Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta – An Obsequy

What follows is in the nature of an obsequy performed in the memory of Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta. Had he been remembered by the public at large, one could have called it a hosanna. But that word had better be avoided in this case, since Dr. Das Gupta has not been remembered by anybody other than a few of his family descendants. The latter too never interacted with him personally, since he had passed away before they arrived on earth. However, they have heard about this unusual man and his sacrifices from people belonging to Dr. Das Gupta’s generation. These people too do not inhabit the world anymore. Consequently, recalling Dr. Das Gupta turned into a most challenging exercise. To retrieve documentary evidence about the man was time consuming and difficult. The search efforts yielded results, but left gaping holes as well. These holes needed to be filled up by means of intelligent guesswork. They led to plausible findings, though not ones whose veracity could be ascertained with an acceptable degree of certainty. His sacrifice consisted of giving up his most intimate personal interests to ensure that the family he came from did not sink in the rough seas of destiny. Not many exist in this world have have given up so much in exchange for so little.

Prologue

The river of life, like any other river, flows forwards. And by the time it reaches its estuary, it is often difficult to figure out where it originated. This is not true of mighty rivers, such as the Mississippi or the Nile or our own Ganges. But there were endlessly many smaller rivers that had borne their cargo filled boats since ancient times and dried up, leaving little trace of the waters that had lapped their shores in youth. To discover the course these rivers might have followed, or even their names sometimes, one needs to trace them backwards.

The same observation applies to human beings too. Unlike David Copperfield, who told the story of his life “from the beginning of his life”, some, such as the person whose life story of sorts I will attempt to reconstruct, left behind him hardly any documentary trace of himself. Nor did people who knew him well and had good reason to preserve his memory for posterity undertake that task. Or, at least, methodically so. What survive about the man are mostly unverifiable rumours attributed to people who have themselves ceased to exist. Nonetheless, as a living member of the family Dr. Das Gupta belonged to, but born well after he had himself departed from the “breathing world”, I took up this near impossible task of rehabilitating the man. I had heard about him on the family grapevine at best and was well aware of the absurdity of the pursuit. I plodded along nonetheless. I believed, I suppose, that even half a true story could well be worth the effort. Pasts are obliterated undoubtedly, but never completely so.

I began my work around 2018. The search yielded scattered information, which, though not arranged in chronological order, were valuable. Each new finding added to my excitement as I went along putting the splinters together, hoping to recreate as much of the person as I could.

Since this story moves backwards, it is best perhaps to begin with a calendar record of the year the man rejoined his creator. He had breathed his last in the year 1938. This piece of information was gleaned from a faded old letter written by Professor Parimal Ray1 from Dacca (now renamed Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh) to his friend Mr. Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta2 (popularly known to his family and friends as “Ponku”). In what follows, I will refer to the city as Dacca and not Dhaka, since that’s the way the city was known during the period of time of my quest covers. Undivided India was still a British colony and Bangladesh was not even a speck of vagueness in the horizon. The letter from Professor Ray was composed in Bengali. Translated into English, it reads as follows.

Department of Economics
University of Dacca
Ramna, Dacca

23rd November, 1938

Dear Ponku-babu,

I couldn’t help writing this letter. Ever since the departure of your family members from Dacca, we have been hearing that Dr. Das Gupta is seriously ill. However, I did not for once imagine that the tragedy had progressed this far. The other day, Monu3 wrote to me that his illness was yet to be diagnosed. Directly afterwards, the heart-breaking news arrived. He was sleeping in his cabin in a steamer in Narayanganj when I saw him for the last time.

Yesterday, his condolence meeting was held in Curzon Hall in the University. Dr. Das Gupta had cured a Muslim boy who was suffering from Meningitis. He expressed his gratefulness in words that were not only worth hearing but also appropriate for the occasion. He ended up crying. I have never witnessed such a scene.

This is a disaster for your family. Calcutta has been the chosen area of work for most of you, distancing you from Dacca for some time. It appears now that your family’s attachment with Dacca is finally over.

Little else remains to be written. It is not hard to surmise the state of your minds. Please accept sincere condolences from my wife and me. And do please convey them to Monu.

Yours,

Parimal Ray

To Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta
Ballygunge, Calcutta

Here is the scanned Bengali version of the letter, written, as can be seen, using Dacca University stationery.

Merely a week prior to this, Professor Ray had written yet another letter using similar stationery.

Department of Economics
University of Dacca
Ramna, Dacca

16 November, 1938

Dear Ponku-babu,

We have had no news from you since you left for Calcutta with Dr. Das Gupta. The faculty of Dacca University, including us, is deeply concerned about him. All manner of news concerning him arrive everyday, but they do not appear to be dependable. You are doubtlessly preoccupied with his condition. Nonetheless, we shall be endlessly relieved if you could spare a bit of your precious time to write to us about him and the nature of treatment he is undergoing.

I am writing this letter not only on our own behalf, but on behalf also of a large number of professors who are Dr. Das Gupta’s friends. Needless to say, we will spend our time in apprehension till hearing back from you.

Yours,

Parimal Ray

To Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta
Ballygunge, Calcutta

A scanned version of the original Bengali letter resembled the previous one.

How the End Arrived — Word of Mouth

When I was a schoolboy, my mother told me about the good doctor once in a while. She saw him for the first time when she was wedded to one of his half-brothers in Calcutta (now renamed Kolkata) in 1935. She had travelled to Dacca with the joint-family she had been so absorbed into. I do not think she lived in Dacca for too long, for her husband (i.e. my father) had set up practice in Calcutta as a Dental Surgeon (with a DDS degree from the University of Pennsylvania). The man I am trying to rediscover was seriously ill when she saw him next in Calcutta in 1938, where he was brought over for treatment. He never made it back to Dacca.

My mother was full of respect for him and, like everyone else who spoke about the man, considered him to be one of the kindest human beings she had come across, a person who bordered on saintliness. Although a son from my grandfather’s first marriage, he had turned into a father figure for his much younger step-brothers and sisters. He took charge of the family when my grandfather was old and infirm and the family members looked up to him for every kind of help conceivable, including psychological and financial support.

Apart from being involved in successful private practice, he was attached I am told to Dacca University from its very inception in 1921 as a Medical Officer. As the letters above tell us in poignant terms, he was a much honoured doctor in Dacca, whose death wrapped up sections of the city in a pall of gloom. At the time he was struck by an unknown disease, my mother heard that he would come back home from work and retire into his room where he sat in a chair unable to speak or even eat his meals. No one knew what was ailing him, though to start with, the few family members who still lived in Dacca in his close vicinity (except possibly for one mentioned below) did not think there was any major problem to worry about. The doctors who saw him held similar opinion, but as matters grew worse, he was unable to even walk. The attending doctors advised however that it was necessary to make him perambulate. A nephew, the son of his eldest half-sister, had lamented to me many years later, that being a young man at the time, he was assigned the task of forcing the doctor to walk, while, with whatever strength he had left in him, he kept telling his nephew that the doctors had not diagnosed his condition correctly. No one listened to his weak protests of course, till realisation dawned that something was seriously wrong with the man. There was one person, however, who was an exception and believed that the illness was not to be taken lightly. He was related to the family through his marriage with the youngest half-sister of our man. This person, as his daughters have heard from him, had gone to visit the ailing man as he lay in torpid state on his bed and asked him if he could recall some incident or the other. In reply, the wasting man had mumbled that he didn’t have the strength to remember anything at all. (This youngest half-sister, Mrinal Das Gupta,4 had received scholarly recognition. She was a respected professor in the well-known Kumrunneesa College (renamed Kumrunneesa School afterwards) in Dacca. She shifted later to Calcutta and joined Brabourne College where she rose to the position of Head of the Department of Bengali. She too died at an early age.)

