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”.
On one such general visit to Imphal (Princely state Manipur’s capital), during the 1930s, he was informed that the queen of Manipur was quite sick, and the King - Maharaja Churachand’s staff were looking for a healer. My grandfather was roped in, only to find himself cornered with a conundrum : if his queen healed, the Maharaja would reward my grandfather; if she did not, he would be beheaded.
According to family knowledge, My great grand-parents, Balwant and Laxmibai’s relationship was considerably strained. Four years after their marriage, he married again, for the second time, to a lady named Kamalabai, because he thought that Laxmibai was not beautiful enough and that the marriage was arranged against his wishes. Consequently, Laxmibai’s life was riddled with difficulties and illness, compounded with eight pregnancies of which only three children survived. While Kamalabai would accompany Balwant in his travels to Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Delhi, and she attended to her husband throughout his life, Laxmibai had to stay home, and look after their kids. Ironically, the conspicuous absence of Balwant’s second wife, Kamalabai in family group photographs could be for the fact that she was unable to bear children. Both women suffered discrimination in different forms. Having said that, Kamalabai looked after her step-children as her own, even after he passed away.
This photograph of my grandfather was taken around 1925 at a photo studio called Portraits Par Papers located at 23, Rue Boissy-d’ Anglas in Paris, France. I am not exactly sure what he was doing in Paris at the time, but it is possible that he went there on a vacation with some of his friends because we know that he also travelled to Austria and Hungary. We also know that he had by then discovered the delights of a camera and photography.