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Memories of Monikaka: A Journey Through Time and Generations

Memories of Monikaka: A Journey Through Time and Generations

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On the 20th of December, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished, but he left behind him memories that no fire could consume. His family members share heartfelt evocations and vibrant anecdotes of Ashis Prasad Nandi Majumdar‘s life, lovingly called Monikaka/Chordamoni, from his role in the Indian Freedom movement to his career, relationships, and humorous interactions. This narrative unfolds the richness of a bygone era and the unique personality that Monikaka was.

This morning, when I opened the Family Circle” on WhatsApp I saw the sad news of the passing of my youngest uncle, whom I called “Monikaka”. He was 96 years old. Although all of us knew that this day would come any time, it still gave me a shock and saddened me terribly. I loved my Monikaka, whose nick name was “Dukhu” (meaning sorrow) because he was born a few months after his father, my grandfather’s untimely death at the age of 52 years. My grandmother, whom we called ‘Thamma”, was only 36-37 years at that time and had 7 children of her own and 1 from my grandfather’s previous marriage. She was so distraught that she could hardly get-up from her bed and decided to call her youngest son “Dukhu”.

I have many fond memories of my Monikaka, going back to my childhood. The time was early 40s when India was gaining momentum to end the 200 years of British rule. The time was truly tumultuous because Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Head of the Muslim League party openly declared that Muslims in India, a Hindu majority country, would not live under Hindus and demanded a separate country for Muslims. British with their crooked age-old “divide and conquer” policy decided to divide the country into two according to Hindu and Muslim majority. The Muslim majority country was named “Pakistan”. Since the Muslims were mainly concentrated in some western and eastern parts of India, Pakistan was comprised of two land masses, West and East Pakistan, separated by about 1000 miles of Hindu majority India. The district of Sylhet (now in Bangladesh), was where Thamma built a house after my grandfather’s death, to live with her 8 children.

However, in early 40s, at the height of “Free India” movement, IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) was formed where artists could promote themes related to the Indian freedom struggle. I came to know that Monikaka and my younger aunt, whom I called “Pishimoni” and who was a little over a year older than Monikaka, were both members of IPTA. In fact, I came to know that the British government had an arrest warrant against my Monikaka and Pishimoni. Both Pishimoni and Monikaka were well known for their singing throughout Sylhet. Khuku-Dukhu duet was one of the main attractions in cultural functions and both of them also sang freedom-related songs and participated in Free India movements. When I was 5-6 years old, the referendum for Sylhet to join Pakistan started to gain real steam, Monikaka became very involved in the movement to keep Sylhet to remain in India. During that time, I remember seeing Monikaka and Pishimoni going to picket lines and chanting the following slogan in Sylheti dialogue:

Bhai re Bhai, ghorer (House, a symbol for Hindu) bakshe vote dio.
Na jania porer kathay, ghore kural (Axe, symbol for Muslim) na mario re
Bhai re Bhai, ghorer Bakshe vote dio.

A rough translation will be:

Brother Oh Brother, cast your vote to House (Symbol for Hindu)
Not knowing or influenced by others, do not strike the House with an Axe (Symbol for Muslim)
Brother Oh Brother, cast your vote to House.

I used to hear them singing/chanting this slogan repeatedly throughout the day and sometimes when sitting on the veranda at our Sylhet house.

Sadly, no amount of slogan chanting and picketing helped to keep Sylhet in India. Sylhet with Muslim majority joined Pakistan. We became refugees.

After successfully completing the Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) studies in Sylhet, Monikaka enrolled to study Mechanical Engineering at the Jadavpur University in Calcutta. His Engineering study was supported by my older aunt Pishi. At that time Thamma, Pishimoni, Manji and I were staying with Pishi and her husband whom I called Pishamoshay in Nagoan, where Pishamoshay owned the Electricity Supply Company. I remember Monikaka visiting Pishi’s house during the Durga Puja holidays, when Pishamoshay held Kali Puja, which was a big event, and required constructing a temporary shed on the premise to place the Kali idol. I remember Monikaka creating a big fountain on which a table tennis ball was placed, which danced as the water went up and down. As a child I loved this scenario and was full of admiration for Monikaka for creating such an amazing feat. After Nagoan, Thamma, Pishimoni, Manji and I went to live with my older uncle, whom I addressed as “Kauni” in Silchar, a town in Assam. During holidays, Monikaka would come to Silchar mainly to be with his mother. In Silchar, he played cricket for the India Club in the local league and together with me flew a kite to pass his time. Next time Monikaka came to Silchar was when he decided to go for further training in engineering in West Germany. That was in 1955, when Pishimoni left with Monikaka to marry her sweetheart, who became our beloved Pishamoni. I still remember that day, when we all went to the airport to see them off and I was very upset to see them leave.

