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The Chaudhuris of Bharenga

The death of the eminent sculptor, Sankho Chaudhuri, last August, has brought an end in some ways to the saga of the Chaudhuri siblings. Scions of a brahmin landowning family in Bharenga, now in Bangladesh, the Chaudhuris were characterised by a restless, freewheeling, ever inquisitive spirit. Sachin Chaudhuri, the eldest among them became the founding editor of the Economic Weekly, that later became the EPW. As the youngest of his siblings, Sankho Chaudhuri was drawn to the creative arts, never hesitating to experiment with new forms and mediums of expression.

The Chaudhuris of Bharenga

The death of the eminent sculptor, Sankho Chaudhuri, last August, has brought an end in some ways to the saga of the Chaudhuri siblings. Scions of a brahmin landowning family in Bharenga, now in Bangladesh, the Chaudhuris were characterised by a restless, freewheeling, ever inquisitive spirit. Sachin Chaudhuri, the eldest among them became the founding editor of the Economic Weekly, that later became the EPW. As the youngest of his siblings, Sankho Chaudhuri was drawn to the creative arts, never hesitating to experiment with new forms and mediums of expression.

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he death last August of the sculptor, Sankho Chaudhuri, has brought to an end the saga of eight siblings closely knit to one another. The annals of this octet of brothers and sisters and of the family they belonged to – as well as of similarly situated families – occupy a space in India’s 20th century economic and social history. Views may differ on the relative significance of their particular contributions; the remarkable nature of the saga is not diminished thereby.

Narendra Narayan Chaudhuri, born in 1873, was a landowner with his roots in the village Bharenga in the district of Pabna in what is now Bangladesh. He was scion of the varendra sect of brahmins. According to one version, the Maithili brahmins, once they crossed from Bihar settled in the upper reaches of the Indo-Gangetic valley in Bengal, took to the sobriquet varendra. Whatever their other attributes, the varendra brahmins were reputed for a

Economic and Political Weekly November 11, 2006 razor-sharp intellect. Perhaps because of the numerical smallness of the sect, their sense of close kinship was also widely talked about.

The brand of feudalism flourishing under the colonial sky in Bengal, otherwise known as the Permanent Settlement, was, by the end of the 19th century, about to lose both its use- as well as exchange-value. Land in the control of intermediaries was both shrinking in size and getting increasingly fragmented. The heraldic pageantry associated with landlordism however refused to wither away despite the lack of funds. The Chaudhuris were no exception; the ostentation they practised also stemmed, some suggest, from a generosity of the heart which was the particular by-product of a riverine culture. Narendra Narayan had studied in Calcutta’s Presidency College and had a degree in law. He could not quite make ends meet with rentier income alone. To augment earnings, he decided to enrol as a lawyer. He crossed the Padma – the principal flow of the Ganges after its bifurcation on entering Bengal –, set up an establishment at Dacca, and joined the bar there. Both he and his wife, Kiranmoyee, were extraordinarily radical specimens for their times. Their radicalism was as much sparked by what is described as the 19th century Bengali renaissance as by the generally liberating influence of the Brahmo movement. But perhaps there was a bit more too in it. Their adherence to the rituals of the varendra brahmins notwithstanding, the couple imbibed the ethos of Enlightenment the British-administered new educational system and the Brahmo cult jointly engendered. Feudalism, they were fully aware, was a dying culture and was swiftly being supplanted by the emerging ideology of nationalism. They were ready to greet the change. Their ardour for literature, music and the arts went hand in hand with their interest in classical Sanskrit. Having sailed through Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, they soon discovered Rabindranath Tagore.

Between January 1904 and February 1916, Narendra Narayan and Kiranmoyee begot eight children, four sons and four daughters. The sequence was as follows: Sachindra Narayan (son), Shanti (daughter), Dharitri (daughter), Shakuntala (daughter), Deb Narayan (son), Hitendra Narayan (son), Swapnamoyee (daughter), and, finally, Nara Narayan, better known as Sankho (son). It was a large family, accommodation in the rented house at Dacca was always under a squeeze. There was, besides, a constant movement of friends and cousins, some of whom chose to stay on for long periods. None of these set a problem for the Chaudhuri siblings; share-and-share-alike was the unspoken but well understood family motto. During school vacations and at festival times, the family would visit Bharenga; the link with the ancestral village and the responsibilities going with landlordship continued to be considered as basic priorities. Of equal concern was arranging appropriate education for the children. They were sent to good schools in the city. For the daughters, ‘ustads’ would come home to provide vocal training. Narendra Narayan was well read in Bengali, Sanskrit, Persian and English literature. Kiranmoyee Devi was 13 years younger than her husband. She nonetheless had a mind of her own, coming as she did from a radicalminded, equally sophisticated family. (One of her nephews, Amiya Chakravarty, was a major Bengali poet in the post-Tagorean phase; he was also, for long years, personal secretary to Rabindranath Tagore; later in life, he taught in a number of American universities.)

