Oral history interview with Barun De

De, Barun Manjapra, Kris 2007-12-16

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Interview Participants
BD
Barun De, interviewee (male)
KM
Kris K. Manjapra, interviewer (male)
KM
We are recording an oral history with Professor Barun De in Calcutta on December 16th at approximately 4pm, 2007. Thank you very much for this opportunity. Can we begin with your childhood, your date of birth?
BD
I was born on the 30th of October, 1932.
KM
And can you just begin....maybe by speaking a little bit about your family and childhood in Calcutta and so forth?
BD
The place where I was born was then numbered 20 Theatre Road, Calcutta. Later it became....there was a renumbering and became 38, Theatre Road and is now 38 Shakespear Sarani. After my family sold the house-when I was 10 years old-the building which was a lovely red brick sort of a structure, 2 storey brick structure was pulled down, and the Birla's built on it. It's now the Rani Birla College, next to the Asha Bhawan where Hindi Studies go on, on Theatre Road. Next door to our....was a similar red brick building which was being pulled down, shamefully last year. That used to belong to the Suravardhan family, and we used to live next door. Infact, to the man who became the last....they called him Prime Minister of Bengal, Undivided Bengal-it was called Prime Minister then what is Chief Minister today-HS Suravardhi, who was one of the makers of communal separatism among Hindus and Muslims in Bengal.
BD
So their house and our house, both of them now disappeared. They were very pleasant houses, living rooms on the ground floor, drawing room, dining room, 2 bedrooms with bathrooms attached to it. Upstairs there was an open roof where the children used to play, and again 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. I say this because in those days an attached bathroom was a luxury. I mean one lived in considerable comfort in those houses, with a garden at the back and that sort of thing. My father, Basanto Kumar De, was an officer in the Begal Nagpur Rail which later became the South Eastern Rail.
BD
And it's called Bengal Nagpur because it's headquarters were in Calcutta-this magnificent great big palatial building in Garden Reach, it still exists, the Railway headquarters-and it stretched up to Nagpur and Central India, it stretched South to Vishakhapatnam and Voltaire and presently Andhra Pradesh, and North upto Agra and Ranchi. Then in Bihar, Andhra....my home which is in Bengal. And he was a railway officer so one moved around. While I was born in Kolkata, I was brought up in these railway settlements. The Railway settlements were a cultural phenomenon-today are, I suppose somewhat dreary places in the outback. In those days the British built them up as, well, competitors, as the Civil Lines and the Cantonments, to the ICS and the Army.
BD
And the Railway officers, they had a very strict sort of hierarchical system, I would almost call it a caste like system. The railway line would go through the settlement and on one side of the line....generally, well no always....the side facing the South, with the breeze, would be inhabited by the officers-and in my father's days, in 1930's, there would be 1 or 2 Indian officers, the rest would all be British. And on the other side of the lines....in Bengali it used to be said Liner "o pare", Line "er e par"....would be the officer class-and "e" being this and "o" being that. Would be what was called the subordinate class, not officer's class- superidentants, the ordinary laborers, everybody.
BD
And "e par" would always be, supposed to be, the European quarter; and "o par" would always, supposed to be, the native quarter, the Indian quarter. There were even schools, "e par" had the Anglo Indian school, where the Anglo Indians would live against, slightly separate from pure British from the blood, whereas "o par" would have an Indian school and if you happen to be the son of one of the Indian officer, you couldn't go to the Indian school, not done! But of course if you were the son of a British officer, then you would not go to the Anglo Indian School, you would be sent to the hills to study in St. Pauls (St. Pauls School) or St. Joes (St. Joesephs School) in Darjeeling or very modern Doon School in Uttar Pradesh. And I didn't go to those hill schools because my mother wasn't well and my father....I was the only child-and my father did not wanted to live away from me.
BD
So I did go to school, but I went to the Anglo Indian School. But then the officer class was not supposed to mix with the Anglo Indian staff. The Anglo Indian Staff were not officers, they were goods guards, station masters....The senior staff, the chaps who used to put into the boat in the lower staff-and the officer class wouldn't mix with them
KM
The officer class was British and the Anglo Indian class was this middle run..
BD
was the picks in betweens they were there. We even had shops which were separate. The railways used to rent out the shops franchise to the general provider stores. There were 2 companies whom the Bengal Nagpur Railways rented, there's one in the East Indian Railways settlements ,'Kelenas' who supplied catering for the railways refreshment cars-and in the Bengal Nagpur Railway, the railway ran the refreshment cars but the provender shops there would be Pujara for the Indians. And there would be Billimoria, Parsi, for the breads and the breads, those shops were fabulous. I told someone in Bombay 2 days ago to take me to a Parsi restaurant in Bombay. It was the Parsi's knew exactly how to feed the British.
BD
They made their mark supplying provision stores for the British soldiers in the mutiny, in the ridge and all that shot and shell, Parsi's were supplying beef and ham and tinned stuffs to the British army trying to retake Delhi, and the same style when panache existed-the best beef, the best pork in tins, bacon every morning asparagus in tins in the evening the best wines would be sold. My father of course was a teetotaler, but even he had to keep Sherry and Vermouth and Port and what not in that sideboard there so when the other officers were invited to dinner-he was of course himself a teetotaler. But the point I am trying to make was this was a very artificial sort of life. We generally as scholars, as historians or anthropologists, we talk of the caste system, this was another caste which was cross cutting caste.
BD
The sociologists at one time used to call cross cutting relationship. And this was probably not so brutal but equally vicious caste; where you were brought up to think in terms of the caste as class.
KM
and how did that manifest itself in your adolecensce, when you were in school and so forth?
BD
well this is it, I....the railway officers in those days-till independence even when they were junior officers-were given what was called was a Chaprasi.
BD
Chapras is the insignia, livery, the liveried servant. There will be 1 liveried servant per officer where he was the Head of the department. When my father became....just after independence, he got 2 Chaprasis in the bargain for free, footman sort of retainermen, then there was a cook man who served on table, there was a scullion for....to help the cook wash the dish's, there was of course the sweeper who swept the floor and cleaned the under boxes-these settlements didn't have sanitation in the 1940's, meaning they didn't have the flush, there were these thunder box's that had to be emptied out everyday so that....there would be staff of 5 servants even for a junior officer.
BD
And these servants of the officers class would normally, I would say 90% would not speak Bengali, they spoke Hindi, so I grew up speaking Hindustani, but I also grew up speaking Bengali with my parents, and I also grew up speaking English in school. The Bengali I did not learn well, the English I was taught in school and Hindustani was what I probably most fluent in. I say Hindustani because it was different from Hindi, it was very Urduised-Patwa which was killed completely when India became divided into Pakistan and Bharat. It was a lovely language, great deal of Urdu words in it; It give one a feel for Islamic culture to a certain extent, but it also gave one a feel for Sanskritic culture.
BD
Hindustani is a fusion and I was brought up on this because it was only later when I learnt Bengali-I was always very very weak in the Bengali language till I came out of school and went to Presidency college, where too I was quite weak, I mean lot of people still remember the fact that I spoke the Hindustani-I wrote English and I couldn't write Bengali very well. I think this was a product of the caste like view that I am talking about where Bengali was easier. Ok....number two, the officers had a club-I went back after 40 years to Agra where I lived in 1940, I went in 1980 circuit house-well I had gone somewhere else and I made a sort of pilgrimage to my old memories-and it was striking because the club was a little hut nothing big, but I used to think it was a great place because I thought it had a huge library probably 3 or 4 shelves of books.
BD
The books were very interesting-these were the Padulam of the officer class- A large amount of mountaineering and travel books from 7 pillars of wisdom down to Shement conquer. A great amount of detective stories, Crank Club novels-in those days there was something called Crank club in America. On the back spine, you would have a little hooded figure pointing a gun at you spooky sort of a figure and they were called the Crank Club. Books at an average and a large amount of Wild west novels, cowboys and Indians which always the Red Indians got slaughtered and the cowboys rode off into the sunset. So I mean when I later grew up and saw Shane and High Noon and films like that, this was nothing....I read it all between 1939 and 1941and 1942.
BD
It was a childhood in which was in a sense of caricature of a upper middle class British childhood. Underlying caricature, because obviously, I mean we were in my college little brats in the sense we were English in everything except the color of our skin.
KM
was that ever, were you ever confronted
BD
we were brought up knowing that the British....not in my presence but outside my presence would call us Blackies. Blacky was the word common in those days. We were brought up by parents and grandparents.
BD
Both parents, would be educated in Oxford or in Cambridge. My grandfather went to Oxford, didn't take a degree, passed the ICS (Indian Civil Service) and came back to Indian service. My father went to Cambridge, didn't take a degree-was there with Subhash Chandra Bose- didn't pass the ICS....but his Uncle was a very famous Bengali ICS (Indian Civil Service) again, Gurusodai Dutt, got him a job in Bengal Nagpur railway-so he came back without taking a degree. And we were brought up by our parents and grandparents to know that color was a very marked element in British rule. The British imperialism, colonialism was utterly racist; This we knew. On the other hand we were referred to as 'Sahebs', 'Sahebs' and 'Babas.' The 'Saheb' was the grown up person and 'Memsaheb' or 'Madam Saheb' and 'Baba,' which means father.
