Any man's death diminishes me, wrote John Donne. I would say, deaths of some men diminish humankind itself. Khokonda was such a man, a man who could stand up and be counted in the valued file. On 18 April, 2014, ended a life of struggle and forbearance.
Few remembered that he was also Pradip Chattopadhaya, caring husband and loving father. Everyone remembered and loved the unassuming man, gentle, affable, yet who never wavered from his convictions.
Khokonda has been active in radical politics literally all his life. A list of his activities reads like a condensed chronology of movements that rocked West Bengal. As the story goes, even during the Food Movement of 1959, he, a mere boy, was throwing stones at the police. When he became older in the mid-sixties, he was involved in the inner party debate concerning party line. Leaving his job with the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation, he went to Birbhum to work for the new left experiment as a whole-time worker organizing peasant's struggle, occupying vested land, fighting for the barga rights. He was one of the front-line workers in the All India Coordination Committee of the Communist Revolutionaries. He had to go underground in Birbhum and with the nom de guerre Tarapada, he played leading roles in peasant movements in places like Kasba, Ruppur, Ilambazar, Nachonsa. He was also a member of the Bardhaman Birbhum Murshidabad Regional Committee. In the early 70's, during the undeclared emergency, Khokonda was incognito in Kolkata, selling inexpensive dress material as a cover, working and living with Khalil, a daily labourer, while actually involved in organizing agricultural labour in Dumka, Bihar, adjoining Birbhum border. He was also directly involved in clashes between the landlords and the workers. In 1973, Khokonda went to Pandabeswar mines area to form an organization.
He came back to Kolkata when the Emergency was lifted. This is when he got married. The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation had to reinstate him in his job succumbing to pressure from his colleagues. He devoted himself to various mass movements. From the very beginning he was a part of APDR. It was he who formed the North Calcutta chapter with its office at his own home. He was also attached to the East Calcutta Social and Cultural Organization, running free clinics in a large locality. He worked for the integration movement after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. After the pogrom in Gujarat, he was active in the anti-communal forum.
Khokonda was active everywhere. With Junior Doctors in their struggle. With the popular science activists. With journals. In all kinds of cultural work. In publication, mainly with Nandimukh Samsad. Later, he started his own publication house, Muktomon so that he could publish important books on social and political themes.
As a person Khokonda was self-effacing, but everyone remembers him for his help whenever needed, with money and, more importantly, with time and energy.
Even in his last days, he was ebullient, uncomplaining and hopeful.
It is a matter of great shame that a man like him was never given his due credit and was mostly treated as a subordinate by our so-called leaders and intellectuals. At least on one occasion, I remember the hurt on his face when he was asked to run an errand, not befitting a senior activist. And once, walking down Mahatma Gandhi Road, I asked him why he takes such slights with equanimity. He replied with a smile, though a bit rueful, Chharo na, Let it go, we are mere workers, you are the thinkers, we are here to do what you ask us to.
A sad commentary on our way of conducting movements and leading them.
Salil Biswas, Kolkata
Vol. 46, No. 48, Jun 8 - 14, 2014