Parting of the Way

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It is not easy to uproot oneself from one’s environment of a lifetime and step forward to an unknown future, carrying forward all of one’s liabilities and none of one’s immobile assets.   In 1947, we had just lived through a series of mini civil wars laced with genocides starting from the infamous ‘Direct Action Day’ of the Muslim League on 16 August 1946 and its consequences in Noakhali in October 46 and in interior Bihar early in 1947.   I was in my very aware adolescent thirteenth year.   I was in the final year of secondary schooling, preparing for my Matriculation under theUniversityofCalcutta, and through my eyes the environment looked surreal.   We were in Jessore town, and in the midst of all the mayhem that was going on through out northernIndia, our town was peaceful and quiet.      The district as a whole was marginally of Muslim majority.   The main (Sadar) subdivision of the district which contained the township of Jessore was marginally Muslim majority and the adjoining subdivision of Bongaon had a clear Hindu majority.  The town of Jessore itself was predominantly Hindu, perhaps to the extent of over ninety percent. Our neighbourhood therefore was peaceful and seemed secure.

From Jessore, Kolkata was less than 60 miles away.   Still, the blood bath of August 1946 on the streets of Kolkata had not disturbed the peaceful environment of Jessore.   Even the Noakhali disturbances didn’t disturb the peace of Jessore.  All the political melodrama in New Delhi, of the formation of a constituent assembly and its boycott by the Muslim League, of the formation of a joint Congress-League interim government at the centre and the internal sabotage of that government by the Muslim League, all these made little difference to our daily lives in peaceful Jessore.    The year rolled to an end and the constitutional confusion continued unabated.   By the beginning of the New Year, the Governor General was changed; Lord Wavell was replaced by Lord Mountbatten.

Even after the arrival of Mountbatten in 1947, for the first four and a half months of the year up to the middle of May,   we in a Hindu majority town of Jessore felt quite confidently comfortable that all this shouting and flag waving by the Muslim Leaguers was just Bakwas.   Thus, when the May 15th plan of provincial grouping was announced, and as the small print of the British proposal became apparent to us, there was consternation.   The May plan was of course rejected out of hand, by the Congress and by the majority of the politically conscious Hindu middle class.   (Muslim Middle Class really did not exist in Bengal.   Where it did, say in UP and Punjab, it was a very small fraction of the total Muslim population of British India.)   Then came the 3rd June Plan of Mountbatten.

I was then in the process of recovering from a bout of Typhoid.   In 1947, it was not an easy disease to treat.   Baba normally did not prescribe any medicines for the members of the family.   When ever any of us needed medical attention we were automatically referred to Baba’s friend and colleague Dr Jiban Ratan Dhar.  He was one of the foremost practicing Allopath of the town and was our neighbour of sorts. A small patch of woods and his private Pukur (A pond for bathing and fish rearing) separated our houses.   Socially the two families were very close.   Dr JR Dhar’s brother Dr Nil Ratan Dhar was Baba’s batch mate in the Medical College. Dr JR Dhar and his elder brother Sri Amulya Ratan Dhar stayed in that house close to ours while Dr NR Dhar stayed outside Jessore, we saw him only during his periodic visits to the town.    The children of the Dhar family were somewhat older than us, the Sen Children, but were quite friendly with us.  We often went swimming in their Pukur.

As I fell ill, I was referred to Jiban Babu.   His medication did not seem very effective.   I remained in bed for over four weeks.   Ultimately, one Dr Dey, who was a Homeopath, took over my treatment and put me back on my feet.   It took him another three weeks or so to achieve that.    In these six or seven weeks that I lay in my bed with fever, the political scene of the country changed with amazing rapidity.    For a boy of thirteen the process was bewildering and difficult to comprehend.

