Arjun Singh: an obituary

Arjun Singh, a freedom fighter, passed away on 5th November 2015 at his residence at Sri Krishnapuri Patna. He would have completed 91 just the next month, on 24 December. In a span of nine decades he witnessed, lived and contributed, in a substantial measure, to some of the historic moments of progress in Bihar and India.

As a freedom figher he spent six months in jail during the Quit India Movement in 1942. As an engineer he was actively engaged in the design and construction of a large number of the modern day monuments like bridges, roads and buildings that came up in post independent Bihar. Mahatma Gandhi Setu across Ganga at Patna is one of them.

Photo credit: Deepak Kumar
Arjun Singh was born in a nondescript village named Sherpur, situated about 100 km east of Patna on the bank of Ganga. As a student he was promising and bright. Inspite of the hardships at home he got through the matriculation examination with flying colours in 1942 to become the first matriculate in his village. The only source of income for the people in his village at that time was either farming or cattle raising. Arjun Singh, however, was nursing an ambition to create an alternative source of income for his family through his higher studies in Patna.

1942 was an important year in his life. He got admission to Patna Science College, the best in Bihar and one of the best in India then. But the course of his life took a new turn when Arjun Singh took the plunge in the Quit India Movement . He became a part of the historic attempt made by a group of students in Patna to unfurl the national flag at the state secretariat in which seven students died facing the volley of bullets in police firing. A monument in the memory of these seven martyrs named as Shaheed Smarak still stands before Bihar Assembly as a mute and grim reminder of the event. Fortunately at the time of firing Arjun Singh had to leave the spot for shifting an injured friend to a nearby tree. The friend had been injured in a cavalry march just before the firing.

The news about the firing and the death of the students had spread like wild fire all over the state. In the village when his family members came to know that Arjun too had been in the forefront at the time of police firing, they became very anxious. Describing those moments his younger cousin, Satyabhama Devi, who expired in 2014 at the age of 88, had said, “Arjun Da was the role model of our family. We were resteless to know about his well-being. Just when my father(his uncle) was preparing to leave for Patna he(Arjun Da) arrived at Mokama Ghat by boat. The other modes of transport like rail and road had come to a standstill due to the movement. He reached home in the dead of the night.”

Arjun, however, was undeterred by the brutal measures of the Imperial Government to crush the movement at Patna. Soon he joined his friends in picketing the schools in Barhiya. As a result he was arrested and sent to jail. He had to spend six months in jail where one of his friends, who was also his classmate in the school, was Kapildeo Singh who later chose politics as his profession and served the state as well as the country as a Cabinet minister at different intervals.

When Arjun came back from jail, his aspirations as a student had been thwarted. The doors of Patna Science College and all other colleges had been closed for him. Somehow he got a seat for the diploma course at Patna Engineering College. He was left with no choice but to pursue a diploma.

After finishing this course he joined the Government of Bihar as a Junior Engineer. However this did not stop him from acquiring the degree of engineering. He did so in 1948 by being an Associate Member of Institution of Engineers (India). He was then appointed as an Assistant Engineer by Bihar Public Service Commission in 1949.

Shree Arjun Singh had had a successful and fulfilling career with the Bihar Government– starting from the lowest as a Junior Engineer, what was then called as ‘overseer’, to retire from the topmost position as Engineer-in-Chief in 1983. In the long stint of his service he was credited with the construction of a large number of buildings, a huge network of state and national highways and several bridges in the undivided Bihar.

But when asked about his best, he would say, “Mahatma Gandhi Setu at Patna” with a sense of pride. He was handed over to complete the project at a time when its construction had already been delayed beyond a point. Under his care the bridge was completed in a record period of time and was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, in 1982.

With a long period of 90 years that was replete with some interesting and exciting events and which also coincided with the tumultuous history of pre and post independent India, Arjun Singh had become a legend in his lifetime.
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This is based on a series of telephonic interviews held with Shree Arjun Singh and Shrimati Satyabhama Devi in December 2013.

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