A Tribute to Raja Jatindra Mohan Roy

Today is Mahalaya, culmination of Pitripaksha and beginning of Devipaksha. It is customary to pay tribute to one’s forefathers by churning some mantras and offering food at the bank of a river. After I’ve been hearing stories all my life about a certain gentleman, it’s about time I pay a little tribute to him in my own way, letting the world know who he was and what he did.

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My great grandfather Raja Jatindra Mohan Roy was born in 1877 in Katunia, located in the Satkhira subdivision of Khulna District in Bangladesh. It was a Saturday night, dark and calm with no moon to shine on the newborn. The ominous darkness of the night and his birth on an Amavasya had impelled the zamindar family to believe that he might turn up to be a bandit. Such a disaster didn’t happen though. Jatindra Mohan is the eleventh generation of Raja Basanta Roy, whose nephew Raja Pratapaditya was in the Baro Bhnuiya (Twelve Kings) group that fought against the Mughal invasion in Bangladesh.

Image from family archives

Jatindra Mohan grew up and graduated from Scottish Church College, Calcutta not only once, but twice – in English and History. He wrote a book on the history of Raja Pratapaditya and his legacy in three parts. He was mighty influenced by the Indian independence movement, particularly the work and ideals of Bipin Chandra Pal, a famous freedom fighter. He went back to Khulna to look after his zamindari and participated actively in the Swadeshi movement as an assistant to Bipin Pal, managing the Sunderban area. Jatindra Mohan was a staunch believer of Swadeshi and dreamed that the British would be ousted. He married and fathered two sons, the younger of them was my grandfather, Nepal Chandra Roy. When grandfather grew up to be a teenager, Jatindra Mohan began training him on horse riding, sword fighting and Lathi Khela – a traditional stick fighting. A few years later, he transferred reigns of the zamindari to my grandfather Nepal Chandra and concentrated further on Swadeshi movement.

Image Courtesy: Abhyuday Roy

Japan had already begun working on various kinds of nuclear bombs in the initial decades of the 20th century and the news had spread till India. Bipin Pal had planned to acquire the formulae from his Japanese allies and try making a few to counter the British. He sent Jatindra Mohan to Japan on a journey via the sea, who copied the formulae on his body, hid himself and headed back. (This is a lore that my father had heard from grandfather, the incident is not documented in any text though). Jatindra Mohan arranged for boats and small ships to carry arms and weapons for the freedom fighters through the waters of Sunderbans. But somehow the British officials were aware of this plan and sabotaged it.

Jatindra Mohan had an untimely and ill fated death in 1939 when his boat was caught in a whirlpool and he drowned. My father has never seen his grandfather but he heard all about this gentleman zamindar who cared more about his people and country than his wealth and possessions. The books he had written have been lost in the black hole of India-Bangladesh partition and couldn’t be recovered by our family.

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All information source: Prabir Kumar Roy (my father)

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Ziddi – by Ismat Chughtai

I have been coveting to read Ismat Chughtai’s books since long, in Hindi, preferably. I started with Manto, however, picking up a translated copy (by Atish Taseer) from a friend and realised that I didn’t savour the translation. Taseer might have done a good job in trying to extrapolate Manto’s writing to those who cannot read Hindi/Urdu but I wasn’t one of them. The anguish and dilemma in Toba Tek Singh must be read in the original flavour, I thought. Thus, I procured Manto in Hindi, read, tried to fathom and moved on to read Chughtai too. Ziddi was my first choice as I had already watched the film (1948) starring Dev Anand and wanted to read the original, rich text that Chughtai is so famous for.

Ziddi is the story of Pooran and Asha. No, it is not an easy love story as it may sound. The book starts with a very old woman on deathbed who wishes to glance at young Pooran one last time before she dies. She’s the nanny who looked after him all childhood and leaves behind her only grand-daughter, Asha. After naani passes away, Asha takes refuge in Pooran’s palatial house. An unequal love blossoms, though the rest of the family treats Asha as the nanny’s kin-turned-gracious-househelp. Due to this socio-economic imbalance in their statuses, they are stricken apart every time they come close. Years pass, but the unavowed love lingers as embers in a dying fire. Ah yes, fire plays an important role in the climax of the story. But that is for the readers to find out.

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