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Today happens to be the 61st birthday of Meghnath Bhattacharya, better known as Meghnath Da or Meghnath Akhra. For those who don’t him personally as I used to four years ago, he is a noted documentary filmmaker based in Ranchi and teaches at the city’s prestigious St. Xavier’s College. In 2011, along with another friend Biju Toppo, he was awarded the 58th National Film Award for Best Non-Feature Environment/Conservation/Preservation Film, for their production Loha Garam Hai (Iron is Hot). But this is not what has prompted me to pen down this blog.

What is the reason then?

Four years back, while I was based in Ranchi, he called me up with an invitation for an Iftar get-together at his home. I was told that this event was basically for his working friends, along with a few others. I could not really understand what he meant by ‘Working Friends’ back then. To the best of my ability, I could only think of working friends as those with whom Meghnath Da worked. It was only after I had had Iftar at his place could I understand the meaning of working friends.

Meghnath Da

For Meghnath Da, his working friends essentially include people without whom his daily life would come to a standstill. And that ranges from the Vegetable Seller, the Mason, the Carpenter, the Motor Mechanic, the Plumber and the Domestic help. Hence, most of the invitees for the Iftar, consisted of them. “I am a practicing Communist by belief and ideology”, he professed. “But, we communists have also failed to give real importance to the working class in our everyday lives”, he confessed while showing me some pictures of his recent trip to Germany. “These statues in Germany at public places clearly show how much respect they have for their working class,” he said, pointing to a picture of the statue of a Ticket Collector outside a railway station in Germany. “He was believed to be very honest and hardworking”.

“Unfortunately, we Indians haven’t done anything similar to this and the Communists are no exceptions. “We have made Marx, Engels and Jyoti Basu our God and installed their statues wherever we could, despite our claims of being the liberator of the working classes”.

I must confess that it was the best Iftar get-together I had ever been a part of. The arrangement was such that for a moment I felt as though I was having Iftar at my own house. He had arranged for delicious stuff (all prepared at home by his life partner, Kanta and other family members), keeping in mind the needs of a Rozedar (a person who observes fast). Moreover, he had made special arrangements for Maghrib namaz, despite being an atheist himself.

Iftar Get-Together at Meghnath Da's home

But Meghnath Da does not stop here. He observes Roza (fasting) whenever he has to be a part of an Iftar. So that day too he was fasting. In fact, a few days back before the get-together at his place, when he came for an Iftar at my place, he had observed Roza. “For me, it seems immoral to be a part of an Iftar without fasting,” he asserts. This was not the first time he had organized an Iftar at his home. He has been doing it ever since he settled in Ranchi with some gap in between. This morning, when I spoke to him, he was quite excited about the fact that Ramzaan would begin tomorrow and he would be organizing another Iftar for his working friends.

Meghnath da was introduced to the practice of fasting during Ramzan, in the last quarter of the seventies, during his days at Jamia Millia Islamia Campus, where he was editing some of his films. “My friends used to invite me for Iftar and it was a completely new experience for me”, he recalls. “But after a few days, I resolved that I would not go for an Iftar unless I observed Roza as well”.  When asked if it was a difficult decision, he replied, “Yes, it was. But I also did not want to miss the Iftar get-togethers!”  And, what began as a practice some thirty years back is still observed by him with the same zeal and spirit.

Today, after knowing these things about him, if anyone asks me about Meghnath Da, I would love to introduce him as ‘a Rozedar Communist’.

Happy Bithday Meghnath Da!