3 January 2008

A Personal Tribute to Jatindranath, Indubala and Ranchi

Generally when a blogger writes something in his blog, he wants it to be read by others also, with some interest, even if the subject of his writing is just as personal diaries. So he writes on matters that may arouse some interests in the mind of his readers (though it is extremely difficult for most of the bloggers to get readership now). But it is not at all interesting for an outsider to read about the family history of a blogger. When the subject relates to personal life of the blogger in all likelihood it falls into an uninteresting meaninglessness and it can not offer anything that may lie beyond the blogger’s private mind. It’s immaterial to know where the blogger lives and with whom. It’s just like information as to what is the brand of tooth-paste the blogger uses. The brand may rise to importance if it is known that it is used by Julia Roberts or George Bush. But the importance lies with the movie-star or the President of the US, not with the brand she or he uses. Still sometimes the very personal may link us to impersonal –when it is able to be caught in the impulse of general life force. But what is a life if it is not silently personal –in the known terms of the word? The course of a life of a person is hidden to others. The external events are mere phenomenon of some truth realized only within by the owner of the life. At the end of his tale in the prison of Agra Fort it was Shahjahan, and not the historian, who was aware of the course of the deity in his life. So was Napoleon in St Helena- who knew it more than anyone in this world what in him was moved in victory, in the betrayal of his wife, in his capture by the English and his ultimate destiny in solitary life in the prison; all of these created the essence of a life that was Napoleon’s own, hidden to the world outside his physical existence. Shakespeare knew this inner course of life in King Lear. But for all a Shakespeare lives within. But notwithstanding its content the following writing is not an episode of my personal life.It's a depiction of a life through a time -now long lost. Let me retrieve very little of it for a reading in the light of modern time. There is no recorded history of the early Bengali settlement in Ranchi and none knows today Jatindranath who contributed much to organize the Bengalis in the name of Sri Ramakrishna. Ranchi was dear place to Jyotirindranath Tagore –the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore. But to establish it as a Bengali settlement Jatindranath and his friends were pioneers. In his death bed the last words of Jatindranath were that ‘It was a flower of the forest. It blossomed and withered in the forest without anyone’s knowledge of it’. It’s a tribute to that unknown blossoming. I was born in Ranchi which at that time was in the state of Bihar and not as the capital city of Jharkhand –a newly formed state with a part of Bihar. If anything of my life I remember of as most happy experience –then it was my childhood days in Ranchi. I’ll never like to visit Ranchi as it is not there not on the earth now. What now stands with the name of Ranchi is a different place with all the nuisance of modern and vulgar Indian cities. Like a sweet dream when it vanishes after waking from a sleep, Ranchi also has long vanished from my known world. Ranchi was on the southern part of the Chotanagpur which forms the eastern edge of the Deccan plateau system. The area surrounding Ranchi was endowed with immense natural bounty and it was fondly mentioned as the “City of Waterfalls”. The most popular waterfalls were Dasham, Hundru,Jonha Falls, Hirni and Panchghat- which were all active perennially. The beautiful place of Ranchi amazed me with its scenic splendour and salubrious climate while sitting comfortably at an altitude of 2140 feet above the sea level. The Tagore Hill, Ranchi Hill and the spectacular Ranchi Lake were some places in the city which took one to a world of tranquility and serenity where one seemed to get a chance to romance with the nature. My grandfather was Jatindranath Ghosh, who was born in Khulna district of East Bengal (now in Bangladesh) in a prosperous village –Maheswarpasha in 1880. They were three brothers-eldest of them was Shashadhar Ghosh. Their parents were Jahnavi Charan and Muktakeshi. Jatindranath was an enlightened person and a good student. So after passing his Entrance exam he found that he could not pursue higher education –which was only possible in Daulatpur. But there was none to bear expenses for his education there in Daulatpur. At the same time he did not like to live in a village and engage himself in managing agriculture with the lands which the brothers owned. He always felt to live in a wider world outside his village-Maheswarpasha. So he took a job in the Accountant General’s Office in Shilong. At that time the Office of the Accountant General had two other branches –one in Dacca (now the capital of Bangladesh) and other in Shilong in the north-east India under the head office in Ranchi. Jatindranath had to work also in Dacca branch of the office. Before being settled in Ranchi Jatindranath married Indubala. Indubala was the daughter of Khirodasundari, the third wife of Prabal Chandra Ray Choudhury. Prabal Chandra lived in Norail in the district of Jessore (now also in Bangladesh). Indubala was born in 1896 and so she was sixteen years younger than Jatindranath. At the age of eleven she was married to Jatindranath in 1905. Jatindranath fell in love with Ranchi. Ranchi was the native place of the tribals-mainly-Mundas. Though Mundas were the majority, there were other tribal