There can be no bigger regret for the fish lover than to experience the monsoon without the compensating thrill of the hilsa. News from different markets are depressing as ever. The silvery delicacy has hit the middle class pocket hard after being priced at more than Rs 1,000 a kilo for the reasonably sized varieties. The bazar babu has sought to please the ardent seekers of sarshe ilish or bhapa by taking home the smaller varieties that cost around Rs 500 a kilo. But the connoisseur can distinguish between the khoka that is a nightmare of countless bones and the authentic ones that produce a distinct flavour and look all too inviting when displayed on the table. News from Digha that there has been a large haul has not helped to bring prices down at Gariahat or Maniktala. It has put a brake on hilsa festivals that should have been announced by restaurants and clubs. After all, can one allow July to pass and August to set in without the excitement of fried hilsa or the egg that goes well with khichudi? There is plenty of excitement that the old resident of Kolkata has been missing out on at this time of the year. Where is the fierce contest between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the IFA League? Where is the flow of music that record companies would offer as part of the monsoon harvest? Where are the pre-monsoon art shows with throwaway prices that collectors grabbed before the galleries opened their doors to new arrivals that painters offered with the winter market in mind? If all that is somehow missing in Kolkata, there was no reason why the hilsa also needs to perform the disappearing act.
Hopes that trucks loaded with ilish would arrive from across the border to strengthen the emotional bonds may have suffered on account of the turmoil on the other side. This is the time when painters, poets, writers, social workers and other professionals love to visit friends in Dhaka and other cities in Bangladesh. The mornings spent on recipes that have stood the test of time would also come alive with debates on whether the catch from the Padma was tastier than that from the Ganga. Old memories never die. If the old Kolkata hand takes pride in the generous sampling of smoked hilsa served at Skyroom (which has now passed into history), the friend from the other side would claim that the idea had been borrowed from five-star establishments in Dhaka.
Now, of course, smoked hilsa is too expensive to be served at restaurants or even at the Bangla food establishments. It may not be that big a loss for those who would rather dig into the old flavour rather than endorse a recipe which means too much work in the kitchen resulting only in dainty bites. There is nothing quite as exciting as stopping at a dhaba at Kolaghat on the way to Digha for a sumptuous hilsa lunch that leaves a trail of delight. Or a journey back from Diamond Harbour with the fish offered often at roadside stalls at exciting bargains. But these are memories that need to become facts of life all over again. Till that happens, the hilsa can only remain in the mind as an elusive delight.
For the entertainment world, July may be one of the saddest months of the year when the death of a thespian is recalled. That was 33 years ago when most of the younger performers were not born. But their impression of Uttam Kumar and admiration for an icon have survived on the films that are shown again and again on television. It confirms that there are hardly any screen idols who have enjoyed the kind of sustained popularity that Uttam Kumar continues to claim. The festival at Nandan later this week on the occasion of his death anniversary will spill over into the following week. It will also be reinforced by homages at places ranging from Writers’ Building to Uttam Mancha. Present-day stars who are singing and dancing their way into the hearts of audiences will begin to wonder whether their skills can survive so long or whether they can imagine a situation where their films can remain in the hearts and minds of audiences in the way Nayak, Harano Sur, Antony Firingee and Sanyasi Raja (to name just a few) have.
If the phenomenon that was cruelly removed from the studios at Tollygunge without any warning has, in fact, become the permanent symbol of popular cinema in Bengal (however much tastes may have changed), it is more than likely that the legend will become part and parcel of life in Bengal. There are so many spots in Kolkata – from the corner of Ahiritola where he spent part of the youth to the old and happily unchanging locality of Bhowanipore where his ancestral house stands – that have acquired heritage status on account of the memories that survive. Some time ago, there was talk of the government doing something to preserve as many of the films that he acted in as possible and also give today&’s youth an idea of what Uttam meant to its counterpart half a century ago. Sadly, the actor gave very few interviews in print while television was too young in 1980 to imagine that the matinee idol would die at the age of 54. But at least 100 of the 250 films that he had acted in can perhaps be restored and preserved. That would prove that while Satyajit Ray has taken Bengal to the remotest corners of the world, the Uttam legacy has survived in remotest corners of Bengal as well as in the hearts of countless admirers outside the state.
