Artist’s death sparks worries among colleagues


Sumitro Basak was an illustrator at ABPABP

By Sujit Bhar

The news of Bengal artist Sumitro Basak’s death has stirred up many emotions. The 38-year-old was an illustrator with the Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP) Group, a pretty good one at that, but more importantly he was a contemporary artist of considerable fame.

There has been talk that he was among those in the group who were asked to look for other opportunities, resulting from the downsizing activity now on within east India’s largest media group. There is also surprise, because he was said to have been favoured by Arup Sarkar, the current chief editor of the organisation, who had often given him pretty large projects to handle.

News of Basak’s fall on Republic Day – he fell from his sixth floor flat in the Sonarpur area in the eastern fringes of the city – spread quickly. He was living there for the past three years, and no suicide note has been found, the police have said.

Local councillor Abhro Mukherjee has been quoted in the media as saying: “A security guard alerted all of us after he heard a loud sound. We rushed to the spot and found him in a pool of blood. We heard that he was upset due to professional issues. But, no one knows why he suddenly took this extreme step.”

Though there is talk of suicide, it has not been conclusively proved as yet. His body has been sent for autopsy. Even if there was trouble in office he was unlikely to have been in any steep financially difficulty. His exhibitions often saw quick sales and the prices his paintings fetched were pretty fair, people who knew him have said.

Having passed out of Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan, he developed an interest in depicting the struggles in society and his participation in national exhibitions was standard. He had also participated in international exhibitions.

Incidentally, he was highly rated and promoted by the famous CIMA art gallery, whose owner is Rakhi Sarkar, the wife of Aveek Sarkar, who had to step down as chief editor of the group recently, yielding way to his brother Arup.

The incident has reverberated throughout the ABP house, already on tenterhooks with the sword of sackings hanging on many journalists and non-journalists.  If this “suicide” happens to be linked to any issue of any letter which might have been sent to Basak, then the company’s HRD might just be in a spot of trouble. It has been reported that some HRD people had visited Basak’s home after the incident, though this cannot be confirmed independently, because ABP is not commenting on this.

It may be recalled that the group has been on a staff-reduction spree, reportedly to come out of its current deep financial crisis. It has also drastically reduced sections of its key publications, Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph. The Bengali Anandabazar is one of the largest selling vernacular dailies of the country and The Telegraph is still the largest selling English daily in eastern India.

Incidentally, all employees still on the Wage Board – allegedly over 90 in number – were recently asked to approach the management for a Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) that has been formulated for them.

More importantly, it is believed that the company has decided to prune at least 30 percent of the workforce of the group – journalists and non-journalists. This is apart from the wage-board employees on notice.

This list has not been out as yet, keeping every journalist and non journalist alike on tenterhooks. Insiders say there is no clear policy towards a return to a healthy organisation, while these pink slips could well be arbitrary.

Amid this, comes this news of an alleged suicide. The management is said to have been shaken up a bit by this.