Monthly Archives: May 2015

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[2006-2015] Resident Alien of Calcutta, Wordsmith, Rennessiance Club

Category : Uncategorized

This is the concluding section of the auto-biographical post I have been commanded by my colleague and friend  Mr. Sushobhan Mukerjee  The first part of the series – Metropolitan Man, Muffsil, Train of Time  covered a long stretch. This part covers the period which I call, The Hibernating Decade  ———————————————————————————————- In 2002, I came to Calcutta as a man with some six years of working experience, bachelor but betrothed, working in a corporation and ready to start the process what in Calcutta is called : settling down. I did settle down, first into the chair of the office and then into the great confusion of the city. I frequented heritage house – not only for the attraction of the house but also for reasons I dare not speak now. I started to search for the Calcutta I have lost twenty years back (when the 2nd Howrah bridge had a gaping gap in the middle and Lighthouse Bar with its blue lights not extinct) but became a wanderer. Wandering into the great city like a lost soul, I have become like Jekyll and Hyde. During the day, I was a middle manager of a mediocre corporation and in the night – like Dickens, was trying to lose myself in the city’s bars, pleasure joints, boat-houses and underpass smoking joints. It continued for a year and like all my wanderings, I did alone and hence no witnesses. In 2005, I boarded a British Airways flight (now extinct) bound for London while coconut trees of Jessore Road seemed like close relatives waving and in the previous afternoon I read Madhu-kabi’s epitaph and then found that many leaders of young Bengal’s resting place now receive nitrogenous waste from young Bengal. I concluded that the dead poets (Derozio for example) now cannot get votes or investment and hence does not feature much in the schemes of things. Cut to 2006 – I returned back from England – now a father of a young boy of one year, no job, no house to stay and effectively –  completely un-settled. I was retired by that time and rented a flat in Salt Lake area and having settled the family in the flat, I had become a pure loafer in the city.  I frequented old haunts – Chota Bristol for example with the only difference being that I had the whole day to me. I remember once, in a summer day, I was asked by a young boy to keep the thread of his kite but I could not, my finger missed and the kite flew away. I apologized as being quite drunk, truthfully enough and he looked at me with eyes of innocence and wonder ! It was during this time, I read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul  and in a moonless night, while I was crossing from Howrah to Armenian Ghat, a great desire to write something for Calcutta was born. My wife, showing no less patience and indulgence for her husband than Henrietta did for madhu-kabi and did not whip me to earn more money and think for the future etc as is the fate of most of married men of Bengal.  I was drifting and in this fatal period, she was the Lakshmi and Annapurna of our house. I was well aware of the fatal nature of the drift and it was all the more dangerous because of herself thinking this to be some kind of great hiatus for a great man. Poor soul! I read, translated and drifted and this was only broken while I received my CPF and gratuity from my previous employer and again felt to be a monarch of all I survey. I immediately started buying books, started to plan some summer trips to Bolpur and in short, lengthening the loafer life. 2008- in the next one year, due to our household Lakshmi’s understanding of Lakshmi in the form of money being restless, most of the money was used to buy a small flat all cash deal and then I was in trouble. An invitation in Oxford to present a paper and also to attend alumni meet (with some dakshina included) made me travel in Dickens’ London and Wordsmith Communication became more of a genuine business.  The whole story is documented here in a small book called Wordsmith Book of Business 

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My first business book and a good friend and earner

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This is in the same period of wandering – now in front of Oxford’s Bodliean Library after paying tribute to Nirad C Chauduri in Lathbury Street with Oxford blue plaque

In 2008, the business stabilized, I thought of keeping a mistress in  the tradition of previous Calcutta citizens of yester years. I figured out that this is not possible – legally and practically and launched an online magazine : http://www.pentasect.com. The mistress started demanding as all mistresses do, more time and effort. I kept her in good humour and then kept a distance. It was also the same time when the demon of writing a Cultural Glossary of Calcutta took hold of me. Till 201o, in these 4 years, I had no connection with Calcutta citizens except with their grandparents in National Library and old books and older authors. I did not care to read news-papers. My wife, now performed the role of an Annapurna and kept feeding me delicacies at times and took care of our child, leaving me enjoy the life of a sperm-donor father. She also did take care of the business in a considerable manner in my physical and mental absence.

