From Facebook 20 May 2012:
Our endless topic of conversation remains my father’s death almost four months ago. He was a man like any other of virtues and vices. When he knew he was dying, we and his doctors did not; when we knew what he was dying of, he did not. I could not imagine a world in which he was not present and do not know how we coped. But what became clear in his last days, and indeed in his last months and his last years, is that his vices receded and vanished and his virtues came to the fore. That was through a conscious deliberate process he underwent in his last year or two of what I can only call philosophical reflection and self-examination, from a man who had never been remotely academic or philosophical or even fore-sighted. His final virtues were his deepest ones of courage and decency (feeling embarrassed at the difficulty he was causing me, and telling me so with his eyes as he could no longer speak), as well as magnanimity in forgiving me my infirmities. What a struggle it was for him to bring out his last coherent sentence some two weeks before he died in which he said “aami tomakey shorboda ashirbad kori”, or roughly, my blessings are always with you. It was really the last thing he said as clear as crystal.
I am reminded of what I happened to say in a 2001 review of a book
“T. S. Eliot in *Burnt Norton* seemed to speak of looking forward at life all the way to the point of death:
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
…Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
Leavis drew attention to the religious meaning assigned to these lines by the critic D. W. Harding:
“For the man convinced of spiritual values, life is a coherent pattern in which the ending has its due place, and, because it is part of a pattern, itself leads into the beginning.”’
The first Governor of Bengal after the 1912 reunification of Bengal and East Bengal was the Scottish Liberal politician Thomas-Gibson Carmichael, the first (and apparently last) Baron Carmichael. This is a photograph of a 1916 visit he paid to Surendranath Roy’s home at Behala, Surendranath then being the Deputy President of the Bengal Legislative Council and probably the most influential officially recognised political statesman in Bengal at the time.
Surendranath’s younger son, Manindranath, is the bespecaled and moustachioed young man in the middle holding the child. If the child is a two or three year old, it would be my father’s elder brother; if the date of the photograph is late in 1916 and the child is a one year old, it would be my father.
My father seated perhaps c. 1919, with his elder brother..
My grandfather, Manindranath Roy (1891-1958) was a quiet enigmatic literary figure and artistic benefactor in Calcutta; he wrote very well and had excellent taste and manners (though was of foolish judgement in money and friends). This photograph is from about 1922 at Allahabad where he used to take his family on annual holiday. The little boy to the left behind his mother would grow up to become my father.
Manindranath is dressed in fine post-Edwardian fashion; at the time, his father, Surendranath Rai, was at the peak of his political career as first Deputy President and then President of the new Bengal Legislative Council. Surendranath was an orthodox Brahmin and chose never to wear Western-style suits and neck-ties, and he was thoroughly averse to the idea of dining with Europeans. Manindranath was the first to wear Western clothes, as well as to dine in Calcutta’s Western restaurants. There was tension between father and son due to such matters.
His mother Nirmala, 1900-1976, was a famed beauty of Uttarpara. She was married at age 9 to her husband who was 18, but the story went her mother-in-law slept between the couple for four years as he was constantly teasing her and pulling her hair. Finally the mother-in-law must have departed and she gave birth to her first son at age 13 and to my father at age 15.
Manindranath might have bullied his wife into posing for the risque photo below; his orthodox father would have almost certainly disapproved and forbidden it had he known.
Manindranath again in a photo with his wife that his father would almost certainly have disallowed. In the days before radio, Bengali society had literature and the arts to keep itself company (besides politics). Writing and reading poetry was a common hobby. Three principal literary journals were Bharatvarsha, Probasi and Bichitra. The long-standing editor of Bharatvarsha was Jaladhar Sen, and it was he who had introduced Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya to Manindranath when Sarat had returned (in impecunious circumstances) to Bengal from Burma, probably with a request that Sarat be supported and sponsored. We made a literary find a few years ago: a notebook of Manindranath’s that he had titled Mandakini. It contains some 51 poems and poetic songs composed between 1914 and 1936, from when he was aged about 23 to when he was 45. He has been dead fifty years now and no one knew of the existence of these poems until today. Nor had he told anyone of the work (perhaps because some of the poems are especially candid; his affairs of the heart outside his marriage were said to be notorious). Between about 1933 and 1943 Manindranath found himself facing trials and tribulations of such gravity and magnitude (caused in part by his own foolish squandering of his inheritance from his father) that he may have wished to forget, ignore or even regret his creative period. Many of the poems are recorded as having been published in literary journals of the time, like Bharatbarsha and Bichitra, and some are recorded as having been sung or performed on the new radio service of the time, especially around 1931…
My father with his elder brother and younger sisters, with their grandfather Surendranath c. 1927, on the front-terrace of the house Surendranath had built c. 1926.
I was surprised when he told me a few years ago he and his brother and cousins all wore dhotis right through college days. The sofa-chair is part of a set we use every day today.
