By Bhaskar Parichha

His insights into the occupation and immeasurable knowledge made him a legal luminary of the time.

Michael Madhusudan Datta (1824-1876) was a popular 19th-century Bengali poet and dramatist. He was a convert to Christianity from Hinduism and was one of the leading lights of the Bengal Renaissance. An extraordinary man by the extraordinary standards of the 19th century Calcutta, he became the first Indian to qualify as a barrister.

Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das born twenty-four year later had many similarities: a very popular Odia leader and a great statesman. He too was a convert and was the leading light of Odisha’s reunification. An extraordinary man, Madhusudan Das was the first Odia to become a leading lawyer in Calcutta. Popularly called as ‘Madhu Barrister’, his legal acumen had few parallels.

Signs of Madhusudan’s individuality and iconoclasm emerged early in his life. After his early education in the village school, he moved to Cuttack and studied in Cuttack High School (later known as Ravenshaw Collegiate School) which offered English education.

Madhusudan’s real journey, however, began in 1864 when he went to Calcutta University. Despite numerous adversities and challenges, he completed his Bachelor’s degree in 1870. In 1873, he became the first post-graduate followed by a law degree in 1878. These achievements in a row were few and far between.

In Calcutta, Madhusudan practiced law first at Alipur Court. Then he switched over to High Court Bar as a Junior of Barrister Woodruff. Madhubabu’s legal practice in Calcutta was, of course, uneventful: it was just three years before he came back to Odisha. Conditions in Odisha propelled him to a homecoming.

After returning from Calcutta in September 1881, he started his legal practice in the district court in Cuttack – the citadel of legal education in Odisha. His insights into the occupation and immeasurable knowledge made him a legal luminary of the time. This practice also helped him earn amply. A man of selfless service, Madhusudan spent his earnings for the common man and the cause he believed in.

Madhubabu was a source of inspiration for the lawyers not only in Odisha but other provinces as well. Being the pioneer and for the immense contributions he made, his birth anniversary (April 28) is observed as ‘Lawyers’ Day’ in Odisha.

Madhubabu became accustomed to the problems of the state and he began to take up the cause earnestly. He channelized his legal profession towards upliftment of the socio-economic conditions of the Odias. In the process, he could succeed in establishing a magnificent identity for the people.

His dedication and determination made him the champ of the time. So pervasive and unrelenting was his legal profession that he instantly earned the moniker ‘Madhu Barrister’.

Madhubabu’s skill as a Lawyer was best manifested in the Puri Mahanta Case in which he took up a poor Royt’s cause. The petitioner, a mighty landlord from Puri had engaged all the leading advocates of the time in an eviction case. But, it was Madhubabu who won the case. Anecdotally, Madhubabu was said to have paid the return fare to his client instead of charging any fee.

Such was the nobility and graciousness of Madhusudan – the Barrister!

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