My Baba Nabarun Bhattacharya: Tathagat Bhattacharya
By Tathagat Bhattacharya
It has not been possible for me to respond to your messages of solidarity (find it a better word than condolence) earlier. And it is mathematically impossible to send individual replies to you all, I am sorry for that. Your thoughts are much appreciated. My father stood for certain principles which do not quite sit with the way of today’s world. So, it is okay he does not have to endure it anymore. But possibly as long as Bangla lives and as long as the poor, the lumpens, the powerless rejects of the world exist, his works will be relevant.
We had launched ‘Bhashabandhan’, the literary monthly that later became a quarterly, in 2003 with a lot of dreams. That show will go on. It became nearly impossible for Baba to sustain it. He would not accept help from any form of establishment. He had an erect spine, which unfortunately is pretty much a rarity amongst Bengal’s intelligentsia these days. But any help you can extend to me in this regard in your individual capacity will be welcome. Please inbox me in case you want to be a part of the regermination process.
There are certain things which need to be clarified at this point. These would not be needed if strange rumours and claims were not doing the rounds.
1) My father never received any help, in whatever form, from any political party or dispensation. Neither he asked for any. So haven’t me and my family. He did not need any.
2) The only lasting impression on my father’s life has been that of my grandfather, Bijan Bhattacharya who was a father, mother and mentor for him. To understand my father and the spine he inherited, one should watch the film ‘Padatik’, specially that part towards the end of it, where my grandfather says, “Ami kintu kokhono kono compromise kori nai (I have never compromised).” That has been the story of my family. All other fleeting characters in his life, no matter famous or not, no matter related by blood or not, have been passing references like the stomach bugs that get you down for three days every fourth year.
3) My father remained a committed Marxist till his last breath. However, his view of a classless and just world went beyond the boundaries of human society. Many of you, who knew me personally in my younger days and would come home, would remember how our house resembled a veterinary rehabilitation centre with injured and healthy cats, dogs and birds jostling for space in our garden. Insects, birds, animals, trees, small shrubs, wild growths (agacha) also figured very prominently in his scheme of things.
4) My father also was a deeply spiritual man though he rejected rituals. He had faith. I know some of you may find this contradictory but you will begin to see the light if you expand the premise of Marxism again beyond its anthropocentric boundaries. You must travel, observe, read, feel life’s various nooks and corners. You must have a rare sensitivity, the ability to remain involved and detached at the same time and see non-violence as the only way to live a simple life. I know it’s difficult to believe that the creator of Marshal Bhodi, Major Ballabh Bakshi, the fyatarus would be such a person deep inside, but there are certain things only a son will know about his father. Baba studied Buddhism and Hinduism in their intrinsic depth and details. There was a special place where he would sit and meditate every day. He sits there even now, even after his physical form is gone.
For those of you who have not read me, I am a journalist and push the pen to make ends meet. One of the main reasons I use my nickname here is that me and my wife, also a journalist, have been at the receiving end of the ire and anger of nut-cases who do not agree with our political writings and commentaries. They have warped and intolerant views of religion, politics and society and I do not wish to engage with idiots.
Many of you have been asking me as to if I intend to write. My father, in the wee hours of the very day he was transferred to the Intensive Therapy Unit, told me, “Ebar tui lekh (Now you write).” Few of you, who know me well, know I have been meaning to write for quite some time now. But some of you will be aware that 2008 onwards, my life has been very topsy turvy and I have had to encounter a spate of job losses, company closures, trouble at workplace and serious financial hardship. Writing for pleasure or passion was a luxury I could not afford then. It’s unfortunate that just when I was getting a semblance of stability and the bearings started holding up, Baba was diagnosed with this fucker of a disease.
Me, my mother Pranati, my wife Nilanjana have tried every thing, every place and every stream of treatment within our limited means.
But now that he is gone, it is time for me to carry the family tradition forward. Hopefully soon.
