Autographs of icons – faded ink on paper that reaches out across space and time, across generations, to create wabi sabi moments of ecstasy
On a Sunday morning a few years ago, when the world was a better place, my father, Partha Roy and I, paid a visit to my uncle, Pradeep Roy’s house (just a few houses from ours) for an adda session. While my dad was like a satellite connecting near and distant relatives and friends with extreme ease and passion, my interest in going was a bit beyond just tea and catching up. Pradeep Jethu and baba knew more about the family history than most others in the family, and my jethu had preserved a lot of old family documents and stories, which are increasingly at a risk of getting lost with time.
Out of the many things that we saw and documented over a long session of adda and cha, the one that stood out the most for me was a tiny nearly 100-year-old notebook which belonged to Pradeep Jethu’s father, Manindra Nath Roy (1891-1958). Just to make our relationships easier to understand, here’s a brief timeline.
Ambika Charan Roy (1827-1902) had four sons, Surendra Nath (Pradeep Jethu’s grandfather), Satyendra Nath, Amarendra Nath and Sourindra Nath (my great-grandfather) They were all very well established and also devoted to social work and upliftment.
Manindra Nath’s father, Surendra Nath was quite an eminent statesman. One-time president of the Bengal Legislative Council, he was a pioneer of constitutional progress. He thus had close political connections with C.R. Das, J.C. Bose, Ashutosh Mukherjee, to name a few. Besides his involvement in politics, Manindra Nath also had a creative bent of mind and often resorted to writing poetry, many of which were published. He developed a close friendship with Sarat Chandra post the latter’s return from Burma. Sarat Chandra would often visit Manindra Nath’s home, Surendra Bhavan. Out of the few notebooks of Manindra Nath’s that exist, the one of particular interest to me has the handwriting / signatures of many of his contemporaries who were all stalwarts in their area of work.
My interest in handwritten documents, ink and fountain pens and its history drew me to this immensely. As we flipped through the pages of this notebook that survived the test of time, I kept wondering about the ink and pens that may have been used. Of course, with age, many of them had taken a greyish blue-black tinge which I assume might be iron gall inks. Unlike Surendra Nath who was a hardcore nationalist and wore only Indian clothes, his son was more inclined to western principles and fashion and was known to have regularly dined in restaurants and thus, perhaps, he would have used English or German made pen and inks. However, many of the writings, perhaps those of Mahatma Gandhi and others would have certainly been written with Indian made inks and pens which were in production at the time. Perhaps our very own Sulekha!
A lot has changed in the last two years… we have lost both Pradeep Jethu and my dad but our addas will remain in my heart forever, along with the pictures and video clips. We will all vanish from the face of this earth but we must not forget that ink is forever… Let’s continue to preserve our memories in ink-filled pages.
About Diptanshu Roy
I have been a lover of art, design and music from my childhood. I drew and painted as a kid and picked up the mandolin at the age of 7. Born to Partha Roy and Sumita Roy, (the first of 2 children) I grew up and continue to reside in one of the oldest houses in Behala, Ambika Mandir (often referred to as Purono Bari), the original house built by Roy Bahadur Ambika Charan, located on 10 Sourin Roy Road, Behala. (The street is named after Ambika Charan’s son, my great-grandfather, Sourin Roy)
I fondly remember my childhood spent with my grandfather, Sachindra Nath Roy who was a ceramic engineer from BHU and ran a letterpress called Arani Press to edit and publish India’s first ceramic journal, Indian Ceramics. Sachindra Nath was a Bengal champion in boxing and a serious philatelist. He would always keep me entertained with stories of his various adventures and underscored the importance of a life full of it. From anecdotes of his travels including a bike ride from Kolkata to Jammu, to having a pet tiger, to owning a mica mine, to shooting pigeons for his everyday evening supper, he helped me in understanding the true value of a life full of colourful experiences. I am immensely thankful to my parents who always encouraged me to follow my heart… I am also deeply influenced by my father’s love and respect for nature. He was an avid gardener himself and taught me to observe the gifts of nature.
My interest in Design, Fonts and Typography certainly stems from my hours spent at the letterpress as a kid. This interest later grew into a love for colours, paint, ink and fountain pens. These days I love practicing my penmanship and filling up journals with scribbles and notes. I am always excited to find old handwritten documents and letters within the family or otherwise and this quest serendipitously led me to Manindra Nath’s diary. I have a day job in advertising as a Senior Creative Director and also play the mandolin in several musical projects. My wife, Karishma Siddique Roy, is an artist and a fashion designer. We love to travel all over the world and gather new experiences and try and apply them to our daily lives.
I truly appreciate and understand the sense of Wabi Sabi in art and in everyday living.