Memoirs of my beloved Monju: M N Larma

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Jyoti Prova Larma     

Our Family

The dwelling place of our paternal grandpa and his other brothers was, firstly, at the foothill of the Sotta-Dhrung river area named “Keratekaba” – a place of origin of the Mawrum stream of Rangamati. Later on, at some point of time, our grandpa and his family came down to Mohapuram (Mawrum) and settled there. Our father had two brothers. The eldest brother was Krishna Kishore Chakma – the pioneer of Education Movement in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT); the second brother Hari Kishore Chakma was a Primary School teacher; and the youngest one was Chitto Kishore Chakma, our beloved father. Our mother, Subhashini Dewan was the eldest daughter of Ramesh Chandra Dewan of Khabongpojya village under Khagrachari District. Names of my three brothers with respect to seniority are: Shubhendu Probhas Larma (Bulu), Manabendra Narayan Larma (Monju) and the youngest of all, Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santu) and me, Jyoti Prova Larma Minu is the eldest sister. With adoration, I used to address Monju as ‘Chikko’ by nick name.

Our Sweet Home and Childhood of Monju

“Anoma Kutir” was our house named by our father. Ours was the two-storied house built of mud wall and thatched with ‘shawn’ (a kind of long grass) – this type of house is usually known as ‘Gudom’ house. The house contained 7 large rooms. Our father would make swings for us. With the children, our father would cherish a mythical metaphor imagining his three sons would become like the Brahmma, Vishnu and Shiva and the daughter would become the ‘Nature.’

Holistically, our family economy was good enough. Paddy and vegetables would grow in our lands. Also, there were timber plantations and fruit gardens. The store would always remain full of food grains with some amount of grains as surplus. Also the expenses for the students sharing accommodation in our house used to be met from the same income source. Ever since my age capable of recalling, I found that people of different walks of life would flock to our house all the time. Besides, there would be guests in our house almost all the time.

Monju’s health structure was delicate since his childhood. During his infancy when he could hardly stay at sitting, I would leave him seated amid heaves of pillows around him before I joined my play mates. As we grew up, he would sleep with our father and I used to sleep with our mother while the 2nd brother Bulu and the youngest Santu would share the same bed together.

From among three of my younger brothers, he had some distinct characteristics. He possessed certain principles with regards to having food, wearing attires, expressing behavioral attitude, etc. So, everyone in the house had to keep an eye on Monju. In the house, he would never have food alone nor would he draw bowl towards him. He would derive satisfaction at consuming meagre amount of his share. This aspect of his character remained intact even after entering upon working life. It is because of this nature, he had to endure starvation for several times in various social functions.

When he was just a toddler pacing a little, he would always use to stay by mother’s lap and would want to follow when our mother was to go for outside work. Considering his delicate health condition, mother would try to leave him at home by way of convincing him when I happened to present at home. His moving motion was slow and would walk in staggering manner behind mother. Of course, sometimes, mother would have left no other option but to take him along with. During childhood, he was conscious and disciplined. He would accomplish his tasks regularly. During his student hood in upper primary level, like his other brothers, sometimes he would assist mother in doing handy household works to his best.

Monju’s debut school lesson and childhood

The ‘Chhoto Mohapuram Primary School’ was, for the first time, established at our father’s initiative – wherein study could continue  up to Standard-V. Afterwards, the school was upgraded to Junior High School in 1951. At present the school is located at Ramhari Para as ‘Chhoto Mohapuram High School’ by name.

Monju’s formal academic life began in Chhoto Mohapuram Upper Primary School. In those days, children at their well-grown-up age would start going to school. In 1948, Monju got admitted in Standard-I. That day, father and I escorted him to school and he was got admitted. By then, I was studying in Standard-III in the same school. Mother would also help us do our lessons at home. Monju studied up to Standard-VIII in that school. Afterwards, he got admitted in Standard-IX in Rangamati Government High School from where he passed his Matriculation Examination in 1958.

