[2006-2015] Resident Alien of Calcutta, Wordsmith, Rennessiance Club

This is the concluding section of the auto-biographical post I have been commanded by my colleague and friend  Mr. Sushobhan Mukerjee  The first part of the series – Metropolitan Man, Muffsil, Train of Time  covered a long stretch. This part covers the period which I call, The Hibernating Decade  ———————————————————————————————- In 2002, I came to Calcutta as a man with some six years of working experience, bachelor but betrothed, working in a corporation and ready to start the process what in Calcutta is called : settling down. I did settle down, first into the chair of the office and then into the great confusion of the city. I frequented heritage house – not only for the attraction of the house but also for reasons I dare not speak now. I started to search for the Calcutta I have lost twenty years back (when the 2nd Howrah bridge had a gaping gap in the middle and Lighthouse Bar with its blue lights not extinct) but became a wanderer. Wandering into the great city like a lost soul, I have become like Jekyll and Hyde. During the day, I was a middle manager of a mediocre corporation and in the night – like Dickens, was trying to lose myself in the city’s bars, pleasure joints, boat-houses and underpass smoking joints. It continued for a year and like all my wanderings, I did alone and hence no witnesses. In 2005, I boarded a British Airways flight (now extinct) bound for London while coconut trees of Jessore Road seemed like close relatives waving and in the previous afternoon I read Madhu-kabi’s epitaph and then found that many leaders of young Bengal’s resting place now receive nitrogenous waste from young Bengal. I concluded that the dead poets (Derozio for example) now cannot get votes or investment and hence does not feature much in the schemes of things. Cut to 2006 – I returned back from England – now a father of a young boy of one year, no job, no house to stay and effectively –  completely un-settled. I was retired by that time and rented a flat in Salt Lake area and having settled the family in the flat, I had become a pure loafer in the city.  I frequented old haunts – Chota Bristol for example with the only difference being that I had the whole day to me. I remember once, in a summer day, I was asked by a young boy to keep the thread of his kite but I could not, my finger missed and the kite flew away. I apologized as being quite drunk, truthfully enough and he looked at me with eyes of innocence and wonder ! It was during this time, I read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul  and in a moonless night, while I was crossing from Howrah to Armenian Ghat, a great desire to write something for Calcutta was born. My wife, showing no less patience and indulgence for her husband than Henrietta did for madhu-kabi and did not whip me to earn more money and think for the future etc as is the fate of most of married men of Bengal.  I was drifting and in this fatal period, she was the Lakshmi and Annapurna of our house. I was well aware of the fatal nature of the drift and it was all the more dangerous because of herself thinking this to be some kind of great hiatus for a great man. Poor soul! I read, translated and drifted and this was only broken while I received my CPF and gratuity from my previous employer and again felt to be a monarch of all I survey. I immediately started buying books, started to plan some summer trips to Bolpur and in short, lengthening the loafer life. 2008- in the next one year, due to our household Lakshmi’s understanding of Lakshmi in the form of money being restless, most of the money was used to buy a small flat all cash deal and then I was in trouble. An invitation in Oxford to present a paper and also to attend alumni meet (with some dakshina included) made me travel in Dickens’ London and Wordsmith Communication became more of a genuine business.  The whole story is documented here in a small book called Wordsmith Book of Business 

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My first business book and a good friend and earner

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This is in the same period of wandering – now in front of Oxford’s Bodliean Library after paying tribute to Nirad C Chauduri in Lathbury Street with Oxford blue plaque

In 2008, the business stabilized, I thought of keeping a mistress in  the tradition of previous Calcutta citizens of yester years. I figured out that this is not possible – legally and practically and launched an online magazine : http://www.pentasect.com. The mistress started demanding as all mistresses do, more time and effort. I kept her in good humour and then kept a distance. It was also the same time when the demon of writing a Cultural Glossary of Calcutta took hold of me. Till 201o, in these 4 years, I had no connection with Calcutta citizens except with their grandparents in National Library and old books and older authors. I did not care to read news-papers. My wife, now performed the role of an Annapurna and kept feeding me delicacies at times and took care of our child, leaving me enjoy the life of a sperm-donor father. She also did take care of the business in a considerable manner in my physical and mental absence.

The Oxford Park - the green of the grass, I was told by a gardener there : it can happen only after 800 years of regular watering, care and scholarly walks

The Oxford Park – the green of the grass, I was told by a gardener there : it can happen only after 800 years of regular watering, care and scholarly walks

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Oxford College – Light and Shade – University of Vidya and University of Avidya

In 2009, in this field, a strange feeling to write a history of Bengal(which I used to  write to pass time ) seized me. I started taking notes and I felt as if the sunlight and the green are mixed up and entering through my eyes, nose, ears inside and creating a suffocating sense of being in-inseminated.

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Mayapur, Isckon – where this photo was shot by my sister-in-law Indrani.

I took notes in the bus to London and reached Hammersmith as if under some drug. I took the manuscript and started writing and within 3 days, with some bread, butter and gin-tonic and some 100+Mayfair cigarettes, the manuscript was more of less complete and published. Few Chapters of the book are available here in summary form Till 2012, I have continued my exile in Calcutta but Calcutta was also working its magic on me.

