Author Archives: dipankardasgupta

Dipankar Dasgupta received his early education in Calcutta (now called Kolkata), India and moved on to the University of Rochester, NY, USA, where he was awarded a PhD degree in Economics. He did most of his academic research and teaching in the Delhi and Kolkata campuses of the Indian Statistical Institute, from where he retired in August, 2006 as Professor of Economics. He has also taught and researched in visiting capacities as well as a regular faculty member in different universities in Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and the USA.

His interests vary from Economic Theory to creative literature and vocal music. He writes stories, memoirs and poems in English and Bengali and sings semi-classical music, mostly in Bengali. He is also interested in foreign languages, Japanese being his favorite. He writes for the printed media and is a regular TV commentator on subjects of socio-economic interest. Dipankar and his wife, Sankari, live in Kolkata, India.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta — A Tragic Half-Tale

Prologue

The river of life, like any other river, flows forwards. And by the time it reaches its estuary, it is often difficult to figure out where it originated. This is not true of mighty rivers, such as the Mississippi or the Amazon or our own Ganges. But there were endlessly many smaller rivers that had borne their cargo filled boats since ancient times and dried up, leaving little trace of the waters that had lapped their shores in their youth. To discover the course these rivers might have followed, one needs to trace them backwards.

The same observation applies to human beings too. Unlike David Copperfield, who told the story of his life “from the beginning of his life”, some, such as the person whose life story of sorts we will attempt to relsurrect, left behind him hardly any documentary trace of himself. Nonetheless, as a surviving member of the family Dr. Das Gupta belonged to, but born well after he had left the “breathing world”, I took up the near impossible task of recreating the man. I did so because I had heard inconceivable rumours about the man from family members who knew the doctor, but who have themselves long departed for Hades’ kingdom. I was well aware of the absurdity of the task I had undertaken, but plodded along nonetheless, hardly expecting total success in my endeavours. I believed, however, that even half a story could well be worth pursuing. Pasts are obliterated undoubtedly, but never completely so.

My efforts began around 2018. The search yielded scattered information which, though not arranged in chronological order, were valuable. Each new finding added to my excitement as I went along putting the bits and pieces together, hoping to recreate as much of the person as feasible.

Since this story moves backwards, it is best perhaps to begin with a calendar record of the year Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta rejoined his creator. He had breathed his last in the year 1938. This piece of information was gleaned from a faded old letter written by Professor Parimal Ray1 from Dacca (now renamed Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh) to his friend Mr. Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta2 (popularly known to his family and friends as “Ponku”). India was still a British colony when the letter arrived. It was composed in Bengali. Translated into English, it reads as follows.

Department of Economics
University of Dacca
Ramna, Dacca

23rd November, 1938

Dear Ponku-babu,
I couldn’t help writing this letter. Ever since the departure of your family members from Dacca, we have been hearing that Dr. Das Gupta is seriously ill. However, I did not for once imagine that the tragedy had progressed this far. The other day, Monu3 wrote to me that his illness is yet to be diagnosed. Directly afterwards, the heart-breaking news arrived. He was sleeping in his cabin in a steamer in Narayangunj when I saw him for the last time.

Yesterday, his condolence meeting was held in Curzon Hall in the University. Dr. Das Gupta had cured a Muslim boy who was suffering from Meningitis. He expressed his gratefulness in words that were not only worth hearing but also appropriate for the occasion. He ended up crying. I have never witnessed such a scene.

This is a disaster for your family. Calcutta has been the chosen area of work for most of you, distancing you from Dacca for some time. It appears now that your family’s attachment with Dacca is finally over.

Little else remains to be written. It is not hard to surmise the state of your minds. Please accept sincere condolences from my wife and me. And do please convey this to Monu.

Yours,

Parimal Ray

To Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta
Ballygunge, Calcutta

Here is the scanned Bengali version of the letter, written, as can be seen, using Dacca University stationery.

Merely a week prior to this, Professor Ray had written yet another letter using similar stationery.

Department of Economics
University of Dacca
Ramna, Dacca

16 November, 1938

Dear Ponku-babu,

We have had no news from you since you left for Calcutta with Dr. Das Gupta. The entire faculty of Dacca University, including us, are deeply concerned about him. Everchanging news concerning him spreads everyday, but they do not appear to be dependable. You are doubtlessly preoccupied with his condition. Nonetheless, we shall be endlessly relieved if you could spare a bit of your precious time to write to us about him and the nature of treatment he is undergoing.

I am writing this letter not only on our own behalf, but on behalf also of a large number of professors who are Dr. Das Gupta’s friends. Needless to say, we will spend our time in apprehension till hearing back from you.

Yours,

Parimal Ray

To Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta
Ballygunge, Calcutta

A scanned version of the original Bengali letter resembled the previous one.

Dr. Das Gupta’s full name was Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta and he was the second son of Kamala Nath Das Gupta from his first marriage. Kamala Nath retired as a Judge from the Small Cause Court, Dacca and was the recipient of a Rai Bahadur4 title conferred by the British Government a few years after King George V attended the Delhi Durbar5 following coronation.

Around the time Kamala Nath was bestowed the title, he had retired from service and his family lived in the Wari area of Dacca. The exact address of his residence was 37 Rankin Street. People aware of Dacca’s history believe that Rankin Street was a posh locality of the town. It does not enjoy that status any longer, though the house exists even today in unenviable condition. Here is a photograph of the house from 1971, before it began to degenerate.

37 Rankin Street in 1971 — Photograph credit: Abhijit Dasgupta

The house should have been built during early twentieth century, but, as we shall see later, a question hangs over the precise year of its construction.6.

Records of the award Kamala Nath received (as well as the two letters we started off with) were retrieved from a “magpie’s nest” maintained by his son Monu from the second marriage. The nest in question consists of trunksful of history, a good deal of which his son Abhijit Dasgupta and daughter-in-law Sarbari Dasgupta7 were able to salvage. We will refer to more of these documents and objects as we proceed.

To begin with, there is a certificate and a medal that Kamala Nath received when he was awarded the Rai Bahadur title.

Rai Bahadur Certificate Awarded to Kamala Nath Das Gupta in 1916
Front and Back of the Rai Bahadur Medal awarded to Kamala Nath Das Gupta

The certificate, it will be noted refers to Kamala Nath Das Gupta as Kamala Nath Das. The reason for this could well be that it was common practice to shorten the family name Das Gupta to a simple monosyllabic Das, or sometimes, as we shall find out later, to a disyllabic Gupta. As far as Das went, the matter could have a connection with the Hindu caste system. The way Das was spelt in Bengali left room for yet another Das spelt differently. Kamala Nath was a Vaidya by caste and while the English spelling could not reveal his caste, the Bengali spelling most certainly did. This was probably a matter of social importance, for Vaidyas wrote the Das as দাশ in Bengali, while non-Vaidyas wrote it as দাস। Even if the quaint custom has little relevance these days, at the time Kamala Nath lived, দাশ should have earned him respect as a member of a so-called high caste.

As noted, Kamala Nath had married twice. The second wife, Soudamini, arrived after the first wife had passed away. By his first marriage, Kamala Nath had three sons and a daughter. Male dominated society ensured that the names of the wife and the daughter were soon devoured by the tides of time. The sons’ names survived of course. They were Satish Chandra Das Gupta, Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta and Suresh Chandra Das Gupta, in that order.

Soudamini gave birth to ten children, or at least ten children that did not die in their infancy8. These were five daughters and five sons (Ponku and Monu, whom we met earlier, being two of the sons). Unlike the case of the wife and the daughter from the first marriage, the daughters whom Soudamini showed the light of day had names that the family has not yet forgotten. Circumstantial evidence suggests a Snow White tale that the children from the second marriage were treated better than the ones from the first. The eldest son from the first marriage, Satish Chandra, left home pretty early in life and to the best of our knowledge distanced himself from the family till his last days. He had children though, and grandchildren, who helped re-establish links of a sort with the existing stock of Soudamini’s progeny.

Satish Chandra’s youngest brother, Suresh Chandra, was a bachelor and a school teacher. Unlike Satish Chandra, however, he maintained a connection with both branches of the family till his end arrived. He was known for his kindness towards all and sundry and this included his half-brothers and sisters. Nonetheless, and to the best of our understanding, he did not hold too high an opinion of Kamala Nath’s second family. He was a strict disciplinarian and committed himself to a life of celibacy. His life style was austere, particularly so when it came to his attire. There were few in the family that had not been admonished by him for their sartorial excesses. One recalls him pulling up a young niece for wearing sandals that did not cover her feet completely. Footwear was meant to keep one’s feet clean he had observed, a purpose that the strings of a sandal could not accomplish. Instead of wearing sandals, he advised her to tie pieces of pasteboard to the bottom of her feet with the help of thread when she went out to public places. The man, therefore, did not lack a sense of humour, though he was better known for his fits of temper.

