Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mukherjeenama

It's that time of the year again, for the 34th time. This calls for an article, preferably related to my birth.

I was born a Mukherjee. We Mukherjees are plenty in number, and possibly outnumber most other Bengali surnames. Unlike myself, some of them have actually managed to etch their respective names in history. We have our variants: of them, Mookarjea comes first in the telephone directory, while Mukherji holds the rear. We have Mukhopadhyay (also Mukhopadhyaya) and Mukhuti (Mukhoti, Mukhati) as variants.

In short, we have been there since the birth of civilisation. Okay, that was an exaggeration, but we've been around for about a millennium. We're also supposed to have descended from Bharadwaj (whose achievements are mentioned in details here).

But this is not about Mukherjees in general. This is about the top-notch Mukherjees who have made the surname immortal over the years. Mukherjees who have made us proud: Mukherjees who have made me proud of my surname.

Once again, the number of slots is limited. All lists are supposed to consist of eleven names, and this shall not be an exception. It has been a very tough ask, and on another day I might have chosen some very different names.

Here we go, then, in chronological order:

1. Krittibas Ojha Mukhoti, 1398 - 1468
We Bengalis are fortunate, in the sense that quality authors have taken the initiative to translate both epics in our language. However, it had all triggered off with Krittibas.

He was born a Mukhoti (Mukherjee), and his claim to fame remains the Bangla translation of Ramayan. However, it's possibly the only Bangla book to have passed the test of time - it's still been read all over the state, and five hundred years is no joke.

The style is lucid, and given the era, quite gripping. He doesn't miss out on the details, and most importantly, the language is colloquial enough to reach out the illiterate interiors of the state. Even in 2011.

The prose Mahabharats have turned out to be more popular. But it still remains the most-read Ramayan.

It's incredible that the first printed version of the book came out only in 1802: people actually had been memorising the book and spreading it to make it popular, state-wide, for three hundred and fifty years. Beat that.

2. Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee, 1864 - 1924
Sir Ashutosh was so ahead of his times in terms of university-education that most people couldn't really relate to his moves. He set up an innumerable number of graduate programmes, thereby revolutionising the entire structure of Calcutta University. He even went to the extent of getting eminent European professors to teach at the university. He removed all caste, creed, race and gender restrictions - for both students and the faculty, something that was unthinkable a hundred years back. It was because of him that education in Bengal had reached the zenith it had in the early 20th century. And that involved a single-handed battle against the British, defying their attempts to take control over the education in Bengal. This earned him the title Banglar Bagh - The Tiger of Bengal.

Add to that the facts that he was elected the President of the Asiatic Society and the National Library committees. The fact that he was the Judge of the Calcutta High Court. And he had a moustache unmatched in the history of the Mukherjees.

3. Jatindranath Mukherjee, 1879 - 1915
If Sir Ashutosh was the named The Tiger of Bengal, Jatindranath Mukherjee was also known as Bagha, or Tiger Jatin. And this time it wasn't really a metaphor - he was really attacked by a Royal Bengal Tiger. He was severely wounded, but he managed to kill the tiger with just a minuscule dagger. Hence the name.

If he hadn't done anything else, Jatindranath would possibly still remained an immortal in the illustrious history of us Mukherjees. Sadly, his humongous contribution to the freedom struggle has remained almost unknown outside Bengal and Orissa.

Along with Manabendra Nath Roy (later to be joined by Rash Behari Bose), he set up a nationwide organisation of revolutionaries. He was arrested twice, but had to be acquitted on both occasions. Without launching any direct attack, he planned sudden blows on the British (this included setting up a bomb factory near Deoghar); he met the German Consul in Kolkata, seeking for help; and was made the Commander-in-Chief of the entire Indian revolutionary forces. He sent Roy to Batavia to negotiate a deal with the Germans, and had he lived through the first World War, history might have been written otherwise.

