Steeped in History

Remembering Amiya Kumar Bose

Rana Bose

My father Amiya Kumar Bose was born on the 25th of December, 1900. He would have been 114 years old this year. An eminent Cardiologist and scientist of India, he died on the 14th of November l975, a few months after the onset of the Emergency.

Something happened before his body was pushed into the gas furnace on a trolley. An elderly lady unwrapped a red flag from her purse and put it on my father's chest. She stood there for a few minutes and then she picked up the flag before the trolley was moved into the furnace and left. I think she was referred to as "didi." I asked a young man she was with, if I could have the flag and he said, they had only one and they could not afford to spare it. I asked him, why did she do that? He said, "because we believe that he would have been happy". I think the young man's name was Subhash Ganguli. Subhash and Sanjay Mitra were instrumental in founding APDR, the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights. I collected all the name tags of all the organizations that had sent flowers and wreaths. I still keep them in a folder. They were from the Students' Health Home, The Peoples' Relief Committee, the Indian Medical Association and from many branches all over Bengal, from the Cardiological Society, from old personal friends who had been to University with him in London, from well-known journalists like Samar Sen, from several community organizations, from past Mayors of the city, from the schools he had assisted in founding like Patha Bhavan, from very well-known filmmakers and theatre personalities who knew him personally, from the APDR, some other civil liberties organizations and amongst many others one that said "from the revolutionaries of India."

My father was not a communist. He was a sympathizer and an ardent believer in socialist concepts. Although he was frequently referred to as a "Red" by the right wing of society, from the Chief Minister of Bengal, Dr B C Roy and the entire establishment in general, he was not particularly enamoured by many of the policies of the Communist Party of India. Irrespective, every-known communist party leader from Bengal and elsewhere and former nationalists had come to our house in Calcutta frequently and sometimes even taken shelter in various houses arranged by my father when the CP was made illegal. From Indrajit Gupta, Somnath Lahiri, P C Joshi, Kalpana Dutt and their sons Chand and Suraj, Sushobhan Sarkar, Snehanshu Acharya, and as well Bhupesh Gupta (particularly close to our family), Ajoy Ghosh, Promode Sengupta, Saumyen-dranath Tagore and Srimati Tagore (very close family friends), Jyoti Basu, Biren Roy, Sudhi Pradhan, Kiran Bysack, Arun Sen, Narahari Kabiraj, Gopal Acharya, Biresh Guha, Dhiren Roy, EMS Naboodiripad, Abdulla Rasul, Kangsari Haldar, the phenomenal photographer/documentarian Sunil Janah, to nationalists like Bhupen Dutta, Nalinakhsa Sanyal, Niharendu Dutta Majumdar, Moni Biswas, AMO Ghani and Calcutta area activists like Naresh Banerjee, Samar Ray Chaudhuri and Golam Yazdani (who very surprisingly switched to the Congress at some point in time).

He had a penchant for art, theatre and cinema. He would even organize mini-film festivals in our house. I remember seeing films about Julius Fucik and Gramsci in our living room or backyard. He was also a keen sponsor of Calcutta's vibrant political theatre movement. Again, many well-known personalities confabulated in our house, both for medical reasons as well as fundraising during elections. Many drifted away from the left for a variety of reasons. Some left during the Quit India movement, some during Tebhaga and some finally after Khrushchev's revelations about Stalin. There was reason to believe that my father, not being doctrinaire or demagogic was able to attract a fairly wide spectrum of liberal, social democratic, humanist and radical intellectual friends. His closest friends were progressive but had become cynical about social change and involvement. However, my father motored on, with several projects that he felt were important. Internationally, my father was also close to the ANC (the Secretary General, Alfred Nzo, had stayed in our house in Elliot Road in the sixties), and so had Dr Emile Douadi, well known French doctor and socialist. He had traveled extensively in Eastern Europe seeking support for Students' Health Home. The first ambulance of Students' Health Home was a Skoda supplied by the Indo-Czech Friendship Society. As a doctor, and a well-known cardiologist, he would often look after ailing political leaders and sometimes even underground leaders like Charu Mazumdar and Sushital Raychaudhuri, much later on.

