Oral history interview with Barid Barun Chatterjee

Chatterjee, Barid Barun

Manjapra, Kris


  • Interviewed in Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Kris Manjapra
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Let us start from the beginning
First could you. I do not know your first name. I know you are Dr. Chatterji [Barid Barun Chatterji]
My name is Barid Barun Chatterji. I don' know where to begin, but from, so let me begin from the beginning. I was born in 1925 at Calcutta, in North Calcutta in a very orthodox family. However, my father was a doctor and he particularly because of his ill health he chose to serve in the railways at that time, and he made a condition that I have to be posted in a station which is salubrious so he took a job in Assam Bengal Railways [Assam Bengal Railways] now most of it is in Bangladesh and he was posted in a place called Haflong Hills, the hill tracks, that's somewhere... a small station but one of the resorts health resort of that time. So coming to my education you see.
Can I ask you one question?
Yes, Yes
When you say it was an orthodox family how did that influence, how were you in fact influenced what was that like that that atmosphere
Lot of lot of I mean lot of rites, rituals
It was not a Brahmo [Brahmo Samaj] family
No, it is a Brahmin family,
Brahmin family
Chatterjis are Brahmin and a high caste Brahmin. You see Chatterjis, Mukherjis , Banerjis and Gangulis these four groups of Brahmins with titles they are called kulins [kulin] the best
the highest
the cream, cream, cream, they are cream of Brahmins but there are others like the Chakarvartis, Bhattarcharjis, etc. etc. They are considered a lower, lower... a lower state of Brahmins that sort of thing. So these are all I mean a way a little outstanding so far as my taste is concerned.
One of them is a literati Ramapada Chaudhuri who was for some time the editor of the Desh [Desh Magazine] , one important literary journals which had been running for 75 years continuously and going very strong so but he is more well known for his novels - quite a large, quite a corpus so Ramapada Chaudhuri he was my class mate. I really never talked to him.
He was an arts student. That is my difficulty. I go out rather grafted onto Presidency College because I am a student of the Scottish Church College Gate school towards North, which was not very far from my... and that is a good school also and so with all my friends after my matriculation I came to Scottish Church College near you know Calcutta little near Hawrah, Bethune College it is near near near that it is you see from Presidency College it is about nearly three miles miles towards north. I am a student of intermediate and it is two years at Scottish Church College then I came to Presidency for seeking Chemistry doc scholarship the department was not very good
KM; At Scottish Church [Scottish Church College]
and I had very good results. Today, the people to get admission have to work very hard, give a lot of examinations and there is a huge crowd. At that time, at my time my father was in Assam I was by myself. I took my mark sheet just walked there was admitted. There was a senior professor, the bursar. And he just looked at me, like like like that. So I was not, I was not acquainted with many of these chaps who continued from intermediate to...
I was more acquainted with the honors group, a small group, a group of 30 or 40
In Chemistry
In Presidency College
In Presidency College okay
So that is my difficulty I will come come... when to I said the other person whom I know quite well because
This is a very sensitive recorder so you can speak freely you do not have to make yourself uncomfortable by sitting you can sit however you want
Because I stayed for some time in a hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel], Presidency College Hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] because what happened was that my father was in Assam and we had our own house in North Calcutta in north, so grandfather's actually. He built the house. So we were... my father before he went to tea, he was in the railways [Assam Bengal Railways], then he had a some very sharp difference of opinion with his chief Dr Welder and he resigned in 36. He resigned.
your father resigned from the railway [Assam Bengal Railway] service
In '36 he took a job in tea as a chief medical officer in the tea gardens in the groups of tea gardens. They want a senior senior man and they have got a small hospitals in the garden themselves. So this was a group of-in Assam- a group of about fourteen fifteen gardens by three or four companies. They make an association because they contribute to pay up this. This man is a well-paid man. The chief of of the Garden doctors are usually less qualified. My father's job was to go around there a sort of a roster. So Monday Wednesday inspect two or three gardens or some of the cases and he was on call if there is a difficult case.
So this was in Assam
That was as in Assam and he was staying there. Now there were no good schools and colleges so my elder sister who is three years older than me and we were in school at that time and just before that my father was posted in Chittagong which was the headquarters of the Assam Bengal Railway . So he was at the headquarters and there were very good schools.
You were there
Yeah, The problem was schooling. So my mother stayed back with us in the ancestral house. And so in 1941, my sister got married and I passed my intermediate examination at about the same time. So I was pushed on, shoved on to a hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] and my mother closed up the house and with my younger brother who was about nine years younger than me. So she pushed on to join her husband, and I stayed in the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] Presidency college hostel...
