While the West had stand-up comedians for a long time it was different in this country and especially in this city of Kolkata. It was the authors and poets who would insert pun and twists into their imaginations and create a subtle sense of humour. There were many but it was Shibram Chakraborty who stood out from the rest. Since I had my significant proportion of my education outside of my home state thus reading the Bengali language was not that fluent for me. I had to often rely on my father to read these out.
According to my father, Shibram Chakraborty was the King of Laughter and his famous creations were the duo Harshabardhan and Gobardhan who would often show up. He would also put himself in his virtual story world thus creating a new dimension to his stories.
In his personal life he was equally eccentric, being unmarried he led his life according to his own desire. There are stories where he would refuse to wash his bed sheets and often used each side till the dirt would be unbearable. And he would then simply buy a new bed sheet to cover the old one. Then, of course, are the stories where he would use the wall of his room as an open slate and would often scribble on them with phone numbers and important dates.
As a part of a planned heritage walk for my organization, I along with a friend of mine were scouting the city for different possible locations for a literary heritage walk. It was during once such walks we managed to find the famous house of Shibram Chakraborty.
From outside it looked just another run down house which litter around the northern part of the city. This house was bit different however since there were no accessible doors in the front and I just could not enter it. On asking some local residents about the way to enter they showed us a tiny narrow lane on the right.
This small lane was blocked by a metal gate but the locks were open, eyeing this opportunity we got in. There right in front of me was a cow. No not the “Holy Cow” that we say as an expression but a real cow. The cow had a bucket fixed to her face much like the braces that are put on a dog to prevent them from biting or chewing on rubbish. This was the perfect start I said to myself, a house with no proper entrance but a huge cow inside. I wondered how they managed to get the bovine in.
Just then my eyes caught a middle aged gentleman wearing a Lungi on the right, he was busy serving rice and curry in different plates. Since there were no one around I assumed that he is the resident cook cum caretaker who was preparing to serve lunch to the residents of the building.
By now he had seen us and stopped his work and looked straight to us. “What is the nature of your business?” He asked. We both fumbled and then uttered “Shibram”. “Yes what about Shibram” he asked. Was this his residence? A loud “Yes” came the reply. I could not stop laughing to myself, I was at the same house where the King of Laughter used to stay and most of his creative works which I have heard for decades were actually created in this place.
We then shamelessly asked “can we see the famous room where he used to live?” He was quite agitated by now, and said “Cat”, “who is going to ensure that the cat won’t eat up the lunch?” I definitely understood the dilemma that he is in as my neighbourhood in infested with cats and any slip would ensure a missing piece of fish. I told him that it was all right and he need not worry, we would wait till the food is served.
There was something which sparked a change in him, he asked us to wait while he covered all the food and placed heavy objects over them to prevent cats from sliding them open.
After covering up he then walked up the stairs to the first floor. Here I would like to describe the condition of the stairs for you. Let me sum up by saying that if there was an earthquake measuring 7 or 8 on the Richter scale the person standing on the stairs would not feel a thing because anyways the stair swing with every step. By the way, I highly doubt that the building will survive such massive earthquake in the first place.
He climbed up the first floor while we made a beeline behind him. This place has not seen a coat of paint for few decades, the walls have become yellow, black and white mix which creates unique visual patterns.
By now the door has opened and I could see a young man in his twenties. The caretaker tells him about us and he reluctantly lets us in. The room was another masterpiece, damp from wall to wall, the green paint has come off in several portions revealing the previous white paint, laundry left to dry on a rope tied from one end of the room to the other, a water filter sits near the window and a wash basin to the corner.
Apparently, there are two more residents who share the room with him but they have gone somewhere. We then asked him about the fact that whether he knew that Shibram Chakraborty used to stay in this room to which he said “yes”. Then we asked him and the caretaker to show if there were any of his scribbling left on the walls. They confirmed its presence earlier but over the years they have mostly vanished except few of them.
This is the actual “Holy Cow” moment for me as I immediately wanted to see those markings on the wall. Hidden to other by a big wall calendar the caretaker removed it to show us the scribbling of Shibram Chakraborty on the wall. This is a piece of history I said to myself. Just like the Berlin wall, this needs to be preserved, this is a part of the legacy of Shibram Chakraborty.
The caretaker also told us that Shibram Chakraborty used to feed dogs from the window in his room with all his leftovers. The windows now cannot be opened as they are in such a precarious position that if one tries to open them then they would permanently come off.
By now it was getting late and we knew that the caretaker had to go back to serving his lunch. We bid goodbye to the resident of the room and came back down the rickety stairs. Thanked the caretaker once more and left the house where Shibram used to leave.
Thank you for stopping by, will be back with another blog soon.