Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Under Development: Singur - Photo Exhibition and Film Festival

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007



Friday, June 01, 2007

I Wonder

Five years is a long time.
To be away from home. And family.
Long enough to make one homesick. Long enough for the mind to wander.
And wonder.
I hear there has been a lot of change in Calcutta. For the better.
And I wonder how much things could have changed.
I wonder.
If they are going to change my childhood. My growing years. My memories.
I wonder.

If you still have the sudden clap of thunder and the ominous darkening of the sky with the mad frenzy of a rainshower bringing respite on a sweltering Summer afternoon. Kalbaisakhi they used to call it. And ek poshla brishti.

If Kaki still closes the shutters on the window to keep out the scorching sun. If she still turns on the radio and listens to the Bangla natok as she prepares for her siesta in the afternoon. Ghori Rahashyo. I still remember the name of the natok.

If Didibhai's Thakur-ghar is still exactly the same. If she gives batasha proshad. And sandesh on Thursdays. If she still has to keep a lookout for the tiktiki that threatens to eat the proshad.

If people still stop by to see you in the evenings. Unannounced. Without calling to check if it will be a convenient time for you. If Ma still makes jolkhabar every evening just in case someone turns up. Unannounced.

If people still flock to Monginis in the evening. For pastries. And chicken rolls. And patties.

If the corner shop still sells hot, deep-fried shingara and jilipi in the morning. That you could pick up when you go to collect your Mother Dairy milk pouch. Somedays if you got lucky you'd get kochuri. With chholar daal.

If Satya-Kaku still stops by the paan shop to buy a paan on his way to work. Light a cigarette from the burning rope that hangs by the shop. Chit chat with the paan-wala, take one last long drag of the cigarette as his bus pulls up, squishing the cigarette-butt into the ground with his shoe and fight his way into the overcrowded bus. B.B.D. Bag Minibus.

If pasher barir Boudi still comes to the terrace to hang her saree out to dry on the clothes line. A towel still wrapped around her hair. If she leans over the pachil and calls out to my Mom and carries on a conversation across the street for over an hour. Until she realizes the time and has to rush to pick up Gogol from school.

If Chhoton and Sanjib-da still play cricket out in the streets and break a few windows making everyone mad at them. If Pijush-da still tries to catch Padmini-di's eye as she stands in her balcony watching them play cricket. And if Sanjib-da ended up marrying Bulbuli. If they all still live where they used to.

If Kumar still carries a small comb in his back pocket. And if he stops by every parked car to comb his hair in the reflection of the side-view mirror. If he still bullies all the kids who play on the street. If he still jumps in to volunteer anytime anyone needs help. Kumar na thakle ki je hoto.

If Ghosh Kaku still parks his car in front of Mr. Chatterjee's garage. And if Mr Chatterjee still raves and rants about having his garage blocked. Every morning. And if the neighborhood kids still giggle when they start fighting. Eta kintu bhari onyay.

If school kids still throng to Nalanda Tutorial. And Prabir-Babu still keeps the girls away from the boys in separate sections. If the boys still throw stones at the girls from outside the window. And leave messages for them carved into the benches. If they are still excited at having a girl say "Excuse me" as they deliberately crowd the narrow stairs of the tutorial.

If Niloo still meets Tintin-da in the secrecy of Nandan. If Niloo's Dad finally let her marry the love of her life. If Raka and Rana still give into throes of passion in Rana's moonlit terrace. If people still get caught stealing kisses near the lake. If hand holding with a guy is still taboo and earns you a frown from the neighbors. If people meet at a roadside stall, share a bhar of cha and a thonga of chinebadam and still call it a date.

If the SFI dadas will still storm a class and throw issues at you from the podium. If a crowd of protesting millions will bring the city to a screeching halt. Michhil, slogan, bandh. We were happy for the free holiday.

If the hawkers still crowd the pavements with their wares. If you still hear the fervent cries of Chaitra Sale trying to coax you into stopping and buying. If Partha-da still has his little shop in Gariahat selling costume jewelry. And if he still does Dhunuchi nach at Samajsebi Pujo. If Naru Kaku sells chanachur and chhola-chyapta to the people who line up outside the liquor store.

If people still buy pastries from Flurys. Or do they go to some fancy bakery. If they buy ice cream from the Kwality man who comes every afternoon with his cart. Or do they go to Baskin Robbins. If people eat an egg roll. Wash it down with a cold Thums Up. And suffer from acidity. Chowa dhekur ebong ombol. Or do they go to KFC. Drink Coke instead. If a child's face still lights up with joy when you give her a bar of Cadbury's Milk Chocolate. Or does it have to be Swiss Lindt instead.

Change is inevitable. Progress is good.

But I still wonder.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006


I chose to shoot a disproportionate amount of poverty because it captivated me more than the many other facets of Calcuttan life. There is a huge amount of development and prosperity in Calcutta. The "very poor" or "street people" made up less thn 5% of the population by my estimate. I found Calcutta quite sofisticated. - jay

Seen in this travel/photoblog (you'll need to scroll down to just before where the Sundarban section starts). Hmm, should I call it piquant?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Autumn Examination :-)

Since everyone reading this has already read this, we shall begin from familiar territory and work our way up (or down, if you're a scrollbar-sympath) from there. Right at the beginning of his 'I have nothing to do with the Pujos' puja post, Arnab says:

Whenever I am away from Kolkata, I impose a total media ban on anything related to the Pujo, taking a leaf out of the Government of India’s Ostrichian principle that if I bury my head in the sand and censor the flow of information about a certain thing, then that thing ceases to exist any more.

