Picture from the family album shows Susmita Banerjee with her cousin Ranjan Bandyopadhyay and his wife
Rabin Bandyopadhyay had repeatedly pleaded with niece Susmita not to return to Afghanistan, saying the Taliban would kill her if she did.
His worst fears having come true, the 72-year-old retired Hindustan Cables technician was on Friday clutching at his memories of young “Dipu” who grew up before his eyes in Rupnarayanpur before making a splash with her book on the Taliban.
“Since her death, her memories have been flooding my mind,” said the diploma engineer (mechanical).
The Taliban, though, has denied killing Susmita Banerjee, the Calcuttan who had married a “Kabuliwala” and spent seven years in Afghanistan before the militant group’s threats forced her to flee that country in 1995.
She returned to Afghanistan with husband Jaanbaaz Khan, a moneylender and businessman, in January this year and was shot dead by suspected Taliban militants outside her home on Wednesday night.
Susmita, born in Khulna in the then East Pakistan in 1956, had moved to Calcutta with her parents as a toddler. She was five when she was sent to live with her grandparents and uncle Rabin at their three-room Hindustan Cables quarters in Rupnarayanpur.
“We admitted her to Hindustan Cables High School for Girls. She studied there till Class VIII. Then, at the age of 13, she returned to Calcutta,” Rabin said.
He added: “We were not happy with her choice of husband or her decision to settle in Afghanistan. Later, we repeatedly told her not to return there but she was determined.”
Rabin is the sole surviving sibling among three brothers of whom Krishnadhan, Susmita’s father, was the eldest. Krishnadhan died a month after his daughter returned to Afghanistan; his wife had passed away in July last year.
Rabin’s son Ranjan, who has been teaching sociology and philosophy at California State University for the past seven years, lived under the same roof with cousin Susmita for a decade after coming to Calcutta in 1988 to study for a BCom.
Susmita had by then dropped out of college and got involved in the theatre.
“She was an Uttam Kumar fan and wanted to become a Bengali film heroine. But our family was very conservative, and her parents would not let her,” said Ranjan, who visits India every summer.
“They were against her relationship with Jaanbaaz, too. But she was very independent, and impulsive.”
Ranjan added: “I remember the night Dipudidi told me she would escape with Jaanbaaz the next morning and travel to Afghanistan. I felt very sad as the two of us were very close. She would buy me books, watches and other stuff from her earnings as a theatre actress.”
Later, Susmita would call him from Afghanistan and tell him about the “horrific life” of women there.
“After her escape, she wrote Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou (A Kabuliwala’s Bengali Wife, which inspired the Manisha Koirala-starrer Escape from Taliban) virtually in front of my eyes. It was published in 1998 — the year I left for Belgium to do an MBA,” Ranjan said.
He later did his PhD in socio-cultural anthropology from Pennsylvania State University in the US. Ranjan left Rupnarayanpur for Calcutta today. He said he had last met Susmita after her mother’s death last year.