Close of an Era

Mourning Samar Bagchi

Asit Roy

Samar Bagchi, a legendary science educator and human rights activist is no more. He passed away on July 30, 2023.So many people have paid numerous eloquent tributes to Samar Bagchi with tearful and introspective pens after his physical demise. More of his writings and lessons of life would be discussed in all its facets. Literally, how many hundreds of things he has left his signature on, this writer does not have the ability to recount these in this small space. Only recently, this 91-year-old young man joined hands with Dipankar Bhattacharya in front of Hazra Park on the black day of Babri demolition on December 6, at the call of Medha Patkar, and chanted "Save the country", "Save the constitution", "Save democracy". Again it was him, who responded to the call of Greta Thunberg and joined the huge procession of students to save the Jalangi River in Kolkata. The late, tireless and colourful man is our beacon in dark times. He is Samar Bagchi, none other than a character of the epic "Dhodai Charit Manos", authored by his neighbour Satinath Bhaduri born in Mongyer in Bihar. The city of Kolkata is mourning in tears due to his death. His memory was so sharply revealed when I came back from the Puri conference of "NAPM" he asked what happened. One of our friends replied by singing an old time song "Waqt Ki Awaaz Hai Milke Chalo". He immediately told the name of the lyricist of the song during the anti-fascist days. I have heard many of his poems memorised. He loved Arun Mitra's poetry. He said in a high-pitched voice "I have left my deepest words and sorrow at the root of the tree,".

An older story will reveal another side of Samar Bagchi's character. When he was the director of the Birla Museum, he built a pet library, from which children could take home a few pet animals. It had to be returned within the due date. Once so taken a rare species of bird flied out of a member's cage. The child's mother and father, could not buy back lost bird, went to Samar Babu and begged for forgiveness and asked how much compensation should be paid. Samar Babu, asked the child - didn't he fly away, did you blow him up! Seeing that the boy was silent, he took him to the next room, why did you do this? The boy said, he had a hard time in the cage! After hearing this answer, Samar Babu came and told his parents, you don't have to pay compensation, but my project has been successful so far. Launching this library was to instil a love of animals among children!

When a natural person with such a compassion flies out of the cage of this world, it is difficult to bear the deep pain of his loss.

Dr Samar Bagchi began most of his experiments in popularising science while at the museum. He joined in 1962, became Director in 1968 and retired from there in 1991. After retirement, his activities gained momentum. To popularise science among students, he actively participated in science model competitions, umpteen seminars and science fairs across the state. He used to run out to different villages across the state. And had trained students in hands-on science. He started innovative science training called the Quest of Doordarshan. His fans still remember this project with deep respect. Once I met him suddenly in Khanjanpur village near Santiniketan, which is the village of tribals called Kora. Working with them was an enthusiastic young man named Rahul and his British wife Kirsty. Now these Koras speak almost the same language as the Santals. There are many other language groups close to Santals such as Ho, Birhar, Munda etc. He was listening to this analogy with great interest. Rahul- Kirsty couple published many textbooks with the help of locals on the advice of Dr Bagchi. Teaching was also done in their own language. In this context, I was reminded of the "Khelaghar", an educational and cultural institution for Santal girls, established by Rabindranath's beloved Maitrey Devi, at Badu, near Calcutta. Dr Bagchi was the chief advisor there. With what wonderful skill they performed Rabindranath's poems, dances, songs, dramas. When asked why there was no cultural programme in their own language, Dr Bagchi remembered pondering the debate with keen attention. Later this was told to this writer. Readers can find many of his hand-drawn examples of hard science teaching on YouTube.

Now let's come to philosophy. Marx, Rabindranath and Gandhi were his most favourite haunts. As a result, he was in the progressive camp. Always he spoke for human rights and social justice. He got much inspiration from the Narmada movement against dams. Social activist Medha Patkar and his associates were his natural allies. He was the advisor of West Bengal NAPM. Once here too the organisation was quite strong. History will not only remember him as a dedicated person who carried the spirit of science in an atmosphere of false science. He represented an era. In him one finds the foot soldier who has taught people to be strong in the work of life and not to give up. He would continue to walk like a restless youth in the fields and paths of Bengal through lessons of life and work practices. Time will heal all the sorrows accumulated in your broken ribs Samarda. The poem you used to frequently recite. Such a humanist and visionary ever remains with us in the struggle for justice.

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Vol 56, No. 9, Aug 27 - Sep 2, 2023