(A eulogy to a mentor extraordinaire)
Bangalore, January 2014
|Bay of Bengal, Puri, Odisha|
“Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I'm not going to make it, but you laugh inside — remembering all the times you've felt that way.”
― Charles Bukowski
“That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”
― Charles Bukowski, Women
'I mean, whatever kills you kills you, and your death is authentic no matter how you die.'
― Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead)
Sometime in April last year, when I called him (My weekly, maybe, fortnightly calls) the voice on the other end was not the usual “Hello! My good boy…” It was an elderly sounding gentleman, talking feebly.
Confused, I enquired: Dipankar Ache? (Is Dipankar there?)
Raja* Haspatal e, (Raja is in Hospital) the voice on the other end informed me.
It was his Octogenarian dad. Dipankar had a lung infection, he said and had to stay in the hospital till all the fluid was cleared. I was about to leave for Goa with my wife for the weekend. It was a long drive and the news did not make me feel any better. All through the journey, I was thinking of him. I kept imagining him, lying in a white clinical room with tubes and drips, as I drove up the ghats after Dharwad. But then I reasoned he was not in an ICU, so maybe it was not that serious. We all land up in a hospital once in a while. I had met him less than a month back on my way and while returning from Banaras. He seemed fine. I had checked-in at a guest house very close to his place and he had been dropping in at the drop of a hat. The fact that there was a liquor store just around the bend made matters even more conducive. The Vodka kept flowing. But he also cursed me for not having brought any grass from Banaras. 'Fuck You, asshole. You are coming from Banaras with not an ounce of weed. Che Che Che.' ‘Well....you know...we didn't get any,’ I quipped. We were smoking chillums mostly with the Babas there and they have strict a rule -Aao, Piyo aur Jao. Chai, chillum, chappati is the rhythm of Banaras as a friend had observed. I saw the pressing of the lips and then he laughed. The next day, there was knock on the door really early. I put on my knickers and opened the door ajar to see him with his jhola and a newspaper in hand. He was coming straight from the station after having seen his son off to Hyderabad. He walked in saying, ‘Sorry, hope you were not disturbed.’ Well, well, well… mornings are the best time to make love but my wife and I got dressed. Let’s pour a drink for three! Cheers ! It was the ides of March.
Later in the day, he took us to his adda. The coffee house in Jadavpur. There he introduced us to this motley crowd of Bhadraloks who say Dutch over the endless cups of coffee they order. The place was chaotic but we liked it. It was small, rather intimate sans the architectural glory of the college street coffee house. We had our cup of black coffee, ordered something to be parceled, and then took the lane opposite Aroop's, his friend’s house. In between, we stood for some moments at a Saw Mill while Aroop fetched some booze. Luck was on our side as some grass also arrived and we rolled a few reefers. Later, we lunched and then he had his customary forty winks, breathing heavily.
I had not seen this side of Dipankar. I had never quite known him as a Bengali Bhadralok. His interests always had been inclined towards the 'lowlife', a Charles Bukowskian world. In Bhubaneswar, in the early years of the new millennium, 2003-2004 to be exact, I had noticed he was always more at ease with the drifters, floaters, the hustlers and the vagrant ones. One such February evening in my own drifting phase, I had landed up in Puri with a friend for an experimental film festival – Bring Your Own Film Festival (BYOFF). Sitting under a makeshift gazebo, between whisky refills in the plastic cup, my ears caught a voice. A voice that was moving effortlessly between Shudh Bengali and somewhat accented Oriya. I was probably on my 3rd drink for the evening and it took me a while to realize who this gentleman was. He looked rather unfriendly and maybe a bit scary even with the big spectacles, a thin mustache and intense eyes. Aaah! this is some uncle-type I thought, maybe he will have a hot wife or a daughter so I will get an introduction and can concentrate on them rather than him.
I don't remember who made the first move but at a certain point the ice was broken. I remember the big round wooden table. There was me, Amit, my friend and the gang we didn't know. The moustache's name happened to be Dipankar (aaah! so fucking bong I thought), there was another moustache called Amlan, but he looked rather scholarly. His wife Snigdha and another lady Rupashree who screened her film completed the group. Amit, my friend wanted to hook up with someone for the 3 days we were there. I had a girl in a nearby town and she had promised to drop by for a day and stay over. Sun, sea & sex was what we had in our mind. Screw films. But as the evening rolled into the night, we were unable to move away from that circular table occasionally making trips to the bar to refill our glasses. We were realizing our man Dipankar was quite a shark with words. And where did he say he worked? NABARD, fuck what's that, is it Hindi or English? Some agriculture-related stuff, Amit told me. Shit, we can fucking score some good weed man in kgs...I thought. 'Asshole! they are not growers man, they are lenders and it’s a bank,' Amit snarled. It’s difficult to remember how much we drank that night. But for the next few days, we hung out in the same circle quite a bit.
