In Memory Of....

‘M N Majumder, Kalyani’

Subhas Chandra Ganguly

Adearly loved and respected senior friend to most of his acquaintances, Manindra Narayan Majumder, (dear 'Manidaa' to many like us) and a life-long server of people's cause through his acts and writings, is no more. He passed away on 7th June, Sunday, 2015 afternoon at his residence in Kalyani, the university town in Nadia district of West Bengal. His children (two sons and one daughter) being away due to their professional compulsion(s), he had only his wife (Krishna Majumder—'boudi' to the junior ones known to them) at his bed-side during his last hours. Immediate after getting the stunning news, many staying near or a little far ran to their place to see him for the last time and pay their last homage. Many others were part of the mourners at the burning ghat next day.

He has been ailing, from rather early onset of some old-age (he was nearing around eighty) and other problems now for quite some time with visible signs of growing and intermittent disturbances in some bodily function, giving rise sometimes to apprehension among those who happened to meet him in near past, though they, as is only natural, pushed such apprehension out of mind and hoped that, like many others in comparable state, he too would survive such ordeals and would continue to be with us many more years. For sometimes in the past, as if he was having some premonition about his final departure. For example, very recently in private communication with a younger friend he even reported to have predicted the shortness of length of time still left of his life. Still earlier, around 4 years back, he, over e-mail, got one of his younger (no more young in age) friends—latter sharing earlier with his friends, including Manidaa some chance translations by him of some Tagore's song/poems—translate in English one among those songs, reflective of Tagore's feeling related to his own final departure. The translated song starts with.

"ei kathaati mone rekho tomaader ei haasi khelaay
Aami je gaan geye chhilaam jirna paataa jhadaar belaay"

["Please keep in mind these words of mine, in your this laughter and playing/ I did sing my songs when the withering leaves were falling"]

After receiving younger friend's translation he sent, as a kind of surprise, his own of the same and translation of another Tagore's song of essentially the same orientation. Which starts with :
"Jakhan Podrbe Na Mor Paaer Chinha ei dharaay"

["When no more my foot prints will fall on this habitation"—Manidaa's translation]

The poignant mood is obvious in selection of only this kind of Tagore's song for translation. Taking all these things together, his departure perhaps was not a total surprise to many close to him. But, and it goes without saying, that does not lessen a whit the shock to and stunning effect on his family and those of us who had the good fortune to come near him for short or long time.

Born in Pabna district of former East Bengal (Now Bangladesh), his childhood was spent there. He completed his school and College/University education in West Bengal and then after teaching (inorganic chemistry) in some colleges he finally joined Kalyani University from 1966 and remained there till his retirement. Apart from teaching, he guided research work and, with time, was entrusted with some other responsibilities too as departmental head, Dean of science faculty, chairman of studies of undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the university. These other professional-cum-academic details would not have been of any particular importance beyond a footnote only for mere record, but for the fact that all these experiences together were likely to have been of some service to him in arriving at and so sharing the analogous realizations which were being expressed by many in their respective ways, many a time, home and abroad now for a long time—realizations which were and are severely critical of and question the very system of institutional educational system, sometimes leading to attempts at developing alternative system. In one of his write-ups (People's Council of Education Outline of a guide to action in Science) he puts his realization in such respects thus :

"What are taught in UG & PG classes nowadays are mostly related neither to the personal development of the students, nor to the wider needs of the society. Students are to cram and after a few weeks of their exams are over, they forget most of what they read, completely after a few years".

Vibrant with life, he was indefatigable in squarely confronting what he considered unacceptable within his direct experience, even if it surfaced in the place where he worked in viz. Kalyani University. Deeply concerned with people's cause(s) throughout his life,, he wrote, in Bengali and English, extensively on many an issue related to interface between science and society, touching adversely on the lives of the people, sometimes on the basis of direct field investigation, for example, on Arsenic and fluoride poisoning in agricultural zones. In truth "the death of Prof M N Majumder in Kalyani on June 7 leaves a void in the filed of research in arsenic and fluoride-free water". His professional background in the related subjects added additional weight to his contentions, incapable of being dismissed as just allegation without serious ground. In former 'left' regime he vigorously joined the voices of protest around the well known issues (reflective of state-backed corporate greed vs civil rights) of Nandigram and Singur both through his writings and otherwise.

He used to take deep interest in other issues of civil rights as well. For example he took active part in spreading the message of the historic (in the history of legal battle for civil rights) Archana Guha case, where torture victim (in 70's ) Archana Guha's non-lawyer brother Saumen Guha, under extremely adverse condition, conducted, and through his argument (under special permission from the court to act as lawyer on behalf of his elder sister) ultimately won the first phase the preceding decades long legal battle against the Police officials, who inflicted custodial violence during earlier Congress regime in 70's but was being fully backed by the later 'Left' regime, otherwise the sworn 'enemy' of the Congress party. The trial court convicted (5th June, 1996) the accused in 1996, though accused, thanks to the prevailing judicial system, succeeded through appellate court in getting the case sent back for re-trial, which is continuing till now. The Bengali little magazine Biggan O Biggankarmi (B-O-B), dealing in interface between science and society and beyond, with which he was associated from the start, carried many of his writings in Bengali. Frontier carried many of his English writings. Some books related to the above mentioned issues, written by him singly or jointly with others have also been published. Besides, some of his articles found ways into dailies, Bengali and English.

He was ever a learner, admitting openly (a virtue not perhaps often found among us) his ignorance, where it was there. After retirement from Kalyani University he built up a small laboratory in his own home. At the same time he was open in unreserved appreciation of any, he came to know of acting on writing on people's cause in broad sense and sometimes offering, when needed, useful help/suggestion in different ways. He was in regular contact with many a non-party social organization dedicated to serving people's interest in various ways and helped them within his capacity.

Their (Manidaa, boudi and their children) family played host to the ones he was fond of. In the turbulent days of 70’s their home sometimes acted as meeting place and shelter to many young social activists of the time.

His empathy with others found its expression in extending material help to many in distress or trouble, great or small during various form. For example, he helped some with poverty-stricken childhood to go through formal education to stand on their own leg through some profession. He was a regular visitor to any hospital in Kalyani where near ones of any one of his loved acquaintances were indoor patients, with foods for those attending the patient.

As perfection is denied to us humans, he of course had, like almost all of us, his idiosyncrasies too, which sometimes became cause of something akin to annoyance for persons who otherwise felt close to him. But now is not the time to remember those. Now we remember our dear Manidaa with his warmth and loving heart and lifelong effort to serve peoples in his own ways. We pay our homage to his memory with deep mourning, sharing the same with his family (wife and children) and other near and dear ones.

Vol. 47, No. 51, June 28 - July 4, 2015