• Recommended Posts

  • Browse By Category

  • Browse By Timeline

  • Advertisements

How Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar converted a lemon to a jackpot

I came across this great story a few years back. This story has always lingered in my mind. Today I decided to share it with you all.

Place – Bengal, time – later part of 1800s.
Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and his few friends were busy collecting donations to start Calcutta University.

One day Vidyasagar stopped at the door of the palace of Nawab of Ayodhya. Nawab was not exactly known to be a generous person and many people tried to dissuade Vidyasagar from taking this mission.

Vidyasagar met Nawab and presented his cause. On hearing Vidyasagar’s plea, Nawab got up, pulled one of his shoes and dropped in Vidyasagar’s bag for donation. Vidyasagar did not say a word. He simply got up, thanked Nawab and left.

Next day Vidyasagar organized auction of Nawab’s shoe in front of his palace. Lot of Nawab’s knights , Jahagirdars, court members, who wanted to impress Nawab started bidding. By the mid afternoon the shoe was sold for Rs 1000.

Nawab, happy to hear that his shoe fetched Rs 1000, matched the auction money. He added his own Rs. 1000 as donation.

When the destiny dropped a shoe in his basket, Vidyasagar could have walked out furious. He could have thrown the shoe on Nawab as revenge of insult. He could have got depressed and gone home and cried that nobody is willing to give him donation and given up his efforts to raise donation for university.

But he did nothing of that sort. He remained focused on the main goal. He rose above his personal feelings, ego, and insecurities and exploited the situation creatively. He rose above his insecurities and exploited that of others around him. He took that shoe and converted it to the biggest donation to University of Culcutta. Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar converted his on-face insult and resulting disappointment into a Rs. 2000 donation plus a pleased Nawab who could be of some assistance at some point later.

Calcutta University became a reality. It became a center of education for fine arts, social studies, science and technology.

Throughout our life, we will come across situations that will bring disappointment, anger, frustration, depression. But most of the times, there will be a way we can use this situation to our advantage if we remain focused on our real objective, if we engage in introspection, and if we find a creative solution by thinking outside the box.

Next time when destiny hands over you a shoe when you were expecting treasures, take that as a challenge to your creativity, not as an insult to your ego. Next time you get a lemon, don’t make lemonade, try to convert it into a jackpot.

14 Responses

  1. Nice story but there is this small problem of dates. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was born in 1820, so unless he was an extremely agile centenarian, it would be a little difficult for him to have done what he did in 1920s. As far as I know, Vidyasagar died in 1891.

    Further, BHU was established before the 1920s. If I remember correctly, in 1915 or 1916.

    Lastly, who is this Nawab of Ayodhya you refer to? The last Nawab of Awadh was deposed by the British in 1856, one of the important contributors to the massive revolt next year. Since then there have been Talukdars and Zamindars in the United Provinces of Awadh and Oudh, but no Nawab, that too of Ayodhya!

    Apocryphal story, it may be but when you use real people and institutions to garnish your morality tale, be a little more careful of facts…


  2. Thanks Aniket, for pointing out the inconsistency.

    I remember clearly hearing the story in context of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. Wikipedia article reveals that he was founder member of University of Calcutta and not BHU.

    The University of Calcutta proposal was floated around 1954 and it was formally established in 1958. So I guess Nawab of Ayodhya had a couple years to make the above donation before he was hanged in 1857.

    So that was the mistake, which I have corrected.


  3. Nice to find you blog
    I am from São Paulo, Brazil and I am very interested in themes such as Zen, Buddhism, walking, mountains and literature
    Will come back here again

  4. Hello Ricardo,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Please check out my other writings on Buddhism etc. at

    I really want to write more in coming future and encouragement from people like you always helps.

    More soon,


  5. Dear Kedar and Aniket,
    I am very fascinated with the life and work of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar because of two reasons: a) I was born in a village which was just a few kms away from Birsingha village where this legend was born and b) My father studied in the same school which was established by Ishwar Chandra in his village as one of the three gifts asked by his mother.
    I will be visiting Birsingha village soon.
    More later,

  6. Hi everybody

    Vidyasagar has been the most inspiring figure in my life.

