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The Ambassador-stories of the “Sarkari” car, yellow taxis and freshly minted ‘old’ times…

That Hindustan Motors has decided to stop production of the iconic Ambassador car at its “Hind Motor” factory near Calcutta is almost stale news now. Probably as stale as the Ambassador grew for our changing tastes and everything fast and furious. If I go on to say that the decision made me teary eyed, I will be lying. For long, it was almost common knowledge. The factory situated in the outskirts of Calcutta, near a place called Uttarpara was more in news for constant labour troubles and decreasing in production. We all knew that, Ambassador, once the symbol of India’s elite’s pride and prestige was nearing an almost slow death. Let’s be honest and accept that even though my father always preferred Ambassador over all other cars because of the leg space, boot space and comfort, it was never the ‘in’ thing for my generation. When me and my husband decided to buy our first car almost 2 years back, Ambassador was not even in consideration. Why should it be? It was outdated in design, in comfort and in style.

But this post is not about the things which made  the Ambassador extinct, rather this is about the stories and the moments which will also be a part of our memories revolving around the car which meant so many things to us at different stages of our growing up years.

Kobekaar Kolkata shohorer bukey...
Kobekaar Kolkata shohorer bukey…

From: Here

My first memory about Ambassador cars was not about the car itself but the place called “Hind Motor”. One of my father’s dearest friend lives in Srerampore, an old town situated on the banks of the Hooghly. I remember often visiting their place during winters for the pleasure known as “choruibhati” or “picnic” among us Bengalis. We used to catch a particular train from Howrah station and I always managed to wrestle a sit by the window to see the changing landscape unfold in front of my eyes. The hustle bustle of the city and the larger than life images of the Howrah Bridge later, the stories of small towns nearby Calcutta made me inquisitive…always. And the most intriguing part was about the nomenclature of these places – “Rishra”, “Uttarpara”, “Liluah” and there was another one called “Hind Motor”. My father was my Google during those days and he told me during one of those trips that “Hind Motor” was named after the famous Hindustan Motors factory situated there. That must have been early 1990’s because I distinctly remember him explaining about how an entire township had developed on the basis of the employment generated due to the gigantic Hindustan Motors factory. Being my inquisitive self, I must have asked him about why Ambassador cars were either white or yellow. To that, I was told that the white cars are either ‘private’ cars or ‘sarkari’ cars and the yellow ones are ‘taxis’.

Mind you, this was India of 1990’s. Globalisation had still not swept us off our feet and our NRI relatives were our mini “demi gods”. The 15 days they were here in India, they demanded every bit of the attention they deserved. We used to gape in wonder about the ‘biiiiiig’ cars they used to drive on the picture perfect roads. For most of us, owning a car during those times was actually a status symbol. Just like the instant edge that you had over your friend if your family had a landline telephone connection and your friend’s mother used to talk incessantly with her grandmother while sitting in your family’s living room. And the very few of the cars we knew was “Maruti 800”, “Fiat” and the grand old man- “the Ambassador”. While Maruti had already started making inroads into the dinner table fantasy of the middle class, “Ambassador”, the white coloured one, represented prestige, power and aristocracy.

I remember my father asking one of his friends about the car he had recently purchased. At this point, I must tell you that I have inherited my genes of “sucker for everything old” from my father. So while the uncle went on to lament how great a car Maruti was, my father constantly told him that he should have got an Ambassador. His reasons were simple. Even if you forget the comfort and the space the car provided, the ‘Class’ that it appended to your status can never be forgotten. “Abhijatyo” and the middle class Bengali- ah! that will make for another good story.

Strangely, a very inquisitive person like me also never questioned my father’s beliefs about the Ambassador being the epitome of class. Probably because the answer was written all over. My neighbour, a very high-placed Government Official, used a red beacon fitted Ambassador. And oh! boy, the moment it glided across the South Calcutta neighbourhood I lived in, it drew many a  jealous glances. Everyone knew that somebody very important lived in that house. Be it the parar pujo (neighbourhood Durga Pujo) or a certain cultural evening, everyone used to make a beeline at his house for some funds which he may procure for the association using his contacts for “advertisement”. In every decision he had an upper hand and the symbolism of all of that boiled down to that white Ambassador and the red beacon atop it.

Vintage

From: Here

While I watched this, I often wondered when will my father be able to drive such an Ambassador car which spells authority with such an elan. It would also mean me taking an upper hand over all my neighbourhood  friends. The mere thought excited me much. I used to hear hush hush discussions between my parents where my father told that his promotion is long due and after that he will also be entitled to use one such car. Fully funded on Government money…spelling power, prestige and class! The dream materialised soon after and while my father did not always use his office car, it did mark a key shift in the way others perceived us in the neighbourhood. While my father often generously offered lifts to other office goers in the same “office para” (yes! in Calcutta e have a para for office also :)), I felt immense pride at his achievement. He was a self made man and he deserved every bit of the prestige that the white Ambassador commanded. Incidentally, whenever my father uses his office car till today, he specifically mentions that he needs an Ambassador. Times have changed and the white Ambassador might have paved way for the much more fashionable BMWs in Raisina Hill, but my father remains a strong supporter of the car that contributed in some or the other way the name to reckon with what he is today. And while the landscape of my quiet South Calcutta neighbourhood has changed quite a bit in the past few years, the jealous glances and the glances of importance that my father receives every time the white Ambassador bearing the symbolism of it being a part of the Government machinery,  glides by has not changed at all over the years.  BMWs, Mercs and everything notwithstanding. I wonder what will happen a few years later when the last few remaining cars will be shoved past the Calcutta street keeping in mind the environmental norms and clearances? Will my father raise a demand for an Indica, Indigo or a Dzire? I do not know.

If the white Ambassador marked the journey of my family towards the fulfillment of their dreams, the yellow one will remain equally special for us. At least for me in particular. But like many other choices of mine in life, this was also somehow influenced by my father. Once during a trip to Bombay (he still refers to the city by that name, so do I ) he found it immensely disturbing that the “dikki” did not have enough space to carry his luggage. That is exactly when  he told me that Calcutta is better than any other city in India. Reason- We had “boro dikkiwala” (huge bootspace worthy) Ambassador taxi. The yellow ones. The ones that mark the cityscape to be Oh! Calcutta every time they show up on a movie screen. Remember the recent Bolly hit Kahaani? To think that one could even compare it to Bombay’s tiny Fiat taxis was almost blasphemous for my father. And I adhered to his belief. I still do.

Yesterday evening I was having a random conversation with one of my favourite juniors from college about how end of the road for Ambassadors in India meant death knell for our favourite Calcutta taxi..the yellow ones! He reminded me that earlier the Ambassador taxi was also painted in black and yellow. But I suppose I owe my memory more to the yellow one. The yellow taxi…the ultimate time machine to rush to a 9:00 clock exam while starting from home at 8:30 in the morning. “Taxi!!!!!” that one shout out from my father and I knew that I will well be in time for the exam. Much later, when valentines day became fashionable among us, hiring a taxi to impress the girl you wanted to date became fashionable too. The logic was simple, taxi fares were sky rocketing and the fact that you could hire a taxi meant you had money power. Come to think of it today, how stereotypical the process was. The girls never offered to pay the fare but aren’t you bound to take a few liberties with memories? Rain drenched, Victoria clad Calcutta memories?

Actually, you can take many! To tell the truth we were definitely the last of the imaginative young lot Calcutta had seen. Forum was the only mall that we knew of and Saraswati pujo and Rabindra Jayanti in my school were equally important as Valentines day. I went to a co-ed school and I know many of my guy friends perfecting the art of calling a ‘taxi’ with style and elan. All to impress his sweetheart! To think of it that the sweethearts have exchanged hearts with somebody else nowadays is a different story altogether 😛

But if I tell you that all of my memories about the yellow taxi are happy ones, I will be lying! The pain of catching an obnoxious taxi and begging the driver to take you to your desired destination, most often during peak office hours or rain, is one thing that every Calcuttan knows. I have fought with them, threatened to call police and have been often threatened at. Fighting, as you see is in a bong woman’s vein and she does not believe in taking taxi refusals lying down. Another thread of quarrel was picked up when two people almost at the same time manage to sit in the same taxi with precision which would have earned India a few more Olympic gold medals. While the taxi driver often suggested that ‘sharing and caring’ is the way to go, I protested. While the fight snowballed, so did stories. The rogue taxi drivers were often the villain but right now I can remember one who used to patiently wait for me at around 8:40 in the morning near Tollygunge Bangur Hospital. My in laws house in Calcutta is nearby and since I was always almost late for office, this taxi wallah bhaiya would decline all other passengers round that time and would wait for me to arrive. I travelled all the way from South to north and reached my office situated near Salt Lake. He earned a handsome amount every morning but somewhere that was not all the consideration that he had in his mind. The fact that loyalty can be known in a city which is increasingly turning out to be a much colder and scarier shadow f its former self was comforting thought.

