Elevate Difference

Bina Das: A Memoir

“History is always in the making, and our struggle for a truly free country will not be over easily,” says Bina Das towards the conclusion of her memoir, brilliantly translated by Dhira Dhar, who was close to this firebrand revolutionary of Bengal. In its pages, Bina Das: A Memoir holds history in flashback. The glorious and gradual unfolding of an Indian nationalist who is counted amongst the heroes of the history of the country’s struggle for independence (like Pritilata Waddedar, Surya Sen, Shivaram Hari Rajguru, and innumerable others) in the few pages of her memoir is nothing short of poignant.

The curtain rises on the eve of August 15, 1947, the day of India’s independence. A nation standing at the crossroads of destiny may have caused countless minds like Das’s to be filled with a sense of despair and doubt, coupled with the misery of Partition, yet she asserts that this freedom was finally the real one and “flashed like lightning through our thrilled souls.” She reminisces her life at the backdrop of this day when she expected her country to march ahead in full glory. And thereafter, the entire story of her life unfurls before the reader in dramatic flashbacks, moments of captured memory framed in the ensuing pages.

Das narrates her family background, her life as a student, and the wondrous transition phase of her life when she graduated from a non-violent freedom fighter into that of an armed revolutionary. She talks of her participation in the last lap of the freedom movement, her subsequent nine-year imprisonment, her release on the eve of independence, and her return to politics from a long prison life. Each of these events has been described in poetic subtlety.

Like children of her generation, her education began at home under the careful guidance of her parents. Often Das’s father, the erudite Brahmo scholar Beni Madhab Das, who played a pivotal role in shaping the thoughts of the young Subhas Chandra Bose, would sit with Bina and her siblings and read plays like Bhishma, Shahjahan and others by D.L. Roy. This, Das claims, was her first introduction to the heroic and tragic in drama, bound to have left indelible imprints in her mind.

Das belonged to a family and a generation that was making the platform for the freedom movement. Her mother, Sarala Devi, was exceptionally enthusiastic about all kinds of social work. Sister Kalyani (Kalyani Bhattacharjee) was also a leading social activist and revolutionary. Das acknowledges that the most precious thing she received from her father was the wealth of freedom he gave her. Understandably this was instrumental in building the consciousness necessary for the struggle for freedom in her later years.

A ceaseless, tireless worker, Das concludes that her only prayer shall be to remain active in the cause of suffering humanity and not lose herself in the “idle morass of inactivity.” This perhaps aptly sums up towering figures like Das and those of her bygone generation.

Memoirs are almost always untranslatable, and Dhar has done a grand job of translating this one with impeccable skill. It is a must read, especially for those who wish to recapitulate the lives and times of revolutionaries like Bina Das.

Written by: Jhuma Sen, April 25th 2010