‘Bhombal Sardar’–a Children’s Novel

Debasish Paul

True nationalistic spirit inspires a person to understand her / his motherland, through not only grassroots knowledge, but also through its natural environment. Khagendranath Mitra, a noted freedom fighter, penned a novel for children. Clearly his goal was to inspire the kids of his time to learn about Bengal's environment and rural society.

In Bengal those were politically charged days. At the same time, literary and artisitc activities had reached a zenith. The nationalist movement under the banner of Bharatiya Jatiya Mahasabha to stall the partition of Bengal was in full swing, when Mitra was a high school student in Kustia in East Bengal. The movement had deep influence on the youth in Kustia. Mitra actively participated in nationalist freedom struggle, and got in touch of Bagha Jatin and other contemporary revolutionaries. When he was a student of the 'first class' (tenth standard), the British government had circulated a notice asking students to stay away from the movement. Mitra organised the students in defying the circular and boycotting a visit to the school by the Director of School Education, Hornel. Mitra was expelled from the school for leading the boycott. He of course was unrepentant and was later on admitted to Rajbari Goalanda High School in Faridpur by its affectionate headmaster Akhil Maitra.

'Bhombal Sardar' was published in three parts in 1943,1955 and 1975, and was for a long time very popular among Bengali kids. It was translated into Russian and inducted as rapid reader in the seventh and eighth standards in the erstwhile USSR. The book received very favourable reviews from intellectuals of the period.

During the period in which Bhombal Sardar's story is placed India used to generate regular agricultural surplus, essential for primitive accumulation of capital to usher in an industrialisation of own economy. Irfan Habib has demonstrated through his researches how the advent of the British had actually demented the potential for capitalist development in India. Governor General Lord Cornwalis instituted the Permanent Settlement to implant the neo-feudalist Zamindar class in Indian economy under the Raj to enhance imperial interests. Oppression of the Indian peasantry under the new zamindary system caused long term harm to India's agrarian economy.In his novel Mitra has presented readers, through the eyes of Bhombal, the adventurous kid, glimpses of the brutality of Zaminadars.

The dare devil child hero of the novel was also his protagonist to instill the spirit of adventure in young minds. The little truant boy charts his own way through unknown villages and among unknown people.

Indeed Mitra, deftly used his literary prowess to impress upon young minds the true colour of nationalism. Bhombal Sardar, therefore, is not just an adventure novel, but a living testament to how litterateurs actively contributed to India's freedom movement.

Vol. 47, No. 47, May 31 - June 6, 2015