Monikaka returned to India in 1960 with a very good managerial position at the German Engineering Company, DEMAG in Bombay. Soon after joining the company in Bombay, Monikaka came to Shillong, where Thamma was then living with my parents. We were all thrilled to see Monikaka. Surprisingly, he brought with him a Grundig tape recorder and a Leika camera. I never saw a tape recorder nor a Leica Camera. I was overjoyed to see those gadgets. Monikaka had recorded a number of his songs which we listened to intently.

Next time, I saw Monikaka when he was transferred to Calcutta in 1961 to set-up a new DEGAM office, which was called “Ind-Mag”. He was given a well-furnished 3-room flat by the company on Gariahat Road, across the Ramkrishna Mission, near Gol Park. Whenever possible I would visit Monikaka and felt proud to see a uniformed driver coming in the morning to take him to his office on Brabourne Road in Dalhousie Square. By the way, unlike today, car was a luxury commodity. I used go to Monikaka’s office quite often. In one of my visits, he took me to the China town in Calcutta to buy a pair of shoes. This was a real surprise.

Monikaka was very fond me. In one of my more recent visits when I was staying in their flat on Pratapaditya Road he told Kakimoni that he would like to sleep on the same bed with me so he can chat at heart’s content. Kakimoni categorically said “NO” to his request. With a sad face he went back to his own bed in the next room. But he is not the person to give up. Next day, I saw him walking slowly towards my room and then got onto the bed. He thought I was asleep. It was quite a sight. I told Kakimoni not to bother him and that I love to talk with him about his bygone days, mostly about the life in Sylhet.

He told me a number of stories about their time in sylhet. One such story stuck with me. This was about one of his Muslim classmates at his school in Sylhet. In one of the class exams this classmate, sitting on the bench behind him, suddenly asked him in a low whispering voice in Sylheti dialect “Oi ei lekha bhuli gechi re” (hi, I forgot how to write the letter “i”). We both burst in laughter. Another story he narrated to me was when another of his Muslim classmate came to the conclusion that history marks/grades were given by the number of written pages without any real substance. Apparently, in the exam this particular friend of Monikaka filled pages after pages with only two words “Alauddin Khilji” “Alauddin Khiljie”. Needless to add that this friend got a big “ZERO.
When I visited Kolkata I loved sitting with Monikaka on the balcony of Pratapaditya Road flat and seeing how he communicated with passersby. Once I saw Monikaka asking a passerby in a loud voice what type of fish he bought in the fish market that day and what was the price of Hilsa fish. And another guy he asked how many cigarettes he smoked that day. The guy showed 4 fingers. In reply he told him to cut down further. I saw the guy getting a little upset and he quickly crossed the road. These scenarios and many others were truly entertaining and hilarious too. What a wonderful personality Monikaka had. I have been to many countries, came to know a lot of different kinds of people, but never met anyone like Monikaka; so loving, humorous and caring. I will miss him dearly. Now that my parents and all of my aunts and uncles are gone, visiting Kolkata will never be the same.

Adhip P, N. Majumdar

Adhip Nandi Majumdar

After more then 50 years of active academic career in England, Canada, Denmark and lastly in the USA, Adhip retired as Professor Emeritus from Wayne State University School of Medicine and Veterans Administration Medical Center in Detroit. After retirement he began to write about his family’s struggling time during the partition of Bengal.



