Tribute to my Nanaji (Shri Girija Nandan Sinha)

After a fulfilling life of 99 years and 6 months, my Nanaji passed away on 23rd May 2021 in his house in Patna. He has left behind a large and loving family, who were eagerly looking forward to his centenary. Even in the midst of this Covid pandemic, he was safe from the dreaded virus, despite two persons in the household having contracted the virus. In the end he breathed his last early in the morning while resting, without any symptoms of any illness.

My Nanaji had a humble beginning. He was born on 8th November 1921 in a typical farmer family in a small village bordering Patna in Bihar. His schooling was in the village school and he was the first person to come out of the village in order to study further. In fact a distant relative gave him some money, 40 rupees to be exact, to go to Patna for pursuing study in college. Only after great effort and persuasion did his guardians let him leave the peaceful settled life of the village for the uncertainties of the city life. This was a time period in Indian society where even self sufficient farmer community in villages never had cash for other needs as there were minimal non agricultural activities in the economy.

During the course of his graduation he would give tuitions to earn money to be able to continue his graduation. The Freedom Movement was going strong during his graduation days. He also became a part of these movements. In the final year of graduation, in the year 1942, during the Quit India movement, while trying to enter the Patna Secretariat he came across the mounted Police Force which was trying to stop the agitators from moving ahead. This was the famous event during August 1942, which has been commemorated by establishing the Shaheed Smarak in Patna, representing the life sized statues of seven young men who sacrificed their lives on that day trying to hoist the Indian flag on the secretariat building. While most of the others ran helter-skelter, he refused to budge and continued to move ahead resulting in his arrest. (It was much later in his life that he will sit in the same secretariat as a senior officer.)

He was taken to the camp jail where he was asked to give in writing that he will not participate in such movement in future. Many others did so and they were released. Nanaji refused to give any such commitments and so he was sent for prosecution and trial. During the prosecution the presiding Judge asked him if he knew somebody in the court and Nanaji recognised a distant relative. The judge asked that person to persuade Nanaji to give the undertaking so that he could be released. Once again Nanaji refused to do so and therefore was sent to the main Patna jail. He was locked in the jail together with persons who went on to become high political functionaries in Independent India like Shri Babu, who became the first CM of Bihar, Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, prominent leader and minister for a long time, Dev Saran Singh, who later on became the Speaker of the assembly, and many others.

While in jail, he spent his time reading newspapers and books. He stayed in jail for more than 8 months. He spent a lot of his time immersed in books and realised that there was so much more to learn. Food was palatable and the staple was Roti with Channa.
After coming out of the jail, he went to his college to complete his graduation, but was initially refused admission. He was asked to see the principal Mr Moin Ul Haq, a prominent academician of his time. Finally he was given admission and so he completed his graduation successfully. (When he built his house in Rajendra nagar area of Patna in 1970s, it was just a stone throws away from Moin Ul Haq Cricket Stadium in Rajendra Nagar).

Normally he could have got a job immediately after his graduation, but since it was British Rule and he had been in jail, it was not possible for him to get a job for quite some time. He continued to do odd jobs including tuitions in order to stay in Patna and took admission in the law college. He completed his Law degree in due course.
Around Independence, he could get a government job probably as rent commutation officer. Post-Independence in 1947, he wanted to re examine his options and so he went for advice to the freedom fighters with whom he had spent months in Jail, some of whom had become advocates. He wanted to know whether it will be better to become a lawyer or perhaps even politics.
Because of their advice he continued with the rigmarole of the government service rising to become part of senior administrative ranks of Bihar government. Had he entered politics, it would have been a very different career for him probably resulting in a much more public persona. There was a tinge of wistfulness in his mind even after the passage of so much time.

Despite being in a government service and not in any high public office, he inculcated a great work ethic in his family. All his six children were present today to pay homage to him (many on ZOOM) during the abbreviated last rites conducted today. In my generation there are 14 grandchildren and we participated from places spread throughout India (Gurgaon, Noida, Lucknow, Chennai, Silwasa, Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi) and abroad (NewYork state in US). If the cohesiveness and happiness of the extended family is taken as a criteria, his was a life lived to its fullest potential.

As an Administrative Officer Nanaji was posted in various parts of Bihar (it included present day Jharkhand) such as Saharasa, Deoghar, Rajmahal, Munger etc. In 1955 he was posted in Rajmahal (a subdivision those days) where he had the major humanitarian task of rehabilitating Hindu refugees, who had crossed the East Pakistan Border in order to save their lives. It was a humongous task of developing the area and making arrangements for the settlement of those who had fled to save their lives.
Nanaji’s life and adventures were complimented by the company of his wife, the most aware, hardworking and large hearted person I have ever known. She was always his pillar of support. They had six children. Nanaji spent a major portion of his service tenure in Patna, including many years in the vigilance department taking care of anti-corruption bureau. Their six children along with children of their siblings were all welcome to live in the household for education. Their home was always bustling with activities. No child ever felt any discrimination.
Nanaji enjoyed all types of games and taught chess and badminton to the children. He would try and fulfil every demand made to him. Government salary was limited and yet he managed the big household within the limited means. When Nanaji was posted in Saharasa my mother was a little girl. She was inquisitive and adventurous and enjoyed the outdoors and creating things with her hands. She tried to knit with the help of wooden splints taken out of a broom. Nanaji got two knitting needles for her and some wool. My mother still has those needles. She enjoyed stitching clothes and embroidery with her hands. There was no sewing machine. She even stitched a shirt for her father and he wore it proudly to the office. (Imagine the happiness experienced by her). He wanted his children to study and therefore my mother was occasionally reminded that studies were more important. The children got the best of education possible wherever he was posted.
He was fond of bird hunting and this was an event that even I got to witness in my childhood. I must have been twelve when he first let me fire from an airgun. He played with all his grandchildren. I too learnt chess from him. The carom games were real fun. He took us to the movies if we made a request. Once he took us to watch the movie ‘Alien’ at Mona theatre, a scary sci-fi movie. We siblings lost our sleep after that. My mother was concerned and thereafter Nanaji took us to Elphinston theatre to watch ‘Krishna bhakt Sudama’. 😁
It was during movies that I realised that his jovial hearty exterior hid his deeply emotional nature. I remember crying along with him during emotional scenes.

After retirement he continued to follow a healthy life by doing his regular morning puja, yoga and walks. The evenings at his place were always noisy with his friends enjoying cards, chess etc. My Nani had the daily task of ensuring that all his friends got tea. My Nani passed away in April 2001, and one by one his friends too passed away. He was the only person left of his generation during the last few years. But he would find a way to stay alert and happy. Credit goes to my Bade Mamaji, Mamiji and their daughter Leena for having so lovingly taken care of Nanaji during his old age.
His generous approach to the life and outgoing nature had a positive impact not only on his extended family but on all those who came into contact with him. Indeed he was a Noble Soul.

He received a certificate of appreciation from GoI for his work during State reorganization wherein Rajmahal stayed in Bihar and Farrakka went to Bengal during his posting in Rajmahal.
He also received appreciation while he was in the anti-corruption department. In his confidential report it was written ‘He is such a person in anti-corruption department who could not be influenced by any person, by any means and any stage of time.’ – A reflection of his honesty and integrity .