The End of Journalist Santosh Gupta: A tribute

-Ajoy Roy

 

The inevitable end came in the early hours (~ 2- 30 a.m.) of Friday, August 6, 2004, when Journalist Santosh Gupta breathed his last. This brings an end of a colourful life of a journalist that lasted over five decades. He was admitted to BARDEM hospital following heavy brain hemorrhage on August 1 following which he went to deep comma from where he never recovered for a moment. Three days later he was declared clinically dead by the leading neuro-physicians attending him, although his heart and lung functions kept alive artificially with a hope against hope, a miracle to happen. On Early morning of Friday his condition severely deteriorated, and the doctors with the consent of his relatives removed the life supporting aids.

 

Shri Santosh Gupta, perhaps the most elderly but active journalist of the country, popularly known as columnist ‘Anirudha’ of the daily Sangbad passed away peacefully almost immediately after. To us, among his relatively junior friend circles, he was beloved called as ‘Santosh da’. Even in his life time he almost became an legendary figure and earned an all time place among the great journalists produced in Bangladesh like- Zahur Hosain Choudhury, Manik Mian, Ranesh Das Gupta, Shahidullah Kaiser and poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman. After the demise of those elites, Santosh da became a lone figure in the world of Bangladesh journalism who could inspire our younger journalists as an example what could be termed as honest journalist.

 

His columns written under the pen name of ‘Anirudha’ not only dealt with political matters, but with history and culture of our society and nation. He was not only dedicated and honest but also courageous, a rare qualification one finds in the world of journalism these days. Perhaps uncompromising is the right word we associate with his name. An un assuming in character, mild in nature- falsely gave an impression of timidity, Santosh da never feared to express what he though to be right. He had phenomenological memory of history and world events with precise dates and background. His departure, even in matured age is a great loss to the nation.

 

On personal level I have a great love and respect for him. On many seminars, discussion meetings we sat together- he was not a very eloquent speaker in conventional sense- but his arguments and analytical brain far out weighed the so called eloquence or oratory. He begins softly, takes time to make his points heard & felt among the audience and then almost invariably makes deep impression even one might not agree with his final inference. He was a most lovable person I came across my life.

 

His love for Bangladesh or one may say for a land ‘once East Pakistan’ raised eyebrows of many. Could you imagine after partition of 1947 of India on the basis of Jinnah’s communal ideology, Santosh da opted for Pakistan being a so-called Hindu. He was a police officer during partition in 1947, and was a confidential assistant (CA) in IG prison in East Pakistan when he arrived in Dhaka. Unimaginable matter- Santosh da police officer! His option for East Pakistan was not obviously love for Jinnah’s Islamic ideological Pakistan but for his birth land, East Bengal (Purbo Bangla), then so called.

 

His Early life

 

Shri Gupta, son of a Shri Jogesh Gupta and mother Kiran Bala Gupta was born in a remote village named Runsi, in the then Bakhertganj district (now in the district of Jhalakathi) in the year 1925. He matriculated in 1941 from Jhalakathi P. K. Institute. After completion of his school education he graduated from City College, Calcutta now Moulana Azad College. He joined the IG prison office as a junior officer after successfully passing Indian Public Service Commission in 1945 or so. If he wished and stayed back in Calcutta he might have ended as a successful big police officer of India. But that was not to be his fate. Instead he chose a life trajectory that made him a famous journalist of the subcontinent.

 

When he was taken to Dhaka central jail in 1949, a hunger strike was going on to press a charter of demands, which continued for 58 days. The newly arrived prisoners including Santosh da who was then a young man of 24 years immediately joined in the strike. It may be recalled that on 20th day of hunger strike Shiben Roy of Kusthia, a veteran labour leader of textile industries succumbed to death while he was forcibly being fed. He was released from jail after more than three years. He was again arrested in 1954 and came out of the jail after over a year. He was once again taken to prison for his communist leanings, which was then treated as seditious activity against Pakistan, following Martial Law imposed by Sepoy General Ayub Khan in 1958 killing the democratic institutions from which Pakistan never was back to democracy even today. He came out of the jail in 1962 after four years. He started journalist career in 1957 as an assistant editor of Sangbad and came back to Sangbad in 1962 after the release. He intermittently worked in daily Azad in the first phase in 1964-65, and then in second phase from in 1967 to 25th March of 1971 when Pakistani army cracked down on Awami league leaders including its leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, undisputed leader of the Bengali nation at that time, and on the thousands of sleeping population Dhaka. After liberation he resumed his work in Azad only to return to Sangbad after only a few months, never to leave it again. Sangbad became his second home.           

