NABC Diaries Part 2

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[First part here]

The next day (Saturday) was my session (or rather the first of the two that I did). So after a lengthy epoch of  “saajuguju” (dress-up), I arrived at the convention center, in an ethnic kurta (what Bengalis call Punjabi) and a six-pocket, a slight variation on the uniform of the internationalized Bangali intellectual, which is kurta-jeans. If I was trying for a more provincial look, I would have gone with a dhoti, but I just cannot say the word dhoti without the song “Mirchi re mirchi kamaal kar gayee, dhoti ko phar ke rumaal kar gayee” popping into my head,  washing away my train of thought in a jetstream of apasanskriti (bad culture), which we can all agree would have a disastrous fallout in the cultural cleanroom I was walking into. Also I can’t tie a dhoti.

Anyways, as I entered the venue, I saw this sign below. This was intriguing because the words “Jatin Pandit”, “free breakfast”, and “lipid tests” normally don’t go together.

jatinlalit

 

So I trundled off to the exhibition hall, where saris and jewelry were being sold, and though unfortunately the free breakfast had ended, the concert was in full-swing. This was away from the main venue, perhaps because this was too Bollywood for the mainstream. I mean I get it,  traditionalist uncles sticking their nose up at Jatin Pandit and saying “This kind of music is not Bengali”, but then I would respond with even “lipid testing is not Bengali”, but that doesn’t mean we should not have it.

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NABC Diaries Part 1

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Culture is a word most treasured by Bengalis. Pronounced “kalchaar”, it conjures up multiple images in the Bong mind, of harmonium-handling humans swaying their heads in musical cadence to the rhythm of Rabindrasangeet, of the tremulous vocal-chord shaking of a Shombhu-Mitra-style elocution, of post-modern art drawn by a bearded once-Communist, of abstruse verse about a burning tree standing against a bare sky, of the screening of a Gautam Ghose or a Rituparno or a Satyajit Ray, or even the poetic stylings of Didi, though most who consider that high art are now all Trinamool MPs. Away from the homeland, in imperialistic capitalist America,  it is this culture that the Bengali immigrant misses the most. Of course they go back sometimes to this mythical “Bongoland” , for a month or so, but the entire time is taken up by going to State Bank of India renewing lockers, or fighting with real estate brokers and cousins out to grab you off your ancestral house, or  visiting homes of relatives you increasingly care less for, leaving precious little  for a concert or a play or a Charminar or an evening discussing the difference between Derrida, Neruda, Prabir-da and Florida.

The North American Bengali Conference, henceforth referred to as NABC understands this. Which is why every year they bring to the North American Bengalis a veritable cornucopia of culture, flying in top artists from the homeland, both Bengal and Bangladesh, for a carnival of color, chilli chicken and chaa.

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The Tapas Bar

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Long time readers of my blog would remember that at a time that the Bangali bhodrolok were cheerleading Didi’s agenda of poriborton, I had sounded what had then seemed to be a discordant note. My contention had been that there would be a poriborton under Mamata Banerjee, but for the worse, a roll-back to the dark old days of the 70s and the 80s, because while she remained pathogenically opposed to the CPM as a party, she fully endorsed the CPM’s strategy of agitation and governance.

A few years down the line, I am proud of my Paul  the Octopussness. The hold of Trinamool Congress over Bengal is absolute in the way Jyoti Basu’s CPM’s once was (Buddha’ s CPM tried to be different, albeit imperfectly, and that’s what led to its downfall). Like the CPM party, the TMC has been absorbed into every organ of the administration, the “government” and the “party” is one and the same. The police, like it was during the darkest days of CPM’s rule, is an extension of TMC, incapable of independent function. The opposition has been decimated, through absorption (many of the CPM’s muscle has just crossed parties), through exclusion (If you are not TMC, you will find it difficult to ply your trade in the state of Bengal) and, as Tapas Pal’s recent video so amply demonstrates, through direct threats of violence.

Again nothing new in Bengal. The CPM had done it for decades. Now it’s TMC’s turn.

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Conspiracy

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Targeting her Marxist opponents again, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleged that CPI(M) was plotting with Maoists to kill her with the help of Pakistan’s ISI and financed by North Korea, Venezuela and Hungary. [Link]

“CPI(M) has joined hands with the Maoists in making a blueprint to kill me and to make room for their return to power in West Bengal which will never come off,” Ms Banerjee thundered at her first panchayat poll campaign. [Link]

Mamata Banerjee told an election meeting Thursday that many of the “so-called intellectuals and social workers” who went on television to discuss rape in Bengal were “associated with pornography”. [Link]

It is unfortunate to the extreme that sections of the media, have been trying to suggest that Mamata Banerjee is suffering from an irrational siege mentality, that somehow there is no such international “conspiracy” of the type she repeatedly keeps alluding to.

Well, there is.

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Some of My Favorite Kolkata Bongisms

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Thanda lege jaabe. Translation: You will catch a cold. Bengalis love Nature. After all, about 36.4% of their rhymeless poems, scribbled on the back of cigarette cartons and paper napkins, are about its assorted glories. (The rest are about Prem or love). But Nature, the heartless seductress, remains cold to them. Literally. Wise men have not been able to find out what exactly it is about the Bengali genetic structure that makes them as susceptible to the common cold as Raina is to the short ball. Whatever be the reason, Bengalis are mortally afraid of catching the chill. And for good reason. Which is why when the mercury dips oh-so-slightly, you will find them wandering about in gear that would look excessive at the North Pole—brown monkey-caps, grey sweaters (typically called “pullovers”) yards of mufflers and woolen socks. The Bengali might keep the windows of his mind open (like the legendary Sidhu-jyatha of Feluda lore) but, come spring, will definitely keep the windows of his room closed. Because the first breeze of spring, as his grandmother used to tell them, is deadly (praanghati).

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The Essential Soumitra

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Apur Sansar:  For Apur Sansar, the final film in the “Apu Trilogy”,  the great director plucked a young radio announcer and small-time theater actor from anonymity to play the titular role. Soumitra Chatterjee. Nurtured by Ray’s genius, Soumitra brought to the world of light and shadows the unforgettable character of Apu, boyishly handsome, romantically intense and poetically fragile, journeying on the lyrical road of life, pushing aside the poverty, despondency and death that he encounters on the way. That last scene  of “Apur Sansar” in which Apu’s face becomes an almost wordless kaleidoscope of sadness, joy, guilt and hope as he reunites with his estranged son Kajal is so heart-wrenching that not even the greatest curmudgeon can prevent the eyes from welling up with tears. It was as triumphant an arrival of a great actor as one could hope for. So sensational was he that would go on to become the exacting Ray’s favorite actor for all time.

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Oh Please No

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[Full of Bengali pop-culture references. Caveat to the non-Bengalis]

Not that I support the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, but for the first few seconds of my Saturday morning, I wanted to become the Ayatollah. That is when I realized that they had re-made arguably Ray’s finest movie “Charulata” as “Charulata 2011” (reminiscent of Disco 82, Hope 86 and Mother 98) , a cross between the original and Jism, with gratuitous displays of Rituparna’s back, as bare as Bengal’s industrial development parks, and sexy displays of Arjun Chakraborty’s face, as poetic as a mis-shapen Nalengurer sandesh.

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