BD
'Saheb' in sufi theology means, companion of the prophet, a venerable person, a 'Baba' is the preceptor. So we were the 'Baba' log and our parents were the 'Saheb.' So we always had this dichotomy in our consciousness. It was the dichotomy between knowing that what clinging on to a class which was not that of your relatives, but a dichotomy in the sense that you knew what you were clinging on. And I have often felt later that there could be a comparison made between the 'Saheb,' the brown 'Sahebs' and the 'Thakins' of Burma-you know what the 'Thakins' were...Thakin Lu, Thakin On San, Thakin Me Win. This was the movement of 1930's, where the Burmese would....educated in English school's, in Setharawadi or in Manna or Rangoon-wanted to become equal to the British so they measured up to the British by calling themselves Boss from 'Thakin.'
BD
The same person who was a 'Thakin'....the 'Thakin' movement fought the British, and the 'Thakin' movement went over the Japanese in 1942. But unlike Subhash Bose (Subhash Chandra Bose) they were clever, they played games with the British in 1943 when they saw the slim was winning the Burma war, and they switched over sides under Wong Sun, to the British in '45 (1945) and handed power. 'Thakin' which means Boss was dropped and they called themselves 'Ou Mister'. Uh Wong San, Uh Me Win were general names so the 'Thakin' and the Sana people have read and people are huting. All the historians of Burma talk of the movement as the origins of Nationalism. In India it was the opposite, the 'Sahebs' were the ex-pupils of the British, they sort of clung on to their coattails, but we were....we knew that we would be in power which the British....
KM
interesting....
BD
so that was there sort of a very strong dichotomy of feeling in this class, and this is obviously not the class to which Sil Narayan Ray would belong, which would be Bengali domestic middle class. It was not the class to which Tapan Raichoudhary belonged which was small zamindar in Borishal who had a social status of their own and were pretty strongly nationalists. Our class was loyalists
KM
and how did the....I mean was their a religious sentiment in your home at all
BD
my family was solid Brahmin from Brahmo Samaj.
KM
Can you describe what that was like?
BD
Yeah, well the Brahmo Samaj was the movement started....It is said to have been started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, but then Raja Ram Moham Ray started the Brahmo Sabha as the monotheoistic group with Hinduism which did not accept caste-It was more or less a recluse or critical tendency within Hinduism.
BD
It was then revived and then called the Brahmo Samaj, the Brahmo society, rather than Brahmo assembly from Brahmo Sabha to Brahmo Samaj by Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabidranath (Rabindranath Tagore). But Debendranath (Debendranath Tagore) also kept it as a reformed movement within India. It was then given radical edge briefly under the 'Nobo Bidhan,' the new regulation of Kesab Chandra Sen. But then Kesab (Kesab Chandra Sen) was supposed, by some of his followers-even more radical, more democratic elements-to be developing tendencies of cultism and self iconisation and all that sort of thing. So there was a breakaway from that by people like, Anando Mohan Bose, one of the early Congress Presidents; Shiv Nath Shastri, one of the great preachers of the Brahmo movement.
BD
And they started something called the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. 'Sadharan,' could mean common but it could also mean democratic and my grandfather would be an anglicized member of the Bhabanipur middle class in South Calcutta, and who had attended Brahmo Samaj meetings from his childhood in a Prarthana Hall, in a prayer hall frequented by Harish Chandra Mukherjee, the editor of the Hindu Patriot and Sambhu Nath Pundit one of the first judges-in fact the first sitting Judge, Indian sitting Judge with the Calcutta High Court. My grandfather had then gone to Luckhnow with his father-his father was taken, Durgadas De-my grandfather was Brojendra Nath De ICS-
BD
his father Durga Das De was taken as a ministerial official by Raja Dakshinaranjana Mukherjee, one of the proponents of Young Bengal (Young Bengal Movement), who went as the Secretary of the Governor of the United provinces of Agra and Avadh-posted by Lord Canning-to bring the Talukdari class of Avadh, after the part they played as the Sepoy uprising and revolt of 1857. Dakshinaranjana Mukherjee was a Brahmo, but he had eloped with a widow of Maharaja of Burdwan, he sort of created a great "hoo haa," scandal, by sort of his free living ways. So in a sense this was a class which was emancipating itself or a sect which was emancipating itself from the shackles of Hindu ritualism. They had a great affinity with the Unitarian themes in England and in the USA.
KM
And the kind of the worship houses...were similar?
BD
The worship houses were very similar and still are very similar. Now a very monument sect, and more or less the work that it did has being taken up by Hinduism itself so that it's become redundant. But my father's generation used to say that we were not Hindu's, we were Brahmo's. We used to census ennumerate ourselves, in those days, as Brahmo's. There would be a count of Brahmo's in the census till '41(1941). I remember I had a great sense of shock in 1951, the census ennumerator refused to put me down as Brahmo. He said Brahmo, what's Brahmo?
BD
You are not Brahmin, your name is not Brahmin, your name is Kayastha, you do not belong to the Brahmin caste-and I was outraged that the people should be thinking that I thought of caste, because Brahmo's have no caste....
KM
Right
BD
at all, in a sense it was an attempt of anglicization on our part, but in a sense there are many Brahmo's of that generation who were not anglicized at all.
BD
My mother came from that wing of it. My mother's uncle Amritalal Gupto was known as Sadhu Amritalal Gupto, saintly Amritalal Gupto. He was a preacher of the Brahmo Samaj, he ran the Brahmo Sabha Griha in Dhaka where there was a very solid Brahmo community. He's also pretty well known-if you look at Meridith Borthwick's book on the Brahmo Bhadramohila, you will find that. Amritalal Gupto wrote a lot on children's literature and I remember some of the earliest Bengali books I read....were called things like 'Upanishad er Kotha,' where the Upanishadas were told as children stories-much the same way, as later in school, the Bible was taught to us as children stories. We learned the Upanishadas....
KM
In the Anglo Indian School
BD
In St. Xavier's School at Calcutta. Indian school I don't even remember what they taught us because I'd just go there sit on a bench, not with the Anglo Indian boys and come home. But Bible history, when I later learnt it, was taught as Moses among the Russians, and the bush bursting out in the fire, and Moses bringing the tablets down to the Israelis, in flight. The Upanishads were also told in stories like that, by my mother's uncle, who was quite well known-in the 70 years ago Amritalal Gupto's books were well known in the Brahmo community
KM
In terms of forms of textual criticism or textual interpretation that was practiced by the Brahmos what were-the way that they would interpret the Upanishads for example were they
BD
Very rationalistic
KM
Was there....would you say that there is a kind of theological school that was quite well set in terms of....
BD
In those days
KM
exact interpretation?
BD
The great example of this is, a man who was not a Brahmo by faith, but a man who was very proud preaching to Brahmo Samaj and I have heard him many times-in the 1940's in Kolkat-Pundit Khiti Mohan Sen Shastri, Amartya Sen's grandfather. If you read Khiti Mohan Sen's (Khiti Mohan Sen Shastri) Hinduism, which Amartya (Amartya Sen) has re-dited long ago-in 1959 Amartya (Amartya Sen) brought that out. What you can now see in the Penguin is the '59 (1959) edition to which he has added the introduction.
BD
But the '59 (1959) version-I remember Amartya (Amartya Sen) was doing that in London-I was staying with them at that time-but that will give you more or less the Brahmo Ideas. Rabindranath (Rabindranath Tagore) represents the top cream of Brahmo Ideology, Rabindra Nath (Rabindranath Tagore)....
KM
for sort of the interpretation, the top cream of that-this world?
BD
This world....
KM
Yes sure
BD
Very close to the Sadharan interpretation.
KM
Right I see
BD
So that Rabindranath (Rabindranath Tagore), Sib nath Shastri, these were the names that I was brought up to revere all my life.
KM
Not only...?
BD
Not Kesab Sen (Kesab chandra Sen), Kesab (Kesab Chandra Sen) was said to be too close to Christianity. The Sadharan Samaj didn't like the Brits (British) at all. The Sadharan (Sadharan Samaj) supplied large numbers of nationalists; Krishna Kumar Mitra, editor of the 'Sanjibani,' for instance; Shib nath Shastri himself .
KM
Ram Chandra Chatterjee as well
BD
Yes, yes....and this man, Dwar...Ila majumdar's maternal grandfather, the man who went into the tea plantations with a stick in his hand who beat up planters, if he saw them beating up the coolies.
KM
Ashwini-no....?
BD
Well, Ashwini Dutta was a Brahmo....Ashwini Dutta was a Brahmo. And the Brahmo....the Sadharan Samaj suplied some of the finest nationalists in Bengal.
KM
And so when you were reading....when did you begin reading Tagore? Was this as a child?
BD
That's much later, much later, but anyway the age I am talking about was in the railway settlements.
KM
Ha....correct
BD
One of the....you know, 2- 3 things that happened at that time. In 1939 my father according to railway rules got furlough for 8 months. Furlough meant you went home on leave- Home leave as it was called, meant England.
