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Looking Back

Subhas Ganguly–My Life Teacher

Sudipta Bhattacharya

“Write your name five times”

It was a nice morning in the Autumn of 1989. Five or six 16-year-old boys were siting on a “Shataranchi” on the floor, in a room full of books on diverse topics, artifacts from some scientific experiments, portable typewriter, seashells and what not. Boys were taken aback by the ask of their Statistics tutor, but they did repeat writing their names on a piece of paper five times.

“What do you see? Even if you write your own name with your own hands a couple of times at once, they will look different. This is due to some non-explainable random variation.”

This was my first exposure to the insightful way of scientific teaching that my “Sir”, Subhas Ganguly had advocated for the better part of his life. My interaction with him started as one of his students but it changed over the course of time to one of his disciples. I know Sir wouldn’t have liked this choice of word of mine for describing my relationship with him but in absence of any other appropriate word, I would prefer sticking to this expression because deep inside I looked up to him as someone who had opened my eyes on many dimensions, starting from philosophy of scientific leaning all the way to the psychological challenges we face in our lives, humanity, the political aspects of modern time, history, just to name a few.

Every time I went to meet him during my visits to Kolkata, my time with Sir rolled from morning to afternoon, afternoon to late evening. But it never felt enough. I had so many questions to ask, and he had so much more to offer. Every time I came out of that flat, I felt that I would have to come back to listen to him again. Thinking out of the box has been a buzzword for years, but it is very difficult if not impossible to think differently unless someone gets the guidance of a person like Subhas Ganguly.

My discussion with Sir ranged from Bill Clinton to hanging of Dhananjay, Nandigram to intangible nature of particle-matter physics, Osho Rajnish to Einstein, Bicycle Thieves to Rabindranath at such an ease that before I would realise, I got the name of five different books to read. Because of my living in America, I am somewhat aware of the oppression on the blacks by the system. But when I brought up that topic to him, Sir highlighted on the ‘genocide’ of Native Americans by the Europeans in the past few hundred years, a gruesome topic related to the settlement of Europeans in America that is hardly touched upon by any reasonable degree.

Last few years, since my children were born, my calling him over telephone or emailing him reduced. I could feel that Sir wanted me to call him more, but life intervened and I failed. Lately Sir used to tell me he was getting into a phase of depression, but I always hoped that next time I would go to visit him, I would find him as I had always seen him for the last 35 years of my life.

Like everyone near him, I will always miss my Sir; miss his scholarly and magnetic presence and guidance for becoming a better human being; but what I will crave for the rest of my life is the undercurrent of his love and affection that I cherished for decades together.

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Vol 56, No. 36, Mar 3 - 9, 2024