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Grand Delusions

An urban legend in Kolkata, who believes that the sun goes around the earth, is now the subject of a documentary film.

Written by Premankur Biswas | Updated: April 13, 2014 12:57:44 am
Matter of Belief: KC Paul points to the diagrams he makes to explain his theory Matter of Belief: KC Paul points to the diagrams he makes to explain his theory

An urban legend in Kolkata, who believes that the sun goes around the earth, is now the subject of a documentary film.

On the tree-lined pavement across the Kalighat metro station in south Kolkata, where tea shacks, pice hotels and magazine stalls invite commuters to linger, a conversation with Kartik Chandra Paul is impossible without interruption. “Ki dada? Enakeo bojachen apnar dhoper kotha (Are you feeding him your cock-and-bull theory too)?” taunts a passerby.

Paul continues undeterred, explaining to us the intricacies of his theory about the sun revolving around the earth and not vice-versa. The self-proclaimed scientist and astronomer, who has been trying to prove this theory for almost 40 years now, has earned the dubious distinction of being a Kolkata relic. In his latest novel, Grand Delusions, Indrajit Hazra uses KC Paul as a metaphor for the city he inhabits — both steeped in delusions.

For decades, Paul’s scribbling — “All scientists are fools” and “The sun goes around the earth” — on walls and lampposts around the city have made him a mystery for Kolkatans.

At the stretch of the pavement, which Paul calls home for the past few years (he has made himself a shack of laminated leaflets proclaiming his theories), he is the subject of continuous chiding, both good-natured and hostile. Tea-sellers serve tea with a half-smile, and hawkers point out to his shack with a dismissive gesture. “I don’t want to argue with the layman who doesn’t understand science,” says Paul, as he hands us copies of his books which he sells for Rs 5 each at busy junctures of the city. The books, as he refers to them, are little more than stapled photocopied leaflets with haphazardly pasted copies of various newspaper articles written on him. “I have written to NASA quite a number of times and they have written back to me twice. Both times — in 1974 and in the 1980s — they told me that they don’t have the funds to help me in my research,” says Paul.

However, when you meet Paul in his cramped shack, talk to him while he prepares his meal and observe him while he slips into a clean shirt before he makes his daily rounds of Kolkata buses, it’s difficult to be cynical about him. For documentary filmmaker Mithun Pramanik, who has made some Kolkata-based documentaries for Al Jazeera channel, KC Paul’s story is an inspiring survivor tale. “I respect his dedication to his vision. He let go of a cushy life to follow his vision and has stuck to it for close to five decades. As a storyteller, that is inspiring for me,” says Pramanik, who is making a 40-minute documentary on Paul’s life.

The documentary will talk about Paul’s days in the army (he joined the Indian Army as a jawan during the Sino-Indian war of 1962). “I started reading about Copernicus theory when I was in the army. I started conducting my own experiments and came to the conclusion in 1974 that the sun goes around the earth,” says Paul. That’s when he started inviting the wrath of the authorities and people around him. An interview with a Hindi newspaper about his theory cost him his job in the army. “I took up a job in the West Bengal State Electricity Board for 25 years to support my wife and children. Yet, I would keep propagating my theory after work by distributing pamphlets and through graffitis,” says Paul.

Pramanik first got the glimpse of the man through these scribblings. For Paul, it was the best way to reach out to people.

“I spent my retirement money on buying paint for those graffiti. I just wanted people to take notice,” says Paul.

Paul has often faced tricky situations because of his campaign. “Once, I was selling leaflets in Sealdah where a science professor with a bunch of rogues came up to me and started abusing me and my theory. I was not intimidated and made them chase me to the nearest police station and then shouted for help,” says Paul. People from the science fraternity of the city, Paul claims, have been exceptionally hostile to him. “The professors and authorities of the Birla technological museum have barred me from distributing pamphlets. How can people in the field of science be so narrow-minded?” he asks.

Pramanik says Paul’s family, too, is unhappy with his obsession, which is why he has no place at his family’s two-storeyed house in Howrah. “It’s actually a good thing that I don’t live there. An old man ends up being little more than a domestic help. My wife has taken over my pension account and I feel I have done my bit for my family. Now I can dedicate my whole time to my cause,” says Paul, with a smile.

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