The Oxford Park - the green of the grass, I was told by a gardener there : it can happen only after 800 years of regular watering, care and scholarly walks

The Oxford Park – the green of the grass, I was told by a gardener there : it can happen only after 800 years of regular watering, care and scholarly walks

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Oxford College – Light and Shade – University of Vidya and University of Avidya

In 2009, in this field, a strange feeling to write a history of Bengal(which I used to  write to pass time ) seized me. I started taking notes and I felt as if the sunlight and the green are mixed up and entering through my eyes, nose, ears inside and creating a suffocating sense of being in-inseminated.

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Mayapur, Isckon – where this photo was shot by my sister-in-law Indrani.

I took notes in the bus to London and reached Hammersmith as if under some drug. I took the manuscript and started writing and within 3 days, with some bread, butter and gin-tonic and some 100+Mayfair cigarettes, the manuscript was more of less complete and published. Few Chapters of the book are available here in summary form Till 2012, I have continued my exile in Calcutta but Calcutta was also working its magic on me.

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Sankhadip Sengupta – the only poet of my generation whom I know , kindly gave a photo shot by him. He gave me two immortal lines for me while I was making my return to Calcutta – jobless and helpless : Calcutta has place for everyone. She will have have place for you. She did.

In the Intimate History of Bengal, I posited 2 thesis – a) Bengal is the Eastern Terminus of Europe of the living b) The only miracle in South Asia after the birth of Buddha in Nepal was the renaissance of Bengal in the high tide of 1860 – 1920. In 2012, the urge was born to publish the book I visualized on Calcutta and notes collected during my loafer days some six years back. The manuscript matured and with the 2nd boy child arrived a year back and Lakshmi and Annapurna needing help, I became a baby-sitting CEO. It is in those baby sitting sessions, spent mostly in the small park of 206, Salt Lake, I typed and retyped the first draft of Calcutta Culture Glossary. The book eventually got published and snippets are available in Pentasect.com.   An entry from the glossary with the illustrations  by Ms. Rupsha Bhadra for the illustration of the lady with the bicycle     product_thumbnail

The Young Girl in the Bi-Cycle Almost everyday, I see a young girl in a very nice-looking bi-cycle in the area where I commute. She must be between 16-17 years old but has the dignity of a lady. I had seen her in yellow, blue, sage green and crimson red dresses and she looked equally commanding in all these colours with her impeccably clean bi-cycle. She has an imperious look and reminded me of Estella of The Great Expectations by Dickens. One blessed morning, as I was crossing the KS Canal from the Saltlake side, a balding, middle-aged man as I am, I gave her way to pass with her trusted companion – the bi-cycle. She looked at me and gave a gracious smile. I became Pip and the last few immortal lines automatically sounded inside: Her indescribable freshness and radiance is gone but a mellow sweetness remained….

4In 2011, I also started teaching online – how to lead a time rich cash poor life and this resulted into Wordsmith University  – a tol of Internet age where teachers teach and students pay dakshina and it morphed slowly into People’s Business School. In 2013, after almost seven years being a resident alien of Calcutta, I was pulled into mainstream by Mr. Sushobhan Mukerjee, the same friend whose command made me write these posts while I am in my summer hiatus at heritage house. I was almost sucked into mainstream – a PhD student in IIT, Kharagpur, Mr. Gobinda Roy, another noble friend and colleague and also an alumni of the institution. It is only the extreme weather of Kharagpur that saved me almost the doorstep of being inducted. Mr.Mukherjee, a successful business owner and CEO himself, as if pulled me out of my self-imposed exile and I started to get acquainted with the polished society of Calcutta in person (previously I only met their grand-fathers in books and old histories). This resulted into my visitations and meet with business magnates, entrepreneurs, policy makers and many men and women of my generation based in Calcutta. It was like a Rip Van Winkle waking from the dream and as if I was asking them : ‘Tell me Sire, what are all these commotion here in the streets and why are they so anxious and angry mob-mob-like. I am, my noble Sire/Madame, a humble subject of Her Majesty” The collaboration with Mr. Mukherjee and many other noble planets in his orbit enriched me and provided me with contemporary and flesh and blood experience of Calcutta. Like Srikanta, I felt, Calcutta is Rajya-Lakshmi for me – she did not allow me to come close but did now allow to escape her orbit. I became like a satellite, trapped and charmed in the orbit of the City. The Collaboration gave birth to one object and one institution : a book and a Club. The book Mr. Mukherjee so kindly allowed me to co-author is Fool’s Walk – A journey of two fools and duly published on 1st April this year.
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Another one is founding of Renaissance Club which is a Club which is based on the idea of production first and then consumption of tasty delicacies. Every member has to read / write / present an original work, followed by consumption of quality eating material.  A complete session of Renaissance club is reproduced from the archive