If I had to end this memoir of mine with one another memory, it will definitely be about the yellow taxi which heralded the beginning of our every summer vacation. While all of my father’s and mother’s friends decided to meet at a particular time beneath the ‘boro ghori’ (big watch’) of the Howarh station, it was the big dikkiwallah Ambassador taxi that was always called to stuff in all the luggage.

Probably, their days are also numbered now. One by one they will vanish from the face of the city and with them, the stories of our childhood, our growing up years, moments marred with short stories, stories of love, betrayal, the moment of fetching a taxi to hide your tears after heart break, the moment of fetching a taxi to reach home quickly to deliver the news about your first job, the moments of taking my pregnant neighbour to the nearby hospital in a taxi since no ambulance was available…and the good news which later travelled back in a similar taxi, the smell of Calcutta written all over it once you step out of the Airport and a swarm of warm yellow happiness engulfing you…all that and more.

Calcutta will move on. The newer lot of taxis are lot more smarter and good-looking. They have car charging points, newspapers, GPS enabled dashboards. There are different varieties of them all. They are also often called cabs nowadays. But for us ‘taxi’ will always remain the good old yellow Ambassador car, just like the ultimate symbol of “Sarkari” prestige will be the white Ambassador. And if not for all of that, there is one reason why my father’s generation and probably some of mine will never be able to forget the Amby or the Ambassador. Remember ‘Aranyer Dinratri’  and the car that the four gentleman drove? Yes, it was an Ambassador.

Calcutta...a few years ago!
Calcutta…a few years ago!

(My own click)

P.S. – What happens to Hind Motor now? The thriving township – is it dead already or has the children moved to Delhi, Gurgaon or Bombay in search of a much better life.

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bengal Calcutta Cinema India languages opinion

Revisiting Classics- “Agantuk” (1991)

This is not a movie review. In fact, I am not qualified enough to be a movie critic. It is my humble take on the movie and a few lessons learnt about life in general from Ray’s last onscreen venture.

Agantuk (The Stranger) is a 1991 Bengali language movie written, directed and scripted by the master whom we Bengalis often prefer calling “Joy Baba Maniknath” (Satyajit Ray). It is based upon Ray’s own short story “Atithi”. But be rest assured that this is not a bong woman’s garrulous overdoes of why Tagore and Ray were the best thing to happen to India and Bengalis in general 🙂

Agantuk is the story about the dilemma that an upper middle class Bengali couple residing in a palatial house in the Calcutta of early 1990’s goes through when the wife’s maternal uncle decides to pay them a visit after 35 years. The ‘uncle’, who had been a briliant student and a painter, had left home as per his own wish to see the world. “Wanderlust” as he describes himself in the movie. The wife (Anila), played succinctly by Mamata Shankar, is the only living relation that he knows of and one who was only 2 years of age when he left home. The husband (Sudhin), played by Dipankar Dey, is a well placed corporate executive and has also inherited a huge amount of his deceased father’s property and priceless art collection. All of a sudden, just before the most celebrated Bengali festival ‘Durga Pujo’, the wife receives a letter written from Delhi by a man claiming to be her long lost uncle,in chaste Bengali, that he wants to visit them for a week before resuming his journey elsewhere. He mentions that there is a probability that there will be doubts about his identity and they were free to decline the overture. While the uncle also mentions about the ancient Indian tradition of treating one’s guests as god, the first thing that strikes the niece’s wonderfully decorated world is the fear of a thief impersonating as ‘someone’ about whom nobody knows. The husband is quite sure that this is a part of a plot to steal something from his deceased father’s art collection. While the wife is ready to give a benefit of doubt and see for herself if the uncle she never knew had indeed returned to his roots and to see his last known blood relation, the husband’s materialistic concerns blindfolds him to believe that this man is an impostor. In between two of them, there is a third member of the family, the child Babloo/Satyaki, who seems to be excited to meet one of his maternal grandfathers, who might be or might not be the real one.

I first watched Agantuk as a child with my parents. I do not remember the year, but I do recollect that my father had told me that it is indeed one of Ray’s finest works. Needless to say, I understood very little about the context of the movie, but at the same time I was never bored. Perhaps, it is the unique story telling capacity of Ray, that along with the kids (Babloo and his friends) in the movie, even I wanted to know what happened during a full Solar eclipse or a full Lunar eclipse. I re-watched it a few days back along with my husband and I realised why my father was correct about the movie being one of Ray’s best (click here to watch the movie with English subtitles). Anybody who is conversant with Ray’s work will probably count “Pather Pnachali”, “Charulata” or may be “the “Goopi Bagha” series to be the best works of him, but I will place “Agantuk” on a much higher pedestal, may be just after “Charulata”.

Utpal Dutta who plays the role of the stranger uncle in the movie delivers probably one of his most nuanced performances of his life. His acting calibre, like Ray’s directorial calibre, is beyond any question. But what is worth remembering that , Dutta and Ray together convinces you to be a part of this journey of discovering “who is this stranger?”. Deep down, Ray convinces you to reassess your views about yourself, your roots, your tradition and the human civilisation as a whole. And perhaps because of his genius, he manages to do it in extremely simple ways.

One of my favourite moments from the movie is the scene where the wife/niece asks his uncle, about whom she is still not so sure of, that how could he write such wonderful Bengali since he has spent most of his life abroad in the west. He answered that one’s mother tongue is something very close to heart, if one wants to forget it out of his own will he can do it in three months and if not, then probably 35 years is also not enough. While Ray remained a social commentator of the times he lived in, this particular aspect is a stern reminder of the times we live in too. I hardly see kids these days pronouncing Bangla or Hindi, two Indian languages I know, without mixing a splatter of English in to it. While this might be fashionable for the parents, I wonder how the beauty of multicultural and multilingual society will be lost in a few years from now. I will be happy if my children can read Shakespeare or JK Rowling in English but I will be happier if they do not need a translation to understand the beauty of Sunil Gangopadhyay or Leela Majumdar.

Agantuk/The Stranger (1991) [From: Here]
Coming back to the question about the journey of discovering “who is this man actually?”, the husband insists that the wife should not be carried away by emotions and insist on seeing his passport. While the uncle shows his passport on his own to the husband, he makes a valid argument about what does a passport prove? His name, his identity? No! A passport may be forged anytime (and we thought only our generation is fighting the crisis of identity theft in the wake of the popularity of social media) but more than that, it is a never a proof of human conscience. Later in the movie we see that the conscience which made the wife/niece to distrust this man and forced her to carefully remove two valuable figurines from the living room, replacing them in their original positions when the husband invites one of his friends to meet this man. The wife is convinced that he might be his uncle and not a thief but on the other hand she also fears that he might have come back after so many years to claim his share of family property.

The story takes a sharp turn when the husband’s friend visits their house to take a test of whether the uncle was truly genuine or not. This friend, played by Dhritiman, was known to be a lawyer with the ability of being bitterly straight forward. The uncle presumes that this might again be a visit from over inquisitive friends of the couple as the other day, but what ensues is a debate over what is civilised and what is not. The uncle’s views about the simpleton tribal life, people considered savage by the world that we belong to, the ones with whom he had spent a considerable time in South America and even in India, before he left for the west, irks the friend. He is convinced that the man claiming to be his friend’s wife’s maternal uncle is a fraud. He tells that to him on his face. While the couple is left red faced, they find that the man is gone. Ray depiction of Dhritiman’s characters is about being one of us. The ones like us who believe that civilisation is a licence to cut trees and then complain about the increasing temperatures. One like us who may decide to stick on to an age old belief of marrying a girl to a tree but on the question of some ancient tribal man and woman exercising their right of expression in matters of sexual choice, we do not think twice before dubbing that to be promiscuous.

The idea of development and civilisation as a whole is challenged when Dutta’s character questions about the homeless asking for shelter in the very ambitious city of New York. His questions on what we call as an advancement of technology is something that all of us have been thinking, but yet to find an answer to. If technology gives you power to destroy an entire city by just one click on your remote control, is that the progress that we are looking forward to? And then what gives us right to tag the lives of men and women in the forests as ‘backward’? By the end of the movie, I realised that Ray etched the characters of the husband, the wife and the straight talker friend as a reflection of our city bred selves. The parameters of urban life has changed since 1991, but at the core we still remain “Kupomunduk” (the frog who can never never leave his known surroundings and broaden his horizons). In fact the insecurities have always increased. The wife faces the dilemma of accepting his uncle and yet cannot overcome her doubts behind the actual reason of his return. The property factor plays on the minds of both the husband and wife while they try to be perfect Indian hosts. The friend is someone we all can relate to. It is us actually. In the race to be the brightest and the best, we indeed forget the simple joys of life.

