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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 51, December 7, 2013

A Rare Gem

Saturday 7 December 2013

One Who Knew Him

On May 19 in Calcutta there passed away a man the greatness of whose peronality could be perceived in its full magnitude in the days and weeks after his departure. And as months and years will pass what he has achieved through his toil and dedication shall come to light. His was not just a meteoric intellectualism, it was a solid contribution to the thought pro-cess of a greater and richer India of tomorrow.

Chinmohan Sehanavis breathed his last when he was nearing 74. Generations of Bengali intellectuals have known him, loved him and respected him because he had the rare quality of interacting with both young and old. He had never confined himself to the narrow walls of his own contemporaries. He could meet and talk and learn with felicity in any company. That was one of the great traits of his character.

As any self-respecting Bengali youth of his generation, he coming from nationalist but a sharply intellectual background, found himself in contact with the militant wing of the freedom struggle. As it happened to many of his contemporaries, the young mind sought answers to questions about independence of the country and thought of what would happen to the hapless but unbending millions of this land of ours once it had won its freedom from foreign rule. This led him slowly but consciously towards Marxism. He joined the underground communist movement in the thirties and remained a steadfast soldier of this army of the dedicated till his last day on earth. Not without reason his comrades took his remains to the cremation singing the inspiring International.

A steadfast Communist, Chinu, as he was fondly known to his friends and comrades, was never a narrow dogmatist. Whether in the underground or in prison—where he joined the bitter battle for better amenities for political prisoners, undertaking a hunger strike of nearly two months—or in the wider world that opened after our Republic was born, he had a remar-kable quality of winning the confidence not only of those with whom he agreed but even of many more with whom he disagreed. There was never a compromise, nor was there a confrontation. He was soft-spoken, mild-mannered to the point of self-abnegation. But he was not without his moments of anger and his shafts were directed against injustice and inequity.

As he grew up in active revolutionary politics, Chinmohan realised the dearth of intellectual input in the Left movement in our country. With single-minded devotion, defying all critics and petty traducers, he immersed himself in the study of the origins of revolutionary thinking and action in our national movement for independence. With tireless research, he built a structure of intellectual approach to our freedom struggle and identified the various streams that converged finally in the mighty river that finally swept away the edifice of colonialism from our country. He spared no pains in searching for the missing links in our revolutionary history and with meticulous care he discovered most of them. But he never posed as the final authority on any aspect of the subject. His was an ever questioning mind, and he stood on no formalities in approaching anybody and learning from all, high and low, old and young. And he emerged as an acknowledged authority on the history of our freedom struggle. But he never believed in producing tomes of profundity. He acquired the intellectual discipline to put across his findings in a language which all can understand.

Chinmohan was the initiator of many significant movements in the intllectual life of Bengal. He took a leading part in consolidating the pro-gressive writers’ movement and in the foundation of the people’s threatre movement out of whose portals passed celebrities in the field of drama and film in equal number. He imbibed within himself the finest legacy of Rabindranath Tagore and identified its commonality with the best that the world progressive movement has brought out.

A person of granite-like integrity, Chinmohan Sehanavis was the finest manifestation of Twentieth Century Humanism which has sought to synthesise the loftiest thoughts of world civilisation with the urge to build a better world liberated from the shackles of inequity. 

(Mainstream, June 13, 1987)

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