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ODE TO JOY !…..

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Utpal Chatterjee : kolkata, 21st May 2024.  That was what Ludwig Van Beethoven, inspired by German poet Friedrich Schiller, had called his Ninth Symphony.That has been a great inspiration to me too and the life I have lived so far. Our past has determined our present,true.Precisely how we control our present will,by common logic,carve out whatever is left of our ‘future’.But I remember visiting my old school,among the best in the country after I had lost my father in 1986. It was at the University where I had bloomed and blossomed in every way. Competition in so many spheres,particularly academics and Debating,even at the National level,found me ready,prepared and a true winner. But,years later,when I went back to my University,I was there as the “Chief Guest”, not once but several times.My memories,as a student,though,kept flooding in.Much the same happened when I visited the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Green Templeton College at Oxford University.One felt like another visitor but with a bagful of memories of my sessions with the legendary Sir.Neville Maxwell for my Fellowship in Journalism.There were some magnificent people,like him,who helped shape me to what I eventually became.This was followed by stints at Reuters International and The Economist for whom I am still requested to write columns.Since 1997,after being first interviewed on TV at BBC World Service Headquarters at White City and Radio Five, I have been on the panel of experts of BBC, London,since.Around this time I was advised to settle down there.But India,my India and home beckoned and so my country has always remained my base.At one point,there were long stints with ABP, The Independent and The Times of India.There were five years spent as a News and Election anchor with the advent of Doordarshan even as I was working for the ABP. If I am whatever I am,I owe so much to my MENTORS,Editors at several places,my erstwhile teachers and professors.It starts,of course,with my great parents,my amazing father and loving mother,both role models,and,as my profession took me beyond what I could never have conceived, to different countries to be with and interview various Presidents,Prime Ministers, Heads of State and Nobel Laureates.But life was not a cakewalk.One had to work hard,very,very hard,often skipping meals and be in rigourous pursuit of truth.Among others,the advisers of my prospective interviewees had also noticed this.Like Mr.Arbatov,the Chief Advisor of then President of USSR, Mr.Mikhail Gorbachev during a Summit who got me to interview the Great Man in Moscow. Hence, as a journalist and an academic,I still live.Around this time I was appointed the Sheriff of Calcutta,the first journalist in India to be appointed to this august chair.In protocol terms,the State Governor comes first,followed by the Chief Justice who is followed by the Sheriff,then Chief Justice J. Patel had informed.Better still,at the end of my very active tenure,I was invited to the Raj Bhavan and recognized as an ‘ Outstanding Sheriff since Independence’. The Chief Justice, who was aware of my work that included,among other things,the upliftment of the girlchild in the slums of the city,while congratulating me exulted,”Once a Sheriff, always a Sheriff!” My good work for the people in need,therefore,still continues as a devoted Rotarian.As an academic,I keep getting invited to institutions of Excellence all over India like the IITs,IIMs and similar great schools where I seem to have acquired some reputation as a public speaker.So they tell me because my audiences listen to me with rapt attention.A well known Vice-Chancellor observed that I leave my audiences ‘mesmerized’.Presently,I am also the Distinguished Visiting Professor at St. Xavier’s University,New Town, Kolkata,along with Mr. Hamid Ansari,the Past Vice President of India and Mr. M. K. Narayanan, former National Security Adviser of India and former West Bengal Governor.Life,for me has remained the greatest teacher.Yes,I have mellowed down a great deal with experience.But,I have learnt, time and again,that it is how we handle the present that will determine the future and whatever is left of it.True,there is a lot to forget and forgive when you look over your shoulder.But there is so much to treasure and cherish too.Yes,we must remain prepared for the inevitable.But before the final gong strikes,let us ensure that we hurt none,be pleasant and good to all,abide by the values that were imbibed in us since our childhood but,more importantly,do some good for the others. So,when it is time to leave,they would say, “Here was a man who lived for others!” Incidentally,Beethoven’s ODE TO JOY,composed when he was stone deaf and breaking all music conventions of the time,remains both timeless and universal.Small wonder,it brings everyone together and remains my ultimate inspiration.Indeed,it does.Utpal Chatterjee

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