When realisation finally dawned, Sudhir Kumar was transferred hastily to Calcutta, which required a steamer ride across the Padma river those days (from Narayanganj to Goalanda) and it was in this steamer that Professor Parimal Ray had seen him for the last time as he had said in his letter. In Calcutta, the family moved to a rented home in Rashbehari Avenue, Ballygunge in 1938. It was here that well-known doctors available at the time examined him, but medical science had not progressed enough to pronounce a judgement on the nature of the affliction. The prognosis therefore went from bad to worse till he finally succumbed to what is suspected today as brain cancer.

135 Rashbehari Avenue, Ballygunge, Calcutta. This is where the severely afflicted Sudhir Kumar was transferred from Dacca. He breathed his last in the rented top floor flat of this building

Since he was a much loved man, the entire family broke down in sorrow and, as I was told by my mother, the step-brothers and sisters who were present could not hold back their tears. They cried inconsolably over their loss.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta — An Introduction

Dr. Das Gupta’s full name was Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta and he was the second son of Kamala Nath Das Gupta from his first marriage. Kamala Nath retired as a Judge from the Small Cause Court, Dacca and Munshiganj and was the recipient of a Rai Bahadur5 title conferred by the British Government a few years after King George V attended the Delhi Durbar6 following coronation.

Around the time Kamala Nath was bestowed the title, he had retired from service and his family lived in the Wari area of Dacca. The exact address of his residence was 37 Rankin Street. People aware of Dacca’s history believe that Rankin Street was a posh locality of the town. It does not enjoy that status any longer, though the house exists even today wearing a battered appearance. Here is a photograph of the house from 1971, before it began to run down.

37 Rankin Street in 1971 — Photograph: Courtesy Abhijit Dasgupta

The house should have been built during early twentieth century, but, as we shall see later, a question hangs over the precise year of its construction.7

Records of the award Kamala Nath received (as well as the two letters we started off with) were retrieved from a “magpie’s nest” maintained by his son Monu from the second marriage. The nest in question consists of trunksful of history, a good deal of which his son Abhijit Dasgupta and daughter-in-law Sarbari Dasgupta8 have managed to salvage. We will refer to some of these documents and objects as we proceed.

To begin with, there is a certificate and a medal that Kamala Nath received when he was awarded the Rai Bahadur title.

Rai Bahadur Certificate Awarded to Kamala Nath Das in 1916
Front and Back of the Rai Bahadur Medal awarded to Kamala Nath Das

The certificate, it will be noted refers to Kamala Nath Das Gupta as Kamala Nath Das. The reason for this could well be that it was common practice to shorten the family name Das Gupta to a monosyllabic Das, or sometimes, as we shall find out later, to a disyllabic Gupta. As far as Das went, the matter could have a connection with the Hindu caste system. The way Das was spelt in Bengali left room for yet another Das spelt differently. Kamala Nath was a Vaidya by caste and while the English spelling could not reveal his caste, the Bengali spelling most certainly did. This was probably a matter of social importance, for Vaidyas write the Das as দাশ in Bengali, while non-Vaidyas write it as দাস। Even if the quaint custom has little relevance these days, at the time Kamala Nath lived, দাশ should have earned him respect as a so-called high caste individual.

As noted, Kamala Nath had married twice. The second wife, Soudamini, arrived after the first wife had passed away. By his first marriage, Kamala Nath had three sons and a daughter. Male dominated society ensured that the names of the wife and the daughter were soon devoured by the tides of time. The sons’ names survived of course. They were Satish Chandra Das Gupta, Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta and Suresh Chandra Das Gupta, in that order.

Soudamini gave birth to ten children, or at least ten children that did not die in their infancy9. These were five daughters and five sons (Ponku and Monu, whom we met earlier, being two of the sons). Unlike the case of the wife and the daughter from the first marriage, the daughters whom Soudamini showed the light of day had names that many of the existing members of the family have not yet forgotten. Circumstantial evidence suggests a “Hansel and Gretel” tale that the children from the first marriage were not treated too well once the family composition changed. This could well have been the reason why the eldest son from the first marriage, Satish Chandra, left home pretty early in life and to the best of our knowledge distanced himself from the family till his last days. He had children though, and grandchildren, who helped re-establish links of a sort with the existing stock of Soudamini’s progeny.

Satish Chandra’s youngest full-brother, Suresh Chandra, was probably a school teacher. However, he was also a resident tutor for Mr. Suresh Banerjee, the adopted son of an affluent person in Murapara, located around twenty five kms to the south-east of Dacca. Unlike Satish Chandra, however, he came back to the family from time to time and maintained connections with both branches till his own end arrived long afterwards in independent India. He too was known for his kindness towards all and sundry and this included his half-brothers and sisters. Nonetheless, I tend to believe that he did not hold a high opinion of Kamala Nath’s second family. He was a strict disciplinarian and committed himself to a life of celibacy. His life style was austere, particularly so when it came to his attire. There were few in the family that had not been admonished by him for their sartorial excesses. One recalls him pulling up a young niece (daughter of the youngest half-sister mentioned earlier) for wearing sandals that did not cover her feet completely. Footwear was meant to keep one’s feet clean he had observed, a purpose that the strings of a sandal could not accomplish. Instead of wearing sandals therefore, he advised her to tie pieces of pasteboard to the bottom of her feet with the help of cotton wool thread when she went out to public places. The man, therefore, did not lack a sense of humour, though he was better known for his fits of temper. Despite his cleanly habits, he contacted cholera in old age. Even though it did not kill him, his legs were paralysed as a result till the end of his life.

Sudhir Kumar, the second brother, was a darling to his half-brothers. The letters we had read at the beginning of this narrative were addressed (as we saw) to one such half-brother (Ponku) and mentioned yet another (Monu) when Sudhir Kumar was undertaking his final journey. It appears that these two and the remaining half brothers in Calcutta were taking all the care they could of Sudhir Kumar when he was terminally ill. It is not known if Satish Chandra or Suresh Chandra were present near his death bed.

Sudhir Kumar — Search Initiated

Sudhir Kumar as we know was a doctor by profession and had received his MD degree in USA. This piece of information constituted oral history for the family. However, not a single person who sang about his achievements is alive now to vouch for the veracity of Sudhir Kumar’s Hippocratic Oath taking ceremony. Fortunately though, someone or the other had heard and remembered that he had a connection with St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Guesswork suggested that if such a connection did exist it should have been towards the early part of the twentieth century.

With this folk tale in hand, I contacted St. Francis Hospital in the hope that its archives might throw some light on the man. The result of the search was disappointing, for here is an excerpt from the email it produced.10

“In the fall of 2002, St. Francis Medical Center, in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh, was sold to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health System. A new Children’s Hospital has replaced the 137 year-old St. Francis facility, founded and owned by The Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale.”

