The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Homage to a hero in uniform
Shomsubhra, the elder son of Bapi Sen (top), prays at the ceremony. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Calcutta, Dec. 26: Eight-year-old Shomsubhra sat cross-legged on the floor, a piece of regulation white cloth round his shoulders and the ingredients of a puja spread out in front — the priest was chanting mantras and the boy was fumbling to keep pace.

Behind, a framed picture sat on a raised platform, draped in garlands.

Shomsubhra’s eyes were closed, his hands clasped as he paid homage to his father, Bapi Sen, in a religious ceremony, batsarik, held in commemoration.

In the morning, before the ritual began, he had cried some. This day last year he had accompanied his father, riding pillion on a motorbike, to watch a competition at the Behala Flying Club.

A few days later, Bapi Sen died after being beaten up by fellow policemen on the last day of 2002 as he protested against their drunken teasing of a woman who was travelling on a motorbike with a companion.

The five accused constables are facing murder charges and undergoing trial at a city civil and sessions court, where the witnesses are being examined. The cross-examination is likely to be over in January.

For the Sens of Parnasree, Behala, December is a month of memories.

Eleven years ago, the Calcutta police traffic sergeant married Soma on a bright December day.

“This room where my son is performing batsarik in remembrance of my husband was decorated with flowers on the occasion of my arrival as his (Bapi’s) wife,” Soma said, her hands folded in front of her husband’s picture.

“I can still recall the day I stepped into this place as a just-married bride.”

Relatives, some neighbours and a few serving policemen had gathered in the house for today’s ceremony.

Bapi Sen’s younger son, Shankhasubhra, 2, sat in his mother’s lap, lost in the small room amid the spiralling smoke from the incense sticks, the chanting of shlokas, the little mounds of flowers, the sprinkling of holy water and the offerings of various things.

“We have a big function going … I know they have come for that,” he said haltingly about the crowd of people.

His grandfather, Narayan Chandra Sen, an Alzheimer’s patient, seemed as lost as he cast a vacant look around.

Bapi Sen’s octogenarian mother, Renuka, held her emotion for all of the three-hour-long ceremony. Once it was over, she asked for his portrait — a gift from a local club — which was kept at the door for everyone to pay respects to, to be replaced.

“Bring the other photograph here,” she said. Once that picture, Bapi Sen in his glowing white uniform, was fetched, she embraced it and cried.

That was also the father Shomsubhra remembered. “I love to ride the cycle fast, like my father, who used to fly like a wind on the motorcycle,” he said.

The boy sat patiently for an hour, playing his part in the ceremony.

Boxes of sweets that relatives and guests brought piled up in front of Bapi Sen’s picture. “He loved to eat and take others out to restaurants,” said Joydeb Sen, his eldest brother.

December 26 had almost become an annual ritual for the family when Bapi Sen would hire a car and take them out.

“We did not ask too many people to join the puja because we wanted it to be a private ceremony,” Joydeb said.

From the force there was M. Alam, the officer-in-charge of Tollygunge traffic guards, and Subrata Mukherjee and two other functionaries of the Calcutta Traffic Police Association.

The police representatives saluted Bapi Sen’s portrait.

His father Narayan Chandra was searching for someone. “Where is he' Can you tell me' I am in a hurry and cannot wait.”

Till this day, the woman Bapi Sen died saving has not come out in the open.

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