My Grandfather

My maternal grandfather was a school master. Known by generations of students and everybody else as well as “ MasterMoshai”, he spent his life teaching English to thousands of students in many parts of the old undivided Bengal and later in Calcutta and Krishnanagar. I have spoken of him in an earlier post, but I feel there is more to be said about this man who influenced me so much when I was a boy and a young man. He was one of the sort of Bengali who were not uncommon in those days. They had been influenced by the Non Cooperation Movement when they were young men and never wavered in their ideals of honesty, hard work and a firm belief in the aphorism of “plain living and high thinking. He was a marvelous teacher. I still remember him reading Keats’ Ode to Autumn with me. He showed me how wonderfully relevant it was to our experience and how the magical words spoke to us in tropical India as much as it did to Englishmen in cooler climes. He also spoke of the Bengal of his younger days and what always amazed me was his unbounding optimism. He was a refugee, having left behind whatever he had In East Bengal during the traumatic partition years, but this never led him to lose faith that tomorrow would always be a better day; for the country, for ourselves, and for anybody who tries. I like to think that I have a very optimistic view of life, nothing really gets me down and I can start and restart as many times as needed. I strongly suspect that I got it from him.
Those were the days that we used to look forward to tips from relatives. He was always good for a ten rupee note on every birthday. It used to arrive by money order unfailingly on my birthday and also I am sure on the birthdays of all my cousins as well. Whenever he visited us he used to bring with him a slab of amsotto ( it is a mango preparation which I am really incapable of describing, I can only say that it tasted like ambrosia in those days and still does). Money orders have now vanished from our ken at least, but I can never taste amsotto without visualizing his bespectacled face, thinning hair and intelligent eyes.
We used to sit of a summer’s evening in the garden of his house near Krishnanagar and he liked to sing with me his (and my) favourite song, D L Roy’s Dhana Dhanye Pushpe Bhara. Neither he nor I had any sense of music, our combined singing may have made poor D L Roy turn in his grave, if he had had one. But whenever I think of those evenings I feel a thrill of happiness, a pride in this India that has remained to this cynical day.
There are so many memories that I can recall, his warmth and laughter, his absolute faith in education as a civilizing force, his liberal outlook and his broadness of mind. 55 years after it happened, looking at the virulence of caste feelings today , I wonder that he gave his enthusiastic blessings to my parents wedding when his favourite elder daughter chose to marry a non Brahmin. It was a revolution for those days and when I read in the newspapers the activities of the keepers of our caste traditions(!?) , sometimes I feel in some ways we seem to have gone backwards and not forward. I feel like railing at fate because he died in bed with a broken leg which left him crippled and helpless as life ebbed away. If I felt there was a god I would ask him what he had done to deserve this.
He has gone some 23 years now, soon it will be a quarter of a century. But to me he remains a very live presence, a friend and a guide. I salute him today as one of the many who made Bengal a place where truly as Gohale said people thought today what the rest of India thought the next day. He was one of those who thought himself an Indian but also remained a Bengali. He spoke Bengali by preference but was educated in English and let the civilizing influence of all civilizations influence him. There were no doubt many like him, I would that there were many more



Yes I agree there were perhaps many more and it is time to rejuvenate their ideals.
amita sohi said…
This is beautifully written........your grandfather would be proud. How fortunate you are to have those wonderful memories of him..........

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