Parallel Histories

In early 1900s, Rajoni Kanto Majumder came to Jharia from Shantipur in Nadia district to work as a manager in the coal division of the KC Thappar group. He got married to Sudhangshu Bala Ghosh from Mushidabad and settled down in the coal town.

Then Jharia used to be a part of Manbhum district of the British Bengal. The coal had just been discovered in the Damodar river valley. The great wars were being fought in Europe and Asia and the Empire needed coal. The bituminous coal found under the surface of Jharia was suitable for cokes, which run war industries back in England. Businessmen – British and Indian went on a full force digging out as much as they could. Raja Shiva Prasad of Jharia became a rich man. He built a new palace at what is today called the ‘Rajbari Road‘. Coal was the black diamond.

Rajoni Kanto realised the potential to make money. He left KC Thappar to begin on his own. Initially, he started with a timber business and later shifted to the ever profitable coal. Money was flowing and so were businessmen like him. He built a house – Biswanath Kutir – in Jharia in 1928 and raised his family of six children.

Jharia was fast becoming a town of migrants… Bengalis, Marwaris and Bihari. One of the major Bengali families was the Bakshis. Friends of the Jharia royal family, the Bakshis were zamindars of Chelema (Purulia district). Much before De Nobili was built, Jharia had two major educational institutes – the RSP College and the KC Girls’ School. The latter was built in 1932 by the Bakshi family in the memory of its patriarch, Kirti Chandra Bakshi.

Kirti Chandra Bakshi married his daughter Tarini Bala Mitra to Dr Basanta Mitra, the zamindar of Baurah (Birbhum district). Kirti Chandra invited his physician son-in-law to practice in Jharia. In early in 1920s, the Basanta Building was built on the shores of Raja Band (Raja Talo) which became home to the young family.

The first fire in Jharia coal mines can be traced back to 1916. Post independence, mining continued in the same manner. Only the nationality of owners changed. A new royalty was born, the mine owners. Jharia’s old palace, behind the Raja Band (Raja Talo), crumbled down due to lack of funds. Raja Kali Prasad struggled to maintain the new palace.

On the other side of Raja Band (Raja Talo), just beside Basanta Building, came up Anand Bhawan, the palace of one of the new royalties of Jharia – Arjun Agarwal. He owned the Godhur Colliery Company.

In 1972, more than 70 mine fires are reported from the region. It was not just fire that haunted the town. The private owners of the coal mines exploited the labourers in the worst possible manner. The standard of living of the miners was much below the human’s. The monetary compensation was very less. The company owners controlled the labourers through their pahalwans. The same pahalwans who later became the union leaders of the nationalised companies.

Rajoni’s children didn’t follow him into his business. His wife ensured all her boys were well educated. The eldest – Ronesh Majumder, completed his B Sc degree and went on work with KC Thappar like his father. He later moved to Kolkata to join Shaw Wallace. Years later, he completed his dream – and probably his mother’s too – by acquiring a law degree.

After Ronesh came Rathin Majumder. He joined the then West Godhur Colliery as a surveyor. Mrs Gandhi was ‘kind enough’ to nationalise the mines and create the Bharat Coking Coal Limited.

The year was 1973. President VV Giri at one stoke bestowed upon thousands of workers in scores of coal companies in Dhanbad a title that became a must-have in dowry market of Bihar and Bengal – ‘Public Servant’.

That year, my father the youngest of Rajoni Kanto Majumder had turned 25 years. Its had been three years since he had joined the Youth Congress and two since he started working at the Godhur Colliery. A life long Congressman, the nationalisation brought a lot of cheer into his life. Probably he thought he would benefit from the process as well…

Kalyan Majumder was the third son of Rajoni Kanto and Sudhangshu Bala. He was very good in studies and went on to graduate from the Bhaga School of Mining. Even he benefited from the nationalisation. He retired as a deputy general manager few years back.

Rajoni Kanto and Sudhangshu Bala also had two daughters – Helen and Geeta. Helen took up nursing and raised a wonderful bright kid named Subhrato Kaur. He did his M Sc in Botany from St Xaviers’ College, Ranchi. Geeta Majumder became Geeta Chatterjee. With a supportive husband, she raised four sons in the steel city of Durgapur. She seems to have inherited the independent and rebellious nature of her mother.  She joined politics and continues to be a card holding communist! I remember the Durga Puja vacations when my communist aunt and my congressman father would have hours of debate, often marked by yelling and accusations, on various national and local issues.

My father – Swapan Majumder or Sapanda as he is popularly known as– was born the year India gained her freedom and Jharia’s mines got a new set of owners. Rajoni Kanto died when he still young. Being the youngest, he was the most spoilt. After graduating in Commerce, he started working as an accountant for Arjun Agarwal at Anand Bhawan.

to be continued…

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