Were there multiple hostels or is there just one were all the students ... I know some students
Just about one there was hostel called Hindu Hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel]
KM; Hindu Hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel]
One of the very eminent ex-boarders of this hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] was Babu Rajendra Prasad [Rajendra Prasad] our first President of independent India. This is an old college. This is also an old hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel]. So there I met this chap. We were in different wards. That's Floors. This Amaleshh Tripathi whom I refer was in ward five also. He just left. When he was leaving after his M.A. he was going aboard. There I met him and this chap, Ashin Datta , who is also a favorite student of Susobhan Sarkar . He is distinguished in this sense because he was one of the Rhodes scholars [Rhodes Scholarship] . I usually pull his... he was in the same hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] two or three rooms away from me.
It this Ashin Datta or Ashin Gupta?
Ashin Datta . I will introduce you to him over the phone and make an appointment so that if he is available. Of course, he had prostate... cancer of the prostrate but I don't think so badly off so as he he can't talk to you. So I got a... he was a very bright student. Always first, then a Rhode scholar [Rhodes Scholarship] , Bar at Law, and what all he did I do not know in Oxford. But he came back but he became an educationist. He did not practice. He more or less he became Dean of Faculty of Arts at Jadavpur University
Hmm. Interesting...
Like I said you can get a great deal of information from him. And Dr. Amalesh Tripathi , I think he is alive though he is senior to us. About by four years or so, that is he is 87, 88. Ashin Datta would be about 88, my age. Like these two people like you to meet particularly Ashin Datta, I can arrange. Dr. Tripathi [Amalesh Tripathi] , I do not know.
how to go about it.
that well just met him once or twice in the same hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel]. So Ashin Datta, being a historian, and being from Presidency College from the intermediate this whole four years, he would have impact more of the Presidency College knowledge, law, or culture, people. And Ramapada Chaudhuri, I don't know, but you can collect it from Ashin [Ashin Datta] because they are buddies. Arts, he was an arts student and I am more or less a Science student so I was segregated in a way. So that is what I will advise you to do. So far as I am concerned, I went through the college as a chemistry honors student but peculiarly you see my hostel the Hindu Hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] we had to leave the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] in a huff all of us. Because it is a large hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] housing about 180 students.
all at Presidency all Presidency Students...
But what happened on 7 December 1941, something happened. It is like your 9/11 that is bombing of Pearl Harbor. You see that was 7 December 1941. Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japanese. And Japan came into the war and you see Calcutta became and as the Japanese pushed towards Singapore and Burma so on and so forth India became quite vulnerable and Calcutta was quite near the border of Burma.
Was Calcutta bombed at some point? It was bombed. Wasn't it by the Japanese?
Ineffectual, well ineffectually. I am coming to that. We got a notice soon after that we have to leave the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel]. Because the government, the British Government at that time, had decided that that would be the Center Air Raid Precaution because of the supplies this Air Raid precaution [Central Air Raid Precaution] whatever darkening of the air, and the supervision. Darkening of the, I mean cars headlights, darkening of the windows, so on and so forth. And lights of so that no bright light roof like that to supervise these people, to guide people at time time, and to build barricades. There were lot of this built brick walls coming in front of houses, public buildings so on and so forth. And lot of sand bags being kept at that time and street lights were also quite dim at that time florescent lights had not come up there were bulbs The bulbs were given shades so that, eh, the light could not shine directly, so indirect.
From the periphery some lights came down and that was sufficient for people to go about but not bright lights. So that in a large city like that you can see from a very distance a halo in the sky so that effect they tried to prevent so we had to leave. So where do I go? Immediately I, we had this house so I came there. A portion of the house because my father stayed in Assam. My uncle only the other brother stayed in Rajasthan so this house was kept locked up our portion. And a small portion was given to a very distant relation a nominal rent but they were more as caretakers. So I came up, opened up and cleaned up all the rooms and started living and these people said they would feed me etc. etc. in lieu of rent. Whatever, the relations so they did not mind and at that time food was quite cheap so it was not back breaking for anybody to feed a man. Then you see I found out that my father did not like the arrangement so I went around looking for hostels.
I then stayed in towards north, more near Scottish Church College a place called Oxford Mission , a hostel a small hostel but very good. So from there I studied there what happened, a very funny thing happened so that is a very nicely managed hostel by Christian father Oxford Mission and superintendent was a young man very efficient I forget his name So the first floor had a verandah, a very wide verandah. The first floor verandah was kept two things. A very substantial wooden stand for newspapers slanting two newspapers on that side and two newspapers on this side. They were very well equipped I mean furnished small room table a beautiful table lamp I mean of brass, a brass table lamp, and a cot just a plain cot without any mattress. But very very nice much better than Hindu, that was our hostel at Presidency College, but the vision of the piece was... just move that chair...
