Friday, December 27, 2013

Jazzing it up




"Summit" at Congo Square Jazz Fest, Kolkata. Copyright:JAS2013
Watching & listening to saxophone player George Brooks leading his gifted quartet

10 random thoughts on Team, Management & Team-management

  • Passivity is progress only in case of  nuclear bombs.(on Active Planning)
  • Work is stereotyped. Doing it different &  effectively is innovation.(On Teamwork)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

কালোজাম

কলা  আপেল লেবু  আমড়া

তাদের থেকেও ভালো

রসে ভরা জামের তোড়া

রংটি নিকষ কালো ।


তেমনি  এক জামের কথা

শুনতে পাবেন এখানে

সমাজে যার শীর্ষ মাথা

(উচ্চ)ন্যায়ালয় যেখানে।
 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chess & the World

If the world is a stage, albeit a rectangular one ; so is a Chess board. No, the Chess board is not like the stage although a stage enacts a play as much as a chess game does.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

ধন্ধ


কেউ ভালোবাসে প্রেমিককে, কারো পছন্দ প্রেয়সী

আমি যদিও দুজনকেই ভালোবেসে খুশি,

তবুও ধন্ধে থাকি;  উন্মুক্ত এই জীবন

আসলে  লাগামহীন নাকি  শীর্ষ কোনও বোধের আরোহণ?  

হয়তো এর বিশালাকার ব্যাপ্তি বয়ে চলেছে সেই সংকেত

পার্টি-লাইন থেকে সরে আসার কোনো গোপন অভিপ্রেত!

ভালবাসার রুদ্ধ ধারায় কেউ  সমকামী বা  হয়তো নয়

ছন্নছাড়া নাকি মহৎ; কোন জগতে তবে আমার আশ্রয় ?
(Translated from "Dubiuos" by Vikram Seth )
 Copyright of translation: JAS 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

12 quotations for MBA students: -Jeff Bezos rephrased in Miyagi-talk.

Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon.com, is already a cult figure in tech business having steered his company Amazon to a glittering runaway success. So when he says something on how to do a business or what to do in a business,

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mishor Rohoshyo (Mystery in Egypt) : review of a film by Srijit Mukherjee

Having missed all the blockbuster films directed  by Srijit Mukherjee before Mishor Rohoshyo; I was  carrying  a huge baggage of guilt as well as plenty of high expectations when I walked into the theater today afternoon to watch Mishor Rohoshyo. When the salesgirl at the ticket counter  informed me that the movie was for 3 hours , I was a trifle anxious. Although I'm not averse to watching movies for a longer duration but what kept me wondering was whether the movie will be gripping enough.

Three hours later when I emerged from the hall, I wasn't sure whom to hail. The late writer of this adventure-thriller, Sunil Ganguly, to whom this movie was dedicated exactly a year after his untimely death or hail Srijit , the director who skillfully adapted the old story to modern times  or even  the poet Srijato , the lyricist , the composer  Indraadip & singers Sonu Nigam & Arijit Singh for producing classic tunes (Aaro ekti dur & Dilli being my favourites ) that seamlessly travelled with the story-line. Of course National award winner (for Shobdo) sound-designers  Diapnkar Chaki & Anirban Sengupta again create magical audio.

The only Kakababu movie  I remember seeing was Tapan Sinha's "Sabuj Dwiper Raja" which had starred Samit Bhanja as Kakababu, the crutch-wielding avuncular scholar-cum-adventurer, taking the bad guys in the serene settings of Andaman Islands. That was so long ago. Kakababu was a fictional character of my teenage time as popular as Satyajit Ray's private investigator Feluda although films made with Feluda were more in number.   But while I can never place Sabyasachi in the same pedestal as Soumitra who originally played the role of Feluda in Ray's Sonar Kella; I think Prosenjit Chatterji is a much better replacement for the late Samit Bhanja in the role of Kakababu primarily for Prosenjit's  superior histrionic abilities and as well as for his killer looks and sensitive eyes.

Images of Ray's Sonar Kella cropped up many times during this movie since like Mishor Rohoshyo that too was set in the desert, of Jaislmeer. Srijit's benevolent producer has taken him to Sahara desert for this movie and Srijit showed no miserliness in depicting the beauty of the desert with  its undulating dunes, camel rides, a  dust storm and even a full-moon night. It seemed to me as if Srijit was somewhere trying to recreate the magic of Sonar Kella and even trying to better it . Just as there was a Rajasthani tune played in Sonar Kella at night-time, so was here an Egyptian tune played in the moonlit expanse of the desert at the hideout of Hani Alkadi, the poet-cum-revolutionary who knows 14 languages ( including Bengali, of course :-)), a character that was played brilliantly by Indranil Sengupta. And finally just as Ray had then introduced the perfect 6 year old , Kushal Chakrabarty,  to play Mukul in Sonar Kella , here too Srijit introduces Aryann Bhowmik to play Sontu, Kakababu's smart teenage assistant.


This is an adventure thriller so I won't spend much time on the plot except for saying that this is about decoding a hitherto un-decoded hieroglyphic message of a Egyptian Fakir ; over which Hani Alkadi & Al Mamun (played by the gifted actor Rajit Kapur) have set their eyes in the hope of discovering a trail of treasure. Kakababu , sitting in Kolkata, comes to the picture since he is, of course,  the only one who can decode the Fakir's messages unlike any other Egyptologist.

I'd instead talk about Srijit , a modern-day director who not only writes a fantastic screenplay but also  has the supreme ability to  dramatize it smartly &  beautifully on the big screen. Although he leaves the music, lyrics, sound , editing, cinematography to other people gifted as they are in their own  rights; Srijit  is able to brief & manage them to the extent that their efforts mesh seamlessly with his  in producing a gripping movie. If there is any successor to the Oscar awardee Satyajit Ray , I think its only Srijit Mukherjee who has the potential among present day Bengali directors to take that place and possibly even to surpass him one day.

I'm glad I didn't miss  Mishor Rohoshyo ( Srijit's fourth direction)  this time and I don't think you should too.