races like Oraon , Murmu, Kol etc. But very few Biharis were found in Ranchi at that time though it was under the state of Bihar. The majority (why not almost) educated gentlemen were Bengalis. They all migrated from various places of undivided Bengal to Ranchi. In such a situation it was very natural that they became friends themselves. They purchased lands near their office, the office of the Accountant General-which was popularly called AG Office. Jatindranath purchased 15 cottahs of land (I can not tell how much it is in sq feet). Meanwhile nine children were born to Indubala and Jatindranath. They were four sons and five daughters. According to seniority they were as follows: Brajodulal, Sarama, Sushama, Mrinalkanti, Manorama, Madhusudan, Uma, Narayan and Mala. Only Manorama and Mala are surviving from those of the above. It is horrible to think of so many sons and daughters born to parents today. But it was not unusual then. But it’s difficult to raise so many children properly. But all of them grew healthy except Brajo Dulal –their eldest son. But I would have lost much of the warmth and charm of my childhood had my grandfather liked a small family. Ranchi was a town, and not a city at all in those days. The AG office was in Dorunda –which was where Jatindranath built two houses one beside the other on the land he had purchased. It was opposite to Loreto School of Ranchi. He rented one to Mr Morgan and his family and lived in the other building with his family. His neighbours, as I had said, were his friends who also built their own houses there. I was then too little to remember everything. I remember my grandfather-Jatindranath when he was already a retired person. After Mr. Morgan had left for Sheffield we shifted to the house where Mr. Morgan had stayed. It was better of the two. It was at this time- life of this family started to begin for a new chapter. The aunts were getting married one after another and settled in various places in India with their husbands. I have forgotten to tell that my father had married much earlier in 1940 when the houses had been under construction. Jatindranath and his family had lived in rented quarters then. But I was born in the house beside where Mr. Morgan lived. After the departure of Mr. Morgan the family turned to be a centre for all the aunts and their husbands and their children, who were by then started living in their own places. Whenever there were occasions like Puja festival, summer vacations etc all gathered in Ranchi. They all felt that it was their home and not the places where they were settled. Once come they did not like to return. The centre of attraction was Indubala-my grandmother. Everyone on every place of the widespread ramification of the family of Jatindranath and Indubala felt Ranchi as their home. It was delightfully queer. The ramification was so widespread that it was actually impossible for a grandchild of a daughter to be known to the grandchild of another daughter or a brother. Even the families of their in-laws, who were remotely related to the mainstream family felt Ranchi as their home. The bond with Ranchi was not ceased after the death of Jatindranath. Every year the new branches sprouted from the tree leading to a bigger Ranchi family. I called Indubala –‘thamma’. The other grandchildren both from daughters’and sons’ sides called her by different names. She loved all. And everyone reared a conviction that he or she was the dearest to Indubala amongst the others. I have never seen and read about so charming influence of a woman on her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all those related in between. I never saw Indubala speaking harshly to anyone. In the night there was competition amongst us as to who would lie beside her. Alas there can not be more than two sides! Jatindranath was a very serious and pious person. He had a deep seeking for spiritual life (but his creator wanted something else). After sometime of his marriage he went to Bagbazar in north Calcutta and got initiated by Sri Sarada-Devi –the wife of Sri Ramakrishna. Later he went with Indubala to Sarada-ma. Sarada-ma then initiated Indubala also. Jatindranath was always in conflict with his spiritual life and that of the ordinary worldly life. Once he went to Ma and requested her to initiate him in sannyas. He was determined to leave the family (sansar) and become a sannayasin. But Sarada-ma told him that his fulfillment lied in the familial and so called worldly life. Some of the friends of Jatindranath also became disciples of Sri Sarada-ma. Jatindranath and his friends collaborated with Ramakrishna Mission to found a branch of the Mission in Ranchi. Our house was a home for many sadhus and sannyasins. Jatindranath loved to serve them in all possible ways. An author once wrote that whenever three Bengalis live outside Bengal they invariably build a temple of the goddess Kali. But surprisingly –my grandfather and his Bengali friends did not build a Kali-temple notwithstanding their religious bend of mind. Perhaps it was the vibrant hours of Sri Ramakrishna and the family was caught in the fire. Gradually the whole family turned into a home of Sri Ramakrishna's religious teachings. Many of the family were initiated by different sanyasins of the Ramakrishna clan. Brajo Dulal and his sister Manorama became disciples of Swami Subodhananda (Khoka-Maharaj) –himself a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. Actually there was a presence of Sri Ramakrishna in the family. I still feel the atmosphere that surrounded me in my childhood in Ranchi. I woke up early in the morning because it was a delight to face a new day. I had a book which