Buju’s Life & Paintings 14 Feb 1943:10 Jan 1998 (Draft 14.2.2018)


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:

Buju at 14 Hindustan Park Ballygunge, where the Roys had been moved during World War II because Surendra Bhavan in Behala was requisitioned as a military hospital:


My mother with the imperious Queen, the first grandchild…


MK Roy and wife and daughter just before travelling from Delhi via Lahore to Karachi in 1946 to head his Ministry of Supply post:

Early in 1947, my father sent back my mother (now expecting her second child) to Bombay: tensions were rising and my mother recalled “Hindu ko maro” graffiti on Karachi walls… Buju on the merchant vessel Jalakrishna on the Arabian Sea from Karachi:


MK Roy was posted in Delhi after Partition, and this is a photo from Simla or Mussourie probably about 1951 where Buju, third from left, holds a visiting friend.  My father has hand in pocket, all the others were visitors.

From Delhi to Bombay where my parents had a fine flat… Buju 10, Tunu 6, Convent of Jesus & Mary schoolgirls:

Off to Tehran!  Tehran schoolgirls… where Buju and Tunu went to the American Community School…


Tehran on India’s Republic Day 26 January 1955 (I am in the photo too but unseen in my mother’s tummy)…


My first birthday in Tehran, my older sisters thrilled with their Bhai…

Off to Ottawa on the Polish vessel Batory from Bombay to Southampton via the Cape (Suez was closed due to war):



then on Cunard’s Ivernia to New York, and thence to Canada…


The Roys reach New York on 10 February 1957, and a carriage ride perhaps  Central Park or perhaps later in Montreal…

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Outside a Montreal motel, the Roys on a holiday drive from Ottawa

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Buju, now an Ottawa schoolgirl at Glebe Collegiate, photographed  in Indian costume by Lloyd Capital Press 18 Rideau Street…




Manindranath now decided to visit his favourite family…. a long voyage on SS City of Brooklyn… somewhere on the Atlantic…10 May 1958 with the ship’s Master & captain: 008

He stayed with us the whole summer, probably the happiest months of his troubled life



But then he died on 3 September  1958, the first Hindu gentleman to die in Ottawa… we had to travel to Montreal for the cremation as Ottawa had none




The expenses of Manindranath’s illness and then funeral were a blow upon MK Roy…their beloved grandfather had in death taken the money that may have been saved for Buju and Tunu…


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Our time in Ottawa was done… we were off to Ceylon… Other Indian diplomats left their daughters and sons behind in Canada, America, Britain etc… that was out of the question in our orthodox Brahmin culture… we were Indians…

Mrs MK Roy & her daughters featured in a Colombo newspaper social column when they arrived… the girls quickly acquired friends including the daughters of the Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandarnaike (1916:2000), the first woman PM in the world. 

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Buju, Tunu, and me probably at 25 Havelock Road, Colombo… 


In August 1962 Marilyn Monroe committed suicide… it shocked Buju and Tunu, especially Buju… Marilyn and Elvis Presley had been two of her icons in Ottawa… There was a conversation between Buju and Tunu that I was present at one Colombo evening, likely after Marilyn’s suicide… a conversation I remember because I was shocked by it but they likely forgot it immediately, when Buju said “I want to die young, die beautiful, I don’t want to die old and ugly”… Tunu agreed just because she followed her older sister.  I was horrified and was told to say nothing to my mother, tho’ I might have complained “If you die, who’ll look after me?”


Touring Northern Ceylon’s historical places March 1963 (Tunu stayed back in Colombo for school exams)…



… including a visit to Justice Henry Wijeyakone Thambiah (1906:1997) who was the brother I think of my mother’s best friend Padma… (my mother somehow acquired, including on a Stockholm bus and a Paris metro, a best friend everywhere she went, except at home in India…) 



Ceylon had in the mid 20th Century at least two magnificent schools of art… Buju learnt with them… more of that anon…


Buju’s Cezanne:



Buju’s Roses:

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Buju’s Gauguin:



Buju’s Picasso:


Buju’s Rembrandt:



“My Rembrandt is a woman who has worked all her life, borne children, grandmother too, but to her dismay no one in this world looks after her, which is true in one’s life.  Her life was like ours but at the age of 80 or so she finds loneliness and no one to whom she can talk to, hence she awaits death. It’s really one of my favourite expressions which I’ve tried to put on her face.  I’ve not done the hands properly particularly to give expression on her sad sorrowful face…”  May 1984, a letter to her brother about the painting done some 20 years earlier…


…her genius was recognized by her teacher Coomaraswamy… she was even asked to remain in Ceylon to develop it… W. Somerset Maugham had a marvellous story of how he, the young protagonist, went from England to Paris for lessons in painting, and was told after much effort by his master that he was good but not good enough and should give it up or end up… like the art teacher himself…

Here instead Coomaraswamy was going to tell Buju

“not ever to give up painting”…

“and all my paintings used to be exhibited and I was hailed…”

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but she was soon going to be forced by circumstances to do so…

more of that and her life, and death, anon…



Draft text 14.2.2018

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