Though frustrating, the information pointed in the direction of University of Pittsburgh. I approached the Vice Dean at the time, Dr. Ann E. Thompson, but her searches did not shed much light either. To quote her,

“I have not been able to find anything new except that I learned that records of St. Francis Hospital seem to be kept in two places:
St. Francis Hospital Records—a small group are at Heinz History Center: click here for the finding aid to their collection. 
Other records for the hospital have been maintained by the Religious Order of Sisters that ran the hospital.  They are: the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities — https://sosf.org/our-history/
The first one at the Heinz History Center seems to be very recent and probably not helpful.  But the other one just might be helpful.  Perhaps if you connect with them, they can find him.”

Back to square one appeared to be the content of the last message, but a new possibility suggested itself in the meantime. There were Indian doctors who did travel abroad in search of higher degrees around early nineteenth century. (Some do so even today.) The chosen destinations at the time were almost invariably UK and Europe and not the USA. A particularly famous one among these doctors was Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. This brilliant graduate from the Calcutta Medical College (CMC) went to England in search of the FRCS and MRCP degrees. His records are worth recalling.11,12

“Intending to enroll himself at St Bartholomew’s Hospital to pursue postgraduate study in medicine, Bidhan set sail for Britain in February 1909 with only ₹ 1200. However, the Dean of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital was reluctant to accept an Asian student and rejected Bidhan’s application. Roy did not lose heart but kept submitting his application again and again till the Dean, after 30 admission requests, admitted Bidhan to the college. Bidhan completed his postgraduation in just two years and three months, and in May 1911 accomplished the rare feat of becoming a member of the Royal College of Physicians and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons simultaneously. He returned home from the UK in 1911.”

Since it would have been more natural for Sudhir Kumar to go to England at the time (before setting sail for USA), the British Medical Association was approached. Despite their sincere attempts, no medical student named Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta could be located in UK in the early twenties. In the meantime, an important and helpful document surfaced. This was the Flexner Committee Report published in 1910.13

“The Flexner Report is a book-length landmark report of medical education in the United States and Canada, written by Abraham Flexner and published in 1910 under the aegis of the Carnegie Foundation. Many aspects of the present-day American medical profession stem from the Flexner Report and its aftermath.
The Report (also called Carnegie Foundation Bulletin Number Four) called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards, and to adhere strictly to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research. The report talked about the need for revamping and centralising medical institutions. Many American medical schools fell short of the standard advocated in the Flexner Report and, subsequent to its publication, nearly half of such schools merged or were closed outright.”

The Flexner report was highly critical of the state of medical education in the USA at the time. According to some accounts, many of the schools did not require more than a high school degree to admit students. Most medical schools were profit seekers, who handed out a degree in exchange for substantial sums of money. They did not even have a regular faculty. Teachers were borrowed from other institutions. The Flexner Report put a stop to this practice. But the report was helpful in my pursuit, since it suggested (given especially Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy’s experience) that Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta could have found it easier to study medicine in USA rather than in the UK. This was a hypothesis worth exploring and two questions needed to be asked in this connection. First, when did he reach USA, if in fact he did go there? Secondly, which American school did he enter? These were impossibly difficult questions to answer, but at the same time the challenges were far too interesting to ignore.

When Did Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta Land in America?

Since medical schools had no record of him, I decided to try out an alternative strategy. Could one study, I asked myself, passenger lists of ships arriving in that country? If so, where could these be found? After several attempts, the search led to the website ancestry.com14 and success reared its head for the first time. The site informed that a passenger ship named Mauretania had arrived in New York (from Liverpool) on October 17, 1913 and among its list of passengers was a man called Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta. He was described as a student who had come from Dacca, India. His residential address though was not 37 Rankin Street. It was 35 Rankin Street instead. Clerical mistake could have accounted for this. But it also suggested the possibility that Kamala Nath Das Gupta had moved into his new house after 1913 and that he lived in rented accommodation nearby to keep watch over the construction work of his own house. Another possibility that cannot be ruled out is that the house was not fully completed by 1913 and some of the family members lived in rented accommodation nearby. Of course, these are unverifiable hypotheses, but there is little doubt about the date of Sudhir Kumar’s arrival in USA. The following two documents tell us a great deal about his landing and the ship that took him there. (The eighteenth person in the passenger list was Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta.)

Passenger list for Sudhir Kumar’s ship
Mauretania — the ship in which Sudhir Kumar travelled to USA

The Medical School Sudhir Kumar Graduated From

The information about his arrival kept my hopes alive, but it left the second question wide open. Where did he complete his medical degree? There were endlessly many schools, most of which Flexner didn’t approve of. Which one did Sudhir Kumar walk into under such circumstances?

This question led me back to the University of Pittsburgh once again and this time the person who took charge of communication was Małgorzata Fort (Ph.D, Head of Digital Resources Development, Health Sciences Library System, Falk Library of the Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh). The lady signed off as Gosia and that’s the way I shall refer to her. Gosia turned out to be a goldmine of sorts. She carried out a search that must have been backbreaking and finally came out with a bagful of information about Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta’s medical education in USA.

To start with, she found out that Sudhir Kumar’s MD degree was awarded by the American College of Medicine and Surgery, Chicago, Illinois (The Medical College Key Table assigned it the code III 22). She also sent me a photo of the school from the distant past.

Gosia wrote that this college was swallowed up by Loyola University in 1917 as a result of the Flexner Report. She found out further that Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta was listed in the American Medical Directory for 1916 (5th ed.), 1918 (6th ed.) and 1921 (7th ed.) as “Das Gupta, S. K.; intern Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, Chicago.” In other words, after graduating from the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery, Sudhir Kumar completed his internship at the Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, Chicago. It is not clear to me if this was the same hospital as the German Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, Chicago, but a source15 says that the German Evangelical Deaconess Hospital was later named simply Evangelical Hospital. Most likely, the following picture shows the hospital in question.

A matter of some concern needs to be addressed now. According to Gosia’s well-documented information, Sudhir Kumar completed his MD degree in 1914. And, as we have noted already, he had arrived in USA in 1913. How can a person acquire an MD degree in a single year? However unsatisfactory the American medical school system might have been at the time, it is highly unlikely that a foreigner could complete his MD in a year’s time.

The backward journey in search of Sudhir Kumar had hit a stumbling block. If any documented answer existed, it had to be found either in England (since the ship in which Sudhir Kumar travelled to USA had sailed from Liverpool), or in India. The British Medical Association had already told me that no Indian medical student around that time had a name that was even vaguely similar. Besides I was able to establish by now that Sudhir Kumar’s stay in England was brief at best. Once again a passenger list clarified the issue. The name of the ship aboard which Sudhir Kumar had arrived in England from India was Nevasa. It reached London from Calcutta on 14 September, 1913. Sudhir Kumar shows up in the passenger list. His name was fourth from bottom.
Passenger list of Nevasa

The British India Steam Navigation Company had operated three ships named Nevasa during different periods of time. Sudhir Kumar appears to have been a passenger in the second of these. It had ferried from 1913 to 1948. Most probably, this was the ship.

The ship which brought Sudhir Kumar to London from Calcutta

Clearly then, Sudhir Kumar had reached England in September, 1913 and left for USA from Liverpool soon afterwards, otherwise he would not have landed in America in October, 1913.

