Subroto Roy has the faintest recollection of arriving in New York on his second birthday (en route to Ottawa) on this great old ship….
Manindranath Roy, my grandfather, died at Civic Hospital, Ottawa, fifty years ago today, September 3 1958. He was the first Hindu gentleman to die in Ottawa and no cremation was possible there at the time, so we had to go to Montreal. I was three years old and my grandfather was the first person I knew who really “died” (as opposed to die from fake gunfire on TV in a cowboys-and-indians serial). His death meant something very sad and foreboding, the room where he slept at our home at 73 Riverdale Avenue becoming empty, and very scary indeed as if he was still there though he was not. Death meant leaving the living corporally — though obviously not leaving their memories or their consciousness, or we would not have been remembering him today.
The photographs below were at the funeral-home in Ottawa. My father was reading from The Bhagavad Gita. My mother and sisters were distraught as they had known him and loved him well. I only knew him as someone who urged me to fight back when bullied by an older and stronger boy who was our neighbour. “Dadu, mere dao, dadu, mere dao!”, (“Grandson, hit him back! Hit him back!” ) my grandfather would urge when he saw me being pummelled into the lawn — crossly tapping his walking-stick on the ground. And fight back is, I suppose , what I have done when attacked or attempted to be tyrannised ever since.
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.)
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.
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 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.