By contrast as it were, Sudhir Kumar, the second brother, was a darling to his half-brothers. The letters we had read at the beginning of this narrative were addressed (as we saw) to one such half-brother (Ponku) and mentioned yet another (Monu) when Sudhir Kumar was preparing for his final journey. It appears that these two and the remaining half brothers were taking all the care they could of Sudhir Kumar when he was terminally ill. It is not clear though if Satish Chandra or Suresh Chandra were present.

Sudhir Kumar — A Search Initiated

Sudhir Kumar as we know was a doctor by profession and had received his MD degree in USA. This piece of information constituted oral history for the family. However, not a single person who sang about his achievements is alive now to vouch for the veracity of Sudhir Kumar lores. Fortunately though, someone or the other had heard and remembered that he had a connection with St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Guesswork suggested that if such a connection did exist it should have been towards the early part of the twentieth century.

With this legend in hand, St. Francis Hospital was contacted in the hope that its archives might throw some light on the man. The result of the search was disappointing, for this is what it uncovered.9

“In the fall of 2002, St. Francis Medical Center, in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh, was sold to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health System. A new Children’s Hospital has replaced the 137 year-old St. Francis facility, founded and owned by The Sisters of St. Francis of Millvale.”

Though frustrating, the information pointed in the direction of University of Pittsburgh. The Vice Dean at the time, Dr. Ann E. Thompson, was approached, but her searches did not shed much light either. To quote her,

“I have not been able to find anything new except that I learned that records of St. Francis Hospital seem to be kept in two places:

St. Francis Hospital Records—a small group are at Heinz History Center: click here for the finding aid to their collection. 

Other records for the hospital have been maintained by the Religious Order of Sisters that ran the hospital.  They are: the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities — https://sosf.org/our-history/

The first one at the Heinz History Center seems to be very recent and probably not helpful.  But the other one just might be helpful.  Perhaps if you connect with them, they can find him.”

Back to square one appeared to be the content of the last message, but a new possibility suggested itself in the meantime. There were Indian doctors who did travel abroad in search of higher degrees around early nineteenth century. The chosen destination was almost invariably UK and not the USA. A particularly famous one among these doctors was Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. This brilliant graduate from the Calcutta Medical College went to England in search of the FRCS and MRCP degrees. His records are worth recalling.10,11

“Intending to enroll himself at St Bartholomew’s Hospital to pursue postgraduate study in medicine, Bidhan set sail for Britain in February 1909 with only ₹ 1200. However, the Dean of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital was reluctant to accept an Asian student and rejected Bidhan’s application. Roy did not lose heart but kept submitting his application again and again till the Dean, after 30 admission requests, admitted Bidhan to the college. Bidhan completed his postgraduation in just two years and three months, and in May 1911 accomplished the rare feat of becoming a member of the Royal College of Physicians and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons simultaneously. He returned home from the UK in 1911.”

Since it would have been more natural for Sudhir Kumar to go to England at the time (before setting sail for USA), the British Medical Association was approached. Despite their sincere attempts, no medical student named Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta could be located in UK in the early twenties. In the meantime, an important document surfaced, the Flexner Committee Report published in 1910.12

“The Flexner Report is a book-length landmark report of medical education in the United States and Canada, written by Abraham Flexner and published in 1910 under the aegis of the Carnegie Foundation. Many aspects of the present-day American medical profession stem from the Flexner Report and its aftermath.

The Report (also called Carnegie Foundation Bulletin Number Four) called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards, and to adhere strictly to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research. The report talked about the need for revamping and centralizing medical institutions. Many American medical schools fell short of the standard advocated in the Flexner Report and, subsequent to its publication, nearly half of such schools merged or were closed outright.”

The Flexner report was highly critical of the state of medical education in the USA at the time. According to some accounts, many of the schools did not require more than a high school degree to admit students. It put a stop to this practice. But the report also suggested (given especially Dr. Bidhan Ray’s experience) that Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta could have found it easier to study medicine in USA rather than in the UK. This was a hypothesis worth exploring and two questions needed to be asked in this connection. First, when did he reach USA, if in fact he did go there. Secondly, which American school did he enter? These were impossibly difficult questions to answer, but at the same time the challenges were far too interesting to ignore.

When Did Sudhir Das Gupta Land in America?

Since medical schools had no record of him, an alternative possibly was explored. Could one study passenger lists of ships arriving to the country? Where could these be found? After several attempts, the search led to ancestry.com13 and success reared its head for the first time. The site informed that a passenger ship named Mauretania had arrived in New York (from Liverpool) on October 17, 1913 and among its list of passengers was a man called Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta. He was described as a student who had come from Dacca, India. His residential address though was not 37 Rankin Street. It was 35 Rankin Street instead. Clerical mistake could have accounted for this. But it also suggested the possibility that Kamala Nath Das Gupta had moved into his new house after 1913 and that he lived in rented accommodation to keep watch over the construction work of his own house. Further, it cannot be ruled out that the house was not completed by 1913 and some of the family members lived in rented accommodation nearby. Of course, these are unverifiable hypotheses, but there is little doubt about the date of Sudhir Kumar’s arrival in USA. The two following documents tell us a great deal about Sudhir Kumar’s landing and the ship that took him there. (The eighteenth person in the passenger list was Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta.)

Passenger list for Sudhir Kumar’s ship
Mauretiana — the ship in which Sudhir Kumar travelled to USA

The Medical School Sudhir Kumar Graduated From

The information about his arrival kept our hopes alive, but it left the second question wide open. Which school did he enter? There were endlessly many schools, most of which Flexner didn’t approve of. Which one did Sudhir Kumar walk into under such circumstances?

This question led us back to the University of Pittsburgh once again and this time the person who took charge of communication was Małgorzata Fort (Ph.D, Head of Digital Resources Development, Health Sciences Library System, Falk Library of the Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh). The lady signed off her mails as Gosia and that’s the way we shall refer to her. Gosia was a goldmine of information. She carried out a search that must have been enormous and finally came out with a great deal of information about Sudhir Das Gupta’s medical education in USA.

To start with, she found out that Sudhir Kumar’s MD degree was awarded by the American College of Medicine and Surgery, Chicago, Illinois (The Medical College Key Table assigned it the code III 22). She also sent us a photo of the school from the distant past.

Gosia wrote that this college was swallowed up by Loyola University in 1917 in response to the recommendations of the Flexner Report. She found out further that Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta was listed in the American Medical Directory for 1916 (5th ed.), 1918 (6th ed.) and 1921 (7th ed.) as “Das Gupta, S. K.; intern Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, Chicago.” In other words, Sudhir Kumar completed his internship at the Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, Chicago before moving on further. It is not clear yet if this was the same hospital as the German Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, Chicago, but a source14 says that the German Evangelical Deaconess Hospital was later named simply Evangelical Hospital. Most likely, the following picture is that of the hospital in question.

A matter of some concern needs to be addressed now. According to Gosia’s information, Sudhir Kumar completed his MD degree in 1914. And, as we have noted already, he had arrived in USA in 1913. How can a person complete his MD in a single year? However unsatisfactory the American medical school system might have been at the time, it is highly unlikely that a foreigner could complete his MD in as short a period as a single year.

Unverifiable Hypotheses

Our backward journey in search of the origins of Sudhir Kumar’s river of life had hit a stumbling block. If any documented answer existed, it had to be found either in England (since the ship in which Sudhir Kumar travelled to USA had sailed from Liverpool), or in India. The British Medical Association had already told us that no Indian medical student around that time had a name that was even vaguely similar. India therefore turned out to be the only possible alternative.

The part of Eastern (undivided) India that Sudhir Kumar had come from had a number of medical schools. Of these, the most well-known, was the Medical College (which still retains that name).15 Apart from this, there were two institutions in Calcutta. One of these was the Calcutta School of Medicine (which was established in 1886 and whose name changed to Carmichael College in 1918). The institution grew into the now famous R.G. Kar Medical College.16,17 The other institution was the Sealdah Municipal Hospital, which started in 1864 in response to pressures generated by the Sepoy Mutiny.18 In 1884, it was renamed the Campbell Medical School. The school transformed to Campbell Medical College in 1894. Independent India renamed it Nil Ratan Sircar Medical College19 and it is a busy hospital in Calcutta today. Apart from these and closer to Sudhir Kumar’s home was the Mitford Hospital20 (probably known as the Mitford School earlier) that grew into Sir Salimullah Medical College in 1962. The institution is located now in Bangladesh.

