My Brahmo Samaj Roots - by Garbo Garnham, great grand daughter of Keshub Chandra Sen
I have been asked to write a little of my Brahmo Somaj roots and the experiences of being born and reared in the U.K.

Firstly, on behalf of ‘those roots’ I will explain I am blessed to be the Great Granddaughter of Keshub Chunder Sen. My mother was Sudhira Mander (nee “Baby Cooch-Behar”) youngest child of Sunity Devi of Cooch-behar. ‘Baby’ married an Englishman, Alan Mander, when she was the tender age of 18. Baby was a devout Brahmo and Alan changed his religion to soothe Sunity’s sorrow as yet another of her beloved daughters insisted on marrying an Englishman!

Alan was in fact, an atheist but we children never heard him decry the Brahmo Somaj faith and he certainly never made any attempt to turn us away from prayer.

The most beautiful and precious thing about being Brahmo Somaj is the freedom to enter any temple or church, to be part of the congregation of any religion, to respect and appreciate the way others worship and to do this without the fear and guilt so marked within some faiths. This for me is the essence and joy of being Keshub’s great granddaughter.

What a wonderful legacy he passed on, may it long continue.

I believe one of the most socially courageous stands Keshub took, was his battle against the practice of Suttee. What a tragedy it would have been had Sunity Devi, my sainted grandmother, been forced to throw herself into the flames of her husband’s funeral pyre when she was only about 48 years old. Instead, she lived for many, many years carrying out charitable duties both in Cooch-Behar and England…….and how lucky were her grandchildren whom she adored and spoiled and they loved her too. (Sadly, for me, Sunity died before my birth).

I learned in my youth, from older relatives, how deeply Keshub’s views were resented by the more traditional Hindus and Government officials of his day, resulting in quite serious attempts on his life and damage to his property. It seems however, he was not to be sidetracked and he held steadfastly to his mission to fight for the widows and he brought that fight right to the door of British.

I have also learned Keshub was strongly censured for allowing his eldest daughter of only 13 years, Sunity Devi, to marry my grandfather the young Maharaja of Cooch-Behar. In fact, yes they were married but had to live apart until Sunity was 15 and Nipendra 17. Not really so shocking, given that time in the mid 19th century.

It is true that I struggle to be worthy of the blood which flows in my veins. I was born in England, attended school in England, married an Englishman and had 3 daughters born here in London. They too are all married to Englishmen. ……no, I lie! My youngest daughter is married to a Scotsman!

However, as a family, we are all very aware of the teachings of the New Dispensation and cling strongly and proudly to our Indian origins.

My apologies for not writing more of what it means to be Brahmo-Somaj in the U.K. Keshub Chunder Sen is a hard act to follow and I have already said it is difficult to be a worthy descendant. But this does not mean I cannot follow the faith and teachings wherever I live. Being the product of two such strong cultures gives one extra dimensions of understanding.

Please be indulgent while I write a little of my background.

I find it awesome that my parents flew bravely in the face of convention when they were so young and social attitudes in both India and Great Britain were very narrow. My mother was 18 and Alan was 23, they were from completely different lifestyles… opulent, with palaces, marble, hundreds of servants, the other…..just an English country estate with only the required amount of staff and certainly ‘no elephants!’ Both of them the youngest in their respective families, spoiled and most probably indulged, both having lost their fathers when they were still children.

They were passionately in love and bullied and begged and coaxed the greybeards until they got permission to marry. And here I am to tell the tale!

They were married in Calcutta in February 1914….Alan was sent to Flanders the following September, barely 8 months after the wedding. I think it was my mother’s trust in God and her faith which sustained her throughout that dreadful war. She was so young, albeit a London Socialite, she trained as a nurse and was a V.A.D. (Voluntary Auxiliary Driver) at the Westminster Hospital, London. Their job was to meet the trains bringing the wounded home.

Thankfully, Alan escaped physical injury but was invalided out of the Army with severe shell shock but far too late to be at Baby’s side for the birth of their first son who was still-born.

My mother was a feisty lady and that fire and strength saw her through WW2 with rationing and bombing as beset everyone for 6 years.

Life for us 3 children was challenging and stimulating with Indian celebrations and Ultra English get togethers, Brahmo prayer meetings and Sunday School. Alan’s family probably felt we were all quite unhinged but they were mostly very kind. Of course, our Indian relatives were affectionate and cuddly and we loved them.

So, there we are, being a Brahmo gives one courage, strength and humility and I hope, for me now that I am old and crabby, I have learned to realise I am blessed indeed to be Keshubs great granddaughter.

My daughters join me in wishing all the readers joy and peace.
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