This is a 1928 photo of the male members of the Roy Family of Behala, south of Calcutta, along with the children. Adult women would have been behind an effective “purdah”. The bearded patriarch in the middle is my great grandfather, the Hon’ble Surendra Nath Roy (1860-1929) the eldest son of Rai Bahadur Umbik Churn Rai (1827-1902). *The Golden Book of India* published at the time of the Victoria Jubilee said Umbik was the twelfth descendant of one Raja Gajendra Narayan Rai, Rai-Raian, a finance official under the Great Mughal Jahangir. Surendra Nath’s second son, my grandfather, Manindranath, is seated second from the right in the second row with spectacles and moustache.
The bright lad fourth from the left in the last row would grow up to be my father.
College days and then his first jobs, first with the Indian Oxygen and Acetylene Company (he knew nothing at all about chemistry), and then with the Tata Steel Company.
There seem to be large oxygen cylinders in the background of the picture at the top. He once told me that one came crashing down from a higher floor once and missed him by inches. That would have been the end of him, and our stories would not have begun at all. The lower photograph may have been with Indian Oxygen or the Tatas, I cannot tell for sure…He is standing dressed in a dapper cream double-breasted suit with a flower in his lapel-button it would seem; it suggests from his suit that the photo was dated 1936 at the Tatas, as that is written at the back of a previous photo in the same suit.
Posing with a friend c. 1937 perhaps outside the new Central Legislative building in New Delhi, which would later become India’s Parliament.
He left Indian Oxygen after a year to join the Tatas in Jamshedpur for half a dozen or so years. My mother’s father and brothers were all factory-men with the Tatas. Their family was completely different from his, being large and immensely happy with much song and studies and food and music. Her father worked with him and took a deep liking to the handsome aristocratic young man from the city, and invited him home often where he found a warmth and family-love he had not known before.
My parents married on 11 May 1942 during the war, with the Japanese bombing Calcutta. Soon thereafter my father joined the Government of India for the first time in the war-time Ministry of Supply.
The 1940 Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League did not mention the word “Pakistan” but is considered its political blueprint. MA Jinnah’s political support lay among the Muslim elite in Muslim-minority areas of India — he needed a show of support from the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal too, and indeed Sikandar Hyat Khan and AK Fuzlul Huq came to draft and present the Lahore Resolution.
Fuzlul Huq was Prime Minister of undivided Bengal from 1937-1943. On 11 May 1942, he led the bridegroom’s procession when my father went to wed my mother. Here is Fuzlul Huq entering the car to do so, with my grandfather Manindranath Roy helping him into the car. My mother’s family were surprised; they were Bengali Brahmins from Jamshedpur and did not quite know what to make of all this. My mother, aged 16 at the time, remembers she was non-plussed to find Fuzlul Huq ‘s bulky frame seated for some reason between her and her new husband in the car on the return journey too!
Fuzlul Huq, having been a young colleague of Surendranath Roy in the Bengal Legislative Council, was a family friend and treated my grandfather, Manindranath Roy, with affection. (Manindranath was a Justice of the Peace, but unlike his father was not political.)
Fuzlul Huq would apparently make requests of my grandmother for delivered meals during political confabulations; my grandfather’s family had been forced to leave Behala as the family home had been requisitioned by the military to be a hospital during the war, and they lived instead in Ballygunge. My father recalls cycling from there with the requested food to the political confabulations in the middle of the wartime blackout (Japanese aeroplanes had apparently reached Calcutta on their bombing missions).
Here too is a note dated 9 August 1945 from Fuzlul Huq to my grandfather thanking him for food and sending his “best blessings” to my grandmother — a Muslim, one of the founders of Pakistan, sends his blessings to an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family and everyone remains completely cheerful and apolitical: such was normal Indian secularism in practice at the time. Partition between India and Pakistan and the ghastliness that accompanied it, and the hatred and bloodshed that has followed, were all quite beyond anyone’s imagination at the time.
My parents and their eldest child Suchandra (Buju), about 1945-1946 on their way to Karachi where he headed a Ministry of Supply office. The single biggest thing my father did in his life happened here: returning from Karachi in late August 1947 as one of the last Govt of India officers there, he reported back to Shyama Prosad Mookherjee in Delhi that he had seen masses of Hindu Sindhi families huddled and camping out on the main road near the port and in danger of massacre (all the Hindu women dressed in black burkhas in fear, my father’s clerk was one Lalwani who took him around and begged him to do something); Mookherjee told him to prepare a note for the morning which he did overnight dictating to a typist, Mookherjee was a member of the Nehru Cabinet and put the note up there the next morning, the Nehru Govt sent three frigates from Bombay to Karachi the next day along with merchant vessels for a safe evacuation of the refugees… there was no massacre of the Hindu Sindhis in Karachi…. LK Advani and others might make a note…
Perhaps because of the Karachi event, the young officer’s name came to be known in the small political/official world of Delhi at the time of Independence. I do not know how else the Mountbattens themselves came to invite him on 13 January 1948 or Prime Minister Nehru himself on 20 June 1948 in the official farewell to the Mountbattens. My father’s sensibility was such that he never made use of this in his later career in the new Indian Foreign Service that he would join some years later; I would have done, though I like him was never a careerist.
My father in 1952, now with the Ministry of Commerce as “Deputy Chief Controller of Imports and Exports”… He was a contemporary of Raj Kapoor, and met him and Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand in the Bombay of the times… We used to joke that perhaps he should have gone into the movies some time..