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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A Very Personal List of My Favorite Bengali Songs of Kishore Kumar

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[In No Particular Order]

1. Ami Chini Go Chini [Charulata]: When Rabindranath Thakur meets Satyajit Ray meets Kishore Kumar, greatness is guaranteed. There are reams that can be written about the movie and this song in particular, about Kadambari Devi (the story “Nashtoneer” on which “Charulata” is based being inspired by Tagore’s relationship with her), and Victoria Ocampo (the song “Chini Go Chini” written by Tagore’s supposedly as a paean to her with her) but for now, I shall ask you to listen.

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May I Make A Few Requests Pliss?

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[This was an invited article in Sunday's Telegraph in their special Pujo edition. At the time of writing, the electronic version is somewhat garbled. So am cross-posting the entire article]

Pujo is perfect. But then as my geography teacher would say, perfection can always be perfected. And I know exactly how that can be done. Everybody just has to listen to what I have to say and follow through accordingly. Of course, I need to couch my “to-do”s as requests and gentle suggestions, since people are more likely to listen to me that way.

So here they are, my ten “requests” to the world, made with the noblest of intentions, which if honored would make this, the most joyous of seasons, even more joyous for everyone.

Well if not for everyone, at least for me.

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The Song of Chhatradhar

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[Announcement: Anyone in the DC/VA/MD area up for a weekend meet-up at Union Station?]

One of the many instruments used by politician extraordinaire Jyoti Basu to cement his total hold over Bengal was the cultivation of the so-called Bengali intellectual. A brain cadre for the party was incubated in every educational institution of the state, from junior school right up to the universities, where every appointment was vetted by the party and one got in only if one’s CV was typed on red paper supplied by Alimuddin Street (the party HQ). Anyone who did not toe the party line was deemed not academically sound and shoved out. The “private” intellectuals i.e the ones who were not on government payroll—-painters, poets, novelists, theatre-workers, singers, film people– were mollycoddled through the organization of party and government soirees (Sports Minister the late Subhash Chakraborty was the point-man for this), handing out of committee chairmanships and in general through devices that made them feel important and wanted.

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A Personal Perspective on Kolkata Today

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In 2005, when I went to Kolkata I had been pleasantly surprised by the optimism in the air.  Growing up, Kolkata was a city of processions with people carrying placards saying “I am an educated unemployed. Give me work.” , a city where when parents told children “Be the best in class. Else you will starve” kids took their parents more seriously than their contemporaries in other parts of the country, a city of closed jute mills, haunted in their desolateness, with the red flags dotting the perimeters resembling raw, festering wounds inflicted by the proverbial “death by a thousand cuts” of CITU trade-unionism. In a surprising turn-around I could not have foreseen, that same city seemed to have gotten rid itself of the despondency and stagnation that had characterized it for decades. Buddhadeb was being considered to be a transformative figure responsible for this change, determined to roll back the darkness of the Jyoti-Basu era, with his genuine focus on capitalist evils like investment. Sector V was bustling with IT majors lining up to open offices. The manufacturing and heavy industry sectors were looking to take off, with ambitious projects not seen in Bengal for decades being inked. A new township was coming up in Rajarhat. Change was everywhere and one could not but feel heady with all the feel-good.

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Not The End of An Era

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In the summer of 1977, at one of the biggest political rallies ever seen at the Brigade Parade ground, a diminutive bald-headed man in a spotless white kurta and dhoti, declared–’As long as the people remain with us, no one will be able to efface us.’ [Source]. The sea of humanity roared back, believing in the ability of the interlocutor to bring ‘change’—change that could be believed in

On a cold January in 2010, the same man took his last journey. The mood, as Hindustan Times reports, was markedly different. Glaringly so.

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Red Eye

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With Mamata Banerjee shutting out the CPM comprehensively in the Assembly by-elections with the wife of one of its most dependable leaders, the late Subhash Chakraborty, losing her seat the sun looks about to set on the Marxist empire in Bengal, something that many people of my generation never hoped to see, no matter how much they may have wished for it. But then again Caesar never thought his empire would end and neither did Queen Victoria.

I belong to the generation that grew up in the Red shadow. I hated it. Not that I understood much of politics as a young kid, but it does not take much of political antennae to detest hours of power-cuts (“load shedding”) which uncles would say was Jyoti Basu’s gift (There was an amusing political poster in those days –it had a picture of Jesus Christ (Jisu) saying “I will take you from darkness to light and then a picture of Basu (rhymes with Jisu..well kind of) saying “I will take you from light to darkness”). If long hours of darkness before Half Yearly examinations and during Chitrahar was not torture enough, it was even more infuriating to see far more reliable power supply being provided to “government quarters” where some “officials” stayed and even to the club-house of the neighboring “local boys” since they drew power from multiple sectors, under the full patronage of the local administration. I realized soon enough that in CPM rule, there were two kinds of people you did not mess with, two kinds of people who are never wrong—–those who had strength by virtue of position and those who had strength by virtue of numbers. And since a middle-class family like mine did not have either, we were consigned to listening to commentary of cricket matches on our trusty transistor.

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