The joy which the couple rediscovers while they trace the uncle near an Indian tribal village near Bolpur. Surprisingly, the uncle never faces a question about whom he actually was in their surrounding, nor about his motive behind the visit. Perhaps when you do not fear losing out on something, you are more open towards it. The couple apologises to the uncle who tells them that he will claim his share of family property. He leaves for his desired destination soon but are taken by surprise to find that the uncle had transferred his share of the property in his niece’s name.

His parting shot of advice to Babloo, the couple’s kid who grows much fond of his grandfather is not to be a “Kupomunduk” and to explore the world. Perhaps a bit of advice for all of us. In our day to day existence in a cubicle bound life, we often forget the charm of ‘wanderlust’. But even more than that, we tend to forget the importance of keeping our minds open. We boast of 5000 year old history and tradition, but nowadays even tradition seems to be measure in per sq ft basis 🙂

Perhaps this story is also a ringing truth and a reminder for us  Indians who take immense pride in our culture and legacy. But the mould of idol worship that we have prepared over the years for our icons and the complete intolerance towards any criticism or satire towards them or for famous personalities in our living history, is something that we need to get over. All of us may not be lucky or rich enough to travel across the world, but we have a far more feasible solution closer home- Books. Reading opens doors which we may not have imagined earlier but on the other hand intolerance and the belief that what I think is the only way round is disastrous.

P.S. – The movie remains special to me because of the house it was shot. Those kind of houses with red flooring and beautiful windows and balcony are quickly disappearing from the face of Calcutta. My guess is that the house must be somewhere in Ballygunge. Do not know if it is still there though.

P.P.S.- Is it only me or Sujoy Ghosh deliberately named Parambrata Chattopadhyay’s character “Satyaki/Rana” in Kahaani? The eternal bong dilemma about Bhalonaam and Daaknaam 🙂

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bengal Calcutta Home

Of Moments, people, faces and sweet nothings!

Long back I had done a post about pictures which generally make me happy. Its Part II time and while this has nothing to do with writer’s block, it is definitely something relating to things which have kept me going in the past few weeks when I have missed home like never before. Why? Well, there are times when you want to be with your near and dear ones and this was one such time 🙂

So without much adieu, I present to you a set of pictures which never fail to bring a smile on my face. *Ting*. As I have always said, photographs are amazing things. If time travel was real, photographs could be our very own time machine. It actually is 🙂
P.S.- Most of these pictures are borrowed from the internet and discovered during endless hours of surfing. I do not intend to breach anybody’s copyright and if there is any dispute, I will be happy to share the credit or give due acknowledgement. Also, as far as possible I will be scribbling down the sources beneath the images.
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Calcutta Home

10 sacrosanct things about Calcutta

I am yet to come to terms with NRI life and NRI gossip. A few years ago a Bengali movie called “The Bong Connection” had provided quite a sneak peek into the NRI bong’s life where the only thing they discuss is fish, Kolkata and gold jewellery. In case you do not know, half of the world’s economic crisis will be solved if all the gold stashed into the average Bengali’s bank locker is liquidated and traded in the open market. The comic insanity of all the discussions strike me more nowadays as I have begun to attend these kind of gatherings nowadays. The first and the last thing that everyone discusses is Calcutta.
These men and women have decided for good (for Calcutta’s good, not theirs), not to stay in the shit hole of a place called Calcutta. But I have no words to describe their obsession about her.

“Arre Chhaya di, did you buy this new Dhakai from Calcutta…and this jhumko…so pretty, is it from P.C. Chandra?”
“Uff! it was so hot this time in Calcutta…and all those loudspeakers blaring Rabindrasangeet. Isshhh! Tagore would have died”
“Did you knowI have purchased an apartment in New Town…I appointed an interior decorator to do it up. But that area is a so infested with mosquitoes.”

Now. This is one logic I have failed to understand. All these NRIs have a fancy apartment in either South City, Lake Gardens, Jodhpur Park, Salt Lake and New Town and what not, but they are never going to stay over there. All their lives they will cook, clean and complain about the snow in New Jersey but that show piece apartment needs to be there. Why? Only because your mother’s sister’s cousin’s daughter will come up to you in one family wedding and say-
“Uff Chaya mashi, your apartment is so nice….”
And because you will over hear somebody in that wedding saying to somebody else- “Arrey, she is an NRI, no dearth of money…just showing off her Dollars…have you seen the Sitahar she is wearing? Must be worth a few lakhs” and the sadistic pleasure derived from that hushed sigh that follows is an overwhelming feat.

A few days ago, I was stuck up in one such gathering where people were discussing sports and suddenly it was all about Sourav Ganguly. One person who thinks he is the only fitness freak Bengali born in his generation disclaimed – “Oh! cricket? that is not even a game. and if there was one lazy sportsperson ever born, it had to be Sourav Ganguly”
Whoever reads my blog frequently or knows me, will by now know what was going inside my head. I felt this inherent urge to slap him but I decided to behave civilly and not pay attention towards him. But it was not meant to be. Another quipped- “Oh! yeah, Sourav…ask anybody from Calcutta, they will say there never was a much better captain than Sourav.” And everyone started laughing.
That was it. I decided not to be a party to the conversation any more and moved towards the thing which pacifies Bongs like me, the most. Food. And then I decided to write a few pointers about things which are sacrosanct about Calcutta. Ones which we do not like to be snubbed about. Chances are that you might meet someone like me who will not take all that lying down. Read on.

1. Calcutta’s tram, buildings and just everything about the old world charm of the city– While the ‘noveau riche’ will sneer at the old mansions at Chowringhee and call it dirty and what not, do not ever (EVER, ever in Arnab Goswami style) try to crack that joke in front of a true blue Calcuttan. Because, for him or her, that tram ride from Shyambajar, that boat ride over the ganges from Bagbajar ghat, those narrow alleys of Mohunbagan Row or those old Mansions in Pathuriaghata or Janbajar will never lose its charm. You either know it or you do not.

2. Food– Ok! this should actually be on the top, but nevertheless, this is THE most important thing for a Calcuttan. When you are in Calcutta, be sure that you are in Food lover’s paradise. Be it the Kosha mangsho of the famed Golbari, or the High Court para street food, Haldiram’s chaat, Peter Cat’s iconic ‘Chello Kabab’, Mocambo’s ‘Prawn Cocktail’, Arsalan’s Biriyani, Azad Hind or Balwant Singh’s dhaba, or be my Lords more’s Kalpana Sweet shop’s famous “nolen gurer sondesh”, never ever argue about food with a Calcuttan. Period. There cannot be anything better in terms of variety and price like the food you find in Calcutta. We can fight among ourselves about whether “Arsalan” is better or “Aminia” but you say one thing against Calcutta style Biriyan’s potato, you are gone!

3. Phuchka– I could have clubbed “Phuchka” along with the food part, but a true blue Calcuttan will know how much emotionally connected are we to the Phuchka and our favourite Phuchkawallah. While I write this, I am having almost a Niagara Falls bursting out of my tongue thinking about Rajender’s phuchka in Dakshinapon. I attended college and later worked for sometime in Hyderabad. One common mistake that everyone used to make there was- “What is so different about phuchka? Arey that’s same as Panipuri/Golgappa/Panibatasha etc etc” And every time they said that, I used to pity them. Because they do not know what makes Calcutta’s phuchka so special. My mom often tells its the dirt, but if it is so, let it be 🙂

(Image Courtesy: Me)

4. Football– Nowadays I see people saying- “Oh! I am not interested in Indian football, I am more into European football”. My husband was one of them. A die hard supporter of Manchester United, who even though was a Bangal by birth, never supported East Bengal in a match. You must have guessed that he now keeps track of every match that the Red and Gold brigade plays. Also, when in Calcutta, you have to be eitehr East Bengal or Mohun Bagan. Have to. You have no other choice.

5. Love for everything English and Imperial about the city– Many people say “why do you make such an icon out of the Victoria Memorial? It reminds of the imperial past.” May be, probably, yes. But the city where I come from was also once the Empire’s second city and there is no denying that many things good about the city is a gift of our imperial heritage. If only destroying Victoria Memorial, or not taking your daily cup of tea while basking in the sun at Tolly Club during the winters could make one more patriotic and wipe out a chapter of our country’s history as such, then probably we would be in the same league as the Talibans who thought that by destroying Buddha statues in Afghanistan could actually mean that a historical fact like presence of Buddhism in the country, could be denied. We are, thankfully, not that obnoxious. And for us, USA might mean all the money nowadays and all the new sprung clubs in the city may give you membership at the drop of the hat, “Bilet” remains London and memberships of “Calcutta Club ” or “Tolly Club” remains the ultimate measure of your social standing.

6. Sourav Ganguly– As discussed above, Sourav is Sourav. Dada is dada. At leats he had the courage to fly his jersey in the epitome of English stiff upper lipped bastion aka “the Lords balcony”, what did you do apart from fleeing the country at the best possible moment?  And you still do not believe what a great he was? Check this.

