Of the roots that clutch | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 31, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 31, 2011

Of the roots that clutch

Masum Billah observes a reclaiming of heritage

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Korokdi Ekti Gram
Edit Subrata Kumar Das
Koli Prokashani Banglabazar, Dhaka

The book Korokdi Ekti Gram (Korokdi Is a Village) bears testimony to the deep love of one's motherland and one's desire to learn its glorious history. Subrata Kumar Das has brought together the glorious history and famous personalities his village has produced. With the passage of time many of these personalities have opted for a life in Kolkata. Das has photographed the remains of the homes of these famous personalities and posted them on Facebook, which has in turn aroused their interest in seeing the village they left in their childhood. A big reunion was arranged by Das. The book contains a vivid description of the gathering, the reminiscences of expatriates, renowned Bangladeshi litterateurs and local leaders. A few kilometers from Bagaat, off the highway and some two kilometers through the open field lies this culturally rich village called Korokdi.
The thought that prompted Subrata to arrange such a coming together and indeed bring it to realization is rather intriguing. His father had picked up a book called Madhyabharata Manjari, published in 1928, from a pavement in Kolkata. Das discovered that the book had been written by Bankim Chandra Lahiri of Korokdi. Leafing through the book one day, Das was properly surprised. His interest in Korokdi awakened, he began to research the place and its people. What he found amazed him. This small and very remote village once produced many people who had excelled in their diverse spheres of activity. Many of these stories he had earlier heard from his father. Now he was all the more intrigued at the diverse talents that had emerged from Korokdi.
The comments of the guests who participated in the Korokdi Samabesh give one an insight into the events which took place in Korokdi, all of which has been vividly portrayed in the book. “We landed in Dhaka on the 29 January 2010 not really knowing what to expect. All of us, my sister, my cousin, my children and I, have grown up on tales of Korokdi, of the Padma, of Goalondo Ghat of Bagaat, and so much more. Here we were actually going to see it all. But what came before us took us by surprise. Subrata had told us that he had arranged a press conference that morning. To our amazement, when we reached the Dhaka Press Club, we found that it was packed, not only with journalists but also with many renowned intellectuals, civil rights and political activists.” Subrata Kumar Das had invited me too to participate in the programme but some preoccupations did not make it possible for me to join it. My learning of these exciting events through a reading of the book makes me feel sorry at not being unable to enjoy the whole ambience of the Korokdi Samabesh. Clearly like me, many friends at the Press Club, there are these ordinary men and women also felt an urge, a curiosity to know and connect with the past and spontaneously came to Korokdi to make the whole programme a success. They were people who sought to reclaim the past that had been theirs but were now fading into oblivion. It was an enriching experience. The warmth and friendliness of the people, their consideration, their hospitality and their simplicity left us deeply touched.
Another participant from Kolkata says, “Korokdi was really a small village surrounded by mustard and jute fields, even in my father's time. By the time my father was born it was a pretty prosperous and relatively modern village. My grandfather had installed the first tubewell in the village and someone actually had a fridge that ran on kerosene! There was library named after a Bhattacharya which had a rare collection of ancient texts, besides other books. “
Roman Rolland (1866-1944), the French Nobel Laureate for literature in 1915, was one of the pioneering western philosophers who played a role in disseminating Indian spiritual philosophy in the West. He developed links with many Bengali figures, such as Rabindranath Tagore and Jagadish Chandra Bose. His memoirs called Vie de Ramakrishna and Vie de Vivekananda (1930) promoted Indian spiritual ideologies across the world. All such facts have meticulously been researched by the Bengali writer Abanikumar Sanyal, who was born in the tradition-rich village of Korokdi in district Faridpur and who has two books on Rolland and two translations of Rolland's books to his credit.
Sulekha lived for a short while from 1928 to 1962 only. Apart from her major work Nabankur, she wrote a second novel, Dewal-Padma, along with some short stories. A third novel was published posthumously. Though her output is relatively small, any sensitive reader of Bangla fiction will accord Sulekha a special place in literature. The plots of her stories were rather exciting. Most of these short stories are set around the time of the Second World War, the 1905 partition of Bengal and the infamous Bengal famine of 1943. Almost all the stories are capable of drawing tears in sensitive readers. When Sulekha was a young woman of twenty-six, she was noted for her courage and outspokenness. She came of age in Korokdi and later became a communist, refusing to submit to the conventions and rules of the day. She took part in some many social and political activities in the 1940s. Sulekha was born in a zamindar family of declining fortunes in Korokdi on 5 June 1928. The whole family was known through her involvement in the anti-British movement. She spent her childhood and early adolescence in Mashima's Chattogram. In 1942, when the city was bombed by the Japanese, she returned to her village and sat for her matriculation examination as a private candidate in 1944. Sulekha later was admitted to Rajendra College, Faripur, and after passing her intermediate examination in 1946, went to Kolkata and enrolled herself at Victoria Institute there. She got married in 1948, but the marriage does not seem to have been a happy one. It ended in divorce in 1956.
The reading of the book will make one familiar with the rich cultural and historical heritage of village Korokdi, tinged as it is with the patriotic feelings of the writer.
Masum Billah is Program Manager, BRAC Education Program and Vice-President, Bangladesh English Language Teachers' Association (BELTA).

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