The important point to note is that some of these institutions offered medical education (often using Bengali as the medium of instruction to help students who found it difficult to follow lectures in English). To quote Uma Dasgupta21 :

“The licentiate degree22 would be conferred on anyone who passed the examination after having studied for five years in any recognized school of medicine. The MB degree required the same prior qualification and the same duration of study, but the curriculum was larger. For an MD degree, the degree of BA was a prior necessity, while a practice of two years was necessary after getting the LMS.”

Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, whom we came across earlier was both an MB and MD from Medical College, Calcutta. He was born in 1882 and, as we will discover later, was five years older than Sudhir Kumar. Records in India and Bangladesh were vacuous, as was the case for the search carried out by the British Medical Association. This failure forced upon us a hypothesis that Sudhir Kumar was probably an LMF or an LMS (mentioned as the licentiate degree by Uma Dasgupta) from an Indian institution of the sort described above. It is also quite likely that the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery allowed the credits from the five year LMF/LMS course to be transferred. As a result, Sudhir Kumar entered that school as a senior student and completed the MD degree in a year’s time23. This is a hypothesis that is at least logically consistent.

The Question of Age

How old was Sudhir Kumar when he arrived in America? The question is easy to answer. The passengers’ list above appears to describe him as a 26 years old man. However, the list is not too legible and we shall therefore try and double check this fact from yet another source. Before we do so, we need to face up to an obvious question. He appears to have entered the American medical school at a somewhat advanced age. Given our hypothesis, he had five years of medical training in India before he walked into the Chicago school. This need not mean of course that he started his medical studies in India at the age of twenty one. Let us take into consideration the fact that he had to complete the equivalent of junior and high school before embarking on his medical pursuit. During his days, this meant that he had to pass the senior school leaving Matriculation/Entrance examination and the average age at which people cleared it was about sixteen. Following this he might have begun his medical studies and could have been around twenty one when he completed his LMF degree. His arrival in USA was separated from this event by five years, a period during which he had the opportunity to practise as an LMF doctor. It is natural to assume therefore that he was a practising LMF doctor in either Dacca or Calcutta for five years. Such an occupation would have ensured that he had saved a reasonable sum from his earnings and that he had used it to finance his journey and his one year study at the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery, USA. Something of this nature had almost surely happened, for long deceased family members were known to mention that Sudhir Kumar was a self made man. Besides, as already noted, records of his arrival seem to show that his father was building his house at the time Sudhir Kumar travelled to distant shores. Even if he wished to help his son, he may not have been in a strong financial position to do so.

Quite apart from this, Kamala Nath had fourteen children, of whom six were daughters. Marrying them off and arranging for the sons’ schooling could have been a financially difficult proposal. Whatever his salary was, after meeting these obligations, he may not have had substantial savings left. On top of this, he had a house to build. Around this time and even later, people were known to build their residences after retirement, since this is when they could lay their hands on a pile of money which they were awarded as retirement benefits. In endlessly many cases, they did not survive too long after retirement and their property was enjoyed by their children. We know (from his Rai Bahadur certificate) that in 1916 Kamala Nath was a retired judge. Retirement age could have been around sixty and if so, he was beyond sixty years when he received his title. Sixty was old age at the time. So, he could have been an old man with a new house when Sudhir Kumar was pursuing medical studies in the USA.

So much for the hypothetis.

Back to Documents

In the context of the American Medical Dictionary, Gosia Fort had drawn our attention to the possibility “… that they were just slow in updating their records …” She did this to clear up a mystery that had materialised in the meantime. While searching ancestry.com, new information revealed itself. Perhaps the most important one of these was the fact that Sudhir Kumar had been drafted by the Army in 1917. Fortunately, the record was very clear as the registration card reveals.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta’s Draft Registration Card for World War 1

The card is dated June 5, 1917 and it states that he was a Resident Physician at St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh, Alleghany County, Pennsylvania. His date of birth, the card says, was December 30, 1887. This provides additional support that he was twenty six years old when he arrived in America in 1913. That was the age stated in the passenger list of Mauretiana also. We saw, when we started this story, that he passed away in the year 1938. He was 51 years old therefore when he finally departed. On the other hand, the Rai Bahadur certificate confirms that his father was at least sixty, if not more, when his life came to an end. Sudhir Kumar was seriously ill when he passed away. His father by contrast died almost surely of old age.24 What was he doing when his father died? We shall need to face up to this question soon enough.

Gosia drew my attention to another interesting question. As we have already seen, Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta was listed in the American Medical Directory for 1916 (5th ed.), 1918 (6th ed.) and 1921 (7th ed.) as “Das Gupta, S. K.; intern Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, Chicago. The draft record shows on the other hand that Sudhir Kumar was in Pittsburgh in 1917. Not only so, he was already attached to the St. Francis Hospital in the capacity of a Resident Physician during that year. Gosia noted the discrepancy and this is why she mentioned the possibility that the American Medical Dictionary could have been slow in updating records. According to this Dictionary, Sudhir Kumar was in Chicago in 1917, which he certainly was not.

Gosia worked hard and sent us another interesting story. This was a clipping dated January 1, 1919 from the Pittsburg Gazette Times. The image is poor, but it is not difficult to see that “Dr. S.K. Gupta, an intern at St. Francis Hospital, testified that Bassett’s bill at that institution was unpaid”. (The word “intern” could probably mean a “Resident Physician”.) Ira R. Bassett was a blind pool operator and could well have been associated with what is described as money laundering in the present day world.

Dr. S. K. Gupta testifies on behalf of St. Francis Hospital in 1919

Was Dr. S.K. Gupta the same person as Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta? This is not exactly a million dollar question now. We saw earlier that his father’s name had left out the Gupta part. Couldn’t it be possible that the son found it more convenient to drop “Das”? If not, what are the chances that two Indians with names so similar (“Gupta” in particular”) worked in St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh at the same time in early twentieth century? Fortunately, the problem was resolved by the magpie’s nest research. Abhijit found out that among the things Sudhir Kumar left behind him was a pocket watch with telltale initials engraved on its lid. Here is that watch.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta’s pocket watch — (SKG)

He had begun to sign his name as Sudhir Kumar Gupta for reasons unknown to us. Some more details about the watch itself were found along with it.

The watch had been manufactured around 1915, but we do not know when Sudhir Kumar had actually purchased it. The draft records call him a Das Gupta of course, which is not surprising. A draft card needs to be as accurate as possible, somewhat like a passport. We still do not know when exactly he changed from Das Gupta to Gupta. But change he did as we saw earlier in the newspaper clipping from 1919.

We know that Dr. Sudhir Kumar (Das) Gupta was working in St. Francis Hospital in 1919 and we had also found out towards the beginning of this story that the Hospital changed in 2002. How much change had taken place in the hospital’s looks? A postcard from 1955 (the photo on the left below) reveals that metamorphosis.

St. Francis Hospital then (1955 postcard on the left) and now.

We are reasonably sure now what the man was doing till 1919. But the story doesn’t end here. Before we chase him further, we wish to know what he looked like in his salad days. Probably both these photographs, and certainly one of them, date back to his days in America.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar (Das) Gupta’s salad days, sometime during 1915-1920

A handsome “young” doctor living a bachelor’s life! We discovered from ancestry.com that the case was not exactly so. He had ceased to be a bachelor on December 24, 1919. Cook County, Illinois Marriage indexes show the details.

The second column from the left lists the family names alphabetically and Sudhir S. Gupta is not hard to discover. He had married a lady called Rose S. Liberty on December 24, 1919.

Do we have their wedding photograph? No. Do we have a photograph of the husband and wife standing or sitting next to each other? No. However, family sources say such a photo did exist, but even the magpie collection has lost track of it. Abhijit and his wife Sarbari have searched for that photo (which Abhijit at least had seen in his younger days) but they ended up in failure. Family members belonging to Dr. Sudhir K (Das) Gupta’s generation had been heard to mention that photo. But none of them have survived to tell us what they had seen. Stories had circulated in the family that Sudhir Kumar did have an Americal girl-friend. What nobody knew till this day (as far as we can make out) was the fact that he had actually wedded an Americal lady. And we even know her name, thanks to ancestry.com. She was Rose S. Liberty.

Rose S. Liberty?