However, he was sought out, and was killed in a high-intensity armed battle with the British police, led by the infamous Charles Tegart, at Balasore on 9th September 1915. Tegart, known for his emotional ruthlessness, had himself commented that had Jatin been a British, he would have had his statue next to Nelson at Trafalgar Square.

4. Sir Birendranath Mookerjee, 1899 - 1982
Typically mentioned everywhere as the husband of Lady Ranu, Tagore's romantic interest associate and one of the most coveted belles in contemporary Bengal, Sir Biren (as he's popularly known) was undoubtedly the one of the greatest, if not the greatest, industrialist Bengal has ever produced.

He became the Chairman of the Steel Corporation of Bengal, which helped set up IISCO at Burnpur (and was later merged into IISCO). In 1953 IISCO became the first private sector company to be sanctioned a loan (worth $31.5 millions) from World Bank. He was sanctioned two subsequent loans in 1956 and 1961. Such was the performance of IISCO that all three loans were repaid ahead of time.

By the early 1960s, Sir Biren ensured that IISCO generated a consistent annual dividend of over 15%. It was then that the dark days crept in; labour problems ensued; and by 1972 IISCO was acquired by the Government. Sir Biren fell a victim to the era; we were possibly not good enough to deserve him.

5. Dr Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay, 1899 - 1979
Mukherjees and culture have typically gone hand in hand over the years (my blog is an exception; not an example). When I tried to create the list, this is where I encountered the stiffest of competitions: authors.

With the likes of Troilokyonath, Shankar and Shirshendu (and to a lesser extent, Bibhutibhushan and Prabhatkumar) have thrived in their respective styles and earned their place in the rich history of Bangla literature, none of them could match the throne where we usually like to place Banaphool, hardly ever referred to by his full name, the uncrowned king of Bangla short stories. He has faced stiff competition, but has emerged (I know that this is a subjective aspect) as the champion of his genre.

The brilliance of Banaphool lay in his curt, lean approach to short stories. They were objective in nature: not a single word was used unnecessarily or out of place. They were intense, and when you were through with the final word, the story would probably hit you hard with a hammer of sorts. Some stories lasted merely a page. Some even less than that. And yet...

Mind you, other than the 586 short stories, he also wrote sixty novels, five full-length and numerous one-act plays, and thousands of poems. While we boast of multitasking, Banaphool had achieved all this while being a full-time doctor.

Two years before his death he even ended up winning the Filmfare Award for Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Arjun Pandit.


6. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, 1901 - 1953
When I started making this list I had never imagined that I shall accommodate a father-and-son combination. Sir Ashutosh, however, had a son whose achievements forced me to keep him on the list.

SP Mookerjee started his career as the Finance Minister of Bengal in 1942. He later emerged as a spokesperson for the Hindus, and became the President of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1944. He strongly opposed the divisive agenda of the Muslim League, and demanded equal rights for people of all religions. Unlike most religious leaders, SP Mookerjee demonstrated a surprisingly tolerant attitude towards the Muslims, even through the riots. He had opposed the 1947 partition vehemently, but in vain.

After Independence, he became the Minister of Industry and Supply, but resigned in 1950 as a protest to Nehru's tolerant attitude towards Pakistan and the fact that Hindu immigrants had streamed into India as a result of Pakistan's religious policies. He founded the the BJS (Bharatiya Jana Sangh) in 1951, which favoured free-market economics from day one, as opposed to Nehru's socialist policies. BJS also tried to bring egalitarian rights for people of all religions across the country.

When INC took a decision to announce Kashmir as a special country (with a separate flag and a separate Prime Minister, and making people carry ID cards), BJS opposed the policy vehemently, and managed to thwart it successfully.

However, while launching the protest, he was arrested in Kashmir, and died under mysterious circumstances (he was administered penicillin despite the fact that he had informed the doctor of being allergic to it). There were cries for an investigation to his death, but Nehru had passed his death as "normal". As normal as Fardeen Khan making a profession as an actor, I presume.

7. Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay, 1920 - 1989
There's a saying in the Kolkata film industry: Chatterjees act and Mukherjees sing. Indeed, with the likes of Sandhya, Arati, Manabendra and Satinath, it's not much of an exaggeration.

