When king-size varieties of langra mangoes are available outside the Metro station at Chandni Chowk, it is a clear indication that there has been a bumper crop. The old vendor on the pavement swears his stuff has come all the way from Muzaffarpur or Benaras which is where the langra is said to be the tastiest. But, wherever it comes from, the good news is that mango lovers in Kolkata have made the most of the sweetest of all fruit being available at reasonable rates this year. Who would have thought that, after the himsagar has faded away, the langra and the chausa would be available in abundant quantities? Jamai Sasthi has come and gone. The rituals of sending over gift baskets to those who need to be humoured must have also been completed by now. So now it is just the time to dig into the juicy flesh without anyone complaining about lack of table manners. Those who are somewhat classy prefer to cut the fruit into small pieces to be picked up with a fork and eaten in place of the dessert. More sensible people, who may have spent their childhood in the village climbing trees to grab the fruit when it begins to ripe, make it clear that there are two ways of having the mango. One is to dig a hole at the top and suck every bit of the flesh. The other is to slice the fruit into three or four pieces with the skin intact and then dig in one’s teeth to experience the real joy.
As long as the trucks keep coming to the wholesale markets near Sealdah and College Street, there is reason to remain excited and to keep the children happy at home. There have been stories of disputes being resolved over plates of mango and old ties being revived with baskets containing the fruit grown in private gardens. Many of the old baganbaris in the northern and southern suburbs are making way for housing and commercial complexes. That’s a pity since terrace gardens can produce small crops of tomato, brinjal and lime but certainly cannot bring the mango. However, the more affluent class in Kolkata has discovered the fashionable delight of creating a getaway at Santiniketan on weekends and short holidays where the garden built around the house inevitably has a couple of mango trees that produce enough to sustain the family in Kolkata right through the season. There are distinguishing marks of the Bengali seasons and the mango is clearly the best link with the monsoon (barsha) which could otherwise turn a delight into despair when streets are waterlogged. The mango leaves the markets long before the monsoon does. But it leaves a flavour that has gone into everything from mishti doi to icecreams. Some rare and expensive varieties like the alphonso meant for export may still survive in one or two outlets. But to the incurable mango lover in Kolkata, there is still no replacement for the himsagar that appears early and for the hotly pursued langra. The end of the season is still about a month away. But when it finally comes, it will leave a trail of mango experiences that will be hard to forget.
B C Roy
At a time when the powers that be in the state secretariat are floundering over almost every issue that is coming their way, one wishes that Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy was at the helm of affairs. Never was his absence so acutely felt than today when the government cannot make up its mind whether to go about its agenda of development or walk down the familiar path of agitation which at the moment seems to lead to nowhere. For Dr B C Roy, inarguably the most successful chief minister of the state, whose birth anniversary is being observed today, was a man of vision who had his feet firmly on the ground. Little wonder, the projects which dot the state this day and took it on an upward trajectory were conceived, planned and executed by him. Be it setting up industries at Durgapur, a township at Kalyani, the Haringhata dairy, or filling up a vast stretch of marsh land to build Salt Lake or granting state funds to an unknown filmmaker Satyajit Ray who was making his debut with Pather Panchali, he indeed had the magic touch. Not one of his projects failed to take off. And he had to contend with a Union government which was unable to provide him with much financial succour as it was coping with a plethora of problems thrown up by the Partition. With refugees pouring in across the border, anti-Bengali agitation in Assam, a small but highly effective Opposition which sometimes did not go by the tenets of parliamentary democracy, Dr Roy had his plate full. Yet he went about his task methodically, equally at home tackling files and irate Cabinet colleagues in Writers’ Buildings and medicating a large number of patients free of cost at his residence. Strangely enough, his successors, always trying to emulate his achievements, fell far short of it. For they tended to put the cart before the horse. If one of them went on annual foreign trips to bring home capital, the other shot himself in the foot by trying to superimpose his party’s will over that of the populace. Unlike the present dispensation, Dr Roy would never have tied himself up in knots. The people’s leader that he was, he would have always tested the mood of the masses, taken his Cabinet colleagues into confidence and consulted his officials before embarking on any venture – a practice which does not seem to have too many takers these days.
