Thursday, December 29, 2005

Calcutta Calling

Its the 29th. Been back in Cal for 4 days. Already feels like I never left. Tolly's during the day, watching while he plays,and giggling at mad things, thr 3 of us at the table. Listening in on everyone's crazy and urgent plans for New Years Eve. Watching Calcutta from the terrace, as she sleeps, quiet,at peace. My city beautiful.

Not eaten Biryani yet. Nor egg rolls. Yet, it tastes like home ...

Havent yet heard from any of the Cal blog junta except Rimi :(
Hoping to meet up with most of them - I'm so curious to see them!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

hark the siblinghood!

Alrighty! If no one else will do it (not including Priya and Prero), it’ll have to be The Rimi.

Right, so, as I was saying. Prero and I had this grand plan of jazzing up this template, which hasn’t come to anything so far, but then Prero’s coming to town soon, I’m sure we’ll work something out then. Also, in other news, the blog’s dying!!! All of you who so wanted in, people, WRITE! I know it’s the holiday season, but that isn’t excusing you from the drill. So, get cracking.

Right, now since I do not believe even ONE of you will actually respond to this desperate request, I shall take it upon myself to toil for the noble cause. Or whatever.***

This is something that was sparked off by an article I read in an ancient edition of the Robibasorio (Sunday Special) of the Ananda Bazaar Patrika. It’s too ancient to be in the online archives, so don’t bother looking it up. It was titled ‘Dada go!’, or something similar. Now, being a quintessential Bong that I am (NOT, claims lots of people I know. Heretic dogs!:P), this racial/ethnic obsession with extended families – all very fascinating in terms of population-control, of course – but it’s so deep rooted in the Bengali psyche that’s it’s occasionally slightly alarming. I have been frigidly and loudly ticked off in public for calling a woman a year older than me by her name. By herself. That was one of the better incidents. So this is a slightly personal issue.

First, let’s us look at our case history. We shall look at popular literature to support our theory. Oh, Literature! That mirror of this our evolving society! Literature, where everything except names and dates are true. And all such glorious certificates of credibility from assorted sources.
Oops! Forgot about my widening readership. Right, so those of you who don’t know what I’m on about:

– noun. lit. elder/older male sibling/cousin. Shortened to ‘da’, personalized by adding at the end of proper noun. E.g. Mithunda.

1. General term of address employed by Bengali men and women for yelling at random men of all ages for poking them with the butt of their umbrellas on a crowded bus.
2. Also, form of address used by young women with oily braids and red ribbons in them for the young masculine objects of their affection who return the compliment by whispering searing dialogues from latest (Mithunda?) Bollywood flicks to said young women in roach-infested cheap movie theatres. In short, if she calls you brother, you can start licking those stray Salmanesque locks into shape. The local heyaar cutting selun (barbershops. Contextual meaning: handy roadside mirrors for quick peek) is third from down left.

– noun. Lit. elder/older female sibling/cousin. Shortened to ‘di’, personalized by adding at the end of proper noun. E.g. Mamatadi.
1. Term employed by bus conductors when asking for tickets of young to middle-aged women. After which they are relegated to ‘maasima’.
2. NOT to be employed if you a fancy a chick. If a hot babe calls you dada and you, unaware of subtle cultural nuances, call her didi, expect a woman scorned. In other words, flee country.

Okay, now that we are clear on this. Let us to be continuing. (Ha ha, always knew it! Microsoft sucks! That last sentence is NOT underlined in green!)

So, offhand, how many ‘dadas’ can you name from popular Bengali lit? okay, okay, Feluda not allowed! And don’t scream so hard!

Hmmm, so…

1. Feluda. Created by Satyajit Ray. The home-grown wildly popular mid-twentieth century Bengali detective, an open admirer of Holmes and attributes loosely based thereon. Sidenote: the otherwise excellent series is noted for it’s almost complete lack of women. And therefore smartly sidesteps the accusations of misogyny.

2. Ghanada – *deep breath* Premendra Mitra. Brilliant satire. Ostensibly of the milder ‘parar dada’ figure every locality was familiar with, the resident storyteller, but also of the society these so-called anecdote-relaters lived within.

3. Tenida – Narayan Gangopadhay. Another extremely popular depiction of the local airhead bigmouth with a heart of gold, humoured and followed by his three younger sidekicks. Hilarious. Chiefly for kids (wait, ‘young adults’), but entertaining read for any age, though the laughs get a little monotonous after a certain age.

4. Brojoda – if you though the satire in Ghanada was obscure, try this. I’ll quote just one example (also quoted in said article).