7. Living conditions– “oh! Calcutta is so dusty, so dirty, so unclean”. Yes. Agreed. But then have you ever considered the population density of the state? The next thing that comes is “There is nothing in Calcutta. No economic revival, nothing”. Yes, we have our problems. But we do not fudge our GDP figures. Also, why do you always end up talking about the high living costs in other cities and that even if you got a lower package, you would not mind shifting back to Calcutta? because, even if you argue about high property prices, rents and very high living costs in the city, you still know, that it is one city which is cheapest to live in. And have you ever bothered to visit Salt Lake’s Sector V or New Town?  Besides, name on Indian metropolis where these problems are not there and the costs are as low?

8. Culture and College Street– This is one thing that every Calcuttan will swear by. And if you think anybody who is into ‘culture’ in Calcutta will be a jhola carrying middle aged man, think again. Times have changed and we have rockstars with long hairs and driving a brand new SUV in the scene. Fact is we love finer things in life, and there is no harm in flaunting it. If you do not have it, it is entirely your loss 🙂 And we may have so many “Starmark” and “Crossword” stores across the city, but in case we do not find one particular book that we are so desperately looking for, we know where to search for it- “College Street” or “Boi Para”. If it is not there in College Street, it is probbaly not published. And while in College Street, how can you miss a trip down the romance of the turbulent Calcutta of 70’s in the iconic “Coffee House”. I can give you a secret tip here. If you really want to woo a true blue Calcutta boy or a girl, take him/her for a date there. He or she will be blown away…completely! No CCD or Barista can do that for you.

9. Festivals– A friend of mine was once shocked to hear that I, even after being a Bengali Hindu, eat meat during the days of our biggest festival- “Durga Puja”. The thing is, for us Calcuttans, festivals are more about celebration of life. Yes, we are religious. I offer my prayers and I believe I am a good Hindu. And that is why I celebrate Eid and Biriyani and Christmas and Plum Cake with equal fervour. Recently, my German laguage teacher asked me to write an article about Carnival in my hometown. I told her we do not have a “Stadtkarneval” (City carnival), because we have many. Durga Puja is one of them and so is Christmas in Park Street.

10. Christmas and Park Street– I was saving the best for the last. One person who had no idea about what Park Street was all about was terribly disappointed about “Someplace Else” since the people performing over there did not belt out many Bhangra or Yo Yo Honey Singh numbers. Please do not get me wrong, I love Bhangra, but you surely need a much better understanding of Music to fit into the Park Street class and elegance (I am aware that nowadays Trincas play raunchy music to attract crowds, but I hope that is an one-off scenario). Also, if you have not seen Christmas in Park Street, you have not seen how a city’s population which goes to sleep while remembering the names of some or other Babaji and votes for Communists (?) during elections, celebrate a festival which is a reminder of the days of the Raj, with such elan.

                                                         

(Image Courtesy: Me)

I am sure there are many more. I will be glad if anybody wants to add to this list. And for those NRIs who cannot stop musing about Calcutta, I have understood one thing they sorely miss in life- the life they have left behind, the charms of the city which was once their first love. One separation they are yet to come to terms with. Calcutta is like Waheeda Rehman. She grows on you. Love her, hate her, you just cannot ignore her. And while I wrote this down, a sense of Happiness and at the same time, longing, engulfs me. I hope I get to see her soon. Because, Calcutta is the only place in this whole world that I will ever call home. Happy reading 🙂

Categories
bengal Bong way of life Calcutta music

Special post- Chandrobindoo turns 25!

It is often told that Bengalis find expression for all their emotional travelogues (Calcutta to Howrah!) in Tagore’s songs. That Dadu has given words for all our emotions, upheavals and more is something I dare not debate. As a quintessential Bengali, I very well know the effect “Aaj Jyotsna Rate Sobai Geche Boney” coupled with “Old Monk” had on my friendly neighbourhood dada- umm, let’s call him Poltu da, after a painful break up with the “Shundori” (Beautiful) girlfriend who did not think twice about trading his undying love for the MBBS husband. Ah! that typical bong fascination for “lyengi”. 
Lyengi is actually an art in Bengal. One that has given rise to so many poets and singers who wrote odes to their lady loves with moist eyes and good old “Old Monk”. But then again, the 90’s Bengali men and women who decided to not to remain unaffected by the changes that globalisation was gradually doing to their friendly “chayer thek” wanted a more vocal alternative for their everyday being. Be it love, politics or just being Bengali. Everything which a Bengali loves.
And then came Chandrobindoo. The rest they say is history.
As a Bengali girl growing up in a South Calcutta neighbourhood in 1990’s, remaining unaffected by the Bangla band scenario was impossible. I liked Bhoomi and some works of Cactus, but it was Chandrobindoo who made those overtures of Poltu Da during Durga Pujo bhashan or the continuous efforts that he made to appease the snob daughter of Mr. Chatterjee in our neighbourhood, utterly believable. Their first album had a song called “Sweetheart” and it was more than true that Chatterjee uncle’s daughter had, while introducing her NRI fiance to us, had taken a special exception for Poltu da and called him- “Oh! Sujoy, meet Poltu…he is like my brother you know…he stays just opposite our house”. This was 1999. NRI husband meant the big ticket to fame and she did just the same. While the above mentioned song described the Bengali woman’s fascination for their “Pistuto” brothers (“cousins”), we saw more of the rakhi brother game being played just in front of our eyes. That was the first pillar of truth Chandrobindoo established for me, even though I heard the song much later but I could make an instant connection 🙂
To say that Chandrobindoo only gave voice to a heart broken lover’s whims will be such an insult. If there was anybody who brought “humour” and “sarcasm” to the already cluttered Bangla band scene, it was them. Chandrobindoo appealed to all those Bengalis across the world who could understand our shortcomings as a race. Their song “Aamra Bangali Jaati” came during a time when we had just started jostling for our space in the world map post the globalisation. Calcutta as a city was waking up to the changing times. The times they had understood that those days of brutally romantic 70’s and 80’s were over. If we had to survive and make the city tick, we had to fight…but! there is always a but in a Bengali’s life….the fact that we as an ‘intellectual’ race had to rub our shoulders with “Paanjabis” and “Meros” was completely unacceptable to us. The stiff upper lipped uncle in my neighbourhood often discarded the overwhelmingly popular Information Technology revolution and the predominance of “Made in America” in our lives as a ‘Capitalist conspiracy’ and that actual “Bilet” was always London and never New York! So when Chandrobindoo decided to poke fun about our stake to intellectual supremacy via the Nobel laureates that only Bengal seems to have produced, it never sounded odd. We all do that. Period. We all say “Marwaris have no kaaalturrr” and then share social space with them in Calcutta Club as we have to accept a hardworking race’s claim to economic supremacy. It is even ironical that we Bengali often claim to be the “most modern, secular minded and non communal” beings. Yes! even after those ‘Paaiya’ and ‘Mero’ jokes.
This is where I feel Chandrobindoo touched the perfect chord with our generation. Their lyrics, penned by the oh! so charming Anindya and the one and only Chandril, reflected the story of our lives. My father always thought Rabindranath is the best thing to happen to literature (and I still think Sourav Ganguly is the best thing to happen to Cricket), but I also understand that the definition of what is best can never be decided in societal terms. More so when, today we are waking up to the rise of the entrepreneurial risk loving Bengali who does not mind opening their own start ups.
If that last paragraph made you think that Chandrobindoo was supposed to make light hearted music, when did it become so heavy on us….relax! For me and for everybody of my generation, Chandrobindoo will be the ones who made those expressions of love and falling out of love so easy, so gentle and so believable. I sometimes wonder whether it was the fact that the very cute Upal and the very charming Anindya in front of the microphone that made those words so believable. Anindya will probably be the only bearded man in the history of this mankind that I had a very special soft corner for. Apart from Robi Thakur that is. (That bit is always understood. I am a Bengali :P)
I met Anindya once in the Calcutta Book fair. I took his autograph and conveyed to him about how much I liked his songs. All along, I gushed like a school girl. My husband was standing besides me and he could not believe it was the same me who was still sometime ago fighting with the very obnoxious Calcutta taxi driver for a ten Rupee change!
Well! to think of what made the romantic songs, the ones I consider among the many of their songs to be my favourite, tick and stand out is a question that cannot be answered without a reference to the city which makes all of us “fall in love”. The city that has “Ei shohor janey amar prothom sobkichu” written all over, for (admit it) many of us. (That is a Kabir Sumon song. Just for the uninitiated.)
Calcutta, has been a character in many of Chandrbindoo’s songs. I cannot imagine the innocence of giving up everything for love or as the way the love of out lives wished happening in any other city in this world apart from Calcutta. May be it is my imagination, but in this world of everyday rush from our pigeonhole apartments in Borivali, New York, Gurgaon or Rajarhat to our air conditioned office spaces anywhere in this world- can any place offer the solace, the peace, the warmth and the love of a life long forgotten in the meandering lanes of North Calcutta?
The answer will be an overwhelming No! We all crave for that life that we left behind. I have never lived in North Calcutta. I have never lived continuously in the house I prefer calling “Home” situated in a South Calcutta neighbourhood since I was seventeen. But still, most of my memories of the life I so much loved/love, still belongs to that place. The times when the neighbourhood Poltu da sang “tomake shonabo Joy Goshayi/ Tomar babake meshomoshayi to woo the girl of her dreams which often turned out to be every girl who crossed his path! His efforts to say “Tumi amar CPM/ Tumi amar ATM/Tumi amar series premer seshta” was commendable though! 😛
I am sure there were Poltu Das’ aplenty in all our lives. All of whose “Modhyobitto bhiru prem” (the faint hearted middleclass love) never came true 🙂
But does that stop us from falling in love? No! Because Chandrobindoo’s music often celebrates the quirkiness of the unachievable. Be it love or be it the need of societal approval (again!) or the celebration of the only thing that remains constant in a Bengali’s life- the long standing companion which we often prefer calling “paashbalish“.
As Chandrabinoo celebrates twenty fifth year of their existence, let’s raise a toast to the ones who made our growing up years the most memorable ones. The years that have often turned out to be the “bhindeshi tara” of our lives. But for the men who made the journey memorable (staring from the time I was introduced to their music by the humble(?) “Duniya DotCom” by two classmates), all I want to say is please keep making the wonderful music. Some people say that the unique humour that we associate with Chandrobindoo’s songs have waned, but I think if you do not make songs like “Bola Baron”  or “Muhurtora” now, then may be the musical journey of our generation will not mature. Officially, “Aparajita Tumi” it is not a Chandrobindoo album, but the overwhelming presence of the two Chandrobindoo front men makes me include the song.
The later is just an overwhelming culmination of the journey that we have all undertaken in our lives.
As they say “Muhurtora, Muhurter kache wrini”, we all have those memories and those moments which makes this incredible celebration of life possible and an amazingly beautiful journey. As an ardent fan, I am happy the maturity in their music shows. Please keep on giving the background music and lyrics for all our everyday struggles in our lives….for those forlorn nights which are made memorable by the whisper of those long forgotten memories 🙂
P.S.- I was in two minds about writing this post in English. Things which are close to heart, like Chandrobindoo and their songs, deserve the beauty of expression in Bengali, my mother tongue and the language the band had chosen as a medium of their creative expression. But I decided to stick to English primarily because if there are any non Bengali speaking reader of my blog (I presume that people read my blog…I am a bit self obsessed you see :P), they deserve to know the beautiful music Chandrobindoo makes. Secondly, the inherent Bengali-ness of their songs make them ethereal and universal. Do you spot the incoherence and dichotomy? That is what marks the journey of the maverick music makers of my youth and an entire generation of Bengalis special. Happy Birthday!

