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My Roots

The last epidemic has given me a harsh reminder about the fraility of human existence. Whics is why I am making this attempt of recording for my near and dear ones whatever little history I can recall of a few remarkable people in my family, since the absence of concrete facts often leads to doubts and errors and causes vital information to vanish from the mental canvas of future generations.

My great-grandfather was Chandicharan Bardhan. He was an educationist and the founder of a school called the 'Hindu Boys School' in the Bowbazar area of Calcutta. Swami Suddhananda, a direct disciple of Swami Vivekananda has left us some information about Chandicharan in his essay ' Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda' (cf. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda). Here Suddhananda writes -

One day we took with us Shri Chandi Charan Vardhan who lived in our quarter of the city. Chandi Babu, was the manager of a small Hindu Boys' School where education was given up to the third class. From the beginning he was a great lover of God. After reading the lectures of Swamiji he developed an intense faith in him. Formerly he had even thought of renouncing the world for facilitating his devotional practices; but he was not successful in this attempt. For a while he was an amateur actor, in a theatre and he even figured as a playwright. He was very emotional by temperament. He had picked up the acquaintance of Edward Carpenter, the famous democrat. In his book Adam's Peak to Elephanta, the author has given an account of his meeting with Chandi Babu as well as a picture of him.

Chandi Babu came and with great reverence made his obeisance and asked Swamiji. "Swamiji, whom can we accept as guru?"

Swamiji: "He who can understand and speak to you of your past and future can be recognized as your guru. My guru spoke all about my past and future."

Thereafter Suddhananda writes,

The topic of conversation next was Edward Carpenter. Swamiji said, "At London, he used to call on me on many occasions and sit near me. Many other Socialist Democrats also used to visit me. Finding in the religion of Vedanta a strong support for their ideals, they felt much attracted towards its teachings."

Swamiji had read his book Adam's Peak to Elephanta. This brought to his mind the picture of Chandi Babu printed therein, and he told him that he had already been familiar with his appearance. The shadows of evening began to fall, and so Swamiji got up for a little rest. And addressing Chandi Babu, he said, "Chandi Babu, you come across many boys; can you give me some excellent boys?" Chandi Babu was a bit absentminded when Swamiji said this. So, unable to understand the full bearing of Swamiji's words, when Swamiji retired to his room he followed him and inquired what he had said as regards some beautiful boys. Swamiji replied: "I do not want those whose appearance looks well. I want some strongly built, energetic, serviceable boys of character, I want to train them up so that they may get themselves ready for their own liberation as well as for the good and welfare of this world."

The Edward Carpenter being referred to here was a poet and philosopher who lived between 1844 to 1929. In 1890 he travelled to Sri Lanka and India, and wrote a book of his travel accounts titled 'From Adam's peak to Elephanta'.

Carpenter had reached Calcutta on 6th February from South India. Next day he went to a circus along with a citizen of Calcutta, who he referrs to as Pannalal B. In Calcutta Carpenter met with a group of Bengalis, who he calls 'the most interesting people.' Among them was Pannalal's brother Chandicharan B. A picture of Chandicharan appears in Carpenter's book, and this is the one that Swami Vivekananda was referring to.

Carpenter has given a detailed description of Chandicharan's school and has mentioned that he could also play a little sitar. To avoid making this article lengthy, we will not get into these. Those wanting to know more may read the original book.

Pannalal Bardhan

The Pannalal that Carpenter refers to was Pannalal Bardhan, Chandicharan’s younger brother , and a reputed gymnast in Priyanath Bose’s Great Bengal Circus. (cf. Bangalir Circus, Abanindrakrishna Basu). His speciality was the horizontal bar. He was a part of the contingent sent by Motilal Nehru to the Paris exhibition in 1900. He was also an accomplished clarinet player.

Chandicharan’s third son, and my grandfather’s younger brother was named Prabhat Bardhan, though he was more popularly known as Dr. Major P. Bardhan, or Major Bardhan. In his early years he worked as a military doctor in the British Indian Army, and during the First World War, most likely served in Mespotemia in the Middle East.

Prabhat Bardhan was a childhood friend of the eminent linguist Bhashacharya Suniti Kumar Chatterji. In his essay ‘Yugavatar Vivekananda’ Suniti Kumar writes, “In the fourth class I found a classmate in friend Prabhat Kumar Bardhan. From 1903, till Prabhat’s death in 1961, he remained my close friend for fifty eight years.” In 1938, when Suniti Kumar travelled to Europe as a representative of the University of Calcutta to attend a couple of International Congresses, Prabhat Bardhan was his companion (cf. Makers of Indian Literature, Suniti Kumar Chatterji by Sukumar Sen/ Sahitya Academy ).

In his later years Prabhat Bardhan joined the Hindu Mahasabha, and became involved in the struggle for independence. In the 23rd session of Hindu Mahasabha at Bhagalpur in December 1941, the sixth resolution that called for the release of prisoners, mentions, along with names such as Savarakar and S.P. Mukherji, Prabhat Bardhan also. After the Noakhali riots, Prabhat Bardhan was part of the relief team sent by the Hindu Mahasbha (source : Wikipedia). From Nirmal Kumar Bose’s ‘My Days with Gandhi’ we learn that later, while Gandhiji was camping at Belighata in Calcutta, Prabhat Bardhan met him along with other leaders - “Beliaghata, Thursday, 14-8-1947: Nirmal Chandra Chatterji, Major Bardhan and some other members of the Hindu Mahasabha had a long interview with Gandhiji on the East Bengal situation.”

The most noted personality in the generation after Prabhat Bardhan’s was my uncle Adrish Bardhan. Creator of the Bengali word for science fiction, ‘kalpa-vigyan’ the editor of two SF

Adrish Bardhan

magazines, Ashcharya and Fantastic, SF translator and author par excellence, so much has been written and spoken about this keystone of Bengali SF, that it needs hardly anything new from me. The only thing that I would like to add however is that I am personally grateful to him for whatever little success I have had in writing. He used to encourage me to write, complain if I didn’t, and once after I had almost left writing for good, brought me back to it with a bout of severe scolding.

This completes a short record of three generations of my family. I hope they will be of some help in addressing the questions of inquisitive minds.

Sumit Bardhan.

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