Just continue as you were...
You can sit here also...
[Talking to third party]
So we were in 1941 at the Oxford Mission
Not 1941. '41 had gone already because this was is 7 December. We quit January and February. This is sometime in June '42. We are coming near the 9 August 1942 when the Congress gave this cry the slogan Quit India [Quit India Movement] to Britain. So it was quite in way a sort of a way stirring time. Now, '42 June perhaps. But one of the furnitures as I said was a very substantial newspaper stand. And another one which was my undoing was a billiards table. Now, I became so addicted to billiards that while close to my examination which was due in '43, we had two years, I was allowed in the test examination and I did well but I thought that I would not get any good, good grade. I imagined with myself that I would not get a good enough grade.
I would rather drop this year. So, I wrote to my father that the preparations are not so good and I think I will make the... and another pretext which I tell to most people most strangers, that was the time just before the examinations there was a bombing [Bombing of Calcutta] very near at North Calcutta at the Bagh Bazar there was late bombing the other bombing was near the Port Commissioners , farther away
By the Japanese, from the sky
From the sky, and Calcutta was completely evacuated.
Calcutta you see I remember at eight or nine if you go around Calcutta most of the doors were locked. People had fled away completely. They were so frightened. And properties going cheap so on and so forth. People had been asking other people to come and stay in their house not as tenants I mean but as caretakers and they will be paid. Some of my friends went away and appeared in the B.Sc. Examination from outside Calcutta. One of my very good friends he went to Barakpur and appeared. Somehow they had made arrangements like that. So I did not appear in the examination in '43. I rather played billiards and sharpened my skill. And then I during all halls I was going to Assam. I liked it. The tea estates , the Bungalow, and so on very affluent and it was provided for by the government because it is so isolated Club and everything beautiful Bungalow, huge Bungalow and lot of servants about sixteen seventeen servants
For the household?
For the household, isolated one of the main roads going through the tea estate you see. There was separate road with a bridge. There was a canal with a bridge and then rather 200 yards climb and a hill was cut off, a small hill the top was made and this bungalow was built
and that was built for the Director of the Medical [Medical Director] , for your father, who was the Medical Director
Yes, yes people whoever his predecessors
and it was something that was established by the government you said
No, no by the tea ...
Not Tea Association this group companies rather munificent living you see luxurious. So I used to go away. This time I didn't. I stayed back. No I went. Then I came back and again joined the Presidency College and finished next year for '44. And then I went on to Medical College [Calcutta Medical College]. This was my more or less academic years and how I spent. So I did not get to know very many. One of the outstanding professors who was thereat that time, not in arts. Of course in arts when I was talking about Subhod Sengupta of English. English Department was very strong . There were four or five people, Ashin [Ashin Datta] would know all their names. It is also there in this Bangalnama [Tapan Raychaudhuri, Bangalnama] . Some of there names in Bangalnama, I mean, quite reverentially, I mean, written about. So, and the other man who was quite well known many of them were well known but well known among academic circles.
The other man who became very well known again was a professor of Physics [Presidency College Physics Department] . Actually he was doing Statistics [Presidency College Statistics Department] . He had started the department of statistics at Presidency College small department but he was in Statistics Department [Presidency College Statistics Department] . Nobody was taking statistics. And he built the Statistical Institute India Statistical Institute that is Prasanta Mahalanobis . Who was also a literary figure because he was secretary to Rabindranath Tagore . So and he edited his collection of poems, what used to be called Sanchayita [Rabindranath Tagore, Sanchayita]. That was more or less selected by Prasanta Mahalanobis. His wife was also running.
These two were very close to Tagore [Rabindranath Tagore]. The scientist and he also started this Indian Statistical Institute . That was, he was at that time in Presidency College but working towards the Statistical Institute [Indian Statistical Institute] which got really established in 1950 or so, after independence [Independence of India and Paskistan] perhaps just after independence. Our Principal at that time was also very well known. Mr. B.N.Sen , was a wrangler in Oxford, wrangler in Mathematics. Wrangler means first class first with very high marks.