Dotted with blue hills and thick greenary interspersed with Jain temples. Purulia should have been an ideal destination for tourists seeking to unwind in the lap of nature. But let alone attract tourists, its beauty has few takers thanks to some gun toting men who claim to chalk out a new path though they are yet to do so. And to come down to brass stacks, the powers that be have not given the attention it deserved to the tourist spots of this red earth district. Ratna and Shibpada Bhattacharya have sought to do some of the homework which can give a fillip to flower the tourism potential of Purulia. In Paye Paye Purulia, the couple have suggested a tourist circuit comprising Purulia, Raghunathpur, Manbazar, Jhalda and Baghmundi in this Paraspathar publication. One hopes their effort will not be a cry in the wilderness.
A temperamental and introvert child, he gave little indication of the great playwright and patriot he would grow up into. Though Dwijendralal Roy&’s carrer apparently looks like another administrator of the Raj, it was his literary activities which set him apart from others in the same service career. His first publication Aryagatha Part I which came out in 1882 is a collection of songs written between twelve to seventeen years of age. In 1884, Ray got a state scholarship for study of agriculture in England. His description of the sea-voyage and observation on the manners, customs, food-habits and dresses of British people was serialised in a weekly named Pataka and later published by his brothers as Bileter Patra (Letters from England). In 1886, he published The Lyrics of Ind, a collection of English lyrical poems written in England. Roy started editing a journal named Bharatbarsha, but he passed away soon after his retirement. His collection Hanshir Gaan was a satire against upper-caste dominance of religious practices. Come 29 July, Roy&’s 150th birth anniversary would be observed by Sutradhar at Sovabazar Natmandir at 33 R Raja Nabakrishna Street.
The last tree
A correspondent writes: Apartments were coming up way back in 1996, when we settled in P C Lahiri Sarani in Sinthee of north Kolkata. It&’s getting difficult to reach the sky here and see the green but for Shyamal Chakrabarty , a responsible citizen who planted several trees and shrubs around the place. It was the oasis until 2013 June, when there remained a last tree! The place needed development and who are the best to pay the debt? Trees, of course. 93 P C Lahiri Sarani contributed more to the surrounding suffocation by loosing one tree after another. Unavoidable city-planning and avoidable blasphemy all contributed together to indiscriminate tree cutting. Ill-planned, much congested, concrete-dominated north Kolkata has never been in the good books of state forest department who takes care of city&’s greenery . But trees were planted yesterday and the help of the local councillor added strength to the elbows of the green brigade Hope the concrete jungle gets back some green which it had lost after the neat concrete road was laid leaving no trace of the last tree which suffered in silence.
A correspondent writes : Even as the rat race for career continues there are some students who are not afraid to explore their intelligence, expressions and individuality.
A teacher, while checking answer scripts in the teachers’ room read loud an answer : “Question:- What is derived from bauxite? Answer:- Aeroplanes are derived from bauxite.” A stunned silence followed and then the teacher exclaimed, ‘Oh! He has given us the finished product! In stead of writing, ‘Aluminium is derived from Bauxite and aeroplanes are made of it’, he has saved time and energy by getting straight to the point!” Loud laughter of pure affection followed, and then one observed, “Guess this is what ‘direct derivatives’ are all about!” A toddler of the crèche in the same school was having her oat-meal, and teaching the teacher feeding her, how to ‘cook’ it. “It has yogurt and milk,” she lisped in-between mouthfuls; and just as the teacher was getting visibly impressed by her intelligence, she decided to floor her further by adding, “…And chaat masala, too!”
Second thoughts dawned on those who think serenity and composure come with age after a look at a couple crossing a thoroughfare in Ballygunge in south Kolkata and looking like the picture-perfect indulging-grandparents-kind. The gentleman alighted from the pavement first but the lady wasn’t so nimble on her feet and extended her hand towards her husband.
With a mischievous laugh, he sprang away from his better half and made a mocking gestures with his hands implying, “oh, look who is too old to even walk!”
They crossed the road, the old man still in a fit of laughter, and the old lady still frowning, but a smile lighting up her face.