This was the post-Independence age of fiery denouncement of all things British. Brojoda recounts his antics under the last years of the raj – a British boxer had come to India, claiming the ‘world-best’ type status. India is his last stop, and he wants to assume the title of Sher-e-Hind (the Tiger of India – erudite readers, please do not start a debate over the Hind-India thing). Now, in the bubbling spirit of nationalism (again, above-alluded-to readers, pray desist!), Brojoda thinks this is a national insult, and challenges the poor Brit to a match and defeats him. As victor, he is entitled to a trophy and a kiss from the viceroy/governor’s wife. B’da accepts the trophy, but averts his face from the lady’s lips, proclaiming proudly, “Sorry madam, no can do. That’s foreign goods, we’re good swadeshis.”

And then there are the lesser big brothers. Rijuda, for instance. But they don’t count all that much. Of course, till a while back, the crazy dada-didi labellers that we Bongs are, we had Souravda in the house, but he seems to have left the building for good this time. And that is what got me thinking.

I mean, look, despite being part of this large siblinghood, we actually don’t have too many dadas even in lit, do we? And just one precious Didi guarding the fortress for decades. So clearly, something’s gone wrong somewhere. The traditional centre cannot hold, ‘westernised’ codes of address is set loose upon the Bong.

We try to retain the old habits. I address the white haired guy at the ticket counter at the metro as dada, the designer-Bengaliness of ‘reality shows’ manufactured on the regional small screen oozes dada and didi – everybody says it to everybody else. And of course, the R.D. is Panchamda to those four generations down and from the other end of the country. Still, the insecurity peeps through. Did people swamp insignificant streets and hold up traffic because it was unfair to drop Souravda when he had actually started performing, somewhat? No. Of course not. We fought to preserve our Last Hero. A whiny, whimpering-for-a-while-now hero, but a Hero nonetheless. It was a moment of ethnic crisis, the storming our last bastion of cultural herohood, and we responded the way we do best. Organising a bandh.

I’m deeply hurt at the way the un-naturalised Bongs and the rest of the country ridiculed and condemned our move. Darlings, aren’t we also, after all, members of a larger siblinghood? ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters”, remember? How then could you misunderstand us so gleefully? What happened to our exalted Indian family-values? *sniff*

Oh well. The ‘parar rock’ and in north Calcutta, the external courtyard, which housed the Ghanadas and Tenidas of yore are slowly being swallowed up by widening roads and multi-storeyed buildings, and there is the general insistence that the famous sloth of the Bengalis is a thing of the past (my foot! I am living proof, I am!). So perhaps the Dada/Didi image needs a makeover too. What will the new heroes of the 21st century Bengal need?

1. They will refuse to address/ be addressed by the flutter of their hearts as dadas. Reeks of incest, man. We’re a globalised community in an increasingly rightist country, whatever will people say.

2. They will be able to sophisticatedly swoon over every old Rituporno flick and intelligently trash his every new.

3. They will be able to detect straight away the obscure Hollywood number that ‘inspired’ the latest Bollywood offering and compare Billy Crystal favourably to Saif Ali Khan to make their point.

4. Swoon over aluposto and mishti doi and mispronounce them both with atrocious accents.

5. Admit to the spiritual cleansing sessions with Robindroshongeet and scented candles in between roughing up the kid for falling grades, overwork, dealing with the secret-believer-in-traditional- gender roles husband, bitching the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law out over the phone to fellow sufferers and being the ultimate knowledge base about STD.

So, here’s to the new age culture hero and heroine, to the revamped siblinghood of Bengalis! Bring on the trumpets!

***sheepish addenda: I see the worthy fellow-bloggers haven't been awl that you-know-what after all...

Cross-posted in my own blog, whatever things.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Duck Tale

A very instructive evening, or part thereof. Our Youngest Member (pun fully intended) held forth and held court in a coffee bar with picture windows. He played on the audience like a stringed instrument, he truly did. Examples:

1 - Earnest Young Lady asks his views on the film version. The Duck dimples (all right, he doesn’t have to have a real dimple to dimple at a fan, gerrit?) and confesses that he would want full creative control, and of course nobody’s making the film just yet. Aforesaid EYL says most emphatically, “I (with reverb – I – I – I –I!!!) shall make the film!” (Almost audible sub-text: AND HAVE YOUR BABIES TOO!) She thereafter retires in some confusion, possibly due to realization of how audible the sub-text was.

2 - Earnest Young Man rises thrice to ask THREE separate questions about (a) Japanese root of Kirin’s name (whereupon Ducky proves cool credentials by mentioning Japanese beer) (b) the Duck of Destiny (c) something about inspiration. Ducky answers at some length, sounds modestly erudite. After the reading, EYM shuffles round and round until he has at least five autographed copies of the book.

Aside: the Duck is most concerned that some members of the reading public seek to avoid becoming members of the paying public. To wit, that some are sneaking out of the store with copies of the book NOT PAID FOR! Reassured that electronic surveillance (as noted in the bathroom) prevents this (and thereby safeguards his share of Rs. 13.65 per copy), he lapses back into a sofa with a sigh and signs another 37 copies in rapid succession.

