Connecting Regions of Asia.

Of A Bengal That Was


My father never said anything about the 1947 Partition of British India, yet his maternal relatives were some of the big victims of the division of the Subcontinent along religious lines.
 He was a 13 years old Muslim boy living in a remote village in the then Jessore district when the events of 1947 unfolded. 
His maternal grandfather was a shopkeeper in Pre-Partition Kolkata and presumably came back home after the Great Calcutta Killings in 1946.
I am sure he had some memories of those landmark moments. But strangely he would never speak about it. 
The reason, I later realised, was simple. The partition in Bengal. – – unlike the brutal and catastrophic partition of Punjab – – was only felt in the villages and cities of East Bengal slowly and gradually over the next few decades.
 If you leave out the 1946 religious riots in Kolkata and Noakhali, the Bengal Partition was not as deadly as the ones in greater Punjab and much of the Uttar Pradesh and even Bihar.
Events in Post-Partition years shaped up slowly  and triggered a massive refugee crisis in slow motion. 
The Jamidari, or Feudal Lord, system which had been the bedrock of the rural society in Bengal since the Permenent Settlement of 1793, was abolished in East Pakistan in 1951, fulfilling a lifelong pledge by pro-peasant Sher e Bangla A. K Fazlul Huq. 
But many Hindu jamidars stayed put at their homeland for several more years.
Amulya Munshi, the Hindu Jamidar of our village, paid the fees of Matriculation test of my father in 1952. 
And it seemed like he left the country for Kolkata in the mid 1950s after he sold his properties which included several brick-made homes, a rare thing during those period, some farmland and a big pond.
My father’s distant uncles bought the properties, which earned a bragging right in the villages in the region. 
One of his uncles even went on to become the new undisputed leader of his  village svd villages around it. Others including the 350 Brahmin families in our neighbouring village of Amtali left during the same time.
 Their lives revolved around the Jamidars. So if a Jamidar left a village, there is no point for Brahmin priest families to hang around. 
Years after my father found a job as a low level  auditor at the Accounts General’s Office of the governent, my father went to India and found Amulya Munshi. 
He migrated to a suburb of Kolkata and had a horrible experience living in a large one room shanty. He could never overcome the pains of losing his Jamidari, his love to wake up early in the morning and have a  shower in the big pond his grandfather had dig up or the date juice he would drink and the date molasses he would eat with puffed rice (Muri)every morning during the winter.
My father could never be able to pay his Matriculation fees had Amalya Munshi not donated him 40 taka – – a considerable fortune at that time.
 So when my father found him in his one room shanty after many years, he wanted to pay him some money.  It made Amulya Munshi very angry. He was happy that my father remembered him and together they could speak for hours about everything in the village – – the Sofeda tree he had planted, the Bilati Gub tree, the Siddheswari Temple his father had constructed, the rolling flood plain, the small Piali fish of the Gorai River he loved to eat and Namjaggo, a three-day long Kirtana devotional song festival he patroned for decades.
Amulya Mushi died in the early 1970s, but he could never come back to his beloved Chowgachi village. 
His son became a well known doctor in Kolkata and his grand children migrates to more prosperous destinations in England and America. 
My father developed a great friendship with Munshi’s son – – better known as Chhoto Babu – – but he too could never make enough time to visit his village.
 He would also ask my father about the Sofeda Tree, the Date Juice and Date molasses and whether his Muslim friend Malek Mridha, with whom he would go out to see Jatra in the entry nights, was still alive.
My Muslim father never spoke about Partition to me. But he too was a children 1947 Partition of Bengal. He might never discover, the epochal events of 1947 cast a huge shadow over lives of his generations. 
It shaped their future, threw enormous amount of opportunities on their way and helped assert their Muslim identity after a long period of time.
During his boyhood he could never sit in front of Amulya Munshi, the powerful Jamidar of his village, who effectively set up his career and saved him from povert. He was too fearful of him. 
But many years after the Partition, when my father would makr a pilgrimage to his Pir in India every spring, he would also visit Amulya Munshi in his Kolkata suburb home and together they would sit for hours to talk like friends!!

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