KM
Interesting
BD
Home leave was you went to England-the Brits (British) went to England, so the 'Sahebs' went to England. 'Home weather,' for instance, if it drizzled and it was cloudy but drizzly, my father would say to me this is home weather because the Brits (British) used to say this is the 'home weather'-drizzly wizzly Scottish weather. I used to refer to my father as 'Papa,' always I called him 'Papa,' 'Mummy' in the case of my mother, so there was the Hindi stamps. Anyways so, my father went to England by ship, 'Lane castellia' ship in March 1939. I remember that very day in the morning my uncle Gurushoi Dutta, ringing my father and saying, look the Hitlers marching into Slovakia, March '39 (1939)....
KM
Right
BD
are you sure your doing the right thing in going? So my father said is there anything you want?-do you think....? So, my uncle said-my uncle was then the senior most ICS officer in Bengal, Secretary land health and revenue....land, health and education-and he said well people are saying....but no you will probably be back by December-there wont be war for more than a year or two, the British haven't done armed yet, they won't go to war. Actually war broke out on the 3rd of September.
BD
But anyway so we went off....The ship was clear class, the Australians would not talk to any-there were several upper class Indian's on this ship-but Australian's wouldn't mix-the British would patronizingly probably talk to my father.
They was
BD
My mother was very nationalist-as I said she was as ill, she was coming in to her schizophrenia, which came out by 1941-but anyway she wouldn't touch the British with a pair of tongs.
BD
She dressed as well as them but wouldn't talk to them. So it was sort of a half world, and then of course on a ship there was a lot of beer drinking and evening parties and things, and my father whose strictly teetotaler, so....
KM
so because of the Brahmo way....?
BD
His own...
KM
His own
BD
His own...my grand father didn't drink much probably. There was no mixings really, but I remember one thing on that ship-well no 2 or 3 things-the boat stopped in Masay, stop report side. We went to Symanaus shop, bought things, my mother brought leather and hand-bags and things, and then Masay, we went to the Chateau de Reef, Monte Cristo conformer.
KM
Why did you choose to look at the boast? Was there a reason?
BD
Sure my father thought that it was the done thing when you come to Monte Cristo
This is what one does
BD
This is what one does so....and we went on a guided tour. But there was some Australians party Baster, rather loud man, rather-must have been quite unpopular-anyway what I remember is when we got back on the ship, the ship was hooting away, it was going to leave. We were there in time ship-there was lot of fluff that this man hadn't got on the ship-he had gone wandering in the view port in the all port and the ship cast off. The captain said bugger in cast of-I suppose you said bugger in but anyway the cast of-and as the ships started you could see this poor fellow with his wife waving from the key.
BD
With great disgust they lowered the boat, he was brought on to the boat and the man was hauled him to the captains deck, to be given an yelling-you could hear him. That was the one moment when there were British around, Indians around-everybody was very happy, this man in got a coming down.
KM
Ha....
BD
I mean the element of unity among British and Indians was that dicey.
KM
Ha...
BD
Number two, I remember must say we were cruising, along past at Baliyari Thailands towads Gibraltar, where would be the next hold. And there was a wild burst of cheering from the English man, colonels throwing their hats and some there man kissing their wife's and my father said with a shrug, "Barcelona geche" to my mother. My mother looked sad and I have later, I later asked him what was that? He said that there was a town called Barcelona where the communists had been holding out-actually it was in communist for the POUM and anarchcists-but communists were holding out there and Barcelona has fallen to Franco's fascists. I am telling story to make the point that the British were, at least on that board, quite pro-fascist.
KM
Right, yeah Ha..
BD
That was March....many years later when I was a student in Oxford I read George Orwell's 'Homage to Catalonia.' Have you ever read 'Homage to....?
KM
No I have not read it
BD
You should read it- fascinating book, that's the Orwell (George Orwell) who was going to write 1984-and he is talking about the horror of the totalitarism, whether fascists or communist.
KM
Right
BD
How much
KM
He has seen both....? His family relations....?
BD
Ya, the family relations. But then then it was Cong-the Borsis have been broken and they are going to be slaughtered-we are in power, we meaning the upper classes are in power.
KM
Was there any sort of positive discussion that your remember of Hitler's (Adolf Hitler) strong hand-I mean the this man's doing good work....?
BD
Very clearly the day we left....
BD
we lived in a joint family in Theater Road, when we were Calcutta-my father had a room, my elder uncle and his three children had the room, my younger uncle with no children had a room and we don't....I am an only child-so we'd all gather in my elder uncle's room-and they were all like sisters and brothers to me; they were all older than me; I was quite a pet of all three of them-and we were on the bed and we were going to to leave- there was high excitement that someone's going to England-and I can remember my...my cousin-my cousin's bother-in-law is Sidhartta Sankar Roy, who is Chief Minister West Bengal-probably would have heard of him-this is Moni Di, Aarti Roy, she tills tells this story....I was then seven years old and my elder cousins were asking me Barun (Barun De) what are you going to do when you go to England? And I believe I said that, Oh I am going go to Berlin....
BD
And what will you do when you go to Berlin? I am supposed to have said that, I am going to give Hitler (Adolf Hitler) a chocolate cake, and there will be poison inside it, and he'll eat it, and he'll be dead. So, If that story is not myth, means that we thought Hitler was a bad man, capital B capital M. But why he was a bad man? Well he was locking up the Jews in prison; this was not a good thing that he was doing.
KM
Right, so.... Yeah... and which had already become quite clear then.
BD
But B....I also remember, my younger uncle, who incidentally didn't have a good job....I mean he was always some body....life hadn't treated him too kindly-and he always had a very petty job, not an officer. He thought Hitler (Adolf Hitler) was one of the finest things that had happened to the world because he was defeating the English and he was bombing the hell out of them
KM
Right, I am sure that's sentiment was....
BD
That sentiment fit in very well with the liking that people had for Subhas (Subash Chandra Bose)
KM
Right....Right
BD
Nirodh Chowdhury has talked of this-you should read the segments in 'Die Hand Great Anarch,' where Nirodh Chowdhury talk's of this sort of feeling, and Nirodh Chowdhury didn't like this sort of feeling either, but it was very strong in the Bengali....See as a Marxist I'd say that petty bourgeoisie sentiment was pro-Hitler (Adolf Hitler), and big bourgeoisie sentiment was anti-Hitler (Adolf Hitler).
KM
And the petty bourgeoisie was also the pro-Subhas Chandra Bose and the big bourgeoisie....
BD
Was pro-Jawaharlal Nehru
KM
Was pro- Jawaharlal Nehru
BD
Much closer to this sort of point of view
KM
Right.....Yeah
BD
And I never....I mean well of course Subhas (Subhash chandra Bose) and my father had been in college together and they have been in Cambridge together also, and my father always told me that he was an arrogant person, not only arrogant person-he, later as Great Congress boss into Kharagpur, when my father was posted in the railways, and my father gone up to him and said Hello, but Subhas(Subhash Chandra Bose) refused to recognize him-but because my father was dressed in British collar, and shirt, and a tie, solatopi and all that-Subhas (Subash Chandra Bose) wouldn't touch any British lacky. But I was brought up to believe that Subhas (Subhash Chandra Bose) was a very arrogant person, I was also brought up to believe that during the war, that a he was mobilizing liteunant troops against their own, and this was, I thought, not a good thing.
BD
And later I thought that a man had gone and shaken hands with Hitler (Adolf Hitler), didn't deserve to be respected, so I have never been pro-Subhasite (Subhash Chandra Bose) but then I think I was in a small minority, and the more Subhas (Subhash Chandra Bose) became a myth, the more he became a hero.
KM
In the 1940's, Subhas Chandra Bose still had very strong kind of clane in the left in some ways...?
BD
No, No
KM
In Kolkata?
BD
I don't think so, I did not know the Left till I went to Presidency college, but what little I have read later, it's clear that the Left thought that Subhas was much too close to the facists. I mean this business of enemy's enemy is my friend-that Dr. Sisir Bose talked of is absolutely in favour of that formulation-but the Left always thought that Subhas (Subhash Chandra Bose) had petty bourgeoise fascist inclinations.
KM
How about, who would have been....?
BD
The radicals
KM
The radicals
BD
Hm, you will have to make the distinction there between the Left and the Radicals.
KM
The radicals having maybe tracing their....
BD
They were pro-Subhas (Subhash Chandra Bose)
KM
They were pro-Subhas (Subhash Chandra Bose) and they were the ones who also....
BD
Because they represented the militant revolution.
KM
Kind of the Swadeshi (Swadeshi Movement)....?
BD
The Swadeshi (Swadeshi Movement)-use the gun drive the gliders out, that sort of thing.
KM
Right
BD
Surja Sen, Priti Lata Vadekdar, my mother-My mother had been very close to the Priti Vadekdar (Priti Lata Vadekar), Priti Vadekdar (Priti Lata Vadekar) was her roommate in Dhaka-Priti Vadekdar (Priti Lata Vadekar) who died trying to stone the Chittagong club. And that distinction in today is forgotten, I mean for instance the subalterns wouldn't make any sense of it at all-But a radical, could be a conservative or a liberal or a revolutionary.
