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Bibhuti Bhushan’s legacy under threat, family seeks help

16 January, 2021 16:41:08
Bibhuti Bhushan’s legacy under threat, family seeks help

‘Aranyak’ is a name that the average Bengali reader recognises almost instantly as the title of an iconic novel by the legendary Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay. What is perhaps less well known is that Aranyak is also the name of a nondescript, two-storey house in Barrackpore which stands as a memorial to the legend who died in 1950, a house where members of his family now live. And the house is in imminent danger of collapse, thanks to large-scale construction work on a plot of land right next to it, clearly without leaving the requisite gap to minimise structural damage.

The land on which the high-rise is coming up belongs to Barrackpore Municipality, and the construction project is quite possibly an outcome of public-private participation, says the author’s grandson, Tathagata Bandyopadhyay, who had unsuccessfully tried to lodge an FIR at Titagarh police station in June 2020.

The matter came to light in June last year, when it was revealed that over a period of two years, construction of a highrise on the adjoining plot of land had caused substantial harm to the nearly 70-year-old building, originally commissioned by Bibhuti Bhushan’s widow, Rama Bandyopadhyay. Notably, the residence is also adjacent to Barrackpore’s famed auditorium complex Sukanta Sadan, the Charnock Police Phari, and very close to the railway station. Also nearby is Dada Boudir Biriyani, the local brand which has become a statewide name. 

The land on which the high-rise is coming up belongs to Barrackpore Municipality, and the construction project is quite possibly an outcome of public-private participation, says the author’s grandson, Tathagata Bandyopadhyay, who had unsuccessfully tried to lodge an FIR at Titagarh police station in June 2020. “They had begun an extremely heavy hammering, which made the entire house tremble, and cracks appeared in several parts. We were terrified that it would collapse and bury us alive at any time,” he says. 

Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay

While the heavy hammering stopped in a few days, construction didn’t. As a result, most of the boundary wall finally gave in and collapsed, leaving the house at the mercy of intruders. The building’s sewage system, too, has suffered extensively, leaving it prone to flooding at the slightest bit of rain. In May 2020, as Cyclone Amphan tore through large parts of Bengal, nearly 1.5 feet of water accumulated on the ground floor, causing damage to priceless and irreplaceable memorabilia. Additionally, construction workers have chopped off large parts of an old ‘jamrul’ or water apple tree which grows on the premises, “without notification or permission”, says Tathagata. 

Aranyak houses such invaluable items as Bibhuti Bhushan’s favourite pens, his clothes, various objects of personal use, first editions of his works, several unpublished writings, and other memorabilia. An entire section of the house is dedicated to the author’s memory. Additionally, it is also the house where the author’s son Taradas Bandyopadhyay, himself a noted novelist and short story writer best known for his novels ‘Taranath Tantrik’ and ‘Olatchokro’, lived until his death in 2010. 

Running from pillar to post didn’t really help, but a social media message by the author’s daughter-in-law Mitra Bandyopadhyay on January 10 has at least evoked a public reaction and media outcry. A highly accomplished Rabindra Sangeet vocalist, Mrs Bandyopadhyay wrote about the fruitless quest to prevent damage not just to her historic home, but to those of her neighbours. “Following my post, they have created a small sewage channel for our house only, though we aren’t sure yet if that will prevent waterlogging. However, the sewage systems of houses nearby continue to remain blocked by large iron sheets lying over them. Though the municipality has promised to clear the drainage systems once construction is over, we have our doubts,” she says. 

Aranyak houses such invaluable items as Bibhuti Bhushan’s favourite pens, his clothes, various objects of personal use, first editions of his works, several unpublished writings, and other memorabilia. An entire section of the house is dedicated to the author’s memory.

Municipality chairman Uttam Das, who initially allegedly refused to entertain any complaints on the matter, has since spoken to Bibhuti Bhushan’s family and, in a letter addressed to Mitra Bandyopadhyay, promised to rebuild the boundary wall and repair other damages to the house, as well as improve the drainage system “after the completion of municipal project”, all of it at the municipality’s expense. Accordingly, work on a new boundary wall began on January 13, though as Tathagata points out, “Just as they broke the wall without a word to us, so they suddenly began repairs with no advance notice. We have asked for engineers to inspect the structural damage to the house. If we aren’t satisfied with the results, we intend to call in experts on our own.”

At present, the only two members of the family who occupy the house are Tathagata and his mother. However, it attracts a constant stream of visitors who come to pay homage to one of the greatest wordsmiths of Bengali literature, the popularity of whose works has proved timeless and forever relevant.

Story Tag:
  • Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay, Aranyak

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