Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Santanu Chatterjee

Santanu Chatterjee, 22 November 1943 - 9 January 2012, Executive Director, CESC Ltd, Working President of the Global Alumni Association of Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur, blah, blah, blah.... was quite a well-known figure in Calcutta. He touched the lives of many people, a lot of persons in the city can lay claim to have interacted with him in his professional capacity, whether with the Loss Control Cell of CESC or as working at its various facilities, including law.

But that is not the man I came here to talk about. That is not the man I remember. The man I remember is lolling on the beach at Digha, smiling at the stars at Murari Pukur, laughing, joking and talking to us for as long as I remember. Santanu Chatterjee was a colleague of my father’s. A colleague who became a friend not only of my father’s but of the whole family so that the lines blurred and he became part of our family. He never tired of telling us stories as we were growing up, always finding time to talk to us even when there was a ‘boroder party’ at our place and the rest of the house just expected us to stay out of sight! Accompanied by his wife, Amita, a dignified, accomplished lady, Shantanu kaka was part of growing up, a part of our lives.

He is the man who took me to see the fountain of lights in the Maidan even before it was open to the public, the one who laughed with us and never tired of berating us with stories of my father, of Court, the legal intricacies of the Electricity Act and some of the top-notch lawyers all over the country. Now when I say it, it seems dull and boring but he had a way of holding your attention when he told you a story, so you never tired of it, even if you had heard it before. He came into our lives and stayed. He stood by us though my father’s illness and stayed with us even when he was gone. He never pacified us with false hopes but he was just there and that was enough. I remember kaka as the man who went with us when nervously I went to officially meet my would–be in-laws, effortlessly slipping into my father’s shoes. The man I remember is the one I ran to late one night asking him to be my father and ‘give away’ the bride at the time of my marriage. He is the one who often invited us, shared time and space with us, ever smiling, ever helpful, eternally kind. He is the man who developed my interest in serious war films, his stories of the Desert Fox and General Patton were more interesting than the movies themselves. His interests ran everywhere, his anecdotes held me enthralled. He is probably one of the few people I know who did not judge me and always treated me, not as an errant child, but with respect, as an equal. Though I was never worthy of being his equal.

Yes, unfortunately, over the years I had been seeing less and less of him. Though we spoke very occasionally on the phone and promised to catch up sometime soon, time passed, lives carried on and we did not get around to that “hoi hoi”. Life has a way of doing that: spins you in its web and by the time it spits you out, you find you are older and often, have not been there for the things that were important. The last time I met him, about three months ago, I had gone to invite them for my book launch. He was happy I had written a book and promised to read it. I am sure he did too, only I blame myself for not having found the time to call and ask him about it. That day, he seemed lonely for company, he asked us to stay a while longer. But we had other obligations, I excused myself, saying, even believing, I would be back another time....not knowing that time was the only thing he did not have.

Santanu Kaka suffered a massive cerebral stroke on Friday, 6th January. The main artery went and burst in his brain and the CT scan the next day showed extensive internal bleeding. The doctors all opined that surgery was out of the question and if he lived he would be in a comatose and/or vegetative state. They refused to say anything for certain before 72 hours were up. But kaka did not give them a chance. He passed away just around his allotted 72 hours, he would never have wanted to live the kind of life the doctors had said he would. It was so against his spirit, against all he was and stood for. I heard about his stroke and went to the nursing home only to hear them say he was no more. I stood by his bedside and almost told him how sorry I was that I had not been by his side, but something made me stop. For in my mind I could hear the laughter of two friends who are together once again; two friends who would never want me to back down or surrender to fear.

So, peace, Kaka, wherever you are. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Enigmatic 2011