KM
But somebody who was favoring violence?
BD
Somebody who was favouring a more extreme position than the moderates, not necessarily violence, no. Jawaharlal (Jawahrlal Nehru) was a radical till he found he was heir apparent to the Congress presidency.
KM
Right
BD
When he had to take a more superordinate, that sort of a position. But a radical didn't necessarily favor violence, but he did not favor moderatism, he wanted to know the whole lot. The Left was somebody who was in favor of socialism, but a socialism which was more concerned with democracy than with nationalist oligarchy. It's something that Narendra Deb Acharya and Acharya Kripalani-that sort of person would be the Left and the communists-but then the communists were still a minestrial minority till the 1940's, it was only during the war that communism had picked up the youth, and it picked up that youth which would have liked to be with Subhash(Subhash Chandra Bose), but which saw Subhash(Subhash chandra Bose) as representing the forces of, you know the genocide, concentration camps.
KM
Fascism...
BD
We were brought up at this....when what was a concentration camp-a place where you had a barbed wire, where people were pushed in, where there were dogs were barking at you, where men with helmets 'SS,' shoot stuff and were bashing you up.
KM
Where were those....where was that information? And how was that flowing into....? Films....
BD
In films, news
KM
British and American
BD
British and American
KM
This kind of cultural.....
BD
Tremendous cultural impact. You had these lovely cinema halls in Kolkata during the war, the best one was the Metro-the facade still exists but inside....I mean it's been jazzed up a bit-but it was a lovely foyer and lovely seats.
BD
The lighthouse, next to the lighthouse, The New Empire-these were cultural pilgrimage spots. Then there was The Tiger, which was the flee pit where there is now the cloth's bazaar, Princess street Chowrangeee junction, in the name Tiger now, there is The Regal, The Globe huge thing opposite the New market...
KM
Was it mostly British and American or more of Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray?
BD
No Ritwik Ghatak is much later. These are the films that Satayjit (Satyajit Ray) and Ritwik (Ritwik Ghatak) were watching
KM
This is in the 40's right? ha
BD
This is in the 30's and 40's
KM
This is in the 30's and the 40's ha, this is mostly anglo....?
BD
There were a few Bengali films. The 3 great Bengali cinema houses were, The Minar in North Calcutta, The Bijoli...where Seagull Book shop is and The Chobi Ghar.
BD
Then there was Indira, then there was Basushree-and by the 40's (1940's) there was a flourishing Bengali film industry coming up. People then were talking of Tollywood because all the studios were at Anwarsha at Tallygaunj .
KM
Yes, right
BD
The Hollywood was aped into Tollywood. Now of course people talk of Bollywood, Bollywood was aping Tollywood
KM
Yes, right that is how the genealogy....
BD
Bengali films had great actors like Promotesh Barua, Chobi Biswas....
KM
who is already big in the 1930's or 40's?
BD
19... late 40's early 50's, Promotesh Barua is 1930's and the 40's. Promotesh Barua was a zamindar's son, he was Kumar of Gauripur, Hasan Gauripur, and he did sentimental parts. But all films were preceded by a news reader, before that, you would have a band playing. I have seen this happen in England till the 50's (1950's), the band playing before the film starts, and would end with the Union Jack flashing across the screen and God Save the King, and you would have to stand.
BD
During the war, my mother had already got schizophrenia and I think, I don't know, I suppose she was reverting to her revolutionary roots-she would refuse to stand when God Save the King was playing, and there would be English women shocked and say to my father what's the woman doing why isn't she standing?-my mother refused to stand...
KM
how about someone like....this is coming to my research-like someone like Manobendra Nath Roy. Did he have any resonance amongst your....
BD
I have never heard of him in those days
KM
He did not come up at all?
BD
I heard of him as, a bit of a traitor who was playing games with the British. Instead of going to prison like the communists, as like the Congress, or fighting in Burma like the INA-Manobendra Roy (Manobendra Nath Roy) meant nothing to us.
KM
Who were the....well, Jawaharlal Nehru other, Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) of course-but who were the other names who were respected as kind of the great leaders who were finding the right path. Was Dange (Shripath Amrit Dange) coming up?
BD
No where near it....when I was in College PC Joshi was very respected among the communists, but well now I am talking about the Congress-well Azad (Maulana Azad), Maulana Azad was a very big name, he had quarreled with Subhas (Subhash Chandra Bose)-those were the 2 wings of communists of Bengal. Before that there had been Desho Prana, the Desho Priyo, J N sengupta, Jyotindra Mohan Sengupta and his English wife Niele Sengupta-Desopriyo Park. Even before that, there has been Sasman, Rabindranath Sasman, Surendronath Banerjee-when I sat for my matriculation exam and I had to write an essay in Bengali which I just managed to pass, we were given a question write about 1 great figure you respect, and I had read the only....the first book on the National movement that I ever read-my father had given me 'Nation in Making' by Surendronath Banerjee. So I wrote about Surendronath Banerjee.
BD
And people laughed at me, later they said you fool why didn't you write about Jawaharlal Nehru or Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) or someone like that. To me Surendronath Banerjee was, I suppose closest to my family's political, moderate tendencies. At that time I had not heard of-Raja Gopala Charya , we heard of-he stood up to Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) in 1943, he was more pro British than Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) in '43 (1943)-Satya Murthi-these are all moderate names-Motilal Nehru of course-Motilal Nehru, we heard of the Motilal Nehru report on 1927.
KM
How about some, how were they those who were Right of the Congress...people people like Pant (Govind ballav Pant)?
BD
Pant (Govind ballav Pant) was not in the right. I mean Pant (Govind Ballav Pant) was a fairly loyal... conservative reactionary follower of Nehru (Jawahrala Nehru). So Govind Ballav Pant, everybody had heard of and respected-Govind Ballav Pant was such force. Within the people we were hearing of in Bengal was Jinnah (Muhammad Ali Jinnah) , Nazimuddin (Hazrat Nizammudin), Suhrawardi (Hossain Shahid Suhrawardi)-Suhrawardi (Hussain Shahid Suhrawardi) incidently was detested. My cousin, Bijoyendra Dey, a bit older than me-I mean, he was a devil may care type, never good in his studies, good engineer-when he was a little boy, he used to breakup the words Suhrawardi into the disgusting two words "Suar" and "Haddi," pig's bones and shouts "suar-haddi, Suar-haddi" in the house, that sort of thing. There was a lot of latent Hindu-Muslim tension there also, but the Muslims who were hated were the ones who were anti-Congress, the Muslims who were liked were the ones who were pro-British.
KM
how about figures like Ayub (Ayub Khan) and ...
BD
Ayub (Ayub Khan) was much later... 1950s. I am still talking about '40s....In those days the loyalist Muslims we had not heard of-you are talking about people like of Nawab of Pirpur, the Pirpur report of 1937 or Mohammedd Shafi-never heard of them...not common figures. Anyway, so in 1940 there was the Ramgarh Congress-you heard about the Congress session at Ramgarh?
KM
Yes.
BD
The Pakistan resolution was passed at Lahore and in Ramgarh (Ramgarh Congress) Azad (Maulana Azad) gave the great speech-Subhash is still coming to the Congress but holding the first, Forward Bloc's first session in Ramgarh-my father was the railway officer in-charge of the entire Ramgarh area, meaning transport, just transportation, so he travelled in his own little saloon, and took us with him, and the chaprasis and drew his car up to Ramgarh-Ramgarh was in his district-and he would have to go into the Congress area and make the transport arrangements with everybody- in fact he went and talked to Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi), that sort of thing-and I was taken there....somewhere there is a small photograph of me on the chaprasis's shoulders looking at Gandhi (Mahatma gandhi) getting on the train-and that left a mark on my mind.
BD
My father bought me a souvenir which I had for a long time, it was quite a document, which was the Congress official souvenir-full of Tagore's (Rabindranath Tagore) songs, Nandalal Bose's painting, the famous one, you know, the one with the Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) and the stick was painted for the Ramgarh session-and I had the first copy of that.
KM
The salt march. I think
BD
I think that made some mark on my mind.
KM
Seeing Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) or do you mean getting this...?
BD
No....reading the souvenir in English. Seeing Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi), yes, well he was there....We were hearing of Sir John Anderson as the Governor of Bengal, locking up retinues and being brutal, and having some of my mother's friends try and go and shoot him-Ujjala Rakhit Roy and people like that-but that was something else. But reading....I mean, there I would take the very Diosced position that in the beginning was the word.
KM
And that's what made the reality..
BD
That's what made the..thats what made the...
BD
KM: And also the images as well? I mean you mentioned Nandalal Bose...that was powerful too and why?... Why?
BD
Nandalal (Nandalal Bose) was very powerful.
KM
What is the experience?
BD
The line, the boldness of the strokes.
KM
The rhythm and strength of the lines.
BD
Yes, the line....I think Nandalal (Nandalal Bose) had a big effect on the youthful Bengali mind. This was being talked about but I think, a lot more needs to be done on the reconstruction of the visual text.
KM
And so when did you actually enter Presidency College?
BD
No that's much later....'41 (1941) my father was transferred from....
