Saturday, February 17, 2018
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in memory of 

The other day I met a visitor in the Patrika. He wanted to know why I hadn’t written anything on Professor S.C.Deb—my personal meetings with him if any. I may tell you that his eldest son, teh late A.K.Deb, was   a colleague of mine in the Patrika and the youngest Jeetu Deb was my contemporary in the University.

Only a few weeks ago I had a telephonic conversation with Jeetu who was then not very well. Jeetu’s innocent looks would never indicate that behind that mask hid a hilarious young man whose robust language was a treat to the ears of those who couldn’t ever think of those lively expressions with which he would bash the insufferable bores around. 

 But when I think of Professor S.C.Deb I think of the very best that can be imaginable about a real, good teacher. I did not have the fortune of studying under him as at the eleventh hour I opted for Economics. The late  Manish, his second son-- a radio commentator of repute and himself a teacher--  had told me: `He is very strict but behind that strictness lies a loving heart’. The first time I met him face to face was when I went to him in the Public Library which was then being looked after by him. I went there as a representative of `The Leader’, a popular English daily that was founded by Madan Mohan Malaviya. Professor Deb had a very stern look on his face. When he saw me he asked me to take my seat. He then burst out: `You people…’ I was scared. He smiled. `I don’t mean you. I mean the press people in general’. His complaint was genuine. He said that the press people should ventilate public grievances. He chatted for quite some time, made me feel absolutely at home; and I came away highly impressed if not captivated by the magical spell of his personality.
 Subsequently when M.Chatterji became the editor of `The Leader’ and asked me who were the great intellectuals of Allahabad whom he could meet. I promptly suggested the name of Prof. Deb. He asked me to fix an appointment with him. It was decided that we would go to his residence `Hawaghar’ on Sunday. The Professor greeted us with his winning smile and told us: `Look, your newspaper is right on top of all the other newspapers’. The professor then told me: `Young man, just pick up that diary on that shelf hidden below the books ?’. Nervously I fished out the diary. And what he showed us left us pleasantly stunned.  He showed us quotations from the editorials of `The Leader’ written by Sir C.Y.Chintamani in the 1920s. They were written in his own handwriting. We were having a look at them some 40 years later in 1966 (47 years ago). He would address us by our first name. And the special affectionate tone in which he would call out `Manuj’ to editor M.Chatterji was so fascinating that Mr Chatterji always remembered it. Thereafter it became a Sunday ritual on our part to visit Professor Deb at his residence. And this went on for weeks till `Manuj’ left Allahabad. I remember the name `Manuj’ because I can still recall Prof Deb calling out to him by that name. Once a very interesting thing happened. M.Chatterji, then a fiery Netaji Subhas supporter, started praising him, justifiably too, in Prof Deb’s presence. The learned professor listened to him with a humble smile on his countenance.  Mr Chatterji then started talking about the Bengali pride. Prof. Deb  continued to listen to him with the same smile. Mr Chatterjee than recalled the Netajai-Gandhi tiff and fully justified the INA founder’s  stand when he  had left the Congress and carved out a new channel for himself. Prof Deb continued to look at him with a smile. Then M. Chatterji asked the Professor, `Well, Sir, what do you think of the  whole thing. Wasn’t Netaji right in taking up arms against the British and over-ruling Gandhi’? The Professor broke his silence and said: `Mr Editor, I am a humble Gandhi-ite’. He said nothing more.

However, this time he didn’t say `Manuj’ but called him `Mr Editor’. In that formal manner of addressing Mr Chatterji he had indicated, without saying a word, that he could not compromise on Mahatma Gandhi.   What a non-violent way of expressing his dissent. That was Gandhism in action. The last time I had a talk with  Professor Deb was on the telephone. It was the first or second of September, 1967. The professor was perturbed. He asked me, `How is The Leader going on ?’ I told him that it seemed to be going on though rumours about its bad days have been there for years’. The Professor told me: `No. This time the matter is serious . Let me prepare you for a shock. Last night the Governor visited the Public Library. I was showing him round the library. When  he saw `The Leader’ files, he paused for a while. I told him about the great contributions to healthy journalism made by the newspaper. The Governor told me: “But Professor, this newspaper has no future. It is sinking”. The Governor should be knowing what he is saying. He gave me the hint. I am passing the hint to you’. The professor’s guess was correct. The Leader closed down on September 5, 1967.

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