The last bit of the sentence isn't entirely necessary, but it hurts the popular Bengali image to edit a dig at the government.

So anyway, like I said here, it's been the same since the e-boom hit the country: a pre-puja buildup in online communities, people asking each other if they're going 'home' (which more often than not is Calcutta), cribbing about being forced to stay away, ranting and reminiscing on blogs. Every year. It's the (Hindu?) Bengali's autumn imperative, by all available proof. Before you start shaking your head vigourously and pointing to own blog and stamping feet, let me direct you to this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and especially this (no, I insist).
And that's just from about a quarter of my blogroll.

I wonder now. Is there much that's said that hasn't been said last year? Isn't being said on five other blogs simultaneously? Not really, no. The same rhetoric, the same nostalgia: the (fast disappearing) kaash phool , smilingcrying reunions, distant homelands, dhaaker shobdho (which I can hear as I type -- the dawn drums that rouses and summons on a grey-blue moist Saptami morning), new clothes, long sleepy dusty annual trip to the ancestral home, sepia-tinged memories of the myth of happier times.

I was writing my puja post too. And it was very personal, and beyond the first three sentences I just couldn't go on (right words are such a bitch) and I was in a state of high-middle despair. It's Saptami, dammit, when will I finish it and put it up? Which is when it occured to me that I needen't, really, you know, put up a puja post. It's not a Pujabarshiki that I publish. Sit back. Hit 'save as draft'. Relax. Is okay.

But why the automatic attempt? I'm not away from home. In fact, I think I've always been in Calcutta during puja. Maybe missed a couple growing up, but that's all (my family's not bitten by the Bong wanderlust). The comfort of shared memories, do you think? Herd mentality? Peer-pressure? Or, as I said, the creation of a pool of semi-mythical memories fed on enforced notions of how the perfect puja should be?

All this is idle conjecture, you understand, and not children of my usual stunning intellect either, because there is only so much thinking you can do in your 28th hour without sleep. I'm superwoman, but only just.

However, since we are (tangentially) on the subject, have you noticed the determined 'cultural awareness' of regional channels? Looking at the prime-slot programmes on popular cable channels, I'd say the focus was on creating (check) and sustaining (also, to a large extent, check) a flauntable ethnic identity based on an almost-identical lifestyle* made distinct with token symbols of regionality. Red-bordered white sari for the Bengali girl, for example, with a Durga Puja sequence always thrown in. For, one presumes, the allegedly too-cosmopolitan-for-their-own-good city kids.

"I know all about Bungali culchur", said a girl I once met.
"You were born and brought up here", I pointed out.
"Arrey but who mixes with Bengalis? Chhi! (Ewww!) I am knowing from Devdas and Kasauti Zindagi Kii only. They are showing all about you pipple." (Please check the links. Please)

Ah. Of course.

Not that the Bengali channels are any better. They flood you with this constructed Bangaliana of elaborate kaantha stitch kurtas and the coloured dhotis (yes, him, but also an increasing number of men who're not him), heavily embroidered saris, pora matir goina (red clay jewellery) and chunky metal 'n semi-precious stone jewellery with which I was utterly unfamiliar in life. And which have suddenly become the epitome of urban 'ethnic' Bangali - 'a', not 'e' - chic. Along with the once dreadfully unfashionable jhola .

I've been wondering if the pujo jingles and verse-advertismenst one sees in pujobarshikis can be seen as a revival of the dying culture of pujor chhoDra and pujor gaan ('Puja special' poems and music albums, as it were), but even I think that's pushing it a bit too far ;-)

*Which must be maintained to protect in the interests of urban consumerism. The advertisments, of course, tap into this culture of superficial difference awl the time. The potency of images that the media pieces together from life and from yearnings have been reiforced by their recurring presence in 'critically acclaimed' films. Or maybe it's a symbiotic relationship. Large families scattered all over the urban landscape returning to the big, sprawling autumn (as opposed to summer) home in a village conviniently close to Calcutta with all sorts of feudal comforts and the joys of a stylishly traditional family puja (or bits thereof) - the Shalimar puja ad jumps to mind. Or the cosy togetherness of para'r pujo complete with a romanticised version of what might equally have been harassment or pujo'r prem (love that starts during the pujas). Another inherent part, we're told, of the Bengali's Pujo. See Thumbs Up and Coke ads for proof. Not that bloggers haven't covered this aspect as well. Although the take is entirely different:

The whole hullabaloo about Durga Pujo, simply put... is this... for most bongs it's a one-week window to fix your social/love/sex life. The friendly neighborhood pujor pandal, is nothing but an exotic singles bar.

**As you can see, the Bengali non-Hindu is rather left out of the game.

Originally posted here on my personal blog.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pliss To Come

Design and Copyright: Abhijay Gupta, 2006.

Pliss To Come Part 2

Design and Copyright: Abhijay Gupta, 2006.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Which city is this...bolo bolo?

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Entire thread here.