One of my childhood friends died this week in Calcutta. He was a poet. He was a dreamer.
Swapnavo meant shades of dream. Literally.
Swapnavo Raychaudhuri and I grew up together since when we were both students at Scottish Church School. We shared quite a few things in common. We belonged to the same class cheated by the people in power, and we both knew it. We lived in the same dingy, dusty, crowded, cacophonous, smelly, sentimental North Calcutta. Our sisters were classmates too in Holy Child Girls’ School. We both loved art, poetry, music and films…and teenage pleasure pursuits…like, girls. We both cared least for money and other such mundane matters of life.
His sister just wrote that this brat donated his eyes and body, for medical research. Didn’t I say he didn’t care for mundane matters of life?
We in fact carried so much in common that one monsoon afternoon, Swapnavo and I played table tennis in our college recreation room, and then he said he was going to visit his mother in a city government hospital. He did not get to see her again. She had suddenly died because of our familiar negligence and malpractice. Not too long after, my mother died too. I did not get to see her either when she died. Just like my friend, I was not present at her bedside when she left us.
Anyways. Enough sentimental stuff.
Swapnavo excelled in table tennis. In fact, he was fantastic. He was also a guitar player. And he started writing poetry in high school. I remember how ecstatic he was when I gave him a copy his first poetry published in our school yearbook, the year I was the student editor.
I excelled in football and cricket, according to a certificate our school principal wrote for me. But I was not fantastic. I was also a singer, perhaps doing a little better on Tagore songs. And I started writing poetry in high school. But his poems were definitely much better than mine. Slowly, he turned into a known poet-songwriter in Calcutta, and his singer wife Sayantani began recording his songs. Swapnavo-Sayantani took after the meteoric rise of Kabir Suman and his genre of progressive Bengali music, and left a mark.
We were both great admirers of our friends, especially of those with creative genius. We kept in touch even after I left India and came to the U.S. Every time I went back to Calcutta over all these years, I would make it a point to see him, and he would make it a point to see me. We met a number of times at the famous Kolkata Book Fair. We met at our beloved city’s vibrant mingling places such as College Street Coffee House, or the film and cultural center Nandan. A number of times, we met at each other’s places, and had lunch .
One thing we did not share in common. This crazy brat smoked like crazy. I did not.
I saw him one last time earlier in 2012 when he paid a surprise visit to the inauguration ceremony of my Tagore CD. It was surprising because other close friends like Alak and Pratap had already told me he had lung cancer and was not doing very well.
I gave him a bear hug one last time. He smiled his usual, shy and mischievous smile. Then, he took a copy of my CD. Then, he pulled out his latest book of poetry, signed it, and gave it to me. With his usual, shy and mischievous smile.
I asked, “So, how are you doing now? God, you got this f… disease, eh? So, what’s the prognosis?”
He said, “What disease? I have no disease! I am fine. Just the same…ever as before.”
That was him. Careless. Free. Fearless too.
That was my childhood. My young adulthood. Careless, free, fearless.
That was my Calcutta.
He was an atheist. Otherwise, I would say a prayer now.
Ah, well, he didn’t believe in prayers either.
That’s one other thing I did not share in common with him.
At least, he is pain-free now.
Okay. Enough corny stuff already.
Brooklyn, New York