JAS rating : 9 out of 10             

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ছবি ও ছড়াতে ৫ঃ শুভরাত্রি




মৃত্যু এসে দাঁড়াবে  হলে তোমার  মরণ,

তাড়াতাড়ি, খুব তাড়াতাড়ি;

ঘুম সদা পিছু করে তোমারি পলায়নঃ

এদের কাছে কিছু আশা করাটাই ঝকমারি

রাত্রি, প্রেয়সী রাত্রি  তোমার হয়েছি শরণ-

অতিদ্রুত হয় যেন তোমারি আগমন,

তাড়াতাড়ি, খুব তাড়াতাড়ি!
 
(Translated from the last paragraph of PB Shelley's poem 'To the night'.)

Copyright of picture & translation : JAS 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

DRS adds to the Glorious Uncertainty of Test Cricket

Hot Spot is literally in hot spot again. While in the first test, Hot Spot couldn't conclusively state that Trott had nicked the ball onto his pads since the television replays showed a clear deflection in the trajectory of the ball, from off-and-middle to middle-and-leg, as it went pass Trott's bat. The field umpire Alim Dar had declared at first that  Trott was not out. Later he had to reluctantly overrule that decision as reviewed by the third umpire Erasmus based on the straight-on Hot-Spot camera.
Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

 It was only later that Warren Brennan, the inventor of the Hot Spot technology that uses thermal imaging & simulation software to spot the faintest nicks, apologized that the side-on camera was not ready when Trott came in immediately after Root was out  as that specific camera was still replaying Root's dismissal. I thought that the streaming data from a digital camera is archived and replayed from that archive and anyway the time available after a batsman's dismissal and the new batsman's arrival, taking guard & being ready is between 3-5 minutes. Further advertisements anyway take over the "bonus-time." Brennan's statement is as inconclusive as his invented technology.

Now consider the dismissal of Joe Root in the second test. Ryan Harris's delivery sneaked through the tiny space between Root's bat and pad and crashed on his pads. The on-field umpire, Dharamsena gave him out but Root pressed for a review. The straight-on camera as well as the  side-on camera (it was working this time around) picked up a faint nick from the bat as well as the brush on the pad but they still couldn't say conclusively whether the ball hit the bat or the pad first. One tiny hot-spot on the pad , that showed up via the side-on camera , and was in front of 3 big ones seemed to suggest that the ball hit  the  pad first although the same camera failed to show the nick on the bat since the inside-edge of the bat was hidden to this camera. Now the suggestion that the ball kissed the pad first before it brushed through both his bat and pad,  was possibly more probable but was surely not a 100% perfect decision since the cameras failed to either show both "hits" on the same camera or to show evidences such as time-stamps of the hot-spot impacts. Root's challenge was turned down and he was declared out, again.
Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

The point is Hot Spot has its blind spots besides malfunctioning of equipment and/or of the operators, poor quality of equipment etc. Even if  an attempt is being made to plug the thermal loopholes by simulation, the same would have its intrinsic error and will not be 100%. Besides, the Indian team, Dhoni & BCCI have long been pointing out that the simulated trajectory of a cricket ball , played out by Hawk Eye, in varying type of pitches is error prone as the ball will normally have 8-10 feet to travel , in varying wind conditions, after it hits the pitch. Supporting the Indian point of view; Adam Gilchrist in a recent article suggests that questioning the decision of the test-match umpires, in the first place, is against the spirit of the game.  He feels that the Decision Review System (DRS) is the problem and not the solution.

The Decision Review System (DRS) , with its inherent imperfections, is not making the job of cricketers & captains any simpler. Least of all that of the umpires. It's the latter that are being put into hot spots, literally. ICC's clarification that the correctness of decisions has improved by 5.5% from 90.3% , with the help of DRS, reveals  more on the errors of the on-field umpires (nearly 10%)  than it hides  the inadequacies of the DRS and hot-spot technology.

It's time that the ICC does a fresh review of  DRS and bring back the old charm of a test match, built with its own uncertainties. A part of the latter will stem from the umpires; whose decisions on-field whether to review or not will need to be accepted by all instead of holding up a game for endless minutes as the third umpire pores over inconclusive images made out of  ill-equipped technologies.
 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Headless Torso (Chapter 3)

Read
Introduction and Chapter 1 : Inner Chamber, here.
Chapter 2 : Pollen in the air , here.

                     Headless Torso (translation of a novel by Shaibal Mitra)

                          Chapter 3 : I want to become a communist
The reason as to why student unions of all kinds of ideologies, whether leftist , rightist or centrist, avoided Kalpalata wasn’t unknown to me. She seemed as familiar as she appeared to be a stranger. It was my good fortune that I wasn’t drawn into any kind of discussion with her on matters concerning students’ politics. In spite of her being in the close circle of Pranabesh Sen; who was a student leader of  Students’ Block, the student union of Forward Block; nobody was aware  as to why Kalpalata had one afternoon slapped   Pranabesh. Either of Pranabesh or Kalpalata had refused to speak on the subject. Once  Kalpalata had downright insulted Surjo , leader of our students’ unions, in front of a host of students, both male and female. She had said, “ Surjo’da, you have taken eight years to complete a four year degree course. It’s been a year since you have passed the B.A undergraduate course. Why have you not been able to get over your fascination with the college life? Why do you come to the college, daily? What attracts you here? Have you not been able to get admitted to the university?”

