Revolutionary leader Kanailal Dutta of the Jugantar group was hanged on November 10, 1908, for the assassination of British approver Naren Goswami in the Alipore Central Jail’s hospital. A day before the hanging, his brother, Ashutosh, had requested him to hand over something that the family could keep in memory of their 19-year-old-son. Kanailal had agreed that the family could keep his spectacles after being hanged. On the 75th year of Independence, Dutta’s grandniece, Sharbaree Bose, is writing down the details of the memorabilia story that was passed on as oral history in her family.
Two Jadavpur University alumni - Oyeshi Ganguly and Shriya Dasgupta - are digitally recording such unheard tales of Bengal’s freedom fighters that are usually not documented in history books for their Agnijug Archive.
“My grandfather had once written about the specs story. But the article and his diary entries have now become too brittle. The story of how my granduncle wore his high-powered glasses to the gallows have survived in our family. He had thought the British might want him to read out something before being hanged. That wasn’t finally required. Before the black cloth was being tied around his head, he had handed over the glasses to a guard and asked him to pass them on to his brother. They are now kept in the Chandernagore French Museum,” Bose said.
Another unheard story is about Mohit Moitra who, like Kanailal, was also a member of the Jugantar group. Mohit was sentenced to Kalapani in 1932 for being involved in the Arms Act case. In 1933, the prison inmates went on a hunger strike to demand better living conditions. Fearing escalation, the British tried to force-feed Moitra and accidentally, the tube containing food entered his wind pipe instead of the food pipe. He had to be immediately hospitalised and fought for his life for 10 days. His nephew, Pinaki, said: “When the doctor came to him with folded hands and requested him to at least have the medicine, my uncle smiled at him and said: ‘I am still on hunger strike. My comrades have not eaten. So, I’ll also not eat’. The day after, on May 28, 1933, he passed away. ”
Ganguly and Dasgupta’s archive has fascinating anecdotes about how Bagha Jatin’s wife Indubala Devi continued wearing sankhasindur till her last days since their guru told the family ‘Baccha (Jatin) abhi zinda hai’, how Vijaylakshmi Pandit turned down the request for a job by Sunanda Gupta (wife of Chittagong Armoury Raid hero Ananda Gupta) when the family was struggling in London where Ananda was undergoing treatment for his morphine addiction induced by the British in jail and of how Shanti Ghosh and Suniti Chaudhuri were seen studying hard for their final exams a day before going to kill the DM of Comilla.