The Chaudhuri Household

Love for scholarly and artistic activities was synonymous with the Chaudhuri household, which was accompanied by a fierce regard for free thinking. This predilection for freewheeling thoughts and acts conceivably had something to do with the family’s financial circumstances. Earnings from landed property were diminishing and subject to the climatic cycle of good or bad harvest. Income from law practice – particularly for one who came to the profession somewhat late – was equally chancy. For one or two months, there would be a rush of cases, leading to windfall income for Narendra Narayan; this would however be followed by a long stretch of lean months, with income reduced to a driblet. The family learnt quickly to cope with the tidal idiosyncrasies of fortune. The parents and the children would spend lavishly – often extravagantly – and enjoy a measure of good life when family income soared. Once a financial reverse took place, they adjusted to the situation. Such vicissitudes in family fortunes taught the children to be at home with the mystique of risk and uncertainty; they took delight in exploring the outer horizons of challenges and adventures. The manner they went about every now and then could, according to some social mores, be considered as bordering on irresponsible behaviour; kind-hearted ones would have chosen to describe the escapades as youthly pranks.

The eldest of the children, Sachindra Narayan, later famous as Sachin Chaudhuri, possessed an exceptionally agile mind. He provided evidence very early of an uncanny ability to explore, simultaneously, different frontiers of knowledge. He loved to wander along the gorgeous corridors of Sanskrit kavya, he was thoroughly acquainted with the trends in Bengali literature and could recite from memory Tagore’s poetry and prose for hours on end. He could hold a discourse on eastern philosophy and, in the same breath, offer weighty comments on western political thought. He could as easily wade into the abstruse recesses of economic theory. If the testimony of his classmate, A K Dasgupta, is to be accorded due respect, Sachin Chaudhuri was by far the most brilliant student to walk the lawns of the University of Dacca in the first decade of its existence. What was breathtaking though was his total disinterest in the conventional criteria of academic excellence. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement was at its peak. Sachin Chaudhuri registered himself as a Congress volunteer and began to don khadi, the habit stuck with him till the last day of his life. He cared little for syllabi and examinations. The university result was therefore disappointing. That did not worry Sachin Chaudhuri the least. For a while, he disappeared from the scene, some said to seek the inner meaning of life in the repose of the Himalayas. He resurfaced in Calcutta after some months, was the talk of the town as a top order unemployed intellectual, and managed to eke a living from private tuitions.

Other things were meanwhile happening in the family. The second child and the eldest daughter, Shanti, got married into an affluent varendra family settled in Gaya in neighbourly Bihar. The rest of her life was remarkably tranquil; she raised a happy family and lived what, in the context of the Chaudhuris, was an “ordinary” existence. The third child was another daughter, Dharitri, often addressed as Kamala. She was married to the son of a family friend who too hailed from Bharenga, a civil servant rising to the rank of a district magistrate. The groom was an income tax officer, and was a powerful writer of both prose and poetry in Bengali. He was closely associated with the post-Tagore literary stirrings in Calcutta, finding expression at the time in the literary magazine Kallol published from Calcutta and Pragati

Economic and Political Weekly November 11, 2006

published from Dacca. A man of dazzling charm, he was nature’s wayward offspring, temperamentally unstable. The bouts of wild encounters he loved to entangle himself often led to devastating sequels. He soon lost his job and, after a while, set himself up as an income tax lawyer, but was never quite out of financial strains. Dharitri, the long suffering wife, coped stoically with the consequences of his capers. She bore these not only with equanimity, but also with some pride. A blend of genius and eccentricity, after all, ran in her husband’s family; Ritwik Ghatak, the film director, was her husband’s younger brother. Dharitri herself had a remarkable writing talent and had published some prose and poetry in early life. She sacrificed her literary aspirations to look after the husband and children. Mahashweta Devi, the writer, is her eldest daughter.

