Pharmacy that supplied medicines to Tagore in his final days now gasping for breath

Rabindranath Tagore’s last prescription.

Rabindranath Tagore’s last prescription.  

The day Rabindranath Tagore died — on August 7, 1941 — it happened to be the 22nd day of the Bengali month of Srabon. Bengal, therefore, observes the anniversary of his death — and also birth — as per the Bengali calendar, as a result of which August 7 is ignored.

But this year, once again, August 7 and the 22nd day of Srabon have coincided, and on Thursday Bengal marked the 79th death anniversary of the poet. Even as tributes poured in on social media and online performances took place, a pharmacy called Mahatma and Co., situated at the intersection of Chitpur Road and Vivekananda Road in north Kolkata, pulled up its shutters at 2 p.m. instead of the usual 10 a.m.

The delay had nothing to do with the occasion; just that there are hardly any customers these days. Business for this once-crowded pharmacy has been negligible ever since March 31, 2016 when a segment of an under-construction flyover on the busy Vivekananda Road collapsed on that intersection. People hardly venture to this stretch now for the fear that the rest of the structure may collapse on them, as a result of which shops lining it are mostly idle.

A different time

It is not, therefore, surprising that Sambhu Nath Ray, the owner of Mahatma and Co., remembers March 31 more easily than Tagore’s death anniversary, an event that he should keep track of. When the poet was dying at his family home in nearby Jorasanko, it was the pharmacy that supplied him with medicines during his final days.

“Our shop is 95 years old, you can calculate the year it was set up,” said Mr. Ray, showing the final prescription of the poet, dated August 2, 1941, now preserved as part of a book. “Back then there were only two pharmacies in the whole area, Mahatma and Co., and Madhav and Co.”

Mahatma and Co. was set up sometime around 1925 by his father Radha Binod Ray, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. He had migrated from Dhaka to seek his fortune in the then-prosperous city of Calcutta, now Kolkata. When the father died in 1958, Sambhu Nath Ray was only six, and at the time his elder brother Ranjit Kumar Ray took charge of the shop. In 1990, at the age of 38, Sambhu Nath Ray also joined his brother at the shop. The brother died in 2018, leaving Sambhu Nath at the helm of the business.

Business was doing well, until March 31, 2016, when Mr. Ray witnessed a 150-metre long steel span of the under-construction flyover crashing. “Screams of people; clouds of dust; fire spewing out and human limbs sticking out from under the steel span — I have recalled the horror countless times now,” he said.

Not the same since

“Only moments before the collapse my daughter had got off the tram and crossed the intersection into the shop,” Mr. Ray recalled. A personal tragedy was averted, but life hasn’t been the same for him ever since.

“If my daily sale earlier was, say, 100 rupees, now it is 15-20 rupees. After the lockdown it’s even worse. I had an assistant who used to have breakfast at my house and then open the shop at 10 a.m. But now he is also unable to come because local trains are still not running. So I open the shop at 2 p.m. and shut at 8 p.m. — what’s the point keeping it open for longer?” he lamented.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2020 9:20:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/pharmacy-that-supplied-medicines-to-tagore-in-his-final-days-now-gasping-for-breath/article32295766.ece

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