He is a Wrangler
Wrangler, w-r-a-n-g-l-e-r, like that we have, but the Arts Department [Presidency College Arts Department] was particularly strong like History, and English particularly Sanskrit Department was also not bad Pandit Gaurinath Sastri [Gaurinath Sastri] , he was the head, and his name I particularly remember because he was staying near North Calcutta house. We used to know him before some sort of a neighbor...
How about in Chemistry ?
Chemistry , yes particularly our, the Head of the Department was very distinguished.
He was a D.Sc from... He was a Muslim gentleman Dr. Qudrut-i-Khuda [Muhammad Qudrut-i-Khuda] . He was also well known he had done some work abroad good work and he was the most distinguished among them all. Then we had a professor, an old man Asutosh Maitra . He was teaching us Physical Chemistry [Presidency College Physical Chemistry Department , thermodynamics and all that. He was well known in his own field like that we had few others not so very well known
Did these Professors tend to these well known Professors did they tend to travel abroad and either bring back or have non-, have visitors from abroad come and visit or would they spend years doing research in labs abroad as well or did they stay put in Calcutta.
They stayed put in Calcutta. They would not be going abroad and coming unlike the present time. At this time people have opportunities to go abroad more frequently and refresh themselves and come back sabbatical year so on and so forth. But at that time very difficult even after independence [Independence of India and Paskistan]. We had great difficulties in going abroad and the foreign stage was rather ticklish at that time. Going abroad was controlled very much
By the British
No, no after independence after independence [Independence of India and Paskistan]. The British were more or less, they were open about that. This commonwealth [British Commonwealth] thing was there so no visa nothing if you have the money you go. After independence, particularly the foreign exchange, the question of foreign exchange came foreign exchange position for a few years perhaps first couple of decades or three decades were very critical. The government was not allowing people to go abroad unless the money came from all the money came from outside and at that time it was rather few and far between so people were not doing that very easily. [Pause] In the institute [All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health] that I worked that was taken over by the Government of India. It was started by Rockefellers [The Rockefeller Foundation]
What was that Institute [All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health] ?
It was called All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health , so the Rockefeller Foundation had a charitable, large charitable, one of the largest that time the trust mostly people say all this that Rockefellers they created this trust to save taxes, but lot of good work has been done. For example this Rockefeller from this trust huge, big, they started lot of things, especially in Puerto Rico, in China and in India one of the projects was because at that time there was in the '30s in the '40s also till very recently there was no place for training people in Public Health
was appalling in all these places in these places, in the underdeveloped countries so Rockefeller trustees thought that it may be a worthwhile thing to start an institute [All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health] here so for training of public health people had to travel abroad to England or to States so that was the Rockefeller Foundation Institute started in '32 and Rockefeller Foundation had its particularly before the war and during the war they had there own staff.
American staff...
A very distinguished man, Dr John B. Grant [John B. Grant]. He was the Professor of Public Health in Peking
that put him in Beijing, Peking at that time as a Professor of Public Health . Again then interesting for Public Health agriculture, public health very sort of developmental in the under developed countries they are taking a lot of projects Rockefeller Foundation was one of the largest funds at that time like this soft ware fellow, that ah... Apple...
Bill Gates ?
Gates [Bill Gates] and his friend starts with a B. So at this time. So, I went there. I was. And ah,
unfortunately after independence [Independence of India and Paskistan] you see... My people from my institute [All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health] when, I went I found that most of the staff, senior staff, they were having American qualifications, rather, I was rather not familiar with this M.S. and this sort of various sort of qualifications so but that happened because he Rockefeller did not have any difficulty. Here the director wanted to say I want to treat some people and the Rockefeller made arrangements They were also giving lot of money to Harvard particularly Yale and Johns Hopkins. So most of the staff I found that they were trained in Harvard, Yale and John Hopkins, these three...
The staff here in India...
Yes, here, because the Director had a right to say to the Rockefeller that I want some people to be trained in this subject because it grew like that. It started with three or four departments then other specializations they opened up so no difficulty but after independence [Independence of India and Paskistan] & some how or the other government took it over Rockefeller negotiations were made I don't know Rockefeller they started a good thing and developed it to a certain extent and then came the crunch so far foreign trade is concerned because Government of India cast its lot with WHO [World Health Organization] so the only source of was this WHO fellowships so on and so forth which was not at that time so very easy to obtain and they...
The WHO [World Health Organization] worked through the Government of India Delhi you see the brokers and this was slowed up, slowed these things considerably. Unlike the previous arrangement, the director wrote directly to Rockefeller Foundation. There was a Rockefeller Foundation [Public Health] representative in Delhi also at that time...
The institute [All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health] was here in Calcutta
when you were speaking, the institute [All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health] was here...
