While holding the pen in my hand to write on the Chittagong Uprising, my mind invariably goes back to a fraction of a second when I saw the leader in flesh and blood. I can't help narrating it. There was a Provincial Conference at my native place Barisal in 1930. A few top revolutionaries were in a conclave in the corner of a room, separated by a cloth curtain. I was the 'gate-keeper' and asked the name of any new arrival and whispered inside.
There appeared a simple looking, frail-bodied person with a broad forehead. I asked his name. 'Surya Sen' was the simple word uttered. I communicated it inside. All rushed out to receive the architect of the Uprising in East India. My hats are off to him in all reverence.
Now to the actual raid. Surya Sen and his 64 comrades got busy collecting arms. As a consequence of untiring efforts of six months they could collect only 14 rifles. Training in these arms was imparted to young men, including six leaders. Their inspiring catch-words were: "organisation audacity and death". They also took all precaution against any traitor getting into the group.
10 p.m. of April 18, 1930, was the zero hour. The date coincided with the Easter Rebellion of the Irish struggle for freedom, also from the British rule.
The hour to strike actually came. The A.F.I. Armoury was attacked by a Group under the leadership of Nirmal Sen and Loknath Baul, the Police Armoury by Ganesh Gosh and Anant Singh's group, the European Club under Naresh Ray's leadership, the Telephone and Telegraph Offices were destroyed five minutes earlier by a band of young men under Ambika Chakraborty; eight young men in two batches of four each were sent a day earlier to places near Dhoom and Langal Ghat stations to damage the railway track so that Chittagong would be cut off from the rest of the country and no reinforcement could easily reach. The wireless system in the ship at the Port were put out of order. After the execution of the Plan, all the participants assembled at the Police Lines and established the Headquarters of the Victorious Army of Revolution. Surrounded as it was on all sides by hills, the area was very suitable for sustained defensive action. Therefore, they would come down to the town, capture the Imperial Bank, the few shops that stocked arms and ammunition break open the jail and release the prisoners.
They also appealed to the youngsters already trained in physical culture and disciplined by drill, to enroll themselves to the Hindustan Republican Army.
When the clock struck 9-55 p.m. the Telephone Office was attacked, the operator threatened at the point of pistol, the switch-beard hammered to pieces and the whole building was gutted, all in less than three minutes, 'non-violently' done, not a life was lost on either side. The Telegraph Office was similarly immobilized.
Next came the two most important targets, the two Armouries. Ganesh Gosh and Anant Singh led the attack on the Police Lines Armoury guarded by a single sentry, silently pacing up and down on patrol duty. The army uniform of the revolutionaries created a confusion in his mind and before he could realize the seriousness of the situation two bullets found their target and he fell to rise no more. The capture of the Guard Room took only a few seconds. It's 200 Sepoys ran helter-skelter for fear of life. The suddenness of the attack made the task easier. Within minutes the Armoury came under the control of the revolutionaries who collected arms and ammunition to their hearts content. Under order of the President of the Revolutionary Government, Surya Sen, clad in white Khadi, the Union Jack was burnt and the flag of Indian Independence was unfurled to the refrain of the bugle and amidst thundering cries of Bande Mataram and Inquilab Zindabad which rent the sky.
With almost a walk-over in the first round, with no casualties on their side, there was a natural feeling of relaxation among the Revolutionaries. They were shocked out of wit by the volley of Lewis Gun firing that came from the direction of Waterworks.
Though the revolutionaries knew that there was a small armoury at Double Mooring Jetty no precaution was taken to capture or neutralize it. The District Administration drew upon the source. Once attacked, the revolutionaries also started their counter-firing from their musketry, sixty four of them at a time. A few minutes of firing were sufficient to silence the enemy.
On the fourth day, 22nd April 1930, a train load of armed men arrived and surrounded Jalalabad Hill where the revolutionaries had taken shelter. There ensued one of the most unequal battles but it was historic in its heroism. The young boys of the Army of Revolution fought desperately with only Police Musketry in their hands while the well-trained battalion of the British Army was equipped with superior weapons. Loknath Baul led the action. His younger brother, the intrepid, indomitable and impetuous, Hari Gopal (Tegra), was the first victim of British bullet. A dauntless dozen laid down their lives and became immortal.
From here onwards it is all a story of getting the group split up from small to smaller units. At one time some of them sought refuge at Chandar Nagar also. As a French territory it was a safe place. But for a variety of reasons they had to leave that place and ultimately we came to the tragic story when Surya Sen himself was caught. He was carrying a reward of Rs. 10,000/- on his head. The irony is that (ultimately) when he had planned to leave the place of his hide-out of the 16th February 1933, suddenly it was surrounded by the police. The Supreme Commander of the Chittagong Saga was under chains. Along with the leader a few friends were also arrested but Kalpana Datta had escaped. She was caught three months later. In the trial that followed Surya Sen and Tarakeshwar Dastidar were awarded capital punishment. Kalpana got a lifer.
The timing of his execution and also the disposal of the dead body have been very different from the normal. Actually, a person is hanged early in the morning. Masterda was hanged at mid-night. The body is usually disposed of locally but his body was not buried in the soil of Chittagong but was carried in a destroyer to mid-sea to become food for the crocodiles. Was it not a case of extreme sadism of our 'civilised' rulers?
I can also claim to have seen Preetilata Waddedar, the first woman martyr of India, four times. She used to come to the Control Jail of Calcutta to meet a close comrade, under the shadow of gallows. I also used to go to the same place at the same time to meet Ramesh Chatterjee, my class friend, also awaiting kissing the hang-man's rope. A few months later, when Preeti became a martyr and her photo appeared in the Statesman, I was at Behrampur Detention Camp and shouted that I had seen the girl four times. What an experience. I saw the architect of the Chittagong Drama for a fraction of a second and also Preetilata, his heroic disciple.
'They flash upon my inward eye which is the bliss of solitude.'