<%-- Page Title--%> Reflections <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 148 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 2, 2004

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Memories Of the Forties The Turbulent Years A Personal Story

Part I

M Azizul Jalil

On August 9, 1947, amidst gunfire, burning houses and shops, we left our house on Lower Range in Park Circus in a government Weapons' Carrier with two armed guards for the Sealdah Railway station in Calcutta. My father was on the partition committee for the public works department in the Government of Bengal, and had opted for Pakistan. I had, therefore, to leave behind my school, my close friends, and familiar institutions, parks and other sights I was used to from my birth and I had to says goodbye to many fond memories. I knew that perhaps the country was being divided for good and we were going to a new land I had never seen before. We were to leave our land to which we may never return. The frequent communal riots and political disagreements in the immediate past had led one to the conclusion that further efforts to live together would be futile. But the trauma of the change and the sorrow for the division of the country remained with me for quite some time.

It seems now that it all happened only the other day. I began school in January 1940- - I was then six and a half years old. My father took me and my elder brother from Park Circus to the Ballygunj Government High School in Calcutta for the admission test-- in my case for class three. We were both admitted -- it was competitive, as intake in every class was limited to only thirty boys. Thus began my school years in Calcutta that continued through the war years, Bengal famine, political turmoil, and communal riots and ended with the partition of India in 1947.

The school was a government demonstration school attached to the David Hare Teacher's Training College, whose principal was kind of a supervisor of our school. The trainee-teachers next door would sometimes observe our classes as part of their training. The Principal Dr. K.D. Ghose, a Cambridge hockey blue, sometimes played hockey with us after classes. Our schoolteachers were all of high quality with good degrees (some with first classes from the Calcutta University, some gold medallists and a few with British qualifications). Punctuality, discipline and good conduct were strictly imposed.

Our school (which along with the Hare School was one of the best in Calcutta) had as students--children from the Calcutta Hindu elites at that time. Some of the famous names from my school that I can recall were Sir Jadunath Sircar (historian), Sir Bijayprasad Singha Roy (legislator), Annada Shankar Roy I.C.S., Dr. Jnan Majumder (doctor and social activist) related to the family of Suren Banerjee, and Professor K.P. Chattapadhya (grandson of Bidyasagar). Muslim students were only four or five in each class, mostly from the middle class (government servant and professional families). We had Maulana Akram Khan's (President of the Bengal Muslim League) grandson in the school -- interestingly his father was a communist leader. In spite of all the odds, some of the Muslim students were able to compete successfully with others in their respective classes.

I want to give a flavour of the social and political conditions during the time we were in school, particularly for the post-Bangladesh generation. As school students we were exposed to the intellectual, cultural and political issues of the day, and at least in our school, there was close relationship and friendliness between Hindu and Muslim students. In the district towns, (Jalpaiguri and Dinajpur, which I used to visit during vacations) relationship between the two communities was even closer. Our family environment was a mixture of local traditions and ceremonies. For example, we would celebrate Muslim religious functions and at the same time attend the Bengali 'Nababarsha' and halkhata functions and visit the dance and other cultural functions for the religious ceremonies of the Hindu community. We would also visit houses of Hindu friends and they would come to our houses.

Influenced by family environment and school, we became regular readers of newspapers, magazines and books of the time (e.g. Statesman, Jugantar, Swadhinata and monthly magazines Bharatbarsha and Basumati and humorous weekly Sachitra Bharat). We also listened to Radio news and musical programmes (All India Radio-- Calcutta Station). The most popular programmes were the football commentaries (particularly between the Mohammedan Sporting, East Bengal and Mohan Bagan clubs) and 'Anurodher Asar, and Pankaj Mullick's 'Gan Shekhar Asar'). My father--a member of the Mohammedan Sporting Club -- took me and my brother a couple of times to see important games, which were exciting. We also used to clandestinely hear the Azad Hind Radio, which often carried the voice of Subash Bose (broadcasting first from Tokyo and later from Rangoon). We used to buy books from the bookshops near our school and also from the People's Publishing house at 144 Bankim Chatterjee Street, off the College Street. I remember sometimes going for a glass of cold coffee (frankly I did not quite like it) at the Coffee House opposite the Presidency College and near that bookshop. The Coffee House was a popular and fashionable haunt for students, writers and intellectuals.

The Bengal Famine of 1943 took place in front of our young eyes. I could daily see the unimaginable sight of emaciated people in search of food looking into the garbage bins in street corners to get anything eatable. Most of these people had moved from nearby rural areas in search of food -- they were physically in no condition to work, even if there were any for them. It was a shocking sight, which I would not ever forget, and never wish to witness again. I remember my mother and many others cooked rice and chapattis for distribution to the hungry in our locality. At about this time Shilpacharya Zainal Abedin who was a teacher at the Calcutta Arts College drew his famous charcoal sketches of hungry men and dogs struggling for scraps of food from garbage bins at street corners.

In 1944, the daily Swadhinata, an anti-fascist leftist newspaper started its publication. Being very young and liberal in outlook, and concerned about the German and Japanese atrocities in Europe and Asia, some of us were reading this paper. We even contributed small sums from our 'tiffin money' to help the paper and our names were mentioned in the front page of the first issue of the paper. On the paper's first anniversary, Ziaur Rahman, a medical student who used to distribute the paper to our house every morning in Park Circus as a volunteer, took me and my brother to the paper's 8 E Decker's Lane office in the Chowringhee area of Calcutta to attend a modest function. I was excited to sit on the floor with Muzaffar Ahmad (a founding member of the Comintern and a leading leftist in India), Jyoti Basu (the Chief Minister of West Bengal for two decades), Somnath Chatterjee and other eminent politicians and writers. Ziaur Rahman became a doctor, joined the army medical corps and rose to the rank of a Colonel. While posted as the Principal of the Sylhet Medical College in 1971, Pakistani army officers took him away from his home one morning from the breakfast table. He never returned.

In late 1945, the Bengal provincial elections took place -- it was crucial because of the discussions on the imminent transfer of power from the British. In Jalpaiguri (now in West Bengal) where I happened to be, my maternal grandfather Khan Bahadur Abdus Sattar (then President of the district Muslim League) was seeking the League's nomination .The other candidate was his brother-in-law, Nawab Musharraf Hussain. I remember the League nominating committee's arrival at the railway station and their being met by the local dignitaries and two large decorated elephants of the Nawab. The team was composed of Suhrawardy (then general secretary of the provincial Muslim league), Nurul Amin and Mohammad Afzal. The team met in the afternoon and interviewed the candidates and chairmen of union councils and secretaries of union Muslim league. It was done systematically and democratically but in the end the Nawab, who had mobilised (by his own buses and trucks) a large number of supporters for the occasion, received the nomination.

After the elections, my father took me to see the proceedings of the Bengal Legislative Assembly. The mostly marbled building was majestic with large columns and the main chamber was round and beautiful. From the visitor's gallery I watched the debates and verbal duels punctuated by humor of the giant parliamentarians--Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Nalini Ranjan Sircar, AK Fazlul Huq, Shuhrawardy, Shamsuddin Ahmad and many others.

M. Azizul Jalil was the Convener of the Dhaka University Sanskriti Samsad in February 1951 and became its first student-President in 1952. He is a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank staff.




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