Before Kalpalata could restart her tirade, Surjo had turned around and  hastily walked away. Kalpalata’s girlfriends had almost rolled on the floor, laughing hysterically. The sound of their laughter had even caught the surprised attention of the students spread out in small groups farther away inside  the college premises.  The closing bells of the college had just then rung aloud. Students had started thronging out of the college. That departure of Surjo had been his last as he never again returned to college. Kalpalata hadn’t been wrong. During those times, student leaders were reluctant to leave the college. Their classmates, who were younger  to them by many years, would address them as “uncle” behind their backs & speculated  when they’d get a chance to address them as “grandpa.” Of course, the leaders, whenever  they heard such remarks, didn’t pay any attention. Surjo hadn’t taken his “expulsion” from college  very sportingly. He suspected that I was behind the move to instigate Kalpalata and her friends. Obviously, his suspicion was unfounded. I didn’t have enough influence on Kalpalata to use her for my selfish motivations. On the contrary, just the opposite had happened. Kalapalata had actually used me to drive away Surjo from the college and also to fetch Arindam to a predetermined address. Had I not read Kalpalata’s letter to Arindam, I wouldn’t have understood her plan. Sitting at my study-table  in the silence of the midnight;  I realized that even though Kalpalata hadn’t been able to read Arindam’s intentions , Arindam had been successful in  reaching the depths of  her psyche. How did an unnoticeable, quiet guy like Arindam manage to tame Kalpalata was beyond my understanding. I was of the impression that only Kalpalata could throw some light on that matter. I didn’t have any other option but to visit Kalpalata if I wanted to find out about Arindam’s present whereabouts or his wellbeing. The ghost of Arindam at last  settled on me, permanently.   
For three to four days, I wasn’t able to get hold of Kalpalata at the college in spite of looking out for her everywhere. Multiple people had multiple opinions on the number of days Kalpalata had attended college after the food movement.  I wasn’t able to get any clear information. I didn’t want to delay matters further. That same week on a saturday evening, I nervously arrived at  Kalpalata’s house in Sovabazar. Her house was a traditionally-styled  double-storied one surrounded by high walls with iron gates. The main door was a huge double-flanked wooden one with chiseled decorative figures. On the right side, there was a well-polished bronze name plate inscribed with her lawyer father’s name. Her father was among the top lawyers in the criminal court. Accosted by the durwan I reached her drawing room , that seemingly belonged to the era of Lord Clive, and got almost drowned as I sat on the soft cushions of the sofa. The floor was adorned with triangular shaped black and white marble tiles. Huge paintings hung  from bronze chains on the wall and the air in the room smelt of a bygone era. Just when I was sweating away on the sofa; Kalpalata,  with her long hair arranged in a bun that rested just over her shoulder, entered the room.  She was wearing a white cotton sari adorned  with blue dots .Her fair skinned face looked oily and tiny drops of sweats rested on her sharp, conical nostrils. Although it seemed that Kalpalata had almost run in a hurry  down the stairs, she didn’t let her expressions betray that. Kalpalata came near the sofa and asked, “You! So suddenly?”

I didn’t like her question. It carried within itself a casual strain of indifference, of a disregard. Kalpalata wouldn’t be unaware of my fifteen days of imprisonment. She never mentioned a word of it. Even if the intention was to enquire about Arindam, a twenty-one year old boy could surely have some little expectations of being welcomed. I too had the same hopes. The memories of Dakshineswar , from fourteen months ago, were burning inside me. Just one casual question from Kalpalata brushed away all hopes into thin air. Rising from the sofa, I said to Kalpalata, “ I need to speak to you.”
-Speak to me ?

Lightly wiping away the droplets of sweat from her forehead & nose with her sari’s ornamented border, Kalpalata looked at me for a moment and said, “Take your seat.”
As I took my seat , Kalpalata  sat on a cushioned chair in a relaxed manner. She asked, “Would you like some tea?”
-No.
-Lassi?
-No.

It’s not unusual to lose temper for those who are lifelong accustomed to hearing only “Yes,” when they hear a “No.” Even after noticing the re-emergence of droplets of sweat on Kalpalat’s strikingly fair face, I didn’t pay any heed. I wanted to leave the place as soon as I had fulfilled my purpose. I asked Kalpalata, “ Do you know anything about Arindam?”
-No.
-His whereabouts or his address?
-No.
-Address of his house in Bali?

Kalpalata was silent for a few moments before asking me, “ What gave you the idea that I’ll have information about Arindam?”

Brushing aside her question I said, “If I have Arindam’s address at Bali, I’d like to visit him.”
-Arindam isn’t there.
-Who all are there?
-His cousin sister, her husband and their children.
-Can I get that address?

Looking at me for a second, Kalpalata got up and went to the end of the room near a cupboard. She brought out a diary from the cupboard , leafed through its pages and stopped at a page. She copied the address on a small piece of paper, put the diary back in the cupboard and brought out an envelope . Handing  me the small piece of paper , she said, “This is Arindam’s address in Bali.”
Pausing for a moment, she said , “ I have enquired. Arindam is not present there.”

-His sister will surely have some news about Arindam.
Kalpalata resettled on her chair. She said, “ Along with Arindam's house address at Chandrakona, I’d got three more addresses at Bardhaman, Murshidabad, Nadia from his Bali address. All of them are his relatives’ homes. Two sisters stay in two addresses. They may not be his own sisters but they love him like their own brother and their kids too adore their uncle. Whenever Arindam gets any opportunity, he visits his sisters’ homes. But right now, he isn’t there in any of those places.”

Although Kalpalata’s tone was casual , I could feel that her marbled drawing-room was trembling. I enquired, “Has Arindam met with any accident?”
-No.
-How do you know?

She handed me the envelope she was brought out from the cupboard and said, “This is a letter from Arindam. Read it if you wish to.”
I read the letter. In reply to three long letters from Kalpalata, Arindam had penned a seven-line letter. I knew about the content of the letter. But I read it still. Arindam was seriously thinking about how to change the world and was reading a lot of material on the subject. My gaze was fixed for a long time at the last line that was highlighted by a red-coloured pencil . It read , “I want to become a communist.” I couldn’t tell her that irrespective of his desire to change the world, there is a always a possibility for Arindam to die in the process or to meet with an accident .  It wasn’t also proper to tell that. I too was a kid then. I hardly knew anything. I kept quite that I had in my possession Kalpalata’s four-page letter in reply to Arindam’s seven-line letter. Even Arindam wasn’t aware about the misplacement of that letter.

Inserting the letter back into the envelope, I returned it to Kalpalata.  She said, “Arindam has kept his tabla at his Bali address. His sister is of the opinion that Arindam will return for the tabla. “
After remaining silent for a second, Kalpalata again said, “ I am also of the same opinion.”

Why? I couldn’t ask her that although I had wished to. Although I wasn’t clear about what Kalpalata said, the last line of Arindam’s  letter started buzzing like a fly in my head. Taking leave from her drawing room as I got back on the road, a question was playing incessantly in my mind. Why does Arindam want to become a communist? Will he be able to become one? I was unable to figure out as to why he will  require his pair of  tabla in order to become a communist.

End of Chapter 3
To be continued.

