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.
This was a letter received by Manindranath from Jaladhar Sen expressing condolences at the passing of his father, Surendranath, who died on November 11, 1929. (Surendranath likely died from his injury sustained along with Ardeshir Dalal from Bhagat Singh’s bomb on 8 April 1929. https://independentindian.com/2008/06/17/surendranath-roy-1860-1929/)
I have just returned to Kolkata and cannot express how heart-rending is the news of your father’s demise. You know what a genuine well-wisher he had been for me. God alone knows how shocked I am to lose such a friend who stood by me though thick and thin. May you be strong at such an hour and may the departed noble soul be blessed. An article by the late Surendranath had been printed already in ‘Bharatvarsha’ before he passed away. But that edition has not been published yet. It is going to be published next month. So please send me a photograph of him before that. I shall be visiting you soon. Your well-wisher, Jaladhar Sen.” (Translation by KM.)
These three little documents give slight glimpses of the relationship between Saratchandra Chattopadhyaya and his friend Manindranath Roy. In reverse chronological order, the first is a 1931 note from Sarat to Mani on a domestic matter about the transport of a table (or perhaps a writing-desk?) by rail; the second is a 1925 diary entry in English by Manindranath that speaks of travel to Shibpur and Sarat coming to breakfast, and then of going with him to the “Ram Mohan Library” ; the third is a 1919 letter to Manindranath from Sudhindranath Tagore (son of Rabindranath’s elder brother) which makes reference to the literary journal Bichitra and also asks of news of Sarat.
The 1931 note (translation by KM):
“Mani, I have asked Tulu to bring the table by train. If by this time the man Bipin has already taken it away that makes it more problematic. Unfortunately, this man intervened unasked and created all the trouble. If you can, please retrieve it from Bipin and deliver it at Howrah station. The rest will be done by Tulu. Dada (Elder Brother) 23 Ashar 1339 P.S . If there is no chance of getting it back for whatever reason please let me know . I will ask carpenter to make another one as soon as possible.”
The 1919 letter (translation by KM):
Have received your letter. How can a great friend like you be forgotten! I can hardly say how happy we are to have met you. But you know the difference between Hazaribagh and Kolkata. The hazards we face here are as stressful as those in the brick-and-mortar jungle! I have so many worries to attend to that I have had no scope thus far to invite you to my place to enjoy your peaceful company. I do not have the necessary peace of mind yet. I shall obviously contact you as soon as I get a little bit settled. Please, never think otherwise even if I am silent for a while. I shall never forget you.
You are still a member of Bichitra but there has been no meeting for a long time. I have also got no such information. However, if there had been one or two it might have been missed due to postal irregularity. I have informed Bireswar about it. I hear you have joined Grace Brothers, is it so? How do you find things there? I hope all is well at your end. Do you meet Saratbabu these days? We are so so . Yours, Sudhindranath Tagore”
We have made a literary find today, October 6 2008, of a notebook of Manindranath Roy’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, and erotic too). 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.
Subroto Roy, October 6 2008
The Bangla date translates as 16 September 1915 – ১ আশ্বিন ১৩২২ (1 Ashwin 1322) Thursday – বৃহস্পতিবার (thanks to http://www.pallab.com)
11 March 2010 My paternal grandfather, Manindranath Roy (not the Communist who took the same pseudonym), had been a friend and colleague of Nagen Ganguly, the son-in-law of Rabindranath Tagore.
This 1930 letter, perhaps from Puri judging by its contents (or could it be Vizag as there is a Mr Naidu as a “local man”?), was sent by Nagen’s wife, Meera Debi, to her friend, my grandmother. It is being published here as it may throw a little light on Bengal’s social life at the time. Though women wrote in Bengali amongst themselves, Bengali men educated in English seemed to invariably correspond in English.
“My Dear, Today we reached here safe and sound. The journey was smooth. Monibabu had asked someone to receive us at the station but we did not need his help as my nephew came to receive us. People here seem to be veritable cut-throats.! If you have no acquaintance here there is every possibility of your being cheated. My nephew, Ajin, took a local man , Mr. Naidu with him. If this person had not bargained with the porters they would have created great chaos demanding …….Rs. just to get our luggage off the train. Mr. Naidu also fixed the fare with the coachman. In fact the servant , the gardener, everyone has this tendency to extort as much as possible. Our gardener has fixed us one helping hand but I don’t find him suitable. He will only bring water, buy daily necessities, and sweep the floors but he will not wash utensils or clothes. He disobeyed me even when I asked him to hang the clothes for drying! Our own servant who has come with us can easily do the cooking along with sweeping and shopping. So, how practical will it be to have another help just for the washing! Today we had lunch at my brother’s. Charubabu’s son-in-law came to look after our requirements as soon as we had come here. A great disadvantage of this house is that there is no shelf or rack to keep a single thing . There are only one table and a small table. Of these one has to be kept in the bathroom for toiletries and the other will have crockery on it. There is no other almirah or cupboard to keep the crockery so that I can use this table for writing purposes. Anyway, I feel embarrassed to ask for anything because we are enjoying the house free of cost. I asked for only one thing but in vain. It was for a dressing table. It never entered my mind to bring a mirror as I had thought it was someone’s home. Naturally none of the three of us had thought it necessary. Nevertheless, I really like this house. It is on the sea beach. It merely lacks a few small necessities. I am feeling very drowsy because I have taken a bath in the sea after arriving here. I hope you are all hale and hearty. That day I got really scared while coming back from your home. My regards to all of you. Yours, Meera” .
From Facebook 8 May 2012
Rabindranath Tagore was a great man, a year younger than my great grandfather. My father when a boy paid his respects to him many a time. My grandfather worked with Tagore’s son-in-law and their wives were friends. A letter from the daughter to my grandmother is at my blog (translated very kindly by KM). Tagore, as a creative genius and literary spirit, would have been appalled by all the worship he has been subjected to in recent decades. A holiday for his 150th birthday? He would have I am sure preferred to see new genius thrive, not his work endlessly repeated, made a hash of, bowdlerized….
What I (also) find odd is no one realises that no Muslim can go about worshipping Tagore or Vivekananda etc statues and photos with garlands and namastes etc. And in this I am wholly Muslim.
The search engine above should locate any article by its title; the Index and Archives may be used as well.
Readers are welcome to quote from my work under the normal “fair use” rule, but please try to quote me by name and indicate the place of original publication in case of work being republished here. I am at Twitter @subyroy, see my latest tweets above