48 books and counting - Malayali’s love affair with Kolkata

February 14th, 2011 - 11:17 am ICT by IANS  

By Anurag Dey
Kolkata, Feb 14 (IANS) If Kolkata can be compared to a beautiful woman, then Parmeshwaran Thankkapan Nair, a Malayali, would arguably be her most ardent lover. Known as the ‘Chronicler of Calcutta’, he has dedicated his life researching and documenting various facets of the eastern metropolis.His painstaking research has been compiled into 48 books with three more in the pipeline.

For the past couple of years, he has been working on his forthcoming “History of Kolkata Maidan and Fort William”. His tomes cover a wide canvas, delving into the origins of the city’s name, its streets, the police force, the south Indians who have set up nest here and so on.

“I had come here looking for a job in 1955. I arrived in this big unknown city ticketless, penniless, without a roof over my head, having only the address of a person I knew from my village.

“Despite being a stranger, Calcutta gave me a shelter and sustained me. If the world today knows about P.T. Nair, it is because of the city. I too wanted to give something to the city which has given me everything,” Nair, who still prefers to address the city as “Calcutta”, told IANS.

The fact that Nair has failed to visit his village in Kerala for over a year now and lives all alone in the city is proof enough that Kolkata is not only his first but also the only love.

“My family often complains, but what can I do. There’s still so much to know. Even after so many years, the city continues to be an enigma to me,” he says.

“It is this commitment that has fuelled my zeal to unearth the deep secrets close to its heart, its rich and glorious past and keeps me going even at this age,” said the septuagenarian historian sitting at his rented accommodation tucked away in one of the dingy nooks of Kansaripara in south Kolkata’s Bhowanipore.

He started off writing about national symbols, and then slowly graduated to issues of national importance. “But then I felt there were people to write about them. However, I could find no one interested in writing about Calcutta.”

Despite researching on the city for the past five decades, Nair is yet to learn Bengali. “I didn’t want to get charmed by the language. There is so much of quality literature,” he quips.

“If I knew the language I would have spent all my time reading the works of (Rabindranath) Tagore, (Kazi) Nazrul (Islam), and Sarat Chandra (Chattopadhyay). Who would have done the research then?”

“You will find my wife engrossed in Bengali books most of the time.”

The man prefers seclusion and lives a spartan life since his wife lives in Kerala. He pours over hundreds of books and journals to understand the city’s past. A loaf of bread and a pair of bananas constitute his lunch and after returning home he cooks himself rice and vegetables for dinner.

A quintessential storyteller, Nair loves to talk about Kolkata. “The city was not at all like you see it today. The villages of Gobindapur, Sutanuti and Kalikata make up today’s Calcutta,” he says.

Nair also has his share of grievances against his beloved. “Calcutta has become very congested…as also the thinking of the people. It’s only money on their minds. Many have been living here for years, yet they know nothing about the city. They are like a postman who delivers a letter but has no idea about its contents.”

“People here have lost fellow feeling. People now die on the streets…Nobody cares to take them to a hospital. There is so much of hatred among people. There’s so much of killing these days,” he says.

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