Yeah, yeah, the director was empowered to write to and they made all the arrangements staying etc. admission, whatever it needed. Short circuiting all bureaucratic. The director says well you are going next month so the fellow went. But after independence [Independence of India and Paskistan] particularly after '50, after '48 when government of India took over it became practically impossible We had to wait for a long time but that is another story that is not what we are going about talking about. So I would suggest that you critically study this Bangalnama [Tapan Raychaudhuri, Bangalnama]. He was two years junior to me I found that. And Ashin Datta , whom I bring up he is in Bhavinipur. If he is well enough, number one, then I will say I will send somebody over for you to talk over the Presidency [Presidency College] days and whatever
That would be very good. Can you tell me a little bit you mentioned this morning 1946 [Calcutta Killings] and your experience of that year
Oh my God. That is a horrible thing. I was at that time in Medical College [Calcutta Medical College] Calcutta and it was so situated that on the three sides, on the West in particularly the Central Avenue there an arterial road there was a footpath they were all practically packed with Muslims
This was the other side of the Medical College [Calcutta Medical College]
Outside the Medical College [Calcutta Medical College] so that was controlled by Muslims. The Southern aspect, that was also controlled by Muslims, lots of Muslims. There was the institute [All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health] + was there itself, our institute [Calcutta Medical College] , and institute [Calcutta Medical College] hostel etc so it was not that troublesome but mostly it came under the sway of the Muslims. Only in the Eastern part that was College Street , that was more or less controlled by the Hindus on that side mostly Hindus lived on the west of Central Avenue practically dominated by Muslims, hugely dominated, so I was there while the fights and killing ranging practically on all the four sides of Medical College [Calcutta Medical College] and that is one thing I remember with lot of wonder and astonishment.
The gates of Medical College [Calcutta Medical College] were kept open and I was apprehending everyday that there would be some incursion of killing inside. But no. There was lot of people in the lawns medical college [Calcutta Medical College] lawns so on and so forth people had just taken there bag and baggage and dumped there. What could they do fled from the rampaging Muslims but today it would not happen. The sacredness of the red cross public health of the Hospital [Eden Hospital] prevented that thank God.
so it prevented any...
no incident inside...
Did you stay in were you living in the college [Calcutta Medical College] or were you traveling?
No, as a matter of fact that morning early morning I had some duty I was a student at that time I had what is called a night duty, this is in emergency, this is as student we are having. It was in two periods, that is so it is in two periods, that is 7... to 12. Then you went away .Then again before nine and then stayed overnight in the emergency room attending emergency room. So I started early in the morning then I saw this practically there is no traffic at all. And where I was staying . I was staying little towards west that Muslim dominated area and a little south, a little southwest .
So it was not entirely a Muslim area but really under the sway of this Muslim area. At 7 o'clock I found that groups of people, Muslims, had collected in the streets and they were talking in low voices to each other. I had a dhoti on and a shirt, I mean with with my sleeve tucked up like that, and I was prominently, because I thought that everybody was expecting some trouble, but, but not like that. I was having my stethoscope prominently I mean around my neck. They looked at me like then I walked, but nobody stopped me or did anything to me. Dhoti-wearing [dhoti] is Hindu and lungi-wearing [lungi] is Muslim. So I came back and started my work. The first casualty it came at 8 am just about 8 about an hour later and strangely it was a Muslim and he was stabbed by Muslims. He was a hackney carriage driver. At that time there was this horse driven carriage so mostly Muslims were hackney carriage drivers.
This fellow had taken his carriage somewhere away from the stable. So this poor fellow was returning and he stayed overnight at that place where he had taken passengers to some distance place . So he was coming back to his stable and he was just held up by Muslims. Why are you taking, I mean are plying you cart and they stabbed him at the back. Big gash. So he was the first victim, a Muslim a victim. And then you see it started like a flood. We did not have this arrangement. For example, for head injuries we had a couple of razors for shaving and this whole emergency there was a lot of space it filled up with people were bringing up stretchers. I mean the coolies are just walking in and sitting on the ground and ah pandemonium. We didn't have where is the oxygen cylinder somebody was gasping. Where is the oxygen cylinder, so there a couple of only oxygen cylinders available in the emergency, it is never required.
So it was there so I found that yes oxygen cylinder was in the corner and the fellow was propped up. He was dead, so I just snatched up and gave it like that totally disorganized and we did not have any food no water, and so on and so forth lot of students had come to attend classes so they had all gathered there everybody was helping but no food.
