By Amrita Valan

I. The Beginning / Choddopurush

Recalling names of forefathers
Time travelling fourteen generations
A rollcall of honors
Bestowed by birth.

For each prior generation 
Genetic heritage halved, 
Then quartered. 
Spliced again, till
Beyond the fourteenth, 
The inheritance dwindles 
Below decimal percentage.

This proves our common pool 
Of humanity shares 
One common genome.
Barring racial markers,
We have common fathers 
And mothers. 

Hindus venerate ancestors 
Sacred identity derived
From fourteen forefathers, 
They are our backdrop, 
Context and locus. 
Lineage lending blind 
Continuity nuanced meaning
Perpetuation of preferred traits.
From the personal arises
The Universal.
And vice versa. 

Ashoke De Bhaumik, born to 
Kalipada De Bhaumik 
In 1937, In a time when, a
Second world was brewing.
My father and grandfather.

Kalipada De Bhaumik, 
Sub divisional officer 
Later, a magistrate, born 
In 1905, period of the 
Great partition of Bengal,
My home state.

Sprung from Satish Chandra De Bhaumik
Son of Ram Chandra De Bhaumik. 
One solitary photograph 
Still exists. Of a great great grandfather
Looking over his shoulder, at some 
Distant time or space. 
Some grim prospect, dilates charcoal pupils
Speaking to me, his future seed.
The edges of the photo have curled with time
The silver black chemical hazy with passing years.
So many! 
Torso twisted, eloquent eye lock over
Two centuries! 

II. The Backdrop 

1905, Bengal, our undivided home state 
Partitioned by the British for growing
Too powerful, too rich,  
Too united.

Lush lands lilt Tagore’s lyricism sill
Fields of green love songs
And coquettish village belles in striped
Cotton saris, worn without Victorian blouses.
Proud arch of unabashed feminine grace,
Clay pots poised on their heads. 
Or a baby slung on their dainty hips,
Still slender after many childbirths, 
Hard work and harmonious syncing 
With mother nature. 

Love songs, weave wistful garlands
Eulogize palpable divinity trembling 
Natural beauty, a softness of soil
moulds hearts, in my verdant Bengal,
Torn apart into shambles. 

Hard hit by famine and drought.
Time and again.
Much later when, for war efforts,
Churchill diverted all our food grain 
To Britain, there were deaths, many times
More, man-made famines, and cruelty.

Dadu’s birth coincides with
My state. West Bengal, India,
And what would later become 

Einstein publishes a paper
The Theory of Special Relativity, 
Wowing few scientists 
Across the world. 

Thus, many things of greater 
Importance overshadows nativity 
Of unknown men.
Time dilates, history gets 
Up close, personal.

The arrow of time loses vector. 

III. Personal Anecdotes 

I recall hand me down stories 
Dadu’s scholastic brilliance,
The rare phoenix rising from poverty, 
Passing meritoriously, 
Rigorous West Bengal 
Civil Service Examinations.
What shining distinction.

U M Basu, 
His father-in-law to be,  
Inviting his promising young subordinate 
To tea, setting into motion, a match 
For his seventeen-year-old daughter. 
My Thamma.

 Thamma’s mother served 
Tea, in an elegant English 
Silver tea pot to Dadu 
Conversing fluently in the 
Language of the 
Our British masters, 
We were bound to be Anglophiles.
But education breeds awareness,
Soon we were freedom fighters too
Pursuing Life liberty and happiness
Like the Americans,
Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, 
Firing our souls, across continents. 

Dear Dadu, 
A rural lad, fresh from his village 
Ghalimpur. Of a philosophical bent 
Married to a pragmatic approach. 
He married Thamma, on 11 June
We still have a printed kerchief 
Detailing the auspicious ceremonies 
Black ink on muslin.

I keep the diary of great granddad 
U.M Basu, Thamma’s father. 
Chronicling his birth 
In 1875, his marriages, Thamma’s 
Mother was his third and last bride, 
The other two died early, 
In childbirth and disease. 

Their children, our lost kinfolk
In Eastern Bengal,
Now Bangladesh.

Thus, the furious pen strokes 
Of harassed conquistadors,
Cut through a map in frenzy,
Decided what is Indian. 
And what is not.

IV. The World That Was Theirs

Great granddad U.M. Basu 
Records the ceremonial pageantry 
King George V’s India visit, 1911,
“On April 1, 1912, 
Bengal turned into a presidency.”

He writes in a shaky looping hand.

In between handwritten pages 
Ensconced, sheaves of wafer thin
Typewritten transfer orders
Fragile transcripts, hollowed by time.

They take him to and fro,
Back and forth, from Bengal
To Assam, Bengal to Orissa 
And back again, signed by 
Brisk businesslike British names
Rankins, Lyons and Maddox.

I imagine diminutive native Indians 
With names like Das and Chakravarty, 
Thin flimsy Muslin dhoti-clad, their dark 
Brown legs, or tanned gold ones, 
Encased in shiny beige, brown, black 
Nagrai jootis, our desi leather 
Moccasins or sandals. 
Crisp, untucked, white half sleeve 
Cotton bush shirts, 
Partial concession to colonialism,
Hurrying to take dictations of their
British masters. Pink faced white men, 
Bosses, half their age, towering over
Them, ruddy cheeked and light eyed, 
With terse snappy names like 
Rankins, Lyons and Maddox.

I hold this hefty chunk of history 
In my hands, my veins carry his blood,
Tears of ink run in them, my bones petrify this
Crumbling edifice of frozen calcified time.

Amrita Valan is a writer from India, with two published works, Arrivederci Fifty Poems,
(Gloomy Seahorse Press, 2021) and In Between Pauses, (Impspired Press, 2021), a collection
of 17 short stories.

2 thoughts on “The Rollcall: A Dynastic Saga in Five Parts

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