Also Read
Introduction and Chapter 1 :Inner Chamber
                              Chapter 2 : Pollen in theair

Copyright of translation : JAS 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Meghey Dhaka Tara (Star obscured by clouds)- review of a film by Dr. Kamaleswar Mukherjee


Although at the onset of Megeh Dhaka Tara , the Director Dr. Kamaleshwar Mukherjee states that the story line is fictional and has no direct or indirect connection with any character, living or dead; even the crow scavenging at  Kolkata’s depleting garbage dumps knows that the Meghe Dhaka Tara is largely based on the life and works of the late maverick filmmaker  of Bengal, Ritwik Ghatak.  

Set in the period during late 1960s when Naxalite turmoil had engulfed the intelligentsia of Bengal & Calcutta , the story is placed metaphorically at a mental asylum in Calcutta. The protagonist Neelkantha is an award-winning but commercially unsuccessful film maker  and also an alcoholic, who  has been admitted in the asylum by his wife to treat him for his addiction. While trying to delve into the psyche of Neelkantha in order to understand the root cause of his addiction, the Doctor in charge of the hospital gets gradually drawn in by the talented Neelkantha’s account of the background of his life and his works both in theater and films. Neelkantha talks about his childhood in East Bengal , the riverine delta of Padma, the great Bengal famine of 1943, the migration to Calcutta of West Bengal, the separation of Bengal, the oppression of the colonial rulers on the protesting farmers, the inevitable emergence of the people’s theater by  a group of committed artists ,theater workers, film makers; the influence of Brecht, Gorky etc. on the art-forms of  people theater; the struggle for livelihood &  the consequent conflicts with ideology. The Doctor is still clueless whether Neelkantha’s addiction is an inspiration for his creativity or merely an expression of his frustration at his commercial failure. Neelkantha’s angst, his uncompromising stance of using art as a weapon to fight the oppressive arms of the state on behalf of the people or his conviction that he can  betray everything excepting his beliefs & thoughts   get to re-express themselves at the asylum when he decides to stage a play with the inmates of the asylum. In between there is a  police raid & an identification parade of the inmates (which the Doctor protests calling it ironically “an insane act” ) in the asylum looking for a fugitive Naxalite which angers Neelkantha but doesn’t deter him from smuggling in bottles of alcohol with the help of some of his inmates. The Doctor upgrades his treatment for Neelkantha  from medications  to Electric shocks but can’t calm down Neelkantha as he struggles, shouts, cajoles, pleads, chides  to motivate the inmates of the mental asylum for staging the play. The play is finally staged and the film ends with Neelkantha going out of the backstage to an open field with Phulmoni ( a raped tribal girl & a mental patient)  as if liberated, finally. 

The film constantly moves between 1943 and 1969 as Neelkantha describes his life , his failure to earn money, the loss of most  of his comrades and friends to lure and lucre of commercial films, his running battle with addiction and his love for the common man , the mentally-tortured  man. In a way Meghe Dhaka Tara sets to the viewers a background to explain  the sustenance of leftist philosophy, although deviated in principles, in Bengal. The devastation of the famine ; the uprooting of  significant population of Bengal during 1943, 1947 & 1971; the oppression of the state , the conflict between communists and nationalists are portrayed thoughtfully and artfully in Neelkantha’s accounts to the Doctor.
Meghe Dhaka Tara is pictured in Black and White and brings back the romance of B/W pictures, the juxtapositions of light and shadow and inscribes an archival quality to a story that the director claims is neither a documentary nor a biopic. But the crow at the garbage dump realizes that the movie is heavily inspired by Ritwik’s Ghatak last movie, “Jukti, Tokko, Golpo,” not only in its narrative but also in the names of the characters as well as in some of its shots & frames. Like the dancers in black during that play in the asylum or the dream sequence which shows the killing of the protagonist in the Sal forest caught as he was in a crossfire between the naxalites and the police.

The soundtrack is excellent and the selection & rendition of background songs (moder kono desh nai or bondor, bondor etc.) are   superb. Debojyoti Mishra’s fantastic music just blends seamlessly with the film. The editing is structured as it flashes the symbols and the cinematic moments (which are in plenty) without dwelling on each of them for eternity.
A mention must be made of Shaswata Chatterjee , who  was simply marvelous in his portrayal of Neelkantha and deserves a national award. The restrained acting of Abir Chatterjee as the Doctor and that of the supporting actress Ananya Chatterjee as Neelkantha’s wife , Durga can’t escape an ordinary viewer’s acclaim.   

There are other characters in the movie which the crow alleges are inspired by other notable personalities such as filmmakers  like Mrinal Sen & Hrishikesh Mukherje; actors like Shobha Sen, Kali Bannerjee, Bijon Bhattachrya, Charuprakash Ghosh, Supriya Devi;  music directors like Salil Chowdhury  etc. But the viewers will be disappointed if they are bent on identifying them during the movie for the the director hardly dwells on sketching their characters.

Overall, Meghe Dekha Tara was an audaciously unique audio-visual experience for a Bengali movie goer in a time when well-packaged  spoofs  or irrelevant urban angst set in high-rises of Calcutta are being heralded as new age films. Most importantly, the movie evokes rational thinking as strongly as emotional feeling among the viewers. Kudos to director Kamaleswar Mukhopadhyay for showing the audacity to make his fourth film, Meghe Dhaka Tara and I , for one, will be waiting with anticipation for his fifth venture, Chander Pahar based on Bibhutibhashan Bandopadhya’s novel of the same name.

JAS rating : 9 out of 10         

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Headless Torso (Chapter 2)

Read Chapter 1 : Inner Chamber, here
                                         
                                        Headless Torso  (translation of a novel by Shaibal Mitra) 
                                       
                                       Chapter ,2  : Pollen in the air

The food movement was over within a fortnight and along with hundreds of political prisoners, I too was released from jail. Next day I got a hero’s reception in the college. Girls from junior classes made a beeline to visit me. The whole day was spent in letting them to meet me. Two of my ex-leaders, Surjo Ghoshal and Uday Sen, also came and met me. Surjo patted me on my back. Uday of course was still singing paeans about Keshut leaves. Amidst all the commotion and praises around me , I wanted to know about Arindam. However I did not notice any posters or wall-writings promising to remember Arindam, the martyr, for eternity. A tad  relieved, I still had no news about Arindam.

