“I know ‘Subratadaa’, as I address Subrata Basu, since my training days at Calcutta Custom House in 1975. In the first meeting itself I found him amiable, large hearted, very friendly and a thinking Assistant collector with the touch of a philosopher. As I got posted in Kolkata in 1976 our friendship deepened. Our close association spans over 38 years. Soon after I met him, I realised that he was a great artist, a trait that first got manifested in his collection of drift wood and dry wood. We see many driftwood by the riverside and dry wood pieces as we walk in the forests. But these mean nothing special to us, the lesser mortals. But as the poet said, ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’. So true, as I found in one of my trips with Subratadaa in his hunt for ‘nature sculpture’. He would just look at a piece from a particular angle at a particular orientation and visualise it as an art-piece. Initially the pieces alluded to shapes of birds, animals, flora and fauna. But very soon he graduated to higher echelon of the abstract – when he found the symbol of friendship in a piece titled ‘Moitree’ or the expression of eternal motion/speed in a piece titled ‘Gati’, displayed at Haldia Docks, or the shape of a flame held high which he named ‘Torch of Freedom’ which is on the display at Cellular Jail of Port Blair. There are many other pieces which envisions different aspects of the universe and mankind.
During his posting at Hyderabad, he enlarged his area of interest and realised ‘ananda’ of ‘srishtee’ in lifeless rocks. Again, by placing a rock in a particular angle, he brought it to life, - easily identifiable as an animal or a bird. Here again, some rock pieces conveyed man’s oneness with nature. I had the privilege of seeing those art pieces of rock at Indira Park and Shilparaman in Hyderabad in the company on none other than the artist himself. That was indeed a great edification. While seeing these pieces, I remembered a Bengali travelogue written by Sanjib Chandra, brother of Bankim Chandra, on his visit to the picturesque jungles of Palamau (then in Bihar). On seeing a sturdy peepal tree coming out of a small crack in a big rock, he commented that the peepal tree was indeed ‘rasheek,’ since it drew out ‘rash’ even from this ‘neerash’ rock. Following it, I can also say, Subratada is a ‘rasheek’ in the true sense of the term.
As Director (Works) in the Special Organising Committee for the 1982 Asian Games, he displayed his organising skill in contributing in timely competition of all stadium projects. As his deputy, I witnessed Subratadaa’s tireless efforts and single minded dedicated work in the great ‘karma-yagna’ of the Asiad ’82. Of many a happenings that I remember, I would now mention only one that shows the correctness of a quintessential bureaucrat. After the grand success of the Games, Rajiv Gandhi then an MP and the prime mover in the Asiad ’82, decided to host ‘Bara-Khana’ at different stadium sites for the workers who built the stadia. That was his way of thanks giving. Asiad ’82 was Rajiv Gandhi’s first public project after joining politics in 1980. In one such Barakhana at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, on some issue an agitation started brewing up amongst the workers. Rajiv Gandhi was disturbed at this development. But soon he saw that Subratadaa had gone over to the workers and quelled their grievance. A relieved Rajiv Gandhi told Subratadaa very appreciatively – ‘Why don’t you help us in some of our mass campaigns’. I still remember Subratadaa’s prompt instinctive response ‘I’m a government officer.’ Rajiv Gandhi, known for being correct, immediately realised the import of Subratadaa’s response and said – ‘Yes, of course you can’t join us before you retire’. These days, many bureaucrats bend backwards just to do what pleases the boss, and the consequences are there for all to see.
After the successful completion of Asiad ’82, we had a relaxed time, and Subratadaa one day mused – why don’t we write a book on the agony and ecstasy leading to the preparation of Asiad 82; the British always used to record the travails and tribulations in all their missions for the posterity to ponder over. I could not have agreed more. We discussed the broad framework then and there. And, the book “Asiad Stadia” – written jointly by us was published by National Book Trust in no time.
After the Asiad ’82, we got our ‘reward’ – foreign postings. Subratadaa joined India Trade Centre at Brussels as Adviser (Textiles) for EU countries, and I went over to Bahrain as Director (Trade Promotion) in Spices Board with jurisdiction over West Asia and North Africa. Subratadaa could not come to Bahrain – an off-beat destination; but I enjoyed his hospitality at Brussels with my family.
A man of ideas that Subratadaa is, his ideas won’t desert him even when he is on holidays. During one such holiday at Goa, when he was the Chief Commissioner of Customs at Mumbai, he conceived the idea of having a Customs Musuem at the antique ‘Blue Building’ which was a Custom House during the Portuguese era. The jurisdictional Chief Commissioner, R. K. Tewari agreed enthusiastically, and one may call it mere serendipity that soon I was given the additional charge of Goa. The duo of Asiad ’82 came together again, and with all out support of R K Tewari, Subratadaa carried the baton almost to the finishing line before he superannuated. Subratadaa was passionate about whatever he did. Without belittling contributions of others, I can say that the passion, perseverance and total commitment of Subratadaa finally led to the Museum becoming a reality in 2009. This was perhaps the brightest feather in his much coloured cap. After superannuation, he devoted most of his time in developing and improving the nature sculpture museum named ‘Prakriti Bhavan’ set up by him at Tagore’s Shantiniketan. He now spends most of his time in Prakriti Bhavan, where perhaps he feels more at home in oneness with nature.
A piece on Subratadaa cannot be complete without remembering Mrs. Sunipa Basu, his distinguished wife who retired as Chief Commissioner of Central Excise, Kolkata. There is an old adage that could not be rusted even with time and tide – “Behind every successful man, there is a woman!” This could not be more apt than in Subratadaa’s case. But for Sunipa Boudi’s proactive support and total commitment to Subratadaa’s visions, which would sometimes appear to be bordering on madness in untrained and uninitiated eyes, Subratadaa could not have so much of achievements. I’m sure Subratadaa will agree with me with his trademark benign smile! I wish Subratadaa all the best in his further artistic pursuits.”