He holds a high-profile digital communications job in the UK Government and was the Guardian’s first ever mobile editor. But Kolkata is where the 42-year-old grew up and spent the early years of his career. Meet Subhajit Banerjee, a Londonder for years but a Kolkatan to the core.
My Kolkata: Tell us about your journey from south Kolkata to west London
Subhajit Banerjee: I was born in Netaji Nagar, South Kolkata, where my parents still live. I went to Assembly of God Church school – a small local school but it was a second home to me. After high school at Assembly of God Church Park Street, I studied BA in English at Jadavpur University, which was a life-changing experience. JU opened up my world, showed me there were people similar to me interested in many interesting things and gave me some of my best friends for life. I then moved to Delhi to study journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication and worked there for a bit in a business magazine, before returning to Kolkata and working for the Statesman and The Telegraph.
The latter in particular was a really great experience where I learned a lot, had a lot of fun and also met my wife who now works for the BBC in London.
I then came to the UK in 2006 to study for an MA in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield (my sister and her family were there and I could stay with them). I restarted my journalism career in the UK at the Daily Telegraph, followed by stints at the Guardian and Conde Nast.
I then became a civil servant, working in digital communication in the Prime Minister’s office at 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.
Walking into Downing Street for the first time, literally shaking with excitement
Subhajit at 10 Downing Street during ChristmasCourtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
You have been working at a global political power centre and in international media. Would you like to share some memorable moments from your UK career with our readers?
Many, particularly while working at 10 Downing Street. One that stands out is walking into Downing Street for the first time having seen it from the outside many times, literally shaking with excitement (and on a related note, seeing my parents’ reaction when they visited during a family day). That realisation of where you are and the impact of your work never goes away.
Subhajit with his family at 10 Downing StreetCourtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
And also being appointed the Guardian’s first ever Mobile Editor, a unique role in a media organisation I greatly admired, at a crucial time in its journey. I’ve been very fortunate to have had some incredible experiences that a 20-year-old me in Kolkata would have found impossible to imagine, let alone play a part in.
Cha, roll, Bangla books and JU…
How do you maintain the Kolkata connection?
Through family, friends and the occasional visits but like everyone else that has been difficult through the pandemic. Social media does help to an extent to keep up with news and stay in touch with people. What I miss the most is the food (it is a fact that Kolkata food is the greatest in the world, just like Thums Up is the greatest cola).
‘It is a fact that Kolkata food is the greatest in the world, just like Thums Up is the greatest cola,’ says SubhajitCourtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
One of the first things I do when back home is ask my mother to make ‘cha’ (Darjeeling, no milk, bit of sugar maybe). Roll is also a must (not really fussed where it’s from but Kusum and Hot Kathi on Park Street is always special). I love and miss Bangla books (my record so far is 23kg of that on one trip) so a visit to College Street is a must. Love queuing at Dey’s who seem to know everything about any book ever published and meeting other publisher friends, rounding off with a Coffee House stop.
I also try and drop into Jadavpur University with friends. And I love walking around or just criss-crossing the city that holds a million memories for me.
Once normal service resumes, I’m looking forward to introducing my children (12 and 5 years old) to these delights and haunts.
‘I love and miss Bangla books, so a visit to College Street is a must’Courtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
‘Jed’ is what I have been driven by
Are there any Kolkata traits that have helped or hindered you?
I don’t know if it’s a Kolkata trait but I’d like to think it is. And that’s jed, which closely approximates to determination, but is a lot more than that. A lot of what I’ve achieved has been driven by ‘why can’t I do this’ rather than ‘how can someone like me do this’. Be it restarting a journalism career from scratch in the UK or working in a senior UK Government role and breaking several walls in the process. Of course that brings a lot of pressure and challenges with it, so hard work and resilience are super important factors.
Subhajit, his daughter and his niece pose with a John Lennon statue in LiverpoolCourtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
Given the pressure and challenges, how do you de-stress?
The usual music, books, TV, podcast combo but also getting ever deeper into my lifelong passion for everything related to the Beatles. One of the first things I did when I came to London was go to Abbey Road and walk across the famous crossing. A really special moment was watching Paul McCartney in concert in Liverpool, a city I visit as often as I can.
More recently, thanks to my daughter, I’ve started playing cricket again at our local club where we both train and play matches.
Subhajit in his cricket whitesCourtesy: Subhajit Banerjee
I am back to cricket after a break of 15 years — in fact, I think my last proper match was the annual Telegraph vs. Anandabazar showdown just before I left India. Despite the aches and pains I’m really enjoying returning to the sport that used to be my life growing up.
[Video courtesy: Arijit Sen and Ritagnik Bhattacharya]