A marvellous work on an unsung, dreaded revolutionary
Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Chittagong-Summer of 1930, Manoshi Bhattacharya, Harper Collins, Pp 419, Rs 599.00
SURYA Sen, who led his students on the dare-devil anti-British movement in the summer of 1930s, Chittagong resonated with anti-British war cries. The high point of this was the raid on the British armoury. The revolution was led by a school teacher, Surya Sen, popularly called Master-da. He inducted a group of sixty-five boys in his most daring operation. Chittagong was ‘set free’ by these men for three days, till troops arrived from Kolkatta and broke the siege.
Manoshi Bhattacharya, using a lot of archival material has reconstructed those days of April 1930 in her book Chittagong-Summer of 1930. She builds up the story by introducing the major actors in the operation. The Day of Action was 18 April when the revolutionaries attacked the armoury. They cut the telephone and telegraph lines, which ensured that reinforcements did not come too fast.
Manoshi‘s narrative of the dare-devil act of Master-da and his followers masterfully recreates the moments, as she goes into almost an hour-by-hour details. The power and morale of Master-da, the unflinching faith his men had on him are legendary. And yet, re-reading it fills one with awe and pride.
Indians have been fed on huge dosage of non-violence in India’s independent struggle. The revolutionary, armed, physical resistance to the British has largely been kept out of the school and college syllabus. Nothing else can explain the lack of knowledge among people about such personalities as Surya Sen. Except for a stamp in his memory and a building in his name in Kolkata, nothing more has been taught about the revolutionaries of Bengal as part of curriculum. Subhash Chandra Bose gets mention mostly because of his mysterious death and also his opposition to Gandhi. We deliberately refrain from mentioning the important role such armed revolution had in our independence struggle.
Master-da’s achievement is all the more praiseworthy as he led untrained students, who had faith in nothing more than their master. Unflinching patriotism. He was caught, betrayed by a cohort Netra Sen, for a prize money of Rs 10,000. But before he could take the prize money he was killed by one of Master-da’s followers. Master-da was hanged in 1934. He was tortured in custody, his teeth broken by hammer and nails pulled out. He was hung in a state of unconsciousness. And his body thrown into Bay of Bengal, in a iron case.
Manoshi’s book of course deals only with a few days of revolution. It brings alive the major characters in the plot, both the revolutionaries and the British officers. She has drawn upon archival records, newspaper reports, several personal accounts, dairies and verbal narratives. A rich resource indeed. The narrative is enriched with extensive notes, bibliography and a list of dramatis personae. The story of Surya Sen needed to be told. A movie on the rebellion was released in 2012. As could be expected it was not a box-office hit.
It is a marvelous work and should be read by all, if only to inculcate some sense of commitment towards the nation. Manoshi is a former Indian Navy physician and has authored several titles of similar genre.
(Harper Collins, A-53, Sector 57, Noida, Uttar Pradesh 201301)