The fourth child and third daughter of Narendra Narayan and Kiranmoyee, Shakuntala, fell for the charisma of Leela Nag (later Roy), the revolutionary leader, while still in high school. Leela Roy, the first woman to pass out of the University of Dacca, was closely associated with the underground terrorist activities constituting a counter-force to Mahatma Gandhi’s creed of non-violence. She was, at the same time, one of the pioneers of the women’s liberation movement in the country. She presided over the secret political outfit, Srisangha, and established a string of educational and social institutions for the spread of women’s welfare. Shakuntala joined Leela Roy’s organisation and for a number of years played a major role in it. When Leela Nag was imprisoned, Shakuntala took charge and edited, with great competence, the literary-cumpolitical journal Jayashri. Accidents, though, are accidents. A young Indian Civil Service officer came to interrogate her. They fell in love and got married. That ended effectively Shakuntala’s political career. She passed into oblivion and stayed there for the rest of her life. Whether she was content with the dénouement is a question nobody is around to answer.

Bombay Talkies

The fifth child and second son, Deb Narayan – Debu – stood first in the first class in physics in both his honours and master’s degree examinations, and was Satyendra Nath Bose’s special pet in the University of Dacca. To Bose’s great disappointment, Deb Narayan, partly taking into account the financial difficulties the family was passing through, joined a multinational concern which offered him an attractive pay package. He was posted in Bombay, where the sixth of the siblings, the third brother, Hitendra Narayan – Hiten or Hitu – had already turned up. In some ways, Hiten was the most unusual amongst the siblings. Although a bit short in stature, he was exceedingly good looking, with dreamy eyes, a soft voice and captivatingly impeccable manners. The pursuit of routine academic studies was not his cup of tea. In his early youth in Dacca, he worked as an earnest cadre, with the Congress as well as with a number of terrorist groups, participating in programmes for boycotting foreign goods and acting as courier, sworn to secrecy for terrorist groups. Given his innate charms, he was also a most successful fund-raiser for different causes. The examination season and the narrow confines of Dacca however rendered him restless. He left home and, after stray adventures en route, ended up in Bombay. He made his way into the households of both important Congress leaders in the city and Gujarati and Marathi business tycoons. He was Sarojini Naidu’s particular favourite; every time she was in Bombay, she would seek him out, listen to his patters and dreams and introduce him to people who mattered. In due course – never mind how – Hiten found himself enmeshed in the Bombay film industry. Whether he first befriended Devika Rani who introduced him to her husband, Himansu Rai, or whether it was the other way round is a history yet to be unravelled. At this time Bombay Talkies was producing such hits as Achhut Kanya, Kankan and Bandhan; Hiten was very much a part of the scene. A fact rarely in the knowledge of outsiders, a callow youth from Punjab, arriving in the tinsel world of Bombay in search of fortune, is said to have got his first chance in films through the courtesy of Hiten Chaudhury; the young man, Yusuf Khan, later came to be known as Dilip Kumar.

In his heydays, Hiten struck it rich from his involvement in film production. But the family trait refused to disappear, he would fall victim to all sob stories, whether likely or unlikely, and generously give away his money. He was a confidant to stars and starlets in distress, and, alternately, their heart-throb. When Sadhona Bose was an alcoholic wreck, and about almost everybody had deserted her, the ever-loyal Hiten Chaudhury would go over, console her and humour her wild tantrums.

It was the mid-1930s, Sachin Chaudhuri alighted in Bombay as a full-fledged vagabond. He would billet sometimes with Debu and sometimes with Hitu. His preference was to move into Debu’s apartment, for Hitu’s unconventional ways of life did not always receive the senior brother’s approval and this despite his professed – and otherwise frequently demonstrated – liberalism. The feudal mindset apparently dies hard. That apart, Debu had got married and had a stable household. There was a problem though, Debu’s wife, Hena, had her own ideas how a bourgeois household should be run. A most affectionate and understanding woman, she was unstintingly tireless in taking care of the welfare of the senior brother-in-law, who was de facto head of the household and addressed by the younger ones, in true feudal tradition, as ‘apni’ and not by the more familiar ‘tumi’. Even so, Sachin Chaudhuri’s rampant bohemianism raised her hackles; while polite and deferential, she could be no less outspoken. A crisis seemed to brew. The two younger brothers conferred among themselves and thought it wise to hunt for an apartment where the senior brother could lead a life of his own. They located a third-floor apartment in a building – Churchill Chambers – immediately to the rear of the Taj Mahal Hotel: Sachin Chaudhuri moved in, and, for the next quarter of a century, reigned there in splendour befitting a grandee.

