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Stories of Partition: The Memory of a Mango Tree

Pratima was born in Chandan Nagar in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. But her family hailed from Gaila in the Barishal district. That’s where all her elder siblings were born. And that’s where Pratima went every Durga Puja till she was 10 years old.

Sougata Mukhopadhyay | CNN-News18

Updated:September 4, 2017, 4:15 PM IST
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Memory, they say works in strange ways. The sweet smell of a mango harvest of decades ago comes to haunt an old man on his death bed.

Pratima Majumdar, now 79-year-old remembers how her father Prafulla Sengupta, while on his death bed, in a delirious state spoke about a mango tree, behind the kitchen in their house in Barishal district of erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He kept recalling, “a bumper yield of mangoes and how the family should go and collect them”.

“Such was the nostalgia for that place he once called home,” Pratima recalls.

Pratima was born in Chandan Nagar in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. But her family hailed from Gaila in the Barishal district. That’s where all her elder siblings were born. And that’s where Pratima went every Durga Puja till she was 10 years old.

That’s until 1947 when the freedom from the British also meant her home was now in another country.

Pratima also visited her maternal uncle’s house at Patuakhali in south-central Bangladesh during her school vacations, a practice that came to an abrupt halt on account of Partition.

The months preceding, especially the 1946 Calcutta riots were extremely traumatic for the family. Their house surrounded by Muslim localities came under attack. One of her maternal aunts took refuge inside an orphanage to save herself and children of the family from rioter. The police managed to save them in the nick of time. Pratima’s aunt was about to jump from the orphanage rooftop thinking that rioters had raided the place. Such were those times that communities that sparred so violently also took care of each other. One of Pratima’s maternal aunts who had married a Muslim had different corners in their room earmarked for prayers to respective Gods and how it was normal practice for the children to get new clothes both during the Pujas as well as Eid.

It is the sound and memory of a horse-drawn carriage arriving at her door step every night for almost a month after Partition that haunts Pratima most. The carriage brought friends and relatives from the other side of the border who took temporary shelter at her residence. The coal supply for their earthen oven was kept uninterrupted at great cost so that the refugees never went hungry.

Does she want to return home, I ask her?

Pratima’s latter visits to her homeland in Bangladesh have left her thoroughly disillusioned. The properties that families like her left behind are crumbling, for instance, the condition of poet Jibanananda Das’s erstwhile residence.

“I don’t want to return anymore”, Pratima says wistfully.

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| Edited by: Puja Menon
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