Last Monday, August 15, was the day of Indian Independence observed all over the country. My late parents’ marriage anniversary coincides with the date of Indian Independence. The day also marks the birth anniversary of Rishi Aurobindo Ghosh. It was more than seven decades ago that my parents tied the nuptial knot on 15 August 1943, quite unaware of the significance of this date which after four years was declared as the date of Indian Independence, a red letter day in the Indian almanac and a national holiday.
Ironically 1943 was the year of the Bengal famine when millions of Indians were starving to death. It was also the year my grandfather, the illustrious barrister BC Chatterjee, of the Bhawal Sanyasi Case fame and son-in-law of the eminent Rastraguru Surendranath Banerjea passed away – on June 20. The Bhawal Sanyasi case had made headlines for its sensational controversy.
My grandfather died suddenly after being wrongly diagnosed with influenza by a British military doctor, Sir Denim White. Although my grandfather was told by relatives to seek the advice of an eminent physician, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, who later went on to become the first Chief Minister of West Bengal, he opted for Denim White because he was one of the witnesses at the sessions trial in the Bhawal Sanyasi Case.
My grandfather somehow did not approve of the marriage proposal of my parents. My father had approached him initially in April 1943 at his chamber-cum-residence at 21, Ballygunge Circular Road, when he was rejected. Although my father had all the requisite qualifications being a London-returned civil engineer, my grandfather was not at all pleased at the thought of accepting him as the groom of his beautiful daughter, my mother. This was probably because of the age difference between my parents and also because of my father&’s swarthy complexion. While my father was of medium height, had aquiline features and was handsome, his complexion had earned him the sobriquet of ‘Kalu’ (Black) from his immediate family members as well as friends.
Less than two months after my grandfather&’s death, my parents got married – on August 15. A wedding preceded by a near and dear one&’s funeral carries shades of Shakespeare&’s Hamlet when he addresses his mother: “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason/Would have mourned longer! Married to my uncle/My father&’s brother, but no more like my father/Than I to Hercules; within a month/Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears/ Had left the flushing of her galled eyes, She married ”
The erstwhile residence of my grandfather at 21 Ballygunge Circular Road sold later for a song to the present incumbent – The Punjab Club – was the marriage venue of my parents. The wedding was celebrated in a big way and attended by friends, relatives and VIP guests of the late Barrister BC Chatterjee. They included Shyama Prasad Mookherjee and the young Siddhartha Shankar Ray, whose grandmother Basanti Debi, CR Das&’s wife, was my grandfather&’s first maternal cousin.
Siddhartha Ray known as Manu in family circles, and who later became the state&’s Chief Minister, commented on the marriage in a cynical vein “Megher Pashey Bidyut” (Thunder next to the Cloud), a snide reference to the contrast in my parents’ complexions.
When Independence was declared on 15 August 1947, the date became doubly special to my parents. When they were newly married, they made it a point to watch the Independence Day function in Delhi on 15 August each year to commemorate their wedding anniversary. To steal a march over my late parents, I too got married to Chanda my wife on that fateful day of 15 August in 1996. It was her idea actually to preserve the family tradition.
Although two decades have passed since our marriage, we still try to keep my parents’ tradition alive by celebrating our anniversary and India&’s independence together on 15 August.