The members in deliberation and production

The members in deliberation and production

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Consumption ( of the only true, authentic, first class, recession proof, elegant, sweet, heavenly product of Contemporary Bengal) and madhurena samapoyet

I think I have tried to execute the commission as entrusted by Mr. Mukhherjee and here, I take my leave as shadows linger here – in my summer home after a hot day which makes jack-fruit ripe and men listless, I take leave of my readers. Even though I have always admonished all talented men and women of Bengal to be un-Bengali but as I mature, I find a mellow tenderness for Bengal which for me is distilled as : green fields, blue sky, wide expanse of water, dark and doe-like eyes of a Bengali maiden and I again go back to one of the greatest and immortal but least understood by his countryman, the creator of Indranath and Srikanta  এতকাল জীবনটা কাটিল উপগ্রহের মতো – যাহাকে কেন্দ্র করিয়া ঘুরি, না পাইলাম তাহার কাছে যাইবার অধিকার, না দূরে যাইবার অনুমতি And also, a prayer for the City, where the City takes human form, almost a demi-goddess and Buddhadev Basu’s translation of a French poet echoes and let this be what I like to say to Calcutta, my city, by adoption : প্রিয়তমা, সুন্দরীতোমারে আমার, যে আমার উজ্জ্বল উদ্ধার অমৃতের দিব্য প্রতিমা্রে, অমৃতেরে করি নমস্কার


Source: wordsmithofbengal.wordpress.com


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[1992-2015] Metropolitan Man, Muffsil Past, Train of Time

Category : Uncategorized

[This semi-autobiographical post was written at the insistence of Mr. Sushobhan Mukherjee. ]

In September 1992, I left my home in South Assam, then a boy of 18 years,bound for a meet with Vasco-Da-Gamma’s landing beaches in Calicut, Kerala. It is exactly 500 years after the intrepid Portuguese sailor went in search of spices in the southern tip of India. My journey was to prepare myself to be an engineer in electronics and telecom.  The journey was some 4000+ kilometer long and train (and sleeper class) was the only option.  The journey used to take some 4 days and I still remember the first journey while I was eighteen years old and I was sitting in a train and my whole muffsil past was trailing behind.

The Heritage House – human habitation recorded since 1910

I felt a deep lump in my throat and the train started to cross the North Cachar Hills and towards further West.  It was like Pip of the Great Expectations who was leaving his country home in Kentish marshes for the city of London as expectations were to be attended. For the Pip in me, there was no great expectations but it eventually came.

As the train below slowly progressed, I was leaving my adolescent, my boyish innocence and was coming of age. The track was some 80 years old, a meter-gauze line, now extinct and was built by British Colonial Government to transport one of the products of my district that went to the cups of Boston to Brazil. I am taking of Cachar/Assam tea. I was alone and in those days of no mobile, sms, internet – I felt a tremendous sense of freedom  as well. I was thinking that soon I shall be back during holidays, having little idea that a great shift has already begun.

The Tunnel Effect

The Pahar Line metre gauze train entering a tunnel. This is a great symbol – of entering into an unknown – a mobile conscious being entering a dark cavern.

Then, the process of a nomadic life ensued. In terms of  taking bath in the Arabian waters in Calicut beaches and having a dalliance with an Iyer beauty, I was coming of age. I was also creating a world within and that world sometimes re-called, while looking at the blue expanse of Arabian waters, the same waters where Vasco met God’s own land some 500 years back, the taste of our own river Barak. My skin knew its taste since I was ten years old. It was the time when boys like me learnt swimming in ponds and rivers and not in swimming pools.

