I remembered Surjya, when I chanced upon a drawer full of memories – Black and White negatives shot on 120mm and 35mm film. There was this one wallet of negs from our Final Year Pushkar trip in 1981 with Prof. Chayya and Prof Shaheer. The negative also had three portraits, one of the best of the three was Surjya’s or Surjya Shankar Dasgupta, to give him his full name.
Surjya was one student amongst the 36 odd who joined SPA’s Architecture Department in 1977. I called him Surjya, while the rest of the class usually called him Das for short. He was our class CR by default, he had opted to be the Class Representative the first time, and after that the class en masse thought he was the best and should carry on for the rest of the years as well! To be honest, he could, at times try your patience, but that was because he was a dreamer, often thinking of something else while you thought he was listening to what was being said. He would foolishly drop his own work to help others finish theirs. We were all young, some of us “full of ourselves” and impatient, sometimes cutting Surjya’s conversations short, just to stop him from making an ass of himself – at least I thought that was what I was doing.
Surjya, Solly, Badri, Kasturi, Elsie and sometimes Madhu were our class minstrels, Surjya, Solly or Badri would usually carry to SPA a large acoustic guitar, which they often played while singing during the class breaks. Once, during lecture period, as our teacher had not appeared, some of us sat on the stairs (because of the special acoustics) and sang Beatles and John Denver as if there was no one else in the building. Within 15 minutes we had our senior batch coming down the stairs smirking, following them was Mrs Rosemary Sachdev, who smiled at us and said, “nice singing” and carried on after her class.
In our 2nd year Manali trip with Prof Chayya, Surjya along with Martin Axe, the exchange student from USA and Shekhar Garud, discovered that Hash grew in bushes around the village we were to study, after which they were generally stoned. One night, Surjya woke the rest of us up at some unearthly hour in the flea ridden rooms of the crummy hotel in Manali and demanded we hand over our bits of the village plan – he said that he had every intention of drawing them all up as the complete village of Alleo. To humour him and to go back to sleep, we gave him our scraps. The next morning we found him fast asleep at the foot of the stairs with a drawing board beside him in which he had actually managed to draw up the entire village plan from our various bits, which in themselves could not possibly have been drawn correctly anyways. Later when I asked him how he managed to make sense of all the parts, he said that it was the Hash that had worked for him!
He had to drop a year after he contacted Hepatitis and was in AIIMS for an extended time. The SPA rules did not allow him to be promoted despite him having completed all his assignments. After we had all graduated as architects and drifted away, I kept in touch with Surjya, though not on a regular basis. My memory is wooly now, but I remember something about Surjya being involved with the art direction of Pradip’s unfinished TV serial Bargad, I think he worked on this along with Hemmady. Hemmady and he worked together in an architecture practice later. I still remember meeting the two of them behind Sagar at Def. Col. Market, when our office was located in the vicinity.
I have still managed to preserve the ceramic pot that he had presented Anisha and me at our wedding reception. The very next year Surjya left this world, along with his wife and one of his two daughters. He had no choice in the matter as he was probably still sleeping on the ill fated Purushottam Express when it rammed a stationary Kalindi Express at a speed of 100kmph early morning on 20th August 1995. The accident has been termed one of the worst railway accidents ever, with 305 dead and 393 injured, an accident which was caused by the collective negligence on part of the driver of the Kalindi Express and the Switchman on duty.
Surjya therefore was probably the first person from our batch to exit from this world. He was a nice person, big hearted and kind, always ready to drop his own work to help others. I can’t but help feel that one was lucky to have friends like Surjya those days, persons who were different in the way they dealt with this world.