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Swapan Kumar Chakravorty: A man of knowledge, mischief, kindness

Here we praise a man of knowledge, mischief and kindness. These three qualities were intertwined so deeply in Swapan Kumar Chakravorty, that as teacher of English literature at Jadavpur University, Kolkata – and in various stages of his all-too-short life of 67, at Presidency University, and as chairperson, Centre for Studies of Social Sciences – he would be sold ridiculously short if described as ‘just’ one of the finest scholars of the European Renaissance. He was as much a man of ideas as one of the world, being National Library director, the digitisation of which he oversaw, and curator of Victoria Memorial, bringing its treasures out of the attic to the public eye.

Chakravorty, an intellectual bilingual not just in Bengali and English, but also in high and popular culture, made profound connections in his readings of texts, tastes and technologies. He infected students and peers with incurable knowledgitis: the sheer joy of knowing. In a 2016 essay on his beloved Christopher Marlowe‘s c. 1592 English play, Doctor Faustus, and Bharata’s 2nd c BC-2nd c AD Sanskrit treatise on performing arts, Natyasastra, he wrote of ‘a moment of decision after a dispute in the mind’ – a process Renaissance rhetoricians called ‘addubitation’. In his celebration of knowledge, ‘Swapanda’ epitomised this ‘verbal chain that involves doubt, including self-doubt, and its resolution’. His passing leaves the world a bit less wise, and a lot less excited about pursuing wisdom with the thrill of a boy.

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