In the Mufassil town of Jessore, the news papers carried the details of the 3rd June plan only on the 5th of June.   We were quite stunned to read that the major political leaders had agreed to a partition of the country into two dominions based on religion practiced by the majority.    It looked so insane!  Bengal was a province that was marginally of Muslim majority.   In Bengal, most of the cities, major towns and even large village complexes were completely Hindu!   Even in the Eastern (Muslim majority) part of the province such Hindu majority towns were the norm rather than exception.   Jessore, Khulna, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Faridpur, Barisal, Nadia, Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, all these towns were Hindu dominated. Large Village complexes such as Brahmanbaria, Kalia, Senhati, Bikrampur etc. had very substantial Hindu majority.     The majority of Muslim population stayed in small villages all around these Hindu clusters.   How could one contemplate a partition on religious lines?

The stunned public had no time to digest the implications of the political storm unleashed.    In two weeks’ time, the British Parliament was ready with the Indian Independence Act.  In a war like strategy of keeping the enemy under psychological pressure, the target date of transfer of power was brought forward from March 1948 to 15 August 1947.  In these few momentous days between 3rd June and 15th August of 1947, the country rolled forward to a new destiny.  It took the powers that were just these 72 days to tear the country apart.    All the patient work going on to create a new nation through consensus, the formation of the constituent assembly in December 1946, its nuanced step by step progress in its first three sessions in 1946 despite the boycott by the Muslim League,   despite the dithering of the princely states, despite the sabotage of the interim Government by Liaqat Ali Khan, the devoted and dedicated work done by the constituent assembly came to a naught.    The political system of the country just like the average man in the street had no way to influence the outcome. A thirteen year old schoolboy in his sickbed remained thoroughly puzzled with the momentum of the events all around him.

The political environment was on fire.   It seemed that the partition of the country was a done thing and we had no say in the matter.   Now the new political demand was to include a partition of Bengal so that only half of it went to the impending Pakistan.   Sri Shyama Prasad Mukherjee came into the town to hold a rally.   He was then leading the Hindu Mahasabha.   The response that he got from the townsfolk was overwhelming.    In a few days it became clear that a decision to partition Bengal and Punjab was included as a part of the deal partitioning the country.  The next concern for us was to find out whether Jessore Town would fall on the Indian side of the partition or not.    The westernmost subdivision of the district was Bongaon and it was clearly a Hindu majority area.   The Jessore Sadar subdivision clubbed with Bongaon was also Hindu majority as the town itself was predominantly Hindu.  Unfortunately, if it was not clubbed with Bongaon, Jessore but itself was marginally Muslim majority.    It was not clear whether the line would run along district boundary of sub-divisional boundary or arbitrarily through the land mass.   We just hoped and prayed. Fortunately, at this period of time there was no communal conflict in Bengal.   The carnage witnessed in 1946 had scared us all.

We did not know it then, but it seems that the plan for a partition of India had been drawn up by Lord Wavell as the Viceroy of India long before the plan of June 3rd.   It also seems that though the partition boundary was ostensively   drawn by Sir Cyril Radcliff, it followed the plan drawn up by Wavell two years earlier pretty closely.   Any chance of intervention into this perfidy was cleverly thwarted by the Raj by including two lawyers each from the Congress and the Muslim League in the boundary commission under Radcliff.   The members neutralized each other leaving Radcliff to do the bidding of the British Government unhindered.   Any way, discussing the cussedness of Radcliff more that sixty years after his perfidy does not help me progress my story for the day:  tracing the process of making up of our minds that we shall leave every thing we had on the ground and allow ourselves to become rootless flotsam of history – a refugee in our own land!

The 72 days passed very quickly.    The momentum of the process of partition made the kaleidoscopic view of the current events fascinating if hazy in my fever dimmed memory.   Many things happened.

