By Prof. Ravi M. Bakaya
I have known Dr. Ram Mohan Dattatreya for a long time.
We were childhood friends in Model Town, Lahore, where his father Pt. Pearay Mohan Dattatreya was assistant editor of the nationalist daily THE TRIBUNE.
Mohan, or Mohan Bhai, as he is popularly known among close family members and friends, comes from an illustrious family. His grandfather Allama Pt. Brij Mohan Dattatreya ‘Kaifi’ was a distinguished scholar of Urdu and Persian and knew many other languages.
He studied English at the St. Stephen’s College in Delhi.
He also knew Arabic, Sanskrit and Hindi and, besides being a noted scholar, was one of the four great poet ustads of Delhi of his time-Saeel, Bekhud, Sahir and Kaifi. He was often invited by universities all over India as a guest lecturer. He visited Europe in 1915-16 and met leading writers and scholars there. He also served as Assistant Foreign Secretary of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. He was a leading light of the Anjuman-e-Taraqqie- Urdu.
Ram Mohan’s father, Pt. Pearay Mohan Dattatreya, was born in 1895. He graduated from Government College, Lahore in 1915, winning first prizes in economics and philosophy. He also collaborated with a prominent Urdu journalist of those days , L. Bishan Sahai Azad in writing a large volume in Urdu called ‘A History of the Great War’. In 1917 he got his law degree and started practising in Lahore and was soon called to the High Court Bar. A nationalist and a patriot to the core, he closely followed events that led to and followed the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and wrote a book entitled AN IMAGINARY REBELLION AND HOW IT WAS SUPPRESSED - AN ACCOUNT OF THE PUNJAB DISORDERS AND THE WORKING OF MARTIAL LAW. This large volume, with an Introduction by Lala Lajpat Rai, was published in 1920. The book was promptly banned by then British Government of India and all copies were confiscated.
Soon after the publication of his celebrated book he joined THE TRIBUNE in November 1920, and by sheer dint of ability rose to become second in command of its distinguished editor, Mr. Kali Nath Roy.
Pt. Pearay Mohan could never brook any insult to people of his profession. In those days, when public interest litigation (PIL) was unknown, he was responsible for bringing several test cases against the Railway authorities to establish the illegal character of the once too common practice of reserving special accommodation for Anglo-Indians on railways, and compelling them to give up this practice. He also successfully fought a case against the Secretary of State for India, challenging his own wrongful detention by the Senior Superintendent of Police of Lahore, when he went as THE TRIBUNE’S representative to report on the arrival of the Simon Commission.
My father Pt. Autar Lal Bakaya was a friend of Pt. Pearay Mohan and as he was keen to learn journalism, worked with him in THE TRIBUNE for some time in an honorary capacity.
My father later served as the honorary editor of the organ of the Kashmiri Pandits’ Association, BAHAR-E-KASHMIR, which was published in those days from Lahore. Pt. Pearay Mohan died early at the age of 41. At the time of his premature death he was Senior Vice-President of the Punjab Journalists’ Association and was connected with the Lahore Congress Committee and was contemplating to seek election to the Provincial Assembly on the Congress ticket.
In Model Town, a very picturesque suburb of Lahore, where we then lived, Mohan and I were very close friends from our school days and often cycled to each other’s house to play in the evenings. Once, while playing gully-dandanear our house, Mohan hit the gully and it got lost in a heap of garbage. While looking for it I chanced to cut the main artery of my right foot on a piece of broken glass and my foot began to bleed profusely.
Without losing his nerve, Mohan put me on the back of his bicycle and took me to the nearest doctor, who stitched up my foot and stopped the bleeding. Thus, what could have led to a major tragedy, was avoided due to his presence of mind and his sound knowledge of science.
Sometime after his father’s death Mohan shifted to Lyallpur (now Faislabad in Pakistan) where his uncle Prof. S.M. Dattatreya was teaching in a college.
Our own family shifted to Bombay in 1944 after my father died in September 1943 in London, where he was then working in the BBC Hindustani Section with Balraj Sahni and others.