বাবার প্রজন্মের শেষ প্রতিনিধি আমার মণিকাকা একটু আগে চলে গেল। মণিকাকা আশিস প্রসাদ নন্দী মজুমদার ৯৬ পূর্ণ করেছিল এ বছর। হ্যাঁ, পরিণত বয়সেই চলে গেল। তবু আমাদের পরিবারের অভিভাবক যে মানুষটি ছেলেমেয়ে সহ সমস্ত ভাইপো ভাইঝি ভাগ্নে ভাগ্নিকে সমানভাবে অভিভাবকত্ব প্রদান করেছেন সারাজীবন তাঁর মৃত্যু মেনে নিই কী করে! আমাদের পরিবারে গান বললেই প্রথমেই যে দু’টি মানুষের কথা আসে তাদের একজন আমার পিসিমনি বিজয়া চৌধুরী ও মণিকাকা।

পিসিমনি প্রশিক্ষিত শিল্পী, সুপরিচিত ছিল নিজের সময়ে সঙ্গীত মহলে। মণিকাকা কখনো গান শেখে নি, কিন্তু আজীবন বেঁচেছে গানে। গেয়েছে হয়ত পরিবারের পরিসরে বা বন্ধুমহলে শুধু। তবু জীবন্ত গান মানে আমার কাছে মনিকাকাই। বাবাদের যে দাদা বিভাগপূর্ব সিলেটে গানের জন্যে পরিচিত ছিলেন তাঁকে আমি দেখি নি। চারের দশকেই অপরিণত বয়সে চলে গিয়েছিলেন।

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আমার বাবাও গান গাইত খুবই গভীর অনুভবে একধরণের দার্শনিক উপলব্ধি থেকে। সব অর্থেই ভালো গাইত। আরেক কাকা বিলেত প্রবাসী রাঙ্গাকাকা সংসার না করেও বৃহত্তর সংসারের দায়িত্ব নিজ কাঁধে এককভাবে নিয়ে গানকে নিজের একাকীত্বের জীবনসঙ্গী করেছিল। পিসিমনি ছাড়া আমাদের কেউই খ্যাতিমান শিল্পী হয়ে উঠতে পারে নি জীবনে।

পিসতুতো ভাই টুপলু মানে অমিত চৌধুরী খ্যাতিমান লেখক ও গায়ক আমাদের প্রজন্মে। তারপরও আমাদের পরিচিত মহল আমাদেরকে গানের পরিবার বলে। এর প্রধানতম কারণ পিসিমনি ও মনিকাকা। পিসিমনি আগেই চলে গেছে। আজ পিতৃ প্রজন্মের শেষ সুর বুকে নিয়ে মনিকাকাও চলে গেল। ডানার বিয়ের অনুষ্ঠানে উপস্থিত অনেকেরই ৯৩ বছরের মনিকাকার অনায়াসে সি শার্পের পঞ্চম ছোঁয়া ‘মোর হৃদয়ের গোপন বিজনঘরে’ শোনার কথা মনে আছে।

আমার সৌভাগ্য, আমার কিছুই না-হতে-পারা জীবনে এই বাবা কাকা জ্যাঠা পিসিরা ছিল। এই ছবিটা ২০১৫ সালে পিসিমনি ও মনিকাকার হাত ধরে আমার একটি বিফল অ্যালবাম প্রকাশের মুহূর্তের।

Subho Nandi Majumdar

শুভ প্রসাদ নন্দী মজুমদার

Cultural Activist and Singer

Growing up, 69A Pratapaditya Road was the house of all possibilities for me. We could climb the red-floored stairs as much as we wanted. We could eat as many Nokuldana from Chhordimoni’s thakurer prosad as we wanted. Nothing was off limits: sing as much as we want, laugh as much as we want, no limits, and even, have endless political debates, no holds barred. As I bid farewell to Chhordamoni yesterday, I also said my last words to a huge chunk of my childhood. I didn’t know how much I looked forward to those visits to Kolkata from Silchar, until we moved to Kolkata and took everything that 69A meant for granted. Yesterday, as I saw Chhordamoni’s mortal remains get engulfed in the flames, I think we, and I take the liberty to speak for our generation here, grew up a bit more all of a sudden. Adulthood and adulting are very different experiences, and with the departure of the last of the Mohicans, this truth hit me really hard. Adieu, Chhordamoni. Adieu, childhood.

Shabnam Surita Dana.

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