None of them match Hemanta, though, in terms of pure success. Matched only by Manna Dey as the leading Bangla playback singer and one of the greatest composers as well.

I suppose it's pointless, trying to elaborate on Hemanta's skills. It would suffice to say that "আমার গানের স্বরলিপি লেখা রবে, পান্থ পাখির কূজন কাকলি ঘিরে; আগামী পৃথিবী কান পেতে তুমি শোনো, আমি যদি আর নাই আসি হেথা ফিরে, তবু আমার গানের স্বরলিপি লেখা রবে" (my music shall linger forever; the birds shall chirp my tunes, long after I'm there - a pathetic translation) still holds. And shall hold forever.

8. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1922 - 2006
Musafir. Anari. Chhaya. Anuradha. Anupama. Satyakam. Guddi. Anand. Bawarchi. Abhimaan. Namak Haraam. Mili. Chupke Chupke. Arjun Pandit. Naukri. Gol Maal. Naram Garam. Bemisaal. Kissi Se Na KehnaRang Birangi.

Enough said, I suppose.

9. Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, 1935 -
The oldest of the living lot.

Pranab Mukherjee is in the fifth decade of his political career. He began as a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1969, and was re-elected four more times. He joined the cabinet as Union Deputy Minister, Industrial Development. I wasn't even born then. And he's still around, after being Minister for Defence, Finance, External Affairs, Revenue, Shipping, Transport, Communication, Economic Affairs, Commerce and Industry over the years.

He was the Finance Minister from 1982 to 1984, and in 1984 he was awarded the Best Finance Minister in the world by Euromoney. In the same year he was the chairperson of the Group of 24 representing the IMF and the World Bank.

There was a phase of lull with Congress losing its throne, but he came back strongly as an External Affairs Minister from 1995 to 1996. As a result he was voted Outstanding Parliamentarian.

Currently, he is simultaneously the Finance Minister, and a Senior Member of the Cabinet Committees on Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Parliamentary Affairs, Political Affairs, Prices, Security, Unique Identification Authority of India and World Trade Organization.

As late as 2010 he was named Finance Minister of the Year for Asia by Emerging Markets (the World Bank newspaper) and Finance Minister of the Year by The Banker.

Makes it sound like Duracell, doesn't he?

10. Jaidip Mukerjea, 1942 -
There had to be a sports representative, and this is where things went miserably wrong. I'd have loved to include a cricketer, and I ransacked Cricinfo for the want of one, but the best I could find was Saradindu Mukherjee. Though he took a hat-trick on his first-class debut (that had sealed the Ranji semifinal for us) and had played for India, three ODIs hardly seem good enough for anyone to make it to the list. Mind you, there exists an Annapurna Mukherjee who had played three matches for Singapore, against UAE, Bangladesh and hold your breath, China.

So I decided to go for tennis. Jaidip Mukerjea had won the National Junior Championship, and became runner-up at the Wimbledon Junior in 1960. He did made it to the fourth round of six Grand Slams (US Open 1962, Wimbledon 1963, 1964 and 1966, and French Open 1965 and 1966).

We had lost our first Davis Cup final in 1966 to Australia by the convincing margin of 1-4; however, our solitary victory came when Mukerjea, in tandem with Ramanathan Krishnan, managed to defeat John Newcombe and Tony Roche.


His performances made him the only Mukherjee variant till date to have won an Arjuna award. Much later, he pursued a career as a non-playing captain for our Davis Cup team.

11. Rani Mukherji, 1978 -
Joy Mukherjee, despite having won the Most Imaginative and Innovative Naming Father Award by naming his sons Boy and Toy, wouldn't make the cut as an actor. And I won't even mention his brother Deb, and neither Sharbani or Tanisha Mukherjee.

These were the easy parts. The tough bit was a choice between Kajol and Rani Mukherji. It was a photofinish in the end, and Rani won it. Mind you, it might have been Kajol on another day.