In fact this is where the strength of the family bond revealed itself. The parents had moved from Dacca to Calcutta, the siblings had gone their different ways. The senior brother might be earning little or nothing, he was still the senior brother. Besides, about everybody acknowledged the quality of his mind and the depth of his learning. Whatever the strains and difficulties, the junior brothers in Bombay considered it their duty to look after Sachin Chaudhuri who however was apparently not particularly concerned about the predicament he was the cause of. Within months of his arrival in Bombay, he had established a wide circle of friends in different circles: politicians, artists, writers, journalists, businessmen, society ladies. A natural conversationalist and raconteur, witty, sharp enough to catch the nuances of political and social developments, equipped with a sense of sarcasm which did not bite though, and with a raucous open-hearted laughter that would ensnare into friendship even those who arrived in a combative mood, he was constantly in great demand.

Economic and Political Weekly November 11, 2006

Once ensconced in the Churchill Chambers flat, his conquest of Bombay was complete. He had no or little income, but so what. He would occasionally earn twenty-five or fifty rupee bits by writing notes on economic issues for this or that newspaper, or a film review for a cinema magazine, or a commentary on share market twists and turns in a financial journal. Gossip had it that he would even contribute wisdom-laden advice very now and then for rags carrying racing tips. The uncertain state of his financial affairs did not prevent him from being close to Yusuf Meherally, Ram Manohar Lohia, Asoka Mehta, Achyut Patwardhan, or, for that matter, Harindra Nath Chattopadhyay, Shanti Sadiq Ali and Aruna Asaf Ali. At some stage in the early 1940s, his friend A K Dasgupta introduced Sachin to D Ghosh, the economist from Cambridge, who was then reader in the Bombay School of Economics and Sociology. Ghosh arranged for him a research scholarship fetching a monthly stipend of perhaps one hundred rupees. Sachin had to register as a PhD student at the university. But that was end of the story; the research did not progress. After a while, both Ghose and Chaudhuri stopped talking about it. They nonetheless remained great friends.

Sachin obviously was hugely enjoying himself. For a while, he was, maybe at the suggestion of Hiten, made general manger of the Bombay Talkies. This involved bidding temporary adieu to khadi apparel and donning stylish double-breasted suits and natty ties imported from Oxford Street. That interlude too, as was only to be expected, of a brief duration. Toward the closing years of the second world war, Sachin had some windfall earnings from writing scripts for BBC war newsreels for the south-east Asia region. Anyway, the Churchill Chambers apartment always overflowed with guests. Hiren Mukherjee, in Bombay to attend the first Congress of the Communist Party of India in 1943, had such a rollicking time as Sachin’s guest during that week that he would ever fondly remember it.

Some months following independence, Hiten was on an non-official trade delegation touring Europe and the United States to explore prospects of developing commercial relations with parties in the two continents. The delegation was led by a professional economist of considerable standing who edited an economic periodical from New Delhi owned by a business group. For nearly three months Hiten suffered the company of this gentleman, whom he found to be both opinionated and shallow. On his return home, he kept pestering his senior brother: if that economist from New Delhi, whose quality of thinking was so ordinary, could still enjoy a reputation and edit a successful economic journal, why could not his vastly more learned and far more sophisticated brother, Sachin Chaudhuri, do so too? Finances should not be a worry, he, Hiten, would talk to his business associates and arrange the money. The younger brother’s persistence bore fruit; Sachin Chaudhuri capitulated. That was how the Economic Weekly was born on January 1, 1949, sponsored by a private limited company in which a business firm, with interests in cotton and groundnut marketing, was the sleeping, but major, partner.

A Weekly Is Born

His friends in the academic, political and journalist friends cheered Sachin along; D P Mukherji, the doyen of India’s social scientists, wrote the first editorial for the inaugural issue, ‘Light without Heat’; an exhilarating time set in for young scholars all over the country, who were now able to have an outlet for their ideas and views, however inchoate or immature. There was no pecking order in the Economic Weekly’s puny little office on Dalal Street or in the Churchill Chambers flat. It was an open house in all seasons. Sachin himself was a devout Nehruvite. But as far as his contributors were concerned, their ideology did not matter the least, what mattered was “good copy”, brightly written and intelligently argued.

