This photograph was one of many on a similar wall, and I had seen it all my life growing up. Albeit for some odd reason, what should have been so obvious in this photograph, was a blind spot to me; and it took a school friend to gasp and point out that, “that is a German Swastika!” in the background.
In Sikkim, my great grandfather was somehow introduced to the Chogyals (Namgyal), the monarchs of Sikkim and he earned favour to join and serve them. The king at that time apparently took a great liking to my great grandfather and bestowed upon him several land estates and properties in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and other regions (a few of which our family still own). I am told that the manner in which the land was offered to my great grandfather was like a game. The king would offer about 100 feet in front of the road, and at the other end my great grandmother or great grandfather could choose another 100 feet.
Our father played a significant role in setting up various social welfare organisations, clubs and banks - such as the Rajasthani Association, Agrasen Co-operative Bank and Mahesh Bank. Apart from hosting Poetry Festivals (Kavi Sammelan), he was also responsible for establishing the Dampatti Sammelan (Couple’s festival) - a get-together for married couples who, in that era, had no place to go out by themselves.
My grandmother was only four years old when her family first left for Dacca from Sylhet but when the family continued to feel threatened, they decided to go on to Calcutta (now Kolkata). For the safety of their family, my great grandparents sacrificed all their assets and properties they had in Sylhet and Dacca. My grandmother would often say that she never thought Bangladesh was strong enough to offer them the secure life they sought. A mugging incident reinforced the impression when she was visiting Dacca with her young son (my father) and they were robbed in broad daylight right outside the airport. My grandmother was deeply upset with the incident and from then on could not find anything worthy of being nostalgic about her “roots”.
It is unusual to see Bijoy clothed in a North Indian Dhoti (loose drape pants) because most young boys his age wore half pants. Apparently he had begun to dress like an adult to display his commitment to the independence struggle; perhaps he felt that serious work required an adult attire. And he was not alone in his commitment - several leaders of the Independence movement had recruited large numbers of young boys to act as secret messengers to deliver letters in nearby towns and villages. Whenever the policemen came around on suspicion and to arrest Bijoy (they would come around often) his proud mother Pareshwari Devi would instruct Bijoy - “If you sign any police papers for an early release, do not come back to this house”.