Reflections From A Friend

Subhas–An Argumentative Person

Vir Bharat Talwar

[There was a memorial meeting on Subhas Ganguly on December 19, 2023 at Tripura Hitsadhani Hall, Kolkata. ‘ Kaladhani’, ‘B-O-B’ and some friends of Subhas organised it. Many of his friends could not attend it for various reasons. As Vir Bharat Talwar is seriously ill, he failed to come to Kolkata from Delhi. He wrote a short piece remembering Subhas in Hindi. T Vijayendra, yet another long-time associate of Subhas, has translated it into English for frontier readers.]

My first meeting with Subhas Ganguly took place at Ballygunge Science College. Probably it was during 1971-72. I came from Patna and some members of National Liberation and Democratic Front [NLDF] took me to meet Subhas and Bharati to a room in the Science College hostel. The hostel was adjacent to the college campus. At that time both Subhas and Bharati were vigorously working among students there with a view to developing a broader political organisation. Those were the days when the ‘event of Spring Thunder over Darjeeling’ had tremendous impact on the student community in Calcutta and elsewhere. In those days in West Bengal and particularly in Calcutta, the political situation was supercharged. Terrible attacks were going on the Naxalites. Anyone even remotely connected with the naxalite movement came under police scanner. Violent skirmishes were going on between C P M and Congress -led students organisations. Living in those difficult conditions it was not that easy to work for building political organisation. For that a lot of courage, patience and commitment were required. By this one can understand what metal Subhas and Bharati were made of.

 I could not get to know Subhas much because I never lived with him for a long period. He always lived in Calcutta and I lived first in Patna and then among tribals in Jharkhand. Sometimes I used to go to Calcutta in connection with my political organisation and the Journal Filhal [Hindi] which I used to edit and then meetings with Subhas also used to occur.

Subhas along with three other activists were arrested for political reasons and went to jail and suffered tortures in custody. After coming out of jail, Subhas joined Sanjay Mitra and worked for creating an organisation to fight for Democratic Rights and started a movement for the release of a large number under-trial prisoners who were denied bail. In truth all of them were arrested under false cases. In the process the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights [APDR] was born. In addition to human rights movement Subhas also wrote many valuable articles in Frontier magazine. One of his articles on the Human Rights Situation got the PUCL award. During this period political organisation NLDF kept on disintegrating. In later days, like many other members of our organisation Subhas and I, both moved away from practical political work and apart from reading and writing we got getting attached to works related to democratic rights movement across the country.

 For one thing during this period I came a little closer to Subhas. Sometimes with my work and sometimes just to meet old friends I would come to Calcutta for 3-4 days and then I would stay with Subhas and Bharati in their Salt Lake apartment. Like this I stayed five-six times at their home and enjoyed the hospitality of Bharati. Later when I was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla, Subhas went there and stayed with me for 10-15 days. This way, having spent a few days with him at Calcutta and Shimla, I got a bit nearer to Subhas and got to know him a little bit more and got acquainted with his good and bad habits.

I found that in personal conversation Subhas was very argumentative. He used to emphasise on the argument and make fun of illogical talks. Any idea behind which there was no argument, he would refuse to accept. He used to respect the individuality of the person staying with him and never asked very personal question. Subhas would like to read a lot. Whatever he read, he would tell his friends and talk about it. While reading if he liked something or found it very important he would immediately make a note of it. His reading range was vast and he read books of literature, politics, philosophy, history, mathematics, science etc. His likes and dislikes both were severe. While debating, even while talking ordinarily, he would immediately get excited and his voice would rise in emotion. However he would quiet down also. But the other person, in face of this excitement and emotion would be a bit cowered and get frightened.

Subhas had a very bad habit of smoking beedis. This habit affected his health also. There was another thing. He spent nearly all his life in Bengal. As a result he did not think much beyond Bengal or Bengalis. Because of this he had sharp arguments and differences with political activists from outside Bengal.

All the same Subhas was an indivisible part of all of us who rebelled against the system in the 1970s. Without him we all have been left a little reduced. It feels sad thinking that now when I go to Calcutta there won’t be a meeting with Subhas.

December 20, 2023

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Vol 56, No. 28, Jan 7 - 13, 2024