SONAJHURI Chapter 4: The freedom fighters - A Novel by Santwana Chatterjee | WBRi Online Magazine

"Sonajhuri" is a serialized English novel by Santwana Chatterjee published in WBRi Online Magazine section. Each episode has links to previous and next episodes.

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A Novel by Santwana Chatterjee


The Freedom Fighters

Do you know Chini [Chini was ma’ nick name] the people that came this morning to the first floor are related to Shri Shyamaprosad Mukherjee. His tone some how indicated that he was not too kindly disposed towards them. Ma looked up from her plate and only said ‘Oh, is it?’. Yes, said father.

Who is Shyamaprosad Mukherjee father, we wanted to know.

Well dear Shyamaprosad Mukherjee is the son of the famous scholar Ashutosh Mukherjee and himself a politician. He was a cabinet minister once in Jawaharlala Nehru’s ministry but he distanced himself from the Congress and formed the Bharatiya Jana Sangh party.

Does it speak good or bad for him baba?

Well I can’t tell really but the Indian people think it was bad, for Nathuram Godsey was considered to be a RSS or Jansangh man.

Who is Nathuram Godsey baba?

Well he murdered Mahatmaji ?

Why did he murder Gandhiji baba?

Well Rina these are serious matters and there are many things to be told and understood. These things should not be discussed lightly over dinner. One day when I get time I will explain to you about the partition of India, its results, about Mahatma, his thoughts and ideals and why some people thought that he was betraying India.

My father Robin Chatterjee was the only son of Rothin and Bishakha Chatterjee , a family of ardent supporters and active members of Indian National Congress during the pre independence era. My fathers grandfather was a very simple and honest man and he was employed by the Jamindar as their Estate Manager. Everybody including his employers addressed him as “Nayeb Mosai” ‘Nayeb’ stands for Manager, and his real name which was Kali Prasanna Chatterjee was almost forgotten by the village folk. Nayeb was extremely efficient and a dedicated employee. His employers trusted him with blind eyes and treated him and his family with utmost respect. The Zaminar’s estate was a few miles away from Nayeb Mosai’s house and as he had to walk a long way, the Zamindar gave him a cycle which made his journey less tedious, specially under the scorching son in summer and muddy and waterlogged fields in the rainy season. Now there were British officers of the queen of England, the the then ruler of India, who often took the village road on their jeeps or horses. Any Indian villager who would come from the opposite direction was expected to get away from their way by climbing down to the field from the village road. If anybody dared to cross them or even stood on the corner of the road and make an eye contact with them, would sure to be pushed physically from the road to the field or ditch below. The British officers who had stayed long enough in India to learn Hindi would bark at them “ math me haagne walla bloody Indians, tafaat haato” [ you uncivilized Indian people defecating in the open , get away from my path ] get away from our path”. People voluntarily climbed down for fear of being humiliated by such words and also for fear of being physically beaten. Nayeb Mosai was a regular on the road and he made it a point to get down from his cycle and climb down whenever he saw them approaching from the opposite direction. He had worked for the Zamindars for forty long years. His own father took him by hand and requested the Zamindar to accept his son in his place, as he was turning old and wanted to retire. So their family was very closely associated with the rich landlord. Kaliprasanna after reaching the age of sixty wanted to retire but his son Rothin did not want to work in his place as he had other plans. So Kaliprasanna kept on working till he was quite aged. on one winter afternoon he was cycling back to his home and because of his failing health and advanced age he did not notice that from the opposite direction two horse borne British officers were coming his way and realized his mistake when they were face to face and he looked up to them with fear and apology. The two arrogant British officers turned red with anger and cursing him pushed him with his cycle from the road. Kaliprasanna fell down on the ditch with the cycle on top and lost consciousness. When he did not return after a long time, his wife and young Rothin went out in search of him. Some villager crossing the road found him with his cycle on top of him and took him home. The local village doctor declared him dead. As it was young Rothin had secretly joined the followers of Subhas Chandra Bose and formed a village vigilance party and took part in several actions. Netaji was still within the fold of the National Congress and his followers were aggressive and kept arms. After his father’s death Rothin became more dedicated to the noble cause of ousting the British from India. Rothin did not confide in his wife Bishakha about it for fear of scaring her. But the day the police came in search of Rothin and arrested him on the charge of conspiring against the queen of England Bishakha showed extreme courage and maturity. The police , after taking custody of Rothin went from room to room in search of fire arms, which these freedom fighters procured unlawfully and kept hidden in places. That day the police could not find the pistol that Rothin had kept hidden in a whole in his book. It turned out later that Bishakha guessed their intension and picked up the book herself and tied it on her person under her clothes . The police did not suspect her and went away with Rothin and had to drop the charge of keeping fire arms without evidence.

