Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Anecdote on ancestry...

This movie was lying on our TV table for more than couple of weeks. We were always thinking of getting into the mood for a French comedy but somehow could never get to it. Finally on Sunday morning wile Gubdu babu(that's what I call my son; he's going to hate me for it!)was taking a nap, we were all set for the experience. Les Visiteurs (The Visitors) like most other French comedies swept us off our feet. It's fascinating, hilarious, thoughtful. And most of all it touched a chord deep inside.

The plot is pretty simple. One Godefroy de Papincourt(Comte de Montmirail-Count of Montmirail) is about to get married to his sweetheart when under the spell of a wicked witch he shoots an arrow at his father-in-law to be. Obviously his fiancee (Frénégonde de Pouille) refuses to marry her father's killer and vow to lead a life of a nun. Heartbroken, the count goes to a sorcerer for help. The magician promises to send him back in time and give him a chance to rectify his mistake. However, he throws him and his peasant servant (Jacquouille la Fripouille) to future accidentally. You can pretty well imagine the shock of the two medieval men at the new-age, with it's technical advancement and different socio-political scenario.

The count discovers his great descendant Beatrice and that his royal palace is sold to the nouveau riche gay descendant of his servant Jacquouille la Fripouille!! The servant in turn was amazed to hear about the French revolution and plunged into the goodlife that the present had to offer.

Beside the whole setting and the situations being exteremely comical, the movie also had this touch of class perception and socio-economic idiosyncracies in the serious side. The French surely knows to make it pun intended at it's subtle best.

When the hilarity subsided, the movie got me thinking: Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to trace back one's roots and know who our ancestors were!

Let me tell you about the little I know. Of course I know about my immediate ancestry: my parents. My dad Somnath Chattopadhyay just retired as a Director of Geological Survey of India and is living in tranquility at his E.M Bypass home. My mom, late Ranjana Guha (she died when I was 3 years old) went to Presidency College in Calcutta, studying Physiology and then to Raja Bazar Science college. She was about to accept an assistant professorship in Delhi when she passed away. Since then it took me quite a lot of time and effort to get connected to the extended family from my maternal side. In fact, one of my classmates from school, Debapratim Guha, turned out to be my maternal cousin. I came to know it much later, probably a decade later through my uncle. I am in touch with my maternal aunts though-Anjana and Monimala. Connected to their offsprings too. My cousin Dev Chatterjee is a thriving entrepreneur in Manhattan. His bro Suvam an ad man in Bombay and my cousin sis just embarked upon professional life.

From my father's side, my grandfather Jogendra Nath Chattopadhyay came to India (from East Bengal) with his elder brother Narendra Nath Chattopadhyay and his mother approximately couple of years before the Partition. His father Jagabandhu Chattopadhyay was dead already . They were from Bikrampur, Dacca in Bangladesh. They lived in penury for sometime until my grandpa flourished as a commercial artist. He became the Creative Director at the prestigious ad firm Clarion and later member of its Board. He met my grandma Bela Chatterjee through his sister-in-law (boudi)Rani Chatterjee whom his elder brother had married and they went on to have a love marriage!

It was not so surprising as my grandma's family was pretty much anglicized. Her father Nagendra Nath Ganguly was heading the postal department in Katihar (Bihar)and her mother Binodini Ganguly was a social activist. They were used to parties thrown by his British boss and adorned leather bags and high-heel shoes. However, in the same family, her paternal aunt (jethhima) was a freedom fighter and spent much of her life in prison cells, campaigning for a free India. My grandma's paternal uncles and aunts along with numerous cousins (some 21 altogether I think) lived in Dinajpur. I really wanted to upload some pictures but they are back home in Calcutta.

Well, that's how far I could go. Coming to the present, my father is an only child so no direct relatives from his side. But his paternal uncle, my grandpa's elder brother gave birth to two daughters- Sumitra (whom I called bada pishi) and Sutapa (chhoto pishi). Bada pishi went to Lady Brabourne College in Calcutta and taught history, till she succumbed to kidney failure. Chhoto pishi got married to an illustrous family (they are linked to Sarat Bose, Subhas Bose's elder brother and mentor). She has two sons- Surya Jyoti Neogi, who is with HP based in Geneva and Chandramouli Neogi, who vouch to be an ardent Bengali, working in DCL based in Calcutta.

So much for my family tree. How about yours?