Mohan had to support his mother and his younger brother who was still studying. After graduation in science, he also came to Bombay and joined the ground engineers’ course of Air India, which was a private company owned by the Tatas in those days. During the Partition he flew several sorties to the Indo-Pak frontier at Amritsar to search for his uncle, whose whereabouts were not known. In Bombay, as a trainee, Mohan shared accommodation with two or three other bachelor friends in Dadar. Once, my mother and others in the family went to see Kaifi Saheb and Mohan when we learnt that Kaifi Saheb was with him, heart-broken because his only surviving son had disappeared during the Partition turmoil and could not be found. Fortunately, the same day, while we were visiting them, a telegram arrived saying that Mohan’s uncle, a teacher of philosophy, had been found and was in Dehra Dun, where he had started teaching in a college.
Kaifi Saheb’s joy knew no bounds as he had almost given up all hope, and he said it was we who had brought him the good luck that day.
Mohan soon qualified as a ground engineer and got employed with Air India. He was doing very well at his job and when I was to go to Russia in 1953 for treatment of tuberculosis, from which I had suffered for many years, Mohan stood financial guarantee for me. I returned next year, completely cured and having learnt some Russian, which gave me my future profession. Russian was not taught anywhere in India then except in Delhi University which had opened part-time certificate and diploma courses during the Second World War, when Russia became an ally of Britain and the US in the war against Hitler. It was almost thought to be a ‘subversive language’ and those few Indians who had picked up some knowledge of it were suspected of being disloyal to Britain. I taught Russian in an honorary capacity under the Indo-Soviet Cultural Society for five years and English to staff members of the Soviet Trade Representation and ‘Sovexportfilm’ to earn a living.
When in 1960 IIT Bombay advertised the post of a lecturer in Russian, I was selected, and taught there for seven and a half years before moving to the Institute of Russian Studies in Delhi (which later, as the Centre of Russian Studies, School of Foreign Languages, became part of the Jawaharlal University).
On my return from Russia in 1954, I learnt that Mohan had got engaged to a non-Kashmiri girl. But he gave us all a great surprise. His family responsibilities were now over, his younger brother Hari had completed his education and now joined the Army. Mohan told his friends and family members that he had always wanted to be a doctor but could not study medicine because of his family responsibilities.
So he now wanted to leave Air India and join a medical college.
Most people thought it was a crazy idea; his fiancée broke off the engagement. No one could understand why he should give up a very good and promising job when he was past thirty, and spend another five or six years studying medicine. Moreover, it was impossible to get admission in a medical college in India due to the prevailing domicile and age regulations.
But Mohan had made up his mind. He started probing his airline contacts and finally was able to get admission to a medical college in Holland.
Mohan not only completed his medical course and qualified as a surgeon but also did so well that he began to be invited to India as a guest lecturer. He married a Dutch fellow student, Riet Statema, a paediatrician . They had three sons-Hari, Robi and Anil. Unfortunately, last year they lost their youngest son Anil, who died of cancer at the young age of 37. Hari and Robi are both married and have two daughters each. Mohan and Riet are now retired. For many years they have been coming to India and they never miss coming to meet us when they visit Delhi.
Their last visit to us was in February this year, when they were crushed with the sorrow of having lost their beloved young son.
Although he has now lived in Holland for several decades, Mohan never lost his love for and interest in the land of his birth. Several years ago he told me about a book on Jallianwala Bagh written by his father. An old tattered copy of the book was later found in the house of his younger brother Lt. Col. Hari Mohan Dattatreya, with nearly 200 pages missing. Mohan wanted to get at least a few copies made of the complete book for close family members. The missing matter was retrieved after long and sustained efforts of several people from some microfilms ordered at considerable cost from the National Library in Calcutta and a copy of the book in possession of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Library in Delhi, whose scholarly acting Director, the late Dr. Hari Dev Sharma, said that the book was of great historical value as an excellent contemporary eyewitness account and efforts must be made to publish it rather than trying to get only a few photocopies of the original. The Dattatreyas in Holland had a family conference and agreed to bear the cost of publication.
Eminent historian Prof. Bipan Chandra, agreed to write an Introduction to the new edition, which was being published almost eighty years after the banned edition published in Lahore in 1920.
The original edition had many valuable photographs, which had unfortunately to be dropped because of the faded quality of most of them. In view of the small type used in the original edition, which put a strain on the eyes of the reader, it was decided to recompose the entire book in bolder easy to read types. There was nothing about the author in the original edition.