For the people coming,
For us
for the workers, doctors...
for the doctors, students fating the whole day. We had a cantine. Tea one or two biscuits etc.
etc. had to be had by the fortunate but I don't know what happened to he rest. So the 16th night [Calcutat Killings] I remember. I could not go back to the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] because it at that time there was this huge dhanga , riots, were raging. No question of getting out. Where to sleep? So I was looking looking out there were people... Many of the students were sleeping on the ground. The dust of the countless feet and clothes, and faces I remember particularly one of the fellow his one side of the face was just smeared with dust in the ground so I did not fancy sleeping on the ground.
The last case was about quarter to two. A petrol pump owner, he was returning with money. He was accosted and shot at, shot gun, so he had a lot of pellets somehow he escaped. So we had to take out these some of these pellets and give first aid dressing somehow whether he stayed or went away I don't know. He was a sturdy sort of a fellow, Sindhi. So, at about two-o'-clock I was just looking around. There wasn't a place to sleep. One of the rooms in the emergency block was kept empty at that time because they were thinking of putting a new study riser there. So because above the emergency block there were some surgical wards two or three portions. They were getting a new study riser one or two. So that room empty, usually kept locked up. So I was just opening up all the doors just crowed people were sleeping or so on and so forth and all casualty. People were groaning. In the corridors you see, my shoe started chipping because it was just blood sticky with blood, oh, just you see...
sticky sound...
Absolutely sticky. So, one, that room particularly I know that room was there. I opened the room and saw this large room about seventy eighty people were sleeping in rows. I went near all of these were the dead people. There were these doctors and this class of peons they had...
laid them out...
...put them there to be disposed of later on. I thought lying quietly these fellow, who are these?
There was nobody. I looked them either dozing or sleeping, some there. I thought it was a nice room I will go and sleep. Aray. That sort of eerie. So I came back and there was a bench so I just dozed there. But, particularly I remember you see two tall buildings four storied or five stories. At that time they made buildings very tall the Britishers. The floors would be made nearly fifteen sixteen feet not less. If you go to government house any day you see the darbar hall and the rooms you cannot see the ceiling. These fellows wanted the rooms to be made very large, very well ventilated because otherwise so there were two large blocs of hospitals towards the west where the main killing was made. Muslims killed lot of Hindus on this side there was not much Muslims were not coming on this side. So I remember that I, fourth day morning, fourth# day towards noon I went up.
One of the tall building was eye infirmary [Calcutta Medical College] , and the other was the Eden Hospital , that was gynecological. In between was the gate and lot of long roads etc. etc., separated. So I went to the roof and looked My God. How ghastly I can't describe. That broad Central Avenue. It was one of the broadest streets of that time. Brought up carts these hand carts you see. Have you seen these hand carts here bamboo made with bamboo wheels. Hand carts were pushed because of the lanes. Most of the lanes killing had been made. The lanes were impossible so they had got these hand carts from somewhere heaped up these dead bodies so that they would walk they had pushed them all on the main road . Main road there was no traffic and you see these carts were heaped with dead bodies. I don't know how many about 14-15 on a car, bloated up, large post-mortem heads,
I mean crows picking at their eyes, and so on and so forth. I could get the stench from there up there about sixty-, fifty- sixty feet, four storied nearly sixty feet . It was horrible
Inferno, and so forth and so on.
so that is why. On the fifth day this was deliberately, the police had kept because at that time the people in power in Bengal were '46 -'47 partition had not happened so the people in power were the Muslim League
Suharwardi [Husein Suharwardi]
Suharwardi and deliberately and police commissioner was also a Muslim and deliberately like Modi's [Narendra Modi] today, they had deliberately kept the police inactive but the Britishers were still in control and they were also in collusion because of the three or four day they allowed it go, on the fourth day, the army
The national army
No, No. The British army they came out and the things gradually quieted. The roads were clean and whatever it is. And people could go about. That is the experience.
did you have as a medical student who is also interested in public health were you involved in the public health ramifications of this I mean in terms of cleaning up the streets or that was not...
No we were too busy with the patients. They were just brimming. There are not enough beds so they have put them on the ground so on and so forth. and whatever I mean the people were trapped in there they had to work only. The class of peons bearers they all disappeared to their quarters they were not coming so whatever had to be done was by the doctors and the student who had been trapped...
They had to do it. Terrible. I also have some other questions. From what I have heard about Presidency College you know you mentioned that your father worked in the railways [Assam Bengal Railways] and ten worked in the tea estates. So when I spoke to Barun De he also mentioned that his family worked in the railways
What job?