Back to the events taking shape with the other siblings. The fourth sister, Swapnamoyee – nicknamed Kuchi – was sent to Santiniketan along with her youngest brother, Sankho. While there, she showed great promise in music, dance and painting. Ramkinkar Baij, legend says, fell for her charms. It is difficult to gauge whether the infatuation was mutual. Quickly realising that it could not but be an impractical conjunction, Swapnamoyee withdrew from Santiniketan and opted for a tranquil domestic existence in Calcutta. The person she got married to was from the town of Rangpur in northern Bengal. The Communist Party, during its beginnings, had set up its first cell in the town in the house owned by Swapnamoyee’s in-laws. That is a different story.

Sankho stayed on in Santiniketan. His passion for fine arts was discernible even when the family was still in Dacca: Narendra Narayan, the great liberal, allowed his youngest son to paint the four walls and the ceiling of his lawyer’s chamber in the house with replicas from the Ajanta murals. Sankho found a natural abode in Santiniketan. Restlessness, the family trademark, however kept implanting its imprimatur on him. Part-dilettante, part-rebel, he underwent a term of imprisonment during the uprising in August 1942, returned to Santiniketan to resume painting, equally dividing his time between oils and watercolour. But Ramkinkar’s magnet proved irresistible, Sankho soon migrated all the way to sculpture. In that era, teachers and students from all over the country congregated in Santiniketan. Nandita and Krishna Kripalani became close family friends. There were others too, such as Jaya Appasamy, Nirmala Patwardhan, Sabita Amin, Usha Bhagat and of course Indira Nehru, later Gandhi. These bonds endured. The Tagorean ethos, stressing the indivisibility of the home and the world, was for Sankho Chaudhuri not just the cliché of a credo; it was something he fiercely believed in. Ira – daughter of Jehangir Vakil, whom Tagore persuaded to come over to Santiniketan to lecture on English literature – was a determined woman. She chose him as her husband and, over the next 70 years, managed with great competence to cajole Sankho’s explosive brilliance into accepting a structure of discipline. (An aside. When Sankho broke to the family the news of his engagement and the date of wedding was announced, Sachin Chaudhuri, the unemployed and seemingly unemployable genius of a senior brother roaming the by-lanes of Bombay, borrowed money from a mysterious source and bought the most expensive Benarasi sari for the bride.)

Sankho travelled from Santiniketan to Europe, spending long months in France, some more time in England, absorbing the nuances of forms and ideas from foreign sculptors, but never deviating from the legacy of Ajanta, Ellora, Khajuraho and Konarak. His fascination for the adivasi mode of living and art forms, which he considered to be the purest of the pure Indian inheritance, was equally unwavering. His works began to be widely talked about; that is to say, he became a celebrity. The department of fine arts at the M S University of Baroda grew, under his guidance, into a hub of creativity, where experiments proceeded with media and material – Sankho spent, in all, 15 years at Baroda. All of a sudden, somebody or something rubbed him in the wrong, the federal ire was rekindled, he chucked his professorial slot and arrived in New Delhi to start a new chapter in life. He had

Economic and Political Weekly November 11, 2006

meanwhile travelled far, from terracotta to bronze, from bronze to cast and wrought iron, to alloys of diverse metals, to stone chips and mortars, and finally, romance with the Makarana quarries. It was hard going initially, but, as the years rolled by, he proved his point: a creative artist – any creative artist – must be given by society the dignity he deserves. Society, meekly and humbly, accepted his point – at least up to a point.

It was undoubtedly Sachin Chaudhuri, the revered elder brother and former tramp, now editor of the Economic Weekly, around whom however the family pride revolved. Once it became public knowledge that Jawaharlal Nehru had passed instructions that the fresh issue of the journal be placed on his table each week, the culture proliferated. The finance minister at the time, Chintamani Deshmukh, was equally attentive to Sachin’s editorial ruminations, including the admonitions he administered. Sachin was incorrigibly independent-minded, partly because of the family tradition and also because he simply did not care whose amour propre he wounded. There was one occasion when a union government directive, he was convinced, had compromised the dignity of the Reserve Bank of India; if the incumbent governor of the RBI possessed any sense of self-respect, he, Sachin thundered, should immediately resign. The governor did resign the following morning.

Official advertisements for the journal began to creep in. The business world though was still in an uncertain frame of time. The two younger brothers did their bit to canvass for advertisements. The maverick nature of the editorial comments the journal printed perhaps intimidated the private sector bosses. That constituted no problem for Sachin; he got intense satisfaction in describing his journal as a “shoestring” operation, the Economic Weekly was his personal cottage industry, others could keep their hands off it. Both Kiranmoyee Devi and Narendra Narayan passed away in the 1950s, they died with the satisfaction that their hunch was right, their first offspring did indeed possess a riveting, intellectually superior personality and was going places.