Only a few of his class mates actually knew the taciturn Arindam. It was pretty hard to access  those who knew him. Even Bibhash, who was aware of Arindam’s mastery on the tabla , had left six months ago after completing his course. Piecing together small bits of information from a few , I found out that  his full name was Arindam Moulik. Not Sanyal or Bhowmik, his surname was actually Moulik. Out of the three Arindams, whose deaths were reported in the newspaper, I had guessed  that at least two were not our Arindam. I had doubts about the third who was reported dead in Medinipur & whose surname was not mentioned. Even knowing that his real name was Arindam Moulik didn’t help in clearing those doubts.  I tried to arrange the events logically. If the dead Arindam from Medinipur  was our Arindam Moulik then by this time news would definitely have reached the college. Since it hadn’t , it implied that our Arindam was not dead. He is alive.

During the tumultuous days of the food movement, many had noticed Arindam in several places though not in Calcutta. Descriptions from such eye witnesses started reaching me. It was not possible for me to figure out how much of those descriptions were confabulated. Along with the workers of the Hindmotor factory, Arindam had been sighted fighting the police after blocking the west-side level crossing at the Konnagar railway station. Possibly so. Later he had moved away from that place. Forty-eight hours later, he had been sighted again in Asansol. Although his address in Asansol wasn’t known, a few notified that he had stayed over the next night at a cheap hotel in Mahajantuli, a red light area of Bardhaman, alone. From Bardhaman, he had been to Medinipur. Arindam had been present  during sporadic  clashes of students against the police  that occurred for two consecutive evenings in Medinipur. The one to notice him in Medinipur was Noushad Ali. Noushad was Arindam’s schoolmate. After describing to me in detail about the clashes in Medinipur, Noushad said to me that the Arindam who was shot dead by the police in Medinipur didn’t have Moulik as his surname. After the movement had become subdued, Arindam along with Noushad had left Medinipur for Shalboni. Noushad had then put Arindam on a bus going towards Chandrakona and had himself started for Calcutta.

Although various bits of news made me completely directionless about Arindam’s whereabouts, I had half a feeling that he was still alive. Another week passed with my attending various meetings & gatherings commemorating my release from prison. Classes resumed in the college and students started drifting in.  Only Arindam remained absent. Each day before leaving for college, I would expect Arindam to arrive and hoped to meet him.

Arindam never came. Thoughts about meeting him would evaporate in thin air. Fresh doubts started creeping in my mind; whether Arindam was still alive. Seven days later , from among my stack of old papers, I fished out and dusted the unread Communist Manifesto & the other three books and placed them on my table. I hadn’t read the communist manifesto excepting for the first and the last lines. I had even forgotten the names of the other three books. I read them again. (1) The Origin of the  Family, Personal Property and the State by Frederick Engels . (2) The State & Revolution  by V.I. Lenin (3) From Opium war to Liberation  by Israel Epstein.

I was aware of the reason as to  why I wasn’t inclined  now to read the same books which, for ten times each day, I had planned to read during my fifteen days of imprisonment. During the prison days, the news of deaths of the three Arindams had strongly motivated me to plan to read the books. The inspiration emanating from the martyred Arindam had been considerably diluted when I became aware,after my release, that Arindam may have been alive. Yet, I couldn’t completely get rid of  the pressure to read. I planned to start with the one on the Opium war. There was a story in that book and also a riveting style . The last book that I planned to read was  the dry &  theoretical “The State & Revolution.” Arindam had meticulously read each book,  underlining sentences with a red pencil. He had made reading easy for me by highlighting important sentences. Just by reading those highlighted lines, I could read all the three books and spare myself a lot of effort. But since the book on the opium war appeared interesting, I guessed that I would read it from end to end.

My eyes caught a red-pencilled line from the “The Origin of the Family, Personal property and the State” .  “There isn’t any need to criminalise  women who trade their bodies for livelihood. On the contrary, they have put the entire male fraternity on the stands  of a criminal court.”

Reading this line, I was reminded of an evening at the world famous brothel at Sonagachi. A few months after taking admission in the college, I had been to Sonagachi along with two friends to fulfill the desires of our youth. We were walking along a road named Durgacharan Mitra street. It was slightly beyond dusk. The street lights were coming on. Some of the double storied  and triple storied houses on both sides of the street were dark while some had lights  inside. Along with my two friends, Adhir and Deepak, we kept  walking as if the we knew the entire area by heart. Our hearts were beating fast and we could barely make eye contact.  At the crossing, a well-lit Paan shop caught my attention. I had never seen a Paan shop so well arranged with mirrors on each of its walls. Apart from the mirrors, the walls of the Paan shop had pictures of  Radha-Krishna deities, of  Netaji Subhash Bose & that of the actress Vaijayantimala ; fixed on polished wooden frames. Fat  garlands made from fresh flowers, similar to those seen in garland-exchange ceremony in weddings, were hanging from the pictures. On both sides of the Paan deck, were dozens of half-bloomed Rajanigandha sticks. It was unimaginable to see so much of flowers in a Paan shop. Inspite of our earnest desire, we couldn’t even lift our heads and look at the women standing at the doorways on both sides of the street. Noticing our immaturity, they were giggling and falling over each other. Our ears went crimson red in shame. Dipak muttered a sniggering “whore” under his breadth. That word just got embedded in my psyche. After nearly three years, while reading a few lines from the book “ The Origin of the Family, Personal property and the State,”  the obscenity  “whore” reappeared in my head.  I felt extremely uneasy. If Arindam had been present, I would have discussed the very next day,the acceptability of the word “Whore” in line with the opinion of Engels. Will Arindam be coming tomorrow to College?

 While unmindfully turning over the pages,  a letter encased in an envelope slipped out from the end part  in my hands. The letter was pressed uneven , having stayed for more than a  year under a stack of text books and papers. I didn’t realize that there was a letter inside the book even when I had held the book. If I had not turned over the pages, the letter would have remained invisible.  On the envelope, it was written “Arindam.”

