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Sampath Kumar : kolkata, 9th June 2024.
My Dear Friend Utpal Chatterjee,former Sheriff of Calcutta,Journalist,Global Peace Ambassador,committed Rotarian and Distinguished Professor!
As time passes by,so do many milestones in our lives,obliterating incidences and people who mattered.I thought it would be a good idea to list a few of the worthy persons whom I had the opportunity to know in my life.I have begun my Profile series with that of Utpal Chatterjee,Former Sheriff of Calcutta (and its first citizen) and an internationally acclaimed journalist.In fact,he holds the distinction of being the first and only journalist to be the Sheriff of a Metropolitan city like Calcutta or Bombay.According to the then Hon’ble Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court,Mr. J.J. Patel,in protocol terms,the position of Sheriff follows soon after the Governor of the State and the Chief Justice.
Utpal Chatterjee is a thoroughbred gentry of Kolkata,a journalist and a gentleman,social worker,a committed Rotarian,mesmerizing public speaker and Former Sheriff of Calcutta.
Donning a beret with a French beard,Utpal is unmissable in any gathering.The beret was a gift from the then military commander of the Eastern Command(“as a symbol of solidarity for our Defence forces”),which has become a permanent accomplice to his apparel.I have known him for many years and was spellbound at his oratory skills when I heard him first at one of our meetings at a major Rotary Club.The quiet person who shunned publicity was an intrigue for me.I discovered him to be polite,friendly,selfless,unassuming and a gentleman to his fingertips.
Utpal started his studies at the St. Xavier’s and completed his fellowship in Journalism at the University of Oxford under the legendary Sir.Neville Maxwell as his mentor.He took to teaching for three years at the very beginning of the beginning and,at the same time,contributing columns to the many leading newspapers and magazines including the then-popular newspaper ‘The Statesman.’ He had,since,been associated with several National and International newspapers and journals.Incidentally,he was among the first lot of news presenters,election anchors and effective interviewers when TV first came to India through Doordarshan.Of course,he was very popular and,among those who complimented him on their own,included the likes of the amazing Satyajit Ray and Hemanta Mukherjee (Hemant Kumar) who paid a suprise visit to his office to express his admiration.In 2010 he was appointed the Sheriff of Calcutta,a position though ‘archaic’,he breathed fresh life into the often mistakenly perceived ‘decorative and ceremonial’ post.The tree plantation drive that he had initiated on a major scale,still is being pursued with zeal by so many organizations.Further,Utpal had embarked upon the task of uplifting the state of women and the girl children in many neglected slums,including a slum at Ekbalpore,populated by the minorities.
Utpal has been on the panel of experts for the BBC South Asia Desk,London,since 1997.So far,he has interviewed 21 Heads of State,10 Nobel Laureates,besides travelling as a part of three of our Indian Prime Ministers’ entourage.His noteworthy interviews are several and include,among others,those with U.S.Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton during the American elections of 1988 and ’92,British Prime Ministers from Mrs.Margaret Thatcher to Mr.David Cameron and the great Mikhael Gorbachev and Princess Diana,experiences he recalls as ‘profound’.Such assignments have taken him abroad nearly 60 times.
Neither his writing nor speaking assignments have been an impediment in his total commitment to societal causes as he carries the weighty responsibility as the Chief Rotary Ambassador as he did,earlier,as the Goodwill Ambassador for the Department of Income Tax. Utpal is,understandably, in high demand in educational institutions here and abroad,groups of eminent citizens et all for his public speaking on contemporary issues,which he does with ease and élan, -extempore.Utpal is now a ‘Distinguished Visiting Professor’ at the St.Xavier’s University,Calcutta,along with the former Vice President of India,Mr.Hamid Ansari and Former West Bengal Governor and National Security Adviser, Mr.M.K.Narayanan.
Having spent 46 years and more as a journalist at home and abroad,Utpal recalls his adventurous assignments,escaping real bullets at least twice in the crossfire,once while in Tibetan territory,now occupied by the Chinese, in 1986 and again in then strife-torn Belfast in 1989.Even as the pandemic has taken its toll,Utpal has been on a sabbatical to fulfil his academic assignments as a Professor and get on with his forthcoming book,his magnum opus.
Utpal Chatterjee was recognized as the ‘Most Outstanding Sheriff,’ at a Raj Bhavan ceremony during the tenure of Shri M.K. Narayan,as State Governor. He was further recognized as an Outstanding Indian for ‘his contribution to enriching National values,public service and International Journalism’ by NIFI (National Integration Forum of India).He has also been recognised as the ‘LEGEND OF BENGAL’ by the All India Human Rights Council.
Amongst the all-around noise and din,clamour for growth in popularity charts, often by deceit and abuse or politics,Utpal is a refreshing human ushering hope and peace.Among the sullied media,biased more than ever before and many in the journalistic profession dumping the nobilities to be controlled by often unscrupulous media owners,Utpal Chatterjee stands out as an unimpeachable and brave specimen of journalists and the very picture of humility.“I would like to bid a final farewell,while still in harness,serving the society with all my might,” Utpal signs off.
I am proud to have known him as a friend and wish him many more years of excellent health and continued service to society.It is,indeed,a matter of great fortune that we are friends.-Sampath Kumar,Author,Poet and academician.

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