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.

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