P. Thankappan Nair – The barefoot historian of Calcutta
Parameswaran Thankappan Nair, best known as P. Thankappan Nair is a researcher and historian based in Kolkata. Apart from his research works in English he also publishes books in his mother tongue Malayalam. He came to Kolkata in 1955 to find a job and later got settled here. Though he started writing about the metro city as a hobby, he later dedicated more than 4 decades in research works and writings about Kolkata and has published 61 books. At the age of 86 he is working on his 62th book titled “Gandhiji in Kolkata”. As requested by his family in Kerala, he returned to his hometown in November 2018 after spending 6 decades here.
The Kolkata chronicler P. Thankappan Nair was born in 1933 in Manjapra near Kalady, Kerala. After matriculation he reached Kolkata in 1955 in search of a job and completed his BA and LLB from the University of Calcutta (as part time). He started his career as a typist with a monthly salary of rupees 125 which was a good source of income in the 1950s. Initially he was posted in Shillong in 1956 and later he was transferred to Kolkata in 1961. He left the job following a spat with colleagues, and also worked for the newspaper Engineering Times as its Mumbai correspondent. He returned back to Kolkata in 1976.
During his stay at Kolkata he noticed that the city was largely unexplored, and began to write about it as an outsider through his observance. But later it turned his habit and true passion, writing deep about history and social life of Kolkata for many decades. his first book – The Peacock: The National Bird of India was published in 1977. Most of the time he travelled barefoot, visiting people and collecting data, which earned him the name – The barefoot historian of Calcutta. Calcutta Tercentenary Bibliography Volumes 1 & 2, Calcutta: Origin of the Name, A History of the Calcutta Press – the Beginnings, A History of Calcutta’s Streets, Calcutta Municipal Corporation at a Glance etc are among his published works.
P. Thankappan Nair – Some interesting and unknown facts
1. From a temporary migrant of Kolkata, he later became a part of the city and spent more than 6 decades till he was aged 86.
2. One year after his stay in Kolkata, he got a stenographer’s job at the Anthropological Survey of India which took him to Shillong. He attended evening classes to complete graduation.
3. He took LLB after he was transferred to Kolkata by ASI.
4. During his initial days in Kolkata, he never adopted Bengali cuisine and didn’t eat river fish. Instead he ate from south Indian restaurants.
5. He still uses his 1964 Remington typewriter for his writings, and never adopted new tehniques for writings.
6. He owns a huge collection of rare books. He used to purchase every book written on Calcutta and West Bengal, and its collection is more than 1700 books.
7. He can read and speak Bengali language, but loves to converse in Hindi.
8. Most of his books were brought to libraries, and he never asks for royalties. His habit of ‘not to earn through writing’ made him distant from his family.
9. He is a recipient of honorary D. Litt from the University of Burdwan.
10. Through his experiences, he feels that Bengalis never discriminate between people belonging to different parts of the country, and that they are honest.
11. While at Kolkata, he cooks owns food. Otherwise he had his lunch at the canteen at National Library. He never eats from other places. He spent less and lived a simple life there.