I was born in an affluent family in riverine East Bengal, respected and feared by the local peasantry, business community and political leaders. My father was a poet, singer, part-time politician and an ayurvedic medic. He was more of a Bedouin, a people’s man rather than the highbrow son of a zamindar.
Ours was a divided but composite Bengali society. We were divided as Hindus and Muslims and, within the Hindus, we were divided into higher and lower castes. Maybe inspired by my father, I flouted the family rules and befriended Muslim and low caste children of my age, which was frowned upon.
I cared little. My favourite was Rani didi, daughter of Mukund, a fisherman. My other close friends were Lutfa and Jasim, the children of our family retainer Rahman.
Life was as free as the rivers Meghna and Brahmaputra and as green as the lush fields around. We were happy to be Bengali - culturally, linguistically and traditionally bonded together for eons.
Father, in pursuit of his political activity, moved around with his friends, tried to keep the people together and maintain peace in the community, despite war cries for separation and creation of Pakistan by the Muslim League. This call was opposed by Hindu Mahasabha and the followers of Subhas Bose. Father oscillated between Bose’s Bengal Volunteer Force and his erstwhile revolutionary friends. They opposed partition.
We were not worried about partition till July-August 1946. At the age of seven, I was told that Jinnah had given call for Direct Action and there could be large-scale communal violence.
That was the first time I heard about the communal divide. I could not make any sense of it, till the extended family boarded trains to Tripura, the nearest princely state, for safety. Agartala, the capital town, provided physical safety and new tribal friends brought in some soul relief.
Seven was not the age for understanding realpolitik, communal divide and sudden rupture in the community.
After a boring month in hiding, Agartala frustrated me. Father’s politically active friends beseeched him to return to our hometown and resume activities against disruptive programmes of the Muslim League.
He was an earnest believer in united Bengal. He and his band of friends frenetically moved around to arouse opinion of different political leaders. To their dismay, they found that Congress, the major opponent of Muslim League, had accepted Jinnah’s demand for partition.
Father decided to stay put and not leave Pakistan for the uncertain safety of a new India. I was also attuned to the India which I knew to be India, and not the India where I was often advised by the cousins to escape - a big city called Calcutta. Most of the extended family members started migrating to Agartala.
I could gradually feel the difference. The Muslim royats either failed to pay their land rents in grain or cash; they declined to provide begar (voluntary) service to our family lands and orchards. Some low caste Hindus also started avoiding us. The village barber living on our land started charging two annas for a haircut. The carpenter, our retainer, showed reluctance to attend to repair works.
However, Mukund Majhi and his daughter Rani continued to be loyal and my friendship with Rani grew through several, mostly funny, incidents. In Bhairab market, the Marwari business community paid respect to father and uncles. But they started winding up their business.
The first five-storeyed building in the market was constructed by a Muslim - Madhu Mian. He did not invite my father and uncle for the inaugural ceremony. It was an open act of defiance against the authority of the zamindars.
Most Hindus stopped visiting Muslim homes during religious kawali and murshedi song ceremonies. The Muslims stopped participating in the worship of village deities like Manasa (Goddess of Snakes) and Shitala (Goddess of Small Pox), which were held in Hindu homes. New Imams dictated that all Muslims must learn Urdu and must attend namaj five times a day. Our school curricula also included a course in Urdu - Pakistan’s national language.
Amidst such revolutionary changes, some relief came in the form of the Wilson family, who came to stay with us in our almost deserted homestead. Hubert Wilson was the new stationmaster at Bhairab. His wife Preeti, daughter Manorama and son Jackson lodged in the northern court building. Manorama was a delightful Anglo-Indian girl. She introduced me to the world of English, books, newspapers, radio and storytelling. The sprightly girl brought in revolution in my life - a life different from the one I experienced with Lutfa, Rani and Jasim.
On August 15, 1947, Manorama unfurled an Indian Tri-colour on the porch of the eastern court building, and lined us up and taught us to sing Bande Mataram. That night Dhala Mian, a former serf of the family, followed by fifty odd people attacked our house, pulled down the tri-colour and mounted a Pakistani flag. Manorama protested. Dhala and his gang physically dishonoured her, and in the process, I received a stunning thrashing too. After the incident Manorama tried to commit suicide. It was averted. The Wilsons left our place for the safety of Calcutta and I was plunged again in the realm of darkness.
Came 1950. Father was still adamant. He had sent my older brother to Calcutta for further studies. But he was determined to stay put at Kamalpur and be with ‘his people.’ But February 1950 broke out as another Holocaust, with Hindus being killed in East Pakistan like chicken and rabbits. Father was out somewhere near Dhaka for a meeting. Uncle urged us to accompany him to the safety of Brahmanbaria for a short period as there were reports of our house being a target of Bihari marauders.
The train we boarded was attacked by hoards of Bihari Muslims; they robbed and killed the Hindus and pushed them out of the train. Uncle Birendra was also a victim, but he was not stabbed. I managed to get out of the train with my mother and take shelter in the house of a relative. Uncle was rescued by some local people. Father returned and took us back home.
He finally decided to leave the village for the safety of India - a new India we were not prepared to encounter. That India was a vague uncertain name and held out no promise of a healthy new beginning. We envisioned chaos.
In September 1950, we took the train to India via Agartala, now a part of India. The journey was horrific, and we were under constant attack from Muslim mobs. We were robbed by our own Hindu servant.
Through a bloodied path, we reached Agartala and finally took a flight to Calcutta only to earn the honorific of “refugee” – destitute. Millions were on streets, railway platforms, and wherever they could pitch a plastic cover.
We were fortunate to have a relative to give us temporary shelter. However, my eldest sibling did not live up to his parents’ expectations. His evolution probably stood somewhere between animal instinct and human sublimation.
Father was maltreated by his oldest son. He was not equipped to restart his life. The partition had crippled him. He missed poetry, songs and social service. He suddenly suffered from penury. I could not get a berth in any school, as my brother was more interested in pushing me to a job at the age of eleven.
Suffering from neglect, my father expired in 1952 January, but bequeathed me a gift of Rs. 50 and asked me to get admitted in a school. Three days after his death, I forced a cousin to take me to a small school, with no reputation.
But it was a school. That was a new beginning. As I look back, the partition was very painful for the Bengali people. It was more painful to me; I lost my father who understood me, and whom I appreciated most. I still miss the East Bengal countryside and the Bengali identity. But I am happy I inherited the Bedouin blood of my father.
I wish the political leaders of the day had not committed the blunder of partitioning the country on the basis of religion. It is hurting us even today and will likely hurt in future as well.
Maloy Krishna Dhar started life off as a junior reporter for Amrita Bazaar Patrika in Calcutta and a part-time lecturer. He joined the Indian Police Service in 1964 and was permanently seconded to the Intelligence Bureau.
During his long stint in the Bureau, Dhar saw action in almost all Northeastern states, Sikkim, Punjab and Kashmir. He also handled delicate internal political and several counterintelligence assignments. After retiring in 1996 as joint director, he took to freelance journalism and writing books. Titles credited to him are Open Secrets-India's Intelligence Unveiled, Fulcrum of Evil — ISI, CIA, al-Qaeda Nexus, and Mission to Pakistan. Maloy is considered a top security analyst and a social scientist who tries to portray Indian society through his writings.
All About: Maloy Krishna Dhar, Holocaust, Independence, Columns, Bangladesh, East Bengal