Bouquinistes: Illustrated library on a street along River Seine

Typically an afternoon stroll in Paris brings Sen to the bank of Seine River. He would pause at the bouquinists to devour the inspiring old art books, photos, posters and artifacts they sold from temporary stalls. A poster that intrigued him was the back of a man wearing a red muffler. 

He discovered Toulouse-Lautrec had painted this ‘Aristide Bruant in his cabaret’ poster. This made Sen curious. He was familiar with Toulouse-Lautrec. When he had worked as a sweeper in Cachan lithography atelier, he had helped an artist engrave lithographic reproductions of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings La Modiste (The milliner) and Salle des pute (chamber of prostitutes). 

So if Toulouse-Lautrec painted this, Aristide Bruant’s cabaret has to be very interesting, thought Sen. In his mind, cabaret meant nude dances in Parisian night life. But he discovered that French cabaret was actually very different. It was started by Aristide Bruant in Montmatre, Paris in 1885. It meant a gathering of musicians with guitar, accordian and piano, composing anecdotal songs on-the-spot with current social elements. 

They would humorously address visitors in a derogatory way which people found very appealing and entertaining. During his initial life in Paris, bouquinists were a big source of learning of art for Sen; he could go through different cultural aspects of France without buying anything.


When India was partitioned 1947 to create Pakistan, a new country for Muslims, about 20 million people of Bengal and Punjab were displaced and brutally victimized. Sen’s wealthy, literate family had huge landed property in erstwhile East Bengal, the present Bangladesh, which was carved out to be East Pakistan for Muslims. So for being Hindus Sen’s family was overnight evicted from their home. Without taking any possessions, they fled for their lives amidst people warring over religion, and so became squatted refugees in West Bengal.