  • Delhi, Punjab and NWFP burned in vicious fury of communal genocide.   In July 1947 a distinct combined Hindu/Muslim army formation was created and placed under a British officer to control these riots in the Punjab sector but the effort failed.   After the June 3 declaration, the effect of communal virus was visible even amongst army officers.   The army had stopped being impartial.
  • The uncertainty about the political position of the princely state of India became acute.   The British government took a stance that come what may they would walk out of India on the stipulated date with or without a successor state or states coming into being.   Over the previous months after the constituent assembly had been formed, it was very unclear what the attitude of the princely states would be to this assembly.   Even though a group of important states had joined the constituent assembly on 24 April 1947, the majority of the princely states (about 500 of them) had stayed away from it.   After the June 3 declaration this uncertainty was heightened.  Ultimately, on 5 July 1947, Sardar Patel as the Home Minister of the Interim Government spelled out the policies of the Government of India in this matter, and the process of integration of Indian States began.   Between 5 July and 15 August almost all states acceded to India or Pakistan.   There were a few exceptions of course.   Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir, Junagad and one or two small principalities did not complete the process.
  • The humongous process of partitioning the army/navy/air-force of India into two began.    The police forces of two major states Bengal and Punjab had to be partitioned too.   All the officers of the central civil services like ICS, IPS etc had to choose to serve one or the other newly formed country.   Adverse effects of this chaos were visible in the administration.

I digress from my theme again.   While all these happenings were all around us, what were our thoughts about our own future?   There was a real possibility that the district of Jessore would go to Pakistan while there was real hope that Jessore town might fall on the Indian side of the border.  What were out feelings?    I was barely 13 years old and my comprehension of the political situation was perhaps immature.   Emotionally however I had become quite perceptive.    Today, when I think back and reconstruct our emotional turmoil of those days I am surprised with the clarity of the fragments of memories that I recollect.

We had come back from Pabna after our forced exile for 4 years in 1946.   We had got our homestead back from the government which had taken it away from us for the war effort in 1942.    Baba had given up his job with the District Board as the District Health Officer in 1944 after the board administration had been taken over by the Muslim League I 1940.   He had stuck on for 4 years but could not tolerate the League administration any more.   He had started practicing medicine at a pretty late age: he was 47 in 1945.   After struggling for about two years he had just about settled down in his practice in 1947 when this question of partition came about.   Emotionally, Baba was not ready to give up and move out.   One day in July 1947 Baba came back from his chamber in a foul mood.   It seems one Muslim gentleman from Kolkata had come to see him at his chamber, not seeking any medical advice but to buy up our house in exchange of his own house in Kolkata.  Alternatively he was ready to offer Rupees Sixty Thousand for our house property.   Baba had been affronted by the offer.    He had no intention of moving out and the offer price, in his eyes, was ridiculous.  He was just not interested.    I was still in my sickbed.   As I heard him narrate all this to Ma, a thought struck me. Why was Baba fuming?   He had a good sense of humour.    If some one came with a silly proposal I expected him to be amused by it.   This irritation was out of character.   It seems to me now that I was too young then to understand that the outburst must have been caused by a creeping sense of insecurity that must have encroached upon him silently.

The month of July was soon gone.   By the time August came about our anxiety about the fate of Jessore town increased.  Slowly, some people started exchanging property and moving away.   Initially, people who started moving out were not the most influential in town.   We ignored the families who sold out.   15th August was upon us.   Very strangely, the euphoria that we had expected was not actually felt.   The Radcliff demarcation was not yet known.   We did not know which flag we shall fly.    Baba decided to treat the day as a day of mourning.   No lights to be lit. Nishpradeep Ratri, as opposed to a celebratory Deepavali.   I was disappointed and requested Ma to obtain permission to fly a flag, fly both flags if we did not know which one would be appropriate but at least fly a flag.   I do not know what transpired between them, but on 14th night Ma sat up late and stitched two tiny flags, both about a foot in length.   It was a tiny gesture.   I was still very weak from my fever but she allowed me to climb the stairs to the roof early in the morning and hoist those two pieces of cloth on two twigs foraged from the ground for me by my second sister, my Monidi.   My elder sister was away at Kolkata doing her B.Ed.   My parents remained indoors.  My brother at eight years of age was not interested in sentimental things like flag hoisting. So it was just me and Monidi that stood there and saluted the two flags without knowing what the future held for us.  None of us at that time thought that soon we would leave all this and move away for ever.  And this to us was our whole universe.