Categories
Bong way of life Calcutta Durga Puja Home India Kalyan Sangha Memories personal romance society

Durga Pujo to a Calcuttan- Connotations, religious and beyond!

The very first thing every year I do after I get hold of the calendar (the Roman and the Bengali one, both) is to check the Durga Pujo dates. You may call it a habit, a glimpse of joy or a routine…anything. But I am sure that I am not the only one. Bengalis are by birth emotional and the degree attached to my idiosyncrasies is wee bit more. I am the kind who would cry silently in the bathroom after watching a few pictures of my city getting all decked up for Durga pujo on Facebook and then walk out perfectly happy and sane after thinking about the ‘to do’s in a ‘Probashi pujo’.

Frankly speaking, this is not the first time that I am away from home during Durga pujo, the significance of which in the life of an ordinary Calcuttan (and by that I mean all Calcuttans!) can be only understood by visiting the city during the time of the festival. I have heard many comparisons about Durga pujo being almost like Ganesh Chaturthi in Bombay, Hyderabad or Pune or for that matter internationally the Rio Carnival in Brazil. Amongt these I have experienced only the Hyderabadi celebrations and so I may not be qualified to comment but deep down inside, as girl growing up in a South Calcutta neighbourhood where pujo meant the excitement of discussing plans about decoration of the pandal and collecting funds way before the celebrations started, I know that Durga pujo in a Calcuttan’s life cannnot be substituted.

My ‘parar’ Durga Puja. The neighbourhood Puja – one that spells ‘home’. (My own click)

I have no qualms in admitting that Durga pujo for me and for many like me who grew up in Calcutta had connotations beyond being just a religious festival. And there lies the spirit and warmth which makes pujo so unique. I have seen, in Hyderabad for instance, that only people who follow a particular faith as mine, Hinduism, participating in the celebrations for Ganesh Chaturthi and during the day of Visarjan a curfew is often imposed in the old city area just to avert any chances of communal tension. And to think that we Calcuttans mark the beginning of our Durga pujo itinerary by making a mandatory visit to Arsalan and by devouring the mutton biriyani! It’s a pilgrimage, just like the chelo kabab or the prawn cocktail in Peter Cat or Mocambo. And of course the bhog that is served during the pujo days in the neighbourhood. Perhaps the only vegetarian fare which seems tasty to the tongue to the Calcuttan foodie 🙂 Durga pujo is as important for gastronomical delights to be explored as hopping through the makeshift wonders which dot the cityscape for the 4 days. People visiting the city first time during the pujo often wonder that so much of creativity and thought has gone for the preparation…and that too just for 4 days. I think there are already reams of data available on the internent over how Durga pujo celebrations is almost a cottage industry in Bengal ( I am not making a point for Industrialisation in Bengal).

My friends often wonder how can we Bengalis, and also the Calcutta Marwaris, Gujaratis and Biharis, who have called Calcutta home for  a long time now and that includes many of my friends who subscribe to the tought “ghar mein veg bahar non veg” (eating vegetarian fare in the house and non vegetarian outside”), eat non vegetarian food during the time we are celebrating a religious festival. My answer to the often remains that it is the same fervour with which we devour the Biriyani in a neighbour’s house during Eid or eat the plum cake during Christmas. And if I miss out on the Langar food during Guruparab (also Balwant Singh’s dhaba food in Bhawanipore) it will be almost blasphemy and I will not be qualified enough to call myself a Calcuttan. Calcuttans are often called a ‘hujugey’ lot. One who go by the wave. What else will describe the city’s euphoria in descending upon Park Street on the 24th December night every year? There are numerous flipsides in attaching so much importance in celebrating every festival, but somewhere I feel that it attaches a non communal flavour to the city’s diaspora. And the Durga pujo is the biggest among them all. That explains the Councillor of my ward, who practises Islam, taking active interest in making the pujo a success and never missing out on the Ashatmi bhog. That also includes the Sardars who stay near Bhawanipore being an active support in all the pujo planning.

Yes, I pray every year…and piously give my Ashtami anjali, fasting for the first half for the day and planning where to eat in the night. That is in between popping two gelusil tablets (Bengalis and their acidity!) I make wishes before the Goddess and participate in the ‘Sondhi pujo’ where I see thousands gather to pay homage to the mother who saved mankind. The magical moment of celebration all women kind when the 108 lights bloom in full grandeur to express their gratitude to the power of a woman. That is religious for me, extremely religious. That moment often defines the understanding of me being a “Hindu”. A practitioner of the “sanatan dharma”. For me, it is not remotely related to anything including eating non vegetarian food, chowmein, carrying mobile phones, going to pubs and parties, wearing what I feel I look beautiful in, being confident about myself or being friends with people of other faiths or inviting them to share the Bhog.

Calcutta, I have heard and seen, is incrasingly becoming intolerant towards the fairer sex. A year ago also I could take pride in the fact that my city is one of the safest in India, not anymore. But Durga pujo every year gives me hope. A hope that the same people who put up posters about “praying in front of the Goddess” will learn a thing or two about how not to make snide remarks about a woman wearing something you find “sexy”  in the crowd. Let her enjoy the pandal hopping or the adda ta Maddox square just like you do. Or to jostle inside the Pujo pandal just to grope her. Interestingly, it is also the time of the year when a significant number of eve teasing cases are registered in Calcutta. I do not claim I have never faced any during Pujo.

This year, I will be celebrating pujo in a faraway land. I will attend Germany’s biggest Durga pujo and one of Europe’s biggest pujo, in Cologne. I am looking forward to the excitement here…very much palpable among the ‘probashis’. The cultural program, the arrangements, the self cooked bhog….but deep down inside I know I will miss the crowds, the lights, the chant from the balcony while welcoming the daughter when she comes home a day before “shoshti”- “Thakur eshe geche” (“Look the deity has arrived”) and the spirit that is called Calcutta.

