My great grandfather, Jatindramohan Guha was the first in his village Qutubpur in the district of Faridpur in East Bengal (present Bangladesh) to venture, after completing his studies, as far as Rangoon, the capital of Burma in the 1910s1. It was a long journey of over 1500 kilometres that could only be covered by taking the ship from the ports of Calcutta and Chittagong. Jatindramohan joined the Audit and Accounts department of the British government as a clerk, a position that members of his community in Bengal were known to serve with diligence. He married the young Prabhabati Dutt whose family was from the city of Dhaka (now capital of Bangladesh) on June 2,1918. At a time when children came soon, his daughter was born 7 years later, not before the larger family was beginning to despair.
Jatindramohan was thrilled at the birth of his daughter even though in his society, a son as the first born would have been preferred. He took Leena, his daughter (my grandmother) to Rangoon when she was two and a half years old. She was born in Dhaka but he was determined to give her a ‘proper’ education in English, inaccessible to girls in rural Bengal. In bringing his family abroad for this purpose, the extended Guha family scorned at Jatindramohan but this had little impact on his resolve.
Leena was soon enrolled at Sharada Sadan Vidyalaya for Girls2, a local English-medium school which was run by Indians, chiefly from the province of Bengal. It was solely for Indians and therefore no local Burmese girls studied there. It was Jatindramohan’s dream to have her study in an English medium school, somewhat of an indulgence for a girl at that time3.
Life in Rangoon was peaceful and very orderly. For my grandmother, there were major contrasts to living in India. In her later life, she fondly remembered the serenity of Rangoon in comparison to the manic hubbub of Calcutta, where she would spend some of her adulthood.
|Leena & Ashis, few years later|
Jatindramohan walked back with thousands of other emigres later that year when it became practically impossible to stay on. Leena with her mother and brother reached their village in Qutubpur when they received a telegram from Jatindramohan that he was setting out with thousands others. Then for a month, there was no news. Just when the family feared the worst for him, Jatindramohan appeared like an apparition, emaciated and very ill from walking that long distance home.
- Today’s Yangon
- Vidyalaya means school. This was named after the wife of a 19th century Hindu preacher
- Studies in school and colleges in India are conducted entirely in English or in any one of the several regional languages. In the first, the ‘vernacular,’ is taught and learnt as a separate subject. In the latter, ‘English’ is taught separately. Education is therefore bilingual. In Leena’s school, English was taught by Anglo-Indian teachers
- Called Bogalay Bazar Street, it is now where older residents of the city live
- In May 1930, soon after the family moved to Rangoon, there were mass anti-Hindu and anti-Indian protests staged in Rangoon
- More in the nature of air raids, the Japanese Imperial army bombed between December 1941 and March 1942. They eventually seized Rangoon and Burma was to remain under their occupation for the next 3 years
- Burma itself had turned hostile towards the Indians and under the Japanese such animosity would only grow