Aniruddha Bose (1980-2024)

Posted by sepoy on May 03, 2024 · 8 mins read

Remembering Rahul: A tribute by Rohit Chopra

Aniruddha Bose, Associate Professor of History at Saint Francis University, passed away on March 31, 2024 from brain cancer. Aniruddha was a remarkable person and brilliant scholar, soft-spoken and modest to a fault, combining a rare gravitas and decency with irrepressible cheer and good humor. With his passing, the world feels slighter and lesser. He was much loved by every single person who was privileged to know him, as this account by his wife, Frances, so movingly conveys.

My association with Aniruddha–or Rahul, as I always knew and addressed him– spanned almost forty years. Over this sea of time, our lives overlapped and intersected across three cities, Calcutta, Bombay, and Boston. Our families were friends and our fathers were colleagues, working at the same firm in the Indian shipping industry, first in Calcutta and later in Bombay. Like his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bose, Rahul was an immensely kind, gentle, and generous person. Rahul and I first met when I was 11 or 12 and he several year younger. The first image of him in my mind is at a weekend dinner at his Calcutta home, when we got talking about books that we both loved.

As I write, I recall in vivid detail his magnificent library, which included neatly arranged collections of Enid Blyton, Asterix, and Tintin. In the India of the time, these books, along with Archie comics, Mad Magazine, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew, were precious currency and valued companions, portals unlocking the world of the imagination, treasures to be read and re-read, savored afresh each time they were encountered. Tintin and Asterix in particular were sources of endless delight; everyone had their favorite characters in the series, with Captain Haddock triumphing in the world of Tintin and Getafix and Obelix besting others in the Asterix universe. Our conversations at family and social gatherings in Calcutta often gravitated toward the different adventures of the detective and his motley crew and the endearing bunch of intrepid Gauls who feared nothing but the sky falling on their heads.

Down the line, we would both attend St. Xavier’s College in Bombay, though a few years apart, where Rahul read history before he moved to JNU in Delhi for his master’s degree. Our paths crossed again many years later and a continent away in the Greater Boston area. I had taken up a position as Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Babson College in Wellesley in the Fall of 2007, and was living in Newton, another satellite town of the city. Rahul was pursuing his PhD in history at Boston College and living close to the heart of Cambridge. I knew hardly anyone in the city. The year was an unusually hectic one for me; along with managing the demands of a new job, I spent much time shuttling back and forth across the country and was hoping to secure an academic job closer to my family on the West Coast. The uncertain nature of the academic job market meant living with a constant sense of being unsettled, not helped by the brutal Boston cold, which would set in not too long after the semester started.

Meeting Rahul, getting to know Frances, and spending time with them in Boston was like finding sanctuary and experiencing a sense of home. I carry detailed recollections of many wonderful days spent together in the autumn of 2007 and winter and spring of 2008, of long conversations about India and America, the world of higher education, the Bourne Ultimatum, which Rahul and I watched at an iconic art deco theater in the city, cricket, food, politics, and, most of all, history and the study of history. Though I was not trained in a history department, I was deeply interested in ideas of historicity that permeated everyday life and ordinary social consciousness in India. My research examined, in part, how Indian communities fashioned historical claims online.

Through lengthy, thought-provoking conversations, I had the opportunity to learn an inestimable amount from Rahul. His dissertation research, which would break new ground in labor history and would form the basis of his first book, Conflict and Modernization: The Raj and the Calcutta Waterfront (2018), examined the emergence of class consciousness among Indian dockworkers in colonial-era Calcutta in relation to processes of modernization. Rahul shared with much happiness that his father was delighted at his choice of topic, given his association with the worlds of shipping, shipbuilding, and the docks. Our discussions ranged across a wide canvas, encompassing theoretical and empirical questions, the viability of different conceptual frameworks for understanding historical agency, traditions of historiography in South Asian history and labor history, the sense in which a bounded world of online utterances could or could not be considered a historical archive proper, technological determinism, implicit and overt teleological assumptions in the writing of history, and the challenge of excavating not just evidence of historical agency but of accurately capturing the texture of that agency. Our conversations would often start over a lengthy meal at an Indian restaurant and continue over cups of tea at a coffee shop or my place.

At the end of the academic term in May 2008, I left Boston for San Francisco to take up a position at a university in the Bay Area. I did not meet Rahul after that, though we emailed and spoke intermittently in the years that followed. In January this year, when my father passed away, Mrs. Bose wrote to me to express condolences at his demise on behalf of their family. In her message, she shared news of Rahul’s illness. She mentioned that Rahul had specially wanted to convey his deep respect for my father. Devastated by news of his illness, I found myself simultaneously overwhelmed by his incredible grace and generosity of spirit in thinking of me and my family even at such a difficult time. That, in a nutshell, was Rahul.

A few weeks later, browsing in a bookshop, I chanced upon Rahul’s second work, Shunting the Nation: India’s Railway Workers and the Most Tumultuous Decade in Modern Indian History (1939-1949) (2023). I did not know he had written another book. Upon reading the Acknowledgements, I learned that he had written the book under enormously challenging circumstances while undergoing treatment for brain cancer. He expressed regret that his grandfather, who worked in the Indian Railways, could not see this book. Through his research and both his scholarly volumes, Rahul was writing not just the history of India but also the history of his family.

I remember him in many ways. An old soul who never once had an uncharitable word to say about anyone. A true scholar and teacher, who lived his vocation. A careful, precise thinker and exceptionally gifted historian. Someone with a wry, laconic sense of humor and unforgettable smile.

Rest in peace and power, Rahul, my friend and brother. I miss you and you will live in my heart forever.

Rohit

Rohit Chopra is Professor in the Department of Communication at Santa Clara University