*Alik Manush

Reminiscing Anirban Biswas

Pradosh Nath

I could make out he was munching something while talking with me over the phone. When asked what was he munching, he replied—having breakfast with Begun Pora and muri (Eggplant roasted in open flame, mashed and spiced to taste; eaten with puffed rice). It was quite a surprise that he knew what he was eating. The standard talk (not jokes) about Anirban was—look at his shirt and pant, you can make out what all he had eaten for over a week or so. He would sometimes request for some special dish from some mashima—a friend's mother. When he was invited he would invariably mix mocharghanto with dal and rice and exclaim how he had relished the mocharghanto! A celestial existence on earth—living in our society that obscured his existence. For Anirban anything other than transformation of the society we are living in has been uninteresting pastime. Not really true, always. A man with photographic memory could narrate verbatim Teni da stories, Neville Cardus' narration of tie test, Utpal Dutta's 12-page long poem written for weekly Bengali magazine 'Desh' after returning the National Award. And, perhaps the most daunting, he once recited from memory the entire text of Prof Bagchi's 'Schematic View of Indian History' for the benefit of a ring of listeners preparing for the morrow's examination (there weren't enough copies of the Gough Sharma anthology for all to read that night). Perhaps, if he had not taken up the responsibility of looking after Frontier, few would have known how lucidly he wrote in English. He claimed that he had learnt his English by reading Samar Sen's editorials in Frontier.

When revolution remained elusive, Anirban created and inhabited a surreal world of which we sometimes caught fleeting glimpses when his passion got the better of our pragmatic self. It was a world where revolution is an imminent reality, where every one of his friends are giving their best towards realisation of the dream. It telescoped the revolution and the post-revolutionary promised land of peace and harmony. It was the becoming and the being of a paradise which was forever lost to us, immersed as we were in our worldly pursuits. But we were too faint hearted to disabuse him of his belief that we continued to belong to flock of the faithful.

Anirban was once in Delhi attending a family gathering which, like most middle-class family gatherings had an assortment of individuals with greatly differing back-grounds.When a middle level corporate executive was departing,he shook hands with Anirban and ritualistically conveyed that he was happy at being introduced to him. Anirban's unhesita-tingresponse was, 'No brother, you are not being truthful. I don't think you enjoyed my being here'.

Anirban, Gurudeb as he used to be addressed by many of us, was 'Ajatashatru'—none could be his enemy, irrespective of political alliances and differences. Our PG hostel days—I suppose friends still share this—was marked by acute scarcity of two things: money and cigarettes. Stealing carefully hidden cigarettes from hostel mates' rooms was common practice. Discovery, followed by ritualistic trading of abuses would normally be followed by erstwhile enemies joining forces to raid another mate's room and enjoying the 'booty' together. Anirbanwas the only privileged one. He could enter any room, pull the drawer, pick up even the last cigarette, lightup and leave the room, no questions asked. If there was no cigarette he would go to the next room. If it was Anirban, it was accepted as his right. Well, to be fair, he would never even know or care if we had done the same with his stock. He lived his dream of socialised property. Of course, he did carry it to extremes sometimes like when he would borrow a mate's tooth brush. 'Brother I can't find mine'.

Anirban had only one complaint of injustice against him meted out by one of our friends. In a fiercely competitive cricket match between two groups, one of boarders and the other of day scholars, Anirban was batting for the boarders while one of our friends was umpiring. Anirban successfully faced the first ball, but the umpire declared him 'out'. All of us were surprised. No one had even appealed! Anirban was perplexed but following the good cricketer's etiquette he obeyed the umpire's decision. We were up in arms against the umpire whose nonchalant response was—Cricket is a game of and for aristocrats. A minimum protocol is to be maintained while playing the game. A player without shoes, exhibiting cracked heels could not be entertained. This remains one of the sweetest memories of discords among the friends. Anirban would love to tell around this story as one of the lighter moments of our shared past.

During one of my trips from Delhi to Kolkata one incident has etched my memory for ever. A co-passenger, trying to be pally, initiated a dialogue that went on like—you remind me of my room-mate in our college hostel. My passive response—which college? Which hostel? The gentleman (a retired executive from a finance company—as was revealed later) replied—Presidency College, Hindu Hostel. I asked—who was your room-mate, what was his name? And reply was—Anirban Biswas. He went on—a wonderful human being, a brilliant student. The room-mate never had the opportunity to meet Anirban after he was arrested. I was emotionally moved by his desire to know about Anirban. I gave him a surprise—probably the best in his lifetime—when I asked him if he would like to talk to Anirban. He was almost in tears discovering that he was in the company of a man who knew Anirban. I connected Anirban, they talked for some time. The gentleman expressed that he would remain ever grateful to me.Yesterday, in my dazed state, after learning of Anirban's demise, I felt it was my moral duty to inform him that his icon was no more.

Our friend Niloy had a painful untimely death. Anirban called me next morning, said,—'Brother, it hurts'!

On 3rd April at 9 O'Clock at night, I had a telephonic conversation with Anirban for about forty-five minutes. Among many things he was telling me how with advancing age he was becoming more and more nostalgic. I came to know that coming July he would be 69. On 4th April morning when I was attending a few routine calls, Anirban's call came repeatedly at least for five times. I called back after finishing with the routine calls. Anirban did not respond from the other side-I was calling using Sir's mobile. 'Sir is no more'. From all our friends, I wanted to tell, 'Anirban, it hurts'! oo

[*Alik Manush—taken from the novel with the same title by Syed Mustafa Siraj. Alik—unreal, Manush—Human.]
(The author is grateful to Pranab Basu and many other friends for compiling this piece.)

Back to Home Page

Vol. 53, No. 43, Apr 25 - May 1, 2021