Struggle of my ancestors!

Bangladeshi civilians marching onto India. Image Courtesy — Herald.Deccan

In a modest, nondescript village of Khulna (Bangladesh), autumn arrived with a fresh sense of optimism and anxiety. The British Raj was finally ending after long years of struggle for freedom. However, freedom came at a hefty price — the partition of Indian Subcontinent into two separate nations. The news was greeted with tears of joy in Khulna at the same time, the reality of partition was felt in all over Bengal and Punjab.

The man in his mid-fifties began to wonder, is this the freedom that he had always dreamt of all these years. Khulna was now part of East Pakistan. Will he and his family be safe in the newly formed country? Already the communal harmony of the land was shattered. There were reports of communal rioting in Kolkata, Naokhali and Dhaka. He wondered, how much time will it take to hit the discord in the interior villages. He knew that he had to make quick and life altering decision.

The decision was never going to be easy for the man. He used to be an influential Dewan (finance officer) for a Zamindar (landlord) in Khulna. Ascended to prominence with his sheer hard work and intelligence. He owned acres of land, cattle, lakes filled with fishes and farms tilled by locals. Even the British masters were impressed by his efficiency and endowed him with the responsibility of managing tea gardens of Darjeeling. The man had also brought acres of land in North Bengal as an investment. He never thought of settling in the land, nor did he ever wanted to leave Khulna.

Khulna embodies the true words of Rabindranath Tagore — “Sonar Bangla” (Golden Bengal). The land is crisscrossed by rivers, fertile land and bountiful lakes. Self-sufficient in nature, Khulna had always enjoyed peace and harmony between Hindu and Muslim neighbours. Yet, there has been a strong apprehension in the man about safety and security for his family. Many Hindu families had already started to migrate to the Indian part of Bengal, leaving behind their possession hastily. The Zamindar of Khulna had also vacated his palatial house and relocated to Kolkata. The fragile peace and harmony were replaced by a dance of death and destruction across the land. There is no staying in Khulna anymore, the man had decided to migrate to his newly purchased land in North Bengal.

The Autumn of 1947 seemed harsh on humankind. The rivers of Bengal turned red with blood. Villages after villages pillaged and burned. Towns and cities were raided and ransacked. Standing crops were fed to raging fires. Women were raped while children were snatched from mother’s lap. Sons were slaughtered before helpless parents while daughters were abducted. Neighbours killed neighbours with whom they had stayed in peace and harmony for years. Human compassion and kindness disappeared from the land amidst the madness.

Amidst this inferno, the man with his wife and three sons started their journey with few mattress, a bag full of puffed rice and few valuable ornaments and cash, which they got after selling their household possessions. They travelled on bullock carts in the countryside, crossed swelling rivers on boats, walked the parched land on foot and crossed the Indian border like millions of human beings with low morale, heads hung in shame and with a sense of deep loss. However, once they had reached the safety of Indian Bengal, the challenge of rebuilding their shattered lives forced upon them with uncertainties.

The family of Shri Nagarwasi Das arrived in North Bengal. They set-up houses made of mud with thatched roof. They tilled their land and sell the harvests in the local market. Slowly and steadily they reclaimed their lives, completely wiping off any signs of struggles.

Since then, three generations of Das family has thrived successfully. The first generation toiled the land and provided a firm base for the second generations with food and house.

The second generation educated themselves and got lucrative jobs in Independent India allowing financial stability for the third generations. The third and current generations were born far away from North Bengal, in the cities of Kolkata and Delhi. They are free to chase their dreams all because of the sacrifices and struggles of their previous generations.

Somehow the story of the journey made by my great grandfather lost from our family history. However, his deeds have resulted in thriving and happy generations of Das family.

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