuities in British India, in 1902—still considered the polestar on the eastern horizon of jurisprudence. He was appointed a judge of the Calcutta High Court in June 1904. His appointment and tenure on the Bench significantly expanded judicial discourse. He brought to bear on his work inexhaustible energy, great erudition and the integrity of scholarship. His learning was vast and his exposition of law complete. Former Chief Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah placed him amongst the six most eminent judges India has produced.

He adorned the Bench for about 20 years and discharged his duties unremittingly, the quality of his work retaining the same sheen. His judgements have contributed in no small measure to shaping the law and adapting it to the necessities of the time. There are more than two thousands of them reported, covering every aspect of law and all eminently readable and authoritatively enunciated….

Edmund Burke said that law sharpens the mind by narrowing it. But in a few of our great judges, it has lifted the mind to a level of comprehension and kindled a degree of humane ardour unsurpassed in other professions. The individual contribution of judges is absorbed in the anonymity of the coral reef by which the judicial process shapes the law. In the course of a century, the acclaim of a bare handful survives. Mukherjee belongs to that select class. To generations who have passed their lives in the law, his is truly clarum et venerabile nomen , an illustrious and venerated name.

Mukherjee was closely associated with Calcutta University and ungrudgingly gave of himself to the institution and to the cause of higher education, serving as Vice Chancellor for a few terms. He transformed the university into a seat for post-graduate teaching and research. He was responsible for spotting men of talent and getting them to the university, including persuading C V Raman and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan to join as faculty. No other judge in India had such varied interests making such enormous demands upon his time.”

Disclaimer: one of the Marcellus staff members is related to Ashutosh Mukherjee.

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