Less than a kilometre away from the Jatin Das Park Metro station in Kolkata is a Road by the name Nafar Kundu Road. On this road is an almost forgotten and largely invisible memorial called the Nafar Kundu Memorial. Some oldtimers in the area still know about the act of courage that made Nafar Kundu, a common man, a legend. His name is relevant even today, because today’s India needs icons like Nafar Kundu more than ever.
It is not a memorial in the traditional sense of the word; as it neither has a grand visual presence nor a grand design. In most cases you would walk right past the memorial, because it is there hiding in plain sight. Nafar Kundu was an ordinary man who showed extraordinary courage. He chose to put the lives of others above his own safety. In 1907, while walking on the road, young Nafar heard a cry for help. It was coming from an open manhole on the other side of the road. Without worrying about himself, he descended into the manhole to help the two workers stuck inside it. He eventually lost his life trying to save the lives of the two Muslim labourers.
The details of the incident are inscribed on the Nafar Kundu Memorial in Chakraberia Road (South). It reads: To the memory of Nafar Chandra Kundu who lost his life in a gallant attempt to rescue two Mahomedan coolies from the manhole opposite. He was a member of Entally Ramakrishna Mission whose life was devoted to doing good to others irrespective of caste, creed or colour. This monument is erected by his admirers, European and Indian by public subscription. Born 30th March 1881. Died 12th May 1907.
Lessons from a century ago
113 years have passed since the incident occurred, but we should remember it as an incident that has lessons for us even today. Why? Because to create an India that we can be proud of, and to create a global superpower that wields its power responsibly, it is imperative to have the Nafar Kundu spirit. It tells us that a more equitable world can only be built if we put the lives, needs, and aspirations of others before our’s. India needs this lesson more than anyone, as a rising global power.
The memorial might have lost its charm over a period of time, but its message lives on. One that tells us to put ourselves in the service of others in whatever capacity that we may possess. Selfless service should be the cornerstone on which India should base its future growth and prosperity. It will be the key factor that separates us from global powers that grow beyond recognition and use that power to dominate and bully. It will be ‘the’ factor that sees us create a country based on economic and social equality.
An icon for today’s India
India’s journey into the future cannot result in even more wealth getting concentrated in the hands of even lesser numbers of people. The journey can’t result in the systematic marginalisation of Dalits and other underprivileged groups. It needs to be one that takes everyone along. Today is a time of great national distress, but it is also the time to promise ourselves that we need to bring in national change that will be referred to by our future generations.
It is the time to persevere and move forward. It is the time to harness our collective perseverance as a nation and work towards meaningful self reliance that doesn’t alienate anyone. In India, we do have hundreds of iconic leaders who have dedicated their lives for this country, but Nafar Kundu is the sort of icon who can inspire even the commonest ones among us.