Sunday, 7 October 2012

Indexed stories -2

Although I knew Bikash Bhattacharya as a student in Art College and interacted with him a couple of times later on in life, we were never close; in fact we did have a few unpleasant run-ins. So it is surprising that his name is the first on the B page. Badhan Das was close to me and my family, but his name comes second!

Chhotoder Karl Marx in Rimbik (1984)
Bikashda was called “Bicasso” behind his back. This was when he was producing canvases at a speed akin to an automated assembly line and no sooner that these were done, they flew off the shelf! By the same yardstick, Wasim Kapoor was called “poor man’s Bicasso” again behind his back. Badhan Das was called “Chhotoder Karl Marx.” This sobriquet was freely used in front of him. He used to laugh his good natured laugh. Much later Sanjay Bhattacharya arrived on the art scene, his outstanding water colours too sold like hot cakes. We called him “Bicasso Junior”. Both have now passed away (Bikashda and Badhanda). Their names thus don’t appear in my second diary. It starts with Bimal Kundu and includes Bibi Roy and Bajaj my next door neighbor. Basumati Press makes a quick entry and exit. We had printed posters supporting religious tolerance after the demolition of Babri Masjid (6th December 1992). We, that is, about a hundred artists, poets, writers, film and theatre people under the banner of “Samparka” made a trip to Ayodhya on the first anniversary of the demolition. 

In the third diary, Bikash Bose who owns a photographic studio specializing in black & white photography and whose services I used only once is at the top of the page. Bajaj and Bimal are followed by British Council and Bina Sarkar Elias. Seems there is a shift of focus here! Bibi Roy has been dropped – no fault of hers, it was my “Chokher Bali” misadventure. The last name is Bhutu (Shohini’s nickname) and Anirban with separate mobile numbers. Our daughter had just married and they had moved to Delhi.

The house felt empty at first, actually it still does despite the fact that they are back in Kolkata, lives two blocks away and visits us often enough.

Telephones however for me, remains a necessary evil, used sparingly for work related communication and emergencies. It irks me no end when someone calls up to chat. I used to be very impatient and curt in the beginning, but over the years my attitude towards the telephone has somewhat changed and I am now more tolerant, except for unsolicited marketing calls – with them, I am as rude as ever. Despite having listed our phone numbers in the ‘No Call Registry”, there are a few who push their luck. I pick up the phone and say, “This number is on the No Call Registry…I will report you to…” the line goes dead before I can complete the sentence! But truly, who do I report too?

Back in the late eighties, I actually looked forward to the long conversations over the phone with my friend Kunal who lived in Montreal then. Long distance calls were still expensive here and so Kunal used to call, he still does. Since the mid nineties these conversations happen through Skype. I can now call at will without having to watch the meter ticking away. In fact planning a long conversation on Skype is quite a ritual – drink and cigarettes on the ready next to the computer. This is bliss! I can even tell my friends – Kunal and Eugene, “Hang on a bit. Let me get myself another drink!”

But, even in the seventies and eighties despite friends calling up from overseas and having long conversations, much remained unsaid. So, we often wrote each other long letters, sometimes ten to twelve pages. I have preserved them as valuables should be…hope my friends too have kept mine. I still love getting hand written letters in envelopes with postage stamps and my name on it! But, with the internet becoming such an efficient tool, the art of writing letters is fast disappearing.

I used to write letters to Smriti both before and after our marriage. A few of these letters were written and hand delivered to her by me! No, these were not like memos; these were proper letters and sent in sealed envelopes. Many years later, when Smriti was staying in Shantiniketan, she had taken all our letters there and the house was burgled - we lost all those letters. The loss of belongings like clothes and household items did not affect us as much as the loss of those letters did…it hurt us to our very core as we felt that our privacy had been rudely violated.

Smriti in a new hairdo (1985)
When I would be traveling and would be away for more than a week, Smriti would write to me. When she sat down to write, our three year old daughter would also do the same. She was too young to know how to write, but refused to be helped. She spoke as she scribbled away and so Smriti is privy to all of its contents – thanks to the running commentary. I am still to decipher what these letters actually say (alas! the running commentary had gone unrecorded) except that they are filled with a delightful daughter’s baby talk. What more can a doting father ask for? 

Let me share one of those letters with you…

The author of the letter in 1984

To be continued…


  1. On the topic of letters, a good friend of mine and i have decided to write each other letters, despite being connected on almost every mode possible. i received her first letter- bright orange paper, and a handmade envelope out of magazine paper. I am yet to reply...

    I feel sad for the letters you have lost..why would someone steal those too?

    1. Dear Ami kay :)

      People who burgled our home in Shantiniketan were, I suppose poor and "unlettered" people. They were not aware that the bag that they liked contained these letters. I am sure these were dumped somewhere...I hope that these were dumped and the wind did its job. I will be happy if the winds and the burglars have done least then, our privacy has not been compromised.

      Good that you and your friend have decided to revive the art of writing you both :)

    2. Abhida, every time you write something, I want to share it with all the world; they are so enjoyable and sweet.

      On the matter of letters, I too am bit sentimental- carrying around a pile of treasures from yesteryear- starting with the very first letters that my school friends wrote to me after I left my hometown. Your daughter's rather long letter, reveals (even if the language may not) just how action packed and complex was her little world- and surely meant for her father's eyes only. Was it not a breach of faith to bare it to a world of strange eyes?! :)

      Lucky women have doting dad...

  2. Dear Sush,

    Please go ahead and share this with the whole would be my pleasure.

    Secondly, I have my daughter's tacit permission to publish these letters (I have a bunch of them) as nothing is truly revealed through those doodles!

    Thirdly, this dad is also lucky for having an equally doting daughter who thought I was the best, fairest, tallest, etc, etc...:)

  3. I loved Bhutu's letter, specially the little flower in the end. Reminded me of the letters and cards i made for my dad and mum. It was a delight to own and use a 12-colour felt pen set! I kept scribbling and doodling, little flowers, smiley faces, stars and hearts :)
    Love to all three of you gorgeous people :)

    Waiting for your next post.

  4. Dear Abhi,
    Bhutu's letter should be sent to a hieroglyphics expert!

  5. Loved reading B...looking forward to R :D

  6. Abhijit-da,
    Can't thank you enough for this (to be continued) piece of lovely writing.
    Don't know why, I feel touched !

  7. Abhi, I really enjoyed this .. Bicasso! Too funny.
    I also loved the hand-written letter from Bhutu.
    And now can't wait for the C installment!

    When my god-daughter was about 7 or 8, she declared by mail (I was in Melbourne and she in Sydney) that we had to write each other a love-letter once a week. I kept up my side though she waned after a few months. We still exchange postcards when we are away, or even just for the fun of it. It is a lovely collection that we share.

  8. I have the post cards you sent me Michelle :)!