The fact that the photo above had emerged out of Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta’s belongings suggests that the lady wearing a saree and holding on to the young boy was Rose. Abhijit confirms she was the same lady he had seen in the photograph with Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta. In that lost photograph too, she had worn a saree. Who the other woman in the photograph could have been is anybody’s guess. Regarding the boy, we can hypothesise a little more. Ancestry.com says that Edmond Arthur Liberty, son of Rose Liberty (the middle initial S missing), was drafted for the Second World War during 1940 through 1947. He was then aged 23. It also states that he was born on July 26, 1917 in Spokane, Washington, USA. If Edmond’s mother was the same Rose that Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta married, it is unlikely that he is the boy in the photograph. He could not have been more than five years old around 1919-21, which, as we shall see, is when Sudhir Kumar left USA. The boy in the photograph looks older. On the other hand, if Rose S. Liberty did have a son, he was probably the product of an earlier marriage.  

The Last Document from USA

The final document Gosia Fort sent us revealed in no uncertain terms the monumental tragedy of Sudhir Kumar’s life. We had always suspected that such a tragedy existed, but were never quite sure of its nature, especially since the man himself had never been heard to have complained. An excerpt from Gosia’s mail along with the documents she attached to it clarified any doubt that could have existed.

“Sudhir Kumar Gupta, M.D. joined the Department of Psychiatry for the academic year 1919/1920 and 1920/1921. He was listed as a demonstrator in psychiatry. He taught courses in psychiatry clinics at St. Francis Hospital to fourth year students of the School of Medicine together with Prof. William Kemble Walker and Dr. Cornelius Collins Wholey. Next academic year 1921/1922 someone else took his position, but it means that he was still in Pittsburgh in the spring of 1921. I am attaching excerpts from the School of Medicine announcements published in 1920. It includes titles page, Calendar page, page with Demonstrators listing, and page with Psychiatry course description.”

Here are the attachments she sent along with the mail.

The fact that he came back to India for some reason and never went back is common knowledge in the family. But Gosia’s mail showed that he had probably returned to India in the year 2021, exactly a hundred years ago from now. He had a regular job in St. Francis Hospital when he came back. He had given up the job and never gone back. He had a wife too whom he never saw again. And for Indian society, he remained a “bachelor” till the end of his life.

Life in India

A new university was established in Dacca (now Dhaka) in July, 1921 and family members who are no longer alive had often told us that he joined the University as its first Medical Officer. There was no medical school in the university at the time and he had therefore accepted a demotion of sorts from the position of an instructor (Demonstrator) in an American school. Our efforts to trace him back in Dacca University produced a blank sheet. We were even told that records relating to him would have existed if he had been a faculty member, which he was not. He was, we were told, merely an administrative officer whose records have not been preserved. If we go back to the letters with which this story began, we will see that he was in fact a highly respected doctor, who even practised medicine and cured people suffering from the then incurable diseases. (However, the Dhaka of today has forgotten him and not a single person approached could help. A reason why they no longer remember may be traced to the fact that most of Sudhir Kumar’s step-brothers had migrated early to Calcutta. Sudhir Kumar, as far as we know, continued in Dacca, as did his younger sibling Suresh Chandra along with their step mother Soudamini and her mentally disturbed youngest son.)

We were now left with no other alternative but to engage further in intelligent guesswork and search around for rumours that still circulate in the family. We believe that around the time Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta wedded Rose Liberty and began teaching in St. Francis Hospital, his father Kamala Nath was nearing his end. We also think that Kamala Nath did not have enough savings to bequeath to his wife and children. The conclusion is based on the fact that we think he had built his lovely house with the help of his retirement benefits. Even if he had married off most of his daughters, one married daughter had been sent back to her father’s home by the family she rightfully belonged to. (There are stories explaining this event, mostly related to a husband who tortured her when she was pregnant with her only baby. This baby was born and raised in her maternal grandfather’s house. As far as one can make out, she had never seen her father. This girl later married the famous singer and film music director S. D. Burman and their son was yet another musical genius R. D. Burman.) One more daughter was yet to be married off. And there were of course the sons from the second marriage who were too young to choose a career on their own. The family needed help to hold on to its social status and the story goes that Sudhir Kumar received an urgent telegram from Dacca, sent probably by his step-mother, that his father was very ill. There was dire need for him to return back “home”.

He retraced his steps back to Dacca in response to the telegram to perform presumably his father’s last rites (unless his elder brother Satish Chandra did that job). Sudhir Kumar probably had some a bit of savings from the USA. But he also had a step-mother with her litter of children. Since Satish Chandra maintained a distance and Suresh Chandra was a school teacher at best, the responsibility of looking after the family fell almost surely on Sudhir Kumar’s shoulders. No one knows what he told Rose before leaving USA, but it is natural to suppose that he had decided to come back to her within a short period after making arrangements for the family in Dacca. And then, very likely, he got more and more entangled with family affairs. One imagines him requesting Rose to wait a little longer and then a little bit more, till the bits and pieces added up to a long spell of time. Both Rose and he must have realised that their two year old family life (1919-1921) had died in its infancy. Ancestry.com could not produce information about Rose Liberty’s life, but what Sudhir Kumar was doing is clear enough. He had become a father figure for the step-brothers and looked after their education. He even managed to send two of them to England and USA respectively for higher education at his own expense.

Sudhir Kumar never married again. One cannot rule out the possibility that he was forced to sacrifice everything that he had built on his own. Though it is not known if anyone was interested in seeing him married, the fact is that he never showed an interest in the possibility himself. It is reasonable to assume that his sibling Suresh Chandra understood the nature of Sudhir Kumar’s monumental sacrifice and decided never to raise a family of his own. We have a photograph of Suresh Chandra in his old age.

Suresh Chandra Das Gupta – circa 1967 – 1970)

There were five half-brothers though who had to be educated and settled in life. Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta ensured to the best of his ability that he carried out his responsibilities. He couldn’t do much about the youngest half-brother, who was psychologically unstable.25 He paid for the education of the brothers (including that of the brothers, whom he sent abroad). He arranged for their marriage too as well as that of the youngest half-sister. However, his youngest full sibling and he himself avoided being struck by Cupid’s arrow.

Epilogue

Little else remains of this tragic and perhaps sordid Sudhir Kumar tale. The reader though can still be introduced to the earliest photograph that exists of the person. We know of course that he was born in 1887. But we have said little else about his life towards the end of the nineteenth century. Fortunately, Abhijit found a photograph of the child Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta along with his parents. This looks like a studio photograph of Kamala Nath’s first family. It is the only photograph that we have of his first wife and daughter. The daughter was a baby and sat on her father’s lap. It looks like a photo taken in a studio during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Historian Partha Chatterjee says such studio photography was quite uncommon in India at the time, except probably in metropolitan cities, such as Dacca. We see the three brothers. The eldest, Satish Chandra stands behind his parents. Sudhir Kumar is stitting on some sort of a carpeted floor right in front of them. Suresh Chandra stands on the left, holding on to the chair his father sat on. And their mother (whose name we still do not know) sits next to her husband. The photograph emerged out of the magpie collection. It had remained hidden inside a collection of Suresh Chandra’s letters. Suresh Chandra was clearly fond of this photograph of the family that, in his childhood, he knew as his own. The children, as can be seen, were dressed up by the studio in a somewhat fairy tale style in Persian clothing of the period. Having people photographed in such costume could well have been the custom followed at the time.

Kamala Nath’s first wife and children — circa 1893-84

Sudhir Kumar resembles a six or seven year boy in the photograph. Given that he was born in 1887, the photograph could have been taken around 1893-1894. The little boy had his dreams. Probably he was still reading fairy tales. He had little idea that his fairy tale world was not destined to live too long. The same was the case of his three siblings. They were soon going to lose their mother and they were going to be ushered into a totally new world. A world of rude realities that children are not supposed to cope with.

But Sudhir Kumar’s case was destined to be somewhat different. Fate, as in Greek tragedy, had chosen him for its favourite hero. A new mother arrived and with her arrived the step brothers and sisters. Fate had reserved for him the role of their custodian. He didn’t know that this was the direction in which life was driving him. He turned into a doctor and a faculty member in an American school of medicine. He built a little nest of his own, but he lost it and his mate somewhat in the manner in which he lost his childhood and his mother. It was decreed as it were that his spells of happiness would be brief at best. And then, as though he had not suffered enough mentally, he had to silently writhe in physical pain and die young. Leaving out his own mother, he lived the shortest life among the members of the family.

What makes his tragedy colossal is that few people have even cared to remember his name.