On the morning of 18th August the Radcliff Award was announced to the public.   It brought a strange hollow feeling to be told that from that morning we were not ‘Indian’ any more.   Emotionally it was impossible to accept that notion.   But legally, we had become citizens of Pakistan.   It was difficult to comprehend the meaning of becoming a Pakistani citizen.   The whole concept of Pakistan was insane.   Two pieces of land a thousand miles apart where a good thirty five percent of population were to be considered inferior citizens was to be considered as a nation?  And the overwhelming bulk of the middle class, the doctors, the engineers, the lawyers, the professors, the zamindars, the administrators that ran the country were to be deemed as inferior citizens overnight because they professes a religion other than the hoi-polloi?  It was an insane thought.   By some strange manipulation of some politicians and evil machination of our foreign rulers such a country had come about, but could it last?    We could not make ourselves believe that it would.   It is all maya.  It is a soap bubble that is rising out of the suds and would soon disappear.   That was our initial perception.   We were bewildered and saddened.  But in Bengal at least, we were not frightened or disheartened.   The overall feeling was not to run but to see how the new reality takes its shape.

Alas, the reality turned out to be rather harsh.   On 20th August, that is just two days after it was known that we were actually in Pakistan, our house was requisitioned by the provincial government.    We were given just 48 hours to vacate the house.   We were not alone in this quandary.     Quite a number of prominent Hindu citizens owning large houses faced the same problem.   They were just ordered to vacate their houses and hand the property over to the local administration.   We ran around trying to find redress but to no avail.   Some of these households that were thus dislodged just went away to the other side of the border.   Baba was however not thinking in terms of running away.

In Jessore, our closest social contact was with the family of Sri KN Ghosh who was the retired District Engineer of the district board. He had also determined that he would mot migrate out of Pakistan.    Baba had a long chat with him.   Sri Ghosh helped Baba in finding a small house close to the Ghosh house and we moved out to that rented accommodation.     It was impossible fit in all our possessions into that tiny house.   Fortunately, a makeshift garage, where our 1928 vintage Chevrolet convertible was rusting away for the previous four years was still available to us.   It was filled up to its roof with our possessions.   We trudged on.  Our life at the end of September 1947 was not much different from what we had seen in the previous six months albeit without the shelter of our own beautiful house.

As the days went by there were subtle changes in the environment that could be felt but not defined.   One was an erosion of identity.   Slowly, all the Hindu government servants were transferred out.  Most of then went off it ‘India’!   The officers in the administration, judiciary and police became new faces and most of them were not even Bengali speaking.   I had grown up with the feeling that every one who mattered in the town knew my father and held him in respect.   All of a sudden, over just a few months, the town was being run by people whom we did not know and who did not care who we were.   It was all very subtle, this progressive loss of social recognition.   No one was outwardly rude or crass, but we missed the smile while crossing the road or the nod of the head at the market place.   It is strange that such minor changes mattered emotionally, but it did.

The number of migrants from Jessore to ‘India’ progressively increased, and it forced a discussion of the subject at home.   By the time the ‘Durga Puja’ came and went, a number of people we had known well had taken the decision to shift.    Often, these shifts were not clear-cut in ones’ face type of migration.    Perhaps a son will get admitted to a college in Kolkata or pick up a job there; perhaps the mother or the father will go with the son for a long stay to ‘settle him down’ while the rest of the family remained at Jessore.   But silently, the process of finding a foothold on the other side of the border became a recognizable pastime of the townsfolk.   Baba was not moved by this and made no attempt even to think about a transfer of residence.  All our property was now in Pakistan.  The house and the orchard at Jessore, the house and over a 100 acres of agricultural land at Pabna, the share of ancestral land in Barisal town and in the zamindari in the countryside there were all situated in this newly formed country.   We were clearly in the zombieland as emotional Indians trapped in a country we did not politically relate to.

