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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 47, New Delhi, November 6, 2021

Barunda - a tribute

Friday 5 November 2021, by Sankar Ray


The end of mundane innings of Barun Das Gupta screeched a four-decade long association of mine to a permanent halt and Barunda like Jollyda- Jolly Mohan Kaul, an outstanding communist in the pre-split CPI– was a cricket lover who used to be glued to the TV screen during one-day matches. I knew about him as both of us used to write almost regularly for ‘This Fortnight’, edited by Raman Swamy. One day when I was the senior sub-editor of now-defunct Capital Weekly in the very early 1980s, BP Ghosh, sales manager of Hindustan Pilkington Glass Company Limited and a frontliner in the battle of junior and middle management of private corporate sector and nationalized companies that were under corporate raids brought Barunda with him. We were glued to each other from that day but almost always in a benign debating mood during telecons and meets. But I got used to be enriched not only with precious information but how to write English properly. He was a living encyclopedia. At that time he was a special correspondent in the newly-brought out Bengali daily, edited by Magsaysay laureate Gour Kishore Ghosh. Barunda later told me that he was hitched to Ghosh by another quasi-legendary journalist Hamdi Bay,

Like Victor Serge, a senior executive at Comintern during Lenin’s lifetime and a famous novelist, Barunda never went to a school. Serge told his father in his boyhood days that he would never go to any formal school and instead would educate himself. But Barunda was not sent to school as his father Kshtish Dasgupta ( who set up the first indigenous manufacturing unit for printing ink which was used by the Ananda Bazar Patrika) and Satish Dasgupta who was known as Bengal’s Gandhi were unflinchingly committed to the Non-Cooperation Movement at the call of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The two – both were students of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray at the College of Science and Technology under the University of Calcutta and followers of Gandhi groomed Barunda imparting the best-available education at the Sodepur Gandhi Ashram (now in North 24 Parganas district, West Bengal). Barunda was specially trained as a paramedic who could perform minor surgical operations, aside from general education. Which was why he was at ease in teaching life science at a higher secondary school before joining the profession of journalism.

He was an ace labour reporter, thanks to his active association with the Revolutionary Communist Party of India of which he was for many years a central committee member. Queerly enough, charity did not begin at the home of Das Guptas as their lad did not embrace Gandhism. Gandhi himself was fond of him and used to call him by his nickname Babua. He came in close touch with Saumyendranath Tagore and Pannalal Dasgupta.

He was the last but perhaps the only journalist who saw closely some of the top leaders of Indian National Congress pre-independent India like Badshah Khan, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Abul Kalam Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Sarojini Naidu and the like as two meetings of the Congress Working Committee took place at Sodepur Ashram. Barunda reminisced those days serially in the Bengali weekly, Janaswartha Barta, how he closely loitered around Congress stalwarts almost all of whom became Congress Presidents and came to know them personally. Most of the CWC members used to stay there.

Barunda was close to historian Bipan Chanda who too used to call him as Barunda. Among his close acquaintances was Puspa Lal, one of the founders of Communist Party of Nepal. He was reluctant to disclose such contacts but we used to instigate him to be enlightened.

The world will not be the same again without Barunda whom I named ‘misguided missile’ He remained unknown to many. People around turned Barunda a cynic, forcing him to develop strong likes and dislikes. To call him a journalist is to grossly underestimate him.

Sumit Chakravartty adds: The year was 1967. The United Front of Opposition parties, representing the Bangla Congress and all sections of the Left, had come to power in West Bengal. A public meeting was held at Calcutta’s University Institute Hall by intellectuals, writers, and literary figures to felicitate the new government at which Shambhu Mitra, the well-known theatre and film personality, recited a poem by noted poet, Jyotirindra Moitra, highlighting the importance of the Left having come to power through the battle of the ballot and mass struggles. It was an advice to the Left leadership to forsake armed struggle and rely on mass movements. This was a moving poem which assumed poignancy in the voice of the dramatist, Shambhu Mitra. After the meeting Barunda, who was present there, asked me whether the message would reach those for whom it was meant; and both of us had a hearty laugh. Barunda always discussed the contemporary political situation in West Bengal with me. Both of us had identical views on the role of the non-dogmatic Left and felt that sectarianism must be eschewed at all costs to ensure national advance.

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