So now it has started. Decades ago, I remember our English Professor, Kajal Sengupta speaking at the condolence meeting of Prof Jyoti Bhattacharya remarking, “So with his departure we are now in the front line of the firing squad”. The difference lies in the intriguing fact that no one knows who is firing, how many are firing or when one will be the target. Kajal di left a few years later.
Very recently, after the sad demise of an ailing friend the next shocking news was the departure of our much-admired kindergarten and middle school friend, the well-known cricketer Srirupa Bose. While we were in school together Srirupa would tire all of us out by running non-stop round the trees on the playground, during the entire one-hour lunch break.
She lived a little away from the bustling Dum Dum area where most of us stayed. In fact according to some of our friends she lived in a village close to Madhyamgram. This was in the 1960s. In school sports it was invariably Srirupa’s team that won. When she left our school to join a Loreto school, two Punjabi girls Harinder and Baljeet took over the school sports domain. The Bengali girls were more into dancing, Rabindra sangeet, running in order to scrape knees or twist ankles or break their arms. In fact, in our school, all the kids who hailed from other states of India made a laughing stock out of the weak-kneed Bengali girls who managed to attend school if only they hadn’t injured themselves seriously or were free from nursing an attack of severe dysentery.
Srirupa once brought a baby squirrel to school which got lost before the nuns could punish her for bringing it in. Once she brought a newly hatched baby bulbul bird for me to take home. She kept it hidden in her school bag. I took it home wrapped in my handkerchief. I stealthily kept it inside my shoe and then covered it with a cane mora or stool. My mother found it right away. She laughed and screamed with annoyance at the same time. I knew I was forgiven.
My music teacher came soon after. He said he had a bird cage lying idle at home and he would send it over. Srirupa came to see the baby bulbul in the cage. She told me many stories about catching fish, frogs, tadpoles, snails and grasshoppers. She said she could swim and run like her elder brothers. They were training in local sports clubs. Srirupa joined them.
After Srirupa changed school I lost contact with her. But after I joined college we were in touch again. She had by then emerged as one of Bengal’s first women cricketers of distinction. I was so proud to boast to my friends about my special friendship with such a celebrity cricketer. Srirupa was one of my few school-friends who attended my wedding. The green vase she had given me as a wedding gift is still there on a shelf in my home.
In the past few decades we would meet on and off at the university parking lot. She taught part-time at the Department of Journalism. She married rather late. She told me she wanted her daughter to become a professional tennis player. She found team sports often lacked team spirit. And then very recently, the shocking news reached me that a massive cardiac arrest had stopped my friend from breathing. Srirupa has left us; she has left behind an imprint of a resolute woman’s achievement in a field that is still male-dominated. Gracious and kind, a friend through many decades, it is difficult to let go but then the inevitable must be accepted. The sports domain of Bengal will always cherish Srirupa Bose’s contribution and Srirupa will live on in the memories of her many friends.