Kolkata happened only because of one person - my old college mate and currently IG, BSF, P.S.R.Anjaneyulu or Anjan as we know him. Anjan said we will do the launch and then it all took on so much energy until the event went off beautifully at what they say is the best bookstore in India - Oxford Book Store. It sits prettily on Park Street with lovely books stacked up, a fine cafe and place for readings etc. I asked Anjan to be my Chief Guest and the versatile and highly talented Baisali Chatterjee Dutt agreed to be the Guest of Honor. The event took place on 14 July, 2107, a memorable day for me.
I took the 845 am flight to Kolkata a day in advance - on July 13th. It was almost 25 years since I have been in these parts. I worked in Kolkata for 6 months in my first job at Bharath Petroleum. It was a long long journey by train those days - the East Coast express and the Coromandel express were the two preferred trains. I remember Park Street of course, the metro which was fabulous even then, the trams, the crowds at Sealdah which made me shrink, the tea shops, the animated discussions, the women. I loved Calcutta even then. I fell in love with Kolkata once again. As we sped past the new flyovers I could feel the old history of Kolkata seep through. Lunch with Anjan and off to the Oxford Book Store with Naveen who coordinated the entire effort.
Oxford Book Store is really pretty. Shelves and shelves of books, old classics, new bestsellers, it just has that feel of a bookstore with nooks and crannies to disappear into, a lovely cafe on the mezzanine floor for coffee, sandwiches, fish and chips. I met Neelanjana of Oxford Book store and Sujit Guha of Jaico, Kolkata was available too. We ran over some of the issues - media, books, event flow, display etc. Then we left. Tomorrow, the 14th is the big day. Anjan gave me a whole load of books to read and I finished reading Anusual by Anu Agarwal and went back to reading Gouri Dange's fabulous 'Three Dog Night'.
I was really pleased to hear that Suresh was joining us for the event. He would take the same flight that I took but a day later. I decided to put my day to good use and went off to see Belur Math and Dakshineshwar early in the morning and picked up Suresh at the airport. A nice ride back, a good lunch with Anjan and off we went to the Oxford Book Store. Jaico's young team of three was there. One young journalist was there - he made use of our early presence and interviewed me. Just out of the Journalism course from the University of Kolkata. The crowd took a while in coming so we waited. Suresh, Anjan and I took pictures. Two friends of mine from over three decades ago in Kolkata to cheer me on? I am overwhelmed.
Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, who was so gracious to agree to be my guest on the panel even before reading the book, came with her mother in law. Suresh's friends from IIT, Kharagpur 1989, came. There was Saikat, Saurav, Naveen, Amitabh and some of them were meeting after 30 years almost. They kept going in and out for a smoke. Simran came with her father Mr. Ajit Singh. Sunil Bhandari came and bought a book and got it signed by me which was very gracious of him. Nayana could not come but she asked for a book to be kept for her and I said I would.
Some members of the press came, some customers from the bookstore came and the program got underway. Neelanjana introduced us and we took the dais. She introduced the book a bit, Jaico, Baisali, in that order. Baisali, writer, editor, actor, teacher, drama facilitator, introduced the book from her perspective as someone who wrote agony aunt columns for parenting magazines and a mommy blogger. She asked me how it was to be a pappa blogger. That set me off and I explained how the book came about from the blog without ever meaning to make it into a book.
Anjan spoke about how he knew me from college and how I was a cricketer then and how I could have played for Indian perhaps if I put in as much effort into my craft then as I was putting into writing books now. He read my earlier books and has always supported me in my lit endeavours so he spoke a bit about the Men Within and the movie Golconda High School. He read a few chapters from the book.
Baisali read and it was wonderful to hear her read - dramatising the reading as she would - she is a theatre personality for nothing. How I wish I could read like that. I read a bit. Anjan read a bit. Then she asked me some questions, asked Anjan some questions and we all spoke randomly, read randomly and it was great fun.
It could not happen that the evening go by without Suresh speaking a few words and he was gracious as ever. he recalled our journey, how I was his executive coach and how we are also great friends. It was just so nice to have him with us.
There were a few questions from the audience and we wound up. One gentleman, an avid reader perhaps, came and told me his opinion of the book (favorable). Another gentleman took my autograph on three papers, one for himself and two for his two daughters. An author Sarita Dasgupta, who wrote a book 'Feathered Friends' got a book signed and showed me her book. An elegant lady, Chand Ahluwalia, bought herself a copy and later even advised me where to party. So full of life and so elegant she was that I would have loved to spend more time with her.
There was press from Telegraph (young Rushita, a fine blogger herself), Statesman, Times of India, CNN, ABP and a few other smaller news agencies. Some of them interviewed me, some clicked pictures. We signed a few books, ate some lovely sandwiches, cake and drank some coffee and off we went, down to the lobby.
|Suresh, Me and Anjan - An Association of Old Friends|
|The ever smiling and efficient Neelanjana of Oxford|
|Anjan, me and Baisali unveiling TWIRD|
|TWIED unveiled in Kolkata by P.S.R. Anjaneyulu, IG, BSF, Author Harimohan Paruvu and the versatile Baisali Chatterjee Dutt|
|Baisali who added tremendous energy to the event with her observations, insights, reading and wit|
|Me - fielding questions (at fine leg)|
|Anjan making a point about the book|
|Baisali keeping us enthralled|
|Anjan has something funny to say|
|Anjan speaks, we listen|
|A section of the audience with the highly energetic Naveen Chauhan (blue shirt) - some brilliant minds there|
|The audience and some camera work|
|Some questions and answers|
|Suresh, my friend, who flew in from Hyderabad for the event speaks|
|A reader who had some fine views on the book|
|Anjan, Sujit Guha and Chatterjee from Jaico, and me|
While waiting for the others to settle down, I went to pick some books and bumped into a couple of young kids, college going perhaps. I asked them what they would suggest as a gift for my friend. They blew me with their knowledge of the books, authors (Kafka, Gordimer, Mistry, Barnes, Pinto), genres and quickly told me what was good, what was not, which author was what. I have never been so impressed. They just knew exactly what they were talking about and could not have been a day over 20. Next life, in Kolkata.
Another small encounter with Ms. Chand downstairs, and she left me feeling like I wished I had known her some more. I picked up a few books - Farewell to Arms, Trial, Tagore's autobiography, Em and the Big Hoom and one book by Julian Barnes. The planned dinner did not go off as we planned because Baisali had to leave and so did Neelanjana. Naveen and I decided to join Suresh and his gang of IIT friends at Peter Cat restaurant across the road. It was one raucous night after that, with old reminiscences, sharp repartee, Peter Cat's famous chelo kebabs (rice, kebabs, butter etc a full meal). The celebrations went on till so late that we forgot when we finally returned home.
All in all, a lovely event, full of good vibe and cheer. The next day Anjan decided to buy some 20 copies to gift his friends and I was over the moon. Nothing makes the heart sing more than knowing that someone actually bought a few copies to gift. But overall, a trip that was memorable for the love, warmth, kindness and affection. Thanks Anjan for everything, Baisali, Neelanjana, Oxford Book Store, Suresh, Naveen, Sonal, Sujit and the Jaico team at Kolkata. the Jaico team at Mumbai, Abhinay, Sagar, Ramaraju and all others who were with me physically and in spirit. More on Kolkata later.