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Mainstream, VOL LII No 28, July 5, 2014

Lest We Forget

Saturday 5 July 2014

Several noted personalities have passed away in the last few months. We are remembering a few of them and offering our sincere homage to their abiding memory.

Before 2013 came to a close one of the pioneering women leaders in the communist movement in Kerala, Rosamma Punnoose, breathed her last in distant Oman on December 28, 2013. Born on May 13, 1913, she would have completed 101 years in May this year. She died at Salalah, Oman where she was staying with her son, Dr Thomas.

A freedom fighter, she plunged into activism at a young age as a member of the Travancore State Congress. A law graduate, she subsequently joined the united CPI in 1948 at a time when the party was banned and had to suffer privation and imprisonment. When the party split in 1964 she staunchly stood by the CPI. She was the wife of reputed CPI leader and parliamentarian T.P. Punnoose.

Rosamma was the first pro-tem Speaker of the Kerala Assembly. She had many firsts as an MLA. She was the first member to be sworn in to the State Assembly and also the first MLA to lose that status due to a court intervention. She was also the first to be elected in the first by-election to the Assembly in 1958. She was elected to the Assembly from Devicolam in Idukki in 1957 and from Alappuzha in 1987.

She was also a renowned trade unionist and organised the plantation workers. She headed to CPI women’s wing in Kerala for long years. She served as a member of the Kerala Women’s Commission, Rubber Board and was the chairperson of the Plantation Corporation and State Housing Board.

Her body was brought from Oman to Kochi and hundreds joined in her funeral. The burial took place at the Thiruvilla Marthoma Church cemetery on December 30 with full state honours.

He is survived by her son and daughter, Dr Geetha.

Professor Amalendu De, who passed away in Kolkata on May 16, 2014, was an eminent historian and at one time happened to be the chairperson of the Asiatic Society in Kolkata, an institution whose secretaryship too was once shouldered by him. He was the Guru Nanak Professor at Jadavpur University, West Bangal. In 1982, he was elected the President of the Indian History Congress at Aligarh. Among his well-known publications the book, Bengali Intellectuals and Alienation, served as a mirror for the contemporary society.

Keen to build a rational humanist society, Amalendu was appalled by the religion-based partition of the country. Born in 1929 in Madari-pur (now in Bangladesh), he married the grand dughter of Fazlul Haque, Nasima Banu, after his post-graduation from the Calcutta University. At that time it was difficult for the Hindu-Muslim couple to rent a flat in the city. Both Amalendu and Nasima were fully devoted to education and that acted as their binding force. As we go to press, we have learnt that Nasima, who was ailing for sometime, also passed away on June 3.

He was active in the Calcutta University National Integration Centre, Dara Sikoh-Ram-mohan Society etc., and used these institutions to spread the message of communal harmony. He has left a large band of admirers in both India and Bangladesh.

Prof De all along held the view that deep friendship between the peoples of India and China would act as a positive factor for world peace. He was the General Secretary of the West Bengal branch of the India-China Friendship Society and President of the Dwarkanath Kotnis Memorial Committee.

It was under his guidance that the grave of Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain, the pioneering thinker, rationalist writer and exponent of human rights and women’s equality, was eventually found in Sodepur, 24 Parganas district, West Bengal.

According to his desire, his body was donated to Kolkata’s R.G. Kar Medical College Hospital.

In the afternoon of May 24, 2014 an outstanding educationist, distinguished Sanskrit scholar and meticulous researcher of ancient Indian society-literature-history-culture, Prof Sukumari Bhat-tacharji, breathed her last in Kolkata’s SSKM Hospital at the age of 93.

Born in a Bengali Christian family in West Bengal’s Medinipur on July 12, 1921, she successfully completed her BA with Sanskrit Honours securing highest marks. But as she was a Christian, she was not recognised as an Ishan Scholar. Then she joined the MA English class and again secured high marks in the MA exam.

She started teaching at Lady Brabourne College in the city. Later she did her MA in Sanskrit as a private student securing First Class marks. Subsequently she joined the Com-parative Literature Department of Jadavpur University at the invitation of poet-writer Buddhadeb Bose but soon shifted to the Sanskrit Department. However, here too she had to face hurdles because of being a Christian.

Yet as journalist Pratik Kanjilal, one of her informal students, has written: “Christian by birth and Marxist (and atheist) by persuasion, she used Sanskrit as the key to understanding ancient India rationally and scientifically, not as a handy easel on which to paint a modern, retrofitted Hindu identity.” In historian Romila Thapar’s opinion, “Her work will be a milestone in ancient Indian historiography.” However, a couple of years ago she had confided that much more work needed to be done to really under-stand ancient India.

Her books (in both English and Bengali) number more than 35. She was honoured and given due recognition by the erstwhile Left Front Government of West Bengal. But that did not prevent her from raising her voice against the anti-farmer and anti-people policies of the Left Front in Singur and Nandigram. She was outspoken against the misdeeds of the present government in the State as well. That made her a genuinely independent Leftist intellectual.

A few days before her death she had exclaimed: “I don’t want to live in Modi’s India.” That literally came out to be true in the end—she passed away two days before Narendra Modi was formally sworn in as the country’s PM; so she did not have the agony of watching Modi function as the head of the Union Government.

Prof Sukumari Bhattacharji married Prof Amal Bhattacharji, the widely known and popular teacher of English in Presidency College, Kolkata. He predeceased her. Her daughter, Dr Tanika Sarkar, who teaches at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, her son-in-law, Dr Sumit Sarkar, who has retired as a Professor from Delhi University, and her grandson, Dr Aditya Sarkar, who is currently teaching in Warwick Univer-sity, UK, are all well-known historians.

Like in the case of Prof Amalendu De, Prof Bhattacharji’s body too was donated to Kolkata’s R.G. Kar Medical College Hospital as per her last wish.