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

Remembering Chinmohan Sehanavis on his Birth Centenary

Saturday 7 December 2013, by SC

Throughout the forties of the last century a cultural movement had grown in Bengal—some had characterised it as ‘yet another renaissance’ by comparing it with the social reform movement in the province in the nineteenth century—and among the major organisations spearheading that movement were the Progressive Writers Association, Youth Cultural Institute, Indian People’s Theatre Association, Friends of Soviet Union Society, Anti-Facial Writers and Artists Association as well as Bengali literary journals like Parichya, Agrani, Arani, Natun Sahitya. Those whose names were inseparably linked to the establishment or running of these cultural organisations included one prominent personality, Chinmohan Sehanavis, a distinguished figure in Bengal’s progressive literary circles.

He was born on December 8, 1913 in Lahore where his father, Professor Benoymohan Sehanavis, was posted then on professional work. He did his matriculation from Raniganj School, graduated from Kolkata’s St Xavier’s College in Mathematics Honours and obtained his post-graduate degree in Economics from Calcutta University. On completing his studies he joined the Hindustan Corporation but left it when he established the Bookman publishing enterprise which subsequently merged into the International Publishing House. For a few years in the fifties Chinmohan was associated with the Indian Statistical Institute in the city.

In his adolescene Chinmohan was inspired by Gandhiji’s ideals. Thereafter under the influence of Professor Akroid and his paternal elder cousin, Ajoy Ghosh (who was to become the undivided Communist Party of India’s last General Secretary), he was attracted towards Marxism and through wide reading and meticulous studies embraced that ideology. In 1941 he became a member of the Communist Party. He was arrested in 1949 after the party was outlawed during the period of the party’s adoption of Left sectarian and adventurist policies, and was lodged in Kolkata’s Presidency Jail before being shifted to the Buxa. Fort Prison in Alipurduar, West Bengal. While in detention in Kolkata he, with his co-prisoners, undertook an indefinite fast (lasting almost two months) demanding better facilities for the prisoners.

After the party was legalised in the fifties Chinmohan, better known as ‘Chinu’ to his contemporaries and ‘Chinuda’ to his countless young admirers, worked in the CPI’s cultural as also peace and solidarity fronts. It was principally his initiative that contributed to the grand success of the Tagore Centenary Peace Festival in the second half of 1961 in Kolkata—in fact he had himself worked out and given form and shape to the entire concept of the Festival that was acclaimed by one and all.

In his later years he fully devoted himself to historical research. His fields of research mainly centred on the Indian revolutionaries abroad and the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore. His books in Bengali are Dui Shatabdi, Dui Prithibi (Two Centuries, Two Worlds), Lenin o Bharatbarsha (Lenin and India), Rabindranather Antarjatik Chinta (Internationalist Thoughts of Rabindranath), Rush Biplab o Prabashi Bharatiya Biplabi (Russian Revolution and Indian Revolutionaries Abroad), Rabindranath o Biplabi Samaj (Rabindranath and Revolutionary Society), 46 no. Ekti Sanskriti Andolon Prasange (On 46 no. a Cultural Movement). He was also the architect of the standing pictorial exhibition on various streams of the Indian struggle for freedom (which has come out in book form in both Bengali and English) under the auspices of the West Bengal Government though the Left Front, during its tenure in power, rarely acknowledged Chinmohan’s contribution to the project.

He also helped the CPI’s intellectual stalwart, Dr G. Adhikari, in the project of collecting documents of the history of the Communist Party (a project that has yet to be completed) as far as his failing health permitted him to undertake the task.

His real contribution was the Bengali book on Russian Revolution and Indian revolutionaries abroad. It was the product of rigorous and painstaking work in Moscow and Leningrad, Delhi and Kolkata. [In the course of this research he was able to meet in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), through the assistance of L.V. Mitrokhin, Lidya Eduardovna Korunovskaya, the widow of the communist revolutionary Virendranath Chattopadhyay (brother of Sarojini Naidu), who was executed by J.V. Stalin along with Abani Mukherjee in 1942 and rehabilitated by N.S. Khrushchev after the historic 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956.]

He was an intimate friend of N.C. and married N.C.’s sister Uma. He used to write occasionally in Mainstream. After his demise in Kolkata on May 19, 1987, N.C. wrote the following tribute under the pen name ‘One Who Knew Him’. While remembering him on his birth centenary that falls on Sunday (December 8, 2013) we are reproducing that tribute as well as Chinmohan’s article “Brahmo Samaj and Toiling People” that appeared in Mainstream, Annual 1978. This article too bears testimony to his dedicated historical research and analyses. S.C.

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