Pujo, for us Calcuttans, will always remain a celebration of life- food, friends, adda, nostalgia and planning for the next year 🙂

“Ashche bochchor abar hobe”

Categories
bangla Calcutta short story

টুকরো ছবি

টুকরো ছবি
 
 
“তাহলে প্রিয়গোপাল বিষয়ী থেকেই কিনছিস তো বেনারসীটা?”
সেক্টর ফাইভ লাগোয়া সিসিডী তে বসে দুই বান্ধবির কথোপকথন তা অনেকক্ষন ধরে শুনছিল অনিন্দ্য। পথচলতি পিএনপিসি, আসছে অগ্রহায়ণে বিয়ের শপিং, সোনার বাজার দরের ওঠানামা, কোন বান্ধবী সবছেয়ে জম্পেশ বর পাকড়াও করেছে থেকে কোথায় হানিমুনে যাওয়া যায়- সবই সেই আলচোনার অংশ। কাছাকাছি কোন বহুজাতিক তথ্যপ্রযুক্তি সংস্থার কর্মী দুজনেই সেটা ট্যাশপনা দেখলেই বোঝা জায়। সদ্য চাকুরিতে ঢুকেছে বোধহয়, এখনও দাস্বত্বের রঙিন স্বপ্নের ঘোর লেগে আছে কথাবার্তায় বোঝা যায়।   
অনেক ক্ষন ধরেই অদের কথায় আড়ি পাতছিল অনিন্দ্য। মাঝে মাঝে করে সে এরকম। কিছুটা একঘেয়েমি কাটানোর জন্য শুরু করেছিল অভ্যেস টা।।এখন অনেক টাই নেশা হয়ে দাঁড়িয়েছে। প্রথম প্রথম যখন বর্ধমানের বাড়ি ছেড়া কলকাতায় পড়তে এল, যাদবপুরের কাছেই একটা মেসবাড়ি ভাড়া করে থাকতো তারা কয়েকজন বন্ধু মিলে। তখন এত একঘেয়েমি ছিল না জীবনটায়…এই শহরটাকে এতটা অপরিচিত কিউবিকল সর্বস্বও মনে হত না। এখন তার কাছে বড়সর মাপের একটা চাকরী আছে। পরিচিতের পরিধি টা অনেক বেরেছে কিন্তু বন্ধুর সংখ্যা ক্রম হ্রাস্যমান। তাদের কেউ কেউ চলে গেছে গুড়্গাওন, কেউ মুম্বাই…কেউ বা সুদূর বিদেশ। কেউ কেউ হয়তো আছে এখনও এই শহরে কিন্তু সবাই প্রচন্ড ব্যস্ত।
খবরে কাগজে কলকাতার সম্বন্ধে মাঝেই যারা ভিক্টোরিয়ার ছবি লাগিয়ে এক্তা আদ্যন্ত কর্ম বিমুখ শহরের ছবি তৈরি করেয় তাদের সাথে দেখা করা অনিন্দ্যর মাঝে মাঝে এই ডেডলাইন মুখর দ্বীপের একটা গাইডেড ট্যুর দিতে ইচ্ছে করে।
মেয়ে দুটো উঠবে উঠবে করছে। ঘড়ির দিকে তাকালো অনিন্দ্য। ঈশ! আজ অনেক দেরী হয়ে গেল। প্রত্যেকদিনের আধন্টার অবসর কখন যে দেড় ঘন্টা অতিক্রম করেছে খেয়াল ই নেই তার।
মেয়ে দুটো বেশ। রোজকার আশেপাশের টেবিলের প্রোমোশন, বসের গসিপ এর থেকে একটা অন্যরকম আলোচোনা উপহার দিল তাকে। অনিন্দ্য কুবি নয়।।নয়ত কিছু লিখতো হয়ত। একবার ভাব্ল আলাপ করবে ওদের সাথে।।কিন্তু পর মুহূর্তেই ভাবল কি বলবে তারপর? তাদের কথায় আড়িপাততে প্রায় মাঝবয়সি অনিন্দ্য রায়ের ভাল লেগেছে?

মেয়েগুলো হয়তো তার পদমর্যাদার কদর করে “ঠিক আছে” গোছের উত্তর দেবে হাসিমুখে। এরকম স্তাবকতায় সে অভ্যস্ত। হয়তো বা পরে সে সদ্য বিবাহবিচ্ছিন্ন  শুনে তার গায়েপড়ে আলাপ টাকে “আলুর দোষ” বলবে। এ এক আচ্ছা মুশকিল। আগে জনমত নির্বিশেষে অফিসের সবার সাথে আড্ডা মারত অনিন্দ্য। পরে দেখল নতুন জয়েন করা কিছু মেয়ে একটু বেশীই কদর করছে তার পথচলতি ছবি আঁকার। কয়েকজন আবার বলতে আরম্ভ করল সে নাকি বিশাল ফ্লারট।

মাঝখান থেকে তার অফিসের লাগোয়া কফিশপ টায় যাওয়াই বন্ধ করে দিল সে। বেশী মেলামেশাও। এখন এখানে আসে সে। বেশী দূরে না, আবার কাছেও না। হাটাপথে মিনিট দশেক।
প্রত্যেকদিনের আধঘন্টার অবসর।
বিলটা মিটিয়ে বেড়িয়ে গেল অনিন্দ্য। অতিলোভ করে সোম থেকে শুক্রর এই আধঘন্টা টা হারাতে পারবে না সে। এই একঘেয়েমি, কর্মব্যস্ততার শহরে তো একেবারেই না।
 