Only “Arindam” was written without the surname. Neither was there any address nor any postage mark. Obviously the letter hadn’t been posted. I realized that someone had handed over the letter to Arindam. After reading the letter, Arindam would have kept it inside the book.  While giving me the book , Arindam would’ve forgotten about the letter. And so the letter had stayed inside the book. Although I wasn’t sure if I would ever get a chance to return his book to Arindam ; I couldn’t resist the temptation to read the letter only because the name  “Arindam” was written on the envelope. While taking out & opening the once-folded , two-page letter  from the yellowish envelope, I noticed  at first the womanly handwriting. Although the envelope had the name Arindam, the letter started without any name or salutation. Only a hyphen mark and then a blank line. The letter started from the next line. I became  more curious to know the name of the letter’s writer than its content. At the middle of the fourth page, where the letter ended, my gaze was fixed at the name of the sender. I looked at it for a few moments. Kalpalata had written the letter. It was a love letter, without any doubt. I didn’t have the faintest idea that Kalpalata could write love-letters. As a matter of fact, she had penned the letter immediately the day after she had been with me to Dakshineswar. The date at the top of the page indicated so. It was a touchy letter, written by someone who felt offended. Kalpalata had written that she had felt insulted after receiving a seven-line reply to her three long letters. The language of the letter vividly indicated that Kalpalata felt more hurt than insulted. Alongside, she had written certain things , after reading  which  I felt like sinking underground  in shame. Kalpalata had written , “excepting for you, there isn’t a single boy in the class with whom I can converse. The majority are greedy and fake while the rest are idiots. It pains me to observe that most  boys are not even decent human beings.”

Every word was piercing me like a needle. My heart was burning. I was feeling afraid to even guess as to how much of myself was exposed to Kalpalata. The fact that  it was only Kalpalata who had stubbornly hung on to her introduction to Arindam on that cultural evening ; was evident from reading the letter. Although, her relationship with Arindam may not have been one sided. As per Kalpalata’s letter; Arindam had mesmerized everyone when he had played Kalpalata’s  sister, Indulekha’s violin during one evening when he had visited her house. When did all this happen? I had never come to know. Kalpalata had written , “ While reading your letter, I came to know that you are a fan of Netaji Subhash and you also want to become a communist. You have written , I want to become a communist. In order to stress on the last line , you’ve underlined it with a red pencil. Is it possible to ride two boats at once?  My maternal uncle , who is a Subhash-fan is always at loggerheads with my paternal uncle, who is a communist. Both of them are idealist and honest. I love both of them , equally. Why does it have to be so? I believe you can be simultaneously  a Subhash-fan as well as a communist. Its not easy. But you can do it. And no one else can. At our house that evening, when you had played Indulekha’s violin ; you made such an impression on  everybody that none has forgotten it ever since. I too was surprised. A person who can play with equal dexterity two diverse instruments such as  a violin and a tabla , can he not  merge two ideologically different positions? Surely he can. Can’t we talk for a longer duration one day?”  

While reading the letter, a recollection of an evening appeared before my eyes. From College street to Dakshineswar, the ringing of bells during the evening-prayer at the Dakshineswar temple, riding a boat over the Ganga in the evening twilight to go to Belurmath, back to Dakshineswar, the temple-top in semi-darkness, prayer-bells ringing inside, a small-but-neat restaurant outside the temple complex, two people facing each other in a cubicle guarded with green curtains, Kalpalata and I, every moment, every spoken word reappeared vividly in my mind. Kalpalata was talking. Since Kalpalata could speak better, I had passed that role to her and remained silent myself. I was listening to her.

I didn’t have any dreams surrounding  Kalpalata. I had still not learned to dream then. I didn’t know even how to dream. She was in one class junior to me.  At the time of her admission, I had been present at the admission office. With one look towards her, I had understood that one of the top five beautiful girls  of the college was getting admitted. I had still not realized that she was actually the most beautiful when looked at from all angles, literal and metaphorical. Later, I had come to know that she was not a dumb beauty. She had more talent than her looks. She was truly intelligent. An easy beauty. I had helped her fill up the admission form. She didn’t seek my help. She didn’t need my help. I hadn’t realized then her reason for taking my help. I realized it later. She was pretending to take my help in order to know the extent of my stupidity. I had this idea even before reading Arindam’s letter. While reading her letter to Arindam, I realized once again the pain of being an idiot.  

I was trying to  analyze every moment  of that evening-trip to Dakshineswar. I couldn’t remember any stupid act of mine. While walking alongside I had been careful to avoid body contact, I had talked freely and there hadn’t been any indication of extra-friendliness in my behavior. While alighting from the shaky  boat at the Belurghat, Kalpalata had  extended her hand. I had held it and left it the moment she found her feet on solid ground at the ghat. Inside the curtained cubicle, I hadn’t uttered a single romantic word. Did I boast about myself? No, I didn’t.  There wasn’t anything to boast about me, anyway. Maybe since I hadn’t learnt to dream yet, I had nothing much to boast about. I was like a Lilliput besides the convent-educated Kalpalata. Kalpalata could speak English as good as an English lady. Further, she wouldn’t utter a single English word when conversing in Bengali.  Hidden beneath her friendly nature, there was an element of haughtiness. When she would recount funny encounters between his uncles (one of whom was a Subhash fan and later became a Central cabinet minister and the other was a top communist leader), I could distinctly feel a strong undercurrent of  pride. Even while sitting inside the green-curtained cubicle, I would feel the heat of her haughtiness. I was in loss for words. There was so much distance between us that I didn’t have any opportunity to do anything downright stupid.

End of Chapter 2.
To be continued.

Read
Chapter 1: Inner Chamber

Copyright of translation : JAS 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Headless Torso


“Headless Torso” is my  translation of the  novel , “মুন্ডুহীন ধড়” written by the late author Shaibal Mitra.  Shaibal Mitra , my Bengali teacher in Maulana Azad College of Calcutta , had exceptional authority over Bengali language & its literature. He was also an active participant during the political turmoil that had taken over Calcutta & Bengal during the tumultuous days of the late sixties and early seventies. He had to undergo imprisonment  for his “secessionist” activities during those times.

মুন্ডুহীন ধড়, ” is  part of a genre of 5 novels written by Shaibal Mitra, brilliantly capturing the troublesome times of Bengal during the sixties & seventies and is available in a book named , “পাঁচটি বজ্রনির্ঘোষের  উপন্যাস.”  “বজ্রনির্ঘোষ” loosely refers to the “announcement of the spring thunder” by the Chinese state-controlled Peking radio in the early seventies heralding the Naxalite uprising in independent India. “Headless Torso” captures the lives among college students immersed as they were in rebellious revolutionary politics, in keeping with the times. It’s written with an embedded casually-romantic spirit of an young man caught up with the reality around him. A dry & wry sense of humour is a constant companion in the original book. I have tried to keep the same spirit in every line of the book . Even the names of all common items have been retained and hence the translation might appear to be slightly strange to a non-Calcuttan reader.  For a Bengali reader, there can be  nothing better than buying the original Bengali version.    