The scholarly crowd swarmed round Sachin. The juxtaposition of commentaries on current political and economic events with learned academic articles, incorporating mathematical formulae and formidable-looking diagrams, made the journal a cause célébre. Economists and other social scientists from distant shores considered it a fabulous thing and began to write for it. In the colonial climate in which post-colonial India thrived, that fact helped. The Economic Weekly scaled to greater heights of fame. Visiting scholars, such as Joan Robinson, Michal Kalecki, Nicky Kaldor, Oskar Lange and John Galbraith, would call on him and sign up as his contributors. P C Mahalanobis too would drop in whenever in Bombay. Sachin Chaudhuri, the spell-binding conversationalist, would enthral them. He, the confirmed bachelor, became the natural target of a bevy of pretty, vivacious scholars of the female species from American academic institutions; he treated them to excellent cuisine and sent them home.

All this was too good to last. For 16 long years, the business group who helped Hiten Chaudhury to keep the Weekly afloat had remained quiet. With their prosaic minds, they nonetheless could not quite understand the worth of celebrity status if it did not bring in any monetary returns. They were polite people and maintained their distance from the affairs of the Weekly. However, even the worm turns; they made a mild suggestion for revamping the financial management of the journal. That was enough to hurt Chaudhuri’s pride in suzerain rights. He closed down the journal, abruptly, in January 1965.

Perhaps the wanderer in him preferred that kind of sudden disappearance. The Economic Weekly was his major achievement; in life in its own manner; it enriched the nation too. But the concept of fixity was to Sachin Chaudhuri – and generally to the Chaudhuris – an alien proposition. In any event, because of the irregularities bachelor living is often responsible for, he had developed a cardiac problem and got easily tired. Friends and admirers would not however let things reach this denouement. They gathered the necessary funds to set up the Sameeksha Trust. Thus began the new incarnation of the journal, the Economic and Political Weekly. Sachin Chaudhuri went along with the rituals of a fresh beginning. He was not terribly interested though. He was gone within six months.

Other things had been happening to the family since the 1950s. Debu, bitten late in life by the bug of escapades which was the outstanding distinguishing attribute of the family, chucked his job with the multinational company and went back to Calcutta to start a business venture. It was at first a distributional network for electric and electronic goods; subsequently he branched out to start a television assembling unit. But he too was a sophisticate, a good and proper Chaudhuri sibling. He presided over an informal ‘adda’ where the city’s more interesting specimens would foregather: poets, politicians, painters, musicians, doctors, lawyers, philosophers,film stars, do-gooders, crooks and certified mad men; the flavour was quintessentially Chaudhuri-esque.

Following Sachin’s death, however, the yeast that bound the family together seemed to have lost some of its quality. The next generation had arrived on the scene. They were conscious of the legacy left behind by the senior uncle and would also bask in the reflected glory of the increasing recognition the junior uncle Sankho’s works were being accorded at home and abroad. Even so, with the patriarch gone, it was a different ambience. Hiten Chaudhury’s various magnanimities proved his undoing. Most of his past savings had been dissipated by the 1960s. His subsequent business ventures failed one after another; all that he was left with was the imposing bungalow at Pali Hills. While gradually withdrawing into his shell, he still considered it his duty to take on the responsibility of managing the Sameeksha Trust after the senior brother’s death. Since he was overly conscious of his non-academic background, it somewhat cramped his style. Krishna Raj, were he around, would have vouchsafed for the generosity he received from Hiten, his managing trustee. Hiten too, if he were still alive, would have acknowledged the quiet firmness and abiding imagination with which Krishna Raj carried forward what he considered the nearly holy inheritance Sachin Chaudhuri had left behind for him.

The other siblings survived the senior brother by nearly two decades. They then began to depart, in quick succession, one after another. Sankho Chaudhuri, the youngest, was also the longest living. With his departure, the saga of the Chaudhuri siblings has now come to a surcease.

Their parents were born in the Victorian age; they themselves grew up amid the many exciting phases of the freedom movement, some of them were active participants in it, they contributed, in their own manner, to shape the contours of post-independent India. In the broad grey canvas on which the nation’s history is or will be charted, the spasmodic events which were the contributions of a particular family within a particular time frame perhaps add up to nothing. Or, who knows, perhaps it is otherwise.

EPW

Economic and Political Weekly November 11, 2006

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