Back to Hypotheses

England being ruled out, India turned out to be the only possible alternative as far as Sudhir Kumar’s early education was concerned. The part of Eastern (undivided) British India that Sudhir Kumar had come from had a number of medical schools. Of these, the most well-known, was the Calcutta Medical College (CMC, which still retains that name).16 Apart from this, there were two more institutions in Calcutta. One of these was the Calcutta School of Medicine (which was established in 1886 and whose name changed to Carmichael College in 1918). The institution grew into the now famous R.G. Kar Medical College.17,18 The other institution was the Sealdah Municipal Hospital, which started in 1864 in response to pressures generated by the Sepoy Mutiny.19 In 1884, it was renamed the Campbell Medical School. The school transformed to Campbell Medical College in 1894. Independent India renamed it Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College20 and it is a busy hospital in Calcutta today. Apart from these and closer to Sudhir Kumar’s home was the Mitford Hospital21 (probably known as Mitford School earlier) that grew into Sir Salimullah Medical College in 1962. The institution is located now in Bangladesh.

Some of these institutions offered medical education using Bengali as the medium of instruction, to help students who found it difficult to follow lectures in English. What sort of degrees or diplomas did they offer? To quote Uma Dasgupta.22

“The licentiate degree23 would be conferred on anyone who passed the examination after having studied for five years in any recognised school of medicine. The MB degree required the same prior qualification and the same duration of study, but the curriculum was larger. For an MD degree, the degree of BA was a prior necessity, while a practice of two years was necessary after getting the LMS. … The minimum qualification for admission to the Calcutta Medical College was raised from Entrance to First Arts (FA) in 1873.”

Dasgupta does not mention if the qualification for admission was raised in other medical schools too. Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, whom we came across earlier was both an MB and MD from CMC. He was born in 1882 and, as we will discover later, was five years older than Sudhir Kumar. Digitised records in India and Bangladesh were vacuous, as was the case for the search carried out by the British Medical Association. This failure forced upon me a hypothesis that Sudhir Kumar was an LMF or an LMS from an Indian institution of the sort described above, whose records are no longer easily available. It is also quite likely that the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery allowed the credits from the five year LMF/LMS course to be transferred. As a result, Sudhir Kumar entered that school as a senior student and completed the MD degree in a year’s time24. This was a hypothesis that was at least logically consistent.

The Question of Age – More Hypotheses

How old was Sudhir Kumar when he arrived in America? The question is easy to answer. The passengers’ list above describes him as a twenty six years old man. However, the list is not too legible and I had to try and double check this fact from yet another source. Before I did so, I needed to face up to an obvious question. He appeared to have entered the American medical school at a somewhat advanced age. Given our hypothesis, he had five years of medical training in India before he walked into the Chicago school. This need not mean of course that he started his medical studies in India at the age of twenty one. Let us take into consideration the fact that he needed to complete the equivalent of junior and high school before embarking on his medical pursuit.

Uma Dasgupta’s work suggests that he went for the Entrance Examination and not the FA. With an FA, he could have sought admission in CMC and gone on further for the MB degree. The conclusion that he didn’t try out the MB route in CMC follows from both Dasgupta’s observations as well as the Flexner Report, which suggest that the MB in India was a more difficult degree to pursue than the MD in USA. And we do know that he had gone for the latter. CMC is ruled out, but both Carmichael and Campbell existed at the time. He could have studied in these schools. (For reasons to be explained further on, I doubt that he had studied in Mitford School in Dacca.)

I assume that he had cleared the school leaving Entrance examination and the average age at which people did this was about sixteen. He arrived in the USA at the age of twenty six. If he did an LMF degree, he would have been twenty one by the time he finished it. His arrival in USA was separated from this event by five years, a period during which he had the opportunity to practise as an LMF doctor. It is natural to assume therefore that he was a practising doctor for five years. Such an occupation would have ensured that he saved a reasonable sum from his earnings, which he had used to finance his journey and his one year study at the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery, USA. I have pointed out that medical schooling was expensive in the USA at the time. (It is expensive today as well, but the course material is worth the price.) Add to this the travel expense. Something of this nature had almost surely happened, for long deceased family members were known to mention that Sudhir Kumar was a self-made man. Besides, as already noted, it is reasonable to suppose that his father was building his house at the time Sudhir Kumar travelled to distant shores. Even if he wished to help his son, which is doubtful, he may not have been in a strong financial position to do so.

Quite apart from this, Kamala Nath had fourteen children from his two marriages, of whom six were daughters. Marrying them off and arranging for the sons’ schooling could have been a difficult monetary proposal. Whatever his salary was, after meeting these obligations, he may not have had substantial savings left. Around this time and even later, people were known to build their residences after retirement, since this is when they could lay their hands on a pile of money which they were awarded as retirement benefits. In endlessly many cases, they did not survive too long after retirement and their property was enjoyed by their children. We know (from his Rai Bahadur certificate) that in 1916 Kamala Nath was a retired judge. Retirement age ought to have been sixty or so and he was beyond sixty years when he received his title. Sixty was old age at the time. So, he could have been an old man with a new house when Sudhir Kumar was pursuing medical studies in the USA. Besides, if he had a pension income, it could not have been too generous. It could not help his young sons from the second marriage to build the sort of career they looked forward to.

So much for the hypotheses.

Kamala Nath (probably post retirement) and Soudamini

Back to Documents

In the context of the American Medical Dictionary, Gosia Fort had drawn my attention to the possibility “… that they were just slow in updating their records …” She did this to clear up a mystery that had materialised in the meantime. While searching ancestry.com, new information revealed itself. An important one was the fact that Sudhir Kumar had been drafted by the American Army in 1917. Fortunately, the details were clearly recorded in the registration card.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta’s World War 1 Draft Registration Card

The card is dated June 5, 1917 and it states that he was a Resident Physician at St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh, Alleghany County, Pennsylvania. His date of birth, the card says, was December 30, 1887 which is my additional support that he was twenty six years old when he arrived in America in 1913, the age stated in the passenger list of Mauretania. (This established further that he was five years younger than Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy.) We saw, when we started this story, that he passed away in the year 1938. He was 51 years old therefore when he finally departed. On the other hand, the Rai Bahadur certificate confirms that his father was at least sixty, if not more, when his life came to an end. Sudhir Kumar was seriously ill when he left the world. His father by contrast died probably of old age.25 What was he doing when his father expired? We shall need to resolve this question soon enough.

Gosia raised another interesting question. As we know, she had found Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta listed in the American Medical Directory for 1916 (5th ed.), 1918 (6th ed.) and 1921 (7th ed.) as “Das Gupta, S. K.; intern Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, Chicago.” The draft record shows on the other hand that Sudhir Kumar was in Pittsburgh in 1917. Not only so, he was already attached to the St. Francis Hospital in the capacity of a Resident Physician during that year. Gosia pointed out the discrepancy and this is why she believed that the American Medical Dictionary had been slow in updating records. According to this Dictionary, Sudhir Kumar was in Chicago in 1917, which he certainly was not.

Gosia sent me yet another interesting story. This was a clipping dated January 1, 1919 from the Pittsburg Gazette Times. The image is poor, but it is not difficult to see that “Dr. S.K. Gupta, an intern at St. Francis Hospital, testified that Bassett’s bill at that institution was unpaid”. (The word “intern” could probably mean a “Resident Physician”.) Ira R. Bassett was a blind pool operator and may well have been associated with what is described as money laundering in the present day world.

