IN QUEST OF RAJOUR
Sudhir Kumar Jha
At the beginning of the twentieth century, my father's elder sister got married to a zamindar, Raja Tank Nath Choudhary of Rajour in Dinajpur district of Bengal (of undivided India). Rajour was over two hundred kilometres from our village in Bihar, which was still a part of the Bengal Presidency. One wonders today how the alliance must have been negotiated. The railways may have helped bridge the distance. One way or the other, the contact was there.
After my aunt settled down as the Rani of Rajour, she sent for her two younger brothers -- my father and my uncle, who had thus far been attending the Sanskrit pathshala in the village to expose them to western education. At Rajour a private tutor, Dakshina Babu, was engaged to coach the duo, who soon acquired a good grounding in English and the rest of the curriculum. What with better food and living conditions, my father felt happy in his new home. He developed a taste for Bangali cuisine and soon became fluent in speaking Bangla. There was not much interaction with the Raja, who was much older, but the Raja's younger brother, fondly referred to as Chhota Raja, was more accessible and my father hero-worshipped him. It was the Chhota Raja, and not his own brother-in-law, that my father was to talk about in his later years while reminiscing about his sojourn in Rajour.
My father would always feed me with stories of his adolescent years at Rajour. He was a great raconteur and his narration caught my childhood fancy. By that time India's partition had taken place and Rajour, he told me, had gone to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. The knowledge that he may never be able to see the place reinforced his nostalgia.
At that stage I had no idea about Rajour's location except that it used to be in the Dinajpur district of composite Bengal. Years rolled by and there was less and less mention of Rajour. My eldest brother became a police top brass and he had orderlies waiting outside to respond to his call-bell. That flattered, surprised and amused my father -- yes, it was a bag of emotions -- who remarked that even his Chhota Raja did not have this privilege as the latter had to bring his two hands together (to clap) to summon his khidmatgar.
My father left us more than twenty years back at the age of ninety, and my sons eventually heard about Rajour more from me than from my father. When my youngest son happened to get posted to Dhaka, he remembered having detected a yearning in me to visit the place about which my father had talked so lovingly and longingly. In his own subtle ways my son launched his research on Rajour, but it was like looking for the needle in a haystack. We had a lucky break when we could elicit from a scion of the Raja's family that Rajour was in Rani Shankail Thana in the newly created Thakurgaon district of Bangladesh. A further input from him was that the Raja's Rajbari was at some distance from his temple-cum-cultural complex. With this lead my son activated his local contacts and managed to obtain a Revenue Thana Map of Ranishankail and, lo and behold, there was listed Mauza Rajor (spelling differed slightly because of the way the Bangalis and us pronounced it) within the Bachor Union of Ranishankail Thana. My son did not undertake the physical verification; possibly he wanted me to experience the thrill of doing it.
When I joined my son in Dhaka this summer our quest began in full earnest. He took along a colleague as our smattering of Bangla may not have been enough to get answers to our queries. Once at Saidpur, we took the road to Thakurgaon bypassing Dinajpur at Dash Mile (10th Mile). When on the road leading to Rani Shankail, we kept stopping to make enquiries about our destination. We proved third time lucky to be counter-questioned if we were looking for Tanknath Choudhary's Rajbari. To our yes the old gentleman told us that we were standing next to it! For me it was a pledge redeemed.
Being face to face with the palace of my father's tales was both a relief and a disappointment. That we had finally located it and that it had not been razed to the ground for erecting a government building was comforting but that the palace of my father's dreams had all but crumbled was disconcerting. Enough remains to indicate that the Rajbari must at one time have been a magnificent edifice. It is made of brick and mortar but reinforcement has also been used, a novelty at the dawn of the twentieth century. It is a two-storey structure with a wide staircase. There are rooms on all four sides with verandas opening on to a courtyard in the middle. The ceiling is missing in most places, the rooms have been used as a public lavatory and a couple of cows were grazing the overgrowth. Decades of decay are writ large in every nook and corner. Two of the three ponds have remnants of pucca ghats. Some of the arches are surprisingly intact but the coat of arms at the top of the frontage has been scooped out either for its material value or to obliterate the signs of royalty. The landless villagers have made their dwellings in the open space between the building and the pond. A semi-permanent structure has been put up on one side of the main entrance gate to house the Union Tehsil office.
As news of our visit spread, descendents of the Raja's tenants started collecting out of curiosity. At least two of the older fellows clearly said that they had come to pay respects to Raja's lok (family). The affection and reverence for the Raja was palpable. Some even wondered if we had gone to lay claims to the property. The Tehsil staff was friendly and forthcoming. They showed us the Khatian of 1938 bearing the seal of the Settlement Office, Dinajpur showing the distribution of share among the Raja's and Chhota Raja's sons. We learnt from him that the property, at least officially, still belonged to the Raja as it was merely an abandoned property and the title had not vested in the state. The descendents of the Raja could therefore reclaim it, sell it off or gift it to anybody or renounce their claim in favour of the government which then could use it for some good public cause. We gathered that the management of the estate after 1947 was taken over by a local gentleman. No one seemed to know for sure if he was the self-styled manager or had the Raja's blessing. He is dead and his son is now the national manager but the virtual zamindar. I wanted to meet this gentleman but was not sure how he would react. The purpose of our visit was entirely academic and sentimental but we might have unwittingly ruffled some feathers.
It was getting late and we had an unfinished item on our agenda, to seek out the temple complex. However, only some older people knew it as Rajour. It is a road junction and shops have come up there but the signboards all mention the place as Katiyarhat. After crossing a large field now being used as a haat (village mart) we came to the Shyamrai Krishna temple, the chief temple in the complex. In the post-Chaitanya Mahaprabhu era, temples dedicated to Krishna came up all over Bengal, which had been a land of tantra and Kali worship, and practically all Rajbaris had Krishna as their presiding deity.
The Shebait spoke to us at length and explained why the place was not known any more as Rajour but as Katiyarhat. Raja Tank Nath Choudhury got the haat shifted from its earlier location at Katiyar but acceded to the haat owner's stipulation to retain the name even after it was moved to Rajour. In the Raja's time itself, therefore, Rajour started being called Katiyarhat. The Shebait felt that the Raja made a mistake in not attaching the haat to the temple. Had he done so, the temples might have been self-sufficient. Perhaps the Raja wanted to do it but did not live long enough. Rajour now survives only in revenue records as the mouza encompassing both the Rajbari and the temple complex.
My son had taken enough audio-visuals for me to return to India with. These are sure to be keenly devoured by my family back home, my brothers in particular. It will be an emotional balm for us. But for now my quest was over and it was time for us to beat a retreat.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005