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.)
My grandfather 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.
Manindranath’s notebook of poetry Mandakini (found in 2008) contains some 51 poems and poetic songs composed between 1914 and 1936, from when he was aged about 23 to when he was 45. Between about 1933 and 1943 Manindranath had 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. Here is poem number 48 titled “Saratchandra” in honour of his friend, the novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya. Manindranath as a poet would have been certainly inspired in his modernity by his association with Sarat — while Sarat benefitted economically by the association and also may have found characters and plots for his novels (he apparently dedicated one at least to Manindranath’s wife, my grandmother). When all of Mandakini is published in due course, it is not impossible Manindranath will come to be recognised as among the finest modern poets of his era in Bengal.
“Buju was my parents’ firstborn, Manindranath’s first grandchild and the apple of his eyes. MK Roy tho’ the second son of Manindranath had wed before his older brother: Buju brought new life to everyone around her. SN Roy’s death in 1929, six months after being injured by Bhagat Singh’s bomb, left a vast personal estate inherited from his father but with unclear succession. His brothers took control. His younger son Manindranath, a poet keen only to broadcast his poetry on the newly created radio and win the love of his beautiful angry wife, came to be quickly and foolishly entangled in the grip of unscrupulous relatives and vicious business acquaintances; incredibly, the vast inherited fortune was purloined or dissipated through egregious frauds within a handful of years, leaving Manindranath broke and broken. A decade went to discharge him from insolvency, a police team travelling from Calcutta to Singapore to bring him back under arrest. My parents’ wedding in the blackout of Calcutta under Japanese aerial bombardment in May 1942 coincided with the end of Manindranath’s pathetic ordeal. Manindranath a broken man when Buju, his first grandchild, brought him joy:
My grandfather came to visit us in Ottawa in May 1958, and here we are on a day’s outing to show him the sights. I recall it well though I was three years old. My mother had stayed home to arrange our meal.
Manindranath in Ottawa would come back from his walks and see me his grandson being pummeled into the lawn by my bigger neighbour Richard Landis…. Becoming very cross he would tap his walking stick loudly on the ground and say loudly, “Dadu… tumi o mere dao, tumi o okey mere dao…” “Grandson! You fight back too, you hit him back too”…
Manindranath Roy died in Ottawa on September 3 1958, the first Hindu gentleman known to have done so, it was said; he had to be cremated in Montreal as no one was cremated in Ottawa back then.
There will be more of his eventful and interesting life here in due course. For example, he was a benefactor of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya and many others including Uday Shankar, and he was a close friend and colleague at Grace and Co of Rabindranath Tagore’s son-in-law, Nagen Gangulee. Rabindranath apparently visited the Swaraj Party’s political meetings where Surendranath was an old friend of CR Das. Another close and respected friend of Surendranath’s was Jagdish Chandra Bose.
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