By Nitya Chakraborty
Barun Dasgupta, a leading journalist of the country, who worked in many national dailies including The Hindu and The Indian Express, died in Kolkata of old-age ailments on October 31. He was 86. Barunda, as all the younger reporters called him affectionately, worked for the India Press Agency (IPA) for the last ten years. His incisive commentaries on the political developments in the northeastern states of the country, as well as our South Asian neighbours, won significant admiration and loyal readership from even the foreign ministry officials of the Indian Government.
Barunda’s highly interesting life has all the making of a thrilling biopic, starting from his childhood days with Mahatma Gandhi at the Sodepur Ashram, which was founded by Satish Kumar Dasgupta, Barunda’s granduncle, and his father, Khitish Dasgupta. Gandhi stayed in this ashram of the ‘Gandhi of Bengal’, as Satish Dasgupta was respectfully called. Barunda was only eleven years old when Gandhi stayed at the Sodepur ashram for 100 days in 1946. Naturally, around that time Gandhi took a deep liking for little Barun and interacted with the young boy, who always put out curious questions to the Mahatma.
The young and restless Barun moved around in Sodepur ashram among the titans of the Indian National Congress, like Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Vallabbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and most of them found this inquisitive young boy always asking questions and demanding to know everything. The Congress Working Committee met twice at this Sodepur ashram and Barunda mingled among the participants freely while working as a young volunteer.
It is strange that this long acquaintance with Mahatma Gandhi and the other top leaders of the Indian National Congress did not lead him to completely accept the Congress ideology. Barunda was not admitted to any school. He did not get any formal education. His Gandhian father and grand uncle taught him at the Ashram. There was a big library and the fledgling Barun was continuously reading everything, including literature, philosophy, religion and even books of medicine. He started reading the lives of revolutionaries, including those who advocated violence.
Both his granduncle and father were experts in chemistry and they were associated with the great scientist, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, who set up Bengal Chemicals. In fact, Barunda’s father was the founder of the printing ink manufacturing plant in Bengal, which even supplied ink to Anandabazar Patrika. Barun also knew from his young days every detail of the process entailing the manufacture of printing ink.
Soon, young Barun lost interest in the Gandhian ideology despite all the grooming in the Ashram, which faithfully followed all Gandhian practices. His restless mind looked for other options which would bring relief to the poor and the oppressed people of independent India. He joined the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI) led by Soumendranath Tagore and Pannalal Dasgupta and opted for a life of full-fledged revolutionary for the overthrow of the first Congress regime of independent India.
After the failure of the adventurist line, in which many members lost their lives, Barunda came back to the fold and began his forays in journalism. He started with the Bengali magazine Compass founded by Pannalal Dasgupta, and then shifted to other papers. His writing capability and in-depth knowledge of the issues he wrote about were noted by both the Bengali as also the national media. To my great delight and immense pride, Barunda, from the beginning of his journalism career, got himself associated with IPA and the Mainstream weekly. He worked in Dhaka after the Bangladesh government was formed, as the correspondent with Patriot and IPA. He then worked for the Indian Express and The Hindu. In the early 1980s, when the famous journalist Gour Kishore Ghosh became the editor of the new Bengali daily Aaaj Kaal, he took his old friend Barun into the daily as a senior journalist-cum-trainer of the young reporters. Those who had joined the new daily as trainees recall Barun’s ability to explain the foundational tenets of reporting in the most lucid manner. He was an idol to the young reporters, many of whom took up responsible positions in Indian media in later years.
At a personal level, Barunda’s demise is a big loss to me and IPA. He was like a mentor. It was always exciting to discuss political issues with him over email. His deep knowledge of the geopolitics of South Asia was awe-inspiring. I was always learning new ways of looking at the highly combustible South Asian geopolitics from Barunda’s perspective. He was a prolific writer with a wide range, and his columns were always timely and much sought after. Only six weeks ago he sent me a message: “Nitya, I have got some new points on Myanmar. I am writing the piece. You will get it next morning.” And the piece for IPA reached on the dot. IPA will deeply miss the uncommon insight and precision in language that marked him as a political writer for more than five decades. Indian journalism has certainly become poorer of talent after Barunda’s honorable discharge from this tumultuous theatre of compiling history’s first draft. (IPA Service)