Dr. S. K. Gupta testifies on behalf of St. Francis Hospital in 1919

Was Dr. S.K. Gupta the same person as Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta? This is not exactly a million dollar question now. We saw earlier that his father’s name had left out the “Gupta” part. Couldn’t it be possible that the son found it more convenient to drop “Das”? If not, what are the chances that two Indians with names so similar (“Gupta” in particular and the initials “S.K.”) worked in St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh at the same time in early twentieth century? Fortunately, the problem was resolved by the magpie’s nest research. Abhijit found out that among the things Sudhir Kumar left behind him was a pocket watch and a cigarette case with telltale initials engraved on them. Here are those objects.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta’s pocket watch — (SKG)

He had begun to sign his name as Sudhir Kumar Gupta for reasons unknown to us. Some more details about the watch itself were found along with it.

The watch had been manufactured around 1915, but we do not know when Sudhir Kumar had actually purchased it. And here now is the cigarette case, with the same initials SKG.

Sudhir Kumar’s Cigarette Case (SKG)

The draft records call him a Das Gupta of course, which is not surprising. A draft card needs to be as accurate as possible. We still do not know when exactly he changed from Das Gupta to Gupta. But change he did as we saw earlier in the newspaper clipping from 1919.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar (Das) Gupta was working in St. Francis Hospital in 1919 and we had also found out towards the beginning of this story that the Hospital changed in 2002. How much change had taken place in the hospital’s look? A postcard from 1955 (the photo immediately below) and the photo following it reveal that metamorphosis.

St. Francis Hospital 1955 – postcard photo
St. Francis Hospital today

We are reasonably sure now what the man was doing till 1919. But the American story doesn’t end here. Before we chase him further, we wish to know what he looked like in his salad days. Probably both these photographs, and certainly the one on the left, date back to his days in America. Few Indians wore western hats in India at the time. So the photo on the left should have originated in the USA.

Dr. Sudhir K. (Das) Gupta’s salad days — circa 1915-1920

A handsome “young” doctor living a bachelor’s life! We discovered from ancestry.com that the case was not exactly so. He had ceased to be a bachelor on December 24, 1919. Cook County, Illinois Marriage indexes show the details.

The second column from the left lists the family names alphabetically and Sudhir S. Gupta is not hard to discover. He had married a lady called Rose S. Liberty on December 24, 1919. The marriage took place in Illinois. So he had travelled from Pittsburg, Alleghany, Pennsylvania to Cook County, Illinois for the wedding.

Do we have their wedding photograph? No. Do we have a photograph of the husband and wife standing or sitting next to each other? No. However, family sources say such a photo did exist, but even the magpie collection has lost track of it. Abhijit and Sarbari have searched for that photo (which Abhijit at least had seen in his younger days) but they ended up empty handed. Family members belonging to Dr. Sudhir K (Das) Gupta’s generation had been heard to mention that photo. Stories had circulated in the family that Sudhir Kumar did have a link with an American girl. What nobody had known till now (as far as I can make out) was the fact that he had actually wedded a white woman. I assume she was an American and we even know her name, thanks to ancestry.com. She was Rose S. Liberty. Yet another document says she was around ten years younger than Sudhir Kumar, her year of birth being about 1897.

Do we know anything more about her? The fact that the following photo emerged out of Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta’s belongings suggests that the lady wearing a saree and holding on to the young boy was Rose. Abhijit believes she was the same lady he had seen in the lost photograph with Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta. In that photograph too, she had worn a saree.

Rose S. Liberty ??

Who the other woman in the photograph could have been is anybody’s guess. Regarding the boy, it is natural to assume that he was Rose’s child from an earlier relationship. The photograph has nothing to say about the boy’s father. But Sudhir Kumar had no biological connection with him, for the boy is purely white, while Sudhir Kumar was not. We shall come across a boy one more time later on in the episode.

 

The Last Gosia Fort Document from USA

The final document from Gosia Fort alerted me further about a tragedy that shrouded Sudhir Kumar’s life. An excerpt from Gosia’s mail along with the documents she attached to it brought me closer to the truth.

“Sudhir Kumar Gupta, M.D. joined the Department of Psychiatry for the academic year 1919/1920 and 1920/1921. He was listed as a demonstrator in psychiatry. He taught courses in psychiatry clinics at St. Francis Hospital to fourth year students of the School of Medicine together with Prof. William Kemble Walker and Dr. Cornelius Collins Wholey. Next academic year 1921/1922 someone else took his position, but it means that he was still in Pittsburgh in the spring of 1921. I am attaching excerpts from the School of Medicine announcements published in 1920. It includes titles page, Calendar page, page with Demonstrators listing, and page with Psychiatry course description.”

Here are the attachments she sent along with the mail.

The fact that he came back to India for some reason and never went back is common knowledge in the family. But Gosia’s mail showed that he had probably returned to India in the year 1921, exactly a hundred years ago from now. He had a regular job in St. Francis Hospital when he came back. He had given it up and never gone back. He had a wife too whom he could not have seen again. And as far as Indian society went, he remained a “bachelor” till the end of his life! In India, his connection with an American girl was “hush hush” business. Rose had to vanish, or else Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta couldn’t be prevented from returning back to USA. The doctor accepted the sentence “(w)ith bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, …”

When did Sudhir Kumar Really Return?

Gosia’s email suggested that Sudhir Kumar was still in USA in spring of 1921. This, however, was not the case. He had left America in the early Fall of 1920. Here is that little detail. The luxury liner Olympic (a sister ship of the famed Titanic) had brought him back to Southampton on September 4, 1920. Sudhir Kumar is the sixth person from the bottom of the passenger list. Curiously enough, in Sudhir Kumar’s case, the slightly illegible column (7), i.e. “Country of which citizen or subject”, says he belongs to USA. It is hard to figure out what this means, so I shall not try to read too much into the matter.

Passenger list of Olympic, the ship that brought Sudhir Kumar from New York to Southampton on September 4, 1920

Since legibility could be an issue for the last document, a clearer document from ancestry.com follows.

Clearer document — Sudhir Kumar returning.
Olympic, the ship in which Sudhir Kumar left USA for good

There is further reference to Sudhir Kumar in the Fourteenth Census of the United States, dated February 1, 1920. The document covers St. Francis Hospital and Sudhir Kumar’s name figures second in the list. There are three points to be noted in this report. First, he had given his name as Sudhir Kumar Gupta. However, the Gupta was later changed to Das Gupta almost as an afterthought. In fact, the handwriting leaves no doubt that the “Das” was inserted by a person who was different from the one who wrote down the initial record. Was this done to keep his identity as clear as possible? The second point is even more strange. In column number 12, he is described as an unmarried person. Finally, his place of birth is noted as Calcutta, which does not match with his draft record. As we shall see below, he might have had a close connection with Calcutta before he had sailed for the USA in 1913. Even so, this is a strange declaration. It’s best to suppose that the document was filled out by a census staff member and and he had done so by lifting earlier records from the St. Francis Hospital. The change in the birth place probably resulted from lack of knowledge. Coumilla in the draft record could have been mistaken for Calcutta and Calcutta was better known to whoever filled in the data. Before proceeding further, here is the census report in question.

