Nabina Das’s personal/political memoir of a South Asian Communist
Writing about Moni Singh inevitably gets mixed with the personal and the institutional. Institutional because Singh happens to be a stalwart in the revolutionary history of the South Asian subcontinent. He was the President of Communist Party of Bangladesh and also was the member of Advisory Council to Bangladesh Government in exile in 1971. Personal because he happens to be my “pishemoshai”, the husband of my paternal aunt, my father’s oldest sibling.
The interesting angle to the personal is also that I have very brief but specific memory of Moni Singh in my life. He was more of the distinguished guest than the uncle one could relate to. His homecoming meant my grandmother worried about what the famed son-in-law would eat. My aunt bothered none about all this, being a compatriot in the same politics. I remember one occasion when Singh was sitting down to do his morning shave. He placed a little hand mirror on a stool in front of him, sat down on a “mudha”, wrapped his torso in a hand-woven towel, and carefully arranged his shaving blades. A plastic mug of warm water also stood next to the mirror. Singh dipped his razor in the mug once the blade was screwed in. I’d watch him dip it multiple times and then do a clean swipe at his cheek. The precision was meditative. All the while he adjusted his eyeglasses — I suspect of high power — and smiled a little at me. His wiping away of the shaving foam was also meticulous, layer by layer.
Singh passed away on December 31, 1990.
Since 2000, every year, a week-long Moni Mela in memory of Comrade Moni Singh at Sushangh Durgapur in Netrakona, Bangladesh, is organized.
Dibalok Singha, son of Moni Singh, and my cousin, says, “Because of his political beliefs, ideals, dedication and activities related to the emancipation of toiling masses in the Indian subcontinent and particularly in Bangladesh, he went through (state) repressions.”
Singh was jailed for long years during the British, Pakistan and even Bangladesh time. Especially, he was forced to live in ‘underground’ during Pakistan period.
Singha informs that Moni Mela this time round has started from Dec 31, 2016 to Jan 6, 2017. A memorial meeting on the life, political vision and accomplishments of legendary Comrade Moni Singh has also been planned at Dhaka University campus on Jan 7.
In 1937, released from jail in Nadia, Singh came to see his mother at Sushang-Durgapur. Within 2-3 days of his visit, a few Muslim peasants came to see him. Singh writes in his autobiography “Life is a Struggle” (Jiban Sangram) that this was a turning point in his life. The visiting peasants pleaded with Singh to put an end to the extremely reprehensible and cruel “tonko” method of extorting revenue by the powerful landlords of Shushang-Durpapur.
According to Dibalok Singha, “Moni Singh felt a strange dilemma while trying to decide whether his revolutionary career must be dedicated to trade union activities in Calcutta or to leading a movement against the tonko repression on poor peasants in this village.”
Moni Singh’s autobiography states that he felt the need for putting his energy towards peasants’ welfare.
“The tonko movement here would be a complex and a tough one. Mainly because this would be against a large number of my own relatives. Not only that, my own family owns land under “tonko” revenue. So this would be a battle against all. Perhaps these reasons are still holding me back.”
Overcoming his own intellectual conflict, Singh decided to finally work for the peasant.
“Armed whatever knowledge of Marxism-Leninism I had then, and with my own experience of labour movements, I finally overcame my conflicts and arrived at the decision that I shall fully be a part of the movement against the tonko revenue extortion.”
The Moni Mela in Shushang-Durgapur is a tribute to this relentless agitation following which the poor peasants of the area had found a reprieve. I remember Singh’s wife Anima, my paternal aunt, also a comrade in the same struggle and many more, more closely. Comrade Moni Singh, a much celebrated revolutionary later in Bangladesh even, evoked in us young ones who saw him only a few times a sense of awe. Chocolates and books also arrived with him. But the “Order of the Friendship of the People” winner was a man more of extraordinary revolutionary lore.
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