The loss of my father is possibly as catastrophic for me and my small family as the bomb was for the City of Toys (Khelnanagar). But then, I get a feeling that he is there, quietly watching over us, uttering the choicest invectives in his inimitable way when we get out of line.
There is a lot to celebrate about my father. The recognition, the cult status and readership he achieved possibly ensure that his works will stay relevant even decades down the line. In this regard, I want to let you know that the New York-based New Directions are bringing out Harbart. A German edition is in the works. A reputed publishing house from India is bringing out another five of his books in English and they will go international. Baba’s writing was distinctly modern, incisive, international and urban. His scholarship was encyclopaedic. You could not fuck with him almost on every thing. The tilapia from the tank, it seems, is not content with reaching Gangasagar. It is threatening to cross the ocean now.
In his personal life, he had an amazing companion. My mother, nine years older than Baba, has held our family together. When Baba lost his day job after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was her tremendous strength and support that made us stay afloat. As a couple, they may become benchmarks for love and loyalty, simplicity and sophistication.
His relationship with my wife and my son was electric. My wife, Nilanjana, says her biggest supporter in any home boxing bout with me is gone. Yes, she will miss those bitching sessions with him. By the way, the last song Baba heard the night before the ITU terror struck was ‘We Shall Overcome’. Nila sang.
My son, Chegu (Swayam) used to call him ‘Bappa’ as Baba insisted he was not an oldie and therefore did not qualify to be called grandpa (Dadu). He still calls the urn carrying Baba’s remains ‘Bappa’ and is very happy we are taking ‘Bappa’ home for good. No, we are not immersing him in the Ganga. He is going to stay right here at home with us.
As for me, the loss is of course personal and private. What Baba was to me and what our relationship was are matters best left unsaid. Before Nila sang to Baba, I played two of Baba’s favourite songs: Leonard Cohen’s ‘Waiting for the Miracle’ and Mukesh’s ‘Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan’. Baba could not speak much then. But he smiled a little, eyes closed as the following lines jumped out of my phone: “Kal khel mein hum ho na ho, Gardish mein taare rahenge sada/ Bhuloge tum bhulenge woh, par hum tumhare rahenge sada”
In his personal life, mother’s affection was the only thing that he missed. But Baba’s Baba Bijan Bhattacharya made up for Baba’s biological mother’s lack of empathy, love and motherliness.
As friends, colleagues, co-workers in the cultural movement, he had wonderful companions. One of them, friends with Baba for the last 63 years, was with him till the end. Members of the cultural wing of CPIML Liberation have been a great source of support and strength and were with us till the very end. Baba’s colleagues at Bhashabandhan were of course there too.
In our neighbourhood, where the crows and cats, dogs and people would often see him on his evening strolls, possibly contemplating his own death, Baba was laid down on a block of ice. A reader had texted Baba expressing concern about his health towards the end of May. He forwarded me Baba’s reply on August 1. Baba had written back: “Do not cry.I am in a state which the existentialists call a borderline situation.With dignity and courage I must face it. -Nabarun”
So while Baba enjoyed the sensation of cold in his bodily form for the last time, rickshaw pullers, bootleggers of country liquor, small shopkeepers, the sweepers, the gardeners, the unemployed, the fyatarus, jostled for space with ministers, parliamentarians, writers, actors, film makers, academics and activists. As the skies opened up with possibly all the 330 million gods taking part in a fataruesqe pissing contest, the small covered area saw Trinamul Congress leaders standing glued to CPI(M) big guns. It would have made such a good Fevicol ad actually. It was as apt a setting as it could be, the soft-cotton scent of the mud was wonderful unlike the overpowering smell of gunpowder at plastic state funerals.
As ‘The Internationale’ and ‘We Shall Overcome’ filled the air, the crowd started to move. Baba was a part of that procession too. A real man was on his last march.
This piece is by Nabarun Bhattacharya’s son. You may share and post this but please do not use commercially without asking the writer.