Jadu Nath Bhattacharya was apparently a freedom fighter who took part in Quit India movement. He used to get pension from Indian Government, however his later life was not as glorious. He lost a lot of money in the Kolkata Race Course. He was a regular gambler in all famous Kolkata casinos. He was alcoholic and ever since he became a widower he stopped socialising and kept himself confined in his house. His only companions were 10 cats, 2 dogs and a live-in maid.
My dad met him accidentally. He lived opposite the main road. One day my father had gone to his neighborhood to meet a friend. Suddenly, it started raining heavily and dad took shelter under his portico. Dad was completely drenched and shivering. Mr. Bhattacharya saw this from inside and sent his maid to call dad inside. When Dad went inside Mr. Bhattacharya offered not only hot tea but also some dry clothes. As it was raining heavily dad couldn’t leave and they started chatting with each other. He spent almost 2 hours there and left for home borrowing an umbrella from Mr. Bhattachrya.
Next day dad went back to his house to return the umbrella and again spent close to two hours chatting. That day he left after borrowing a book. I forgot to mention, Mr. Bhattacharya’s house had more than 3000 books. A few days later, dad went to return the first book and again sat for 2 hours. He came home after borrowing the second book. He again went back a few days later to return the second book and returned borrowing the third book.
Gradually, this became a ritual. Dad being a bibliophile loved visiting his place. Even though Mr. Bhattachrya was almost 20 years older than dad, they developed a unique bonding. Actually, they had quite a thing in common, both loved books, politics, and sports. Therefore each day their conversation meandered from books to politics to sports to the films of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Godard, Kurosawa, and Truffaut over endless cups of tea. They also had another thing in common, both of them were widowers and lonely. Mr. Bhattacharya found a son in my dad and dad probably found a father figure.
Dad became his confidante and he told him stories of his life. How he met his wife, how he was disillusioned after independence, how they lost their only child to pneumonia, how he got addicted to gambling and alcohol and finally how his friends and relatives abandoned him. Dad was a teetotaller; in fact, he always had strong opinions against people who consumed alcohol yet he was strangely sympathetic towards Mr. Bhattacharya.
Every evening Dad used to go and meet Mr. Bhattacharya. Together they used to drink quite a few cups of tea and enjoy the quintessential Bengali adda. If on a certain day dad couldn’t make it to his place, he used to immediately call. When my grandmother fell sick and Dad got busy taking care of her. Most of the days he missed going to his house and on those days our telephone used to ring at 7.10 pm in the evening, it used to be him. He used to sound sad.
After my grandma recovered, dad again started visiting Mr. Bhattacharya’s house. Gradually over time, Mr. Bhattacharya became frail, his alcoholism took a toll on his health (he used to never drink in front of dad though). He became bed-ridden. Dad started taking care of him almost like a son would do.
One day, Mr. Bhattacharya asked dad to come to his house at 10 in the morning. This was not their usual time of a meeting. Nevertheless, dad went and found Mr. Bhattacharya’s lawyer sitting. He was making his will and wanted Dad to be his beneficiary. As he was childless he considered dad his only heir. However, dad was a man of strict morals. He refused the offer and coaxed Mr. Bhattacharya to form a trust. Mr. Bhattacharya requested dad to at least inherit his books. It was no doubt a tempting offer but in our house, we honestly had no place for 3000 books. Dad took about 100 chosen books from his collection and asked him to give the remaining to the trust that he created in his beloved wife’s name.
Mr. Bhattacharya died within a year. Dad lost a friend, philosopher, and guide. It took dad quite some time to get over the trauma. His house was later occupied by one of his distant relatives. The relative claimed that Mr. Bhattacharya loved him a lot and he was the one who took care of him in his last days but dad said he had not heard about this relative from Mr. Bhattacharya and in his long association he had not seen this relative even once. Even though Mr. Bhattacharya was a tainted man today a school and library is still running under his trust. Many poor children benefit from the trust.