The original book in Bengali is available for purchase here.   

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               Headless Torso

                                       Chapter 1:  Inner Chamber

In the year 1961, when there were only 17,000 communists in this state, I had  purchased a copy of the “Communist Manifesto” in Bengali for a princely sum of 75 paisa. This book could be bought only from one shop in Calcutta. Enquiring  at the shop, I found out that it sold 200-225 copies of the “Communist Manifesto.” Forty years back, when being a communist meant being  under the fear of getting beaten up, it was not a mean achievement to  be selling 200+ copies of the “Communist Manifesto.” Telephones were in so few houses that one could literally count them on one’s hand. Leave aside television sets, even transistor radios were not items to be found in every home. Red coloured double-decker buses,  that had  tiger’s busts painted on the side, used to ply on the roads of Calcutta. The beautifully decked-up red double-deckers  seemingly portrayed  the presence of Royal Bengal Tigers in our neighborhood.  The minimum bus-fare was 10 paisa while it was 3 paisa in the second class coach of a tram. The meter-down fare in taxis was 50 paisa. A ride from College Street to Dakhshineswar in a taxi would cost between Rs.7 to Rs.7.50. The practice of paying extra fare over and above the taxi-meter reading hadn’t started yet. During my student days, I had once accompanied an young woman to Dakshineswar with the mistaken notion that she could be my fiancé. In the late evening, we’d taken a boat across the Hoogly  to Belur Math and then back again to Dakshineswar, where we had settled down facing each other  inside  a curtained cubicle of a restaurant and  devoured spicy Cutlets with  bottles of Cocacola. A bottle of Cocacola cost only 50 paisa. Our bill in the restaurant was near about Rs.10. I had  bought a pack of cigarettes for 19 paisa. The cheapest and also the strongest brand of cigarettes used to cost only 19 paisa for a pack of ten. I never purchased more than half-a-pack at a time although my daily requirement  was about one and a half packets. Even if I had  to share a couple of sticks with friends, I would  ensure to recover them by the end of the day. Just before reaching home at night , I’d buy my last  half-pack. Since it was not possible to pay 9.5 paisa for those 5 sticks, I’d sigh in silence every night for losing those precious half a paisa. There was a reason for that sigh. My daily pocket-money was limited to just Rs.1. 

During that time ,suddenly one day with more than a little persuasion from  Surjo Ghoshal, I had purchased a copy of Communist Manifesto. Surjo’s full name was Surjo Shankar Ghoshal. Surjo’s father, Tara Shankar Ghoshal was a famous doctor in his locality and was referred  by all and sundry as Tara-daktar. Although Tara-daktar was a mere LMF licence holder (as opposed to a regular MBBS), his reputation was unparalleled. Its widely believed that Mir Kasim, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, had gifted a sword to the grandfather of great-grandmother of Tara-daktar. By generations of inheritance, the sword had become Tara-daktar’s property and he used it as a surgical instrument to remove piles. Tara-daktar had completed 17000 piles operations in his 3 decades of practice and he was so skillful in this unusual use of the sword that patients  didn’t feel any pain during the operations. It was Surjo who had narrated this remarkable tale while describing his father’s professional success. I had good reasons to believe Surjo. For Tara-daktar was a popular person and never hankered after money. Although they were not short of money , either , as was evident from the generous way Surjo used to spend his money .

 I am not sure as to how Surjo had become a communist. Although I was six years junior to him , in College I would  look upto  him as a prominent student leader. Couple of times in a day, he would  stand on a  small stool in front of the college gate to deliver his fiery speeches. Impressed by his oratory skills, I soon became a  diehard fan of Surjo. Although Surjo was only eight years older to me, he had a grave personality, like that of a family-elder. Surjo would be dressed in a white Dhoti & a white  Punjabi. As he used to walk very fast, the end of the dhoti that was lodged in the pockets of his Punjabi would fall off frequently. In fact sometimes the  back-lock of the Dhoti would  also get dislodged. Surjo cared little. Quickly lodging back the end of his Dhoti in the right place, he’d resume his walking . Surjo generally would start off from his home at around half past ten & reach  college by noon. Surjo rarely attended classes. I wasn’t even sure of the time when he’d go back home although I could  guess that it wasn’t  before 11p.m; since I never used to be free from him till about 9.45p.m. Surjo would always hold me back late as he was neck-deep in work.

My late-night returns invited frequent rebukes from my parents. By that time , I was used to them and generally remained silent. Surjo would often pick me up even before the college had ended for the day. I would accompany him by foot  from Shyambazar to Dharmatola , a number of times. Surjo would drop by at the party office, at the office of the students’ union or at the canteens of colleges en-route to discuss plans & strategies with local leaders. A cup of tea was the  usual feature  at the canteens and in case luck was good he’d get sweetmeats like Rosogolla &  Rajbhog or salty items like Chops and Cutlets to go with the tea. Needless to say, I happily partook of my share in them. Just as I was addicted to cigarettes , Surjo was addicted to Rajbhogs. Surjo’s father Tara-daktar was addicted to Rabri, introduced to him by the maverick writer Shibram Chakrabarty. Shibram and Tara-daktar were close friends. Since ( thanks to his father), Rabri was a regular at his home, Surjo’s favourite sweet was Rajbhog. While on his daily trail from his home to college and then onwards to Shyambazar, College Street &  Dharmatola; Surjo would stop by at any big sweet shop and devour minimum four big sized Rajbhogs. Not at one go though but over two to three such stops. Surjo knew the exact timings at every such shop when  piping-hot fresh Rajbhogs were  taken off the giant woks. I wasn’t fond of Rajbhogs. Sometimes when Surjo would insist, I’d partake one. Surjo’s heart and stomach were very simply designed. As simple as a straight rain-pipe attached to a house-wall. The Rajbhogs after ingestion would swiftly reach his intestines and normally they would be excreted  in one of the three  familiar houses on the way from Hedua to Bowbazar. I would then while away my time smoking a cigarette standing on the footpath. Surjo would be back within 5-7 minutes after clearing his stomach. This was a daily ritual, often happening more than once. 

