I have always been an adventurer. I wanted to disprove the age-old adage “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” My life is like a rolling stone, but I’ve gathered a lot of moss.
I was born at Naihati, a suburb near Kolkata in India. This is where a great Indian—–Rishi Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay—–was born. Bankimchandra’s poem Vande Matorom inspired freedom fighters in the 19th Century, when India was battling for Independence from the British rule. The word “Rishi, (which means hermit in Bengali) was given to him by the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (the first Asian to get Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913).
My grand-father was a village doctor without any degree. Even though he didn’t have money, he cherished a dream: He wanted his son to become a doctor. And my father made his father’s dream come true through sheer hard work, discipline and determination. Reading books is my passion. O. Henry’s An Odd Character fascinated me since my childhood. I had been a newspaper junkie ever since my high school days. I still recall how my father got me different English newspapers and magazines.
I left for Papua New Guinea, a South Pacific island, in 1987. I used to stay at my uncle’s (he is also a doctor) place at a picturesque hilly station called Goroka. According to PNG Government rule, a visitor cannot get a work permit while staying in the country. If he gets a job, he’ll have to leave PNG and reenter with a work permit. I got a call from Public Service Commission (PSC) for high school teaching position and my interview went off well. I was told to go back to India and wait for the work permit.
Meanwhile, I had the chance to teach in Goroka Teachers’ Training College for three months. That was my first foreign assignment.
In November, I returned to India, hoping the work permit with the job letter would come from PNG.
Perhaps, the God of Fortune thought otherwise.
My job letter from PNG never came. It was during that time I met my Prof Dr Bhabotosh Chatterjee. He taught us Keats at Calcutta University. He was well-known for his authoritative work on John Keats and a language maven. He said: “No experience in life goes wasted. Don’t think your stay in PNG is futile.”
Today, I realised how true his words are.
That night I came back home and decided I’d become a public servant. I sat for West Bengal Civil Service (WBCS) exam. I cleared the exam and joined West Bengal Civil Service (Group A) in Birbhum district (about 190 km from Kolkata) in April 1988. But, I soon realised I was not cut out for the job.
It was October 1989 when my wife and I got an offer to teach English in Muscat, capital of Oman. We left for Muscat, where we taught English in Indian School Muscat till June 1997 and then returned to Kolkata.
I joined SUNDAY (a weekly news magazine) in Kolkata as sub-editor in September 1997. That’s when my long courtship with the pen began. Here I had the opportunity to work with celebrated journalist Vir Sanghvi, the editor of SUNDAY. Vir’s style of English inspired me immensely. His insightful column ‘Counterpoint’ was amazing.
The most important event during my stint in SUNDAY was the death of Mother Teresa. I still recall how three of us (myself, Surojit and Ananda) stayed till the early hours at the office and wrote a piece on the great philanthropist.
In 2000 April, I joined Hindustan Times (HT) and worked there till January 2006. During my almost six-year tenure in HT, I wrote a lot of stories/features and wrote Opinion piece for HT.
The highpoint of my tenure in HT was an interview with the great mathematician Sir Roger Penrose in 2003 in Kolkata. It was a tremendous boost in my career when Sir Penrose himself appreciated my copy. In March 2003 when the US invaded Iraq, I sent a questionnaire to Sir Penrose asking his views on the Iraq invasion. The mathematician didn’t let me down.
I quit HT and joined China Daily Hong Kong Edition in Hong Kong in January, 2006. I was a columnist in China Daily. The most memorable event during my stay in Hong Kong was a serendipitous encounter with a young American, named John Alexander.
It was November 2007 when I met John on a Saturday afternoon near Tsim Tsa Tsui overlooking Victoria Harbor. John was a producer with Discovery Channel. He was then working on a documentary on China. John was like an intellectual ‘Humming Bird’ who loved to fly around at incredible speed. His curiosity was insatiable. The young American influenced me immensely and shaped my life. I was overwhelmed by his scholarship and unwavering commitment to journalism. John died while shooting in Chongqing in mainland China in 2008.
I was associated with Global Times (US Edition). Global Times is a Beijing-based English daily. I wrote Opinion pieces for its US Edition. I contributed articles to www.theindiandiaspora.com . I am currently associated with The Independent.