Saturday, March 13, 2010

The remarkable Dr. Balfour

He was most aptly named — Dr. Edward Green Balfour, who arrived in Madras in the 1830s and spent the next 40 years of his life pursuing a multitude of path-breaking activities. For, it was the green-conscious Balfour who, in the 1840s, stirred with his scientific writings, the Madras Government into initiating forest conservation measures. These efforts of his are less known than his roles in starting the Madras Museum and Madras Zoo. What I didn't know at the time and which I have just learnt is that this surgeon-administrator went far beyond flora and fauna during his years in Madras, and played key roles in trying to establish three institutions of learning for the Muhammadans of the city. Helping make that possible was this polyglot's fluency in Persian and Urdu.

It was in Persian that Balfour, 156 years ago (March 14, 1854), addressed 110 of the 250 leading Muhammadans in the city whom he and a couple of community leaders had invited to form a Society of Arts and Sciences. In his address, he referred to the great scholarship that had prevailed during the Abbasid Caliphate and pointed out that not only did “the English people take this knowledge from you”, but they improved on it so that now “you have to learn the same from the English people”. He then went on to urge them to form a Society of Arts and Sciences to develop as well as spread knowledge. Sadly, his efforts to have the Society formed ended in failure.

Full report here Hindu

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