KM
this is when you went to Britain in '41(1941), no no, in '39(1939).
BD
No in '39 (1939), then I was in Agra, and then from Agra my father comes to Kolkata and we live again in the poshest part of the city.
KM
which was....?
BD
exactly opposite the St. Xavier's school. I had gone to La Martiner Kindergarten School before that but I don't remember much of it except that I remember Joe Luie becoming boxing champion, world boxing champion having knocked out Buddy bear-and this was supposed to be a good thing that somebody Black had knocked out a man with a Germanic name, that sort of thing. And I remember Sia Moharam Procession, brandishing arms, swords and things, violence of it all and other I don't remember. But my father had got a lovely flat, you know St. Xavier's school?
KM
it's walking distance from Park Street
BD
yes, it's Park Street. In front of the St. Xavier's school there's a red building, the Police Station, just behind that there is a building there, it's still there, we lived there from '41(1941) to '54(1954). So I walked across, I came out of the gate, crossed the street, went to school.
KM
This was your secondary
BD
This was where I did my matriculation, yes 1st standard to matriculation. In front of us was a building, next to that station, which is the one you see opposite to the St. Xavier's school, and it had written across it ENSA,
BD
which was an acronym for something, The British Entertainment National Service Association. They organized all the troops entertainment for the Burma Campaign-and you would get all sorts of people coming and doing plays in St. Xavier's hall, which my father would take me to watch. I have seen Nowell Cowell that day-I mean that level of person would come-Mount Batten (Lord Louis Mountbatten) was bringing all these people, Mount Batten (Lord Louis Mountbatten) was then the South East Asia Commander and Mount Batten (Lord Louis Mountbatten) was seeing these people. And Park Street would be full of troops-now here I find geographical proximity also was very important. In front of me was Park street, which would be flooded with American GI's and British Tommies and people like that, and behind our house is a little lane, it's still there partly, which was the brothel area for the Negro troops of the American Army.
KM
Interesting...for the Negro troops
BD
The Negros
KM
That was the
BD
The whites had their separate brothels. This was the dregs absolutely, and they would be the most vicious fights, screaming, shouting, quarrelling about money, going on behind us; where as in front, the troops would be strutting up and down,
BD
and Calcutta was full of stories about the war- that's all what it was. My father was put into the army, every Indian Officer in the railways was made compulsorily to join the army-and my father used to joke about it, he said they call me Major De because if I try to run away they can shoot me for cowardice in the battle field.
KM
because one is kind of high enough...?
BD
no...you see because in Rangoon everybody had run away as the Japs came in, so in Bengal it all became a theatre of war and you had to stop that, and then you got the famine.
KM
in 1943?
BD
1942 to 1943. First you got the August uprising, Calcutta was mobilized, bombs on the streets, there was no petrol, my father could not drive his car. That's when the city started crumbling down-and then you got bombs in the street. We travel by trams because there's no petrol for the car to see relatives, you ran the risk of an acid bomb being thrown at your face in the Tram. So we were beginning to grow up, I was 10 then- 1943 you had the masses dying in the streets.
KM
how did that affect you in your daily life?
BD
Horror, absolute horror....watching people pick...I mean, all these pictures that Jasimuddin (Jassimudin Mollah) has done, I have seen that sort of thing-crows perched on bins, while a man is lying dead next to it, crows pecking out the eyes of beggars, and this constant wail..."Phan dao naa, phan dao naa." Phan is the dirty water in which rice is cooked, it is normally thrown away, but which would be given to beggars to drink.
KM
Drink..ha..And.. what was....I mean, its been disputed a number of times...
BD
Now my wife's experience....they had a big house, here in Hazra road-her aunt was a very famous militant revolutionary close to Subhash (Subash Chandra Bose), Mira Dutta Gupta. She ran gruel kitchens, all the ladies of the household would be feeding people. In our household, my mother, as I said was then violently ill, my father was going to work 9 in the morning, 6 in the evening-he was in the army, so he would be given the same K rations that any top officers had got. K rations meant that we continued to have our corned beef, and our Yorkshire ham, and our prime bacon and all the good food and you could see the people dying on the streets, while we British officer class, were eating the best food.
KM
At this point how old were you?
BD
I was then 11-12... old enough to understand what dialectics meant.
KM
Right..Yeah. And did this had any immediate kind of trauma to you or was this just...?
BD
What I am saying now is what I have later reconstructed in my mind. I am not even arguing that I had thought about it that way then, but it must have had its place in my subconscious. Of course, I was more than average psycho analytically aware child, in the sense that my mother was undergoing psychoanalysis by one of the greatest psycho analysts in Indian history, Dinendrasekhar Bose-he was treating mother.
KM
He was coming to treat her?
BD
My father would take her....I mean, I have gone through...that's another part to it. I have gone through all the stages of psychiatric treatment. I haven't, I mean I have seen my mother go through it, and my father and I had to share that. If you read Dom Morais-have you ever read Dom Morais 'My Father's Son?'
KM
No I haven't but I will though.
BD
You should, because his mother had the same thing. Morais (Dom Morais) talks about that, very sensitively. But, so I must have been aware of it at some way, but what I am saying is a reconstruction-I at any rate was immune to dialectics.
KM
Because of what was happening outside on the streets but what was also happening in your home perhaps.
BD
Both. But much more, the newspapers. I can remember the Statesman coming out with the headline "Post dated cheque on a crashing bank"- Stephan Cripson's offer that Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) has supposed to have said it, we don't know whether he had said it, but at that time we were sure he had said it.
BD
It is only recently I read that he probably didn't say it and it was what the newspaper cooked up- but I can remember those things. I mean I was a six year old child in Darjeeling in '38(1938) when I read the headline "Peace with honour" about Munich-so all that is part of consciousness. In an oral interview I don't think I can pick out what actually happened, or what didn't actually happened-much of it you reconstruct based on your later thinking about the past.
KM
And that's what is so interesting to see what has been...
BD
And that's what makes it also so unreliable.
KM
Right. As a ..
BD
You are openly being told that look you're a bloody are a historian, you just read all this up later and you are making this up. I couldn't prove that I am not making it up.
KM
Ya, that's true, but then again to what extent is history a positivist endeavour in any case...
BD
And to what extent is the interculator is honest to certain standards. These are all subjective matters.
BD
So anyway, by....'43 (1943) I remember, Churchill's (Winston Churchill) speech, my father telling me "this is end of the beginning and the beginning of the end" and that meant a great deal to us, because around that time I remember reading about Litis you, Redirik- and these things were making an impact. We were being shown the news reals, I have seen the first news reals coming out of Belsen...
KM
Out of the concentration camp..
BD
Yes.
KM
And what was the.... I mean was it poor... or was it...
BD
No. You see, we were in Belgium and my father lost 300 pounds which was, in those days worth 3000 pounds. He bought tickets, coupons to travel from England on August 26th , all the way to Belgium, Holland, Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Venice, Florence, Rome, Genova and Marseilles and catch the boat from Marseilles back home. We were trapped in Belgium one day before the war broke out, on the first lap of the journey. So my father went-British officer, to the Ambassador-I still remember the name, Sir Oliver Locker-Lampson. I and my mother were in the hotel, he came back and said in Bengali "judhho hobeh na," and my mother said how can you be so sure? He said, "na, na ambassador bollo." My mother said, what did the ambassador say?
BD
He said, Mr. Dey, I would advise you to stay in Belgium for 2 week and then this crisis will blow away, I am not moving anyone. And then I remember my mother and father arguing about it, and then they decided that no, let us get our way back- so we came across on 29th of August.
KM
Wow....just a few days before...
BD
I mean packed 6 deep on that ferry, people vomiting and fright all around you. We got to London and war broke out. After the war, I remember reading in the newspapers, I think it was the camp in Buchenwald and...
BD
ambassador to Belgium, Sir Oliver Locker-Lampson had been caught, trying to evacuate and had been locked up during the war-in, well, he came out....
KM
So he had...
BD
So these things were part of one's life.
KM
So when...?
BD
So '45(1945) war is over. I was in Calcutta right through, in that same place. You get the riots in '46 (1946). All our servants were Muslims, all the chaprasis were Muslims. My aunt and her family were staying with my father at that time-I have seen that vast big crowd brandishing swords running down on the way the Direct Action building.
KM
This was a group of Muslim running down the street...?
BD
Muslim processions which converge and then the stories of rioting had broken out. My father insists on going to the New Market to buy provisions because there was no food to be had-
BD
with this Muslim chaprasi behind him wearing the....and there was this fruit vendor. Now the New market suddenly stops at a point-there were fruit stalls there, and all these fruit stalls were Muslim's, and you had these great big framed poster photographs of the Koran and the Kaba, the holy stone and all that. And this fruit vendor to whom my father and mother used to go to, he used to refer to me as the Judge Saheb, because I wore spectacles-and he thought all the judges wore spectacles. So we used to call that fruit vendor Judge Saheb, because he called me Judge Saheb. And he went to this man....absolutely deadly, dead-have you ever been inside New Market?
KM
This is the one up ...
BD
By Hog market... Lindsay Street...
KM
its walking distance to the Park Street.
