| Bimal Mukherjee: Will power. Picture by Aranya Sen
Bimal Mukherjee is 77. For 62 of those years, he has been strapped to his bed, the result of osteo-arthritis that was wrongly diagnosed as tuberculosis of the bone in the initial stages. But through these bed-ridden years he has managed to build up a firm with a healthy turnover every year.
Mukherjee, proprietor of General Industries that supplies polishing material manufactured in a Jadavpur factory, came to Calcutta from Dhaka first in 1941, for treatment, and then shifted permanently, following Partition. From then on, the six-feet-by-four-feet bed in his Garfa home has been his world and the three telephone sets by his side have been his lifeline.
He remembers coming to Calcutta as a student of Class VIII, after suffering excruciating pain in the lower back. He went to a reputed orthopaedist who said he was suffering from bone tuberculosis. The doctor had Mukherjee cocooned in a plaster that covered his entire torso and sent him back to Dhaka with an assurance that he would be fine.
Mukherjee returned home, but could not go back to school. The pain kept coming back to haunt him, but his family decided against making another trip to Calcutta. It would be too expensive, the teenager was told.
Soon, Mukherjee was confined to his bed. But then, in 1947, the family decided to shift permanently to Calcutta.
His father, Birendra Mukherjee, took him to another orthopaedist — Mukherjee remembers him as Amulya Sen — who said the 21-year-old youth was suffering from osteoarthritis. “He said I had reached an incurable state,” Mukherjee recounts.
He was resigned to spending a lifetime in bed. The family moved from a house in Sonarpur to one in Garfa, near Jadavpur. That’s where he remains today, refusing to lose hope in the face of a lifelong handicap and using his time in bed to shape the lives of his employees and the future of his firm.
Business and books as bedfellows
It was just a matter of time before Mukherjee got fed up of his bed-strapped existence. "I had my brothers and sisters and, with their suggestions and help, I finally decided to do something worthwhile," he says.
"Someone floated the idea of making polishing material and that was how General Industries came into being."
Mukherjee shares his room with his 93-year-old mother, Nanibala, who is still quite active. There's one window - Mukherjee's link to the outside world - opening up on Sitala Mandir Road outside.
But more importantly, there are three telephone sets by his bed. It's with these that Mukherjee has been able to build up his own little empire from bed - a factory that manufactures polishing material for shoes, floors and metals, takes up government and private orders, and employs 10 people.
"I spend my days running my business or reading books and newspapers," says the frail old man, before one of the phones starts ringing again.