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Sankhadip Sengupta – the only poet of my generation whom I know , kindly gave a photo shot by him. He gave me two immortal lines for me while I was making my return to Calcutta – jobless and helpless : Calcutta has place for everyone. She will have have place for you. She did.

In the Intimate History of Bengal, I posited 2 thesis – a) Bengal is the Eastern Terminus of Europe of the living b) The only miracle in South Asia after the birth of Buddha in Nepal was the renaissance of Bengal in the high tide of 1860 – 1920. In 2012, the urge was born to publish the book I visualized on Calcutta and notes collected during my loafer days some six years back. The manuscript matured and with the 2nd boy child arrived a year back and Lakshmi and Annapurna needing help, I became a baby-sitting CEO. It is in those baby sitting sessions, spent mostly in the small park of 206, Salt Lake, I typed and retyped the first draft of Calcutta Culture Glossary. The book eventually got published and snippets are available in Pentasect.com.   An entry from the glossary with the illustrations  by Ms. Rupsha Bhadra for the illustration of the lady with the bicycle     product_thumbnail

The Young Girl in the Bi-Cycle Almost everyday, I see a young girl in a very nice-looking bi-cycle in the area where I commute. She must be between 16-17 years old but has the dignity of a lady. I had seen her in yellow, blue, sage green and crimson red dresses and she looked equally commanding in all these colours with her impeccably clean bi-cycle. She has an imperious look and reminded me of Estella of The Great Expectations by Dickens. One blessed morning, as I was crossing the KS Canal from the Saltlake side, a balding, middle-aged man as I am, I gave her way to pass with her trusted companion – the bi-cycle. She looked at me and gave a gracious smile. I became Pip and the last few immortal lines automatically sounded inside: Her indescribable freshness and radiance is gone but a mellow sweetness remained….

4In 2011, I also started teaching online – how to lead a time rich cash poor life and this resulted into Wordsmith University  – a tol of Internet age where teachers teach and students pay dakshina and it morphed slowly into People’s Business School. In 2013, after almost seven years being a resident alien of Calcutta, I was pulled into mainstream by Mr. Sushobhan Mukerjee, the same friend whose command made me write these posts while I am in my summer hiatus at heritage house. I was almost sucked into mainstream – a PhD student in IIT, Kharagpur, Mr. Gobinda Roy, another noble friend and colleague and also an alumni of the institution. It is only the extreme weather of Kharagpur that saved me almost the doorstep of being inducted. Mr.Mukherjee, a successful business owner and CEO himself, as if pulled me out of my self-imposed exile and I started to get acquainted with the polished society of Calcutta in person (previously I only met their grand-fathers in books and old histories). This resulted into my visitations and meet with business magnates, entrepreneurs, policy makers and many men and women of my generation based in Calcutta. It was like a Rip Van Winkle waking from the dream and as if I was asking them : ‘Tell me Sire, what are all these commotion here in the streets and why are they so anxious and angry mob-mob-like. I am, my noble Sire/Madame, a humble subject of Her Majesty” The collaboration with Mr. Mukherjee and many other noble planets in his orbit enriched me and provided me with contemporary and flesh and blood experience of Calcutta. Like Srikanta, I felt, Calcutta is Rajya-Lakshmi for me – she did not allow me to come close but did now allow to escape her orbit. I became like a satellite, trapped and charmed in the orbit of the City. The Collaboration gave birth to one object and one institution : a book and a Club. The book Mr. Mukherjee so kindly allowed me to co-author is Fool’s Walk – A journey of two fools and duly published on 1st April this year.
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Another one is founding of Renaissance Club which is a Club which is based on the idea of production first and then consumption of tasty delicacies. Every member has to read / write / present an original work, followed by consumption of quality eating material.  A complete session of Renaissance club is reproduced from the archive

The members in deliberation and production

The members in deliberation and production

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Consumption ( of the only true, authentic, first class, recession proof, elegant, sweet, heavenly product of Contemporary Bengal) and madhurena samapoyet

I think I have tried to execute the commission as entrusted by Mr. Mukhherjee and here, I take my leave as shadows linger here – in my summer home after a hot day which makes jack-fruit ripe and men listless, I take leave of my readers. Even though I have always admonished all talented men and women of Bengal to be un-Bengali but as I mature, I find a mellow tenderness for Bengal which for me is distilled as : green fields, blue sky, wide expanse of water, dark and doe-like eyes of a Bengali maiden and I again go back to one of the greatest and immortal but least understood by his countryman, the creator of Indranath and Srikanta  এতকাল জীবনটা কাটিল উপগ্রহের মতো – যাহাকে কেন্দ্র করিয়া ঘুরি, না পাইলাম তাহার কাছে যাইবার অধিকার, না দূরে যাইবার অনুমতি And also, a prayer for the City, where the City takes human form, almost a demi-goddess and Buddhadev Basu’s translation of a French poet echoes and let this be what I like to say to Calcutta, my city, by adoption : প্রিয়তমা, সুন্দরীতোমারে আমার, যে আমার উজ্জ্বল উদ্ধার অমৃতের দিব্য প্রতিমা্রে, অমৃতেরে করি নমস্কার

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