So. Another year is over. 2011 has stretched and twisted its tentacles in our faces and passed us by. And it is time for me, once again, to recapitulate the year that is gone. So sit back, gentle reader, I shall try not to bore you for too long.
One thing that has struck me about 2011 is that it has had more than its fair share of misery and deaths. Everywhere, people we know or know of, have passed away, leaving our lives just that much emptier. Far too many visits have been made to the crematoriums and funerals; the year has been pockmarked with them. And yet, life too has triumphed, joys have walked hand in hand with sorrow, and the children’s laughter has found it’s way into my darkest dreams…..
The year, if you really think about it, passed by in a flash: a flash flood of work and routine that increasingly seems to become overbearing at times. In it all was the usual medley of Isha and Amisha’s studies, their exams, their class work, their projects and all the assorted paraphernalia of two unruly tween girls! I laughed, cried and as usual muddled my way through the trials of parenthood: screaming my head off one instant and teasing them through another. Yes, the girls’ year passed in a cacophony of noise and colours: Isha has made it to the school choir and she wears her badge with pride. Amisha is engrossed in her craft and even I have to admire her very creative creations from time to time! The rest of my children are thriving and well, my nephew left for Canada to study, leaving more space for us in the car when we go out on our mad excursions but he is missed.

And there is always space in our lives for him. My nieces are well and my youngest nephew who turns all of two this month charms everyone with his smile and baby talk.
One of our holidays took us all the way to Kashmir, which was, truly, paradise on earth. This was my first visit and the raw beauty of the place swept me away. I found myself confiding in my husband that this was one place I could actually live in. And that is a feeling that I rarely, very rarely, have for places I visit. We also had two amazing trips to Bandhavgarh-Panchmarhi-Jabalpur and to Guwahati-Kaziranga. The jungles left me wanting more of that birdsong, the stillness, the monkey chatter, the solitude of the setting sun…. but it also made me realise I have become that much older, the dust made me breathless, the cold entered my body and chilled my bones!
And although I never mention politics or world events at these annual diaries, this year I shall make an exception. For the year also saw the deaths of quite a few well-known personalities, Jagjit Singh, Bhupen Hazarika, M.F.Hussain, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Steve Jobs, Amy Winehouse, Liz Taylor, Shammi Kapoor and Dev Anand, to name a few. No I did not know any of them personally although I had on occasion listened to Jagjit Singh live on stage, but somewhere in my mind forms a picture. It figures all these personalities, jamming and dancing together and having a hell of a party where-ever they are, forever reminding us that life’s too short for hang-ups, life’s too short for grudges.
And of course in India, when you say 2011, you cannot but mention Anna Hazare. The self proclaimed leader of the people who seems to have captivated the hearts and minds of a million Indians the world over. Initially I too listened. For who does not want to eliminate all forms of corruption from our lives, who wants scandals and scams? We are just peace loving individuals and want peace. But then I turned away. I too want a corruption free nation but I am not willing to sacrifice my freedom and democracy for it. I do not agree with Anna’s means, his autocratic diktats and his attempts to hold the country to ransom. On many social networks many of you have asked why I dislike him. I shudder to think that the common man supports him! It will indeed be a sad day for our nation the day Anna Hazare (or someone like him) leads us.
And I cannot help mention the AMRI tragedy, at a hospital right up our street, one that I have visited on multiple occasions, one where Amitesh has stayed twice. Somehow it was too close to home. All that day I remained glued to the news in shock and horror and the next day, for the first time that I can remember, the newspapers made me cry.

Amid all that, Amitesh has become exceptionally busy, I see him less and less as his work hours have increased thanks to his appointment as a government lawyer. Ah yes, I forgot, we have thrown off the yoke of Communism, that too was in 2011! (Though, frankly, if you ask me, the more things change, the more they remain the same……don’t tell hubby I said that!) .
On a personal front, 2011 saw my first book being published, yes, I hope there will be more! It was a moment of joy and pride, especially at the book reading in October. I sat there and gave a silent thanks to all of you out there who believe in me, all you who read through my ranting from time to time and most of all to my dad, who, I still believe, watches over me! And I have been busy too. Not just professional work but also other filial and maternal responsibilities, in fact it got so bad at times that I wished I could just leave it all and run away where the jack hammering of duties and responsibilities could not follow me! (And who knows, maybe someday I will get rid of this Maya lady and just dive into the depths of indifference! Hah.)
Anyway, so while I have been living my sterile life in my sterile tower and being content in my discontent, the world carries on, presumably exactly as it should.
That’s one thing the year has taught me: we are all individually too insignificant to matter. And yet together we make the larger picture. So lets broaden our horizons, stay alive, stay interested and may the new year that stretches languidly in front of us hold joys that we never thought possible. Let’s reach out, share, give. Not of money or wealth but of ourselves.
And yes, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “in the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”