Those were the time when young men and their wives, sisters and mothers of Bengal followed the footsteps of their idols like Masterda of Chittagong, Matongini Hazra of Midnapore, Netaji Subhas Chandro Bose to be named a few. While Rothin Chatterjee alongwith many other freedom fighters was arrested a number of times by the British police and put to jail and tortured for long period, his brave wife Bishakha with other wives held high her husband’s ideal and put up resistance and took part in demonstrations like burning of foreign goods publicly and also forsook the shelter of their homes and with unfailing courage and endurance stood shoulder to shoulder with their men folk, in the frontline to share with them the sacrifices and triumphs of the struggle

When the history of India's fight for Independence comes to be written, the sacrifice made by the women of India will occupy the foremost place - Mahatma Gandhi Jawaharlal Nehru had remarked, when most of the men-folk were in prison then a remarkable thing happened. Our women came forward and took charge of the struggle. Women had always been there of course but now there was an avalanche of them, which took not only the British Government but their own menfolk by surprise……..The entire history of the freedom movement is replete with the saga of bravery, sacrifice and political sagacity of great men and women of the country. This struggle which gained momentum in the early 20th century, threw up stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Motilal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, C. Rajagopalachari, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subash Chander Bose. Their number and stature often gives us an erroneous impression that it was only a man’s movement. But it is not so. Many prominent women played a leading role in the freedom movement. “-

I quote here with honour and pride things written about my late grandma and the other courageous and dedicated women like her in the pages of history of the struggle of independence for India. My grandpa an grandma at a later stage fought to the last nail with the British power as far as they could following Gandhiji’s policy of peaceful non-cooperation , leading a very frugal life, avoiding any kind of luxury and even did not hesitate subjecting their minor son to follow the life of asceticism

Periods of sustained torture in the jail broke their health and my father lost both his parents at a tender age. Father was a very bright student and he lived at Midnapore District. He came over to Calcutta after finishing graduation and started doing odd jobs besides completing his master’s degree in Economics. He passed out with flying colours and got a very lucrative job easily, luck favouring him, as if compensating for giving him a tumultuous and unhappy childhood.

My father did take some time out of his busy schedule and talked to me at length about the struggle and sacrifice of innumerable Indian boys and girls, who laid their lives just to make their progeny to enjoy living in a free country with their heads held high. We keep forgetting their contribution and their sacrifice. I cried a lot when father told me about the forgotten heroes of Indian independence like Khudiram Bose who gave his life smiling at the tender age of eighteen just because he loved his motherland like his own mother and wanted to free her from the shackles of the British. Or about Binoy Krishna Bose Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta who became martyrs in their teens for the cause of Indian independence. Dinesh was from Munshiganj Districe, now in Bangladesh. He joined Bengal Volunteers while he was studying in Dhaka College. This group was organized by Subhas Chandra Bose in 1928, at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress. This group turned into a more aggressive and active revolutionary and planned to liquidate notorious British police officers. Col NS Simpson, the Inspector General of Prisons was one of police officer infamously for his brutality to the prisoners in the jail. The Revolutionaries wanted to kill Simpson and simultaneously attack on the Secretariat Building to strike a fear among the British officers. Secretariat Building is the now famous Writers' Building in the Dalhousie Square in Kolkata. On 8 December 1930, Dinesh along with Benoy and Badal , dressed in European costume, entered the Writers' Building and shot dead Simpson. British police retaliated by starting firing. It was an uneven fight, on one hand there was these three teenagers and on the other a whole force of British police and ultimately the force overpowered them. Badal Gupta took Potassium cyanide, while Benoy and Dinesh shot themselves with their own revolvers. Benoy was taken to the hospital where he died on 13 December 1930. However, Dinesh survived the near-fatal injury. He was convicted and the verdict of the trial was death by hanging for anti-government activities and murder. While awaiting execution, Dinesh wrote a number of letters from his prison cell on the heroism of the revolutionaries and his belief in the greatness of self-sacrifice.

Dinesh Chandra Gupta was only 19 when he was hanged on 7 July 1931 at Alipore Jail

Khudiram Bose was born on December 3, 1889 in a small village called Mohobony in Bengal to Trailokyanath Basu a revenue agent of the town and Lakshmipriya Devi. His life was filled with anguish and a thirst to fight back just like many other teenagers in the town, but unlike many who dreamt but could not fulfill their dream , he lived his dream.

Khudiram used to distribute handbills entitled ‘Sonar Bangla’ which carried the slogan ‘Vande Mataram’. ‘Vande Mataram’. Was taboo word during the British raj. Their aim was to expose the British and their tyranny. Many tried but could not arrest him on his act. He even defeated and dodged a police officer from catching him in front of a huge crowd, and he was only a kid then. In 1908 Khudiram and Prafulla Chaki (20 years old) were sent to Muzaffarpur, Bihar to assassinate Kingsford, magistrate of Muzaffarpur, Bihar. The two boys chalked out a plan and according to their plan they hurled a bomb on a carriage on which Kingsford was supposed to travel. But unfortunately instead of their target that day, the passengers were two British ladies Mrs and Miss Kennedy (the wife and daughter of barrister Pringle Kennedy)and their servant. The two boys fled the scene. Prafulla committed suicide when cornered by police at the Samastipur Railway station. Khudiram was later arrested and sentenced to death on Muzaffarpur bombing and other charges of bombings carried out by him. He was hanged to death on August 11, 1908, but death never seemed to scare him as those who saw him after death wrote that he bore a bright smile even after his body breathed its last.

Father said “Rina When you go to bed tonight for a warm and safe sleep, remember there were thousands of Khudiram's who made your country a free nestle – just for you.” I promised silently I would never forget their sacrifice and would definitely tell my children about these brave and great sons of India, of Bengal.

Next: Chapter 5 >

Previous: Chapter 3 >

Santwana Chatterjee is a creative writer and blogger from Kolkata and is a member of the Tagore family. She is a prolific contributer to Washington Bangla Radio - her other writings can be found by using her name to search this web site. Her own blog is at Santwana can be reached by e-mail at santwanastar [at] gmail [dot] com.