One of my most favourite elder colleagues and renowned writer-cum-satirist Ranjit'Da (retired senior secretary of GOB Ranjit Kumar Biswas) is no more. His demise due to cardiac arrest at Chittagong Circuit House on Thursday evening (June 23, 2016) came to me as a bolt from the blue. He had been with us for the last 30 years, especially since my joining the Press Information Department back in January 1991. Even before joining government service, I was familiar with his name as an outstanding sports writer. We both contributed to the fortnightly Sports World (Krira Jagat) brought out by the National Sports Council during the late 1970s and early 1980s with Towfique Aziz Khan as the editor. Always kind, courteous, gentle and affectionate towards his friends and colleagues, he was an extraordinary storehouse of knowledge, humour, wit and compassion.
Tragedies chased him throughout his life. He lost his father in his childhood. His mother committed suicide. He lost his only son while he was still very young. His only daughter's first marriage also broke up early and finally, he was critically wounded in a road accident in Natore about two and a half years ago that left him almost crippled.
But he was a great fighter. He made his presence felt in the literary and cultural fields and turned out as a top bureaucrat. Even after his retirement towards the middle of last year, he had been maintaining a heightened presence in the cultural and literary arenas of the country as well as the print and electronic media. In my reckoning, he was one of the most gifted satirist-cum-humourist this country has ever produced, excelling in both oral and written areas. But unfortunately he never got any official recognition of his achievements. And he was also an acclaimed linguist and unparalleled as a sports writer, especially on cricket. He also showed keen interest in other games, including football, hockey, tennis, chess and even billiard and snooker. As a colleague, I also found him to be an exceptional translator who excelled in both Bangla and English. He showed his extraordinary talent in writing essays, columns, as well as fiction. Though he did not write poetry regularly, he certainly showed his poetic flair in the pieces that he wrote. The following is a sample of a poem titled 'Grateful and Gleeful' that he wrote for Bangladesh Quarterly back in June 2001, while claiming himself to be a 'Journeyman' after returning home from a visit to Scotland:
Beaches all under the sun I cannot visit
Ladies all loveable I cannot meet
Castles all in the world I cannot see
For I know not when to flee;
Beauties all picturesque I cannot feel
For my seconds and fractions are on the wheel;
Exquisite everything I cannot taste
For the mundane journey is on haste,
Virginity of all rivers I cannot touch
Who am I to conquer that much?
Shan't be able to hear every tune
For subjection and surrender to fate and fortune.
But grateful and happy to heart's content I am
Showing the teardrops rolling down
My cheek a big damn,
Glad I am buoyant and happy
Like an ever wondering baby in the nappy.
Ranjit Biswas was a trendsetter in the civil service. He used to maintain an air of informality while dealing with his colleagues, but was quite meticulous and thorough in his desk-work always putting the interest of his country and people above everything else. While serving as the Secretary in charge of the Ministries of Social Welfare and Cultural Affairs between 2010 and 2015, he left an indelible impression on his juniors. His doors were always open for them and none suffered any misbehaviour during his five-year stint at the top. One of his juniors told me, he used to tell them to come with a smile in the morning and also to leave with that same smile on their faces in the afternoon. He did everything in his power, including applying his unique sense of wit and humour, to facilitate that.
I remember, when our panel won a service association election back in 1998, he jokingly remarked in Bangla that we were 'Nirjatita' (tortured) rather than Nirbachita (elected). He was one of the most eloquent public speakers I ever met and his humorous pieces for the magazine programme 'Uttaran' of Bangladesh Betar during the late 1990s and early 2000s had a huge following. Whenever I went to his office, he used to force me to share lunch with him (in his words 'lunchita' or harassed) just like my elder brother. Whenever I met him, it was he who always greeted me first with the affectionate words: 'Helal, Bhalo'? There was no exception to this loving utterance throughout our acquaintance that continued even after his crippling accident. For me, his advice will be ever resplendent in my life: 'Even in danger, try to enjoy'. I shall never forget this advice as long as I am alive.
May the Almighty grant my Ranjit'Da eternal peace and salvation.
The writer is a senior civil servant and former editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.
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