BD
No, next to the Light House....
KM
Ok I haven't been there
BD
And that was the centre of British Indian life, all the top shops were there...and its completely crowded all the time and it was completely dead...there was nobody there.. and it was completely dead. And my father's chaprasi was very frightened and kept on saying, Saheb, Saheb, let's go away. My father said we got to buy some fruit anyway, there is no food at home and so he went to Judge-Saheb and Judge-Saheb was even angrier. He said, Saheb, Saheb why have you come over here, its not safe, go away. My father said, please give me some fruits, and he was taking out apples to give him when the chaprasis nudges my father and said look, there was these surrounding butchers with choppers in hand and they surrounded him completely-and I heard the story from the chaprasis-my father told me the story but he told me in modest way but the chaprasi told me-
BD
this Judge Saheb, mostly bearded Muslim wearing lungi trademark of the communal sign, suddenly starts screaming at these butchers, you bastards you don't know what you are doing, this man is a 'Tesoya Saheb,' Tesoya is a term of abuse for the Anglo Indians, it means mixed breed, he is not a Hindu and they stay out of the way- and the Judge-Saheb stands in front of my father, this way and pushes the chaprasi, says run, and so the chaprasi drags my father, clutching the apples and they run all the way down to Lindsay street and they could hear Judge-at Saheb shouting the top of his voice. That incident....I have said this to a mass meeting after the Calcutta riots, after Babri Masjid-in meeting with Dilip Kumar, I said it at that meeting, that I think taught me....I mean religion had nothing to do with ideology, I mean, those butchers wanted to chop off a well dressed Hindu.
KM
And that had nothing to do with ideology...that had something to do with ...
BD
That had to do with the class and all sorts of things, whereas Judge-Saheb was acting out of sheer humanity, he was as much Muslim as they were. That feeling when I was 14, that had a lot of impact the way I had taken to history. That the feeling of religion is not being important but other material psychological factors are important, which is what I call secular history.
KM
Which is very much the mode with which you have gone. Why was it would you think that experience your father's life being threatened...why did it not?
BD
Life being sealed, life being sealed. I never thought of it as his life being threatened. Incidentally, next day he came here to Lansdown Road because I have an uncle staying there and from the uncle's verandah he saw a Muslim milkman being bludgeoned to death by the Hindu shop keepers next to Lansdown road market-we heard that story also. So this was a feeling of one's own people not being killed because the goodness of the people of another religious community. That was precisely that.
KM
And during this time you were basically staying at home and not going out.
BD
No....My father was a bit of a obstinate person, he will go out, there were relatives to be checked out on, how they were fairing with all the people and he would take us with him. So we moved around, we never stayed at home that way. But we were...living in a completely changing meaning. I always say that war came to Bengal after 1945
KM
in the sense the social impact of it....?
BD
of the war. What you see in the films, happen to Poland during the war, happened to Bengal after the war. And I think this is what people like Ayesha Jalal or Jaya Chatterjee or Sugoto Bose, all those people miss
KM
that the social trauma
BD
the social trauma, it was not so much individual trauma-Amartya (Amartya Sen) doesn't miss this, Amartya (Amartya Sen) says this when he writes of the famine; He talks of people staggering up to his parents doorstep and dying in their apartment, because Amartya (Amartya Sen) belongs to a generation where we lived through the social trauma. We weren't physically hurt, but we knew what it was. The later generations have just reconstructed it, they've not even, that little bit off...
KM
Well, so in 1943 the famines, 1946 the Calcutta Killings....
BD
1947, the partition. Our homeland goes completely. I mean, goes in the sense that you have a map and a knife is being put through it. Everybody, is reading Auden's (W.H. Auden) poem on Radcliffe (Sir Cyril Radcliffe) making the award, having stomach trouble at night and carving up Bengal in the day. All those three things are defining points of trauma, but its trauma in memory, its not trauma in life. As things go, my father was getting promoted, where he was earning Rs.1100 per month in 1943....by 1947, he becomes superintendent general he earned Rs.1800, by 1951 he was the head of the commercial department of the BNR (Bengal Nagpur Railways) and earns Rs.2500.
KM
Which is a huge amount of money.
BD
Huge amount. In purchasing power parity it would be about Rs. 80,000 now.
KM
Right.
BD
Far more than I have ever earned. me. I mean all these things had been bought before-I mean my father was a frugal person-of course 3/4th of his salary went out treating my mother.
KM
With the psychoanalyst treatment...
BD
Various treatments. I mean all these were not during the warring years.
KM
This is by your father.
BD
Every bit of this furniture was bought in 1939 after he got back from England-and it cost, all this-my wife tore up the bills a few years ago. All of this together cost Rs.2000, today people throw Rs.2000 on a restaurant.
KM
Right. Over dinner. And so speaking ..that's interesting...about trauma in memory versus trauma in lived experience. Now would you say that part of your childhood being having this double consciousnesses...
BD
Multiple consciousnesses... fractal consciousness...the word I use is fractal
KM
Fractal consciousness ..was that also, did that contribute to the trauma in memory, or would you put that in a different category?
BD
No. That's an interpretation. I don't think that we were in any way that sophisticated-one was living it.
KM
Right. Not fighting, not feeling.
BD
I firmly believe that much of interpretation is what we later embed in our memory.
KM
As opposed to there being kind of steep narratives towards our life living out. You see it in another way... in retrospect....
BD
Yes retrospect
KM
various stories and ways of understanding....
BD
Yes. At least this is the way I look at it. My students from the subaltern can have a more sophisticated interpretation. But I think all this our reading being projected backwards.
KM
And maybe when you are getting a little bit older now, perhaps the finishing the years...At St. Xavier's (St. Xaviers school)
BD
I am over romanticising
KM
That's what you were, I mean, were you know....I was wondering whether, you at that time- if these- the whole question of trauma or the question of how difficult the 1940's were--It has played any role in your thinking? I mean by the time that you're in Presidency meeting with....
BD
Sure, I go to Presidency (Presidency College) in 1949. Presidency (Presidency College) is a word utterly different from St. Xavier's (St. Xaviers School)
KM
St. Xavier's (St. Xaviers School) was a Jesuit school
BD
Jesuit, 'Bada Saheb's' children.
KM
Right
BD
Those who were not 'Bada Saheb's' children treated as being not 'Bada Saheb's' children
KM
So very much about
BD
So very much about that old class oriented cast society. Presidency (Presidency College) was still different, Presidency (Presidency College) was in North Calcutta, it was a differnt spatial world altogether. You have to go and walk in those narrow lanes to see what it was like; It was books, books and books. I have being brought up among books because I was an only child, and I coped with my traumas by reading books much as I could, and all of it was in English. It was only when I realized that I probably failed my matriculation Bengali, that desperately my father put me to reading Bankim Chandra and Sarat Chandra, tried to make me read Gobunath-I read Ghora, I remember, at that time. I read Nauka Dubi, that I found poetry much easier to understand than the prose. Bankim (Bankim Chandra) on the other hand, had a certain rigour in the prose, which I liked. Sarat Chandra's stories were interesting-and then there were the films-
BD
film and literature were always being together, Satyajit Ray makes this point all the time, that they are together. Pather Pancali had not come up then, the film-the camera man of Pather Panchali is a man called Subroto Mitra, Mayor-Subrata (Subroto Mitra) is my nephew.
KM
Oh really wow
BD
I mean, its in front of his house that my father watch's that milkman being butchered.
BD
Subroto (Subroto Mitra) again, we were very close, I was very close to Subroto (Subroto Mitra)-then of course he married my cousin, who was his aunt and the family had a big spalt over that, and then it fell apart-but Subroto (Subrto Mitra) and I were growing up together. So I was hearing of Renoir (Jean Renoir) making 'The River,' I was hearing about the making of 'Konorak,' Satyajit's first film. When they were doing 'Pather Pancali' I was about to go to England, 'Pather Pancali' comes out when I was in England- so this is the Film society, Chiranondo Dasgupto's film society, you should try and interwiew Chidanando Dasgupto...
KM
Yes I would do that
BD
You must, I mean get Aparna Sen to get you do that, in Shantiniketan, because the Film Society- he is the 1 person left, he is very old. Anyways, Presidency College is a new world also because I come to meet some of the best minds of my generation-my batch Partha Sarathi Gupto, first in the Matric and then West Bengal, Partha Sarathi Gupto was the professor of History in Delhi University. Second in the matric Sukumar Chakraborty, I consider him to be the economist who is much better than Amartya Sen. Amartya (Amartya Sen) comes in the 3rd year of our batch.
KM
When you say the 3rd year of your batch what do you mean
BD
1st year 2nd year IA, 3rd year 4th year BA
KM
I see ok
BD
1st year 2nd year Amartya (Amartya Sen) was studying in Shanti Niketan.
KM
when you were 3rd year student
BD
when we were 3rd year, he comes
KM
but Sukhomoy was from the 1st year
BD
Sukhomoy from the 1st year, so was Amartya from the 3rd year onwards
KM
Ok
BD
Achin dasgupto's was in the batch senior to me. Amiya Bagchi's was 2 years junior to me. I am only mentioning the intelligentsia, you talk to the ICSE's-the ICS's-all the Chief Secretaries studied with us. Your studying with the people who are going to run Bengal....It's conscious elite...we know that we're it.