Mr. B.K. Raina, a close relative of Dr.Ram Mohan Dattatreya, contacted Mr. Hari Jaisingh, then editor of THE TRIBUNE, now published from Chandigarh, who very kindly agreed to find the detailed obituary article published by the paper in Lahore on 25th December 1936, buried in old microfilms, and sent us a photocopy. True to his character, Pt. Pearay Mohan said almost nothing about himself.
Apart from the obituary article, we got other details about his life and work from his son, Dr. Ram Mohan Dattatreya. We also got a photograph of Pt. Pearay Mohan from the family album of his son and it was published for the first time in his book. The new edition was published in two volumes running into 1065 pages. The book was released at the India International Centre by former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral in the presence of a packed hall including Dr. Ram Mohan Dattatreya, his wife Riet and son and daughter-in-law Robi and Malisanda and many other members and friends of the family and many distinguished citizens. Prof. Bipan Chandra introduced the new edition of the book (The Punjab “Rebellion” of 1919 and How It Was Suppressed) in a very illuminating lecture. As editor of the new edition, it fell to my honour to introduce Dr. Ram Mohan Dattatreya, his family members and the Chief guest Shri Inder Kumar Gujral, whom I had known since the days of the students’ movement in Lahore.
The new edition of Pt. Pearay Mohan Dattatreya’s celebrated book received good reviews in the press and is a precious account, now made available in many libraries to research workers and other readers.
Dr. Ram Mohan Dattatreya and his wife Dr. Riet Statema- Dattatreya are now leading a retired life. Besides coming to India almost every year, they have travelled to many countries of the world. Some years ago they specially travelled to Amritsar, to meet my sister Vimla and her husband Satya Pal Dang, well known communist leaders and social and political workers.
Satya Pal was in Lyallpur a student of Mohan’s uncle Prof. S.M . Dattatreya. Mohan and Riet saw the Jallianwala Memorial which must have rekindled memories of times long gone by and the events described so graphically by Mohan’s father.
They also saw the Golden Temple and travelled to the Wagah border, so close to Lahore, where we all once lived and studied and with which city so many of our fond memories are linked. I remember once Mohan had asked if I could request someone visiting Lahore to bring from there a photograph of the beautiful house in Model Town that his father had built. I asked a journalist friend who travels to Pakistan often. On return he told me that Model Town is now in the very centre of Lahore and there are multi-storeyed buildings there. The house where Mohan grew up perhaps no longer exists.
Holland provides one of the best social services in the world and retired people are well looked after. But there is one aspect of Dutch life which causes some astonishment in many other countries. No one can work after the age of sixty-five. Doctors cannot even have private practice after they cross this age.
The only people who perhaps can pursue their professions are those in independent creative professions-artists, writers and so on.
Like me, Ram Mohan Dattatreya is also an octogenarian now. Let us hope Ram Mohan and Riet will have a peaceful life, which they richly deserve, and will be able to come to India many times in the future.
About the author:
Dr. Ravi Mohan Bakaya is one of the pioneers of Russian language teaching in India. He worked actively in the Friends of the Soviet Union (FSU) organisation and its successor the Indo-Soviet Cultural Society (ISCUS), where he was closely connected with the FSU monthly THE INDO-SOVIET JOURNAL and the ISCUS quarterly AMITY as their executive editor. He started teaching Russian in an honorary capacity in ISCUS in 1954 and joined the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 1960. He taught at the IIT Bombay for over seven years and brought out the first Russian textbook published in India written by him and a Russian colleague V.I. Balin, who headed the Hindi Department in Leningrad and taught Russian at the IIT in 1961-1964.
Ravi Bakaya joined the Institute of Russian Studies (now Centre of Russian Studies, JNU) as Reader in 1967. He did his Ph.D. in Philology from Moscow University in 1973.
In 1977-78 he collaborated with four authors, two of them Soviet, to write another textbook for Russian for philologists under a UGC programme. The book was published in Moscow. Dr. Bakaya retired as Professor from the JNU in 1985. He has many academic papers and translations to his credit.
Since his retirement Prof. Bakaya has been writing on subjects connected with the former Soviet Union, the Communist movement in India and has also edited several books. He is past 83 now. Presently he is editing the reminiscences of his sister Vimla Dang and the poems and songs of his mother Kamla Bakaya (in Hindi).
Source: Kashmir Sentinel
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