We had never imagined that Puri could become a week-long party venue and that too, the Pink House at C T Road, a place where I had spent many quaint hours in my earlier lonesome visits. Numbers, e-mail IDs were exchanged as the festival drew to a close. Back in Bhubaneswar, as my management programme drew to a close, Amit and I one day decided to give Dipankar a call. And to our surprise that very evening, we were invited to his place in Jagamara on the other side of the airfield, not too far from my temporary accommodation. Dipankar lived with his friend and comrade of many battles, Shyamal. Together they made a happy working couple. That evening, we sat around the dining table, joined by Amlan and chatted about various things. I remember, however, that Dipankar was holding court. He had his fixed chair, one of the dining-set chairs just outside his room which for some reason was always closed. I have forgotten how many evenings after that first night I have been one of the occupants of the dining chairs, listening, arguing, breaking in laughter riots, or on the verge of breaking down as I got grilled. Every 3rd day, I was there. The routine simple: Laze, smoke up, fuck around the whole day and by late afternoon land up at the NABARD office. From there, Dipankar and I headed off to a small chai shop opposite the Survey of India office. There Nigam, baba as we called him because of his salt and pepper hair and beard would gather all the freaks from his office and we blew chillum after chillums. On many days, Nigam accompanied us and the drinking and feasting would go late into the night. Here I was whiling away my time drifting when I was supposed to take up a job, get all suited up, find a smart ass pretty thing and continue the family tree. A year or two passed, two more editions of BYOFF happened. I lost track of Amit. My parents started slowly giving up hope in me. I didn't mind this life though. Somewhere I had started questioning things than always looking for solutions or answers, something a technical and management education generally teaches you. Dipankar, in a big way, un-conditioned me. Through his world, I met fascinating people, read stuff that grasped me by the balls and drove a screw driver into my head, and I had this assured feeling of knowing someone in whom I could confide anything. From Kamasutra to Kashmir, he could hold court on probably anything except technology. He was not a materialistic person and had very few earthly processions. A rickety single bed with a permanent mosquito net, shelves full of books, and medicines were what his inner sanctum consisted of. I was privy to his book-shelf, though not to his loo. He scribbled his thoughts in a small note-book. The influence of a nerd like me later saw him acquire a laptop and over the years, he had somewhat started going digital from analogue. He had one lone singular female friend whose house he could land up at anytime. One evening, he invited me to come over. And then that place became a hangout too. There were many more hangouts in Bhubaneswar which was still in a transition stage, on its way to becoming a big urban centre.
There was a languid air all around. By then, my Dad had retired and a year-and-half had elapsed. I was feeling a bit stifled with my parents at home and was broke if not for their kindness. The initiation of the search to find myself had begun; I could not remain anchored in one place anymore. Sometime in the autumn of 2005, I went for a brief stint to Bombay trying my luck out as a lensman, shooting stills on movie sets. In a few months, I was back to square one. Back home, with my parents or chilling and arguing at Dipankar's place.
I had one more tryst with BYOFF in 2006. This time, Dipankar and I drove along with a friend of his from Calcutta. There we were joined by another friend, and I remember that suite in Saphire Hotel overlooking Pink House became our happy hunting grounds for the next few days.
Circa 2006. I took off to Bangalore post BYOFF. I had to find something quick for me and the next few years were a bit of a struggle. The early hardships brought fruit. I became a steady copy hand in some mid-size advertising agencies. I did go back home once in a while but these were short visits. And whenever on the east coast, I used to pay my customary visit to the house behind the airfield. I had new things to talk to him now. My new world in a new city, which had rather become my universe. I made new friends and enemies. New loves and betrayals. All through Dipankar was privy to every bit of my life. At some point even my girlfriends had his number and bitched about me to him and took advice on how to improve their love life with me. Some thought it better to leave me, but still kept in touch with him. His insights were universal and balanced without any rancor or prejudice.