_______

Footnotes
1. Well-known economist, literateur and politician Ashok Mitra’s book of memoirs “Apila Chapila” introduces Parimal Ray as the best-known professor in the Economics Department of Dacca University. Apart from being the famous writer and poet Buddhadev Bose’s friend, he was associated with the literary magazine, Pragati, published by Buddhdev Bose. He taught Ashok Mitra for two years or so before leaving for Delhi, where he taught in Ramjas College and the IAS Training School. He left for New York with a UN assignment and did not live too long. More information about Professor Parimal Ray can be found in Ashok Mitra’s book. We are indebted to the eminent historian Partha Chatterjee for drawing out attention to the book.

2. Pankaj Kumar Das Gupta (Ponku) was Dr. Sudhir Das Gupta’s half-brother. He was an LIC employee in later life.

3. Monu was Nirmal Kumar Das Gupta, another half-brother of Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta. He was a lawyer by profession. A great deal of material on which the present semi-historical document depends were found in his collection by his son Abhijit Dasgupta and daughter-in-law Sarbari Dasgupta. Abhijit is a known personality in the television news world and Sarbari taught in City College, Kolkata.

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rao_Bahadur

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delhi_Durbar

6. Mandira Bhattacharya, who lived in this house from the mid-1940’s has given a detailed as well as a loving description of the building in her book “Dhakar Smriti o Dr. Nandi” written in Bengali. The book was published by Prathama Prakashan in 2018. (Translated, the title of the book is “Memories of Dhaka and Dr. Nandi”.) Dr. Manmatha Nandi, her much respected physician father whom Dhaka has still not forgotten, had purchased the house from the Kamala Nath Das Gupta’s descendants. At a later stage in his life, Dr. Nandi had probably sold away the property and moved over to Jalpaiguri, India.

7. Dasgupta is what the family name has changed into over time.

8. Given the time period we are discussing, the possibility of a child death or two cannot be ruled out. Infant mortality is still a problem in India and other emerging economies.

9. http://lindapages.com/stfrancis/stfrancis.htm

10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bidhan_Chandra_Roy

11. Dr. Bidhan Ray was one of the doctors who examined Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta towards the end of the latter’s life. From the letters quoted at the beginning of this journey, it would appear that even this brilliant man failed to diagnose what had ailed Dr. Das Gupta.

12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexner_Report

13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancestry.com

14. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/27443878956093127/

15. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_College_and_Hospital,_Kolkata

16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._G._Kar_Medical_College_and_Hospital

17. Dr. Manmatha Nandi, whom we have already come across had passed out of Carmichael College with flying colours according to his daughter Mandira’s account in “Dhakar Smriti o Dr. Nandi”.

18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Rebellion_of_1857

19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nil_Ratan_Sircar_Medical_College_and_Hospital

20. https://en.banglapedia.org/index.php/Mitford_Hospital

21. Dasgupta, Uma (2010). Science and Modern India: An Institutional History, C. 1784-1947. Pearson 

22. The licentiate degree was referred to as LMS (Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery) or LMF (Licentiate of Medical Faculty).

23. This appeared to have been common custom in USA till as late as 1935. The person whom we came across in our post The Father, the Son and the **** Ghost had completed a four year DEDP course in Paris before being awarded the DDS degree in dentistry by the University of Pennsylvania within the course of a year. At that time, it should have taken around four to five years to obtain the DDS degree in USA.

24. If this was not the case, at least word of mouth accounts of the manner in which he breathed his last would have existed. His children, at least the ones from the second marriage, were not particularly well-known for their taciturnity. Especially the one described in The Father, the Son and the **** Ghost.

25. A wedding was arranged for this brother as well, but Dr. Sudhir Kumar Das Gupta had ceased to exist by then. This is not the place to relate that story. However, here is a photograph of that event. The photo was shot on the terrace of 37 Rankin Street. It shows some of the brothers and sisters from Kamala Nath’s second marriage, including the second wife (the old lady in the centre). Suresh Chandra does not appear in this photograph. In fact, all the children from Kamala Nath’s first marriage are missing.

Wedding of youngest half-brother – circa 1946

আশি

যদিও বয়স ছুঁইছুঁই করে আশি
কাতুকুতু দিলে হিহি করে তবু হাসি।

The Born Loser

Prize‘I wonder why nobody don’t like me,
Or is it a fact that I’m ugly?’

This immortal Belafonte calypso it would seem carries great wisdom, especially so when I look back at my unenviable performance in the circus of life. Indeed, it appears to me that I could be the only person I am aware of in my small circle of acquaintances, who clearly failed to turn out to be the hero of his own life. Indeed, I am a unique counter-example to the generally accepted fact that every cloud is endowed with a silver lining. Leave alone silver, the clouds that hovered over my head all through life did not betray any metallic connection whatsoever, not even to lead.

It is best that we move straight to the mournful heart of the groan-full matter — my career as an under-achiever. Putting it somewhat more forcefully, I appear to have earned meritorious distinction as an epitome of demerit in about all the contests I ever participated, with the result that the few prizes that ever came my way were invariably offered to me under questionable circumstances.

Take for example the time I won the third prize in a swimming competition. There was little to complain about this achievement of course, except for the somewhat embarrassing fact that there were exactly three competitors who took part in the event. Nonetheless, a prize was a prize and I carried my minuscule tin plated wooden shield back home with unmistakable pomp radiating from my face. But people near and dear, my very own flesh and blood, greeted me, not with awe and reverence, but with an emotion that wavered dangerously on indifference. In other words, it was a day that the cheer girls in the neighborhood spent in gloomy unemployment.

Fortunately or unfortunately though, Robert Bruce’s much advertised accomplishment centuries ago continued to be a source of inspiration and I tried for a while not to give up. The next opportunity to prove my mettle presented itself a few years later when I led the college team to a drama competition organized by the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur. Like an inexorable constant of nature, there were once again three teams that took part in the show. Loreto House (an all girls’ college), IIT itself and us. And much to my glee, we won the second prize on this occasion, the first going to Loreto. However, there was a somewhat unsightly fly in our ointment of success. The judges had actually ranked us third and IIT second. The second prize was nevertheless offered to us on the ground that rules did not permit the home team to accept a prize and there were only two prizes to give away! And this piece of information was delivered to the audience over the public address system!

Such being my well-documented record, I was stupefied one morning when a letter arrived for me offering me a prize financed by an endowment in Kolkata University. I was then a student of the MA class in Economics and exams were still far away. By this time, I had reached a conviction, Robert Bruce notwithstanding, that the only way I could ever win a prize would be for it to be offered prior to the competition, before that is any one had had a chance to compete. Such prizes are not unheard of. If I am not too mistaken, dignitaries are quite often anointed by honorary doctoral degrees. Degrees, in other words, which are not backed by dissertations.

I was elated by the news that I too was about to be honored and assumed that it had little to do with my performance, academic or otherwise. But, after embarking on a careful study of the epistle announcing the news, I realized that this was a hard prize indeed that the powers that be were talking about, hard as in cash. I couldn’t believe my eyes and requested all my friends and enemies to study the document under a microscope or at least a magnifying glass, or whatever it was that Sherlock Holmes and his cronies employed to establish irrefutable evidence. And the investigations revealed, that quite unknown to me, I had indeed bagged a first prize in the university, in physiology !

Now, if this piece of intelligence produces a sceptic wrinkle on a brow or two, let me proceed to offer explanations. Before I stepped inadvertently into the quicksand of economics, I was a student of the natural sciences and forced to study the holy trinity of physics, chemistry and mathematics, along with physiology, which, despite its status as a somewhat distant and possibly illegitimate cousin of the aforementioned disciplines, was elevated to the rank of a minor stimulant for the brain. And it appeared that I had, by a miracle that would put Noah to shame, managed to patent this minor tonic, the major ones having been reserved for greater minds than mine.

I am sure that heretics would be wondering by now if I was the only student in the university who had studied physiology that year and I shan’t blame you if you were to entertain such uncomplimentary thoughts. Thankfully enough though, the answer to your doubts is a clear ‘no’, even if the number of adversaries I faced was not large enough to attract the attention of the Guinness Book. To the best of my memory, there were around ten or twelve students amongst my contemporaries who studied this discipline in the university. And I, to my endless satisfaction, had been leading this mini-caravan. This was the closest I ever came to performing the Robert Bruce feat.

At least three years had elapsed between my accomplishment and the university realizing that an honour hungry talent awaited the bestowal of recognition. Accordingly, the papyrus (or was it parchment?) was despatched to heal the wound of long neglect. There were no festivities associated with the event of course. I was instructed instead to show up at the Darbhanga Hall offices of the university to be guided further about the procedures to be followed, to establish my legal claim to the booty. I proceeded as advised to the second floor of the august building and initiated inquiries, producing my mildewed document for the clerical staff’s scrutiny. Each one of them, as expected, disavowed connection with the prize of contention and pointed vaguely towards dark labyrinthine corridors leading to even darker chambers.

