Achintya Barua remembers Ranajit Guha

Recollections that well up the eyes

NB: This little remembrance was part of my presentation to a conference held between December 15 and 16 in Presidency University, Kolkata, to celebrate Professor Ranajit Guha’s attainment of the status of a centurion. I take no credit for it beyond that of asking my old friend and comrade to write it. It speaks for itself. Since it mentions many people scattered around the world, (some alas, no more), I thought it would be of widespread interest.

Salaam comrade Ranajitda! May you remain with us for many more years! Dilip

In late 1969 as a second-year student, I considered the now late Arvind Narayan Das and Dilip Simeon as my gurus. These two collegians were very knowledgeable because of which they gained the privilege to interact with Amalendu Guha and Ranajit Guha who were living together in one of the Professor quarters located in a peaceful area north of the Delhi University Cricket field. And both Arvind and Dilip were welcomed by these two academic stalwarts to treat their residence as an open house. Now and again, I tagged along with them as their ever-faithful sidey.

On Wednesdays our college hostel Mess allowed us to invite guests for dinner. And since 1968 every Wednesday evening Arvind would have a discussion session in his hostel room where five or six of us resident students were regular participants. Very often Arvind would have a revered special invitee who would mesmerize us with Marxist gyan and then the venerated invitee would join us for dinner in our hostel Mess.

On one such Wednesday session Amalendu Guha, Amartya Sen and Ranajit Guha were the special invitees. And that was one occasion that I forever cherish. Three chairs were placed for them while five-six of us sat on the floor.  St Stephen’s student residence rooms were large, especially the Rudra South rooms, even then it was not so roomy for ten people to get together.  I remember being huddled in one corner of the room sharing a mattress with Munu (Sumanta) Banerjee – not to be confused with the well known author, journalist and public intellectual of the same name – and Trinanjan (Trini) Mitra. Trinanjan was one of our classmates who was reputed to have read Maurice Dobb while still in school

I don’t remember what was discussed in that high funda intellectual session. Lesser mortals like me were incarnations of the Goan D’Souza in Gouriprasanna Majumdar’s song Coffee houser sei adda ta – sung by Manna Dey.  We sat as voiceless listeners, but maybe like D’Souza our eyes too were full of unspoken thoughts

আর চোখ ভরা কথা নিয়ে  – aar sokh bhora kotha niye

নির্বাক শ্রোতা হয়ে   – nirbak shrota hoi a

ডিসুজাটা বসে শুধু থাকতো   – D’Souza ta boshey sudhu thak toe

With eyes full of unspoken thoughts // as a voiceless listener // D’Souza only kept sitting

At that time Ranajit Guha was a sprightly “old man” (to us); fully supportive of the Naxal cause. After the session ended, he came to our corner of the room and wanted to know our names. Once he knew that Trinanjan was a Bengali and a kolkatar chele he then, as was the dastur of elders of that time, wanted to know Trini’s father’s name.

I was unmindful of the conversation that followed but it proved that Ranajit Guha knew about Trini’s father. Ranajit Guha felt victorious about this and looking towards Amalendu Guha and Amartya Sen boastfully stated: aami SF-er President chillum Kolkatar ek lakh lok kay chini (I was SF President I used to know 1 lakh people in Kolkata).

He was standing and we were seated on the floor, he literally towered over us. The mischievous Munu Banerjee may have taken the one lakh figure with a pinch of salt so he pointed at me and tried to test Ranajit Guha by saying that my Baba too studied in Presidency. I felt a bit shy but Ranajit Guha bent down and asked Baba’s name. He then hollered Tumi Birinchi Babur cheley ! Birinchi Babu ammar barite roj ashto

It so happened Ranajit Guha’s elder brother was my late father’s classmate and both were students of Pali in college and University and that my Baba was a frequent visitor to their place. I got the impression that Ranajit Guha’s elder brother was a bachelor and was informed that at that time he was staying in Gwyer Hall (a residential hostel for senior students) and teaching in the Pali Department of Delhi University.

It also turned out that he was known to the other two stalwarts. All three of them insisted that I visit Ranajit Babu’s brother. This was not to be as we dropped out of college soon after to pursue ‘revolutionary tasks’.

But after that Wednesday’s session in Arvind Das’s hostel room, we had no reason to disbelieve Ranajit Babu’s claim that he knew one lakh people in Kolkata in the mid 1940’s!

Post script: Decades later I took the trouble to find out that my father left his job in Calcutta University in 1938. I also came to know that Ranajit Babu matriculated in that very year.  So Ranajit Babu was a school-going lad when my Baba used to visit their house. And now he is 100 years old.  Eyes do well up with such recollections.

Manju (Achintya) Barua

Bochagaon Village


December 8, 2022

In Naxalbari, forty-eight years later

Annihilation – 50 years of Naxalbari

Yesterday once more – 50 years after Naxalbari

Remembering Rabindra

My friend