"Good morning. Slept well after 15 days. I love you so much."
Those were the last words I received on my mobile phone from Dhruba Da. That was on January 3, 2018. He breathed his last on the morning of February 16, but he was in no position to speak or write messages in the last weeks of his life. He was in hospital. He died of a lung infection which led to further complications.
There was still so much left for Dhruba Da to say, to write, to do. It is striking for me to recall that I only knew him in the last two years of his life. It was as though we had a connection from a previous birth. He got my number from a common friend in Kolkata and called me. I was in Mumbai for a lecture. Our first call lasted over an hour and he said that I should stay with him next time I visit his city.
I did. And I stayed with him a second and final time last September. His generosity was boundless, his humour ever so wry, his intellect razor-sharp. Our conversations always ran out of time, signed mutually with a 'TBC' (to be continued). On September 11, 2017, he came to my friend Subhas Roy's home for a discussion among many friends on Rabindranath's ecological vision. That was the very last time I saw him.
Dhruba Da's gentle presence and warm smile live in the heart.
I wrote a 2500-word essay on his life and work with the East Kolkata Wetlands last week. Nobody was willing to publish the whole of it. So I drew two pieces from the original. And two media outlets have agreed to publish one each of them. Here is the shorter one, from today's The Hindu :
(Related: A staggering statistic about wetlands in Chennai: "Around Twenty years ago, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras pegged the number of wetlands in and around the city to be at around 650. Less than 5% (27 to be precise) exist today.
"It is a country-wide problem: one-third of India’s wetlands are already wiped out or severely degraded because of habitat destruction, pollution, and encroachment. In low-lying coastal areas where heavy rains are common and high tides can occur, the consequences are potentially disastrous.")