During the Puja holidays, Didi Chitra (my eldest sister) came back from Kolkata to be with us for a few days from her B Ed studies at the David Hare Training College.  One day, she decided to go to her old school and look her friends up. (She had been working as a teacher in her old school for a few months before she had gone away to complete her B Ed).   My second sister, Monidi, had gone along with her to the school.  On their way back home from the school they faced a problem that upset them very much.   As they travelled in a cycle rickshaw, a few muslim boys tailgated their vehicle on cycles and passed lewd remarks.   The rickshaw pulled away into a Hindu neighbourhood and the boys went away.  This occurrence was followed by another case of eve teasing where a group of boys surrounded Monidi and photographed her with hand held cameras as she walked to her tuition.  Such incidents created a feeling of insecurity.    When these incidents were brought to Baba’s notice, he shook his head and wondered aloud for the first time whether we might have to migrate to retain our honour in our own eyes.  However, that seemed to be merely a transitory reflection; Baba remained steadfast on not moving out.   His determination was soon tested.   He was a registered medical examiner with the Hindustan Life Insurance Company.   After August 1947, its business in Jessore decreased markedly.   One day its main agent for the area visited Baba and agreed that the business was not running well in Pakistan.  However, he informed Baba, the Hindustan Group was diversifying its business and was now into land development.   It had managed to acquire a large contiguous area near the mint at Kolkata that was being used as a military camp.   They were in the process of laying out roads and drainage and a new township called ‘New Alipore’ would spring up there.   He informed Baba that as an empanelled doctor with the Hindustan Group he would be entitled to allotment of two plots if he applied immediately.   He also informed him that since a lot of Muslim Middle class families of Kolkata were seeking investments in landed property in Pakistan, it would be easy for him to find the money for the proposed plots in New Alipore by putting our Jessore house up for sale.   Its current ‘requisitioned’ status might not materially affect the sale.   Baba just laughed him off.  He was not selling his property and he was not moving out!

This confident posturing about not moving out was jolted badly a few weeks later, when we found out that Dr Jibon Ratan Dhar, our influential neighbour and a close family friend had decided to move out.    Well, Jibon Babu was a very active politician in the Congress organisation and he was the incumbent president of the District Congress Committee of Jessore.    Apparently, he was given to understand that if he decided to migrate he might be offered a cabinet post by the Government of West Bengal.   He did migrate and did become a minister in West Bengal, but his movement away robbed a lot of confidence and security from the emotions of those who had decided to stay back at Jessore.

A month or two later came the news of Baba’s eldest cousin Sri Surendra Nath Sen moving out from the ancestral property at Barisal.   He was getting old, his children were already working / settled in Kolkata, He was not keeping well and needed attention from his children.   Some ‘reasonable’ settlement was available for the ancestral property.   The logic for the move was indisputable.   We went and saw him at Jessore railway station as he passed through on the Barisal Express.   Baba and his cousin (My Boro Jethamoshai) had a long chat as the train waited.   Jethamoshi in is turn handed over some money to Baba as his share of the ‘settlement money’ received from the ancestral property.  And that was that.    However, even this event did not cause Baba to consider migration.

By the end of the year, there was a change of incumbency of the post of Sub Divisional Officer of Jessore.   We were pleasantly surprised to find that the new incumbent was no one else but our own ‘Saiyed Mamu’.  Saiyed Mamu (I did not know him by any other name) was a classmate of my second mamu whom we called Ranga Mama when my Dadu (Nanaji / Maternal Grand Father) was posted at Barisal.   Saiyed Mamu had become close to Ranga Mama and his entire family to the extent that he spent is summer holiday in 1942 in my ‘Mama Badi’ with Ranga Mama.   At that time Dadu had moved to Dhaka.   We (Ma, Didi Chitra, Monidi Hashi and Brother Pulak) had also gone there to spend our summer holidays.   We therefore knew Saiyed Mamu rather well.   Saiyed Mamu had just joined the Provincial Civil Service and was posted as the SDO of Jessore Sadar as his first appointment.    Saiyed Mamu came promptly after his arrival in the town to pay his respects to Baba and Ma and assured us of all help needed by us.   He was sorry to see us out of our own house but that had happened before his arrival.