 
“দেখো এই বাড়ির মেনটেনেন্সের যা খরচ তা আমাদের পক্ষে চালানো অসম্ভব বৌদি। বেকার সেন্টিমেন্টাল না হয়ে আমার প্রস্তাব টা ভেবে দেখো। আমাদের বাড়ির দারুন লোকেশন টা দেখেই কিন্তু মিঃ মুরারকা বাজার চলতি দরের থেকে অনেকটায় বেশী অফার দিচ্ছেন।”
একনাগারে নিজের কৌশিকের কথাগুল শুনছিল কাজরী। দেশপ্রিয় পার্কের বাসিন্দা, এই একদা বিত্তবান সেনগুপ্ত পরিবারের বধূ হয়ে যখন কাজরীর এই বাড়িতে প্রবেশ তখন কৌশিক সদ্য কলেজে ঢকেছে। মনে আছে ওর বিয়েটা কায়স্থ বাড়ির মেয়ে পরমার সাথে ঠিক করার পেছনে কাজরীর ভূমিকা অনেকটাই।
আর আজ সেই কৌশিক ই কিনা একেবারে গারজিয়ানের ঢঙে তাকে আদেশ করছে এই বাড়িটা বিক্রি করে দিতে সম্মত হতে। আদেশ ঠিক নয়, তবে হ্যা, যবে থেকে তার বৈধব্য সত্ত্বা তাকে গ্রাস করেছে, সে লক্ষ্য করেছে এ বাড়ির সবাই তার সব সিদ্ধান্তে নিজেদের অগ্রাধিকার দেখাতে চেয়েছে। তা সে তার মেয়ে টুয়া কি নিয়ে পড়বেই হোক বা তার নিজের কতটা অর্থসাহায্য চাই তা নিয়েই হোক।
টুয়ার বাবা মারা যাওয়ার পর কাজরীর পাশে সবাই এসে দাড়াতে চেয়েছিল। একদিক দিয়ে তো ভালই। সবাই বলল “বাবা! আজকাল কার দিনেও এরকম দেখা যায় নাকি?”। কাজরীর তো খুশী হওারি কথা।
কিন্তু কোথাও যেন তার এই মহানুভবতার পেছনে একটা করুনার গন্ধ লেগেছিল। সারাজীবন যা প্রত্যাখান করে এসেছে কাজরী। সেইবার সবার সামনে একবার বলেছিল যে সে একটা চাকরীর চেষ্টা করবে ভাবছে…ওমনি সবাই রে রে করে উঠেছিল। ছোট ননদ বুকাই তো বলেই ফেলল- “ছি! বৌদি, এরকম বলতে পারলে তুমি? আমরা কি তোমার পর?”
“বৌদি ভেবে দেখ কিন্তু কথাটা”
কৌশিকের কথায় আবার সম্বিত ফিরল কাজরীর।
“হ্যা, ভাবছি।।কবের মধ্যে জানাতে হবে বললে?”
“যত তাড়াতাড়ি সম্ভব” চাটা শেষ করচে করচে বলল কৌশিক “আসলে ডিলটা এত ভাল পাচ্ছি, বুঝতেই পারছো তো। ভয় লাগছে যে দেরি হয়ে গেলে হাতছাড়া না হয়ে জায়”
“হ্যা সে তো ঠিকি। আসলে তোমায় সেদিন ও তো বললাম না…তোমার দাদার এত স্মৃতি এই বাড়িতে…তাই ঠিক…” আমতা আমতা করে বলল আবার কাজরী।
“আহ! দাদার স্মৃতি কি একার তোমার বৌদি? এ বাড়িতে আমার শৈশব কেটেছে। বাবা মার স্মৃতি আছে…এই পাড়া…এখানে ডাংগুলি খেলেয় বড় হলাম…।সেই বাড়ি ভেঙে একটা বাহারি শপিং মল হয়ে যাবে, আমাদের ঠাকুরদালান কৌলিন্য হারিয়ে সবার কাছে আরেকটা বিনোদনের জায়গা হয়ে যাবে, সেটা কি আমার ভাল লাগছে বৌদি? তবে একগুয়ে হয়ে তো লাভ নেই……এই বাড়ির খরচ বা মেনটেন করা আমাদের আর পোশাবে না। যা দিনকাল দাড়াচ্ছে, আমাদের কতটুকুনি বা পুঁজি বলোতো?”
“হু!”
“তাছাড়া, এমন কিছু বাজে হচ্ছে না… গড়িয়ার কাছে মিঃ মুরারকার যে নতুন আবাসন তৈরি হচ্ছে তাতে নতুন ফ্ল্যাট, আর বেশ অনেক টাই টাকা। তোমারো তো ভবিষ্যৎ আছে একটা বৌদি…টুয়ার বিয়ে আছে…আর আমরা তো কাছেই থাকব সবাই। একি কমপ্লেক্সে। একদম ঝা চক চকে সবকিছু। আজকাল যেরকম হয় সব। আমাই একদিন দেখে এসেছি…ইয়া বড় বড় ৬ টা টাওয়ার। দেখবে টুয়ার দারুন লাগবে।”
“হ্যা…তবে গড়িয়া এখান থেকে বেশি দূর হয়ে যাবে না?”
“আরে গড়িয়া তো এখন শহরের মধ্যেই বলে… আমরাই যা ভাবি এরকম। টুয়া র ও কলেজ কাছে হয়ে যাবে অনেক। বেশী ভেবো না আর…আমি পরশূ আসব আবার ফাইনাল শুনতে। টুয়ার সাথে কথা বলে রেখোখন।”
বেরোবে বলে তৈরি হল কৌশিক।
“আচ্ছা, আমরা ছাড়াও তো আর বাকি অংশিদার আছে তাদের কি মতামত?”
“আরে সবাই রাজি…এতোভাল অফার টা…নন্তুদারা তো ক্যালিফোর্নিয়া থেকে আমায় পাওয়ার অফ এটর্নি দিয়ে দিয়েছে। ওরা কমপ্লেক্সের ফ্ল্যাট টা নিয়ে খুবি খুশি। নন্তুদা না কি এরমি একটা প্রোপার্টি তে ইনভেস্ট করতে চাইছিল। আর বাকি বোনেরাও যা ক্যাশ পাচ্ছে তাতেয় খুশি।”
“ওঃ তাই…ভালো তো”
“হু! ডিল টা হয়ে জাক…তুমিও আমায় ধন্যবাদ দেবে দেখো…আসি তাহলে…পরশু ফাইনাল করে রেখ সবকিছু…তুমি হ্যা বলার পর রাজ্যের কাজ আছে।।জমি বাড়ির ব্যাপার তো”
কৌশিক চলে যাওয়ার পর তার অংশের সুদর দরজাটা বন্ধ করে দিল কাজরী। টুয়া কলাজ থেকে ফিরতে এখন অনেক দেরী। এখন তার অখন্ড অবসর। অনান্য দিন এই সময় টুকুর দিকে মুখিয়ে থাকে কাজরী। গান শোনে। শখের কবিতা লেখে, বই পড়ে। টুয়ার বাবার স্মৃতি চারনা করে মাঝে মাঝে হয়ত।।কিন্তু আজকাল খুবি কম হয় সেগুলও।।হয়ত অভ্যেস। টুয়ার যখন চার বছর বয়শ তখন হারিয়েছে মানুষ টাকে। আজ টুয়াও নয় নয় করে ২০ তে পা দিয়েছে প্রায় সাড়ে চার মাস।
কিন্তু কি আশ্ছরজ আজ তার আর কিছু ভাল লাগছে না…সমানে টানছে ওই সামনের গাড়ি বারান্দাটা। কি জানি কি পিছুটান থেকে সেখানে গিয়ে দাঁড়ালো কাজরী। আর মুহূর্তে তের বয়শ কমেয় গেল প্রায় ২২ টা বছর। জীবন সংগ্রামে ক্লান্ত বিধ্বস্ত এক প্রৌড়া কাজরী নয়…সে তখন সদ্য একুশের পরশ মাখে লাল শাড়ি আর শাখা পলার সাজে মায়াবি এক কাজরী। তখন এ বাড়িটায় এক্সাথেয় হাড়ি চরতো প্রায় ৪০ জন লোকের। সদ্যবিবাহিতরা আজ যে স্পেস পেয়ে অভ্যস্ত, তার কিছুই ছিল না তাদের জীবনে। রাত ১১ টা পর্যন্ত তাদের শোবার ঘরে তখন আসর জমাতো একপাল ননদ দেওর রা।
কিন্তু ভাগ্যিস ছিল না…নয়ত কি আর ২২ বছর পর এক দুপুরে তার মনে পড়তো যে এই গাড়ি বারান্দা তে বসেই একদিন মাঝরাতে তাকে তাদের দাম্পত্য জীবনের প্রথম আদরের আশ্লেষে জড়িয়ে ধরেছিল ধ্রিতিমান…স্মৃতির চিলেকোঠায় যার নাম কাজরীর জীবনে টুয়ার বাবা হিসেবেই থেকে গেছে।
বাড়িটা হয়ত ভেঙে জাবে…অন্যসবাইয়ের মতো কাজরীর ও হয়ত মেনে নেওয়া ছাড়া রাস্তা থাকবে না..কিন্ত এই স্মৃতির অবসর টুকু কি তার গড়িয়ায় তৈরি হওয়া দু কামড়ার ফ্ল্যাট দিতে পারবে?
Categories
Bangal Calcutta Cinema

Goynar Baksho-Why it is refreshingly new!

I watched Goynar Baksho today. Obviously! it’s poila boishakh tomorrow and since the urban bengali’s ‘bangaliana’ is tested by allegiance to two things nowadays- ‘durga pujo’ and ‘poila boishakh’..I could not resist catching the ‘noboborsho’ release with my family. Of course the trappings of the corporate life has made the bhodrolok celebrate new year a day earlier on Sunday since Monday will again be a busy day with impending client calls and meetings 🙂

These days Bengali films are nicely publicised and packaged. Goynar Baksho was no different. That coupled with the assurance of an Aparna Sen’s finesse was enough to guarantee the connoisseur Bengali a nice evening out. Needless to say, I was not completely disappointed.
‘Not completely’ since I went with my mom, dad, sister and my husband and the cumulative verdict was different. What I admire about every Sen movie till date is her adept portrayal of a subtle liberal/feminist approach which is sometimes unimaginable in the situations depicted. Goynar Baksho is no different. The story chronicles the journey of three generation of women of a family which traces its roots in erstwhile ‘purbobongo’. Set in the time when India had just gained her independence, this erstwhile wealthy landlord family from Faridpur had to transfer base to West Bengal and are shown as still getting accustomed with their now non existent ‘aristocratic’ habits.

 

Moushumi Chatterjee portrays the role of a child widow who vehemently guards her box of jewels…even after her death. She is worried about the fate her ‘500 vori’ jewel and entrusts the newly wed Konkona SenSharma with the responsibility of protecting her jewels. But she is not the benevolent image of the elderly ‘Pishima’ we get to see in the movies. Moushumi, as the abusive, venom spewing, strict taskmaster ‘pishima’ is a revelation. And that ‘bangal’ accent…this movie makes me realise that overtly beautiful women have often remain hugely underused in our cinema.

She threatens Konkona with dire consequences if she even thinks of touching her jewellery..including killing her husband. And what follows is mayhem. Hillarious picture sequences and characterisations make the first half an enjoyable watch.

The second half is the part where Sen leaves er mark again…albeit with the hilarity this movie is conceived with. Konkona, as a first generation entrepreneur..probably the first of the working women of our society sends a message and so does Pishima. ‘Pishima’s’ words of wisdom  about all that thoughts we have about sin, lust, benevolence is just a sham- is the high point of the movie. ‘First hand experience’ as she puts it. And there comes the fiery expression of suppressed sexuality and celebration of womenhood. Sen has a knack of portraying feminist discourses in the relationships you least expect. Be it the timid housewife in ‘Paroma’ or the mother in law and daughter in law relationship in ‘Paromitar Ekdin’…she finds the bond of being a women, a reason to celebrate.

