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Goodbye

August 7, 2010

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.

The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.

*********************************

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.

Thanks a ton, Mayur, Keerthi and Pavil for voting and many thanks to Gkam for appreciating my post. I am grateful for your encouragement.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2010 10:39 pm

    A detailed post. Like straight out of someone’s diary. Though it didn’t quite appear as a story to me, I liked the narration. 🙂

    Thanks 🙂 It was meant to sound like a memoir 🙂

  2. August 8, 2010 12:29 am

    Hi,

    Liked your blog 1st time here at ur space .. courtesy BAT ! 🙂

    Nice post…a good piece of analytically …researched …and penned down..

    Good work ..

    ALL THE BEST

    take care

    Ks 🙂

    Welcome and many thanks 🙂 Glad that you liked it! I must say, this post required no research! It was simply penned down from observations 🙂

  3. August 8, 2010 2:55 am

    heartfelt yet warm story…
    well narrated.

    Thank you so much! Welcome to my blog!

  4. Shruti permalink
    August 8, 2010 1:03 pm

    Very Gud debo…after a long time am reading all ur guys post.. so warming 🙂
    Gud luck 🙂
    Shruti

    Welcome back Shruti 🙂 Its been a long time 🙂 Thanks for appreciating it!

  5. August 9, 2010 11:01 am

    Hey Debo,
    firstly thanks for giving us a wonderful topic at BAT again…:D
    And another Thanks for enlightening me about the Ghoti-Bangal divide. Dint know a thing about this part of our history. The flow of lanuguage and emotions while revisiting the past was interesting. Looks like this post could tell us a lot more but you have curtailed it for the sake of teh reader’s patience..:) Anyways a good job..
    Do visit my entry at BAT too which also visits an aspect of Indian History around abt the same time as your story and is based on Bengal too..:)) INtelligent minds have thought almost alike I think..hehehhe..
    ATB Debo for BATOM 13

    Thank you so much for your appreciation 🙂 Your comments are always heartfelt, and hence treasured! Yes, I could have gone on and on, but didn’t for the sake of brevity…

  6. phoenixritu permalink
    August 9, 2010 2:42 pm

    Partition made a mess out of many lives ……… nice narration. ATB for BAT

    Welcome, Ritu! 🙂 Yes, and more so many people from undivided Bengal and Punjab faced the pain of bidding ‘goodbye’ to their homes. Thank you 🙂

  7. August 10, 2010 1:00 am

    very grounded post… memoir-like

    Welcome, Nir and thank you 🙂

  8. dmanji permalink
    August 10, 2010 3:39 pm

    The two states Punjab and Bengal which bore the maximum brunt of partition are filled with such stories….which is probably difficult for people from other regions to perceive …also this BAT has two stories from both the states….
    Yes being a ‘Refugee’ and building a life again in a relatively alien land is quite challenging….we can only guess it …..

    Coming to Ghoti-Bangaal divide I must say with generations progressing the bitterness is reducing which is obvious with more intermingling…..having grown-up in a ‘Bangaal’ dominated locality I am seeing it happen….

    Dman! of course, you would know 🙂 The divide is no longer so pronounced, but nevertheless still prevalent, even in a friendly banter way 🙂

  9. August 10, 2010 4:00 pm

    Wow! nice post, expressed in a cool way…. Great Goodbye..

    All The Best for BAT 13.

    gmsaravana – Goodbye

    Yours Frendly,
    Someone Is Special

    I see, your signature has changed 😉 Thank you so much!

  10. August 10, 2010 4:13 pm

    It is amazing how you have woven all the historical details in this story. Very beautifully written

  11. August 10, 2010 8:14 pm

    heyyy that was a reallyy gud post…very well narrated n felt very realistic 😀

    -Devilzangel
    http://collected-cryptics.blogspot.com

  12. August 10, 2010 11:06 pm

    most of the ppl who went through this turmoil of partition are long gone, only the stories remain which youth of today may not understand…but yes, those were the horror stories which come and touch the raw core from time to time….nicely narrated…ATB :))

  13. August 11, 2010 12:19 am

    Its a very well etched story. As Dimanji has said Panjab & Bengal are full of such stories & I feel others like me can’t really understand the grief, the refugee word brings out. Its not a word its a world of its own.
    Once while travelling in a train, I had a chance meeting with a Doctor from Nagpur, who was in his 80’s. As he had told me, he had built up his life as a refugee in India. But He still seemed to be in love with the Karachi which was stored in his elegant eyes.

    Thank you……

  14. August 11, 2010 4:37 pm

    Wow, both of us end up writing a partition post 🙂
    the main plot of mine is inspired by my paternal grandfather.. do read it!
    Always a pleasure to read ur stories as they are different; not the usual love, break-up sagas the bloggers keep writing month aftr month..
    Coming to the theme of story, frankly despite being born 4 decades aftr independence, I sometimes yearn to visit the homeland of my forefathers, Multan in Punjab, Pakistan.
    Enjoyd this post 🙂

  15. August 11, 2010 8:01 pm

    A very very nice story. Although my grandparents were not severely afflicted by the turmoil of the partition, they used to tell me about the times in Pre-Independence Punjab (now Pakistan). I really liked the story.

    ATB for BAT13
    Gkam – Goodbye

  16. August 11, 2010 10:39 pm

    Truly a sublime post!
    The narration was flawless….and the plot so real!
    While reading through the story I was taken back to my Grandma’s last days…and how badly she wanted to go back to her hometown…Chandarki…a small village in Gulbarga district of Karnataka. As a kid in 5th std, i could never understand her yearning then. She passed away the day after we reached there. Maybe she knew!
    I could so very empathize with this story.

    Great work!…loved the story to the core.

    Wish you all the very best! and you have a fan here 🙂

  17. August 12, 2010 9:46 am

    Nice post with an insight into history. With Independence day around, this post becomes much more special. And you’ve got a wonderful blog here. Glad I visited!!!

    ~Vee…

  18. August 12, 2010 3:45 pm

    Like someone above said, I didn’t know about the Ghoti-Bangaal divide. I had been sleeping in my history classes! 😀 You had me wiki on the topic and I’m sure my history teacher would be proud of me, at least now. Emotional read.

    All the best!

  19. August 14, 2010 11:23 am

    that was one hell of an enlightening post… lots of stuff that I didnt know about… thanks for this!

    Cheers!
    Tavish

  20. August 14, 2010 9:32 pm

    Once a bangal always a bangal. Roots are deeply entrenched in emotions and your story highlights the pain and sentiments of the character quite well. good job.

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