By the end of December the University of Calcutta put out a policy decision ( or so it was rumoured) that for the academic year commencing April 1948 colleges under the university would not recognize school final certificates issued by the school board at Dhaka.   This created a big problem for me.   The degree college at Jessore (Michael Madhusudan College) offered only humanities.   The nearest College from Jessore that offered graduation in science was at Daulatpur in the neighbouring Khulna district, some twenty miles away.     However, one fine morning the whole staff and students of Daulatpur College had migrated en-mass and had setup a new institution at Barasat across the border.   The college at Daulatpur had become a set of empty buildings.   That left only the colleges at Dhaka or Chittagong where I would have to go for my graduation after school.   My Matriculation was scheduled for March 1948.   I had no time to dilly dally.   I had no intention of jeopardising my future.   I intended to join the Bengal College of Engineering at Shibpur just like my grand father Dadu and my immediate role model Mr KN Ghosh.  For that, I just had to do my intermediate science under the University of Calcutta!   Many of my class mates were migrating to schools across the border.   With Baba’s permission I sought a certificate of transfer from my school.    As I reached the school office with the application for a transfer certificate in my hand, I ran into Sri Amrit Lal Mukherjee, the retired head master who was then functioning as a mentor and a consultant to the school.  Everyone referred to him as the ‘Old Head Sir’.  What is that in your hand? He wanted to know.   When I told him about the purpose of my visit, it was clear that he did not like it.   He pierced me with his steely gaze and asked me whether my family was migrating to India.   I had to tell him that I did not know about any such plan.   He told me to go and ask my father about his query.   If you are migrating, come back to me.   If you are staying here and want to sit for your matriculation for Calcutta then go and appear as a private candidate; I shall not give you a transfer.   I was thunder-struck.   I did not know the reason for his outburst and did not know what I was supposed to do.   I certainly wanted to appear for my matriculation under the University of Calcutta, but I did not wish to do so as a private candidate.   Traditionally, private candidates had a harder time getting into a good college.

I came back home and narrated the story as it had unfolded.    I had expected Baba to confirm his disinclination to migrate and then advice me on how I should proceed under the circumstances.    To my utter surprise I found Baba to be indecisive.   He would go and talk to Amrit Mastermoshai he said, and dropped the subject.     Next day Baba went to my school with me and marched into the Old Head’s office. I was told to wait outside.   A little later Mr Sarvajna the current Head Master also marched in and joined the discussion.   About an hour later, I was called in.   The application in my hand was signed and I was asked to collect the TC from the office clerk.    The discussion in the Old Head’s office carried on for a long time.      By the time Baba came out, the TC was in my hand.     After we reached home I asked Baba what was the long discussion about.   Had he told the school authorities that we all shall migrate?    No, Baba said.   It was not something that could be decided so simply.   But I could see that Baba was deep in thought and he was visibly disturbed.

That evening, Mr Ghosh strolled down to our house.   Our new abode was very close to his house.   Over tea and roasted peanuts a lot of discussions took place.   Mr Ghosh was a founder member of the committee that ran the newly established MM College.   He bemoaned the fact that many of the teaching staff and even non teaching staff of the college had started migrating out.   It would be difficult in the short run to find enough teachers to run the college efficiently.    The matter of my moving out of my school also came up and the elders seriously debated whether, after I go into a college in Kolkata and Didi Chitra finished her B Ed and got a job in Kolkata, it would be worth their while for Baba and Ma to stick around at Jessore.   My second sister, my Monidi, was in any case doing her Inter Arts privately.   If Baba and Ma went away to Kolkata, she would just go along.   The idea that the family might decide to move out of Pakistan, if not immediately then perhaps some time soon, was now recognized and discussed openly.

Saiyed Mamu had made it a habit to drop in at home every once in a while and spend some time with us.    He would come straight from his office, have a cup of tea, chit-chat and go back, some times after sharing a plate for dinner.   That was before his wife came down to join him.   Even after he had set up his home, he kept up his routine visits with regularity.   One day some time in the month of February, he had a closed door discussion with Baba and Ma.   We were excluded from the discussion so I do not know what transpired exactly.   However, at the end of this discussion, my parents were quite disturbed.    Follow-up discussion continued between Baba and Ma that night and for the succeeding days and it became clear to us that the discussion was about a decision to migrate to India and a decision was yet to crystallize.