The North Cachar Hills

A small station in North Cachar Hills. The white over then mountains is not snow. Low altitude clouds brightened by an autumnal sun

 

The river Barak is the second largest river in North East India and is some 5 minutes walk from my home (heritage house). When we were young, the river used to flood the banks and those stories – of fishing, swimming and smelling the smell of decaying vegetation. It was the days of magical boyhood or the juncture when I used to be in rapture while reading Shelley or Tagore and in the next instant was dying to have a peep at the housemaid undressing. It was an age of boundless joy and it was also an age of excruciating pain.

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River side walks. On the other bank, 30 years back there was a timbre factory and we used to see elephants picking up logs.

 

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During rainy reason, the water used to kiss the curved and downwards branches of Sirish tree touching the water surface. Under a dark sky the green became dark in the coffee coloured water

 

 

After a decade, in 2002, after many rivers and women, colleagues and friends and oceans and journeys, I came back to Calcutta, to settle. Calcutta was, for me what was London for Pip. I fell in love with the great city while a boy and I still remember vividly while a boy of ten, mesmerized by the folio volume of Decline and Fall of Roman Empire in one of the dimly-lit stalls of College Street and then telebhaja in Kalika, one of the very few Calcutta institutions which remains as it is when I was a boy. I always used to come to my country home (heritage house) in May to escape Calcutta summer. This habit and further exposure to Calcutta made me realize that I am actually emulating the previous resident aliens of Calcutta – the British officers who served the Empire and in the summer retired to cooler climes, a few to Britain itself. This habit of escape to country home in summer and also to remain a private citizen of Calcutta (by that time, I had left my Federal Government turned private company job ) and like Voltaire, made the city, my city, by adoption. The process of double home-sickness that ensued in 1992 culminated into the strange but only possible option of myself looking at Calcutta, the great city and the activities of its natives. I remained, in accordance with the convention of residency and domicile – a resident alien of Calcutta.

In 2001, the car below – now immobile became a heritage car, became the first car of my life. It was a maruti 800, already 10 years old and was procured from Kalmassery, Cochin and then me and my colleague Pradeep went to Kanya-kumari (the souther tip of Indian peninsula which translates – Virgin Girl)

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This car bore a KL 01F/6655 number. Then it got a Manipur (MN) plate. Then it was sold. Then like a company’s buy-back policy, was brought back, with a ‘heritage premium’

 

and then we started driving this car towards North for nine days and after 4000 kilometer travel and crossing all the major rivers of Indian except the Sindh and the Narmada also averting many accidents, reached the Heritage Home. A bachelor then, I thought of keeping the car in the moss-covered garage for the next generation. The next generation (my sons 11 and 5 years old took passing interest and did not get much impressed). So much for keeping memory for the next generation.

The Heritage house, by that time became old and it was decided to have a new house, Around 1999, the new house, called Purbasha (Hope of the East) was built and heritage house, in hundred years or so became un-inhabited by a Bhattacharyya.

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The Purvasha – Hope of the East or Hope in the East. The building overlooks the Heritage house in the foreground. Richer and younger, this one hardly has the elegance and grace of the old one

 

The fund for the relatively larger house came from two means, I mean the contribution of mine : Vasco da Gama like travels in all the seas of the world in terms of laying optical fibre cable for telecom networks (which eventually caused the telecom meltdown) and also from the proliferation of IP networks which eventually caused voice minutes becoming

cheaper and eventually ‘skyped’.

The time-span of 23 years loosely told above is also the journey of a muffsil man. I remember another muffsil man who came to Calcutta, the  Delhi and then passed his life in exile in Oxford. After some 70 years of living outside muffsil and even Bengal, Mr. Nirad C Chaudhuri writes : I think, after all these years, I have remained a boy of East Bengal. 

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Shot by me in a lonely summer evening in Lathbury Street , Oxford where the greatest crooked genius of Bengal – Nirad C Chaudhuri lived and worked. A foreign bird was singing and I felt that the song is coming with a Dopplerian sense of memory : Kishoreganj, Calcutta, Delhi, Oxford….

 

I think, in all these years, I have also remained a muffsil boy, a small town boy and in each May, for a month, I come back to have an appointment with my boyhood – an age which becomes larger as we grow older in age and experience.

Then, objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are !

 


Source: wordsmithofbengal.wordpress.com