my father bought me and asked me to read in the morning. The name of that book was ‘Sathi’-it was in Bengali. It was a book that children read in their pre-school days in those times. The word Sathi means in Bengali -a friend. Like that book Ranchi and its ambience was my 'sathi' My father bought me another book-Robinson Crusoe. It was my first book in English. I would come out in the verandah in the early morning and sitt on a cot and read the books happily. After an hour –my grandfather would return from his morning walk. I went on reading till my mother brought me a glass of milk for my breakfast. At about 10 am I went out to play near a big pond and a slender brook that was behind our house. I had –most of the times none to play with. I wander, jump and ran just like a little animal. So far the eye went –there was no house; only a hill was there in the far. I felt delight everywhere and existence was nothing but delight. We had some ducks that stayed in a little covered place under the stair in the backyard. After finishing the glass of milk I entered the house and sought for eggs if there was any in there place. I remember, I became as delighted as someone, who by chance, discovered a hidden treasure, when my hand felt a smooth and warm touch of something which I instantaneously knew an egg. That was my first discovery. I still feel the warm touch of the egg even now in my old age. A fortune in getting a just laid egg can diminish the fortune of getting a whole world of treasure. I was so excited that I ran for an hour in the paddy-field only to realize the unexpected booty- the egg –which had been there inside the duck. Sometime Amit would come to our house in the very early morning. Amit was much senior to me and lived in a two-storied building (there was only one two-storied building in the locality) near our house. As there was none of his age he was alone. So he befriended me. I liked him and he also loved me. We two went out for the places where we could not be allowed in a broad day-light. It was full of nature. He climbed trees and dropped raw mangoes or guavas which I caught standing beneath. There were snakes and hyenas in those places. But we were never afraid of them as we were always in a spirit of discovering new places. The fresh morning air filled us with that spirit. Amit died after some years in tuberculosis like his two elder brothers had died earlier of the same disease. In the night it was like nights of the fairy tales. I was very much afraid of those who could not be seen in the day but they seemed to appear from every corner of darkness. In the chilly winter my grandmother burned pieces of dry woods in a vat in her room. We sat around the vat for warmth with grand-ma who told us such stories which made the air chillier and we were at once landed in fairy-tale worlds. In those times Ranchi was very cold in winter. Sometime the temperature dipped below zero degrees Celsius. One morning we found heaps of snows before the doors of the toilet (which was outside in the backyard) and it was impossible to enter it. It took one hour to remove the snows. I loved my uncles and aunts and none can now imagine these days how delightful it is to simply get related. But the centre of this was Indubala-my grandmother. Jatindranath was a learned man and he liked to write in Bengali and in Sanskrit. Long after he was dead and gone I discovered his manuscripts. He became unhappy when my father left a job in the AG office for trying his fate in some business-the thing which he understood little. However my father joined a bank in its Ranchi office after the natural death of his business. But what hurt Jatindranath much when my father left Ranchi after being transferred to Calcutta. We started living in Baranagar in a rented house which had an asbestos roof. It was in a typically dingy lane and peopled by those who were alien to me. I wept in the night month after month and prayed to Sri Ramakrishna for our return to Ranchi. Sometimes in summer vacations I went to Ranchi alone by Ranchi Express( Now it is Ranchi-Hatia Express). In the morning when the train chugged through the dense forest flanked by hills on both sides I smelt the burnt coal of the engine and felt the fragrance of Ranchi. As soon as I reached our house I touched the walls of the house and tears rolled down from my eyes. Indubala calmly touched me and told that it was my house. There was no personal address in Ranchi which received as many letters and articles as did the following address. Jatindranth Ghosh, “Saradalaya”, North Office Para, Dorunda, PO: Hinoo, Ranchi I believe in rebirth after death. So when I was compelled to live in Baranagar, in Calcutta, I found myself living in another world. Calcutta was a contrast to Ranchi. Calcutta appeared to me ugly and rough and if the city lacked the one most important thing of life, it was delight of mere existence.Perhaps I had to experience two lives in a single birth. I could never compromise with my life after coming from Ranchi. I felt myself most unfortunate man –a man who had lost his birth place-his motherland. Long-long after this when I began to gather myself I met the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. And I again felt the delight in a person. He was Sachindranath Chatterjee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. He belongs to another tale. So from Sri Ramakrishna to Sri Aurobindo I have had the experiences of more than one birth. But it is a single being and all is merged as a single feeling as the innumerable stars in the sky above and the chirping of the crickets below are caught in the single experience of silence. I am unmoved in it.