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The Financial Express

Nadia to Rio De Janeiro: The tale of an adventurous Bengali man

| Updated: August 28, 2022 22:52:58


Nadia to Rio De Janeiro: The tale of an adventurous Bengali man

If you have read 'Chhinnomostar Abhishaap' by Satyajit Ray, you have already come across the name Suresh Biswas, whose biography inspired one of the novel's characters to leave his home and join the circus as a trainer.

That is the only mention of that man anywhere in Bangla literature, and the name would have faded into oblivion.

Now, if you are told that in the nineteenth century, a Bengali man travelled the world, gained fame across continental Europe as a skilled animal trainer, and finally joined the Brazilian Army to please his wife, and later saved the city of Rio de Janeiro from the rebel forces, you would have scoffed at the absurdity of it. After all, Bengali people are known to be lazy, mundane, and domiciliary. Yet, despite the norm, one Bengali man dared to embrace the ancient desire for adventure and exploring the unknown, and roamed through the seven seas and three continents for thirty years. His name is Colonel Suresh Biswas.

Suresh Biswas was born to a small government officer at Nathpur village in Nadia in 1861. Later, his family migrated to Calcutta, where he spent his childhood.

He left home at fourteen, converted to Christianity and started living in his college hostel. Soon, he left his studies, took the job of a tourist guide at the Spence's Hotel, and began visiting the port. The unquenchable desire for adventure compelled him to leave his career and get on a ship bound for Rangoon. After staying a few years in Rangoon and Madras, he returned to Calcutta.

He arrived in London as a steward of a British ship and started living in the East End ghetto. He earned his living by working as a coolie, and a street hawker.

In the meantime, he taught himself language, mathematics, horology, chemistry, and botany. His bohemian life took him to Kent, where he joined a local circus as an animal trainer. His natural ability to tame wild animals earned him a permanent spot in the circus, and his reputation spread. The English newspapers wrote that the wild animals followed his commands like small children.

Here, he again fell in love with a German member of the circus, but their romance was cut short due to her mother's illness and subsequent return to Germany. Suresh followed her to Hamburg, Germany, where he took the animal trainer job under the famous Gazenburk Stable.

Here his fame took off, as he tamed wild tigers and elephants, which were later sold at very high prices. His unmatched skill at animal training allowed him to earn a fortune. However, this was not to last long. His German lover had a German suitor, who grew jealous of the Bengali man, and hired assassins to kill his competitor.

Suresh escaped death twice, and to save his life, he left Germany in 1885 and went to Mexico. From there, he migrated to Brazil, becoming the first Bengali in Brazil. Here, finally, his luck favoured.

He was not only a great animal trainer but also a great orator and academic who was fluent in seven languages and several disciplines. People used to flock to his speeches. The charismatic man stole the heart of the beautiful daughter of a local physician, Desdimona. The couple married and started living in Rio de Janeiro.

One day, Desdimona told her husband that he would look dashing in a soldier's uniform. That was all it took to convince the man hungry for adventure to join the Brazilian Army as a corporal. He was later promoted to sergeant.

By that time, the Brazilian Navy rebelled and started a civil war in the southern region, known as the Federalist Revolution. Twenty ships besieged Rio de Janeiro in 1893, and there were only fifty men to defend the city.

Suresh Biswas was promoted to lieutenant and given the duty to protect the city's outskirts with fifty men. And he saved the city, which was dubbed nothing short of a miracle.

He was rewarded with the rank of captain, which was the last stop of his military career. The Catholic Brazilian White officers were reluctant to raise a Hindu Brown Indian further. However, the people of Rio de Janeiro affectionately dubbed him 'Colonel Suresh Biswas' and the name stuck.

He spent his last days with his wife in Rio and breathed his last in 1905. His epitaph bore the title 'Defendor of Rio de Janeiro,' which the white men destroyed in 1911 out of contempt.

Since then, he has been lost to oblivion. The great hero is mostly forgotten now, and only a few mentions of his name are found in the literature.

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