Bhagabati Prasad Pal (My father)
Bapi’s nick name was Montu. He was the youngest of all the nine siblings (five sisters and four brothers). The age difference between him and the eldest brother (jyatha babu) was 22 years. Unlike the three generations of his family who were lawyers, he took interest in Engineering. He went ahead to become an Electrical engineer at Jadavpur University after completing his graduation (B.Sc) from Ravenshaw College. He studied in Jadavpur from 1951 to 1956. Engineering was a 5 year course during those times.
The name Bhagabati was given after his own grandmother. Bapi took a lot of interest in Photography. He had his own dark room in the house (which is converted into a store room now) and developed black & white pictures on his own. Jyatha Babu had sent him money (Rs 125/-) to buy engineering books. Bapi bought a German Agfa camera instead! He was also a very good swimmer. He and his friends swam in the Kathjodi river regularly. He used to say that it is easiest to swim during monsoon when the river is flooded.
Immediately after passing out from Jadavpur, Bapi was associated with the Hirakud Dam project. In our childhood days we remember him telling us stories about saving monkeys in boats from the flooded jungles during the project.
Bapi had an elder brother who passed away in his teenage due to Cholera. Bapi had preserved many of his photographs. May be he was also interested in photography like Bapi. I do not know his name.
Later on Bapi joined the District Industries Corporation (DIC) and served there till retirement in 1989 August as Additional Director of Industries.
Bapi was a great friend of ours – the three sisters. The emotional bond was very strong. While Maa was a practical person, Bapi was emotional. So all three of us were kind of biased towards him. He would tell us many interesting stories from his childhood days and college days – stories about his friends, swimming, photography and about his teachers. He encouraged us in reading books. As a child, I accompanied him everywhere – to vegetable shops and fish market, to his favorite book shop, his regular car garage (Madhab Babu’s garage) and photography shops. We will go all the way chatting, discussing about life, about future and so on. He wanted his kids to get into some professional line. The night before the exams, he would fill ink in my fountain pen. During my board exams, he would accompany me every day to the exam center and would be waiting anxiously outside the hall till exam gets over.
One day when I was in high school, a childhood friend of Bapi came to visit us along with his wife. They were meeting each other after decades. So non-stop chatting started. They were catching up with each other’s life after so many years! Discussion about other friends, about childhood incidents, about school and many other things were going on. We were all the fascinated audience. All of a sudden, uncle mentioned something about getting arrested while in class 10. We learnt that Bapi, Dulu-da (my cousin) and their friends were arrested being RSS members. This had happened after assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. I had no idea that Bapi was an RSS member during his school days. He never mentioned about that. Afterwards when I asked him about it he said quietly with a smile that some things are best left unmentioned and unshared. I think it was a natural thing in those days for school boys to join RSS. Things must have changed after Gandhiji’s assassination.
I followed Bapi’s footsteps in my career –the same subjects in college, same engineering profession and even the same college. Bapi used to help me in my studies till 12th Std. His concepts of physics were very clear. He remembered everything even after so many years. He was an electrical engineer. At his time Electronics was not offered as a subject. I have seen him reading various books on electronics and trying to upgrade his knowledge. Since our fields were the same, he remained my guide and mentor till the end.
In his forties, Bapi became quite spiritual. I have seen him reading a number of books on spirituality, though he did not believe so much in religious rituals. He used to regularly attend talks by Chinmaya mission and was a regular visitor to Ramkrishna Mission. As a child, I had memorized some poetry by Tagore and used to recite to Bapi. During my college days I was influenced by Bapi and had started reading a few spiritual books like Ramkrishna Kathamruta. I had also learned some Shlokas at that time.
When I went to Engg college in Kolkata, Bapi would worry a lot about me. He constantly worried about all his daughters. Those days communication channels were very poor. One had to stand in a queue to make STD calls. There was one single phone in the ladies hostel and it used to be out-of-order most of the time. So Bapi would call my classmate Sandip who lived close by and fix a time. I would go and wait at his place at that fixed time to receive Bapi’s call. He will be very nervous if he didn’t get a letter from me for more than 7-10 days. Sometimes I would get annoyed for his excess worry and nervousness.
When I grew up and started understanding other aspects of life, I realized that Bapi had been quite impractical in a few things, especially in money matters. Though during our formative years, we were blind supporters of Bapi (against Maa), later on I realized that many of Maa’s complaints against Bapi being impractical in worldly matters were not completely unfounded.
In his profession, Bapi was very much involved in the industrial development of Odisha. He was very passionate about it. He had a close group of friends, all engineers and worked together. Bapi spent a lot of time in development of small scale industries in the state, including handicraft industry. Odisha was among top rankers in the developmental growth rate. He was associated with most of the new initiatives taken up by the state government. In my opinion, Bapi and his friends were very much hands-on in whatever they did. He visited factories, went to engineering colleges to give lectures and even corrected exam papers for engineering school in Cuttack. Even if he was a very senior official in the state government, he never lost touch with engineering. He belonged to the generation that spent their life in the Nation Building activities immediately after the independence of the country. They came from fairly wealthy and well to do families, were well educated and joined various government services which were seen as prestigious jobs in those times. However those jobs didn’t pay much so they had to plan meticulously for everything, starting from daily expenses to their children’s education. Moneywise they were impractical but were truly passionate about building India as a self-sufficient nation – they built dams, factories, set up industries and so on. I will always remember my Bapi as a fiercely honest and upright person with a lot of affection not only towards his daughters but also for everybody he came in touch with.