KM
You know that you'll be running the show
BD
Not running the show. We know that things are going to be easy, but we're terribly guilt- ridden about it. There I imagined, we're very conscious, that we don't want to run things.
BD
This is a moment of time when we're very consciously democratic and the ones who are the most cerebral democrats, they read Marx (Karl Marx) and Lenin (Vladimir Lyich Lenin) and then go on to read more- they also read Berasur, they read Ire, they read Hampshire (Stuart Hampshire)- in economics they go into mathematics and all, from Samuelson (Paul Samuelson) they go into Solo (Robert A Solo), from Solo (Robert A Solo) they graduate to Arrow (Kenneth Arrow)-they want to be better than that even. This is what Sen has become...
KM
Sen (Amartya Sen) was inspired by Arrow (Kenneth Arrow) particularly
BD
Perhaps but I don't know, I don't know what he was inspired by...am saying that's how it would look.
KM
And history?
BD
In history we were all reading Hill, Christopher Hill, the 'Good Old Cause,' which was written long before the ecclesiastic problems of church- we've heard of Lafeyette(Marquis de Lafeyette), we were reading Acton (Lord Acton), we were reading Gooch (George Peabody Gooch), 'History and Historians of 19th century.'
KM
How about Taylor (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)?
BD
Taylor (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) is later, Taylor (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) when I go to Oxford. This is pre Taylor (Samuel Taylor Coleridge), it's the old which is fading out, and the new is very much there with a false dome, sort of thing
KM
And who was the- in terms of study of history at Presidency (Presidency College)...
BD
Susobhan-Babu (Susobhan Sarkar)
KM
He was it
BD
Everybody else revolved around him, in history
KM
He was the....
BD
And on Susobhan Sarkar you'll get my views explicitly my article on him...if you look at the 'Essays in Honour of Professor S. Sarkar (Susobhan Sarkar) ,' the big thick book-
BD
I've written the first article in it and it is about Professor S. Sarkar (Susobhan Sarkar) , and there's a later article I wrote of him, as an obituary, when he died in 1983-and this is in social sciences, just after he died in 1983. We both had a scent of the study in social sciences,
KM
The first one is...
BD
'Essays in honor of Prof. S C Sarkar( Susobhan Sarkar) ,' there is no editor's name given, that is generally cited- it has a vast range of very good articles-
BD
it has always been cited that B Dey (Barun De) a tale, but that's wrong, my name never appeared as the editor, and five of us have signed the introduction, but it is generally cited as B Dey (Barun De) a tale-because my article is the first one and I did the editing work if it-but you'll get that over there. You'll get my views on Presidency College in an article that I wrote for Rajat Rai in the autumn annual of Presidency College, unfortunately I've forgotten what the date is; I wrote it in the 1980s or the early 90s. If you go to Presidency College and look for the autumn annual
KM
Which was published once a year and then I look in the late 80s and early 90s, I'll get it
BD
Yes you'll get it. There is an article there by Sipra Sarkar also, Susobhan-Babu's elder daughter, who was a more finer mind than Sumit...
KM
Who is the youngest son?
BD
and Sumit is one of the...I consider Sumit and Irfan to be our 2 greatest historians. But Sipra...she's still alive, but she has got Alzheimer's disease and very fine mind. She has an article in that autumn annual of her memories- she was three years senior to me. Shushobon-Babu (Susobhan Sarkar) was the big name, abley supported by a scholar called Abdul Wahab Mahmud, AW Mahmud
KM
You have written about him...no...yes...no...I think I've heard about...
BD
Many people have written about him. There is a Mahmud, AW Mahmud lecturer in the Pashchim Banga Itihaas Sabha, a there's a.... Mahmud Saheb was a wonderful person-completely East Bengal, completely Dhaka, completely anti-Pakistan, therefore refused to migrate, totally communist in his values, but also quite a bit of a Pukka Saheb, liked his 5 whiskys every evening, that sort of thing. He was a great...
KM
How about Dr. Kabir (Dr. Humayun Kabir)?
BD
Kabir (Dr. Humayun Kabir) was never at...
KM
He was at Calcutta University....I know
BD
He was at Calcutta University earlier, at that time he was doing politics with Azad (Maulana Azad). When I was at college he was....I knew his daughter very well, she was a year junior to me in college...in Oxford, Laila who married George Fernandes- then George Fernandes brutalized her and so she divorced him- and she was a remarkable person. But I knew Laila's mother, Humayun Kabir's wife, Bengali Hindu lady, Shanta Kabir.
BD
I have seen Kabir (Dr. Humayun Kabir), rather a snooty arrogant person, all the politicians were but I never met him. Kabir (Dr. Humayun Kabir) was not a big name in Bengal, Kabir (Dr. Humayun Kabir) was a power figure of some petty stature in Delhi. One of Azad's (Maulana Azad) anuisms, but....
KM
Was it when you were in college and studying and going to classes-what was the most important part of that education? Was it the adda and sitting out and discussing with your friends or going out to Professor Sarkar's ( Susobhan Sarkar) house or was it sitting in lectures?
BD
We didn't go to Professor Sarkar's ( Susobhan Sarkar) house then. Professor Sarkar's ( Susobhan Sarkar) house, we were...I was allowed in only in my late 4th year...He had a saloon but it was very communist and I was very anti-communist, I was in an anti-communist group. He had a fondness for me because he knew my mother when she was a child, and he knew about my mother's illness and he had a soft corner for me-right at the end, before....there was a feeling that I'll probably fail in Bengali, so he set his foot down that I must be permitted to sit in the examination- they tried to stop me underground, that I had to improve my Bengali. And he did his best to give me courage to do well in the BA examination honours and somehow I pulled through in Bengali-but I wasn't a Marxist, I went to Prof. Sarkar's ( Susobhan Sarkar) house much later, after I came back from Oxford when I was known to be Marxist-I mean he was a bit choosy and Stalinist in those ways but no...What your question was, it was all great.
BD
We read a great deal, there was a quite a bit od adda, the coffee house was there, we went to the classes we liked. Some of us, the more wicked ones bunked whichever classes we did not liked. Some of us got ourselves entried as present and then snuck out at the back, some snuck out, others used to walk out. That's how it is..it was all fun. I won't distinguish one from the other. I was among...you see the communists were supposed to be the serious ones, led by Sukhomoy, who always had their noses in their books.
KM
And he was the leader of that communist
BD
He was the leader of everything, but we were the anticommunistd. We were known to be people whose parents had good money, we were known to be the people who will get good jobs in mercantile even if we didn't do well in the examinations. So we were the ones who try to disrupt the class and show off to the girls, that's all. And I guess....I suppose, it was a revolt against my own inner problems, but certainly we were not the good student lot, till the last year.
KM
Meanwhile this, I mean, the famous economists were of that good student lot? They were the serious Marxists in India
BD
Not Marxists. Amartya (Amartya Sen) was never a serious Marxist but he was a serious student.
KM
and Sukhomoy..
BD
Sukhomoy was the serious Marxist. Produnno Bhattacharya two years before him, Subir Raychoudhury in our batch and a number of people; Jyoti Sen Gupta who became the director of the Indian institute of Management, he lives in Iowa. Most of our serious Marxists, incidentally, the minute they did well, they went to America and settled down there.
KM
Like?
BD
Well Bibhuti Bhattacharjee, very famous statistician in Rollin, North Carolina, University of North Carolina, and Jyoti K. Sengupta, very well known econometrician, was in the noble prize selection committee for the last 40 years, that sort of thing. Names will come back, thats the impression I always had, the more Marxist they were, the more high on the main chance you later had. But at that time it was just fun, I mean...studying was fun, those who were good in sports...that was also fun. I wasn't good in sports but barracking from the sidelines when people played cricket or football was fun, going to cinemas was fun, being away from home was fun, and the whole experience of pushing and shoving in buses....these were the years of the tram burnings, these were the years when the processions were disrupting city life.
KM
This was in?
BD
1949-53, the communist movement is coming up, the Congress has collapsed completely, broken into pieces, bunch of crooks....So you can't make heroes out of the freedom fighters anymore, so you have to look for new heroes. And our new heroes were people like Indrajit Gupta, Jute Mill Workers Movement, Biswanath Mukherjee, who build this CPI, Bhupesh Gupta, very great orator; Not Jyoti Basu always supposed to be a bit of a communist fixer.
KM
That's how he was seen...
BD
I am very friendly with Vidhan Chandra Roy because of family connections. But these are the new heroes which are coming up
KM
...Who are heroes on the Left...?
BD
All on the Left, there are no heroes in the Right left in the Congress. And because you talk of the Left so everybody else is called Right. For me, it was many, many years that later my friend Bipin Chandra convinced me, that why do you talk about the Right, why don't you talk of the centre and shades in the centre-if you're not Left, then you must be Right
KM
This is the...
BD
And this the time when I am becoming conscious of the dialectics of my own family position. My father's 2 chaprasis...
KM
How did being at Presidency (Presidency College) with these different kind students affect that? I mean in some ways....