I stuck to my claim like a vice, however, and proceeded intrepidly, inspired by thoughts of the fabled cave in which Bruce observed the indefatigable spider building its nest. The surroundings where I stood did not leave much scope for imagination in this respect either. The room bore an uncanny resemblance to Robert’s cave. After labouring for what might appear to be an eternity, thereby outshining Bruce by several centuries, I finally found the spider, guarding his lair in the guise of a middle aged man who regarded me and the document I proffered with undisguised suspicion for about a quarter of an hour. First, from above the glasses he wore and then from under. I too stood my ground with iron determination, resembling no doubt, to add a French flavour to the Bruce analogy, the young son of Louis de Casabianca on the burning decks of L’Orient.

It was a battle of nerves, the only one I ever won. The gentleman finally exchanged my paper for the one he produced from a secret locker in his secretariat table, explaining most reluctantly the procedure to be followed thenceforth. His paper, as opposed to mine, was apparently a gift voucher, which I would need to produce to a renowned bookseller and the latter would in turn exchange the voucher for a book or two of my choice.

Success at last! I rushed off to the shop in nearby College Street without caring to check how much the voucher was worth. Robert Bruce surely snickered in his grave! Well, as I found out, the prize was worth exactly Rupees Ten. And I had decided to buy the collection of Maugham’s short stories, which, during Ancient Mariner days, cost a solid Rupees Fourteen!

Now, fourteen being a number that mankind has generally recognized to be somewhat larger than ten, my dream and I appeared to be standing on opposite sides of the Great Wall of China.

I tried to convince the seller that a large discount was in order for customers bearing the stamp of brilliance. But the sick old man remained as unmoved as Shylock in pursuit of his pound of flesh. I needed to bear a cost of Rupees Four (which was around 28.57 per cent of Rupees Fourteen, as far as my calculations revealed) for peaceful settlement of the murky transaction. It was an unheard of luxury for a university student with a middle-class background to carry Rupees Four in his pocket during the period of history we are dealing with. But once again, miracle prevailed. After frantically searching inside my pockets (mine, not others’ mind you!), trousers and shirt included, I was able to produce a pile of coins, which the mean fellow counted with supreme concentration before agreeing to part with his proprietary claim over the Maugham collection. I emerged triumphantly from the shop, richer by the four Penguin volumes, but poorer by pocket money that could possibly have lasted me two weeks or so.

I can’t recall exactly how my mom greeted me when I presented her with the news that I had squandered away the money she had allotted me from her less than bursting kitty. It would appear, however, that I managed to survive and I possess the books till this very day.

Whether they can be legitimately described as prizes remains, however, an unresolved philosophical problem in my opinion. To the best of my understanding, 28.57 per cent of the collection fails to satisfy the definition of a prize, though I doubt that I shall ever be able to identify which amongst Maugham’s stories fall in the non-prize category!

Worse, there is no way for me to establish proof that any part at all of the collection was a prize. There is no inscription inside the books recognizing my dubious distinction and the suspicious clerk had taken possession of the only evidence I did have that the prize belonged to me.

So, if you were to test the veracity of this story, I will surely appear to you as a confidence trickster. And I in turn will then have little choice left other than pacifying you with a full-throated rendition of the calypso we started off with.

I wonder why nobody don’t like me,
Or, is it a fact I’m ugleeeee …
?’

Ha!

Soon after lunch today, my wife declared that she was leaving me. Not for good, but for an unspecified period of time. We were still sitting in a restaurant in Puri and she passed on her purse to me asking me to take good care of its contents till she was back. Amongst other things, I knew that she kept her mobile phone inside the purse.

“Why won’t you carry your cell phone with you?” asked I in alarm. “I can’t get in touch with you if you are late. “

“They don’t allow mobile phones there,” she replied and got up to leave.

“Hey look,” said I “who’s ‘they’ darling and where’s ‘there’?”

“I am going to the Jagannath Temple. They have their rules. Amongst other things no leather goods are allowed inside and no mobile phones either. Anyway I am getting late. This is the best time to visit. Because it’s Jagannath’s lunch time and there are few people around. If I can make it on time, I might manage to get a ‘darshan’.

“I can come with you too. Why are you leaving me with a woman’s purse? People will get ideas to see me carrying a purse you know”

“Well, just go back to the hotel room and wait there she said. The room is less than five minutes from here. You can bear the embarrassment for a short time at least. For my sake, do it. This is your once in a lifetime chance to do something for my sake. Try and recall the last occasion you did anything just for me.”

“Look,” said I, “I am even willing to accompany you to the temple. You are doing me wrong.”

“Oh no, they won’t let you inside the temple. You will have to wait outside on the street with my purse much longer that way.”

“Why won’t they allow me into the temple?”

“They are very strict. Non-Hindus are forbidden entry.”

“Since when did I turn non-Hindu?” I asked severely concerned.

“How do I know? Probably since the day you were born. Anyone who cares to study you will know. And then there will be trouble. Look, I am getting late. I want to be present there at the opportune moment.”

“But please don’t leave me in a sea of mystery. Have I been excommunicated? But why?”

“Hindus cannot be excommunicated. You need to convert. But how can you covert from Hinduism if you are not a Hindu in the first place. Stop bothering me. Ask yourself what you have ever done that would qualify you as a Hindu.”

“Oh come on, I married you with the holy fire as witness.”

“Ha!” she exclaimed.

“I put the vermillion mark on the parting on your beautiful hair.”

“Ha!” she repeated with passion. “You are not just a non-Hindu. You are a non-anything. If you are anything at all, you are a lizard in a bathroom.”

“Bathroom!” I exclaimed. By now she had hailed an auto. As she was boarding it, I asked her, “Why don’t they let you carry the cell phone inside? Are they worried that you would call up Jagannath-ji when he was enjoying his post lunch siesta?”

“See, see, see …! Did you hear what you said? You call yourself a Hindu. Ha!”

This last ‘ha’ was pretty lethal, but before I could recover from its attack, the auto had disappeared. So I mournfully retraced my steps to the hotel room and turned on the laptop to check my mail. May be I managed to join company with Shri Jagannath, for I woke up with a start when someone knocked on the door from outside.

I opened the door and there she was. Triumph radiated from all over her person. Full of excitement she told me how she had managed to enter the sanctum sanctorum and watch Shri Jagannath standing only a few feet away. “The Pandas were most helpful. They said I was super lucky. Normally there is a huge crowd, but I got the opportunity to stand there all alone and watch him in his infinite glory.”

“You sure you didn’t call him up and make an appointment this morning,” I asked.

“Ha!” she said again, producing in me the distinct impression that she was slowly forgetting spoken language. ‘Ha’ appeared to be the single entity with which her vocabulary was bursting at the seams.

It was late afternoon and I felt like taking a stroll on the beach. “I am going out for a walk, OK?” I told her.

“Yes do so. You’ll soon forget how to walk if you sit in front of the computer much longer.” She was forgetting to talk and I to walk. I guess we were even.

With her reassuring message about my walking abilities, she bid me farewell. I went out and stood deeply engrossed in thought staring at a camel on the sea shore. The camel too reciprocated. It’s owner watched me suspiciously though until I asked him if he would mind if I took a picture of the camel.

“No problem,” said he. “Just climb up the ladder and sit on its back. I will take a picture with you sitting on the camel.”

“Oh no,” I replied in alarm. “The camel alone will do.”

The man looked bored. “Oh, go ahead.” I began clicking from different angles and was quite engrossed in the work when I realized that a general atmosphere of panic had developed in the meantime. People appeared to be running helter-skelter for their dear lives and I alone was blissfully occupied in taking photographs of a camel that did not belong to the beach in the first place.

I looked up and tried to digest the event in progress. No it was not a tsunami, but something pretty close. Right behind me two bulls had arrived from nowhere it seemed and started to bully one another. Locked horns and all. I stood petrified. No cow was visible in the horizon, so I had no idea what they were fighting over. What would happen next appeared to be a stochastic event, probably captured by what statisticians call a white noise.

As I anticipated, one of the bulls won the match and the loser lost not only the fight but its temper also. It looked around and saw me standing in the empty sea beach. And took to chasing me.

Now I don’t know if any of you have been chased by a frustrated bull on a sea beach. You need to be well-trained  to run at all at the age of ninety eight. And you need to be immensely skilled to be able to run through wet sand pursued by a mighty bull. And recall that I had, according to my wife, almost forgotten to walk!