Census 1920 – St. Francis Hospital

The report was prepared before the hospital could change Sudhir Kumar’s marital status. He had married less than two months ago and this is not reflected in the census. He must have left USA too soon to set records straight. The fact that he left too soon is clearly indicated by the university’s printed calendar, which had announced him as a demonstrator till the end of Spring, 1921. Our findings show, however that he had left by September, 1920. One cannot be too sure, but it appears as though he had broken his contract with the university to return to India. This indicates an urgency back at home. And the seriousness of the urgency magnifies when one takes into account the fact that he had been married to Rose for eight months at most when he left America.

Life in India

A new university was established in Dacca in July, 1921 and family members who are no longer alive had often told us that he joined the University as its first Medical Officer. There was no medical school in the university at the time and he had therefore accepted a demotion of sorts from the position of an instructor (Demonstrator) in an American school. My efforts to track him back to Dacca University produced a blank. I was even told that records relating to him would have existed had he been a faculty member, which he was not. He was, I was told, merely an administrative officer whose records have not been preserved. If we go back to the letters with which this story began, we will see that he was in fact a highly respected doctor, who even practised medicine and cured people suffering from the then (and probably even now) incurable diseases. There is a problem here though. His American records declare him to be a psychiatrist and the letter says he had cured a meningitis patient. Question mark again. In any case, the Dhaka of today has forgotten him and not a single person approached could help. A reason why they no longer remember him may be accounted for by the fact that most of Sudhir Kumar’s step-brothers had migrated early to Calcutta, long before the partitioning of the country into India and Pakistan in 1947. Sudhir Kumar, however, continued in Dacca, as did his younger sibling Suresh Chandra along with their step mother Soudamini and her mentally disturbed youngest son. It was not exactly a flourishing family anymore, not one with a great deal of public visibility.

I was now left with no other alternative but to engage myself further in intelligent guesswork and search around for rumours that still circulate in the family. It could well be that around the time Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta wedded Rose Liberty and began teaching in St. Francis Hospital, his father Kamala Nath was nearing his end. I also think that Kamala Nath did not have enough savings to bequeath to his wife and children. Even if he had married off most of his daughters, one married daughter had been sent back to her father’s home by the family she rightfully belonged to. (There are stories explaining this event, mostly related to a husband who tortured her when she was pregnant with her only baby. This baby was born and raised in her maternal grandfather’s house. As far as one can make out, she had never seen her father. This girl later married the famous singer and film music director S. D. Burman and their son was yet another musical genius R. D. Burman.) One more daughter, Mrinal, was still to be married. And there were of course the sons from the second marriage who were too young to choose a career on their own. The family needed material help, considerably more than Kamala Nath’s pension income, to hold on to its social status and the story goes that Sudhir Kumar received an urgent telegram from Dacca, sent by his step-mother, that his father was very ill. There was dire need for him to return back “home”. I have mentioned earlier that the youngest daughter’s husband told his children how ill Sudhir Kumar was in Dacca. This gentleman was known to be outspoken. His daughters, who are my first cousins, inform me now that their father had told them further that the telegram was a half truth at best. The father may have aged in natural course, but he was not exactly ill enough for Sudhir Kumar to be rushed back to Dacca from Pittsburgh. He was brought back to take charge of the family which had begun to find it difficult to maintain the lifestyle it was accustomed to in the exclusive Rankin Street area. Or so it would seem.

He retraced his steps back to Dacca in response to the telegram. No one knows how long his father lived thereafter. Sudhir Kumar probably had a bit of savings from USA. But he also had a father and a step-mother with her litter of children. Since Satish Chandra maintained a distance and Suresh Chandra was a school teacher at best, the responsibility of looking after Kamala Nath’s second family was almost surely transferred over to Sudhir Kumar. No one knows what he told Rose before leaving USA, but it is natural to suppose that he had decided to come back to her within a short period after making arrangements for the family in Dacca. And then, very likely, he got more and more trapped in family affairs back home. One imagines him requesting Rose to wait a little longer and then a little bit more, till they realised that their nine month old family life (24 December, 1919 – September 1921) had died in its infancy. In the meantime, knowingly or unknowingly, his younger half-siblings and step-mother kept him imprisoned in their self-motivated, hugging embrace, somewhat in the manner of a python crushing its prey to appease its hunger. And he, in turn, as far as one can make out, accepted without resistance the sentence pronounced on him, unable to resolve his Buridan’s ass paradox.

The gentleman who questioned the truth of the telegraphic message, had apparently also pointed out that Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta had purchased an automobile, which was used more by members of his family than by him. Some say they have seen a photograph of the man standing in front of his car. And Mandira Bhattacharya’s account of 37 Rankin Street speaks of a garage in the house. This garage was probably where Sudhir Kumar or his family members parked the car. I have personally not seen the photograph of the car, but I do remember seeing a picture of him riding a bicycle to work. He had become simultaneously a father figure and a sacrificial lamb for the entire family. He even managed to send two of his step-brothers to England, France and USA respectively for higher education, at his own expense.

Sudhir Kumar never married again. Almost certainly Rose and he didn’t divorce, or else he would not have carried the joint photograph, the one that cannot be traced anymore. It appears that he was forced to give up everything that he had built on his own. Though it is not known if anyone was interested in seeing him married, the fact is that he never showed an interest in that possibility himself. He remained faithful to Rose in his own absurd fashion. It is likely that his younger sibling Suresh Chandra understood the nature of Sudhir Kumar’s misfortune and decided never to raise a family of his own. We have a photograph of Suresh Chandra in his old age.

Suresh Chandra Das Gupta – circa 1967 – 1970

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta ensured to the best of his ability that he carried out his “responsibilities.” He couldn’t do much about the youngest half-brother, who was psychologically unstable (even though he was a psychiatrist himself). Some suspect that the overindulgence this brother had received from a doting mother was a primary cause underlying his mental problems.26 He paid for the education of the remaining half-brothers (including the ones whom he sent abroad). He arranged for the marriage of these two as well as that of the youngest half-sister. However, Suresh Chandra, his younger full sibling and he himself avoided being struck by Cupid’s arrow.

How long had Sudhir Kumar lived in America.? From the records we have unearthed, it would seem that the period was 1913 through 1920, around seven years or so. I have heard from my father though that the man was away in USA for eighteen years! How can this be explained? We have argued that prior to his journey to the USA, he probably completed his LMF degree in India and then practised as an LMF doctor. This should have been a period of ten years and that takes us back to 1903. Given that he was born in 1887, he was sixteen years old in 1903. This was the age at which one cleared the Entrance examination. The figures therefore match.

My father was born in 1902. He did not know Sudhir Kumar at all till the latter materialised in Dacca from USA in 1920, i.e. eighteen years later. He literally met Sudhir Kumar for the first time in his life when he was an eighteen year old boy himself. As a growing teenager, he may have heard that he had a half-brother who lived in USA. The fact that he had not met Sudhir Kumar in Dacca till he was himself eighteen years old suggests that Sudhir Kumar was away from Dacca those many years. All his half-siblings had probably heard that Sudhir Kumar, like Satish Chandra, had left home when they were either too small or not even born. We have of course tried to construct a plausible story about him since the time he left Dacca. If the conjectures are correct, then he could not have studied medicine in Mitford School. But his absence from Dacca since 1903 or so did not mean that he was residing in the USA. We know that he reached USA in 1913. Between 1903 and 1913, he could have followed his elder brother’s steps to Calcutta. This elder brother too had a stint or two with medical education I hear, which he couldn’t complete for health reasons. One does not know if they had lived in Calcutta together. How his medical education was financed in Calcutta is yet another unknown. He might have been engaged in part time work. Nobody in Dacca appeared to have kept track till news arrived that he was in USA. It may well have been the case that Sudhir Kumar had not even seen the 37 Rankin Street house in Dacca till he returned back to India. However, he could have heard about its existence. This may also explain why he quoted an incorrect address (35 Rankin Street) in the passenger list when he entered USA as a student. As a doctor in USA, he turned from a nobody to an indispensable person for the family. From a forsaken person to someone commanding enormous importance. And this happened because Kamala Nath was ageing and Soudamini had heard the rumble of not too distant thunder clouds.

