Friday, 3 August 2012

Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh - Indian writer, traveller, prince?, pulp author


[I came upon the name Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh when going through the contents of the recent collection from Black Dog Books in the Best of Adventure series. I was intrigued, an Indian connection to Adventure? I'm from India myself, and I didn't know who he was. So I decided to write up what I could find on him. It's an interesting story. More after the break.]


Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh
Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh

Prince A. Sarath Kumar Ghosh, aka Prince Sarath Ghosh, claimed to have been born in 1885 in India. He arrived in San Francisco on February 23, 1912 aboard the liner Siberia. This was a decade after Swami Vivekananda had made two tours of America, lecturing on Indian religion and society. He claimed to be a prince of the royal family of Ghosphara, and said that he was making a trip to investigate the social, economic and religious conditions prevailing in the United States of America.  
He said that he also wanted to get away from the influence of his family, who had made arrangements to get him married to a princess. He wanted to get away from them because he believed the princess was too young, and he did not love her. Over time this story grew more elaborate, and he claimed to be a representative of a group of Indian princes, sent to America to find out how to improve conditions in India. 
He said that he had been educated in England, going to Oxford and Cambridge. At the age of eleven, he had read Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life”, following it up with biographies of the world’s famous men of all nations by the age of thirteen, and set up George Washington and Benjamin Franklin as his heroes. At the same age he was thoroughly familiar with the Constitution of the United States and before going to England he had studied the histories of the great nations of the globe.
At Oxford and Cambridge he studied under special tutors, who taught him mathematics, physical science, law, economics, and political science. Then he determined to forego political activities to preach economics to his people. According to him, he became a prominent authority on India, and advised King George and Queen Mary to conduct their coronation in India. He claimed to have organized the grand durbar which was conducted there to mark the occasion, and carried out various other diplomatic missions as well.
At various times, he claimed to be the Maharajah of Patiala, head of the Sikhs, a nephew of the maharajah of Ghoshpara, and descendant of the royal line of Kannauj. At the time, newspaper reporters seem to have believed his stories, or at least printed them without looking too deeply into the matter. What did it matter what they believed as long as people were interested enough to pick up and read the paper?
Who was he really? It’s hard to tell at this distance of time, but there are a few clues. He talks about being a prince of Ghoshpara. Ghoshpara is an area near Calcutta, near the Belur math of the Ramakrishna mission which Vivekananda founded. Ghosh is the name of a prominent family there. The name Sarath Kumar Ghosh, probably an alias, is also interesting. There was a Sarat Kumar Ghosh, who was a student at Cambridge in 1903 and became a lawyer. This Sarat Kumar Ghosh became a member of the Indian Civil Service on his return from England, and was posted in Bengal as an assistant magistrate and collector. So “Prince Sarath” was probably from the same area.
Whoever he was, he quickly started making money by joining the lecture circuit and went across the States, giving lectures on various topics about India. A brochure can be found here. The topics were “The Marvels of India”, “The Romance of India”, “Hindu Occultism” – to name but a few. He seems to have come prepared for this, for the show included lantern slides of various temples, places and Indian conditions, and he used to turn out in different Indian dresses.
A couple of ads for his lecture tour below.
Advertisement for Prince Sarath Ghosh's lecture at the Belasco theatre, Washington
Advertisement for Prince Sarath Ghosh's lecture at the Belasco theatre, Washington

Advertisement for Prince Sarath Ghosh's lecture at a Public School in Brooklyn, New York
Advertisement for Prince Sarath Ghosh's lecture at a Public School in Brooklyn, New York

