[House of memories: Rajbati, where Ashok Kumar was born. Picture by Amit Kumar]
Residents here seemed unaware that an illustrious son of India — Ashok Kumar to some, Dadamoni to many — was born in Bhagalpur more than a hundred years ago.
Ashok Kumar was born at Rajbati, the house of his maternal grandfather, on October 13, 1911. He even spent his childhood in the city, later marrying Shobha Devi, daughter of Sudhirendra Nath of Kharmanchak.
All that remains of Rajbati now are broken walls and the glistening white sand of the Ganga diara. Even the house of his in-laws has disappeared. So has, it seems, his memory among residents.
There were no functions to mark his birth anniversary on Monday. “It’s a generation gap. The new generation is familiar with contemporary artistes. Why should they remember Ashok Kumar,” asked Ratna Mukerjee, senior professor of psychology at Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University, and the daughter of Ashok’s cousin, Bollywood musician late Arun Mukerjee.
She accepted, however, that it was ironical that Bhagalpur, which takes pride in being the karmabhoomi (working field) of many celebrities, is gradually forgetting once-towering figures like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Ashok Kumar. In fact, even Ashok’s brother, the famous singer Kishore Kumar, spent his childhood here though he was born in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh.
The date, October 13, has a double significance for Bhagalpur and the brothers. While it is Ashok’s birthday, Kishore died on the same day in 1987.
Dadamoni’s niece Mukerjee recalled Ashok affectionately on what would have been his birthday were he alive. “He used to call me Kalua because of my dark complexion, compared to others in the family. Since my father died when I was just 6-7 years of age, Ashok provided us with all sorts of help and financial support in his lifetime. He even tried to move us to Mumbai. In fact, we used to spend our summer vacations with him in Mumbai,” she said.
Anirudha Bhattacharjee, a resident of Calcutta and author of the National award-winning book RD Burman: The Man, The Music, was all excited when asked about Ashok and Bhagalpur. “It is still easy to read history from the broken walls of Adampur’s magnificent Rajbati, house of Raja Shivchandra Banerjee, maternal great grandfather of Ashok and the first barrister here. When Ashok was born, his maternal great grandfather, maternal grandfather Satish Chandra and other family members covered him with gold to celebrate the birth of the first grandson in the family. In his childhood days, he had played a small part in a drama staged by Adampur Club, a cultural wing established by writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay here,” Bhattacharjee said.
Bhagalpur’s rich cultural heritage definitely had an influence on Ashok. According to Bhattacharjee, Ashok used to visit Bhagalpur till 1945.
Ashok’s brother-in-law Somnath Banerjee said the actor used to visit the house of his uncle Sudhirendra Nath (Ashok’s father-in-law) with wife and a year-old son, till 1941. “My uncle’s house was later sold and a multi-storied complex came up there. But I still have memories of Ashok Kumar,” he said.
He recalled also how his cousin Shobha didi, Ashok’s wife, had once told him that Ashok’s cousin Arun Mukerjee was the first to have addressed him as Dadamoni, before it became a form of address in the film industry