On a Calcutta cable channel we follow from here in New York, I heard a few minutes ago that its news anchor Sandipta Chatterjee suddenly passed away.
She was only 34 years old. She died of a heart attack, according to ABP-Ananda where she worked since 2005.
I knew Sandipta. The absolutely unexpected news of her death shook me to the core.
Sitting here in the U.S., ten thousand miles away from Calcutta, we often don’t know how to react to such news. I have written about it at length. Death of the people we knew. Death of the people who we cared for, admired and respected. Death of authors, poets, singers and filmmakers we worshiped. Death of friends, relatives, loved ones. Sometimes it seems like the news is not real; perhaps it’s just a bad nightmare and would pass as soon as we wake up. I have written about our very surreal feelings and our unnatural ways to deal with them.
Some deaths are expected. Some are not. Some are too close. Some are a little distant.
How do I describe this emotion right now? I don’t have much. I don’t know what to say, and how to say it. The scrolling lines at the bottom of the TV screen when they were airing news of some other politics, violence or cricket match were simply too unreal. They said one Sandipta’s body would be taken tomorrow morning at nine to Calcutta’s crematorium.
I read the lines a second time. And then a third time. Who is Sandipta and why is her body being taken to the crematorium? Why is ABP-Ananda airing the news, and why is the Sandipta I knew absent on the news screen tonight?
What is going on here? — I restlessly asked myself.
Then at a half-minute break between news segments, they showed her picture. It was Sandipta I knew. Sandipta Chatterjee. She suddenly died of a heart attack on Sunday.
Sandipta died of a heart attack on Sunday??
I knew her. I came to know her through sharing some common interests on Facebook about five years ago. One interest was Tagore: she was a graduate from Tagore’s university Vishva Bharati. The second common interest was Satyajit Ray: on Facebook, we shared notes about our love for Ray and his movies and short stories.
We shared other interests too: we were both from Calcutta, and that too, from North Calcutta. Her Facebook pictures showed that she came from an average, middle class family. In fact, photos she posted on her Facebook from before her marriage reminded me of the neighborhood where I grew up: dark, dingy, dusty, crowded. Her premarital home was just as middle-class North Calcuttan as the home where I grew up. Her friends looked like my friends.
I told her a number of times she reminded me of one of the sisters I left behind in Calcutta.
In early 2012, after I recorded my Tagore songs, I called her up and went to meet her at her workplace. That was the only time we met. She came out of her first-floor studio and we greeted each other with a warm smile. She was very busy. Still, she found time to sit down in the studio’s lounge and took time to talk to me for about half an hour. I gave her a copy of my Tagore album “Aro Ektu Bosho.”
We shared some ideas about how to work with like-minded Bengalis — especially those who love Tagore and Satyajit Ray — on the rapidly-engulfing quicksand on the cultural front. We thought it would be good if we put up a pragmatic plan to work together in the coming days. Sandipta was not nearly as political as me; being a news anchor at a very demanding, private cable channel, she probably didn’t have any time to spare on anything else except for her work and family. And I told her she worked too hard, way too hard. I would see her anchoring news at every possible hour — practically every single day.
A thirty year-old, beautiful, young, married woman, she obviously gave up a lot of her personal time — to satisfy her workplace demands. Yet, she did find a little bit of time to talk on and off Facebook about shared interests, shared passion: especially Tagore and Bengali language and culture.
Did she take care of her health? Did she find time to have medical check-ups regularly? Was there time for her to look after herself? Did she eat well, rest well, or exercise? Did she know she had a life-threatening heart condition?
At 34, Sandipta worked through December 1 for seven years at ABP-Ananda, until recently known as Star-Ananda. She did not come back to work on December 2. News broke that Sandipta had a massive heart attack, and died at a North Calcutta hospital.
Sandipta died of a heart attack??
I am still not sure how to react to this news. It has not sunk in.
But she is gone.
I am going to miss her. She was like a dear sister. A young, vibrant, beautiful, hard-working, art-loving, music-loving, Tagore-loving, Ray-loving, Calcutta-loving sister.
Sincerely (and Very Sadly) Writing,
Brooklyn, New York