This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 13; the thirteenth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.
“Will you please take me to Bajitpur one last time?”
His question jolted me deep inside. His pale face looked at me with unusually bright eyes, expecting an answer to an impossible question. The doctor had predicted just a few more hours. He seemed cheerful, unmindful of the impending end. I was glad that my mother no longer lived to see this day when my father was lying in his deathbed, waiting and counting the hours.
My wife was silently shedding tears. He tried to raise his hand to place it on her head, but couldn’t. In wee hours of the morning, my father left all of us, leaving behind all unanswered questions.
Later, after the ceremonies and rituals were over, the question came back to haunt me. My 10 year old son asked me, “Baba, why did dadu want to go to Bajitpur? Where is Bajitpur”
I ruffled my son’s hair, debating what to tell him. Do I tell him the truth? Or do I tell him a make-believe story and avoid the issue?
“Baba, I have heard this name Bajitpur a number of times from dadu. He always used to talk about it during the last few days of his illness. What did he mean by it?” my son asked, his face flushed with anticipation.
May be, my son owed the true story. I do not know whether he will understand the whole of it but he at least deserved to know.
“Bajitpur is a town in Bangladesh, in the district of Mymensingh. Our family hails from this place and your dadu was born there. ” My son immediately asked, “But, baba, does it mean dadu was Bangladeshi? Then how come we are Indians?”
This was the most difficult aspect of the story – how do I explain that our family was a refugee from Bangladesh who settled in Kolkata? How do I describe the situations that necessitated our uproot? More importantly, how do I tell him that by some twist in fate, we were suddenly rendered homeless, identity-less and above all, penniless?
“My dear son, there was no country called Bangladesh till 1947. India consisted of all that is there now, plus Pakistan and Bangladesh. So dadu’s family was very much in India.
Bajitpur was a small yet bustling town. His father was working as a clerk in a government office. That year they had got the walls of their two-storied house painted, with the bonus received during the Durga Puja.”
My son quipped in, “Were they poor?”
I realised today’s kids do not understand the economic scenario of yester years. “No, they were middle class, just like us. But those days, people used to undertake activities entailing huge costs only after they received some extra income, like the annual bonus. Imagine, in those days, they could buy a toffee for 2 naya,s 10 phuchkas for 3 annas and clothes for 1 rupee!”
As I regaled, I began to remember the stories vividly, even today. Those were the anecdotes that my father used to tell me, in an attempt to always remind me of my roots. Through his stories, various images of Bajitpur town became clearly etched in my mind. Would I be able to do the same with my son? More importantly, did I want to?
“The locality where they used to stay, had a huge lake, where your dadu used to swim every day, without ever undergoing any training. He simply used to jump into the pond along with his friends and crossed it some ten times in swift strokes. He used to bunk school a lot, but in those days, there was no such thing as competition. They used to write one annual examination and used to be promoted to the next class.”
A part of me still did not wish to continue with the story. In present times, it was absolutely unnecessary for my son to know of those days of struggle, Independence movement, Partition, the ensuing bloodshed and their cumulative effect on our family. We were now, in Calcutta, safely cocooned in our secure lives. Sitting in our drawing room in the 7th floor apartment in a South Calcutta locality, regaling stories about a small town in Bangladesh seemed so unreal!
But was it not my duty to introduce my son to his roots, however distant and unreal they may seem?
“The year was 1947. Your dadu was in class VIII then, about to start his Boards. India’s struggle for independence was at its peak and was slowly culminating to an end. Indian leaders were negotiating with the British and also the Muslim leaders, who wanted a separate country for themselves. In July, the Indian Independence Act was passed by the British Parliament, by which British India was divided into two countries based on religious demography – Secular Union of India on one hand and Islamic Republic of Pakistan, also consisting of East Pakistan, now known as People’s Republic of Bangladesh on the other.
The whole of Bengal was partitioned during Independence – into West Bengal which went to India and East Bengal which went to Bangladesh. Some of the Muslims who were living in India chose to shift to Pakistan and many Hindus from these regions migrated to India. Our family did not wish to migrate from what they knew as their home – but had no choice. Communal riots broke out everywhere and Hindus were forced to bid goodbye to their lives, jobs, homes, memories and move to a new place. That was when our family crossed the border, came to Calcutta and settled here.”
After I finished my explanation, my son said in a solemn voice, “Dadu must have loved his home in Bajitpur very much; he even remembered it in his last moment, isn’t it?”
“Yes, he loved his days in Bajitpur and always missed them terribly; in the same way, you will miss your childhood days spent in this house.”
After my son left, I realised I hadn’t told him everything. A whole lot of incidents were left out, only because he was not matured enough to understand. My father not only missed his days in Bajitpur, but he never could accept Calcutta as his home. Before his own eyes, his father was left jobless and their family homeless. With the little money that they could manage to bring with them, they tried to settle in an alien place and start living life again. It was difficult for them to rebuild everything from scratch, especially after leaving behind a secure life in Bangladesh. It was all the more difficult, due to the tags that my family acquired in this city – “Refugee”/”Bangaal”/”Bangladeshi”.
There was a particular incident which my father used to tell me. He had then started going to college and had made friends, some of whom were “Ghoti” or original inhabitants of West Bengal. Once, during a discussion on economic situations of Bengal, one such friend had opined that the “refugees” who had migrated from East Bengal were responsible for the deteriorating and despicable socio-economic conditions of Bengal. My father had caught hold of him by his collar and a nasty fight had ensued. He repeatedly asked his friend, “Why are you blaming the refugees? Where would have they gone? Did they migrate on their own wish or were they uprooted from one place?”
No one could answer him.
All the taunts, debates, even, friendly banters on the Ghoti-Bangaal divide always reminded my father of his home in Bajitpur, left far behind. He established himself as a renowned professor of Mathematics in Calcutta University, started a family life and ultimately bought his own house here in Calcutta, but could never feel at peace. Part of him always wanted to return, which however, never happened, despite his strong desire.
Even on his deathbed, he wished for nothing except revisiting his childhood days spent in East Bengal. Even after 50 odd years, he could not bid final goodbye to his home in Bajitpur.
This post is inspired from the numerous Ghoti-Bangaal banters that Calcuttans indulge in regularly. My paternal family hails from Bajitpur, who later settled in Silchar, Assam. But the similarity ends there and it is not a personal post in any way. This piece is an attempt to show that the entire debate is more than a tussle between East Bengal-Mohun Bagan football club, prawn-hilsa, diverse rituals and goes to the root of identity-crisis many migrants faced at that point of time.