Well, when situations demand, even non-walkers turn into sprinters. So I survived with a few minor bruises. As I was running for dear life, I remembered that it was Yama who was supposed to ride a bull. (Some believe it was a buffalo he rode, but authentic evidence surrounding the matter appears to be lacking. Till this day, no one has agreed to take the witness stand after being interviewed by Yama.)  And since only a few hours ago my wife had told me that I was hopelessly unreligious, I conjured up a vision that had been aptly captured by a talented economist friend of mine, now teaching in New Zealand. He drew this picture for a love story written jointly by us in Bengali rhyme. I am using the picture to help you imagine my state this evening.

Drawing by Amal Sanyal

I reached my hotel panting. My wife was surprised to find me in a somewhat roughened up condition.

“What happened? Did someone beat you up?”

“No. A female Yama chased me sitting on a bull. ”

“What rubbish!”

“No, no rubbish at all. I saw Yama riding a bull just a few minutes ago. The way you saw Jagannath. From close quarters you know. Only Yama assumed a female shape. I wondered if it was you …”

“Ha!” she ha–ed back in disdain.

Sankari vs. Mathematics: A Moonlit Night’s Tale

young_sankari-2


On an evening parked far away in the mists of time, I had gone out for a stroll with a young and adorably pretty woman. Slim, charming and lively, she was my newly acquired wife, Sankari. I was around twenty nine and she must have been about twenty four. And, as I said, we were out for a walk on a balmy evening in spring.

Had I been Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice, I would probably have told her:

“The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls
Where Cressid lay that night.”

But I wasn’t Lorenzo. Nor was Sankari Jessica. Or else, she too might have replied:

“In such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew
And saw the lion’s shadow ere himself
And ran dismay’d away.”

We didn’t exchange words even remotely similar. Yet, the sky was clear and a million stars glittered above us as they watched us in inquisitive silence. We went and sat on a bench in the nearby park.

“How beautiful the sky is, isn’t it?” said Sankari. This is the closest she came to Jessica.

“Yes, isn’t it? And have you noticed how endlessly the stars are spread?” said I. I couldn’t have been farther away from Lorenzo.

Sankari misunderstood my train of thought I think.

“Oh yes. Endless indeed,” she said, “fascinating little lights under the dark canopy of the sky. Lovely, aren’t they?”

“Right,” said I. “But how many stars do you think there are in the sky?”

“Oh, I don’t know … how should I know how many? Infinitely many may be. Like grains of sand on the sea shore.” Sankari stared at the sky in wonder. A mortal beauty, tucked away in an inconsequential corner of the solar system, looking up towards the immortal beauty of the universe.

“Yet,” said I, “each one has a name, hasn’t it?”

Her face turned sharply from the sky towards me. There was bit of a frown on her puzzled countenance. “Of course they have names. How does that matter?”

“Doesn’t it surprise you that there are infinitely many objects up there and each one can be distinguished from the other by name?”

She stared at me in silence for a while. The frown slowly melted away into an awfully cute smile of indulgence. “You are crazy,” she said lovingly and then went back to stare at the sky again.

“But you can’t name each particle that makes up the sky, can you?” I asked.

Once again the questioning look returned to her face. “What on earth are you talking about? Pulling my leg, are you?”

“Oh no,” I quickly intercepted. “I was merely thinking that the sky too is probably made up of little particles of some sort of matter, gases may be. And it is not possible to give each particle in the sky a name, is it?” I looked askance at her to study her reaction.

She didn’t appear to be too interested. The expression on her face had a stamp of incredulity. “Is this guy really crazy?” it appeared to ask.

But I pushed on. “The particles that form the sky are infinitely many and the stars too probably infinitely many. But in one case you can find distinct names for each particle and in the other you can’t. Isn’t that strange, Sankari?”

She giggled in reply, revealing her sparkling teeth in the light that shone down from a nearby lamppost. “You know what’s strange?” she asked.

“What’s strange?” I asked back.

“You!!” she said emphatically. And then she moved the conversation closer to Lorenzo and Jessica. “The moon’s so beautiful tonight, isn’t it?”

I had to admit this was the case. It must have been full moon or very nearly so. “Yes the moon’s lovely,” I responded casually.

“Don’t you want to tell me something, now that you have noticed we are sitting under a perfect moonlit sky?”

It was my turn to be puzzled. “About the moon?” I asked doubtfully.

“No, about me,” she said and looked away, disappointment writ clearly on her face.

I couldn’t follow her. She appeared to be upset. But why, I had no idea.

So I went back to where I was. “Do you see that there are at least two kinds of infinity? In one case you can name each object in the infinity you behold and in the other, you can’t.”

Her face was still turned away and I had no idea if she was listening. I failed miserably to perceive that I could reach out for the moon so easily on that evening and was wasting that wondrous opportunity!

The moon above kept smiling of course. But the moon next to me wasn’t.

“You know, mathematicians have names for these different kinds of infinity. The infinity of stars is called countable and the infinity of the sky is uncountable.”

I was greeted by deathlike silence. Nonetheless, I went on.

“And you know why the very basis of mathematics is illogical? It is illogical because classical mathematics assumes that the uncountable infinity can also be named particle by particle. It’s called the Axiom of Choice. Without this axiom, which no one can prove, mathematics cannot progress a single step. Logic is just a convenient house mathematics chooses to reside in. In fact though, it’s hopelessly illogical!”

Sankari could have been a mummy resting under a pyramid. I sighed, seeing that her interest had still not been aroused. And then I shrugged.

“Well illogical or not, it works. So I guess we shouldn’t grumble,” I concluded.

“Who’s grumbling?” Sankari had finally found her voice. She was facing me now. Her beautiful eyes smiled at me. A smile charged with sadness.

Have I offended her somehow, I asked myself stupidly. She stood up.

“Let’s go back home, shall we?” she asked.

“Why? Do you have work at home?”

“Yes, I have work at home. Someone needs to work you know, to keep a family running,” she said. I didn’t fail to note the sarcasm in her tone. Gloomily I got up too.

“Well, what are you so upset about?” I asked. “Have I offended you? I said nothing at all to hurt you!”

“No, you didn’t say anything to hurt me at all. But I wish you did. I would have something to complain about.”

I was nonplussed. But I was reassured at the same time. “Thank God,” I whispered to myself. “I didn’t hurt my lovely wife.”

We had started walking back homewards. She maintained her silence. To help matters, I tried to start up the conversation again.

“How paradoxical language is really!” I said dramatically.

“What paradox?” she retorted. “I didn’t say anything at all!”

“Oh no, I wasn’t talking about you. Actually, I was talking about Bertrand Russell.”

She stopped dead in the middle of the road and stared at me, mouth half open. There was a distinctly scared look in her eyes.

“I am married to a loony,” they appeared to say.

I tried to make amends. “Actually, Russell pointed out how strange logical language can get.”

She still didn’t resume her walk. Instead, she quickly checked to see if the road was empty or not. If necessary, help should be around to protect her from her husband.

“Well,” continued I, “suppose you were to say that the barber on our street shaved all those people who didn’t shave themselves.”

“Why should I say something like that?” she challenged. “I don’t even know the barber.”

“Well, just suppose you did say so.”

She was petrified now.

“If you said that, then you would be committing yourself to resolving a very difficult paradox.”

She shook her head slowly, clearly lamenting her fate. But we had now begun to walk again. She had probably decided that, though mad, I wasn’t violently so. But her attitude suggested that she believed a visit to a head shrink was in order.

I had the field to myself now.

“You know what the paradox is? The paradox is that you don’t know who shaves the barber.”

She was almost livid now with anger. “Why the hell should I want to know who shaves the barber? I don’t even want to know any barber at all, whether he shaves or not. You go tomorrow morning and find out who shaves the barber. If no one else does, you do him the favour yourself.”

But I was desperate. “Please,” I pleaded, “just let me finish.”

She stopped again and faced me with stony indifference.

“You see, if the barber shaves himself, then he must be a person who doesn’t shave himself. Because we agreed, didn’t we, that he shaved only those people who didn’t shave themselves.”

“No I didn’t agree to anything of the sort. But even if I did, so what?”

“Well, if the barber doesn’t shave himself, then he is a person whom he has to shave,” I concluded with a note of satisfaction. “After all, the barber we said shaved all people who didn’t shave themselves.”

We had reached home by now and Sankari was unlocking the front door. She entered the dark apartment and I followed her in, turning on the light switch. The room was flooded with light. She looked so fascinatingly beautiful. And she had her engaging eyes turned straight at my face. There was a strange light that they reflected.

She sat down on the sofa and kept staring at me and suddenly blurted out.

