Life | Memories Of Ma

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Memories Of Ma
Text by Manini Chatterjee
Published: Volume 18, Issue 12, December, 2010

Manini Chatterjee reminisces about her formidable mother-in-law Kalpana Datta, one of the two women revolutionaries who took part in the Chittagong Uprising, the subject of Ashutosh Gowariker’s just-released Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey

Both my parents-in-law were freedom fighters. My father-in-law, P.C. Joshi, as general secretary of the undivided Communist Party of India, drew thousands of young people to the Left movement in the years before Independence. Kalpana Datta was among the foremost women revolutionaries in our freedom struggle. I never met P.C. Joshi but knew Kalpana closely – I met her first in 1983, married her son Chand Joshi in 1984 and we lived under the same roof for years.

Kalpana was completely unassuming, a doting mother, and loved to talk about her childhood and youth. I had no plans to write a book when Ma was alive, but began working on it a few years after she passed away in 1995.

Kalpana’s cousin, Subodh (Jhunku) Roy, the youngest participant in the Uprising, was a bigger help. He gifted me his unpublished memoir, introduced me to some other survivors, and related anecdotes which made the whole period come alive.

My memories of Kalpana are very personal in nature. She was down to earth, fun-loving, and yet had a striking, charismatic personality. Even at the age of 75, she would travel in crowded DTC buses, and was a pillar of strength to her extended family. Her early training as a revolutionary never left her: she could adjust to any kind of situation, always washed her own clothes, cooked her own food, skipped and exercised daily till she fell very ill with Alzheimer’s. And she never stopped missing her beloved Chittagong.

There is a huge cast of characters in my book – Do And Die, The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34 – many of whom were killed in the course of the struggle. I find Pritilata Waddedar most fascinating– because she was a brooding, intense, complex woman; a fiery revolutionary who was also a deeply emotional human being. Kalpana and Pritilata shared a unique friendship.

Ashutosh (Gowariker) first got in touch with me after he had made Swades. But he finally made up his mind to do Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey after completing Jodhaa Akbar.

I respect his vision and integrity. Although the film makes some departures from the book, I am happy with it because it has retained the underlying spirit of the book and the real life event. A film can take the story to a much bigger audience than my book ever could. And my main objective was to make this neglected history widely known.

I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that Deepika Padukone was playing the role of Kalpana. There is a certain resemblance between the two –Ma did not have the glamour of a film star but was striking in her own way. There is a certain dignity and strength in Deepika which matches the character she is portraying.

The Chittagong saga is not a boring slice of history – it is a thrilling tale of friendship and camaraderie, of love and loss, of courage and sacrifice.


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