Mainstream, VOL LII No 26, June 21, 2014
From the Pen of a Newsman with Photographic Memory
Saturday 21 June 2014
by Bishwajit Sen
Bhanga Pather Ranga Dhulaye (In the Crimson Dust of the Broken Road) [Memoirs] by Sukharanjan Sengupta; Punashcha, Kolkata; price: Rs 250.
The autobiography is a strange genre. A man tells less about himself than he tells about others. It is as if he is a mirror in which the contemporary times appear in a light in which it has hardly been visible till then. We should keep in mind this essential characteristic of autobiography while assessing one.
Sukharanjan Sengupta must have loved writing because he came to vernacular journa-lism too early in life. Those were the days when journalism still preserved its fragrance of the early post-independence days. Loksevak, following Gandhi’s dream-concept of founding the Loksevak Sangh in place of the Indian National Congress, had started publication, and they needed young and energetic reporters who could write good Bengali and English. That is how Sukharanjan’s life-long engagement with journalism began. He loved his profession, that is what was important; for otherwise he could not have gifted us with such a long series of interesting characters at play, with such ease.
Sukharanjan offers us a long chain of characters, who could have very well made up a novel had they not been real life characters! After all, who else could have told us about Rabindranath’s tragic dependence on astrology? He didn’t marry a second time after the death of his wife. All the same he felt threatened by women who surroun-ded him during various cultural gatherings and almost on every occasion. He felt that his celibacy would be affected. That is a very interesting and quite tragicomic side of his character which only Sukharanjan could unveil.
His profession made him come close to many persons, who were giants in real life in their own fields. Prof Satyen Bose, for example. He was the man who corrected Einstein but preferred to lead a simple life, immersed in studies, research and teaching. His simplicity, sometimes bordering on naiveté, bewitches us and we are forced to think how lucky Sukharanjan must have been to stay close to such persons. Another thing which exemplifies Sukharanjan’s behaviour is a journalist’s sense of humility. Though close to giants in their own fields, Sukharanjan always kept to his own limits. To him, the man was important, not his personal details (like his being a great physicist or a great politician). He shed light on the most unseen characteristics of the man which is precisely what a journalist’s job should be.
There are unknown sides of every character who has been known to us in public life. The “Left” usually assumes the Ananda Bazar Patrika to be a stooge of the Congress. But who knows that the Ananda Bazar Patrika once came at loggerheads with the Congress and particularly with Atulya Ghosh, the “arch villain” in the Leftist eye. But was Atulya Ghosh such a villain indeed? Or P.C. Sen, for that matter? We don’t know, frankly speaking. After Sukharanjan’s revelations, one is bound to doubt one’s own judgment.
An interesting debate may start from here. Those of the national leadership we painted in black and white, how far were they black or white in the real sense of the term? The Left similarly painted Atulya Ghosh, P.C. Sen, Maya Banerjee and other leaders of West Bengal’s erstwhile united Congress. This group went to form the “Syndicate” after the division of the Congress and support to V. V. Giri by the Indira Congress. Could they really be called status quoists in the real sense of the term and Indira Gandhi a real revolutionary? Only because some motivation on her part made her liberate Bangladesh, nationalise private banks and abolish the privy purses? Could these be regarded as the hallmarks of a genuine revolutionary? What she did in her attempt to make Sanjay Gandhi a leader of the Congress is known to the whole country. Also known is the way she created Bhindranwale to combat the Akali Dal. These are questions to be pondered! She did not deserve to be shot by her bodyguards but that was the end fate had written for her.
Sukharanjan Sengupta’s autobiography or memoirs adopts its real colour when it describes the war of Bangladesh, in which perhaps for the first and only time, the Indian Army came to the aid of a national liberation struggle. Different colourful characters combine to make this part worth remembering. Worth mentioning is the role that various Indian officials played in this liberation struggle. Among them, the remarkable Arundhati Ghosh is one who was part of the Indian bureaucracy that helped the liberation struggle, going out of its way. We find it hard to forget this lady whose name is not written anywhere in the history of the liberation struggle but who, all the same, went on giving it her unblemished help till the country was fully liberated of the Pakistani Army. Another character we tend not to forget is Syed Muztaba Ali, the doyen of Bengali satire writing, next only to Rajshekhar Basu (Parashuram). Syed Muztaba Ali, who will live forever in our memory as the author of Panchatantra, is hard to recognise because Sukharanjan’s last meeting with him found him aged, decapacitated and on the verge of death. This is perhaps the greatest humour of life that the man, who once made others laugh, had to land in an unenviable situation at the fag end of his life.
Sukharanjan watched, as a reporter, the advancing Bangladesh struggle till it reached completion. Several faces, situations, happenings crowd into this part. It would not do justice to deal with only two characters in place of the whole lot. But still we should mention a few characters who stand out because of their nobility, and fearlessness. Begum Sufia Kamal, the poetess and public figure, appears on page 359; with her Sukhranjan struck a relationship of respect and admiration. There is mention of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman going to liberated Bangladesh for the first time and singing “Aa Mori Bangla Bhasha” in presence of Ved Marwah also in the flight. Mrs Mohammad Ali, the first wife of the ex-PM of Pakishtan, Mohammad Ali of Bagura, also creeps into this part. It was she who in 1955 led the first demonstration of Muslim women in Pakistan against the multi-marriage of Muslim males. She welcomes Sukharanjan with tea made by herself. Abdullah, the SP of Noakhali during the bitter days of communal divide, also appears in the book. He went to serve in East Pakistan only under the instruction of M.K. Gandhi. He was secular to the core of his heart and wanted to stay on in India. Last but not the least, the first commemoration of 21st February (Language Day) has been described with much finesse and detail by Sukharanjan. The celebration comes alive when seen through the eyes of Sukharanjan, the newsman-writer. These are some of the high points of the book which make it worth collecting.
Sukharanjan Sengupta’s “Bhanga Pather Ranga Dhulaye” has been published by Punashcha Prakashan which is known for publishing quality books. Sukharanjan Sengupta too, during the autumn period of his life, has tried to do justice to all the characters that have played historical roles on the stage of our national history. His memory is photographic and he prefers treating life in a most casual way; but he is also grave and serious when the situation demands. We shall recommend this book to others who are interested in that part of our national history and would definitely like it to be circulated amongst the enlightened readership. It is necessary to know our past in the proper perspective so that the present can be assessed better. This book helps us read and learn about our past properly and also analytically, if we are allowed to use that term.
The reviewer is a literary figure based in Patna.