Sudeep Banerjee : An Obituary

SUDEEP BANERJEE (1946 - 2009)


IRONICALLY, what finally broke the ice was TS Eliot’s Wasteland!

The atmosphere was a little heavy as Sudeep Banarjee walked into that hotel room to meet the crew of Granda TV, credited with producing some of the finest, award-winning documentaries on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The producer, Laurie Flynn, was very tense. He had been waiting for weeks to get permission to shoot the Union Carbide plant. And Sudeep had kept him on the tenterhooks.

When the two met for the first time --  my friend Laurie and Sudeep -- there was a mutual distrust on both sides. Laurie, almost a card-carrying radical, expected to meet a dyed-in-the wool bureaucrat. Sudeep, a passionate votary of the New World Order, expected an insensitive firnag of “anyone here been raped and speaks English” type.

During introduction Laurie was informed that the bureaucrat who had come to meet him was also a poet. But Sudeep, probably, could read the amazement that was writ large on the Scotsman’s polite visage. Laurie asked him about his favourite poets. Sudeep kept mum. We kept sipping from our glasses.

Suddenly -– pardon the metaphor --- like nightingale that starts singing without a cue, Sudeep started reciting passages from the Wasteland.

His tone was slow, as if he were talking to himself, which probably he was.

He went on and on. Almost for the next twenty minutes, without faltering on a single line. Needless to add, the small audience was spellbound. No one slipped from  the glass thereafter.

That was the kind of guy Sudeep was…..

He was equally at ease among his literary friends, secular activists, radical thinkers and top echelons of bureaucracy. But wherever he was or whatever he did, his basic concern remained the same – to improve the lot of the underprivileged section of the society.

The poor did not figure only in his poems, they formed part of his life as a civil servant too. Millions of shantytown dwellers in towns of Madhya Pradesh owe the biggest gift of their lives – a permanent roof over their heads in the form of tenancy rights for their encroachments upon public land –to Sudeep’s deep influence over his political boss, Arjun Singh.

"I know,” he told me once, “that you cannot expect much from the present system. But moving in the right direction is important. Once you put a pro-poor policy in the statute book, no political party can take it away. The law will always remain there.” Very prophetic.

Publishsed in Hindustan Times, 11 February, 2009
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