Thursday, May 18, 2006

Kumar Prasad Mukherjee

A very interesting man called it quits last Sunday. He was in his eighties and in a lot of pain, being in the last stages of throat cancer, so it was merciful for him, but the rest of us lost a fascinating raconteur.

Listeners of Hindustani classical music might remember Pandit Kumar Prasad Mukherjee's singing. Those who read Bengali will perhaps know his books, which are mainly memoirs of his eventful life. My father knew him through both, but I only knew him as my university professor's brother-in-law who she asked me to look up in Madras last summer, when I went back home after the M.A.

He was staying in a guest-house, and his students were taking it in turns to run down South and keep him company. He was far from home and in a land where he didn't like the food or the women. Where other men would grumble though, he used it all as food for an enjoyably acerbic tongue. He came to visit us once, and it was a treat for my father, who does not get to discuss the things he enjoys with the people he usually meets. (That includes us, the family. Hmmm...)

When he returned to Madras last month because the cancer had set in once more, we all knew this might be the end. And now that he's gone, I'll think of him when I pass his residence in Golpark, because I found him fascinating to talk to. In his rough, papery voice, as he lit up one cigarette after another -- the way he saw it, at his age they didn't make any difference -- he would frequently rebuke me for my lack of knowledge, but he would also smile gently and be happy I came to visit. In my world there are very few old people left who I enjoy visiting, so his absence will be felt.

7 comments:

Grafxgurl said...

my grandad died of throat cancer too... he smoked like an exhaust pipe...

i like visiting old people.. mostly because i have so many that i know..through my parents...they visited often.. and i remember going to their homes and being plied with sweets and delicious bengali snacks...chatting and laughing...and coming home so ..content and satisfied....their world is a fast fading world...i love talking to them...its different from talking to people of today's generation....

Sue said...

Grafx - I like visiting my great-aunts.

Anonymous said...

My father knewhim very well too. He met with him just before leaving for the US to visit me. We just heard about his death today & found your site after googling him.

Panchamkauns said...

I have some CDs of his music that Bihaan Music put out, and just now I am reading his Lost World of Hindustani Music. It is the best book I have ever read on Indian music. He must have been a wonderful man! I feel I love him just from reading his book ... you must count yourself lucky to have actually known him.

Best wishes from an icy Sweden (minus 25 degrees on the other side of my window — and then I’m in the south!)

Sue said...

Anon -- Sorry, I seem to have forgotten to reply earlier. Please tell your father I still think of Mr Mukherjee after all these years almost every time I pass his home. He was quite an experience.

Panchamkauns -- Yes, I do think I'm lucky to have known him. His wife was quite a lovable eccentric herself, come to think of it. Best wishes from an extremely sunny and comfortably breezy Kolkata. Don't you wish you were here. :)

Agra Bazar said...

When I was being checked-up for cancer in the late 1990s, I visited Kumar Mukherjee every evening for the adda on his verandah at 8 Short Street. I was in the Bengal government guest house at Hungerford stree. My origins in Lucknow, the city of his youth, certainly enlivened the fairly risque conversation as did the measured slugs of Standfast whisky which he poured out generously. I learnt,anecdotally, a lot about human nature, Hindustani music and life in general. Occasionally, I sent him a bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky which he acknowledge with elegant gratitude. The last time was a few months before his journey to the Great Beyond. I told him that, if he could not drink it, he could send it to someone he liked. Mukherjee replied: "Of course I shall drink it. In my condition, do you think I have any other choice?" His postscript read:"With a little encouragement from you I could undertake a safari to East Africa." I was there at the time. Rare spirit in someone who had not to live. I certainly miss his absence.

Sue said...

Agra -- Thanks for the comment. It made me read this post once more and remember this grand gentleman and you've added something to my picture of him now.