Dr. Sourav Gupta
This was a Unicef workshop where I got a wild card entry due to Pompi, my ex-colleague. The Unicef system of self-introduction is to write something on a card. As everyone self-introduced with some word or other, this frail man with a beard introduced himself with a blank card! I still remember what he said- “this is a vacuum, which means I have come to this workshop with an open mind, to learn.” I was thrilled. Soon, Alfarid Hussain joined me and through him, I got an entry to Sunil Sir’s room. He made coffee for us and more than the aroma of the coffee, his own personal aroma filled our hearts.
What was Sunil Sir’s aroma? positivity, warmth, encouragement, love….anyone who expresses a desire to do something, he would pat his back and say just go ahead…. but, there was a fifth element, criticism…he was a sharp critic…and sometimes the sharpness would bite into your flesh.
Meanwhile, I kept meeting him at different interviews, only to be rejected. Who knew then that shortly Lord Jagannath would crashland me in Odisha?
2012-2020/ DJMC, CUO, Koraput
At CUO, my encounters with him were never smooth. BoS meetings would heat up and I would be at his receiving end for my independent opinion. He would try to repair things by giving me half of his food in post-BOS lunch. He would advise me as to how I should go about……I was seldom convinced….so I remained a naughty boy. Whenever he boarded the car to leave, I would hand him my latest paper….he would look at me through his glasses & take it.
When he joined our department as Visiting Professor in December 2021, the initial days were cold & inhibited. We would never look into each other’s eyes & shy away. But I could sense that he was keeping a watch. There was more anguish for me when he chose exactly those papers which I was teaching. We would often race to reach the classroom and encroach upon each other’s classes.
But everything changed suddenly.
June 2022-Dec 2022/ Landiguda campus, CUO
Afternoons on my campus are pretty lonely as it has only one or two ordinary teachers like me because other important people are busy in policymaking on the main campus. One such afternoon, Sunil Sir came into my cabin with a handwritten question paper meant for a national-level organization and asked me to give my views on it. I gathered myself from the initial surprise and slowly entered into a discourse that would change and reshape my world with him.
Within a month, he became a father figure, and I, his Ekalavya. We exchanged notes on anything and everything under the sun…. yes, he was a man with varying interests starting from books, research, teaching, films, good food, scotch, women……..anything you mention and it was a joy to talk to him, and while interacting he never made me feel that I was his son’s age……he spoke impeccable English and appreciated mine too….one day he praised for pronouncing schedule properly.
Gradually we spent more & more time and with surprise, I discovered that he endorsed all my views and we shared more similarities than differences….we would spend an afternoon talking about classroom teaching, and coding, another about Hemant Kumar, and yet another on Kolkata Street food….he was a complete foodie who was passionate about his food…so much that he would pass on instruction to the cook whenever he took us for a lunch in a restaurant…..And what a sense of humor he had, one day he would ask me to open my shirt & give it to him.
Another day he would peep into my mobile, another day he would tell me that Theatre is not a part of Mass Communication….he loved pulling my leg…. sometimes a little overboard for his age…. but again, for him, age was just a number…..I would weep in laughter now thinking about his mock seriousness and relentless efforts to prove that I was in an illicit relationship with my lady dentist as the root canal was taking too long! Even my wife would wait every day to listen to what Sunil Sir told me today.
I reaffirmed all my beliefs and opinions with him…. he vetted all my thoughts and project proposals…. anytime I would approach him with a paper and he would read it & correct it with patience & priority. We started sharing our secrets & cigarettes…. I started dreaming about many academic activities but now I had the able hand of Sunil Sir on my head.
One day I asked him, ‘how can you claim to be an Odia with the kind of thoughts & characteristics you have’…..he winked and said, ‘I am Odia, Bengali, Telegu, Assamese…I am everything…I am an Indian that’s it.’
On 20th December we had our last long conversation on our deserted campus.
On the 21st we boarded the same train. When he saw me on the train his eyes lit up. He wasn’t his usual self, looked ill. As I did pranam he hugged me……I will miss those hugs…. his frail frame would expand to double while hugging……on the 26th at around 7 pm he called me and enquired about my father’s health…. that was my last conversation with him….24 hours later he smiled and left just like Rajesh Khanna did in ‘Bawarchi’ after he gave shape to a family in mess.
Sir, you have never been fair to me…. we had just started….you deprived me again….but I will not mourn your death, because Prof Sunil Kanta Behera is about celebrating life king-size.
Adieus….a great teacher, communicator, guide and…….friend….and Marxist….you will be missed and…..celebrated.
(The Writer is Asst Prof & Head (I/C), Dept of Journalism & Mass Communication, Central University of Odisha, Koraput. Views Personal)