A correspondent writes : We often tend to be judgemental in matters big and small. In certain cases, this tendency makes us biased and may sometimes result in a hilarious situation. We were in the second year of college and one of my school-mates who lived nearby used to be my co-traveller almost everyday, though we studied in different institutions. During those days, trams used to ply from Ballygunge to Esplanade and B.B.D. Bag which most conductors used to refer as "Dullowseeh" (Dalhousie), on route no. 24 and 25. The latter route was convenient to reach our respective colleges.
It was just a day or two following Poila Boisakh and both of us boarded the same tram from Ballygunge terminus, on route 25, as was usual. There were no vacant seats and we stood under a fan just behind the driver’s cabin and were chatting about the film we had watched the previous weekend. My friend was an avid movie-goer and took me around many cinema-halls of the city whenever he found time. Classes were not skipped, however, for this pastime. Being emotionally more pronounced during that period of time, I was clad in white pyjama-panjabi (as it was the second or third day of the new Bengali year) as coloured varieties were not in the sartorial fitness of things then. My friend had on a cotton tee-shirt with a pair of blue jeans, a combination which was then just shaping up as the ‘in-thing’. It was near Park Circus when a gentleman, probably an office-goer in his mid-fifties, who had been rummaging the pages of a daily newspaper since we boarded, looked up and questioned: "Where do you study (Aapnara kothay poren)?" He was seated near the window and was closer to my friend who promptly replied: "In St. Xavier’s and Maulana Azad." Taking his eyes off the newspaper, the gentleman looked at my friend and asked: "You in St. Xavier’s and he in Maulana Azad?" – in a manner to confirm his immediately-arrived-at conclusion. My friend’s answer to the contrary made him unfold the newspaper and read it without a single utterance. Later in the day when we met, my friend informed that when his turn came to get down, he had seen the gentleman still glued to the same page of the newspaper. Though both of us did see this gentleman occasionally, there used to be only visual contact and nothing more. We continue to recall this with a chuckle while more than twenty-six years have gone by.
"Man of Steel"
Starting from scratch, he built up a mighty industrial empire. It was his merit and capacity for hard work which saw Rajendra Nath Mookerjee go from being the partner of a small firm to being knighted as the head of Martin and Co. He was raised by his mother after his father died when he was six. He studied engineering for three years at the Bengal Engineering College, as the present-day Bengal Engineering and Science University was then known, when it was located at Presidency College.
Among his achievements were the construction of Palta water works and the Victoria Memorial at Kolkata. He pioneered the laying down and operations of Martin Light Railway.
Along with Sir Acquin Martin, he founded Martin & Co. and contributed to the success of Bengal Iron at Kulti. Later he joined G.H.Fairhurst in founding the iron works of the Indian Iron and Steel Company at Burnpur.
A man of strong patriarchal instincts who kept a sharp eye on his family and tried to keep the flock together, he never forgot his roots. Sir R. N. provided shelter to quite a few impoverished relatives till they had set themselves up in life. He was knighted and became sheriff of what was then known as Calcutta. The University of Calcutta honoured him with an honorary D.Sc. (Engineering) and he presided over the 8th session of the Indian Science Congress held at Kolkata in 1921.
In a write-up on him The Statesman described him as a "Man of Steel". As the senior partner of his managing agency, he was the executive head of a combine of four leading firms. The Statesman pointed out "Sir Rajendra’s abilities were such and his right ~ the fruit of great capacity ~ to be the head of this combine so obvious, that there was never any jealousy nor was it ever questioned by anybody for a moment". His 160th birth anniversary was observed at the Institute of Engineers recently.
After a downpour
A colleague writes: North Kolkata, to most is a place of dingy lanes, near-dilapidated buildings and garbage piled at street corners. The problems worsen when the skies open up and all the filth is mixed with the water accumulated on the streets. I had spent fifteen minutes trying every possible way, taking detours from Central Avenue to reach my house, but in vain.
Nobody seemed to enjoy the rains. Even uniform-clad school children, who are stereotypically supposed to set paper boats sailing in the dark, treacherous waters, were annoyed as they waded through it in their well-polished school shoes.
It happened suddenly. I had never noticed it before though I have been passing by it, several times a week. The rain had stopped and the sun was up and shining, as if lending a glitter to everything around, in which the red brick pattern of an ancient mansion seemed rejuvenated. Its rain-washed windows boasted a beautiful green ~ a mixture of the worn out paint and the moss that had grown on them. The plants which had sprouted on its outer wall, nodding in the slight breeze also added a quotient of glamour. Was it a symbol of the forgotten and departed glory of this part of the city or was it a reminder that some things can never be left behind?