A lot of factors affected this process of decision making.    A general decline of Baba’s health over the last few months of 1947, a general decline in his earnings as a practicing doctor over the same period, the likelihood of Didi Chitra getting a teaching job in a school in Kolkata, the imperative need for me to go to Kolkata for my intermediate science made major contributions to the decision.    There were other factors that cast their shadows.   Didi was then closing on to 20 years of age and Monidi was past 17.    Both of them were almost ‘marriageable’.   It was evident that the bulk of young men from our community would be on the other side of the border.  Even for the families who had decided to stay back in Pakistan, the younger people were looking for and finding jobs more in India then in East Pakistan.    On the other hand, we had no establishment in India that we could march into.   Baba had invested all his liquid assets in purchase of land in 1944 at Pabna and now all that land had become unproductive us having moved back to Jessore from the village land.   If we now went away to India, it was more than likely that we would lose control of our houses and lands in Jessore as well as Pabna for ever.   It was indeed a tough call.

At 13 years of age I was not really privy to the thought process that existed in the minds of my parents.  We, the children were benumbed with the unknown and could only hang on to the unshakeable faith on the ability and sagacity or our parents as our emotional support. I have deliberately not used the word fear;   for some obscure reason none of us children were ‘afraid’ of the future.

A couple of weeks later, a letter arrived from Baba’s cousin Sri Hemendra Nath Sen.   He was then the second senior most in Baba’s generation within our extended joint family.   He had settled down at Syllhet and was running a business of lime stone mining, extraction and marketing.   His eldest daughter was getting married.   The marriage ceremony would be held at Kolkata.   He expected all of us to come to Kolkata for the occasion.   He was also in the process of winding up his business.   If all went well, the family won’t return after the marriage to Syllhet.  The visit to Kolkata would be converted into a migration.   His second daughter was doing her graduation as a private candidate.   His son was about to write for his matriculation under the University of Calcutta. (This cousin of mine was of my age group).  His youngest daughter was very young.   So, he had all intentions of converting this journey to Kolkata into a migration.    He had hired a large house on SR Das Road which was a good residential locality.   The house was big enough to accommodate his own children and the seven of us (Baba, Ma, four children and My Grand Mother Thakuma).

This invitation, coming soon after the long session with Saiyed Mamu, seemed to act as a catalyst and caused a crystallization of a decision to migrate in Baba’s mind.   On 28th of March 1948 we left Jessore for Kolkata with all our mobile assets that could fit into two three-ton trucks.   A new journey in my life began; but that is another story.

Today, sixty three years later, with clear hindsight and the wisdom gathered over this time, I am still unable to untangle the thought process of my parents and their friends and relatives at that time that caused them to abandon all their assets and their security and migrate to a very uncertain future.      Let me state very clearly that at Jessore we were under no imminent threat to our lives and property.   We were well established stable secure elite of the town.   It was also quite clear that a migration across the border will bring us to an unfamiliar environment where socially and economically we would be far more challenged than we were at Jessore.   And yet, our sober intellectual mature stable parental generation decided to migrate into potential loss of assets and social standing.   What was their main consideration?

The main threat to them was I think the psychological uncertainty of the time.   Things around us had changed so rapidly in the few preceding years that it was difficult to predict what would happen in the next decade.   India, and its national leadership over the preceding fifty years had constructed a recognizable future plan for us when we became independent.   We had debated over the types of governance we wanted and the type of social reforms we desired.    India had managed to create a constituent assembly   which, much to the chagrin of the British masters, had declared its intention to acknowledge itself and behave as a sovereign entity.   In that moment of history we were in the midst of a storm.   Visibility was poor and winds uncertain.  Thunder-strike rain and hail were imminent matters of chance.    But with the concept of India we at least felt a sense of direction, of steps we knew existed even if we did not see them yet.   With the concept of Pakistan this sense of direction was missing.   None of the politicians clamouring for Pakistan ever talked of the social and economic goals for which they wanted a piece of land.   All we were told was that it would be a ‘Muslim Country’.   We were also told repeatedly that in Islam the non-Muslim is a second rate person.   He had less rights and liberties than the Muslim.   We were not at all sure that Pakistan with such an ambiguous social philosophy would succeed in creating a successful nation state in the 20th century.   And we were not sure whether, if the experiment of Pakistan indeed succeeded,   there would be any social future for us the ‘non-Muslims’ or Kaffirs to become its proud citizen.