Since his early school days, Monju came to be known as a good student in both studies and behavioral conduct all along. He would also assist his classmates in studies. Most of the time, his classmates would come to him to prepare their lessons. When father would teach Monju’s classmates and other students in our house, he would entrust Monju with responsibility of teaching the students on many occasions.

However, from among the three brothers, physically Monju was lean and thin, weak and of soft nature since his childhood. His physical condition remained unchanged almost throughout his student hood. Of course, condition of his health got developed to some extent in later days. But Bulu and Santu were smart, energetic and well-versed in sports and games. Soon after giving up breast feeding, Monju had developed a habit of sleeping with father right at 6-7 years of age. By then, Bulu and I would sleep in separate rooms and Santu, the youngest one would sleep with mother.

While the school in which we were studying was upgraded from Lower Primary to Upper Primary level, a boarding was opened for the students coming from afar. Our father would supervise studies of the boarder students and would come back home around 11/12 pm every day. Though we would all go to sleep, Monju used to remain awaken till our father would come back as to submit his lessons. He would also wait for father for clarification of non-comprehensive lessons, if any. Father would clarify the lessons and then go to sleep with Monju. He was quiet and calm by nature. It was for once only, he accompanied Bulu and Santu to go to the neighboring village to see ‘Theatre-Drama’ without obtaining permission from father.

Lesson from Nature

There were various species of trees on both sides of the Mawrum rivulet. Giant size Bodhi trees were among others. There were creepers named ‘Ghila Ludi,’ which would remain hanging from atop the giant trees. Swings would be made with the creepers. People would ride swings to pass leisure hours and so we would also swing. With those swings, people would cross the Mawrum rivulet easily.

There was a chain-made hanging bridge across the Bora Mawrum River by the village. In those days, it was also an object to be seen. The mud ‘Company Road’ ran through our village. In 1950s, vehicles with passengers would ply along the road during the dry season. Initially, to say about vehicles, there were only 2 half-buses and 1 taxi. Owner of the first taxi was Nihar Bindu Chakma. The vehicles would run from Rangamati to Burighat or Nanyachar.

There was a Santhal village adjacent to Burighat Bazaar. Music of flutes and sounds of drums would be heard on advent of the ‘Durga Puja’ festival. Dance would also go along with. The music-cum-dance party would go from one house to another house playing music and rendering dance. People with delighted heart, would pay in cash or kind to the entertaining party as reward for their performance. Monju and company would follow the party to see dancing.

During those days, Village Fairs used be organized on various occasions, for instance, Buddha’s events, with Theatre-drama and Wrestling. Monju would also go along with other brothers to see the fairs. Monju would also go to enjoy the traditional ‘Gengkhuli’ (may be called bard/poetaster) song when it would get organized in the village. When he was studying in Standard-VI-VII, he learnt playing flute, all by himself. At the sun-setting hours, he would sit by the corridor of the first floor and facing towards the East, most of the time, he would play his flute while casting a glance over the corn fields and staring at the green hills.

‘No’ to Imitation

Ever since his boyhood, Monju was not in favor of imitation without comprehending any subject. One day, we, the students of various classes were seated to appear our examinations. It was coincidentally, seat arrangement for the child-standard studying Monju and me made us seated side-by-side on the same bench. With an intention to extend cooperation, I advised him to start writing as I directed. But Monju did not write as the way I advised; instead, he wrote his answer script as the way he deemed to be fit.

Patience and Simplicity

Little Monju’s capability of endurance and simplicity is of worth mentioning. By then Monju was studying in Standard-II. One day, we all brothers and sister were playing with a ball in the courtyard. At certain point of time, the ball fell in the jute crops land crossing the courtyard. When we all the four rushed there to fetch the ball, we came under tremendous attack of the wasps nesting there. At this, we shouted loudly and began to cry. But it was Monju who did not shout at all; instead, in weeping face, he began to remove the biting wasps that stuck to his body.