 

He become inclined to left politics led by then Communist Party of India (CPI) from his college life. His communist association led to the arrest of himself, his mother, Sardar Fazlul Karim, Abdul Bar, Ranu Chaterjee, Jnan Chakravorty, Manu Mian (a peasant leader) and some other communist workers in 1949 on the day of Christmas day when a secret police team raided his house at night. It was believed they were in a secret meeting in the house of Santosh da, then a CA of IG prisoner Mr. Amir Hosain. It is now known of the story (which we heard from Santosh da many a times) that on the following morning Mr. Hosain went to see the arrestees in the Dhaka central jail, when he heard that his timid looking soft spoken CA was so deeply involved in communist movement. This is probably called in Bengali proverb ‘Bagher ghare ghoger basa’ (a weakling settling in the lair of its deadly enemy).

 

 

This association with communist movement he continued till the communist Soviet Russia collapsed like a card of house. This historic event like, to many of us, came as a rude shock wave to him. This not only bewildered him, but also turned him in his latter writings apparently an anti communist. Many of his later columns dedicated to heart-felt searching for what went wrong in Soviet Communism or in fact in world communist movement with special reference to dissolution of CBP. His writings not only revealed his inner feelings of pains and hurt, but also exposed his attempts to unveil the cause of failures of the communist movement through the world. His bitter and critical writings, speeches and columns invited even personal attacks from the ultra left communist theoreticians spearheaded by Badruddin Umar, and underground terrorist-anarchists of Purbo Bangla Communist party, Naxalites, Janajudhawallas etc. Santosh da never compromised or endorsed with gala kata rajniti (cut throat policy) of ultra left communists even in the hey days of Naxalite movement under Charu Majumdar, nor he was inspired by the slogan of Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist variants of communist parties ‘Chairman is our Chairman’. The division of communist movement into many campuses in Indian subcontinent during sixties shocked him. But like us the silent spectators but supporters of world communism, who once believed in ‘unity of the communists and workers of the world’, Santosh da also became frustrated about the whole communist movement. Since then Santosh da gradually drifted away from active communist movement, but concentrating himself mainly in his writings dealing with problems relating to liberal democracy coupled with secularism and non communal political and social culture with special reference to Bangladesh context, but all the time retaining a soft corner for the spectrum of leftists’ philosophy in general. His book entitled Samajtantret Anya Itihas (Another History of Socialism) is the out come of his thought of searching for the cause of the apparent failure of world communism and our local variants. Being a communist He had immense love and respect for Bangabandhu although he was a critic of many of Bangabandhu’s policies in running state affairs during his lifetime. But he had never released venoms of hatred or personal grudge against Bangabandhu following his brutal murder at the hand of a few pro-pakistani elements in Bangladesh army. On the contrary he defended him for 4-basic ideologies that he incorporated in Bangladesh constitution, and for his great contribution in building the concept of Bengali nationalism in this part of the world, and largely responsible for materializing it through his columns after columns in most difficult period of our history. He treated Bangabandhu really as the real architect of Bangladesh, call him father of the nation or not it matters little to the great man of the history. He time and again wrote critical articles showing the limitations, shortcomings and shortsightedness of the present Awami league leadership for its compromising attitude to 4 basic principles. According to Santosh da the life of Awami League is and has been always the 4 basic principles incorporated in 1972 constitution. Out of frustration of failure of communism Santosh da used to say on many occasions posing a question, ‘Where did we go wrong ? Were all our past activities childish and full of errors ?’              

 

His Private life.

 

Santosh da married Gauri Devi in 1966. The couple has 3 sons and a daughter. His elder son Pankaj Gupta was drowned in a boat accident while he was distributing relief materials during 1988 flood. Other two sons Manoj and Priyotosh are in Dhaka, while his only daughter Aditi is with her husband in Germany.

 

He earned an enviable reputation as a fearless journalist, which was duly recognized by many cultural and professional organizations including the state of Bangladesh when he was awarded ‘Ekushe Padak’ in 1997.