In addition to the lectures, he was also writing and selling to different magazines – Adventure (one story in 1914, The Queen of the Species, which is included in the Best of Adventure, vol. 2 collection from Black Dog Books), a series of stories about a do-gooding Indian rajah in Pearson’s magazine and a series of articles in Scientific American about the tricks performed by Indian street magicians and jugglers. He also wrote several books on Indian topics, including a few childrens’ books on the Indian Jungle and its animals.
By 1916, he had based himself in New York, and was giving lectures there. In 1917, he sued Pathe Exchange for making a serial, Iron Claw, that he alleged was based on his original scenario “1001 American nights”, which he had offered them. The Authors’ League thought that it was a clear case of plagiarism, but the courts rejected his claim.
He was still lecturing in 1919, when a lecture he gave in Harlem resulted in a riot. Will Durant had been giving a series of lectures in Harlem on the “Philosophy of Art”, and they were popular enough to be “Standing Room Only”. The Board of Education, which was sponsoring these lectures felt that the tenor of his speeches wasn’t up to their standards, and decided to substitute Sarath Ghosh instead. Around a thousand of Durant’s fans were in the hall, and they created so much chaos that it took half an hour to clear the hall. The lecture never happened.
He passed away, suffering from influenza (possibly the Spanish flu), on 11 February 1920, having spent his last years in a boarding house in New York. In accordance with his religion (Hindu), he was cremated. His will estimated his wealth at five thousand dollars in the States, and possibly much more back home in India.
He left his money to three girls who also stayed in the boarding house at the time he was there – two of them were sisters working as artists’ models and the other was a stenographer. He had been attracted to one of the sisters, and proposed marriage to her, but was rejected. He left only nominal sums to his nine siblings in India. There was a struggle between the three ladies and the executrix of his will to possess his ashes and his jewellery. In addition, there was a poetess in Chicago, Nahami Krupp, who claimed that the prince died of a broken heart because she had rejected him. Three years after his death, his ashes remained unclaimed.

His only story published in Adventure, "The Queen of the Species", is collected in The Best of Adventure, vol. 2.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Sai!

    I am pleased to hear the BEST OF ADVENTURE series has prompted your research. To date you have uncovered some very interesting material about these adventure genre authors. Great work.

    Tom Roberts
    Black Dog Books
    www.blackdogbooks.net

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    Replies
    1. The Best of Adventure, Volume 1-1910-1912 was one of the first collections of pulp adventure fiction that I read and enjoyed thoroughly. Black Dog Books is doing an amazing job bringing these out.

      I wish that
      a) You publish these collections more frequently than once a year.
      b) Longer stories would be collected somewhere (maybe a Best Novels of Adventure series in parallel to the short stories)?
      c) You'd launch the e-book simultaneously with the p-book.

      Now where did I put that magic lamp?

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    2. Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books will be at PulpFest August 9-12 in Columbus, Ohio. I'll be there also and will whine and complain to him about how we want the BEST OF ADVENTURES to appear more frequently. For those readers not familiar with PulpFest, check out the website at Pulpfest.com

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  2. The timetable of release has to do with the fact that the series editor Doug Ellis reads every word of every issue chronologically for the two year period being collected in each volume, making notes on each story to draw the final selection of stories from. This is a very time consuming process. Add to this the research necessary to write an 8,000-10,000 word introduction discussing the authors and the magazine at that time and you can begin to understanding why each volume is a research project in itself, in the attempt to "get it right" and present the best package we can.

    All this has nothing to do with the time necessary to scan the stories, proof them again the magazines and typographically correct the texts, lay the book out and proofing them again in multiple passes in the galley stage. With the me, myself and I staff at BDB (pant, pant, pant) I don't know if I am up for more than one 350+ page volume year.

    The series has always been projects as a six volume series with one book released a year.

    There will be more anthologies forthcoming selected from Adventure under genre themes as well as new volumes in the Adventure Library series. Coming soon in the Adventure Library series with be L'Atlantide.



    Tom Roberts
    Black Dog Books
    www.blackdogbooks.net

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    Replies
    1. Tom, I didn't mean the once a year timing as a complaint. More of a wish that things could happen faster.

      Appreciate the production values of these volumes, don't skimp on that. The only suggestion I have is to include the original illustrations too, if that's possible.

      The work involved sounds wrist-breaking, and fun, too. Do you plan to stop at 1922?

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