Whatever it be, the house that has been a witness to the pomp of the past and is now a dumping ground of everyday emotions, reminded me of those few lines from Tagores’s ‘Kabuliwala’ when the author describes an autumn morning, explaining how the rain-washed lanes and old houses of North Kolkata seemed renewed, cleaned and full of life in the rays of the post-monsoon sun.
A repertoire of several thousand songs that have made their way into the hearts of millions makes it difficult to pay a musical tribute to the maestro who has become a legend. Hemanta Mukherjee would have been 93 had he been living when the Satabdi Ballet Troupe mounted an electrifying collage of some of his unforgettable songs at the Rabindra Sadan last week. A career that began in the early 40&’s and worked its way through films and basic discs that have left lasting impressions was too wide-ranging to be covered in a single programme. But there were interesting innovations like the dance numbers choreographed by Satabdi Bose and Rajkanya Bose that revived enchanting memories of films ranging from the romantic melodies in Harano Sur and Saptapadi to the sombre notes in Marutirtha Hinglaj and Neel Akasher Neechey.
The packed auditorium obviously looked forward to the compositions that marked his golden period when he was tutored by Sailesh Duttagupta and made the most of the innovative ideas that emerged from Salil Chowdhury (during the IPTA days), Nachiketa Ghosh and Rabin Chatterjee. The relaxed tones that were sustained in Hemanta’s singing style often suggested that the songs could be taken up for more "modern’ treatment in later years with more sophisticated. Fortunately that hasn’t taken place and the singers who performed that evening, including Haimanti Shukla, Shivaji Chatterjee, Saikat Mitra, Indranil Sen and Arundhati Hom Chowdhury, maintained the spirit of songs like "Amar ganer swaralipi’ and "Ami dur hotey tomare dekechhi’ in a manner that made it a memorable evening. It also reaffirmed the fact that while musical styles may have changed, there are melodies that will last forever.
A timely tribute
Leaving the stage at the height of her career, Binodini Dasi’s contribution to Bengali theatre needs greater evaluation. The woman who overcame enormous odds to emerge as the numero uno stage actress had the distinction of being blessed by Sri Ramakrishna for her performance in the play Chaitanyaleela was inarguably an unique individual. Long after her untimely retirement from the world of theatre and her passing away almost unnoticed, the histrionic talent of Noti Binodini is highly spoken of. Rabindra Bharati University paid a tribute to her by staging a number of plays including Chaitanyaleela, Nol Damayanti, Sadhabar Ekadashi, Sitaharan and Bellikbahar. If some of her colleagues on stage had prevented Star Theatre being named after her pleading "greater interest", the rendition of songs by Devajit Bandopadhaya and the presence of RBU vice-chancellor, Sabyasachi Basu Roy Choudhury and eminent actress Bela Sarkar made up a bit of the due denied to Binodini.
The quiet passing away of Dashu Roy was in contrast to the noisy agitations he led as a trade union leader. Roy severed his relationship with a revolt against the powers that be in the early ’70s to set up the Yukta Committee of WB Government Employees’ Associations and Unions. But it was his gentle manner and Spartan life in a slum where he breathed his last which attracted droves of people from all walks of life to him. Before joining the state government, he worked as a car driver, laboratory attendant at a college and of course a factory worker. Born at Joynagar in South-24-Parganas, his studies were cut short by the famine of 1943 that forced him and his mother to leave their hearth and home.
But he grew up to be a self-taught man and became a fairly good essayist in Bengali on issues ranging from daily wage-earners plight to social psychology. Small wonder, he earned appreciation from historians and the man in the street. A slander-campaign was aimed at him with a vernacular daily accusing him of embezzlement of party funds. Roy silenced it with a booklet which is a source material for researchers on how factionalism ruins Communist parties.
