There are memories of the monsoon in Kolkata which refuse to go away because they include some of the most cherished experiences of one’s youth. Imagine a game of football being played on the roof of an old mansion. The rival teams consist of members of a joint family where the girls are encouraged to join the game.The only precaution to be taken is a shot calculated to fly into the opposite goal rather than the roof of the adjoining house.
That would bring the game to an abrupt halt if there is no one in the house next door to help retrieve the ball. For many others, the game may proceed in a lane where traffic is reduced to a trickle during the downpour.
Football, on the other hand, is best played when the slippery turf is a good test of dribbling skills. There is no truth in the rumour that well-known footballers in Kolkata and the suburbs taught themselves the game in this fashion well before coaches arrived on the scene. The tragedy is that while spirits soar every time the sky is filled with dark clouds or there is a thunder suggesting an imminent downpour, street tournaments have been affected by cars parked often with official sanction.
Besides, with the Maidan having lost the experience of roars from the galleries each time East Bengal or Mohun Bagan scores a goal, there is perhaps no need to scout for talent earlier rooted in rain-drenched local tournaments made special with a floodlit awards ceremony, prizes, food packets and spontaneous response from the neighbourhood.
There are equally enthralling memories of the juvenile yearning for a khichudi lunch every time there was a roar in the sky followed by a drizzle that intensified into a sustained downpour. This was more so on a weekend when school was closed and the children were at home to pester good old grandma who gave all the directions to the family cook. The khichudi is the monsoon delicacy that is perhaps the easiest to make provided it comes with the right ingredients like green peas and caulifower which are not easily available during the season. But there is the irresistible smell of fried brinjal to compensate for ingredients that are not available. The loyal Kolkatan can hardly think of experiencing the monsoon without digging into freshly cooked telebhaja in the local shops. The onion pakoras and potato chops immortalised in modest outlets in Baghbazar have found their way to elegant clubs where corporate executives know what is best to munch along with Darjeeling tea. It confirms that, while lifestyles are different, culinary preferences often cut across social barriers. If the passion for football has survived despite social changes and the shift in the scene of action from the Maidan to the Salt Lake Stadium, the addiction to the khichudi has survived as well. If anything, there are more attractive ingredients like mutton to draw the new generation growing up on exciting offers at food courts. But whether the flavour that emerged from the old kitchens needs to be laced with modern ideas to produce smart recipes is a debate that may never end.
He tonsured himself after the Emergency was imposed in 1975 and wrote a letter to his 13-year old son explaining his act of "bereavement" over the loss of his freedom to write. Published in a Bengali monthly, this letter led to his arrest. But it was widely circulated as a classic of protest against deprivation of freedom of expression. He smuggled from prison two other letters on abuses of authoritarian rule from his prison cell. Gourkishor Ghosh, a born nonconformist could not care less for bouquets and brickbats which were showered upon him in almost equal measure. He continually changed his professions between 1941 and 1953. Amongst others, he worked as private tutor, electrician and fitter, sailor, waiter at restaurants, trade union organiser, schoolteacher, manager of a touring dance troupe, land customs clearing clerk, proof reader and others, until from an interim job as a border customs clerk he joined a new daily newspaper, Satyayuga, where his distinctive writing style earned him promotion to editor of two feature sections A journalist and an author, he did not pen much fiction, but what he wrote was highly appreciated and successful. In his fiction, he has illuminated the underlying human dilemma of West Bengal ~ of a talented, emotional people sorely affected by deep-seated religious and political differences. His weekly satirical column was famous, as also a series of humorous stories. His mature work chose the rather neglected field of interaction between Hindu and Muslim societies. His lighter work, Brojoda have left its distinct mark in the so-called dada-literature of the state. He portrayed the agony of West Bengal during the Naxalite movement from 1969 to 1971, in sharp satire, in his "News Commentary by Rupadarshi". The 90th birth anniversary of this unique man would be observed at Rotary Sadan on Thursday. All are welcome.
Siblings against the Raj
The names of Anil and Sunil Das will not strike a familiar chord these days. But it would not have bothered them had they know it at the point when they threw up brilliant academic careers to make their motherland a sovereign nation. Anil died in custody in Dhaka prison at a time when activism against custodial torture and consequent deaths was unheard of. And not one word escaped his lips about the deed which led to his imprisonment or his associates even as he writhed in excruciating pain. As for his younger sibling, Sunil life was arguably harder as even after he became the citizen of a free nation, he saw time servers and turncoats going up in life even as he remained wedded to his ideology. The 104th birth anniversary of Sunil Das was observed at Netaji Sevayan Atmatran Samity, Agarpara on last week .Relatives and admirers of Anil Das along with the state information and cultural affairs department would observe his martyrdom day at the foot of his half bust in Deshapriya Park at 5.00 p.m today. Come one , come all for these brothers gave their today so that others could have a better tomorrow.
News about different aspects of the rural polls are hitting the headlines almost daily. Incidents of violence during filing of nomination and campaigning are being reported even as scheduled dates for the panchayat elections are inching closer. The contestants have taken their positions and are reeling off the list of achievements which they undertook in the shape of development scheme of the rural populace. It is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff as besides shouting their achievements from the rooftops, the contestants are claiming that that their political rivals are being economical with truth. If one party is claiming that they framed the panchayat laws which aimed to empower the tillers of the soil, the other contestant loses no time in pointing out that such laws were not enacted lest it gave the peasants rights over their land. Meanwhile, the panchayat system of the state had earned fullsome praise from a prime minister though his party was in no way near the running the affairs of the state. Authored by Barun Bandopadhaya Paschimbanger Panchayet : Unnayan O Abakshaya takes a long and hard look at the rural economy and the role of grass root democracy which the panchayat system seeks to propagate has been playing in it. Bandopadhaya makes no secret of his political leanings. But even as he identifies himself with a political party which is crying itself hoarse at being prevented from taking part in the participatory democracy in the forthcoming rural polls in which the ruling party has won a large number of seats uncontested, the author presents a large array of information and statistics in this Howrah Prajanma publication. Perusing it thoroughly on the eve of the rural polls can help some of us to take up the cause of the "little man" of whom a man whose political ideology was diametrically opposed to the author Had paid a fulsome tribute. Espousing the cause of the "little man" Sir Winston Churchill had said, "At the bottom of all tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into a little booth, with a little pencil making a little cross on a little bit of paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of the point."
A colleague writes: With the mushrooming of highrises in and around the city, when catching sight of even cats and dogs are becoming rare, the last animal one expects to see, is a civet-cat! Although called a cat (maybe for it’s agility), it looks more like a fox, and is undoubtedly more fierce than a cat.
The sound of rattling utensils in the kitchen woke the couple up around 2:30 a.m. All they found was a mess in the kitchen. They thought it must be a cat. And when there were no further sounds or movements in the kitchen, he closed the kitchen window and they went to sleep peacefully.
Next morning, the apartment came to life as usual. There was the usual hustle and bustle ~ maids worked, the toddler reigned over his kingdom, people came in and went out, just as they do
everyday. In the evening, remembering the "cat," all windows were judiciously shut. And, the couple, with their child, left for a dinner invitation.
They returned rather late in the evening. And as she turned the light on, there were, again, utensils littered everywhere. This time, the matter was taken more seriously and a thorough search followed. There were barely visible paw-marks everywhere ~ on the chimney, the dining table, the TV cabinet, and, of course, the floor. Then, the search team entered the library. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Mayakovsky, Pushkin, Gogol, and Sholokhov were scattered on the floor. Everyone looked up. There it was! On the top shelf that held the Russian literature section, lay the civet-cat, looking utterly displeased at all the fuss!
While this is being written, the civet-cat is still occupying the Russian literature shelf. Forest department officials have been called, but, the day being the official day for the Bengali sons-in-law, there is no guessing when they can come, if at all!
At the first glance it looks like some of those coffee table tomes, smart but without substance. But one is more than surprised after picking it up and perusing through it. A 176-page hardback, The Banerji Protocols prescribes homeopathic medicines using modern diagnostic tools like ultrasonography, magnetic resonance imaging and cancer bio-markers to name a few. Having seen it yielding encouraging results, Dr Prasanta Banerji and Dr Pratip Banerji have penned these methods which they claim to be safe and affordable though many who have sworn by Hippocrates are yet to do so. The authors are respected names in the city’s medical circles. The combined years of medical practice of the authors being more than seven decades one can hardly dismiss their methods of medication as faith cure. The Banerji Protocols is not exactly the cup of tea for those who are accustomed to medicines which promise instant cure. If the medication appears to be slow, it is often a steady process to cure. An entire chapter is devoted to cancer and the treatment of this dreaded disease. Result of cumulative experience and an analysis of patient-medicine interaction, this system of medication is marked by interventions repeated with similar results. Incidentally, the Banerjis are closely related to Iswarchandra Vidyasagar who needs no introduction even after more than a century of his passing away. One can hope this system of medication which the father and son duo have propounded will find practitioners embodying even if not wholly but substantially the characteristics of their great ancestor who in the inimitable words of Michael Madhusudan Dutt had the "energy of a Englishman and heart of a Bengali mother."
A lesson learnt
A colleague writes: Browsing through a magazine devoted to "creative art and culture" may not be everyone’s idea of spending the week end. With so much happening around us ranging from movies to television talk shows where the high and mighty are torn to shreds along with with their ideologies, the magazine Ekaler Raktakarabi does not offer a stiff competition. Going through the write-ups on the great painter Gopal Ghosh, I came across a reminiscence which took me back to my school days. It was an institution which later entered the record books owing to its huge student strength. A photograph of the teacher who taught me the three R’s and of whom I was scared of made me call up the magazine’s editor for the contact number of the author of the piece. She too taught in the same school, but I was not her pupil. I called her up and after sharing some memories collected the mobile number of my first teacher. The decades seemed to slip away when I heard her. As I identified myself, I recalled the fear which often made me hold my tongue in her class. "Did I scold you ?" she asked when I spoke of my childhood feelings. "No, never" I said. I promised to call on her. But what I did not tell her that perhaps I learnt one of the first lessons of being a scribe in her class – to be a good listener.
All about Basirhat
Occupying a vantage position in the Indo-Bangladesh border, there is more to Basirhat than a quaint sub-division of strategic importance. If its role in the conflicts which erupted one after another is recorded in secret dossiers which are unlikely to see the light of the day, there are other facts which has made it proud. Haricharan Bandopadhaya who had authored Bangiya Sabdakosh is a son of the soil. So is Nurul Islam, the first martyr of the Food Movement. All these and more are part of the third volume of "Basirhat Mahakumar Itihas" authored by Pannalal Mallik. Brought out by Swadesh Prakashan, this tome of regional history will be well received by researchers but some of the residents of Basirhat too.
Children&’s film fest
Perhaps not many film-connoisseurs of Kolkata have seen Not Today, an award-winning movie, by Friends Media, a ministry of Friends Church, in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, an organisation focused on improving the lives and providing education for Dalit children. It is about human trafficking and needless to say the movie has a message to raise awareness about one of the most critical problems the world faces today.. Such a film should be screened at street corners so that those referred to as "children of a lesser god" can see them. The 13th International Children Film Festival, under the aegis of Cine Central, scheduled to begin on 25 June at Nandan, with the screening of Rituparno Ghosh’s prize-winning Hirer Angti (The Diamond Ring) will showcase many films. Film critics and connoisseurs should at least demand that there be an auditorium, exclusively for screening children’s films.
Even as her peers are being felicitated, Kabita Singha from whose facile pen flowed memorable literature is forgotten these days. She had penned nearly 300 stories in her literary career. He chose the protagonists of her literary creations from the economically challenged groups to the dwellers of condominiums. She created memorable women characters. She penned some outstanding poems too. Samarendra Das have edited a compilation of Singha’s stories in "Panchasti Galpo". Kudos to Sahajpath for bringing out this book and focussing on Singha’s literary talent.
A correspondent writes: She is returning to Kolkata from abroad, with her son, this time, and we shall be meeting post decades, in the same city that had brought us together, in the late 1980s, through the creche in Dolna. There, our friendship blossomed and flowered, with its fragrance lingering despite states and countries between us…
In school, Shyamali pulled both my pigtails and leg, and bullied me by chasing me with the plump leg of a cockroach, claiming to prepare me for "Bio practicals"!
From school, we reached college– Lady Brabourne for me, and JU for her– and the circumference of our worlds broadened. We now woke up to the many charms of Park Circus, Esplanade, Jadavpur and of course, shopping on our own at Gariahat and New Market! We also realised how many theatres this City Of Joy harboured, and made it a point to frequent them all, pocket-permitting. Either one’s pocket would do perfectly for both of us, by the way. Shyamali once dragged my cousin Saibal ( who studied in St. Xavier’s College and dwelt in its hostel ) out from behind one of the pillars of Lighthouse, where he was desperately seeking refuge to avoid us and thus retain the two rare tickets that he had just purchased. As his bad luck would have it, Shyamali and I were standing in a long queue, hoping to procure two tickets, when Shyamali spotted and pounced on my hapless cousin, snatched his prized tickets away and pulled me off to watch the film, leaving him lamenting. This mishap had left such a lasting impact and scar on my poor cousin’s psyche that he became superstitious about– hold your breath!– holding movie tickets in his own hands, lest Shyamali descended upon him out of nowhere again to take his happiness away! And then we had Victoria Memorial to go to, where we chatted and devoured phuchkas.
Shyamali had once invited me to JU with the assurance that she had something "yummy" for me but when I, a LBC Hostelite those days, turned up at JU’s gate in the summer sun without having lunch, literally left me with one solitary piece of churan and the wisecrack, "I’d promised you something ‘yummy’; not lunch or any specific food in any specific quantity, right?" Then she proceeded to her class, where, of course, I could not follow her! So I went straight to her house in Santoshpur, instead, to tell her parents how I had been wronged, eat her share of food for vengeance and get dropped back to my hostel in her dad’s car; the one that was to pick her up from the gate of JU — but did not. I had left some ‘hot soup’ for her at home, too, to repay her ‘kindness’!
Time, life and we moved on, but not apart. I moved to Mumbai and Shyamali landed there, too, post marriage. Though she lived in Thane and I in Santa Cruz, we visited each other regularly…
With time again, she moved out of the country– but Kolkata and our bond remained with us. Now, after decades, I have come to Kolkata from Mumbai and she is coming for a visit, with her son, whom she is eager to bring to her ~ to our! ~ alma mater, Dolna! It seems life is coming a full circle; with us coming back to our city, our school, our past ~ and introducing our future to their glory!
What do Kadambari Devi, Victoria Ocampo, Lucy Scott, Tomi Kora and Hemantabala Devi have in common? They all had a firm attachment to Rabindranath Tagore that has now gone into the pages of history. Each of these women produced a story of an encounter with the poet that brings a gripping cocktail of emotions. These are stories that have gone into Prithviraj Sen’s book, Dosh Narir Hridaye Rabindranath, that seeks to unravel some of the mysteries that remain unsolved. The author has been a Tagore researcher but has extended his work to other areas so consistently that it came as a pleasant surprise when it was announced that this his tally of books has crossed the 1100-mark – a record that will hopefully find an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. The number may suggest that the book makes only passing references to the encounters that made history. Far from it. Each chapter is devoted to one of the women and the information often throws new light on facts that are well known.
Equally interesting was the manner in which the book published by Priya was launched in the majestic ambience of Lahabari in College Street that, in many ways, reminded the audience of the environment at Jorasanko that saw the young poet experience the ups and downs of life. That experience came through in the recitations presented in ten different voices – each representing one of the women in Tagore’s life. Sushmeli Dutta has been writing poems herself and this time brought to life the agony that went through Kadambari Devi’s mind as she reads out a letter that she might have written to the brother-in-law with whom she shared a tender relationship before she died under tragic circumstances. Equally touching was Victoria Ocampo’s letter that Aparna Laha read to stress the feelings that she had expressed when Tagore had visited her in Argentina. Rebecca Sultana, Kakali Bhattacharya and Puja Laha were among the others who captured phases of his life involving his wife Mrinalini Devi, Ranu Mookerjee and Maitreyi Devi while Suchandra Ghosh and Aditya Laha provided the musical support with appropriate selections of Rabindrasangeet and Rajkanya Basu danced her way into the historical journey. Kajal Sur is a veteran reciter and researcher who put the presentation together. He drew profusely from the setting that took the audience back in time and made the evening a poetic delight.
The city abounds in little magazines. One loses count of the number of such publications which after being enthusiastically started have folded up without a trace. But what about online magazines? At first, there were only a handful of them. But they have multiplied. An online magazine fair was held Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre in Salt Lake last week. Jointly organised by Ashmania and Desham, Bengal Web Fair had a wide variety of offerings. Web magazine stalls, live canvas painting, photography competition together with screening of short films drew a large crowd. Keep it up.
Seeking greener earth
Mohammad Shahed Firdaus and Fatema Sultana are from across the border. The Bangladeshi couple are on an unique mission. Having travelled across the length and breadth of their country, they have come to India on a two-wheeler. With the slogan of "ride for greener earth" on their lips they have travelled to Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar and then to Thimpu and Phutsoling in Bhutan. They arrived in the city early this month. Their journey for a greener earth will comprise 14 phases and will take nearly eight years to complete. The first phase comprises Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan. China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Their mission is to make the people aware of environmental pollution and its fall out. All the best.
Singer with a cause
Long before the Bengali music fraternity began to rave about about jibanmukhi songs, there were singers who had dedicated their skills to the cause of the people. One of them was Ajit Pande who had shot into prominence when he decided to compose songs to bring a mass awareness of the Chasnala tragedy that took the lives of nearly 400 miners in Dhanbad. There were other causes that he had embraced in the 30 albums that he produced in a musical career spanning more than half a century before his death last week. It was perhaps this concern that prompted him to seek new opportunities in the world of politics though that never interfered with the ideas that he preached through his songs. While some were rooted in his environment and were inspired by his Left leanings, there were songs of Lalon Fakir stressing the lasting values of life that he also loved to sing in later years. Musical tastes have changed so radically over the past decade or so that most singers of Ajit Pande’s generation have felt somewhat neglected. That was no reason for Pande to be disappointed. He sang less because there was no need to move away from his basic convictions or to seek new sources of musical inspiration. What he has left behind is a consciousness that dates back to the mass awakening that emerged from the Indian Peoples Theatre Association and gave him a musical identity of his own.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And, when there is rain, water can be saved. So on Saturday morning, when the sky came melting down with a bang, three cars vroomed inside a residential complex on Dum Dum Road and screeched to a halt on a field within it. Three young men hurried out of the cars; each with a rug and a bucket. To the amusement of the onlookers, they started singing a popular Bollywood tune in a out-of-tune chorus and frantically gave their cars a generous wash as water was there for the asking!