BD
Make the contradictions a bit clearer
KM
Although what was the class breakdown of the Presidency students at this point?
BD
90 % petit bourgeois, within that 90%, 10 % were dismally poor-and I had friends like that- 10% well to do, nobody is stinking rich, nobody is stinking rich....As well to do as we were.
KM
And you were rubbing shoulders with different types?
BD
The ones who were really well to do wouldn't rub shoulders. They kept to themselves and they spoke in English among themselves. Unlike me, I was forcing myself to talk in Bengali. They knew they would get into Glandar or Bucknor, McNeil and Barry, McKinsey, all these companies in which they were slotted to go into and may lead the same sort life. I couldn't get into those, I don't know why but I was always rejected after the BA for one year, so by that time I was so interested in my studies, I wanted to go to Oxford and my father didn't have the heart to stop me, so he paid for me to go. And mark you, in three years, I studied in Oxford for my BA, he was having to build this house on his Provident fund and for 3 years do you know how much he spent on me?
KM
How much?
BD
Guess
KM
20000 Rupees or...
BD
Absolutely deadly correct. 20000 rupees...today a washing machine costs.
KM
I was trying to guess lower and it's a number that would be surprising
BD
Today, both my children studied at oxford, they got scholarships, one got Radhakrishnan and the other got commonwealth, and they would have spent about Rs. 15 lacs
KM
It's a huge change, huge change...
BD
Think of that. But they didn't spent their own money, they were given that scholarship
KM
But that's how much the education....I mean the American course costs around $40,000 a year for undergraduate. Its $120,000, it's a huge amount of money
BD
My son in law, whose now a professor, this weekly professor of econometrics at the European University for students, Florence. And he's not going to go back to Warden, he was a senior fellow at Warden, but he's going to Birmingham-they created a chair for him--and he's doing that simply because he'll have to pay for both his sons to go to private schools in Oxford. Half his salary...not half but in fact two thirds of his salary will go into children's education.
KM
This is not college.
BD
No, this is just private school. When you go to college, then it is much cheaper as you get scholarships.
KM
But this first phase is what is so expensive.
BD
Killing. But in those days....in those days once you got out of that rather viscous circle of class plus caste and you got into a democratic mellow of a good college, the class distinctions tended to get islanded out a lot. And it was more of a democratic society. Today it isn't.
KM
In what sense?
BD
Today they're back to their sort of hierarchy. The ones who can afford to go the malls and buy popcorn for 50 rupees a pack or go and see a cinema for 180 rupees a seat, and those who can't.
KM
So the social groups are so much more divided...
BD
But in our times there was none of that. We'd all go to watch cinema on the 10 anna seatsright in the front, it hurt our eyes but who cared.
KM
And everybody was doing it at the same time and how was the relationship of Presidency (Presidency College) students with the world outside...social injustice...
BD
Bad. Well we talked about social injustice, but we talked about from books. The ones who went to Bangabassi and Surendranath college were in it. We felt it only on trams and bus rides to and from college
KM
Because you lived in your home or you lived in a barrack or a hostel when you were studying in Presidency.
BD
No, I lived at home.
KM
Then you would take the train...?
BD
Yes, the ones who lived in Eden Hostel probably sensed it a lot more-Sukhomoy lived in the hostel. Amartya (Amartya Sen) lived here close by the best government quarters, his father was the chairman of the West Bengal Public Service commission at that time. Partho Sarathi Gupta was an ICS's son. So we lived well, we didn't feel those things and the ones who lived in North Calcutta sensed it more.
BD
I sensed a great deal of it because I was lonely at home, when I made friends in my first and second years-even this anti-communist lot of people of North Calcutta, so I could see the poverty and squalor a lot more than any of my friends did. But Presidency (presidency College) tended to look down upon non-Presidency (Presidency College), intellectually.
KM
They do not really mix with it...and I wanted to also ask you, was there a grave...you should be...
BD
No, no.
KM
But in terms of...you know this taking place...right at the end of British rule 1949 to...
BD
1954, the constitution is passed that year. In our IA classes, in our intermediate arts classes, in our civics paper, we were the first batch of Indians to have to write answers to questions from the Indian constitution, which was passed in 1952-in our BA classes. So constitution was being drafted when we were in college-you are studying that in the papers- the elections are being held at that time.
KM
Right, and all of these debates about the central...
BD
The chief election commissioner is a Bengali ICS from my relatives know-the father of Sudipto Sen who is now in Davis, Sukumar Sen, the chief election commissioner. Sudipto's (Sudipto Sen)....donated all his papers to Nehru Memorial Museum-Ram Chandra Guha has used it in this book he is writing, "India after Gandhi."
KM
Was there a lot of anger against the experience of Imperialism? Was there a sense of...
BD
Yes very much.
KM
Among the students of course
BD
It's critical of racism most of all. We've a counter racist attitude, tending to look down on white people.
KM
This was the result
BD
There was a lot of Anglo-Indian bashing going on
KM
Particularly Anglo-Indian because they were half white
BD
Because they happen to be white and they happen to be poor, if they're wealthy they don't get bashed up. The Armenians are migrating, the Jews are migrating, and Calcutta has lost its cosmopolitan character. The Muslims have been driven out. I believe Jaya Chatterjee has written a book, my son was telling me, a second book has come out on Muslims in Bengal after Independence- they are being driven out. You are getting the refugees coming in-that is horrible again, and that is trauma number 4. Famine, sorry '42 (1942) famine, riots and then the refugees. There is this blight that descends on South Calcutta-these lovely parks, Jodhpur Park, Royal Calcutta Golf club, Tolly club and then open fields in which we used to cycle, then they are covered by blight with the refugee camps and then refugee colonies-there are still camps.
KM
And Sealdah was also a big camp
BD
Sealdah was a camp. That's where my wife's aunt used to work, she organized the Sealdah camp and relief operations, she was in the relief operations. But no, I am saying that the camps are there, but after the camps the urban amenities collapse. The Marwaris take over the city, Goenkas particularly. This present, Sanjeev Goenka, his grandfather, that sort of family, Poddars-Bengali businesses died out, the British begin to leave one by one till, by the 60s they are all gone. Howrah dies out as an industrial area, those factories shut down, and unemployment grows-and that's your Rithwik Ghotok.
KM
Right. The kind of death of the city.
BD
The death of the city.
KM
Was that something that affected the experience of your daily life?
BD
I am sure, it did.
KM
In terms of getting on buses
BD
Absolutely, seeing the roughness, the dirt, conservancy collapses. Football, I used to watch football a great deal in school and in college; The football crowd gets more violent, vicious. The police get nastier.
KM
This was all before you leave for Oxford, that this is happening?
BD
It's happened.
KM
Happened. And the food movement, this thing, it's just beginning...
BD
Well the food movement, I know very little about, I know that Suranjan has brought up this book, have you seen the book?
KM
Yeah, I've seen
BD
Yeah with Premanshu Banerjee, he got one...He has gathered a lot of material, I doubt whether he has analyzed it really
KM
Because it's a document...
BD
It is documentation. That food movement I don't remember. I remember the one pice tram increase. The tram company raises the tram fare by one pice and there is this violent agitation. There is always.... as my father told me as he watches me going to watch Marxism-he keeps on telling me, that look you people, I don't understand you...You want to bring everybody down to the level of the poor, why aren't you trying to raise everybody up to our level? That's been hitting me for the last 2 or 3 years that...I mean a whole half century was wasted in doing what even my father could see was stupid.
KM
So you kind of come to have certain reservations about the...
BD
I always had those reservations but what were the alternatives
KM
Given the corruption of the Congress
BD
The corruption of the congress, I mean I haven't changed my political views from then to today. I'd happily vote for the Congress if it was, if it had the leadership worth the pen
BD
and I have to sort of...not condemn the CPM because again it is a more honest party than the rest- that was our situation right through-that, If you decide to live in Bengal then you are making the best of the bad bargain. The intelligent ones like Shukhomoy, Amartya (Amartya Sen), Sumit or Tapan Ray Choudhary, I mean, they ran for their lives as fast as they could. As Tapan Ray Chaudhary has said in his Barisal, the first autobiography, he has said the Bengali intellectual has always trekked westwards, either Delhi or England or best of all America-he never got to America, but got as far as....And we...people like me were revolting against that, but didn't run away, you had to stay and work with your own people. I had my father to look after and I wasn't going to leave him alone. And we couldn't leave this house and go.
KM
Would you describe that as in some ways as a national sentiment or a national commitment that you did not wanted to leave this behind?
BD
No, I'd call it a personal commitment
KM
It wasn't so much about...
BD
I would always say that I was an Indian, but I think saying that I was an Indian was rhetoric ....just give me one minute....Bhanu(calls out)....I was
KM
Take your time
BD
Saying that I was an Indian was...I am sure that was a bit of rhetoric. But then I suppose I believe that also- I did believe something that my father taught me that people would say are you a Bengali first or are you a Brahmo first or are you Indian first? I would say I am an Indian first, I am an Indian second, I am an Indian third. I happen also to be a Brahmo and a Bengali but they are not that important.
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