The other day, a monkey happened to enter in our village. On receiving the message, the boys and youths got involved in gaming with the monkey. All began to chase after the monkey. At some point, Bulu, Monju and Santu also reached there. Meanwhile, the monkey was caught and died in merciless beating. Message of this incident travelled to the ears of our father. He was waiting for his sons to come back. As soon as they arrived, father rose up to punish them as to why they had gone there. Seeing the fierce image of the angered father, the eldest and youngest brothers took to flight of no late. But Monju did not flee and he stood straight. Consequently, he had to suffer punishment alone.

Yet on another day, a group of boys and youths was planning to hunt a deer by using net and accordingly, a deer was caught in the net. With the eldest brother Bulu, Monju of aged 9-10 also appeared there. As per social rule existent in those days, collective hunting of deer or bore would mean that every participant would get equal share of flesh. Even, if any person went to see, would also get a share. So, Monju and Bulu also got a share. With the share of flesh, Bulu was walking towards home followed by Monju. On the other side, our father got tempered when he came to know that Bulu and Monju also had gone there. As they drew near home, on learning about father’s sentiment, Bulu hid himself at the bottom of plantain trees keeping the share of flesh packed with leaves. After much later, when father got cooled down, only then Bulu came out and handed over the hidden share pack of flesh to mother. On the other hand, as Monju came back home straight, he fell upon the face of father’s anger. So, also this time, he had to suffer rebuke alone. Thus, there were so many instances of incidents that depict Monju’s simplicity, honesty and patience even at his child hood.

Reading habit and exploring mind set

Manju was a ‘book worm’ in real sense of the term. He used to stay with a book in hand day and night. Apart from the school textbooks, he would always read story books. He had developed keen interest of reading non-textual books since Standard-I, separately. During his studies in Standard-I and II, our father would bring him various books and papers from Calcutta through post office. I can recall the names of Monthly Bosumoti and Shuktara among the papers and journals. Monju would read these papers with great attention of mind. As he grew up so his interest in reading books got enhanced.

One day, as he was in absorption of reading books, the youngest brother Santu, while playing with a tennis ball, happened to lose the ball in a room filled with heaves of dried-up jute in the ground floor. But as he failed to find out the ball, he brought an open lamp and after kindling, he kept it on the heaves of jute. At certain phase, the jute got burning in flames. Just then Monju could understand that fire broke out in the room. Yet he did not give up reading and instead, he shouted at Santu saying to come out from the room. In one end, Monju’s attentively reading of book while Santu’s desperate searching for the ball on the other; none of them had an eye to see the burning fire. At last, I rushed there and pulled out Santu from the fire site and informed mother and people for help. The people came and extinguished the fire.

During holidays, while staying in Rangamati Government High School Boarding, he used come back home. Yet being at home on holidays, he would read various books and help mother in her household work. Instead of buying other things, he would purchase books with the scholarship stipend he received. In need, he would ask father for money and collect books, himself. Thus, a huge number of books and journals got stored under his collection.

Also he had reckonable interest in collecting Postal Stamps and coins of various countries. He would collect postal stamps and coins of various countries and keep them in store with great care. Even, he would write down the colors, designs and shapes of the national flags of various countries. Thus, his collection of silver, metal and bronze coins of various countries weighed almost one and a half kilograms.

During his High School days, his thirst for gaining knowledge on various aspects was worthy to be noticed. Yet being a student, when he happened to have companionship with the leading males and females in the village, he would raise various issues for discussion. He would seek to know on many subjects, such as, society, rites, practices including cultivation, names of plants and creepers, religious functions, etc. He would throw questions on nitty-gritty of matrimonial functions, child delivery, etc. In fact, the quench for knowledge was very strong in him.

