Subal Chandra Banik, Subalda to all who knew him, passed away on the 6th of April 2019 after a month of ailing from a fall that caused concussions and complications. He was 67 years old. He was working for BRAC’s Communication department as an editor and Bangla specialist. He was also one of the top freelance editors in town and was held in great reverence by many authors.
Subal da was a fairly invisible man in the current environment of BRAC which he joined in 1986. Times and history changes and so do people. The world that he grew up in within that outfit too has changed and in the Anglicized environment, very digital, very English, Subal da with his Bangla and Bengali demeanor looked a bit out of place.
It was not his crowd but he also knew his excellence as a language specialist was such that more than people, he belonged to words and his world was much greater than his office table. He had retired but returned to work on contract where the top management knew he was practically “irreplaceable.” Of course someone else will come and wear his shoes but few can fill them as he had done for all these years.
Not many at BRAC perhaps know that Subalda was in a quite and simple way a major force in the publishing world of Bangladesh. So many manuscripts passed through his hands vastly improved that his loss is going to influence the quality of many books that will see the light of print for some time to come. The will be less sharp because Subalda’s eyes will not have detected and corrected the errors, not found the better terminology, not the best metaphors, not polished it as a goldsmith polishes ornaments till they shine.
In so many ways, Subalda was a jeweler and his tool was his knowledge of Bangla which he used to make even ordinary works look much more wonderful than they actually were. He was the perfect editor for a language that is unduly complex in a world with which it’s trying to keep up.
The patient editor, the humble man
Subalda and I worked together last year on a book project. It was a tribute book on BRAC’s Fazle Hasan Abed bhai’s deputy, late Amin-ul-Alam bhai. It was not an easy project as it involved coordinating with many kinds of people and work, all mixed with the institutional baggage that was of course inevitable. I would get very irritated at all the hassle but it was Subalda who shepherded the book particularly through its final stages to publication. It would never have happened without him. His patience, humility and capacity to suffer fools gladly did the job. It captured the essence of the person.
I always feel that institutions often use and spit out the people after their need is over. The top person or founder is remembered and revered but the rest fall away. In many ways, it applies to all institutions and BRAC is no different. In doing the Amin bhai book, I felt many such persons should be remembered including Subalda though I suppose none will happen
The most pleasant experience around the book was a very personal one. Subalda had read my piece and was so happy that he called me up to praise me for long. I was quite taken aback as it was unexpected. But when it comes from him it’s even more special because he knows that language much better than I or many others ever will. I was thrilled and happy. “You have brought both the ideas and the language together. That’s why I like it so much.”
What Subalda did in his life was the same. He had been a school teacher before joining BRAC and brought both intellect and knowledge to the elegant table of language. He was not a didactic person but a true mixer of art and essence which is why his services were so much in demand in the publishing world.
One less place to go
I heard the news of his death through an sms sent by a colleague we shared. It mentioned his cremation in Savar. It was a message of an end of a relationship, association era. It meant that the very few reasons left to occasionally visit my old office are even less now. As strangers and strange tableaux fill up a familiar world and make it distant and past, one must find other destinations. I waited the fay after death in front of the gate through which we had walked many times before to work or visit. And then I walked on. Subalda was no longer working there and I had a table less to visit and a person less to smile at.
Goodbye Subalda, always in our hearts, always in our minds.