After many years I visited Birlapur when I was in Salt Lake early this year. Birlapur, the industrial township that was born around the first Indian jute mill that was set up by GD Birla, is gasping. It reminded me of a similar or worse condition of another Birla company and its township, called Hind Motor. Unfortunately, I spent a good time of my life in both the places.
I lived in Birlapur in my childhood for schooling with my grandparents and other family members at different time. I witnessed its growing brick by brick. Many manufacturing facilities beside jute got added. Infrastructure also grew fast. One of them was the market complex that had large number of shops all around, separate shades for vegetables, fish and mutton etc. It had a big courtyard that was used only for weekly bazaar. I remember this court yard used to take a great festive look during Durga Puja. A huge pandal used to come up where various professional groups performed Bangali Yatras.
I still have the nightmarish memory of the football ground where I met with the major accident when my left ankle got fractured under a manual pulled road roller. Our headmaster had instructed the students to bring that for a show by a body builder who was going to put that heavy roller on his chest. I still remember the nuisance that I had created for my grandparents with my pain on the first night. I had to go the Calcutta Medical College where the ankle and a portion of my leg got plastered. For a long time I could not go to school. BK Sarbajna, my headmaster, started calling me as ‘Khoda’ (lame) after I joined class with plaster on.
Our headmaster had a great personality, pretty tall, and with impressive moustaches just like Sir Asutosh Mukherji. He always put on hand washed white dhoti and kurta. As I remember, he had authored books in English. One of those relating to the lives of great Indians was a rapid reader in class VII. I started in this school, Birlapur Vidyalaya, as regular student from class VI in 1950. I remember many of the teachers: Mullica Babe was my class teacher in class VI. I topped that year itself and continued to do that till the test examination conducted by the school for sent up. My class teacher Shri Tarak Nath Mandal of class X gave so much marks in Bengali to my friend Tapobrata Sarkar that made me second. Tarak Babu was the private tutor of Tapobrata. Tarak Babu checked the answer books of the two papers of Bengali language. For my Hindi papers, Shri MBL Shrivastava, the assistant head master was the scorer. Naturally, he would never have expected that. Curtsey Tarak Babu, Tapobrata scored above 80 in language papers. I had felt very bad when Tarak Babu as class teacher announced the rank. But in the High School Board examination, Tapobrata scored far less than me. I could never forget the partisan act of Tarak Babu.
I do also remember my Pandit Mosai who taught Sanskrit. I scored pretty high marks (in 70s) in Sanskrit in School Final examination of West Bengal Board. He wanted me to join in humanities for higher education instead of joining science stream. I took tuition for some time in class X from Shri Kisori Mohan Roy Chaudhry for mathematics, my favourite subjects. I used to go to his residence. For some time, Aditi Sardar who was one year junior to me in school used to be there during tuition. I don’t know if my score of 94 in School Final made him happy.
I remember few more interesting incidents. I participated in recitation and acted in dramas. While playing as Ajay in ‘Mewar Patan’ of D.L.Roy, when my toy pistol didn’t work, I made a pistol-like sound from my mouth. The whole auditorium burst into big laughter. I was of 12 years at that time. I was never good in sports but when I was in class X, I played volleyball some time. And once my friends, who respected me for my scholarship took me in team too, when they went to play against Batanagar High School.
I got selected to represent the school in one outstation camp of the students from various schools for a week in Ghatsila. I remember it as Kailash Nath Katju, the then governor of West Bengal had come to see us off at Howrah Railway Station. He talked to me in Hindi and asked me to do the best in career. My grandfather was also present at time. He felt very happy about my interactions with His Excellency Katju.
During school days, one of my favourite places after school hours was the jetty of the jute mills. I used to sit near a crane and kept on seeing the river flowing. I was shocked to see its condition. Perhaps, the mode of transportation has changed.
Jetty, Birlaline,Hospital and Calcium Carbide Unit
A huge library was housed in a big hall in residential complex for senior executives, where the chief engineer of the mill, ML Sengupta had his residence. He was not only respected for his engineering skill, he was also a great actor. I still get reminded of his acting as Chanakya in D.L. Roy’s ‘Chandra Gupta’. He was just superb. I read almost all the quality books of Hindi from the library. I also kept on reading Hindi books from the personal library of Shrivastava. He wondered why I am not focusing on the impending School Final Board Examination. I used to read those, as I was really bored with the text books by the time.
The visit to Birlapur this year was a travel down the memory lanes for me. I visited the factory, the school, and the residential areas. In school, I was excited to see the Board of Honours that has my name still in that. I got back to my school days and could remember the class rooms that I attended. I remembered how Srivastavaji used to teach me Hindi as the lone student in a class room. I wish some ex-student takes initiative to organize the old boys meet. I would love to go to my school and talk to the students and teachers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet any, because it was holiday for school.
The residential units of Birlapur are in bad shape. While visiting Birla Line where I lived with my grandparents, I got reminded of many sweet memories. I used to sit on the grass or swing in the lawn very often. I still vividly remember the day after my School final Examination result was out. I was sitting there alone. Suddenly I saw Mr. Ramlal Thirani, the General Manager and Mr.S. Mishra, Chief of Personnels coming towards me. Mr. Thirani embraced and congratulated me.
The factory is in bad shape. Units that produced Linoleum, staple fibre, and calcium carbide are closed. Even the market and the hospital appeared to be deserted and abandoned.
Birlapur and Hind Motor are the case examples of family enterprise that flourishes and declines with the man who establishes it. The decline of the destiny of Birlapur and Hind Motor started after the death of MP Birla and BM Birla respectively.