“Is this what you get paid for in your office?”

I was confused. “Is what what I am paid for at my office? How do you mean?”

“I mean what do you do in your office? Spread such rubbish amongst students? I thought you taught classes. So I was asking if this is the gibberish you teach. It’s a total waste of taxpayers’ money. Anyway, forget about that. But let’s get one thing straight. I am not your student, understand? I am your wife!” Her voice rose to a final crescendo. I thought I heard loud sirens before enemy attack and beat a hasty retreat to wait quietly for my dinner.

And I have quietly waited for dinner every night since then. I have waited for her delicious lunches too during the long many years that have rolled by following that fateful evening. Sankari is still very pretty I think. But I have realised too late in life I guess that she will never ask me again what a golden full moon on a clear spring sky should remind me of.

অবৈধ — অণুগল্প

অরুণিমা — ফোন করেছিলাম সেদিন, ধরলে না … ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপ মেসেজেরও জবাব এল না।

পলাশ – ফোন? শুনতে পাই নি তো? ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপটাও বোধহয় কাজ করছিল না। কী জানি।

অরুণিমা — ও আধ ঘণ্টার জন্য বাড়ি থেকে বেরিয়েছিল। সেই সুযোগে ফোন করলাম … তুমি ধরলে না। আজও একটু পরেই ফিরবে।

পলাশ – আমাকে তুমি সারা জীবনে আধ ঘণ্টার বেশি সময় দিলে না। আচ্ছা উনি আমাকে এত অপছন্দ করেন কেন? আমি তো ওনার সঙ্গে শত্রুতা করি নি। করার ইচ্ছেও নেই। একেবারেই নেই। কেমন করে শত্রুতা করা যায় তাও বুঝতে পারি না।  

অরুণিমা — হ্যাঁ … জানি … কিন্তু রেগে যায়।

পলাশ – কেন? কী বলেন?

অরুণিমা — ঐইই … অচেনা পুরুষটা তোমার সঙ্গে যোগাযোগ করে কেন? লোকটার মতলব খারাপ।

পলাশ — বললেই পার … অচেনা পুরুষ না, চেনা বুড়ো … কলেজে চিনতাম।

অরুণিমা — বিশ্বাস করে না।

পলাশ — সত্যি কথাটা বলে দাও। তোমাকে লাইন দিয়েছিলাম … তুমি ভাগিয়ে দিয়েছিলে … খুশি হবেন।

অরুণিমা — রোজ আমার ফোন খুলে দেখে তোমার ফোন এসেছিল কীনা।

পলাশ — বাপরে …

অরুণিমা — হি হি হি …

পলাশ — তোমার সঙ্গে যোগাযোগ না করলেই পারতাম। মানুষ ভুল করে ফেলে … জয়ন্ত তোমার ঠিকানাটা দিল, আমিও আমার নতুন বইখানা তোমাকে পাঠিয়ে দিলাম। ফোন কিন্তু করি নি।

অরুণিমা — ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপ তো করেছিলে। এমন কথাও বলেছিলে যে আমাকে কোনোদিন ভুলতে পার নি।

পলাশ – বলেছিলাম বটে। কথাটা সত্যি।

অরুণিমা – সত্যি কথা? আমি তো এখানেই ছিলাম। যোগাযোগ কর নি কেন?

পলাশ — সে কী? তুমি তো আমাকে ফুটিয়ে দিয়েছিলে। সারা জীবনে একদিনই কথা বলেছ সামনাসামনি। মানে পাশাপাশি। তারপর আমি কলেজের গেটে ভিখিরির মত দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতাম, আর তুমি তোমার বান্ধবী পরিবেষ্টিত হয়ে পাত্তা না দিয়ে চলে যেতে। ঐ মহিলা ব্যূহ ভেদ করে তোমার সঙ্গে কথা বলা অসম্ভব করে দিয়েছিলে।

অরুণিমা – নইলে কী করতাম? দৌড়ে গিয়ে তোমায় … যাক গিয়ে … এবার বোধহয় ফোন রাখতে হবে। ওর ফেরার সময় হয়েছে …

পলাশ — তুমি আমার দিকে ফিরেও তাকাও নি কখনও। সঙ্গত কারণেই নিশ্চয়ই। যতদিনে বিদেশ থেকে ফিরলাম, নিশ্চয়ই বিয়ে করে সংসার করছ। ছেলে মেয়েও উপহার দিয়েছ। এদিকে উনি আমি পরস্পরকে চোখেও দেখি নি। তাই রাগটা রহস্যময়।  

অরুণিমা — হয়তো তাই। অত শত বিশ্লেষণ করে না।  

পলাশ – মিছিমিছি ওনার বিরক্তির কারণ হয়ে গেলাম। আচ্ছা, তুমিই বা আমাকে ফোন কর কেন? আমাদের কি কোনো সম্পর্ক হওয়া আর সম্ভব? অবশ্য শব্দ তরঙ্গের আদান প্রদানটাও একটা সম্পর্ক হতে পারে।  

অরুণিমা – হবেও বা …  

পলাশ – আর তারপর যদি শব্দের ছোঁয়াটা অন্য কোনো ছোঁয়ায় পরিণত হয়? তাও কি সম্ভব?  তুমি থাক নৈহাটিতে, আমি উলুবেড়িয়ায়। হাতে ছোঁয়া তো কোনো ভাবেই সম্ভব না। শব্দ দিয়ে যদি তোমায় ছুঁয়ে ফেলি … হয়তো তাই ভাবেন …

অরুণিমা — কী রকম?

পলাশ — মন ছোঁয়া যায় না? তার সঙ্গে দেহের তো সম্পর্কই নেই। উনি বুদ্ধিমান লোক সন্দেহ নেই। ইংরেজিতে sensitive …

অরুণিমা – বলছ?  

পলাশ – প্রেমের জন্য দেহের চেয়ে মনের প্রয়োজন বেশি …  

অরুণিমা – তাই বোধহয় …

পলাশ – তাই বোধহয়? তার মানে তুমি কি এতকাল পরে আমায় ভালবাসতে পারবে? যখন তোমার সঙ্গে শারীরিক নৈকট্য থাকা সম্ভব ছিল, তখন কিন্তু ভালবাস নি। এখন তো কেবল মনটাই বাকি আছে।

অরুণিমা – তুমিই কি ভালবেসেছিলে? একদিন আধ ঘণ্টা কথা বলে কি ভালবাসা যায়? বললাম তো, আমি তো ছিলাম, তুমি কী করছিলে?

পলাশ – আমিও বললাম তো, তোমার তাড়া খাচ্ছিলাম …

অরুণিমা — এবার ছাড়ি …

পলাশ — আমার বয়েস আশি – তোমারও কাছাকাছি। তোমাকে দেখে চিনতেও পারব না। ওনাকে এটা বলেছ তো?

অরুণিমা — বেল বেজেছে। ছাড়লাম।

পলাশ — দাঁড়াও, দাঁড়াও — তুমি আমাকে আদৌ ফোন কর কেন? সেটা তো বলবে?

অরুণিমা – ছাড়লাম।  

ফোনটা এখন বোবা। পঞ্চাশ বছর আগের শরতের রাঙা একটা দুপুর পলাশের মনে পড়ে। ছবিটা পুরোন হল না। সে চোখ বুজে শোনে কে যেন ফিসফিস করে বলছে — শরীর? শরীর? তোমার মন নাই কুসুম?  

Memories — Haiku


            lovely moon shining --
        behind rain soaked rolling clouds --
            lingers on her face ...

দুখী

শোকাতুর প্রভাকর আপ্তে
পারে নি সে কোনোদিনই মাপতে
ঔচ্চে সে ঢের
নাকি বেশি তার বেড়
কেঁদে মরে প্রভাকর আপ্তে।

Thalia Story

Thalia the Greek
I met by the creek
On a faraway noon
And fell into a swoon.
So I failed alas to teller
That I never ever weller
Loved a girl
Other than
She.
Thus ended
The story of
Thalia ‘n
Me.

Riddle

Halfway across the bridge he stood
And began to scratch his head
Wondering, whether in wisdom should,
He further at all tread.

If the rest of the bridge collapses
And gravity assumes charge
To guide him along will there be mapses?
The query in his mind loomed large.

Should he then, retrace his way
To where he began his journey?
But couldn’t that part of the bridge too sway?
Would surely ask his ‘ttorney.

He stared in vain up at the sky
He stared below in fear
He hadn’t a plane in which to fly
Nor a parachute one could steer.

Which way to go, he never found
He could not solve that riddle
Grew ancient thus he, holding his ground
A fiddler without his fiddle.