    The great man was never daunted in his life.

    You never find such ‘true’ men in present day world.

    You can do meaningful things in your life, if u follow his determination and conviction.


  7. I have been researching on social milieu in colonial Bengal. That Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar was an influential personality during the period goes without saying. He deserves all credit and appreciation for what all he did.
    But there blind hero worshipers, who give him credit for things he did not even do. This is not only travesty of truth but palpable disrespect to him. And a group of people are behind such calculated propaganda to place him on pedestal beyond the reach of common man.
    In Bengal widow marriage was neither unknown nor a novelty when Vidyasagar started his movement in this behalf. There were practically millions of Bengalis, who allowed, followed and practised widow remarriage as a social custom without any sense of shame and/or stigma attached to it. True, it was anathema or abomination in the upper social order occupied by castes, e.g. Brahmin, Kayasth and Baidya, who were opposed to widow remarriage. To be speak matter-of-factly, Vidyasagar focused on reform of these castes. But fact remains that the castes like Chandal, Dom, Hari, Chamar, Dhoba, Bagdi, to mention a few for instances, practised widow marriage long before the venerable Pandit started his campaign in this behalf. Historians are blind to the humane custom among these castes. They as well as the intellectual class do not acknowledge the greatness in the social practices of the people whom they held as low castes, if not social lepers.
    Vidyasagar established some 20 schools or so for girls. But in one site I read that he had set up 1200 schools. When will people stop motivated campaign for him and give credit he did not deserve?
    In 1859, he wrote a letter to the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal J. P. Grant advising government to “confine education” among “the higher classes.” This, virtually means opposition to scheme for mass education.
    Anybody interest or skeptical about these may contact me for full letter of the Pandit.
    A. K. Biswas

    • You are just a fool or a man with a ego that how a man can be so great i request you to please keep your facts to yourself only putting such question marks on such a noble personality is your ego you are just trying to find faults and that letter is a perfect example. If someone is trying to teach such a good lesson then what is your problem How can you even decide how much a person is to be credited. People like you can just just find faults and nothing else. Never ever try to say that he did not deserve this. People like you on seeing a rose plant can just say HOW CRUEL GOD IS HE CAN JUST MAKE THRONES HE DO NOT DESERVE SUCH PRAISE AND PRAYERS

  8. After reading this article, I just feel that I need more info. Could you suggest some resources ?

  9. Dr. Biswas…I do agree with ur views…The public mind works overtime in building up the heros of the past….I would like to see this letter of Vidyasagar…I cannot imagine what actuated him to write such a letter…

  10. I am not interseted on chronology or what happened or when it happened…but its very inspirational. Instead of arguing it is better to learn what this story says…

  11. Like all other man, Vidyasagar was also a human being, not a god. He of course had his success & failures, virtue & vices. But still, what is inspiring is :

    (a) He was a truely self-made man. Inspite of his poor remote village background, he could acquire considerable knowledge of English & Sanskrit Literature, History of the world, Philosophy & Science (as available at that time) with his own effort, at a time (about 175 years ago) when scope of education for the natives was so limited.
    (b) Like Ram Mohan Roy, he also possessed a modern outlook.
    (c) He practically got none with him in his endevours. He had to act almost alone.
    (d) Throughout his life, he showed a dauntless nature.
    (e) I personally have gone through all his works (in two volumes). What is surprising, I never found the word ‘God’ anywhere in his writings, nor any spiritual context throughout his writings. He was completely silent about God or any supernatural being (Imagine – it was about 150-175 years ago). This is unique.

    Do’nt indulge in hero worship, do’nt believe in unnecessary exaggerations. But still accept, there is something to be learnt from his life.

  12. Ishwarchandra vidyasagar ji ap ek mahan hindustani the.I salute you and your passionate spirit. JAI HIND!

  13. Kindly let me know the year in which the incident happen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: