Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | August 23, 2012

Monijethu’s post

While I kept on pondering about my nation and its people, my father shared this blogpost written by my Monijethu (one of my father’s elder brother). He migrated to UK nearly 46 years back and is settled there. Monijethu worked as an engineer for the British Government and is considered one of the specilist in his field (specialising in building Bridges). Occassionally, he is invited to various other universities around the world to speak to aspiring engineers. The Queen awarded Monijethu an OBE for his services. It was a proud moment for our ‘not-so-special’ family and we (the entire family) watched the video recording of the award ceremony together. That was a while back. Now Monijethu is retired.

Our family has seen some tragedies lately and all of us scattered around the world have been feeling immensely sad. However, we come with a heritage of mental strength. Such an intangible associated with being an Indian would remain unexplained to my ‘non-Indian’ colleagues.

In this post Monijethu remembers his childhood and writes a story which I have heard before from my father and uncles, but would surely tell my son.

————-

A FEW BITS OF MY LIFE

I was born in my ancestral home in a village called Damodardi in East Bengal. Apart from my father who was also born in that village I was the only child in our family that was born there. My other brothers and sisters were born in various places in West Bengal which are now part of India. East Bengal, now called Bangladesh, was part of the un-divided India until partition in 1947, when the British left India and the Colonial rule ended after nearly 200 years. During Partition, India was divided into India and Pakistan. Pakistan was formed in two parts, East and West Pakistan which was separated by 1000 miles with India in between. East Pakistan became independent in the nineteen seventies. My father, Dr Durgadas Chakrabarti, son of Ambikacharan and Kumudini, was a medical practionner, having graduated from RG Kar Medical College, and practised in Calcutta before I was born. He was married to my mother Durgabati, who was the eldest daughter of Sashibhusan Bhattacharyya.

My father had three other brothers, Haridas, Kalidas and Krishnadas, who all migrated to India after Partition. He had seven sisters, though four of them died at a young age. My uncle Krishnadas studied in Calcutta and he migrated long before partition. In 1942 the threat of a Japanese bombing of Calcutta grew, , and my father took his family and moved to our village in East Bengal. My other brothers and sisters were born in our maternal grandfather’s house in Uttar Para where my mother was also born. Uttar Para is a prosperous suburban town which is about 20 miles from Calcutta. My other brothers are Ramdas, Debdas, Tulsidas, Dwijadas, Gurudas, Satyadas, Birdas, Dhrubadas. The sisters’ names are Santa and Kamala.

I have no memories of the village where I was born, but I always dreamt of visiting there, which I did with two of my brothers in 2009. That was a remarkable experience and a pilgrimage for me as I heard so much about it from my mother. I was told that the nearest school from that village was about 5 miles away and my father used to make that journey every day. I still wonder how he managed to become a doctor having come from a remote village such as Damodardi. It must have been a struggle as his family could be termed as poor by todays’ standards. Damodardi is about six miles from the town called Bhanga and it is situated near to the river called Kumar. It is in the district of Faridpur and is 50 miles from Dhaka. Our house used to be called Dalanbari as it was built of brick and mortar. The rest of the buildings in the locality were mud-huts. My family lived in East Bengal for about 5 years until partition. My father was in a transferable job and we had to move to a couple of different places.

I remember a place called Pallong where we lived for a couple of years. We lived in a mud hut with a corrugated tin roof. I have some memories of that place. I remember how I learnt to swim and how I used to play with goats. My father used to buy goats [For you to play with, so they were toys? Please explain]. As brothers and sisters, we used to rear them and suddenly we found one of them missing. It was slaughtered for our meal. I felt very sad [ but at least not hungry?]. There were plenty of canals and rivers in Bangladesh and my father had a small boat which he took to visit patients. My elder sister and I used to accompany him and that was a beautiful experience for me. I remember once that a fish jumped into our boat and we took it home [to eat? or to add to the play-goats?]. My elder brother once recited a poem of Tagore at a nearby school function and it was appreciated by everyone. I also recited a poem at the age of 4 which my parents thought was excellent, and I was reminded by my mother when I grew older. Pallong was a picturesque place and I have vivid memories of the house. There was a nearby pond where an owl used to take refuge in a tree and there was an outhouse which was situated over a small canal. It was frightening to go there in the dark for fear of snakes.

I also remember that my mother used to hear the war cry of the extremists just before Partition. They used to shout “Allah O Akbar” and she used to pray to God as to when we would leave Pallong. My father was away working in a place called Chor Bhoyra and therefore Ma often used to be left on her own looking after the children. I had a beautiful childhood and enjoyed to my hearts content. My family considered me a bit of a handful and I often got beatings from my mother but mostly from my brothers. The usual practice was to tie me with ropes so that I could not go out. Basically I loved to play all the time, be it with marbles, or kites, or spinners. Often I used to injure myself due to not being careful, but that did not deter me.

We are nine brothers and 2 sisters. I am fifth from the top, below my sister and three elder brothers, the rest are juniors. We left Bangladesh in 1947 and moved to a place called Basirhat when I was about 5 years old. My family had a tough time as we were basically refugees from East Bengal. My father did manage to get a Civil Service job, but that did not have much by way of prospects. He used to work in private practice to supplement his income. I have vague memories of Basirhat. My two elder brothers used to go the Basirhat High School. My elder sister had a music teacher who used to come every day. She was not keen on music but she had to do it otherwise Ma would have been very angry. We studied at home. My eldest brother went to Calcutta to study at a college. The flat we stayed in had a couple of rooms , a kitchen and an outhouse. There was a pond within the compound where we used to swim. The house was surrounded by boundary walls and we had seen snakes around the corner hence we were very scared. The railway line to Hasnabad, a town bordering East Pakistan and India, was adjacent to the house. I was very excited with the noise of the steam train. Then suddenly we were told that we would leave Basirhat, as my father had got a job at Calcutta Lake Medical Hospital.

While coming to Calcutta, I remember coming on a horse drawn carriage, which was very exciting. Calcutta was a Dreamland to me, as we had never seen such a big city before. We rented a flat at Mukherjee Para Lane in Kalighat. It is well furnished and well lit. There were two bedrooms and a large hall in which my brothers used to sleep and a small room in the roof. The roof was quite big and where we used to play. There was a small roof also on the first floor and a drawing room in which my father used to see patients. We had a happy childhood and because it was such a large family, there was laughter and fights amongst brothers and sisters – never a dull moment. We used to be taught at home by a private tutor, who came in the evening and taught me, my sister and my younger brother. My elder brothers used to go to schools and colleges. The time came for me and my younger brother (Dwiju) to be admitted to a private school. I was admitted to Class VI, and my younger brother to Class V. Although he was more than two years younger than me, the admission tutor thought that we should both attend Class V as I was not fit for Class VI. Due to my father’s insistence, I was admitted to Class VI.

At school, I plodded along as I was not interested in studying, while my younger brother was a gifted student, and did well. I tended to do well after Class IX, when my Maths tutor thought that I had a special knack for his subject. I did exceptionally well in School Final exams, surprising everyone I knew, except my mother, who thought highly of me. Subsequently, I did very well in all my future exams, except I did not get admission to Presidency College by a few marks. That was a great source of disappointment to me, and affected the next two years of my college life at Vidyasagar College. However, this was compensated by the fact that I got admission to BE Engineering College at Sibpur, coming within the top twenty students in the admission test and receiving a merit scholarship, which lasted for the following two years.

In some ways, I liked the hostel life of Sibpur, but I always felt homesick. Most weekends I used to come home to my parents. Sibpur was not very eventful for me, although I had a few close friends. I was not particularly social, and did not like group activities. Instead I joined the gym and learnt gymnastics, while mainly concentrating on my studies. I came out of Sibpur with a First class degree in Civil Engineering, and started looking for work.

I had great difficulties in finding employment, as the job situation throughout India was very challenging in those days. Eventually, with my father’s help, I managed to get a job as a student engineer at BBJ, which was a well known Steel construction company. I worked at a place called Durgapur, where we shared quarters with a few other engineers . After working there for two and half years I managed to get a job at the Precast Company in Dundee and I left India for the UK. The objective was that I would work in the UK for a couple of years, get professional qualifications, and then get a plum job in India. In hindsight, this was wishful thinking which never materialised.

Little did I think that I will end up finishing my working life in a faraway place, having been born in one of the remotest villages in Bengal seventy years ago. PS. Since writing this script two of my elder brothers Debdas and Tulsidas have expired.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Hi Tanmoy Dada, well done on a great blog : )….I read Baba’s piece (see above) last night and amended his last para to this (so I got a mention!! and also I wanted to mention his OBE but I see that you’ve included that in your intro already) : )
    ” Little did I think that I would retire, with an OBE awarded by the Queen, finishing my working life in a faraway place, having been born in one of the remotest villages in Bengal seventy years previously. I have two children (Debasish and Dipa) who are as much British as they are Bengali (perhaps more so). I have a daughter-in-law (Vishakha) who is as much American as she is Gujarati and I have a beautiful grandson (Rohaan/Bubli) whose background is a mix of all of ours’. The future of the next generation of my family is still yet to be scripted. However, the willingness to love and care and work hard that my parents showed me and that I and my wife have shown Debasish and Dipa will guide them in the years to come, in the same way that I was guided by my parents’ ideals”.(This last paragraph was added by Dipa).


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

Categories

%d bloggers like this: