When one recalls the weather at this time last year, one can heave a sigh of relief that the depression of the past few days resulted in a steady drizzle interrupted by heavy showers and gusts of wind. It cooled the atmosphere in Kolkata to an extent that made it necessary for people to switch off the fans early in the morning. Those obliged to fly between Kolkata and Delhi have been grumbling about the sharp differences in temperature and hoping that they would be able to spend more time in the city that has brought an abundance of delightful seasonal fruits even if chicken prices have hit the roof. This is the climate that calls for a plate of home-cooked kosha mangsho and paratha. If that’s on the expensive side for many homes, the choice could be between steaming hot khichudi served with a welcome munch of papad and peppered boiled patatoes that taste so much nicer with crisp rotis. Thoughts of food would never have occurred if Kolkata was reeling under the impact of temperatures threatening to hit the forty-degree mark. Reports from all over have brought hopes that the districts will not experience the heat wave they normally do and that the early rains will do enough to soothe the tensions caused by the announcement of the panchayat elections. The fact is that the rain was just a passing phenomenon. This is also the time for the young to look ahead to summer delights. A vacation at this time finds families craving for a break in the hills or near the sea. This time it is pleasant enough in Kolkata, although gusts of winds generally result in trees crashing down on carriageways.
One motorist reported that the mobile barricades that the police put up at road crossings for security purposes at night were, on one occasion, literally driven by a gust of wind straight into his car&’s right door, resulting in a dent. He said while the barricades posed a threat to unsuspecting motorists, cops were nowhere to be seen; they would have evidently found the safety of a kiosk or an overhead balcony till the weather was pleasant enough to allow them to proceed with random checks on passing vehicles. The good news was that the rain was not a spoilsport as far as the IPL final was concerned, though there were tensions in the air at the Eden Gardens that were more serious than the threat of a washout. Commentators had plunged into fun and games and the cheergirls were literally on their toes for a wicket to fall or a boundary to be scored. Any downpour may have revived fears of the floodlights giving way to darkness in a stadium packed with 60,000 spectators. But the weather gods were kind this time. The drizzle occurred only after the Mumbai team went on its victory lap with Sachin Tendulkar on the shoulders of his ecstatic teammates. But will it continue to be so uncharacteristically refreshing in June when one could be gasping for cool comforts and there would be time left for the monsoon to officially arrive? By then, there could be more tensions on the political front that the rains would help reduce. But that’s another story.
A colleague writes: If Rituparno Ghosh didn’t give anyone the slightest hint that the end was so near, it was because the film fraternity had never known anyone to be so obsessed with a variety of assignments. If he had health problems (which he seldom talked about), it never prevented him from exuding a confidence about all that he did ~ from editing a magazine to writing lyrics and scripts. But what film lovers would be curious about is the fate of the biopic he was making on Rabindranath Tagore. It was an assignment given to him by the Union culture ministry on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Tagore&’s birthday. He had turned it into a major enterprise since he needed to extend his view of the Nobel Laureate beyond that which Satyajit Ray had offered in his path-breaking documentary made in 1961. It needed a Herculean effort to mount it in the manner he had conceived it and the work was frequently interrupted by emergencies that cropped up. It can only be hoped that even the incomplete work will be restored by someone who was close to Ritu (as he was fondly called by everyone) and it will add another dimension to the creative inspiration that he had derived from Tagore. The other film was the one on Byomkesh Bakshi. He had done another mystery thriller called Subha Maharat based on the Miss Marple story by Agatha Christie exactly ten years ago and must have been looking forward to the reaction to his treatment of the Saradindu thriller. If that was not to be, the good news is that the shooting was completed just a few days before he died and that the Kahani director, Sujoy Ghosh, plays the detective. It raises hopes that the final cut will be exactly what Rituparno had intended it to be. The loss will still be felt in no uncertain terms. Ritu&’s presence always made a difference wherever he went not just on account of the mannerisms that he had adopted but because of the wit and humour that were rooted in the warmth he shared with everyone he was associated with. The house where he lived near Lake Gardens was the meeting point for a host of celluloid and literary personalities. It will remain somewhat deserted unless enterprising friends can keep the memories alive with the books and artefacts that he had loved to collect. The emotions poured out over the past few days will then become more meaningful.
The entry and exit of the trucks carrying different types of building materials, the whirr of cement mixer, the clamour of the masons and the almost uninterrupted sound of hammers has made the lives of residents of a quiet lane in Bhowanipore anything but pleasant during the past three months. An old resident had sold his ancestral mansion and a highrise was coming up in its place, in what was once a southern suburb of Koklkata. There was no love lost between the old residents and new ones, as quite a few new window panes were shattered during a game of cricket being played by local youngsters in the narrow lane. But things changed in a trice one day when a sparrow was hit by a blade of a ceiling fan and a little boy who happens to be a lover of creatures big and small was crying piteously with the injured bird on his palm. A man whose afternoon nap was disturbed by the cry walked out of the new building. With the boy and the bird, he drove his scooter to a veterinary doctor&’s chamber. The sparrow was treated and the boy stopped crying. As soon as he returned, he introduced the good Samaritan to his friends thereby building a bridge between the neighbours. Now, the new residents of the para stop on their way home to have a word with the older residents. And the children of the highrises participate in the cricket matches in the not-too-wide lane. Even if a window pane is broken, the players raise funds to buy new one. But as such sum cannot be taken from friends, the batsmen have been asked not to play lofted shots.
Ramkinkar Baij was a complete artist. He was preoccupied with drawing, painting and sculpture. Born in Bankura, he had made Santiniketan his home. Gurupalli, Ratanpalli, Hatipukur, the fields around Sangeet Bhavan are dotted with his sculptures. And more than three decades after his passing away, visitors stand and stare at them in admiration. Of course, success earned Baij his share of enemies. And they lost no time in complaining to none other than Tagore that Baij was littering the sylvan surroundings of Santiniketan. Tagore took a walk around the campus and sent for the sculptor. When Baij walked in hesitantly, the poet asked the master sculptor whether he could build more such works of art. There was no looking back for Baij. He continued to build and draw. There were reports that some of his priceless drawings were strewn around carelessly in his cottage. And so were cheques he had received as honourarium from buyers of his works of art. Baij couldn’t care less. Little wonder, while sharing a dais with the then chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the artist extraordinary unhesitatingly asked the political leader “What do you do for a living ?” “I am a state government employee,” Ray had replied. Radhamadhab Mondal had collected many bits and pieces of the life and times of Baij in Ajana Achena Shilpi Ramkinkar Baij. The second edition of this tome brought out by Sahajatri is about to hit the stands.
Sandesh needs no introduction to the devotees of children&’s literature in Bengal. It is synonymous with good reading. Be it the tales of mythology by Upendra Kishor Roy Choudhury, incomparable nonsense rhyme by his son Sukumar and riveting stories from another son Subinoy and the incomparable write-ups on detective fiction and ghosts by from the most illustrious representative of the clan, Satyajit, the children&’s magazine is almost an institution. Many a stalwart of Bengali letters has enriched Sandesh by his/her contribution. The list is long, but it would be incomplete without a mention of Mahasweta Devi and Leela Majumdar. The magazine has celebrated this joyous occasion with nine write-ups on its founder editor Upendra Kishor. Keep it up.
All about cartoons
Cartoons have always played a significant role in the media of this state. Be it in newspapers, magazines or on television channels. They often occupy pride of place, poking fun at the pomposity of the powers that be. And with the present state of affairs, such occasions are aplenty. There are no holy cows for cartoonists; a cartoon had portrayed Tagore with a pair of wings when he was on a world tour. On being asked what the picture was all about, a person who was not well-acquainted with the works of Tagore had replied that he was flying. Gaganendranath Tagore, Rebsati Bhusan, Ahi Bhusan Malik, Kafi Khan, Kutty, Chandi are some of the eminent cartoonists of this state. But Biswadeb Gangopadhaya is not among them. He is a collector of cartoons. Collecting cartoons has been his hobby since the mid-70s. He has brought his hobby into print penning Cartoon Ranga Bichitra. Tracing the advent of cartoons in Europe, Gangopadhaya has traversed a long way, exploring cartoons which tickled onlookers no end on national and local issues. A publication of Karuna Prakashani, it has filled an area of interest of readers in the art and craft of cartoons.
It is an integral part of the concrete jungle of Kolkata. And if anyone looks around for the Tal trees from which in Taltala derives its names, he will be sorely disappointed. Named after its tal (Palmyra) trees, if it was once chiefly populated by khalasis and lascars, its demography has changed beyond recognition. Wellesley Street renamed Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road is described as a ‘fine broad thoroughfare’, along the course of which is situated Wellesley Square renamed Haji Mohd. Mohsin Square. In 1758, a year after the battle of Plassey, the East India Company commenced construction of the new Fort William in the centre of the village of Gobindapur. The inhabitants of the village were compensated, and were provided land in Taltala along with Kumortuli and Shovabazar. Durga Charan Banerjea, father of Surendranath Banerjea, noted scholar Nilmoni Mukhopadhaya, well known CPI leader Hirendranath Mukherjee. to name a few once lived here. The magazine Taltala Darpan has kept the flag of the locality flying. And to do so, it has focussed on people who never lived in Taltala like mathematician Srinibas Ramanujam, Noti Binodini. poet Pranab Roy, P C Sarkar, singer Kamal Dasgupta, ustad Amir Khan.
A varied show
Gorky Sadan is hosting an exhibition of paintings of 22 Asian countries. If KPV Nayar Collection of Asian Arts is the cynosure of all eyes, visitors can drop in between 4.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. till 6 June to admire the works of art of different Asian nations. It not only showcases the variety of their artistic skills in water colours, oil paintings, mixed media, lacquer work, embroidery, but also underscores the unity that it is in no way a subsidiary alliance. For Asia Show as it is named does not manifest martial might but a spirit of peace and understanding which is the bedrock of economic cooperation, a surer guarantee of peace of this region which is the undertone of this varied show.
Ghouls and gangsters
With old buildings making way for highrises, the living space for ghouls seems to be reducing in the city. If a film has been made on this theme, the stage is not lagging behind. Come 8 June, Beadon Street Subham which have been staging meaningful theatre for children over the years will present a clutch of dramas based on ghost stories at 12th Subham Natya Mela. These productions are more likely to evoke loud laughter among the audience rather than send a chill down their spine. Minerva Theatre will be hosting this three-day long drama festival in which productions based on the hilarious antics of thieves are also likely to tickle the audience no end.
Jews of Kolkata
There are not many of them in the city. But the Jews of Kolkata who had arrived way back in 1790 were never made to feel outsiders. If Shalom Aaron Cohen was the first Jew to arrive in the city in late 18th century, his tribe increased and materially enriched the what was then known as Calcutta. Cohen was one of the leading jewellers of the city and lies buried in the cemetery at Narkeldanga he had donated to his community. The first synagogue, Navesh Shalom was established in early 19th century. The early Jewish settlers traded in almost anything under the sun. B. N. Elias was one of the earliest Jewish tycoons of the city. Mention must also be made of Sir David Ezra whose name is associated with many landmark buildings in the city. Old timers fondly recall the stuffed chicken hamin and crisp flaky aloo makala deep fried in goose fat which were some of the Jewish food which have added variety and unforgettable taste to the cuisine the city. Now Joydeep Mukhopadhaya and Alok Bandopandhaya are about to make a film on the Jews of Kolkata, a fascinating community whose numbers have dwindled. All the best.
The bus took a sharp turn at the corner and as it careened on its side, the bus conductor hanging on to the rail shouted to the shopkeeper standing on the doorstep of his tiny shop at the kerb, his palm wrapped in a bandage. "Ki hoyechilo? Haat katlo kikorey? (What happened? How did you hurt your hand?) The shopkeeper answered without batting an eyelid or wasting a precious second, "Kaanch katchilam…" (I was cutting glass). They smiled at each other and waved in greeting and the bus rattled its way out of sight. A friend witnessed this warm camaraderie between two people who possibly acknowledge each other whenever the bus plies on this road every day. It spoke volumes about social behaviour and how most people have very little time for meeting up for addas or long conversations. Hence, short sentences make up for keeping in touch on a regular basis. Not bad surely, considering most of us make do with text messages on mobiles and through emails, all via virtual reality. To speak to one another in real time does need effort, and most of all, ingenuity.
Is seeing believing ?
Can we still go by the saying seeing is believing ? But it seems some people in seek a a proof or certificate for every thing. The incident which my colleague witness in a bus on S N Banerjee Road in bus has made her think twice of going by this saying. Generally passengers don’t mind to occupy seats reserved for handicapped commuters and vacating them as soon as one of them boards a bus. A old gentleman boarded bus and asked a strapping young co-passenger to vacate the seats reserved for disabled commuters.. Other passengers who were seated on this reserved space refused to vacate their seat. In fact, the elderly man was asked to produce his certificate of handicapped person. When gentleman asked the bus conductor to interfere, the latter said, "Every one has bought a ticket and I cannot be expected to take a side." The gentleman was shocked and helpless. Silently he moved towards the general seat and said "Manush aar Maanush noi" (Man is no longer human).
Born on an August day in 1940, theatre personality Anjan Dasgupta was a product of his times and the city where he was born which was referred to as Calcutta then. The city was in a ferment and so was the nation when he was growing up. The Quit India movement, the Bengal Famine, the Great Calcutta Killing and a truncated nation gaining freedom was all in his mind set when he stepped into manhood. Armed with degrees in commerce and library science together with a certificate in drama direction opened different career options before him. Perhaps the memory of the humans in torment whom he had come across while growing up made him walk down a less travelled road. And it made all the difference. He responded to the call of the stage and arc lights and when he passed away on a summer day, Dasgupta was an integral part of the vibrant theatre of Kolkata. Five decades of association with Dishari, Subham, Nabanatyam and Kolkata Theatre for Human Development where he both acted and directed made him a complete theatre personality. Dasgupta had penned many plays including Cactus, Amra Tomra, Jibanta Putul and Adim. Representing his country at theatre academies and festivals in Denmark and Bulgaria, Dasgupta took classes where he taught the pupils how to act. A believer in ways which are not quick paths to name and fame, the city is poorer by the death of a man who had the time to stand and stare even as many of his peers believed in making their presence felt in ways which are more attuned to the times.
He had been decorated for his services to the nation as part of an officer in the army ordinance corps. But while colonel Soumeen Mookherjee had been a significant cog in the army&’s supply chain, on his retirement he became a man whom friends and acquaintances looked forward to meet during their morning walk beside the Dhakuria lakes. Little wonder, Mukherjee is enjoying every day of his retired life. Morning is the best time of the day for him. He puts on his walking shoes and sets off from his Ballygunge Place home every morning for the verdant green fields bordering the rippling waters of the lakes. Greeting his friends, he does not bore them with anecdotes of his army life. After a brisk walk comes the moments he was looking forward to all this time. He settles down on a bench and breaks into songs of Hemant Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, Manna De and Kishore Kumar. And the fact that his voice is not out of the tune is bourne out by the fact that there is no sign of the band of listeners dwindling. And Mukherjee can tell the name of the Bengali and Hindi films whose songs he sings. Age may have taken a toll on his limbs, but his mind is alert as ever. Members of the Prabhati club celebrated his birthday recently. Carry on colonel.
No one likes being watched. And when a policeman atop a trolley kept watch on a large gathering of Left Front supporters during a rally at Rani Rashmoni Avenue in the heart of the city, the reactions of the crowd ranged from anger to amusement. While the leaders lambasted the Mamata Banerjee-led state government from the dais, a supporter quipped "Big sister is watching by proxy."