Suchitra Pal (My Mother)
Maa was the only daughter born to my grand-parents, Dhirendra Nath Ghosh and Lavanya Ghosh. She was the 2nd among six children. Maa’s nick name was Nini. She got married at a young age of 17, just after finishing her matriculation.
My eldest uncle (Bado Mama, Maa’s elder brother) and Bapi studied in the same college – in Jadavpur University. Both were Electrical Engineers. My uncle was a few years junior to Bapi. They knew each other from their college days. Both were from Cuttack. However I guess the marriage proposal was a coincidence and my uncle didn’t have a role in it. Maa and Bapi had their own versions of the bride meeting event. Maa claimed that she never knew that Bapi was coming to see her. She was only told that a college friend of her dada (elder brother) was to visit their place. But Bapi would refute this claim saying that when he saw her standing on the 1st floor verandah, she was wearing specs. However when she entered into the room where he was waiting, she had no specs on her. So she was conscious of the fact that it was a bride seeing ceremony.
After marriage, Maa moved into our ancestral house at Bakhrabad. It was hardly 15 minutes’ walk from her own house. However, Bapi , as an engineer with the Odisha State Government, had a transferrable job around the state. They lived in various small towns of Odisha like Baleswar, Baripada, Keunjhar etc. My childhood memories are around Bhubaneswar, Rourkela and Cuttack. By that time Bapi had become a senior official with the Odisha State Government.
Maa loved life. She loved to cook, to eat, to move around, to meet people, to dress well and above all never missed a chance to praise herself. She enjoyed simple things in life. I have never seen her reading serious books and listening to serious good music. During our teenage years, we the sisters were great art lovers. My eldest sister would read poetry, do painting etc. I would read classics. We were great admirers of the so-called Hindi Art movies like Akrosh, Ardhsatya etc. My mother simply did not like them. She loved all masala Hindi movies with songs and dances. I remember her enjoying Rishi Kapoor movies like Karz immensely.
Dadu was a civil surgeon in the pre and post independent India. Maa would narrate her childhood story where Dadu was a doctor appointed for jails. So the Kaidis (prisoners) used to come to work in the garden of their official bungalow and so on. We would hear stories about big official parties where Biryanis and Chicken Roasts were cooked and served by them. She was very fond of her brothers. We grew up listening to their childhood stories in small towns of rural Odisha. Mejo mama (our 2nd uncle) was particularly naughty. He was also the favourite of their grandmother, a cause of jealousy among all other brothers, and how the brothers played mischief on one another.
Being the only daughter, Maa was greatly pampered by Dadu. Maa would always praise Dadu, about his discipline, cleanliness, sense of style and so on. One particular story that she used to tell was like this – when my eldest sister was born, Dadu insisted that the delivery would happen at the hospital and not at home which was a common practice those days. So Dadu went to see my sister at the hospital. My mother told him ‘see, my daughter is so beautiful’. And Dadu said – ‘No, my daughter is more beautiful’. They kept on arguing like this…
Maa was one of the best cooks I have ever known in my life. She made it a point to keep the house spic and span. She put in great effort to keep the house beautiful, dusted ; she cleaned the book-almirahs regularly, decorated the living room and so on. As a result she was always over-worked and in an irritable mood. As a child I found Maa to be always complaining due to over-work and tiredness. I remember resenting it greatly. As an adult when I had to set up my own house, I realized how much of effort goes into maintaining a beautiful home. We took Maa for granted in many things. Getting home made tasty food on time, coming back to a nice and clean house, finding everything at home in order e.g. books in place, pressed clothes in place and so many other things. For us, it was natural to have those comforts at home. But we never realized how much effort she had to put to make everything the way it was. We always had a garden in our house. There were several tubs full of so many different types of plants, flower plants, trees etc. I never noticed who took care of the plants, watered them, put manure and kept them in shape. In my apartment in Mumbai, when I set up a small garden in the balcony, I realized how much trouble one has to take to get the plants, the soil, the fertilizer and the insecticides. Being in Mumbai, I went to various nurseries close-by in my car and collected all necessary items. Many times I have wondered how Maa managed to get all those things in a small town like Cuttack.
Maa got married at a young age. She didn’t get much opportunity for higher studies. She was an average student I guess. However she was extremely ambitious as far as her own daughters were concerned. She was very clear that her daughters should be professionals. Often she told us ‘I wish I was a working woman. Everybody would have addressed me as Madam. I would have shopped for saris with my own money’.
Maa loved to dress up as much as she loved to keep her home beautiful. She was naturally pretty looking, with a young and perfect skin. She loved colors. I remember how much she disliked pale and white colors and how much she liked colorful, bright silk sarees, although she would not admit it openly. She was naturally graceful and looked pretty in whatever she wore. She had a great sense of dressing. She made it a point to be presentable in any circumstance. Even in the last phase of her life, when she was suffering from dementia, she did not lose this sense of being presentable in public. I consider it to be a great quality.
During our growing up days we felt that Maa was very strict, practical and not very expressive with her emotions. We, the three sisters, were somewhat biased towards Bapi. When Bapi passed away, she was just 50. She was bold with a great sense of duty. Though she was not so soft at times, she never shied away from responsibilities. Being born in pre-independent India, being a housewife throughout her life, having lived in small towns throughout her life, she showed tremendous courage in all situations.