In May, 2013, I had a long talk with Nihar Guha, one of the oldest living members of Barishal Seva Samiti. Now in his late 80’s, Guha could still remember the days of his youth, spent in Barishal till 1940’s when he moved to Kolkata. He had seen many things that changed the history of Barishal, from Swadeshi to Riots and the Bengali Diaspora. Below is the interview taken at that time, in which he discusses many things and also his love for now forgotten heritage of Barishal.
Sujay: When did you come to Kolkata and why ?
Guha: In 1940’s, I moved to Kolkata in search of job and better life. I had few contacts in Kolkata who helped me at that time to settle here.
Sujay: How long are you associated with Barishal Seva Samiti ? From your student life or later ?
Guha: I got involved actively with the Samiti when I retired. Before that I knew about it but was not an active member. Seva Samiti was founded during the Swadeshi Era with an aim of serving the people of Barishal in Kolkata. It was founded in Kolkata to help the students from Barishal. Later its activities spread to other fields.
Sujay: What was the role of Samiti during and after the partition ( 1947 ) ?
Guha : During the Partition, the Samiti helped the refugees from Barishal to settle in kolkata. It also financially helped them and gave jobs to a few who needed it. After 1950’s , its activities were mainly cultural or the preservation of Barishal Heritage. Its members founded Pragyanananda Bhavan near Moulali and Aswini Dutta Memorial Committee near Park Circus. The now defunct body of Mukunda Das Memorial Committee was also founded by them.
Sujay: Who is the head of Pragyanananda Bhavan at present ? What are its activities ?
Guha: Debjani Kar, daughter of Biplobi Adhir Banerjee, is the Director of Pragyanananda Bhavan at present. It has an old library and a computer centre. It published some old books on Barishal also, including the biography of Mahabiplobi Swami Pragyanananda Saraswati, after whom the Saraswati Press was named.
Sujay: What about the Mukunda Das Memorial and Aswini Dutta Memorial ?
Guha: Mukunda Das Memorial is a defunct body. It has no activity at present. But Aswini Dutta Memorial still continues to work and its main man is Biplobi Adhir Banerjee. Due to his illness, he can’t work much at present.
Sujay: Have you heard about Satin Sen who died in Barishal ? I saw a statue of him near kakurgachi.
Guha: Yes, there was a Satin Sen Memorial Committee also but I am not sure about its present activities. I knew a man named Dhrubojyoti Dutta from Narkeldanga who was once involved with it.
Sujay: Do you know any descendants from Mukunda Das and Aswini Dutta’s families? Are they interested in these committees?
Guha: I knew Badal Chandra Das from Bosepukur, South 24 Parganas. He was the grandson of Mukunda Das but he was not interested in our activities. Aswini Dutta didn’t marry, but his brother’s daughter Nanda Ghosh Dastidar now lives in Ballygunge.
Sujay: You were long associated with Barishal Seva Samiti. Tell me about it.
Guha: Barishal Seva Samiti does not exist any more, but its members founded Pragyanananda Bhavan, Aswini Dutta Memorial and so on. Kavi Sankha Ghosh had some connections with it and once many distinguished people were its members. It published many books and had a library with rare documents.
Sujay: What happened to the library and the documents ?
Guha: It was a tragic end. We had rented a room for this library and docs, but the owner of the house was not very pleased with us. One day he ordered to close it. Before we could move to a new place, the library closed and the books disappeared one by one. Some members of Samiti were also involved in it. They sold many books and the samiti got divided over this issue. That was how it all ended.
Sujay: Was there any political pressure behind it?
Guha: Yes, the CPIM Govt didn’t like our activities. We could not find a new place for our library. The CPIM also attacked Pragyanananda Bhavan because of its nationalist connection and they also put pressure on us.
Sujay: Very Sad. Do you have any documents as your personal collection ?
Guha: No. All the docs disappeared. We don’t have any.
Sujay: The Seva Samiti had many members. Why they didn’t try to continue it?
Guha: Most of the members were very old. They didn’t have much energy to continue.
Sujay: You were born in Barishal? Have you heard about Chandradwip Royal Family or have you ever been to the place named Chandradwip?
Guha: Yes, I had seen the ruins of Chandradwip Palace when I was a student. There was a member of royal family who used to play with us. The region was not very populated, but had a distinct culture. Our elders talked about its glorious history, but we were too young then to understand its importance. The only thing I could remember that they used to say- Kayastha kings of Chandradwip were once the head of all kayasthas.
Sujay: Barishal was once known for Swadeshi Revolutionary Movement? Have you seen or known any revolutionary personally ?
Guha: Yes, I knew many of them and some of them also settled in Kolkata .
Sujay: Do you have any connections with Barishal at present?
Guha: No. But I like to.
Sujay: Do you still remember the Pre-Partition Barishal?
Guha: Yes, It was a magical time. As far as I can remember, in 1930’s, nobody knew that one day they had to leave their ancestral land, but it happened due to that Jogen Mondal. We will not forgive him.
Sujay: Have you seen the Barishal Riots?
Guha: No, I didn’t. I was in Kolkata at that time but I heard stories from people who fled Barishal.
Sujay: What is your message to the future generation?
Guha: I don’t know how many of us still remember Barishal. But one thing is sure that they will not easily forget their past. Today’s youth have least interest in Barishal History and all are more interested in making money and their careers. I hope that future generation will remember our heritage.
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International Unity For Equality