We conclude then that both Satish Kumar and Sudhir Kumar left home early. The first one didn’t quite come back, the second did under unenviable circumstances. The third brother, Suresh Kumar, had a contact with the family, but the nature of the contact need not have been too happy.

Whatever Happened to Rose S. Liberty!

So far at least, I have not been able to find out anything dependable about Rose S. Liberty and the boy in the photograph we came across. Ancestry.com came up, however, with a draft registration card for a person called Edmond Arthur Liberty. The registration card (dated October 16, 1940) states that Edmond’s mother was one Rose Liberty (with the middle initial S missing). And it does not refer to his father at all. The photograph above too has a missing father. Here is the draft card.

Edmond Arthur Liberty’s draft registration card — 1940

This WW2 draft card was issued to Edmond Arthur Liberty, who is described as the Head of the Household. He lived with his mother, Rose Liberty, in 1601 No. Atlantic-Spokane, Spokane, Washington State and was an employee of the Union Pacific Railroad Co. Google maps suggests that “No” in Liberty’s home address stands for North. If so, this is the way Edmond Arthur Liberty would have travelled from home to office. (Google further indicates that Spokane Valley Union Pacific Railroad Co. is another name for Union Pacific Railroad Co.)

Probable way to office for Edmond Arthur Liberty

Google doesn’t tell us if Rose Liberty, Edmond Arthur Liberty’s mother in the draft card was one and the same as the Rose S. Liberty who married Dr. Sudhir K. Gupta. And, so far, ancestry.com is silent on the issue. It is also not clear either if the young boy Rose is holding on to in our earlier photograph of a white woman in a saree was Edmond Arthur Liberty. What suggests that the persons in the picture and the draft card were the same is that both have a missing father. If so, the child who was born in 1917 as the draft card tells us, should not have been more than three years old before Sudhir Kumar left USA in 1920. But the boy in the photograph looks older. Proceeding further with this conjecture, it cannot be ruled out that Sudhir Kumar received the photograph from USA after he came back to India. In that case, Sudhir Kumar was in touch with Rose for a while from Dacca. What makes it sound plausible is that the person referred to as Ponku at the beginning of the tale had himself told me about exchange of mail between Sudhir Kumar and an American woman. Needless to say, we cannot be sure about the veracity of such statements.

Yet another issue is worth noting in this context. If Rose had truly sent the picture to Sudhir Kumar after he left USA and gone through the trouble of wearing a saree for the photograph, she was definitely expecting him to come back to her. On the other hand, since Sudhir Kumar had purchased a new car at some point of time in Dacca, he had made long term investment in India. This seems to suggest that he was not planning to go back! Whether this decision was forced on him, we have no idea. But one cannot help wondering if Rose had lost her importance in Sudhir Kumar’s life, despite the fact that he didn’t remarry in his life.

It is impossible to guess what happened to Edmond since 1940. Nor shall we know for sure who Mrs. Rose Liberty in Edmond’s draft card really was. The Rose whom Sudhir Kumar had married was around forty three years old in 1940. There is no indication in the card that she was a working woman. It was her son who was the Head of the household at the age of twenty three! And let us not forget that Sudhir Kumar himself had died in 1938. What makes the search complicated is that Rose Liberty appears to be a common name and there were other Rose Libertys in Spokane, Washington. Records reveal an Edmond Arthur Liberty too whose date of birth was the same as the one I described above, but he died in Sacramento, California on October 8, 1965. We don’t know if the two Edmonds were the same. Thus, it is quite impossible to identify Rose S. Liberty from documentary sources.

Nonetheless, it is natural to suppose that Rose S. Liberty had a Chicago rather than a Spokane, Washington connection. This is so because Sudhir Kumar had done his degree and internship in Chicago. Chicago could well be where they had met. What adds strength to this hypothesis is that they were married in Chicago when Sudhir Kumar had already moved to Pittsburgh. It cannot be ruled out that Rose and her near and dear ones lived in Chicago and the witnesses for the marriage were Rose’s people in Chicago. They could have been common friends of the bride and groom as well.

Rose S. Liberty therefore remains our mystery woman. She didn’t surrender herself to our long search. She avoided even obituaries in newspapers.

Epilogue

Little else remains to be told of the Sudhir Kumar tale. The reader though can still be introduced, in this backward journey, to the earliest photograph that exists of the person. We know of course that he was born in 1887. But we have said little else about his life towards the end of the nineteenth century. Fortunately, Abhijit found a photograph of the child Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta along with his parents. This looks like a studio photograph of Kamala Nath’s first family. It is the only photograph that we have of his first wife and daughter. The daughter was a baby and sat on her father’s lap. It looks like a photo taken in a studio during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Historian Partha Chatterjee says such studio photography was quite uncommon in India at the time, except probably in cities. Dacca could well be one such place. We see the three brothers. The eldest, Satish Chandra stands behind his parents. Sudhir Kumar is seated on a rug on the floor at the front. Suresh Chandra stands on the left, holding on to the chair his father sat on. And their mother (with her unknown name) sits next to her husband. The photograph emerged out of the magpie collection. It had remained hidden inside a bunch of Suresh Chandra’s letters. Suresh Chandra was clearly fond of this photograph of the family that, in his childhood, he knew as his own. The children, as can be seen, were dressed up by the studio in a somewhat fairy tale style in Persian clothing of the period. Having people, children in particular, photographed in such costume could well have been the custom followed at the time.

Kamala Nath Das (Gupta)’s first family – circa 1893-94

Sudhir Kumar resembles a six or seven year boy in the photograph. Given that he was born in 1887, the photograph could have been taken around 1893-1894. The little boy had his dreams. Probably he was still reading fairy tales. His fairy tale world was not destined to last too long. The same was the case of his three siblings. They were soon going to lose their mother and ushered into a totally new world. A world of rude realities that children are not supposed to be able to cope up with easily.

But Sudhir Kumar’s case was destined to be somewhat special. A new mother arrived and with her arrived the step brothers and sisters. I suggested earlier that both his elder sibling as well as he had left home early in life. This could well have been in response to a feeling of neglect the family meted out to them. They did not quite belong to the new family and their father was too busy with his work and new family to notice the children from the earlier marriage. Sudhir Kumar was on his own since then and probably didn’t have too much contact with the family in Dacca.

And then he receives an appeal from that same family, telling him in no uncertain terms, that he was needed. Needed badly. Needed forthwith to rescue it. He was one of its own. This touched him to the core. It could have filled up his heart as it dawned on him that he too had his own ancestral connections! He was destined to assume the role of this family’s custodian. Yet, his newly wedded wife was there as well and he had a choice to make. The young half-siblings he found himself surrounded by aroused in him a father like feeling probably, especially since they were far too small to be left to fend for themselves. Sudhir Kumar realised for sure that the family would perish unless he offered to captain the ship. Rose, on the other hand, was an adult, who did not lack the ability to face up to life’s material demands on her own. She was capable of steering her own little boat. Such considerations could have played their role in Sudhir Kumar’s decision making. And that decision, rightly or wrongly, went against Rose.