The initial portrayal of Moushumi’s character makes you least expectant of the bond that a ghost will share with her daughter in law…but even more surprising is her words of encouragement for Konkona to pursue a love affair and not be trapped in a marriage where her husband can have a mistress but she cannot afford to have a male companion. The subtlety with which she points out the intellectual difference that she has with her husband, or her openness of Srabanti’s character smoking when the film shifts base in the 70’s is well scripted and portrayed.

To think that a women who belonged somewhere in 1920’s could have a mind which thinks and how, is definitely encouraging for a society which still tells it’s women to dress up properly or not to wear that short dress when you go clubbing. My juniors have recently faced the wrath of moral policing in Hyderabad and that has been the shoddiest of the shows ever. But Goynar Baksho gives me faith.

There are a lot more layers to the story which needs to be discussed, but I thought of writing this post to jot down these points since while coming out of the theatre my father expressed his disappointment and so did my mother. They expected the apparently carefree mood of the first half to continue. I disagreed. Thank you Sen for making this one…..because we need more of pishimas in our lives and in the society where we currently live in.

Go and watch. My husband does not watch many Bengali movies. But he for one enjoyed the movie, may not to the fullest but glad that he appreciated the subtext of characterisations. There lies the success of the storyteller. Shirshendu Babu, I have not read the original story..but after the portrayal, I will surely do so 🙂

Shubho Noboborsho 🙂

Categories
Calcutta

Tales of the Timeless city- Part 1

That my love affair with Calcutta grows every passing day is a layman’s guess. I love the city, in its every possible hue and tinge possible. So when the first blush of rain kisses the skies of my new Tollygunge home, I love the fact that I am lucky to be here.

 There have been umpteenth attempts to chronicle the life and times of the city on numerous occasions before. I will be humble enough to not compare them with my choice of stories. But as they say..every Calcuttan is born with words they want to share with the world…I am no different. So what stories does this city tell when you first meet her in an unknown landscapes…..the portraits we term as the ‘North Calcutta gullies’.

(Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2a/Kolkata_Shyambazar_Panchmatha.jpg)

I feel ashamed to acknowledge the fact that I had never witnessed North Calcutta in her full glory before. The sounds and sights of that part of the city which witnessed the historically accounted ‘Babu culture’ at its crowning glory. I feel ashamed that I discovered the hawkers of Hatibagan Bazaar so late. All my life I had been this pucca well bred South Calcuttan who could never outgrow her posh neighbourhood. My visits to the Northern parts of the city were restricted to admiring its museum like atmosphere. The ‘Mohunbagan Row’ near Shyambazar reminded me that how much of this city is still enamoured by football and the ghoti bangal divide…but it was only recently I discovered the legacy of the fight when I came across a hoarding of ‘Telengabagn sarbojonin’ painted in ‘sobuj maroon’ (green and maroon) colours. It made me realise that Calcutta is not just called a city for everyone by fluke. It has something for everyone. While I could not stop laughing at the rival colours, it made me realise that it is also a walk through a time warp. The city which loves to have its ilish-chingri debates on their iPads. Whoever told that Calcutta is a city of the past should think again. Yes! we love to preserve our privilege, but there is no harm in that….why should there be if we love to talk about our ‘Culture’..since we have one…..then why not flaunt it. And we do it far more subtly than other. But the presumption that goes with it- we cannot accept change….a newer wave, is horribly wrong. We are a city who love to dance on the beats of the dhaak during Durga Pujo at Maddox square…but we also love to listen to the bets of the music at Someplace else. Yes! we are a city who can successfully balance the both. We love food. We love to try everything new…..so in case we try out Italian at the newest and the costliest place in town (and don’t forget to let the world know about it ala FB check in app)…we never fail to appreciate the Kobiraji cutlets and the biriyani from Arsalan. It’s a huge crime if you don’t.  Calcuttans are a happy bunch…because we live to tell stories of our joys, dreams, heartbreaks and pining(s). The pining for the city of love when they are away…..you can never get enough of the city when you are our…. so when the page on FB (Kolkata Tips) rationalises a meme saying something to the effect that when you are in here you curse the city…but when you are out…you long to be here…..they are actually true. You miss the city most when you are away. That’s when you realise how much you love the gorgeous greens of the Golf club road, the pestering heat and the newly turned Bonga localised Kolkata metro. Its everywhere. Ask me!

People termed me a fool when I left my big fat pay cheque and whims of a corporate life at Hyderabad last year. They warned me that Calcutta will not provide me enough of opportunities to explore. But did it really matter? What is an opportunity if you cannot share it with your loved ones? May be that is how I look at life and I longed to be back here….the only place in this whole wide world that I call ‘home’.

And I am happy I stood by my decision….even happier because Deep saw my point and supported me throughout. It took time, but Calcutta gave me an opportunity to explore in my career which I would have probably not got if I had decided to stay somewhere else..somewhere I don’t belong. I always had this dream of calling the shots..and I think I am getting there. And I love the fact that it hugely helps my bank balance too. I really want to make this perception clear that myths like money is less in Calcutta is hugely overdone. You really want to be exploited in the corporate world…bingo! they will give it to you anywhere…Calcutta to Colorado. Why blame this city only?

(To be continued)

Categories
Calcutta

B(v)idyang Dehi!

Firstly, I am too overwhelmed to write a proper movie review.

Secondly, I am no movie critic.

It’s just that I am overwhelmed by the cinematic experience called ‘Kahaani’. What a movie! What a city! and what an actor(s)! (sic.)

There is absolutely no doubt that I am a devout Calcutta fan. Needless to say there are many more in the blogosphere or for that matter, in this small place whose mystery is still being investigated by a certian Sheldon Cooper ;), but ‘Kahaani’ has shook me…after a long, long time.

Nobody, and this includes the over emphasis of the Howrah Bridge, the phuchka in front of Victoria and Moulin Rouge in Parineeta, has shown my city, the only city in this whole wide world I call ‘home’ so beautifully…unadulterated, pure, charming, graceful, pregnant with expectation, warmth…and lethal. The women organisations may debate on and on…but Kolkata and ‘Calcutta’ you are truly ‘sexy’ and a ‘siren’. A ‘sex-bomb’ I say.

The best part about the film is the fact that in doesn’t show Calcutta in that very stereotypical mould of the city of the past. It is about today. It is about the constant optimism that we Calcuttan’s live with…..probably the only city that balances of its ‘korchi na korbo na’ tradition with the new found lingo of Sector V and Rajarhat. (It’s completely different that I find Camac Street a class apart :))

You know what? I think Sujoy Ghosh is a pucca Calcuttan….not any other non resident Bong…he doesn’t make that stupidest mistake that anybody commits nowadays and which makes Calcuttans like me turn back and retort- “Salt Lake is not Kolkata.” I know you will cringe but the fact remains- it’s still a satellite township which doesn’t fall within the limits of the city. Sujoy Ghosh actually moves ahead and don’t fall into that beaten formula of showing yesteryear’s Kolkata means- Victoria Memorial, Park Street, Trincas and Cabaret. Today’s Kolkata is- Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge and decorated pieces in some sleepy neighbourhood of Salt Lake. That mould is broken! Most importantly, Sujoy Ghosh and the DoP, Setu, thank you for showing Calcutta moments in a mainstream collage without adding any hanky panky which is so very associated with the cities timeline.

His Calcutta is very much the Nonapukur or Kumortuli we know. Or the bylanes of a smellingly old Central Calcutta house. And the very evident and bustling South Calcutta. Kalighat, Triangular Park, Ballygunge Cultural er pujo….uuf!! ki nei.

And Durga Pujo!!!! What a montage, what a use of Dhaaks in the climax. The very religious symbolisms turn into the imagery of woman power which kills and protects. Hats off! for even thinking like this.

And I will not talk about the performances. Vidya Balan, my dear Palaghat Iyer lady, you are an honorary bong  or rather a Calcuttan now…you know that right? Thank you for being so subtle and so unapologetic and proud about being full….film after film. In today’s world of heroines (not actresses) so very obsessed with their frail frames, you are a worthy exception. And so very seductive. The film also showcases the goldmine of talented actors that Bengali cinema treasures. Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Saswata, Kharaj….each and everyone. The ‘kahaani’ of the film is it’s true hero and the scriptwriting is- to use a teenager’s way of expressing her first Valentine moment- out of the world!

And then there is that one person who has probably given words to all my emotions…every single time 🙂 His song written probably quite a few years ago binds the thematic representation of the story at a level where we all identify. Probably he doesn’t need any more reckoning and we are minions to  give him so…..but once again he proves, and a point well proved, that those who call him outdated are so very obsolete and poor (the word couldn’t possibly match up to the emotional content of the bengali word ‘deen’).

The only character who overshadows all this and rises much beyond is the lady who is better known as the city of laughter, joy, warmth and tinkle- Calcutta!