Dr Bose grew up in Bongaon in 24 Parganas, on the Jessore border. He swam in the Ichamoti River and used a shot gun (his father's) to kill fish in the river and then he would dive in and retrieve them. He was an ace football player and when he went to Presidency College, the Mohun Bagan team asked him to play in the forward line. He was however focused on a career in Medicine and chose to play in the Medical College team. There are numerous stories about him in Calcutta. His confreres referred to him as the "boy from Bongaon," out of a certain urban superiority complex. My father, during a flood around College Street, got a boat and set up a human skeleton across from him and the skeleton rowed with him simultaneously, attached by wires. It created quite a spectacle. He was looking for volunteers.

Later on, when he came back from England, he was instrumental in starting up Peoples' Relief Committee, Students' Health Home, helping with the founding of Patha Bhawan School and was one of the initiators of Islamia Hospital and much later joined the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights as one of its primary stalwarts.

In the mid-thirties, he came back from England and married my mother Mrs Chameli Bose, who later on worked with Prof P C Mahalanobis, C R Rao and other well-known statisticians. Her works on D2 Statistics, sample surveys of West Bengal population and women's contribution to GDP, was well known internationally. My mother retired as the Director of the Bureau of Applied Economics and Statistics. She was not very popular with the CPI(M), but they all knew that Jyoti Basu was a close friend of my mother. Both had studied together in England. My mother was the first woman in the world to complete degree in Statistics from University College, London. Jyoti Basu was going to law school then in UK and they were friends of Indira Gandhi, Kumaramangalam, Krishna Menon. A motley crew of folks who swore on socialism but avoided associating with socialists. My mother secretly voted for the CPI, but would never acknowledge it, being a senior officer in the government. Her point was that she would vote for friends she knew than the devils she met during the day. I would say that was astute. Bhupesh Gupta once jokingly told me that "your mother is a better supporter of the Party, than daktar-shaheb. He is too critical." And this is for the historians of the Indian Communist movement—Bhupesh Gupta's copy of the "Dange papers" was left with my mother in a safe deposit vault, until after 1964, when he came and picked it up from her, still sealed. He had given it to her, specifically saying that "daktar must not know." Because my father at that time was leaning towards the CPI(M). My mother told me much later about this and Bhupesh Gupta acknowledged it with his perennially infectious smile. The Dange papers were actually the internal exchanges on the famous "Dange letters."

Towards the end of his life, my father was less enthusiastic about the possibilities of "fundamental change." This was a key phrase he used to signify an egalitarian society achieved by a revolutionary transfer of power. He was less interested in polemics, whether of questioning Stalin, the antics of Khrushchev, of China's drift and even some fundamental beliefs in what constitutes socialism or vanguardism. When the APDR was practically banned (for a while the offices were in our house in Ballygunge Place—the street is now named Dr Amiya Bose Sarani, thanks to the efforts of Mr Biren Roy) a massive document was being produced. This was the time of the Emergency. The Special Branch hauled my father into Lord Sinha Road and grilled him about his associations. By then he was disillusioned about the prospects of democracy in India. Massacre after massacre had happened. Thousands had been incarcerated. But, this was the last straw. Indira Gandhi's Emergency. The document was smuggled abroad, translated and published by IPANA and thousands of copies were distributed worldwide. My father could not see it. This was mentioned very poignantly by Subhash Ganguli in one of his recollections.

Many of my generation are now passing on. Practically no one from my father's generation is left. If this sounds like a roll call of names from two generations back, it is because, these names are important for the post-independence era, when there was no google or facebook. And many of these names, incidents are lost and forgotten, unless they were really famous. I may have missed out on many other names, but I thought it was time to write these notes down.

Vol. 47, No. 23, Dec 14 - 20, 2014