3 – Old Gentleman asks the Duck about (I kid you not) the time of day when he does his writing. Ducky mentions that the second book was written at all hours because he “was very lonely at the time”. Concerned store-owner winces as plaster falls from ceiling due to decibel level of a hundred female voices (aunties, almost-aunties, never-will-be-aunties, wish-we-had-had-such-aunties et al) going “Aaaawwwwwwww!!”. (Ducky puts delicate hand to pensive cheek, entire effect says “I KNOW I had a dimple there this morning!”)

In all fairness, he did side-step a question about his pre-occupation with furred and feathered avatars. (During the reading, he claimed to be a lizard, in addition to the Duck and Cat forms we know)


Being a Philistine, I was more concerned with Observing Situations Too Funny for Words than with Imbibing the Wisdom of the Gods. Couldn’t help but be impressed, though, by the scope of the Duck’s imagination and industry. I mean, 800-odd meticulously plotted pages so far, interweaving of several species of fantastic creatures, erudite references to sources as diverse as Hindu myth and Terry Pratchett (that Game passage was SO “Small Gods”), a build-up to a (probably) conclusive third volume. I admire intelligence but I am totally awed by systematic work. (And all this fantasy without once mentioning Salma Hayek or whipped cream, such restraint)

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have in our midst this evening …

Hmmm. Star quality, no doubt about it.

**** ****

If on a winter in Calcutta

Calcutta’s been on my mind for the last couple of weeks. Foggy mornings, monkeycap, pullovers and shawl-clad vigorous morning walkers and the overpowering lethargy that makes a blanket statement on Calcutta’s work ethics. Maidan gearing up to unfold its Pandora’s box, New Market and Park Street bedecked in all their Christmas finery and the fervent planning of X’mas and New Year parties.
D’Gama’s Plum cakes, Nahoum’s cookies, X’mas itineraries from RCGC and Tolly club, lazy afternoon strolls around RCGC, Baba’s daily dose of a teeny weeny peg of Old Monk, days spent reading snuggled under the lep, happy family evenings spent at Expo, painfully drooling times at the Lexpo (considering my insatiable fetish for bags and shoes) and of course, the secret moments spent counting all the unfulfilled wishes from the wishlist jotted down on the insipid blue “inland letter” marked to a certain “Santa Claus” in the godforsaken North Pole.
Do I sound like I’m missing something? I probably am. But is it the city or sundry moments/things in it? Don’t know, or may be am scared to confess. But what the heck, Calcutta, it’s on my mind these days. (Ok stop sneering, JAP, Urmi et al).
G hasn’t had the good fortune to experience any of the above. On my wishlist this year, I hope to take G to Calcutta sometime this time, at least once.

PS: I believe Maidan is no longer given out for the winter “melas”, it’s been metamorphosed into an Eliot-esque park. Now, did I hear right, or am I dreaming? Before the city itself morphs, must take G around on a pilgrimage.

PPS: Don't know how I forgot, (guess it's all abt..err... geriatrics), but the one thing I miss most...The BOOK FAIR. Rushed from school or bunked college to touch, feel and smell the intoxicating flavour/aroma of new books. Stood and devoured the untouchables, quickly grabbed and paid for the more affordable and just sat around like the most pretentious antels talking shop.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Calcutta, Again

I dont know if it feels more exciting or strange. I'm 'Going to Calcutta' after 14 months, efectively. I had almost forgotten the familiar tastes, sights, smells. Biryaani, Chicken Chaap, Butter Chicken, Kaali Daal, Egg Mutton Roll, Aloo Dum, Chana Chapta and the man in white who sells them. The house. My room. My books. The Lakes. Old friends. The best friends. Mom, Munal, Tupi ... the family. My car. The sunsetting over the bridge. Lake Gardens, the Lakes, the grey-white domes of Victoria in the rose coloured light of gathering dusk. The cool breezes (thank god its that time of the year). Kathi Rolls & Steak at OlyPub. The fabled BED so much heard of, to be seen at last! The Suitable Boys! School. Will meet Moju (Chatto) hopefully this time. Want to meet Kaur too! And Sen. And Ma'am - I dont know why!

I think I'm still a bit in shock, and thus numb. Will get excited in a bit, I'm sure. Looking forward to meeting all the Calcutta bloggers I have talked to so much over the last few days. I probably wont have net access, but will try to co ordinate with some of them on Gmail before I leave (on the 24th) so that I can, if they are not too busy, meet up with some, atleast.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Harry Potter

Er, just wondering...have any one of you watched the Aag ka pyala thingy? Was it annoying enough (esp. if you happen to like Potter) ? I had to watch the The Sixth Sense in Hindi coz the gaao that I once used to live in din have any English theatres. Yanyways...just curious.

Also, shunlam naaki bejai thanda porechey ebaar...heh heh heh