Student Life and Path of Struggle

On completion of school studies in the village, Monju got admitted to Rangamati Government High School. Having completed his Matriculation Examination as a boarder there, he got admitted to Chittagong Government College. Once, he had staged hunger strike during his days in the Rangamati Government High School. By then he was a candidate of Matriculation Examination. They would not need to go for classes in the school regularly. As the Hostel Superintendent imposed compulsion upon all the Matriculation Examinees to have their lunch along with the other school-bound students residing in the hostel, the hunger strike was called in protest and demand for introduction of rule conducive to them. Only after success of the strike, he had his lunch later on. That was his first path of struggle in life.

After admission to Chittagong Government College, the name of hostel he got enrolled was ‘Pahari Chhatrabas Bindu Niloy.’ During his days in Chittagong Government College, he came to me for once and with a very limited time. Purpose of his coming was to collect form-fill-up fees for his examination. Father could not send him money in time by some reason or the other. By then I used to serve as a teacher in Rangamati Catholic Mission School. I arranged money for him within that night and sent him back to Chittagong. He duly passed his First Arts (Higher Secondary Standard) examination.

In the same college, during his studies in BA as he protested against construction of the Kaptai Dam he was arrested on allegation of anti-state activity. With the help of one Bengali police officer he was released on bail as to enable him to appear BA Examination. After examination, he was again put behind the bar. Had he not given the opportunity for appearing examination, it would not have been possible for him to complete his graduation degree. That Bengali police officer was a bosom friend of our father. It was for that sake, the police officer would take sonly affectionate care of Monju.

It is of worth mentioning that he was set free from the suit due to relentless efforts of the Leftist Lawyer, Advocate Lutfar Haque Majumder. After release, his revolutionary comrades of Chittagong awarded him a grand reception at J M Sen Hall.

When asked about Monju’s sentencing to jail at so young age, father commented without expressing any anxiety and awkwardness saying that since he had found the way to jail, then he would definitely find the way out, too.

Profound feeling of passion for the birth land and nation

I could hardly realize how deep had been his passion for birth land and nation, at such a young age! And what sort of patriotism it could be? With closure of the sluice gates, the dam water was swallowing one after another village within a wink of eyes. Our beautiful and endearing village would also get submerged. A sort of anxiety, uncertainty and sadness would cast a shadow on everyone’s face in the village. The swelling water was also surging up steadily towards our village. Right at that moment Monju picked up one piece of hard soil from the wall and another piece from the ground, having them wrapped in a piece of paper carefully, handed them over to me and asked me to keep them with utmost care – more than that of life.

That day, as I was taking them in hands, I was floating in the ocean of thoughts and getting wondered. My younger brother was entrusting me with the responsibility of what sort of invaluable thing of a magician for preservation! I opened the package and began to think while staring at the hard pieces of soil for a long time and I asked myself: “Do these hard-soil pieces contain any interest or evidence of memoirs? Then I asked Monju why to preserve those soil pieces? He responded saying that those were of invaluable and after giving a laugh, he kept mum. After giving much thought over, I kept his words and stored them carefully into my trunk. I could not understand the compassion and sense of respect towards the hard soil pieces of that day. But today, on reaching at the last days of life, I can realize deeply as to what extent the soil is needed to humans! Today, I can feel, even in those days how deeply Monju could feel and nurture passion for the birth land and homestead of own!

Even in those days, what an extent of thought, anxiety and concern that he would bear and think on future of the nation. Before upsurge of the dam water, when there had been going on the process of cutting down forests and trees, he would often express his despair on future of the nation. By then, when he would make him available at home on holidays, he would often express his concern and anxiety for the nation. By this time, he used to sit in discussions with the aged people and leaders of the village; he would talk about the past, present and future of the nation; he would want to know as to who was going to do what after getting the lands and homesteads submerged. In fact, he would seem to be of distinct character since that very adolescence or young age – what may be called a distinctive nature. The quality and talent of leadership were then being embodied in him since the very young age.

* Sajib Chakma assisted in transcribing the article.

* translated by Hill Voice from Bengali into English.