 

Apart from his popular columns, he wrote several books which include Anuttom Baktabya (1987, a collection of essays), Smriti-Bismritir Atale (1997), Itihash Amader Dike (1998), Itihaser Chhayachhanna Prohar o Bangabandhu (1997), Ekusher Chetana o Ajker Bangladesh (1998), Bangladesher Chitrashilpa: Swaruper Sandhane (1998), Asamapta Kabita (1999), Shilpa Samaj o Bastabata (1999), Samajtantret Anya Itihas (2000), Sangbadpatrer Swadhinata banam Sangbadikata (2000) …..      

 

Personal Remembrances

 

Let me pay my deep respect and tribute by remembering him as one of great well-wishers. I knew him since mid sixties after I came back from England, yes for more than forty years. I have always been admirer of his writings and speeches. We had many sweet personal memories. Following his serious illness in which he had to be set in a pace maker, when I went to see him in Sangbad office after his recovery- we had hours of talk and gossip with not less than ten cups of raw tea. Santosh da was a heavy smoker- I have never seen him without a smoking stick. But on that day he did not smoke. When I pointed out how the miracle could happen, he gave a childlike smile, and said. ‘I really miss it.’ Needless to say, I warned him not to resume it at any cost, ‘even at the cost of your beautiful writings.’ I added further, ‘We can sustain the loss of your writings, but not the Santosh da as a man, as a humanist, as a conscience of intellectual communities!’ When I narrated him my own experience how the lakhs and lakhs of minorities belonging to different minority communities were being oppressed at the hands of the goondas let loose by the parties in power in cooperation with local administration following the general election he admired our effort. But cautioned me as his affectionate ones not to take unnecessary risk. He wished that he could accompany me to remote areas of the country, but for his physical constraints.

 

I still remember when I presented a copy of my work, a monograph dealing with origin and development of Bengali people from earlier days based on anthropological as well as sociological data, entitled ‘Adi Bangali : Nritwattik o Samajtattik Bislesan’ he wrote a critical review in his column with profuse praise to my utter surprise. I neither did nor request to do so- he did his own out of affection, I am sure. But he did not fail to point out the weak points of the book, which need more elaboration. One day he rang me if I could give him another copy as he had lost it, and needed it right at that moment for his writings. Fortunately I had a spare one. I did not know that Santosh da had deep interest in science and its history. More than a two decades back I was serializing a translation of Bhaskaracharyya’s Leelavati in Bengali from original Sanskrit in Bangla Academy Science Patrika. For various reasons I had to discontinue it after I published 5-6 chapters. On some occasion we met in a seminar. He asked me why I had stopped translating Leelavati. Little did I have any idea that a journalist was following my science writings! I felt elevated. He made a request to resume it, but in spite of my earnest desire I am yet to resume it. Another instance of his interest in scientific development in our country- he once praised Dr. Ali Ashgar, a leading figure in magnetic research in our country for Ashgar’s contribution in magnetic research. I was simply charmed – and asked him where did you get this information. He did not reply, only gave a smile- added one-day I would write also about your works and other of other scientists of the country. One day he rang me from Sangabad office just to praise a science writing of mine on the history of development of modern science in Bangladesh that appeared in Sangbad. He knew how to encourage a smaller people like me. A great man indeed. Let me end my write up quoting from one of his great friend and one time comrade, Sardar Fazlul Karim: Santosher moto emon smritishaktipurna sangbadik, kabi, ebong lekhak amader shahitya jagate ar keu achhen bole ami bhabte parina. Jagat to sudhu ekta noi. Take je dharma, je namei dakuk na keno. … Jiban sangrame amara sabai sainik. Santosh tar ateetke jatai bhranto mone karik na keno, Santosh’o amar proti tar preeti o bhalobasar byatikromer prokash dekhai ni. Santoshke’o ami amar jibaner ek atulaniya sangi ebong suhrid hisebei dekhechhi. (I don’t think I have seen any one like Santosh – a journalist, a poet, a writer in our literary world. …. The world is just not one- by whatever name a religion may define it. …. In our continued fight for life, we are all soldiers. In pointing out his past as faulty whatever Santosh might say today, he never showed any deviation from showing me love and respect. Me too, I have always treated Santosh as incomparable companion of my life and a great friend. ).

 

Santosh da, as a junior friend of yours, I pay my deepest respect and homage to your ever-lasting sweet memories.                                      


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