Those were doctor's orders. On February 20 this year, sometime around 11 AM, Kallol's legs were crushed as he tried to board the 2312 Kalka Mail bound for Kolkata at Ghaziabad station, UP, on the outskirts of Delhi. He was rushed to the ICU, after being given up for. That evening when we went to see him he was still not out of danger. We could still lose him. And then the confirmation of our fears. His legs had to be amputated above the knee.
Kallol and me had virtually grown up together in my current job as an editor with a publishing house for school books. We worked together on countless books over almost a span of 10 years. What struck me was his simplicity and unassuming manner even though he is one of the top artists in his field today.
When I visited Kolkata it was his friend Shubhendu whom he entrusted to give me a taste of the city. As we sat by the Hooghly and drank in its soul at Prinsep ghat I remembered how earlier in the evening Shubhendu could not contact me at the Kolkata metro due to network problems. So he called Kallol in Delhi, who in turn called me from Delhi - as I was browsing some books on Park Street - to set up the meeting. Kallol was the playmaker with the moves which counted.
As I walked back numb that grim February evening in the midst of tears and sombre faces, I told God that this was not fair. Here was a superb freelance artist, who always had a smile for everyone. Why?
Maybe he was chosen to be the instrument to show us how to take adversity with a smile. Kallol has been a comeback kid. He never ceases to inspire me. Having been through such intense pain he always saw the rainbow at the end. Today he was literally bouncing on his bed when I prepared a Goan dish for him to savour at lunch. His relish for the food, which we all shared after it was laid out on his bed, his good humour, and his reminiscing of his college days made it look as though nothing had happened to change his life at all! He gleefully took a picture of us on his laptop webcam.
Able to use the wheelchair, he looks forward to his artificial limbs now. He has already visited Endolite prosthetics, Naraina, New Delhi for the measurements. The estimated cost is around 3 lakhs. When I ask him to make an appeal again for funds, he says shyly, 'They have already done enough.'
We spoke of Shubhendu, and about Kolkata, as we listened to all of 5 verses of the Indian national anthem sung soulfully in Bangla, followed by the national anthem of Bangladesh. We discussed the music of the Bauls; Tasleema Nasreen and how she is now willing to settle even in Tripura - only to be able to speak Bangla. This sense of pride for his homeland has always kept Kallol going. 'I play this CD of Tagore's songs as I work,' he says. He zest for life was unmatched. He proudly showed off his laptop - after we had got all the connections right, USB port and all - and excitedly drew a squiggle of a face with his SmartPen - an assistive technology feature on his Photoshop CS2 platform. Forget about a setback, he was using state-of-the-art technology to refine his work.
By far, what gave him the most pleasure was the Times of India report the previous day about double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius (21) now being cleared by the Court of Arbritation for Sport to participate in the Beijing Olympics. The International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) had earlier ruled that the carbon calipers Pistorius used gave him an unfair advantage.
Down by the Hooghly
By Prinsep ghat we sat
as the lights
shimmered on the waters
from the bridge above
The noukas nosed by the quay
smoke from cooking fires,
trailing wisps into the night.
'Come midnight,' says Shubhendu
'the men will put out to catch fish
on the high tide'
under the absent moon.
Candle flare flickers
- the spark of life.
A lonely man appears
and consigns sheets of newspaper
theatrically on the silent river . . .
(Prinsep Ghat, Kolkata
22 July 2007)
Prinsep Ghat: an archway on the bank of the Hooghly River, was erected to the memory of James Prinsep (1799-1840) in 1843 by the citizens of Calcutta.
bridge: Vidyasagar Setu, the look alike of Golden Gate Bridge, 2 kms downriver was completed in 1992. It is a modern day engineering marvel and one of the largest cable-stayed bridges in Asia. The bridge connects the twin cities of Kolkata and Howrah.
noukas: small fishing boats