Ratnottama Sengupta continues her narrative about her family’s journey from the past to the present
Upendra Mohan Roy opened the telegram and stood still. He was on his way to London, to study at the Royal College of Art. But could he leave knowing that his mother was on her deathbed? No question. He turned around and returned from Bombay to Cachar in Assam, then East Bengal. Only to see that his mother, hale and hearty, had fixed his marriage!
Angry and dejected, he stormed out of home and headed for the tea gardens where his father worked. Soon he set up a ‘business’ there. He would go from one tea estate to another with a hand operated projector and a generator in an ‘Army reject’ jeep and show silent films on a makeshift screen in these remote pockets of India. That was the beginning of his life as an exhibitor which culminated in his setting up a cinema hall, Annapurna, in Silchar after the movies started speaking… This was one of the many businesses he eventually set up, in Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Margarita. The prime of his ventures was in manufacturing — armatures and generators — and it led to setting up Surama Electrical Store in Silchar.
Labanya, the young lady his mother had chosen to be his wife, was a homemaker. As per the custom of the times, she channelised her spare hours in stitching clothes for the children, in knitting and embroidering. But far more importantly, she excelled at cooking. Not only the homely ‘Bangal’ cuisine of labda and maricher jhol but also pulau and chop, cutlets and kebabs – the latter pretty fancy, and even forbidden dishes in most Bengali kitchens of her times. That is probably how Minoo/ Aparna, the youngest born after the daughters Amiya Bala, Renu Bala, Smriti Kana and son Birendra Mohan, developed her culinary skills. But more of that later…
Upen Roy’s enterprise was probably not unique: the Baidyas of Bengal are known for their business acumen. But Satish Chandra Sengupta of Gaopara village in Dhaka Bikrampur district was the copy book Baidya: He was a country doctor who carried on the family trade of administering ayurvedic medicine to the ailing villagers. His son Kshiti Prasanna was just four and Rama, the baby daughter, was barely born when his first wife died. So the two siblings were sent to the care of his eldest brother Ambika Prasanna, a hugely successful lawyer practising in Midnapore.
This is where Kshiti grew up, going to school and tending to the needs of the large extended joint family that made up the household. The members included not only Ambika Prasanna’s sons Guru Prasanna, Satya Prasanna, Jyoti Prasanna and daughter Shanti — there were also those of his other brothers. Among them was Kusum Rani, who was married to Jyotish Chandra Gupta, whose brother Dinesh Gupta had to seek home with them when he had to flee Dhaka after he participated in an action against the British authorities.
This is how Kshiti came to join Bengal Volunteers, the revolutionary group that took action — with the blessings of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose — against three successive British District Magistrates: ICS James Peddy in 1931, ICS Robert Douglas 1932, and ICS Bernard Burge in 1933. Consequently, a few day after his Matriculation exams, Kshiti was arrested and forced to live in incarceration for 13 years 8 months — going from Hijlee to Buxar to Alipore Central Jail and more. But he put the years to gainful use and completed his IA, BA, MA and M.Com exams creditably. That is why, when he was set free as India prepared for its immanent independence from the British yoke, he could join Ashutosh College as a Professor of Economics.
By then Kshiti Prasanna was 31 years old, which was considered pretty old to marry in 1948. But he was adamant: he would not marry anyone younger to him by more than 10 years. So the matchmaker advised Upen Roy to present his darling daughter Aparna as 21 years of age, when in reality she was only 18! Thankfully the subterfuge did not come in the way of their happiness together. Nor did the fact that Kshiti took responsibility of getting his step sisters — Bharati, Putul, Madhabi and Golapi — married and support his successive brothers Shankar, Bhaskar, Runu, Haru, Naru — until they settled in jobs. For, the only thing Aparna made her husband promise was that he should get the best of education for their son Debasis and best of life for Bubun, their darling daughter Madhumanti…
This was after his heart too, for if there was anything Kshiti Prasanna regretted in life, it was that he himself could not go for a Ph D as guides were not allowed inside jails. So he ensured his son got the best of schooling at St Xavier’s School; the best of higher education at IIT Kharagpur, and then proceeded for his doctorate to Texas, at the A&M University, USA. “My nameplate reads ‘Adhyapak Kshiti Prasanna Sengupta,’ yours will read ‘Dr Debasis Sengupta,'” he dreamt.
The father’s dream came true in 1977 when his Bappa completed his Doctor of Engineering in Biotechnology. Only, KPS saw his convocation from the Heavens…
From that perch, he also saw his daughter – a consummate Odissi dancer – complete her graduation in Economics, take to the then new subject of Computer Science, finish a course in Law, peak in a corporate career, then retire to write the story of his stormy years with the Bengal Volunteers…
 A vegetables
 Fish curry
Ratnottama Sengupta, formerly Arts Editor of The Times of India, teaches mass communication and film appreciation, curates film festivals and art exhibitions, and translates and write books. She has been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award.
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