His father was a commissioner. A very high placed commissioner and they lived in the cantonment but he comes from a very wealthy family and then I know there are Amartya Sens [Amartya Sen] who come from very high placed academic families Shantiniketan background. So when you came to Presidency College and were living in the college, the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel], what was the kind of social atmosphere? Was there a kind of hierarchy or a class hierarchy?
No No, in the college [Presidency College] there were, because there were a group of people who were coming in cars and they would have a,
a sort of a group by themselves and they would be throwing away cigarettes and feeding people with tea and they had a coterie and they were grand enough to keep themselves to them selves. So in the college [Presidency College] there was a little- a little. In the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] you see particularly very rich people would not stay in the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] only the middle class or the poor because hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] was very cheap very cheap I mean miserably cheap so only those people flush with money. Otherwise they would stay in their own houses or relations so on and so forth. So in the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] particularly not very well to do middle class a little lower part of the upper middle class that sort of people so they were very homogeneous, relatively, economically homogenous so there was no sort of high brow, only some people were distinguished as scholars. They were little looked up like Amalesh Tripati , and others...
But that was because of their academic pursuits
Because of their academic but that too in Presidency College, only the top
About top ten percent or so. Most of them are good students. They are not very impressed that sort of not much separation, quite a homogenous group.
This Amlan Kusum Datta [Amlan Datta] , another Presidency, boy was the Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati [Visva Bharati University] and writes frequently lots of books. He was next year to me, one year junior to me. I remember after in the at noon he was a little lame, perhaps polio or something, so he approached me and lets go to the common room downstairs. There was a common room.
We did not know how to play ping pong. At that time it was deserted. Would you play ping pong? Let's learn by ourselves. So, I remember having spent quite long hours playing Ping pong Amlan Datta . He will perhaps remember that. So like that most of them were quite outstanding students in the hostel [Eden Hindu Hostel] and not much of them. I did not see people were having high brow and.... Except perhaps one case that too there was a Lahiri. He came from a rich family and had a gold chain in the neck a little uppish but otherwise I did not have any, saw anybody with a little standoffish, nose sticking up high in the air.
and just a couple more questions. I don't want to tire you too much. One or two more. Who were the friends in your science program that you had that you kind of stayed in touch with? Was there a group that you, kind of, continued to remain in touch with?
I remained in touch with one of these chaps. Somehow, fortunately he is a Dr. Sen who was one of the persons who did his B.Sc. after his M.Sc. in just four years minimum time my classmate. He was a witness to my marriage also. So after that we were not in touch. But after his retirement we came in touch. He stays in Alipur in a very biggish place. He was with ICI [Imperial Chemical Industries] all the time.
He was D.Sc. Calcutta, he has a PhD from Iowa and he has been abroad numerous times courtesy ICI [Imperial Chemical Industries] . He retired as the Managing Director of something of the Hindustan Explosives . It was the Company of the ICI [Imperial Chemical Industries] for making only explosives of the mines. So with him I was in contact with him.
He has two sons only husband and wife, huge flat, about 1800 square foot and he has just two sons. One of them staying in Vancouver, they are both bright students.
And the other chap was in Philadelphia now he has moved to New York. Both of them teachers teachers and research workers. So I said your sons span the continent, like that...
of the United States
ah yeah, and the husband and wife. But the sons visit them quite regularly as far as possible
and then finally, can you...
his elder son is now here
Final Question. Could you lay out key moments of your career then? I mean what did you do after Presidency College just in big terms, not in too much detail.
Well I just bungled into Medical College though I was not very keen to study medicine at all.
Did you do it because..
Because I would have done it, normally people do it after intermediate. I had taken three years for Ph.D because I was a little precocious. I took my matriculation at the age about two years slower than the usual age of examination. So I was reading my father's books also and I thought medicine was rather hit and miss, a lot of guess work. And I did not any part of it. I would rather be a material scientist but what happened you see during my examination, I though I would not get honors because my theoretical papers were quite all right. I am not very good with my hands even now. My practical was I thought was in shambles. Some of the viva-voce also I thought I couldn't do it very well, and I was thinking we have to get honors.
We had to to get honors, we had to get a minimum of forty percent in the practical, 200 marks, I would not make it. I was sure I would not make it. So I was in a very great quandary. What to do. What to do. I thought of taking up metallurgy in... and they had a very good department and one of my friends after his Ph.D. he was doing metallurgy here in B.A. College . It was a new subject here and I thought and I would not get a seat in University Science College in a good good good subject so on and so forth. If I don't get honors I won't get a chance to study Chemistry [University Science College Chemistry Department] further. So I was down in dumps and my local guardian at that time who was a doctor. He was also a doctor in the School of Tropical Medicine. He was my father's friend from childhood and same as our house is in North Calcutta. His house was a few blocks away.
