The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
This is fine, but it’s not ‘home’
- Journey back to roots, on celluloid

She remembers receiving oranges as part of the celebrations after Independence. He remembers communal tension and peace meetings. She remembers the confusion of the family forsaking cousin Kamalidi, who married “a good man she loved” — not just a non-Hindu, but a Muslim. He remembers bloody riots and seeing people with arms and legs hacked off.

Sripada Sen was 25 years old and a student at B.M. College at Barisal, in Bangladesh, at the time of the Partition. Gayatri Sen wasn’t even a teenager when she fled her homeland in 1951. More than 50 years later, the couple went back to Barisal to seek some peace by visiting their motherland. Son Supriyo shot their return journey on film which, along with their reminisces, is Way Back Home.

Gayatri had a happy life in 1947. Festivals, exams, dips in the river, family gatherings… and then suddenly, darkness loomed in the form of riots. Her family was helped by their Muslim neighbours, who guarded them while they slept, and then took them across to Calcutta. Sripada, however, remembers the violence more vividly — the midnight rush for a boat and then a train to the filthy, chaotic safety of Sealdah station, carrying nothing but the clothes on his back. The memories are painful, but the return was even more emotional, as they both tearfully reacquainted themselves with the land they had left behind but never forgotten. “Khoob bhalo laglo,” Sripada smiles. “It was a wonderful experience, after all this time.”

For Supriyo, Way Back Home, which received the Jan Vrijman Fund at the Film Festival of Amsterdam on the basis of a worldwide competition of scripts, is the fourth venture into the world of non-fiction film. “I wanted to tell my parents’ tale to the whole world. Theirs is just one example. There is a whole community of refugees who suffered during the Partition, and there is no memorial or testimony to that. It’s like it never happened. The experience just exists in the collective memory of my parent’s generation, which only talks about it amongst themselves. The World War II holocaust is still alive in Europe today, and I want to do the same for the victims of Partition.”

The generation that suffered the humiliation of having to leave their homes and felt the desire to go back one more time is mirrored in the Sens’ trip across the river. “It’s a cycle. The violence hasn’t ended, as Gujarat proves. Even in Bangladesh, it’s the same,” says Supriyo.

The Calcutta University graduate’s previous credits include Wait Until Death, “investigating a genocide caused by a stone-crushing factory” in a tribal village; Dream of Hanif, on one of the last traditional scroll painters of Midnapore; The Nest, which won a national award in 2001, about the lone battle of a tribal family to save migratory birds.

Although Sripada’s almost desperate hunt for his home in Barisal proved futile (despite knocking on several neighbouring doors, where he was received with respect), he says he has no regrets. “I wanted to go back once before I die, and I did. It was beautiful,” he proclaims, tears welling up. The 77-year-old’s favourite moment was walking into his former college, with a host of youngsters hanging on to his every word. When Sripada haltingly told them not to mind his tears, a voice in the crowd replied: “Why should we mind' It is patriotic people like you who make us proud.”

Email This Page