Dinahata mourns its prominent son Ershad

Ashis Biswas, Kolkata
Published : 07:30, Jul 16, 2019 | Updated : 07:30, Jul 16, 2019

HM Ershad is seen with an elderly relative at a reception ceremony in Dinahata.The Ershad story could start a political quiz: what is in common to Daryaganj in old Delhi and Dinahata, in West Bengal?
Answer: In both places, providence arranged for the birth of two men who would achieve prominence in other lands, beyond their motherland, undivided India — both would turn out to be military dictators, opposing the country of their birth. Their names: Pervez Musharraf and Hussain Mohammad Ershad respectively.
Both would enjoy their spells in power going their different ways, but their storylines do not otherwise follow the script of a typical Jeffrey Archer narrative.
By way of comparison, former Bangladeshi military ruler Ershad, considerably older than Musharraf, had maintained closer links with his place of birth and roots. He had been visiting Dinhata from time to time — twice in recent years, in 2015 and 2017. Observers find something typically ‘Bengali’ about such enduring nostalgia.
HM Ershad is seen with a childhood friend at a reception ceremony in Dinahata.Gen Musharraf visited Nehrwali Gali at Daryaganj once during the Vajpayee years, meeting with his grandmotherly old “Aiyee” and bringing gifts for locals. He had last seen them as a toddler in the 1950s, at his sprawling ‘haveli.’ His family moved to Pakistan, as did Ershad’s.
However, Ershad’s parents returned to their Dinhata roots after a few years, as their son stayed on in East Pakistan for his studies. Eventually he joined the Pakistani army.
It is hard to see Ershad as a conquering hero for Dinhata, but he certainly had seen it all. Having been the ruler of Bangladesh from 1982-90, he had also spent a long bitter spell in jail in his later years for his misdemeanours.
As one observer in Kolkata said, “His journey had figuratively taken him out of the sewers to the highest stars— only, he got the sequence wrong.”
The folks of the somewhat laid back, old world Dinhata township in Coochbehar, however, prefer not to talk much of politics. They seemed to be wistful over his death, according to reports.
His contemporaries remembered their prominent schoolmate. Former Bengal Minister Kamal Guha, the Forward Bloc leader was one of them. He died some time ago.
HM Ershad is seen receiving a childhood friend during a reception ceremony in Dinahata.But another friend Sudhir, an old timer, is still around. He told the Kolkata press that sometimes Ershad used to read aloud his poems while meeting his friends.
They all enjoyed going around together in bicycles to pass the time. They were members of a local club.
“His nickname was ‘Peyara’, the Bengali word for guava. It stuck and we would still use it whenever we met,” Sudhir was quoted by the local media as saying.
Ershad would mention his friends in some of his poems. “It was a much happier, more innocent time, when we were young,” said another contemporary.
HM Ershad is seen with a grandson in Dinahata.Young or old, whenever Ershad visited Dinhata, staying at his old family home which still stands, he would ask for his favourite dish ‘Boroli macher jhol’ (Boroli fish served with gravy) and a particular kind of spinach.
He had often brought his son Eric with him on such visits, for a trip back to the roots. Interestingly, even on such visits, he would often behave naturally like the master of the house, seeking information about local issues, suggesting solutions to problems.
No wonder, he contacted West Bengal leaders informally on such occasions. He spoke to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, whom he knew, on a particular issue. He discussed the proposed Teesta river water sharing issue, the problems of the Changrabandha checkpost and the advantages of a joint railway network shared between Bangladesh and India. These visits were more in the nature of a typical busman’s holiday.
Now there would be no such visits anymore. But Dinhata would always remember its prominent son, warts and all.