While at IITD

While at IITD, I got the chance of visiting several countries - Switzerland, Australia, Germany, France, UK, US on various scientific assignments. At Zurich I was with Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (SFIT). It was my first visit outside the country. Any first is always special. In my case, I felt good as well as bad. It was a long visit of nearly one year, immediately after my marriage, and that too alone. I had to go because the assignment was planned much earlier than the marriage. I was at one of the best institutes of Europe. My supervisor was a well-known biotechnologist. I started working on a new area – online analysis of substrates and products. I designed and assembled a set up for the purpose. Here I stayed in an international hostel that accommodated people from all around the world. We had a common kitchen. We shared a huge refrigerator. I somehow managed to cook my dinner; a very simple affair, consisting of rice-dal-egg curry-chicken curry-cauliflower-green peas-potato. I used to have lunch at the Institute Mensa. I enjoyed the Friday Fondu at the Institute. One of my good friends was from Malaysia who did his PhD from the UK. He had a good collection of music cassettes. He would give me some from his stock every day. Since I had no idea about English popular songs, every song was new for me. I liked Bob Marley. I did not have many friends in Zurich. But I had a good Swiss friend who was with us in our lab for almost a year. On many Sundays, I would go to their place for lunch. His mother would prepare a typical swiss lunch for us. It was a wonderful visit. But I missed my wife all the time. During this visit, I visited Toulouse, Dijon, and Compiegne in France.

While in Zurich, I got an offer from the University of Melbourne. I first returned to India, and after a year, I joined the department of chemical engineering. I was now a father of a son. This time my family was with me. The Melbourne visit was not like the Zurich visit. There were not many good mountains, but there was warmth in plenty. We had a flat, not very far from the university. Our neighbour was an Indian. I knew a professor from my IIT days. He became our local guardian. I had few Indian friends at the department. I started a new project on bioethanol and set up the lab for it. My counterpart was an old New Zealander. His wife was an excellent cook. They would often take us to their farm house near the sea. She was a perfect host. Our son was one month old. They would take care of him in every possible way. The chairman of the Indian Studies department was known to my father-in-law. His wife would come driving (the chairman did not drive) long distance to take us to their place for the day. We looked forward to their lunches and dinners. The chairman was a well-known name in Literature and Philosophy. He would always encourage me to read and write in Bengali. That was the time I only read chemical and biochemical engineering. He knew that but he insisted that I read in Bengali. Often he would give me some books. Some of his Australian students were fluent in Bengali. Since he was so very well-read (he had specialized in MN Roy) he could speak on any subject. His English was as good as Bengali. He was a very serious person, but his personality was not intimidating. After establishing the Indian Studies department and staying there for almost a decade, he decided to return to India. I asked him, after living in Melbourne for a long period, where he would live in India? I thought he would say either Bombay (where he was working before leaving for Melbourne) or Delhi. He said, Kolkata. I asked, why? He said, I am not going back for comfort. I wouldn’t have returned to India if I was looking for comforts. I am going because I want to do what I want to do, and that is possible only in Kolkata. I asked, what is that? He wants to start a literary periodical with his like-minded friends in Bengali. And he did that. Though I did not know Bengali (particularly his variety) I subscribed to the journal and tried to read a part of it. If I ever asked him about anything, he would promptly respond. I remember sending him one of my write-ups. He did respond immediately. I got his response after a month. He wrote to me that it is a very badly written piece. I even don’t know what I want to convey. In plain English, writing is hard work, and not everybody’s cup of tea. I was disappointed. When I met him the next time at his Salt Lake flat (it was a small flat compared to the palatial building he occupied in Melbourne) he had not forgotten my bad writing, and he suggested that I should read more on a variety of subjects. Nowadays, I write more regularly, and also read a variety of books, but I no longer can send him my writings.