The child in the picture didn’t know that this was the direction in which life was driving him. He turned into a doctor and a faculty member in an American school of medicine. He was about to build a little shelter of his own, but he lost his mate somewhat in the manner in which he lost his childhood and his mother. It was decreed as it were that his spells of happiness would be brief at best. And then, as though he had not suffered enough mentally, he had to groan in physical pain and die young. Leaving out his own mother and his youngest half-sister, he lived the shortest life among the members of the family.

Fate, as in Greek tragedy, had chosen him for its favourite hero. Going back to the letter we began with, it is natural to wonder if the Muslim boy who expressed his gratitude to the memory of the departed doctor was the only one in the then Dacca to have benefited from him. There must have been many others who had received his healing touch. But not a single researcher who has worked on personalities who had enriched the Dacca of yore was able to discover this man. The man had been taken advantage of by the family that he had brought succour to, sacrificing a great deal in the process. And it appears that society at large too chose to forget that such a kind and helpful doctor ever existed.

Such was the tragic tale of Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta.

_______

Footnotes
1. Well-known economist, literateur and politician Ashok Mitra’s book of memoirs “Apila Chapila” introduces Parimal Ray as the best-known professor in the Economics Department of Dacca University. Apart from being the famous writer and poet Buddhadev Bose’s friend, he was associated with the literary magazine, Pragati, published by Buddhdev Bose. He taught Ashok Mitra for two years or so before leaving for Delhi, where he taught in Ramjas College and the IAS Training School. He left for New York with a UN assignment and did not live too long. More information about Professor Parimal Ray can be found in Ashok Mitra’s book. I am indebted to the eminent historian Partha Chatterjee for drawing my attention to the book.#goback1

2. Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta (Ponku) was Dr. Sudhir Das Gupta’s half-brother. He was an LIC employee in later life.#goback1

3. Monu was Nirmal Kumar Das Gupta, another half-brother of Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta. He was a lawyer by profession. A great deal of material on which the present semi-historical document depends was found in his collection by his son Abhijit Dasgupta and daughter-in-law Sarbari Dasgupta. Abhijit is a known personality in the television news world and Sarbari taught in City College, Kolkata.#goback1

4. Mrinal Das Gupta won the Griffith Prize awarded by the University of Calcutta in 1931 for her work titled The Early Indian Idea of Religious Devotion and its Historical Background. The prize was offered to four scholars that year, including no less a person than the renowned linguist Sukumar Sen. It was awarded for work in science disciplines as well. In 1920, the prize went to Dr. Meghnad Saha. Mrinal Das Gupta belonged therefore to a recognised group of academic luminaries. Source: The Calendar 1956, University of Calcutta.#goback2

5. Rai Bahadur #goback3

6. Delhi Durbar #goback3

7. Mandira Bhattacharya, who lived in this house from the early 1950’s has given a detailed as well as a loving description of the building in her book “Dhakar Smriti o Dr. Nandi” written in Bengali. The book was published by Prathama Prakashan in 2018. (Translated, the title of the book is “Memories of Dhaka and Dr. Nandi”.) Dr. Manmatha Nandi, her much respected surgeon and physician father whom Dhaka has still not forgotten, had purchased the house from Kamala Nath Das Gupta’s descendants. At a later stage in his life, Dr. Nandi had probably sold away the property and moved over to Jalpaiguri, India. Among her many memories surrounding the house, Bhattacharya speaks of two primitive and unhygienic sewerage systems they found there when they moved in. Her health conscious father did away with them and installed the then modern septic tanks. I asked myself how Sudhir Kumar, himself a doctor, one who had lived in America and whose belongings appear to suggest that he was fashion conscious, could have left the job to be completed by Dr. Nandi. To satisfy my curiosity, I looked up the history of septic tanks. It appears that they were invented in France in 1860 and patented in 1881. From there, they spread gradually to the USA, UK and other countries. In USA and UK, the septic tank was a commonly used waste removal device only around the 1940’s. Sudhir Kumar, who died in 1938, could have been aware of the innovation. But in India, a British colony, it may still have been relatively unknown or unavailable in the 1930’s. Even if he wished to, he could have found it hard to have one constructed. Had Sudhir Kumar not passed away early, he might well have brought in septic tanks to 37 Rankin Street sooner or later. Dr. Manmatha Nandi graduated as a doctor in 1935 and Sudhir Kumar died in 1938. One wishes that this great doctor and surgeon were around when Sudhir Kumar fell ill. In that case, Sudhir Kumar could well have lived longer. But that was not to be. In what sloppy condition Sudhir Kumar had himself left the primitive waste management systems in the house is unknown. Bhattacharya saw them in their degraded state at least twelve years after the man died. #goback3

8. Dasgupta is what the family name has changed into over time.#goback3

9. Given the time period we are discussing, the possibility of a child death or two cannot be ruled out. Infant mortality is still a problem in India and other emerging economies.#goback3

10. St. Francis Hospital.#goback4

11. Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy.#goback4

12. Dr. Bidhan Ray was one of the doctors who examined Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta towards the end of the latter’s life. From the letters quoted at the beginning of this journey, it would appear that even this brilliant man failed to diagnose what had ailed Dr. Das Gupta.#goback4

13. Flexner Report. #goback4

14. Ancestry. #goback5

15. Evangelical Hospital. #goback6

16. Calcutta Medical College #goback7

17. R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital #goback7

18. Dr. Manmatha Nandi, whom we have already come across had passed out of Carmichael College with flying colours according to his daughter Mandira’s account in “Dhakar Smriti o Dr. Nandi”.#goback7

19. Sepoy Mutiny #goback7

20. Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College and Hospital #goback7

21. Mitford Hospital #goback7

22. Dasgupta, Uma (2010). Science and Modern India: An Institutional History, C. 1784-1947. Pearson#goback7

23. The licentiate degree was referred to as LMS (Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery) or LMF (Licentiate of Medical Faculty).#goback7

24. This appeared to have been common custom in USA till as late as 1935. The person whom we came across in a post written in a somewhat lighter spirit had completed a four year DEDP course in Paris before being awarded the DDS degree in dentistry by the University of Pennsylvania within the course of a year. At that time, it should have taken around four to five years to obtain the DDS degree in USA.#goback7

25. If this was not the case, i.e. his father had died for any reason other than old age, word of mouth accounts of the manner in which he breathed his last would have existed. His children, at least the ones from the second marriage, were not particularly well-known for their taciturnity. Especially the one described in the immediately preceding footnote. #goback8

26. A wedding was arranged for this brother as well, but Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta had ceased to exist by then. This is not the place to relate that story or even find out the reason that necessitated it. However, here is a photograph of that event. #goback9

Wedding of the youngest half-brother — circa 1946. The photograph was shot on the terrace of 37 Rankin Street, Dacca. Soudamini sits in the centre flanked by the bride and the groom. Except for Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta, who had probably taken the photograph, all of Soudamini’s sons and daughters-in-law are present in the picture. Sudhir Kumar was already dead. The other two half brothers and the half sister are absent in this group photo. I am sitting on the ground, second from left.

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