Sanjoy Ghose: My Unmet Mentor

Sanjoy Ghose
Sanjoy Ghose

Never in my life of 22 years I had heard of Sanjoy Ghose. In 2011, while pursuing master’s degree through distance learning, I actively searched for job opportunities in the development sector. A friend directed me to a website dedicated to advertising jobs in the NGO sector, where I stumbled upon a vacancy at Charkha Development Communication Network for the role of Assistant English Editor. Curiosity led me to explore their website, where I discovered the remarkable founder behind the organization, Sanjoy Ghose. He had established Charkha in 1994, leaving an indelible mark before being tragically abducted by ULFA militants in Majuli, Assam, in 1997.

From the moment I assumed the position, my journey of familiarization with the organization began, gradually kindling a sense of fascination for the person that Sanjoy was, as described by his father, Shankar Ghose. It was through Shankar Sir that I caught glimpses of Sanjoy’s character. I would enter the basement, the very heart of Charkha’s former office in Palam Vihar, day after day, casting my gaze upon his portrait. There he sat, on the banks of the Brahmaputra, his bag resting gently by his side, adorned in traditional attire—a kurta pyjama and a shawl—radiating an air of contentment through a serene smile.

Sanjoy was a stranger to me then, but gradually, his life story unfolded before me. Shankar Sir would recount tales of his commitment to work with those marginalized by society. “Usually, a son follows in his father’s footsteps, but here, I find myself walking in the wake of my son,” he would confide during our conversations. Joy’s name, resonating with affection from his loved ones, would frequent our discussions. Shankar Sir would recount how Joy once spent a couple of days in a Mumbai slum, drenched by monsoon rains, seeking to comprehend the hardships endured by its inhabitants—a testament to his dedication. In his attempts to impart that fervor to me, who was just beginning to grasp the organization’s vision, Shankar Sir’s passion and admiration for his son were palpable.

It was during this period that I discovered Joy’s establishment of the URMUL Trust, following his graduation from the inaugural batch of the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). Additionally, his monthly column, aptly titled “Village Voice,” found a place within the esteemed pages of the Indian Express. Anshu Meshack, the organization’s then CEO, presented me with a thick file brimming with clippings of Joy’s insightful articles. Each page exuded a nostalgic fragrance, capturing the essence of a bygone era, eloquently etched within the confines of words. His writing possessed a rare quality—a lucidity that could be comprehended by all. The articles predominantly revolved around the harsh realities experienced by the rural population, highlighting the discrimination they faced and their unfortunate disconnection from the mainstream society.

As I delved deeper into his work, a profound respect and fondness for a man I knew I would never meet grew within me. Unbeknownst to me, I would find myself greeting his photograph, bidding him good morning and night in silent communion, my smile mirroring his own. When my first edited article was published in a national newspaper, I instinctively turned to him, sharing my elation. In return, his radiant smile beamed back at me. After my inaugural writing workshop as a facilitator that was organized by Charkha for the youth in Kargil, I embraced Shankar Sir and Anshu Ma’am, and in that moment, Joy’s smile lingered in my memory.

Thus began a ritual: sharing my joys and triumphs with him, seeking guidance when faced with challenges and discontent. He would simply smile, a silent beacon of assurance. Over the years, from 2011 to 2015, my tenure at Charkha encompassed a deepening understanding of Joy’s life, acquired through the narratives shared by a select few, along with the articles penned by his friends and family. After Shankar Sir’s unfortunate demise in 2014 and Anshu Ma’am’s decision to part ways with Charkha in 2015, I felt a wave of overwhelming emotions and made the difficult choice to resign from my full-time position. Although I continued as a consultant, working closely with my esteemed colleague, Mario Noronha, the Deputy Director, and exploring new avenues, my heart remained tethered to Charkha. The flame of inspiration and motivation seemed to wane, compounded by my lack of academic training in the development field. Taking a sabbatical, I immersed myself in the theoretical dimensions of “development” and sought to align my perceptions with ground realities.

Throughout this transformative period, I maintained contact with Mario Sir, keeping abreast of the arduous trials that Charkha faced. In 2019, I returned to Charkha, reuniting, albeit remotely, with Mario Sir. Together, in 2020, we embarked on designing new projects, leveraging my newfound expertise in programme designing and an eagerness to embrace risk and adopt innovative strategies. However, the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our plans, delaying my visit to Charkha’s new office until August 2020. To my dismay, Joy’s photograph was nowhere to be found. Mario Sir, ever the source of solace, assured me that the glass frame had fallen during the lockdown but would soon be restored. Holding the picture, its broken glass a poignant metaphor, I smiled at Joy, affirming my return and expressing my gratitude for his unwavering presence. The subsequent lockdown during the second wave further deepened our isolation, and in April 2021, we mourned the loss of Mario Sir to Covid-19. Charkha was once again orphaned. Dropping out of my MPhil studies, I made the resolute decision to abandon academia and fully devote myself to supporting Charkha.

I had a young team to take care of ensuring them that we will get through this, together. I had the support of Charkha’s board yet Mario sir’s absence, made me feel alone.

In assuming the mantle of responsibility, I sought solace in Joy’s photograph. The fractured glass was mended, and the picture was carefully reinstated upon the wall. The Silsila of exchanging smiles resumed. Whenever I felt stuck, uncertain of the path forward, I would implore Joy to work his magic—and miraculously, he did. Today, our work at Charkha has evolved, characterized by dynamic vigor and strategic acumen, all with Joy’s visionary spirit as our guiding compass.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of meeting individuals who were intimately acquainted with Joy, either through their close collaboration or profound friendship. They told me that, as the true Gandhian he was, it was his unwavering belief in love and non-violence that compelled him to embark on his mission of change. Even in the face of adversity and the violence that plagued Majuli, Assam, during those times, he remained resolute, knowing that the path to transformation lay in his unwavering commitment. Although this endeavor cost him his life, I cannot help but sense that given the chance, he would traverse that path of love and non-violence once more. It is this indomitable spirit that fuels my own journey.

At times, weariness, frustration, loneliness, and desolation threaten to engulf me. Yet, in those moments, I turn to Joy’s photograph, and there he is, smiling—a radiant reminder that everything will be fine if I listen to the whispers of my heart. Joy is my mentor, his ever-inspiring smile urging me onward.

On his 26th death anniversary, I reflect upon the fragments of Joy’s life that have woven themselves into my being. Some stories remain etched in my heart, while others may have been lost along the way. As I embark on each new day, I carry with me the profound legacy of Sanjoy Ghose—a luminary in the realm of development. With unwavering determination, I strive to shape Charkha’s future in a manner that resonates with Joy’s vision. In this journey, Joy serves as a testament to the enduring power of compassion, reminding me that everything is going to be just fine.

Chetna Verma is the CEO of Charkha. Share your feedback at [email protected]

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