I am glad our parents had the courage and the foresight to take the correct decision in the face of the existent risks for their immediate future.

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  1. Very well written. It helped in creating a better understanding of the historical events leading up to the unfortunate division of the country. The post partition 65 years of history of the subcontinent is a glaring testimony of the foly of those who were hell bent upon tearing the society apart based upon religious fanaticism. The sad state of affairs of the country created upon the notion of religious intolerance is there for the entire world to see.

  2. Pingback: What was the Constituent Assembly of India for? | The LAWfile

    • Dear Isidro

      Welcome to the blog. No I do not tweet. In my Facebook page I do announce every new post, but that information would also be available to you through email if you register for the blog. Happy reading

      TKS

  3. I have often wondered how this took place in actual fact-i have always known that Baba shifted with his entire family at the age of thirteen from Bnagladesh to India….but I also notice that in his entire recounting baba never once mentioned bangldesh-it was still Pakistan then!!!-His reflections as a thirteen year old-a very quiet, introspective, highly protected youngster, further handicapped by the coocoon of intellectual parents and a society that had prepared him for nothing but total and absolute acceptance as equals in all spheres of life-leave me with a feeling of restlessness…a desire to question…would I have thought these details through if I had been in his place at the age of thirteen??? In all probability ….not!!!

    The poignancy of the matter lies not in the having to move-daughter to a defence officer, I am extremely sanguine about transfers and up-rootings…-but in the change in texture of the young boy’s perception of the world around him-the wanting to hold on and not knowing what to hold on to….of seeing trusted elders and peers behave in manners alien to him,,,, of stepping out and not seeing the familiar world he grew up in despite being in the same surroundings..of perhaps for the first time wanting to disagree with parents he had idolised all his life…but unsure as to why he should even feel that way…caught in a turmoil not of his making but one that he must react to and survive in…bewildered and unsure…yet knowing he must do something…an unfamiliar place for a young boy…our Saheb is that age today…I wonder…..

    I recognize this boy in my father still…he still looks on the world with the trust of his own convictions and often is bewildered at what others around him are doing…primarily because they do not have the courage of their own convictions-a place unknown to my father!!! He is proud of his parents for their courage and faith…I am eternally proud of mine…for the mettle they are made of!!!!

    • I read everything that your father said and could visualise clearly everything my grandpa also was from the then jessore,narail subdivision…and ma from comilla…through ur father’s speech I can easily relate to their problems…

  4. Can anyone write more about Muslim Leagues colloboration with British during the world war 2.

    While Congress leaders were put in jail, Muslim league politicians were in the govt ruling parts of India.

    So after the World war2, they did not want to share this any Congress leaders.
    Their dislike towards Congress, must have been so high,
    which lead to partition.
    I guess, they have to be control.. even if means a smaller (or partitioned) country.

    • Dear Sam: What you say might be true, but you must remember that even in 1946 election the Muslim League got majority in only two provinces, Bengal and Sindh. There is therefore more perfidy in the story of partition between March 1946 to Jun 1947 than has been historically recorded so far.

      • I did not see any school textbooks, which talk about Muslim Leagues colloboration from about 1941-45 with British.

        The true story needs to come out.
        They were colloborating and scheming with British.
        Maybe british liked working with them, they listened to them to divide the country.

        Jinnah was not jailed for even 1 day.

        While Gandhi and Nehru were in jail for 14-17 years of their life.

        Why dont textbooks tell this ?

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