District Officer's Story
now a hundred year old red brick building, on the banks of
the river Garai was my residence when I worked in Kushtia
as the District Officer in 1966-67. The Renwick Company (1904)
was the original owner of the house. Their factory was next
door, manufacturing presses for Sugar Cane crushing. At the
time of the partition of India in 1947, the Kushtia district
was carved out of the Nadia district, which went to West Bengal,
India. As a suitable residence was required for the District
Officer, later designated as the Deputy Commissioner (DC),
the Government of East Pakistan took over the house. However,
the adjoining Renwick factory and some other bungalows remained
in private hands to conduct their business.
Kuthibari, Shelaidaha. Photo: Abul Hussam
a small river, would nearly dry up in the winter. People would
wade through or go by rickshaw to the other side and go to
Shilaidaha, about ten miles away. The Nobel Laureate, Tagore's
Kuthibari was located there near the banks of the Padma. He
lived in that house a number of years with his wife, Mrinalini
Debi Raichaudhuri after their marriage in 1883 and wrote some
of his finest poems there. The Archeology Department during
Pakistan days had declared it a protected site. When my parents
came to visit me during the winter of 1966, we went by a motor
launch to visit Shelaidaha. We boarded the launch at the Renwick
Ghat adjoining our house. From the Garai it soon took us to
the Padma, which was quite turbulent that day with strong
winds. We reached Shelaidaha at about 11:30 am.
was unable to walk on the sandy stretch of about a mile from
the launch to Tagore's house. She went on one of the palanquins
belonging to the house. The beautiful and well-maintained
house with a garden and a nice big veranda upstairs seemed
to have similarities with a Burmese Pagoda. Interestingly,
Tagore a hard tennis court built behind the house and sometimes
played tennis with his wife. As the Collector of Revenue of
the district, I inspected the nearby Tehsil office. This was
also Tagore's revenue office for his family's Zamindari business
in the area. He had the reputation of being a strict landlord,
sitting on a huge pillow on the floor supervising the collection
of khajna (tax) and keeping of records. Old records from his
time were still there. After sightseeing, meeting the local
people and shooting birds in the afternoon, we returned to
Kushtia safely in the evening.
ancestors had built a house named the Tagore Lodge at Amlapara
in Kushtia town. Tagore stayed there sometimes and conducted
business in raw materials. Close by was an iron works, which
he established to make sugarcane presses. Tagore started this
in protest against the foreign companies like Renwick. They
were charging exorbitant fees for sugar crushing or renting
of the presses to the peasants. Tagore, the poet was also
a practical man.
Cotton Mills (1919) was an old Bengali-owned enterprise, producing
inexpensive saris and other clothing materials in Kushtia.
In our school days, we had read that this Mill, along with
the Dhakeswari and Chittaranjan Cotton Mills in Narayanganj
were as important industries of the then Bengal. Before 1947,
the Mohini Mills was the largest employer in town, which was
literally dependent on the Mill for its economic wellbeing.
For some time, the EPIDC was operating the Mill through a
General Manager appointed. The Mill suffered from mismanagement.
It gradually decayed, lost money year after year and towards
the end of 1967 was literally selling its assets to survive.
outlying subdivisions of the District, Meherpur and Chuadanga,
important as they always were, became prominent during the
Bangladesh Independence War in 1971. There was fierce fighting
in both the places and for some time these remained free of
the Pakistani Army. I had visited the Baidyanathtala Aam Baagan
in Meherpur with hundreds of mango trees in long and neat
rows a couple of times. On April 17, 1971, Professor Yusuf
Ali read the Declaration of Independence of Bangladesh during
the formal inauguration of the Mujibnagar Government at a
mango grove close to the Indo-Bangladesh border. Chuadanga
had the Darsana Sugar Mill and the Carew Distillaries from
before 1947, where it produced sugar, beer and some export
quality gin. While visiting Darsana in 1967, I learnt over
the phone from Dhaka that my second son had been born. I had
to cut short the visit and fly back to Dhaka, foregoing the
dinner for me for which my host, the British manager of the
Mill was naturally very upset.
place of great interest was the Lalon Shah's darga
and akhda at Cheuria village, close to the Kushtia
town. During my time, there were less than two hundred ascetic
Bauls in the area. Since then, the number has grown manifold.
We held a conference on Lalon's poetry and a musical function
on his Baul songs in Lalon's akhda. There were many
enthusiastic Lalon devotees, writers and artists, young and
old, including some artists who had come from Dhaka. Anwarul
Karim, a professor of the Kushtia College, who was doing research
on Lalon at the time, later wrote a book about him. He thoughtfully
presented a copy of the book to me at our Dhaka house many
years after I left Kushtia. Some local people resented and
disapproved of Lalon, his unorthodox beliefs and practices
and the style of living by the followers in his akhda.
Fortunately, support of the Deputy Commissioner backed by
mild police action at times, kept serious trouble away.
Azizul Jalil, a former civil servant and a retired World Bank
Staff member, writes from Washington.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005