Dillittante would like to salute the passing of a great fellow Dillittante and Dil-e-Tant, Bhaskar Bhattacharya, aka Duster to some, BB to others, and Bhaskar-da to this writer. The news of Bhaskar-da’s sudden death came as an ugly shock, but that he was pulled in by a current in the sea off Madras was, somehow, not so surprising. Bhaskar always lived life to the hilt, to the edge, to the limit, sometimes to the infuriation of those around him, but he lived it always with love, warmth and huge, huge mischief. It was always going to be too early to lose someone like him but, somehow, he never carried with him the lakshan of a quiet passing in a predictable old age. If someone had predicted to him that this is how he would go, he would have shrugged and grinned:
"Bhaalo to! Jhaamela kom!" Running the cliché raw, BB was a citizen of the world, a tireless wanderer. And yet, he was a man of many deep anchoring places. People who love him will mourn him from Primrose Hill in North London to Pathurchampuri in Birbhum, and not least in Delhi, where he was based with Rohini, his wife, and Bhuva, his young son.
I first heard of Bhaskar when he was involved in producing Georges Luneau’s long documentary on the bauls, Le Chant des Fous, in the late ’70s. He was both a very good friend and an ongoing theoretical adversary of another great and wonderful wandering thinker, Deepak Majumdar, and I first heard of him as the man who could give Deepak-da a run for his money in terms of craziness and zaniness—not something you could say of too many people. I met BB and Rohini as I was starting my own film on the bauls, about a decade later: late one night, I arrived at a baul’s house, hoping to record a session; as I put down my tape-recorder Bhaskar wrapped up his own little machine and grinned. "Good night," he said. "I think you’re a little late!" and then he and Rohini left. It was definitely a challenge of sorts but, as I discovered later, it was not one which contained any malice. By the time my film was done, Bhaskar had become a friend, and his support of the film, though tongue-in-cheek as always, was very genuine.
Born in East Africa, Bhaskar moved to England with his family and quickly got into the late ’60s hippie-elite, his circle in London including the Jagger brothers among others; through the ’70s and ’80s Bhaskar travelled all over India, spending time with the sadhus, naga babas, fakirs and bauls, getting deeply involved in the fast-shrinking esoteric traditions of the land; through this time, he produced and organised a number of documentaries for British and European TV, a career which led him to take on the job of commisioning editor for the then brightly hopeful TV channel called BITV. By the time Bhaskar pulled me into a job at BITV it was already a very leaky ship, though we both thought otherwise at the time. Across the slow and painful Titanicising of that TV channel Bhaskar played a hard role very well. Sitting behind a desk making hard administrative decisions was never a forte of his, but he hung on as long as he could, keeping everybody around him in splits with his brilliant gallows humour, trying his crazy best to claw out the fairest deals for the people working for him.
I had partied often with Bhaskar and Rohini—with bauls and other musicians in full flow, laughter and booze and ganja swirling, the whole eclectic mix of their lives unfurling. But it was at a time of big depression, with the painful BITV fiasco stretching out against late ’90s Delhi, that I got to know Bhaskar-da most closely, and his energy and optimism were an energising kick up the pants.
Bhaskar’s passing is still fresh and the missing of him has just begun, but the promise I find me making to myself is that I will try and miss him in the way I think he would want to be missed: a full glass spilling in my hand, the music on loud, with the desire fully alive to connect to those around me as genuinely as possible.
This article originally appeared in Delhi City Limits, March15, 2006