So they had studied in school together, played together and they went through the college, and medical college [Calcutta Medical College] and abroad together practically. So their, he was closer to my own uncle, closer to me than my own uncle so he said one day he brought an application form and in the evening I used to go to his house. At this time after my examination I didn't go to Assam. What I do usually I was so depressed and rather confused what to do. So I stayed back here and I was frequenting my uncle's place. Because in the evening there was quite a game of cards. My aunt was quite enthusiastic and also there were two or three of his children and neighbors. They would drop in having a game of cards. I was playing. He came back from office at about six or so and he threw a sort of application form at me. I said, "what is this"?
and it was an application for Medical College [Calcutta Medical College] +. I said... ah... Are, you have not decided what to do. Why don't you sign it. It was not that easy to get into Medical College [Calcutta Medical College]. I said all right I will sign but on one condition because, Dr. Gaur , he my uncle knew lot of people because he was here in Calcutta He was in school of tropical, he really knew everybody in the medical world. Practically So I said I will sign but you must not speak about me that I am an applicant so that don't need to to influence. But if I get, if I will get admitted on my own so be it. That is how I came actually I came in I really don't I mean interest as you see very many peoples lives I mean life, at least here. From the child hood he was thinking of going into engineering he was going for medicine, it was not true so far as I am concerned.
I was resisting . When the results came out the my M.Sc. results for three months I have been in Medical College [Calcutta Medical College]. The classes started almost immediately after admission. But the University [Calcutta University] took about quite a few months to publish the results. At that point I did well in Chemistry, but I could not go back. I was a lazy sort of a fellow and really I mean I driftwood through so far as my life is concerned.
Where the wind has blown
Wherever wind has blown, where the chips shall fall. I take a casual sort of a view on life.
and you were a Professor at the All India Institute of Public Health [All India Institute of Public Health and Hygiene] that was your main position
And for a short while I was the Director of the Institute National Institute [All India Institute of Public Health and Hygiene] doing my subject i.e The National Institute of Occupational Health that is run by Indian Council of Medical Research not a university body. So those autonomous bodies at that time retiring at the age was 60.
Here in government it was 58. So I went just before retirement and so I got a sort of automatic extension for two years. I stayed there for three years. So in Allahabad there was a National institute of Occupational Health . My subject is Occupational Health ...
That is your specialty...?
and finally finally where is your house? On what part of North Calcutta is it about? On what street
Bagh Bazar Street. As you enter Bagh Bazar Street if you go sometime there the first right hand lane is called Gopi Mohan Dutt Lane so few houses along is our house. It is our ancestral house. It is only my our portion has been sold off because I persuaded my father try not please don't leave this burden on me because my younger brother has fled you see he has fled. He is an engineer. He was more or less, his career was dictated by me and he followed me whatever. I admired a gentleman my father's colleague in Railways [Assam Bengal Railways] . He was the Chief Electrical Engineer Mr. Chakravarti . So he was, for a time, he was an M.Sc. in Physics and he was a teacher in Balanpur College.
Then he took electrical engineering then he joined railways and became the chief electrical engineer. So I liked him very much. So I told you have to I told my father also that I am a doctor and he has to be an engineer and he has to be like Mr. Chakravarti . So I asked him to and he just, to study Physics for the first two years B.Sc., Physics Honors. Then my father had the means. He did not live very much, otherwise, I would have been....So my father wrote to Glasgow, the Royal Technical College , well known, and they admitted my younger brother. So he was trained in England Scotland practically Glasgow and his M.Sc. from Birmingham, then he did some work in Hamburg. And then, he was very obedient fellow, and my father said that I am thinking of getting him married, and he, he drops everything comes back...and he was happy very well placed
And he is here in India, no
He just fled as I said that he just came here
Got married
Got married, got a job in IIT Kharagpur [Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur] because of his qualifications as a Professor, doing quite well, but he started telling my father that I have to go away, you see.
My students are inciting me they have gone abroad and said sir please come away here from the States. What are you doing there. So my father said I am getting old and let me die and so he is a very obedient fellow so he said and he stayed on. My father died in '68 and within a few months he had wound up every thing and gone to the States. He was well qualified so it was not much of a difficulty and he is there from that time.
So he has lived in the States since then
He lives in states in Indiana. Fort Worth. You are in which province of Canada?