Sometime later, I heard he had to leave his earlier house and move to the one opposite. Here, too, he had a constant stream of people coming in. I think it was sometime in 2008 when I once waited with a friend to meet him, 500 yards away from his new house, not knowing the exact location. He refused to pick my calls or answer my SMSes. My mistake – I was in Orissa for a week but came to meet him towards the end of my stay. We didn't meet that time. As the flight was about to take off next day, we were exchanging nasty SMSes, calling each other names.
The recovery took sometime. I guess he called truce maybe realizing he acted like an ass. Things were back to normal. We were calling, mailing, and texting. I moved from one agency to another, one girlfriend to another. However, Dipankar and me stuck to each-other like glue to paper. He was my foster Dad, and I his eldest son, he used to joke. Then he got transferred back to Calcutta. A part of my world back home was no longer the same. In 2010, he came with his son to spend some days with me. By then, he was posted in Shantiniketan. Those were turbulent times for me and I was caught in a maze of decisions and revisions which were taking me nowhere. His presence - and coincidentally my dad had also come over - was kind of soothing for me. I turned 35 that year and oh boy! What a party we had. Sadly, I got too drunk to remember much of it.
Sometime in 2011, I had this sudden urge to visit him at Shantiniketan. I landed in Calcutta on a July morning and took a Shantiniketan-bound train. There was a certain excitement, as I would be seeing him in his new adda after Bhubaneswar. We were back to our old tricks once the pleasantries were through. By then, he had quit smoking as his lungs could no longer take the smoke in the COPD condition he had. Just like Bhubaneswar, at Shantiniketan also he had found his circle of low-life. The office boy, the mess manager, the security fellow, they all loved him. And once office hours were over, one of the smaller rooms would become a make-shift bar and the booze or the conversations never ceased. He showed me some places, others I saw on my own. The morning I left Shantiniketan, he came with me to the station to see me off. As the train pulled out of the station, we hugged as always. ‘Have a safe trip,’ he said and then, 'fuck well'.
For some reason, he couldn't make it to my marriage or reception in 2012. People go to fancy locations for their honeymoon but I went back to my childhood and growing up years, showing my wife the dusty mining towns I used to live in. On the final leg of the journey, I stayed in Calcutta for three days. We were invited to his house for lunch. There were two firsts. He was meeting my wife for the first time and I was going to his Calcutta house for the first time. In no time, Calcutta became one of the favourite destinations for my wife who was visiting the place for the first time. The day we were leaving, he came to Mocambo and after a sumptuous lunch, he saw us off till we got a tram to our hotel in Wellington. The 2nd visit to Calcutta was last year on my way to Banaras.
|Dipankar Sen Roy|
November 2013. Pablo^ was to join his first job and the dutiful father was accompanying him. I was anticipating this visit for some time. I was a family man now and lived a much more civilized life. A day before he took the train from Calcutta, I got a call from Sanjukta, his wife. Dipankar's health was fragile and she asked me to keep a watch on him. I assured her he was in safe hands and if any need arose, I had my father-in-law, a doctor, just a call away. He also had a cousin's wedding to attend but chose to move into my place. The hotel he was staying at had just tissue paper and not even a faucet or a mug, he complained – a little too international for his taste, he joked. We didn't go out anywhere as he had a heavy congestion of chest and we didn't take the chance of another infection. Over that week, the discussion veered from job opportunities for engineers to death-fear. I remember over one of our drinking sessions, he had mentioned 'All that jazz' and the last hospital scene. I asked him when he was admitted in April for 17 days, why he didn't tell his friends? No one likes to hear the news of a dying friend, he replied. To my wife, he had told that when he would be gone, his family would still be financially secure. Then he told me that for the first time, his dad and mom were seeing him as a solid family man. As I dropped him at the station, hugged and wished him goodbye, I looked forward to April 2014 when he promised to be back for a full week. Maybe we could take off to some place – Hampi, Ooty, Pondicherry or the many weekend destinations near Bangalore, I thought.
The phone rang post 5 pm on 14th December. It was Sanjukta on the other end. She broke down and mumbled something about informing Pablo. Then, Dipankar's mom took the phone. Ki holo...Dipankar ki abar Haspatale (Is Dipankar again in hospital), I asked? Se aar nei, (He is no more) is all I heard from the other end.
(The writer knew Dipankar for almost a decade, from 2004 to 2013. He succumbed to a massive heart attack on 14th December 2013 in his Dhakuria home around noon while watching a test match on TV. He had finished his customary adda at the Jadavpur Coffee House earlier that morning. )
*‘Raja - Dipankar’s nickname
^Pablo (Ajan Sen Roy) – Dipankar’s Son