He would have thrived as a script writer in these times of soaps and serials. His works covered the period between medieval and modern times and continued to have a magnetic hold on the readers. For Bimal Mitra was a master story teller. Be it the cushion on which the idle rich lolled or the humble fare of a working man’s lunch all came alive in his works with a cinematic clarity. Unending discussions would continue on which was his greatest work – Saheb, Bibi, Golam or Kari Diye Kinlam or Begum Mary Biswas. As a resident of Chetla, it was only proper for him to know the areas in and around it like the palm of his hand. But one wonders how he could foretell the seeds of corruption which retarded Indian freedom struggle in Kori Diye Kinlam? How did he fathom the loneliness of a childless woman in Saheb, Bibi, Golam? And it was a happy occasion for his readers when he presented Sirajuddalla and Robert Clive as human beings who are mere creature of circumstances in Begum Mary Biswas. On the occasion of his centenary, Sahiyta Academy had organised a discussion last week. More tributes should be paid to this litterateur who delved into the past and his present to give the readers not only pleasures of reading but also insights into the turbulent times which often do not find mention in history books.
Fighter against odds.
It was not the best of times as the medicore ruled the roost. Muscling into educational institutions, Asiatic Society and Indian Statistical Institute, the party activists in the name of democratising them, ushered in a state of affairs reminiscent of a Gestapo regime. Anil Sarkar who passed away in the city recently was one of the few men who neither joined them nor towed their line. Unafraid of the brickbats which were thrown at him, he stood his ground. Not flinching once, Sarkar never joined the ranks of the tame and the timid. He did not mind being a voice in the wilderness. His strident criticism of the powers that be was considered to be fruitless. Nothing could be further from the truth. He became a voice of conscience. Though he did not become a man of destiny there were resonance of his thoughts when a 34-year long regime was replaced in a manner none of its proponents or few of its opponents could have imagined.
Portraits of Britain
Portraits of old Calcutta by English painters present a pictorial history of the City of Palaces which grew from a cluster of villages from what had been Charnock’s "mid-day halt". Though some eye brows were raised at the present regime’s effort to turn the city into London, it is hardly a fanciful thought. There are several pieces of architecture in Kolkata which reminds one of the British capital. But an exhibition is on at Victoria Memorial showcasing paintings of British architecture entitled "English Heritage Monuments." And they have been painted by a Bengali artist, Swarup Mukherjee. These monuments on canvas include The War Memorial, Marble Hill House, Westminster Abbey. It will take time to turn Kolkata into London. So drop in and a have look at some of the landmarks of the real thing.
Carry on doc
As a child, while watching trains wheeze to a stop and depart in a flash, he had no idea that when he grew up he would cease to be a mere onlooker but would be the cynosure of many eyes having given thousands cause for celebration. Many a childless couple who had ceased to take much joy in their lives have a new cause to live after they became proud parents of a test tube baby, thanks to the skills of Dr Baidyanath Chakravarty. Having learnt the complex procedure from Dr Subhas Mukhopadhaya who had pioneered the delivery of the first test tube baby in India, and second in the world in 1978, Dr Chakravarty is carrying on the good work. Born in Faridpur district of the then East Bengal and spending his childhood at Chakradharpur where his father was a station master, he was offered a home in the city by a philanthropic couple, who encouraged the teenage boy to pursue higher studies in Calcutta. After ranking first in the field of Obstetrics & Gynaecology in the final M.B.B.S examination of Calcutta University he did his M.O. from the same university. More laurels came his way but instead of resting on them, Dr Chakravarty established the Institute of Reproductive Medicine in 1989. Age has not withered him and he keeps doing his job with ease. As the nation celebrates Doctors’ Day, one can only say "Carry on doc."
When he took up the paint brush and the easel, Rabindranath Tagore was at the height of his literary career. For genius that he was, he would not hesitate to venture into a hitherto unknown field lest his reputation as the first Asian recipient of the Nobel prize for literature be sullied. Honoured in foreign lands and feted by his countrymen, some of whom had once looked askance at his literary works and ideas, Tagore could very well have rested on his oars. Not many were aware of his skills as a painter, but as soon as his works came to be exhibited, the critics and the public came to realise that the multifaceted genius had overcome the limitations of language in his canvases. In a 48-minute documentary, Ruper Atit Rup-Rabindranather Chitrakala, its maker Sanat Mohanta has encapsulated a significant phase of Tagore’s life on celluloid. Produced by Aurora Film Corporation, the documentary film lights up a portion of Tagore’s career which deserves greater focus.
In spite of all the acquired knowledge and wisdom, there are things that human beings are yet to explain conclusively ~ mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle, Marfa lights or Taos hum, or the Naga fireballs, for example. There is no other option but to acknowledge that some things are still beyond the realm of human understanding ~ just like the curious phenomenon of digging the city inside out everywhere, to install pipes ~ during a pouring monsoon!