After a string of movies that were either terrible or flop or as in the case of most, both, came 2004. She acted in three movies: Yuva, in which she turned out to the be the stellar performer despite a nominal role; Hum Tum, a movie that helped her display a whole array of emotions; and Veer Zaara, a ridiculous movie where her performance was the only bright aspect.
She followed these in 2005 included overhyped but much-appreciated Black, the immensely popular Bunty aur Babli and the award-winning Paheli; six movies in a row turned her career on its head. Rani had arrived. She was winning hearts, she was putting up versatile performances, she was winning awards, and suddenly she was the biggest name in Bollywood.
And then, without any warning, her career plummeted again as she somehow went back to bad-or-flop-or-both mode for five years. After getting into a hibernation of sorts, she made a comeback with a startling performance in No One Killed Jessica in 2010 - and it finally seems that she's back on track.

***

Making the list wasn't easy. I must acknowledge Somnath's (if a Mukherjee doesn't help a fellow Mukherjee, who would?) contribution in making my selection a lot easier.

All of these are, indeed, great names. They are true stars in their respective fields. While creating the list, I have mentioned a few Mukherjees who didn't make the cut. However, I suppose, there exists one ridiculous Mukherjee that needs to be mentioned here.

You cannot classify him as a great. He's ridiculous, to be honest. But life somehow would have been so much less enjoyable, had he not been around. He, in my opinion, is perhaps the most enjoyable Mukherjee that ever was. Check for yourself.

23 comments:

  1. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUU
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR OVI,
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUUUUUU....

    GOD BLESS,THIS ATHIEST

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mind-blowing Mr. Abhishek Mukherjee......

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  3. so much for an epical last name.
    pardon me if I remember your last name and forget the first.
    if a Gandhi,you should have been prouder.
    life is just not fair.

    and why should you be given respect with a 'jee' as suffix?
    from now on you're a mooker.

    happy brday!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great job on the list, although so many other illustrious/epoch-making Mukherjees remain. A Chatterjee or a Banerjee can easily come with a list like this and that just makes the legacy of the caste-based hierarchy that much more stark. The shadows of these achievements tell a sad tale- one of coercion, of unfairness, of inequity- that persisted through generations.

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  5. Has someone ever been jealous of you because of your surname? and who inserted your name on wikipedia?
    who is your fav mukerjee?besides you ofcos?

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  6. Like, as Facebook would say. Am forwarding this link to a few "like" minded friends.

    ReplyDelete
  7. হপ্প্য্ বির্ত্ডয্ ম্র্ মুখএর্জী
    কীপ্ পওস্টিন্গ্ সুচ্ এন্টএর্টঐনিন্গ্ পিএcএস্.
    এন্জওয্ যওউর্ ডয্.

    প্.স্-তিস্ স্টিল্ল্ ডওএস্ন্'ট্ মএঅন্ তট্ ই হবএ লএঅর্ন্ট্ বএন্গলি.

    ReplyDelete
  8. why the variants branched out caste? three guys in my class spell this differently.
    seems like a case of estranged brothers.

    ReplyDelete
  9. happy belated birthday!
    did i miss the party?

    *<8O{)

    ReplyDelete
  10. aha besh besh besh...aha besh besh besh!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Meh. The Sens beat the Mukherjees hollow. Any day. :P

    ReplyDelete
  12. Blame DelhI-belI for ruining bose' reputation.Suddently Mr mukherjee finds himself amidst crisis and decided to validate his last name.

    ReplyDelete
  13. SUPERB.... So much effort and time u put in dis... Hats Off.... Proud to be a Mukherjee

    - Sougata :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. happy birthday!

    ReplyDelete
  15. you are a beautiful human being.
    never for once stop believing that.

    ReplyDelete
  16. thanks for this nice article...i wanted to know the names of sir biren's son n daughter...and the google search engine took me to this blog.

    ReplyDelete
  17. সব্যসাচী মূখার্জি ।

    ReplyDelete

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