The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Work and words on same plate
Arghyakusum Duttagupta

A common platform for all disciplines, all ideologies. This was what Samatat, the magazine, set out to provide. And for 33 years, the editor, Arghyakusum Duttagupta, has been doing just that. “In this age of specialisation, there is increasing alienation between one discipline and another. So there was a need for a magazine which would contain articles on a variety of subjects, from business management to history to poetry, in a language rid of technical jargon,” says the 70-year-old.

The magazine started in 1969 at the initiative of seven friends. “We would walk from Ballygunge to Park Circus, selling Samatat, and make payments to the contributors on the way back. Once we gave Rs 15 to Annadashankar Roy. The veteran author had such words of encouragement while accepting the payment,” he recollects.

Pride and passion, in fact, had a lot to do with the birth of the magazine. Duttagupta (who switched to his original family name to keep away from the “reflected glory” of his economist brother Amlan Dutta) was then working with Indian Oxygen. “But when I saw I was in the risk of being promoted, I promptly put in my papers. I could not give more time to office at the cost of my magazine,” he explains.

Samatat has since grown in stature, and the initial corpus of Rs 700 from the seven friends has flourished to Rs 15 lakh.

But the workaholic in Duttagupta was not satisfied. In 1989, an acquaintance was looking for a registered organisation under which to start work on non-formal rural education. Thus Samatat opened another chapter. “Our first stop was Kushmashuli village, in Midnapore, where nothing on wheels reaches,” he recounts.

Next to open was the Kalyani branch, on a plot donated by his sister, while Jalpaiguri was the latest in line. Today, there are about 50 such centres under the Samatat umbrella. According to Duttagupta, the best thing about these classes, held under trees and in verandahs of houses, is that the manpower is local. Therefore, the degree of commitment is such that even when salaries are months late, the teachers carry on without a complaint.

Working in the villages, Duttagupta has often faced political resistance, but has reasoned his way out with local leaders. “We now work as motivators to below-poverty-line self-help groups, teaching members to keep accounts so that they can get a loan from the bank.” Other projects that he has taken up are a creche for children of share-croppers and sanitary marts in villages which do not have toilets.

But he does not consider his hands full yet. “I want to start work on an old age home before I hang up my boots,” he smiles.

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