The former W. Bengal Chief Secretary: Alapan Bandopadhyay who was a journalist first
He was known for his incisive political reporting and flowing prose. While reading his touching tribute to his younger brother last month, I realised his writing remains as sharp and lyrical as ever
I do not really know Alapan Bandopadhyay from the 1987 batch of the IAS, who has just retired as Chief Secretary to the Government of West Bengal. But I first met him in 1985 in Guwahati. I was the Special Correspondent of The Economic Times in charge of the Northeast. I soon met Alapan who had joined the Guwahati office of Ananda Bazaar Patrika.
The ET office at the centrally located Panbazar was quite spacious and had sufficient number of chairs and tables for fairly large adda sessions. Seema Guha joined as Times of India’s correspondent in Guwahati from The Telegraph and we both shared the large office. Alapan, Seema and I would spend hours talking over cups of tea, accompanied by muri, telebhaja and phuluri from the adjacent market. Another bright young reporter, Aniruddha Mukherjee, joined the gang to fill in the place of Seema as The Telegraph correspondent.
Since ET was a business daily, my brief was to focus on mostly business stories and cover only very important political developments. Alapan, on the other hand, was prolific and did major political stories. His reports had the crisp quality of journalistic writing but also showed academic rigour. I discovered then that he was a topper from Calcutta University and was preparing for the UPSC exams.
We would spend long hours on the banks of the Brahmaputra, discussing everything under the Sun. He was, I found, a veritable repository of knowledge and would often enlighten me about the history and culture of the region. We often discussed why people in the region felt alienated from mainland India. The Mizos and the Nagas referred to people from the plains as “Indians” and were generally very angry with North Indians. The students who would go to Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere to study and other who went out to work would complain on return that they were not treated well. Stories of discrimination and ill treatment they faced added to people’s resentment.
The Assam Accord was a major political development and I had to write a report on its implications. The next day I rang up my wife in Calcutta to find out how ET and other papers had covered the event. At Guwahati we would receive the newspapers much later in the afternoon. She was generally brutally honest in assessing my own reports. When I called home that morning, she was in a fiery mood. “What rubbish have you written! Just read what Alapan has written in ABP!”
I tried to explain that ET was a business paper and could not be compared with ABP. “I am talking of quality, not length of the story! Read both when the papers arrive and try to write a better piece with a fresh perspective,” She fumed. When the newspapers finally arrived, I scanned the reports and realised that she was right. Her scolding haunted me but I told myself that even if I tried, I would not be able to write like Alapan. Soon thereafter I shifted to New Delhi to begin my stint with Hindustan Times. I lost touch with Alapan but followed his rise in the bureaucracy.
Last month, I was shocked to see news of the demise of Alapan’s brother, Anjan. I liked Anjan’s level-headed and incisive TV anchoring on Bengali TV channels. He was only 56 but died of post-Covid complications. Since I myself had just recovered from Covid along with other family members, I felt miserable.
Days later I read a wonderful tribute written by Alapan in the Bengali daily Aaj Kal. Even after so many years and in grief, his writing had lost none of the lyrical quality and sharpness, I realised. (IPA Service)