Gradually I was becoming a fan of Surjo. One day Surjo informed that he was a member of the communist party and he wants to make me a party-member too. Just when I was trying  hard to rise up to his expectations, I got separated from Surjo. Rather I was snatched away from Surjo by none other than Surjo’s friend, Uday Sen. Besides being Surjo’s friend , Uday was also his leader. It was Uday who enlisted Surjo as a member of the communist party. In a sense, Uday can be called my leader’s leader. As in  a family, the staus of Uday can be likened to a father’s father or to a grandfather. Uday was in his thirties. He was employed with Calcutta Corporation as a Ward-master. Uday’s work was to keep a record of all the garbage-trucks that left at morning from the Moulali garage of the corporation and then returned at evening. In the hot summer months, Uday would be standing in front of the garage-gate with his record-book. His head would be smeared with the juice of Keshut leaves. Uday was losing hair like nobody’s business. He was as worried about the purity of socialist ideology as he was with his hair-loss.  Uday would stuff me with stories that Surjo was not only a fake communist but also an agent of the capitalists and a police informer in disguise. He gave indisputable proofs to substantiate his stories.  When it rains in Peking, real communists would always leave home with an umbrella but Surjo never did. That was the first proof. Instead Surjo would roam around  the city with his dark sunglasses whenever it was sunny in Moscow. All those who followed Soviet Russia over China were fake communists & informers of the police.

Uday’s reasoning had substance. His second proof was about Surjo’s fondness with Rajbhogs. The name of the sweet as such gave  ample indication that it was the food of the ruler-cum-exploiter class. If the sweet was named as Janatabhog, then there would have been nothing to complain about.

Irrefutable logic! I didn’t have any other option but to accept it. I believed Uday and  ended my relationship with Surjo. I still hadn’t read the communist manifesto that Surjo had advised me to buy. Actually, I was overawed by the “Introduction” chapter  of that thin book . The “Introduction” chapter  ran into 33 pages covering all the seven editions that had been published till then. The main part of the book followed the introduction. But I did read the first line “The history of all societies is always a history of class-struggles”; as well as the last  line ,” Proletariats have nothing to lose but their chains.”  Whatever I had understood from those two lines was enough for me to declare to Surjo that I had read the manifesto and had found it extremely meaningful.

Surjo was happy to hear my words. The first and the last lines of the manifesto were known to him too. In each of his speeches, Surjo would mention those two lines. Occasionally Surjo would also tell me those two lines. It wasn’t long before I followed his path. Just as made-up lines spoken repeatedly appear as  absolute truth to an orator, the same phenomenon happened to me. An idea, that the complete manifesto had been memorized, got embedded in my psyche. When I would talk about the manifesto for half an hour without a break, even Surjo used to get impressed.  Hardcore socialist theoreticians would shower praises on  my knowledge. Some among my old friends who  knew about my actual academic abilities started avoiding me. Some would snigger behind my back calling me an idiot.

But by that time my fan-following had increased by such an extent that I cared little about who was silent or who abused me. I was realizing that it wasn’t going to be long for me to become a real communist. My new guru, the record-keeper of corporation’s garbage-trucks, Uday Sen would frequently remind me so. Right at that moment, an incident shook me up completely .

Round about two years prior to that incident, there was another man who had accompanied me to the shop that sold the communist manifestos. He was Arindam. We were batch-mates in college. Arindam was an introvert and spoke very little. That evening along with me, Arindam  had also bought a copy of the communist manifesto as well as three more books of varying sizes. The subject matter of all the books was similar; related as they were to socialism. Arindam knew Surjo but unlike me he was not Surjo’s disciple. Rather he tactfully avoided Surjo. I didn’t have any idea about Arindam’s guru or whether he had any at all. But he would mention Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s name with respect. Within a month of buying the manifesto and the other three books, Arindam had finished reading them and would regularly hustle me to sit together  for a discussion. I would buy time by giving one excuse or the other. As preparation for the discussion, he had even given me the other three books, besides the manifesto,  to read. Although I had casually flipped through those books before dropping them in my Jhola, I had hardly found time to read them.

Arindam was more intelligent than me. More honest and frank too.  Soon he   understood  that my reading was limited to my text books. He was disappointed and  never again mentioned  to me about the dates for discussion. But when he realized that eighty percent of the party-members had similar knowledge as mine, he was dumbfounded. Whenever he came across in the college, he’d gaze at me from behind his thick eyeglasses for a moment and walk away. With cringing  uneasiness, I would mutter to him , “we need to discuss, let’s sit together, soon.”

I could barely hear his reply. I understood later that in Arindam’s presence some of my five senses stopped functioning.  Since I realized that till I finish reading the manifesto & the other three books, my senses would not regain their natural functions; I started arranging the books in order to read them. Just then the “food-movement” erupted across the entire  state of West Bengal. That was a tumultuous time. Leftist leaders, half-leaders started filling up the jails in the state. I too was jailed for a fortnight. While reading a newspaper in the Alipore jail, I discovered  that Arindam has been killed in police firing at Uttarpara. When I was getting to be  sure  of the fact that the “college-student Arindam Sanyal” mentioned in the paper was actually my batch-mate; news of a death of another Arindam at the hands of police in Krishnanagar was published within 24 hours of the first news. He too was a college student but his surname was Bhowmik. While I was getting riddled whether my friend’s actual surname was Sanyal or Bhowmik; the next-day morning paper arrived with the news of a death of another Arindam in the Medinipur town. Although this last  news item didn’t mention his vocation or surname, it did indicate that his age was around 20-21 years. By this time , almost 37 people had died in the food movement. I wasn’t sure whether anyone else other than myself had noticed that there were three dead men with the same name. When I mentioned this to my cell-mates in the jail, they were surprised but didn’t pay much heed to it. That was the first time, I had a brain-wave erupting  in my head. I realized that the path, that I had travelled along with Surjo Ghoshal  while gorging on  Chops, Cutlets & Rajbhogs from Shyambazar to Bowbazar, didn’t necessarily end at  the three toilets along the way. I was praying deep inside that my college-mate was not one of the three departed  Arindams. A discussion with him regarding the communist manifesto & the other three books was still pending . He has no right to die before the discussion was over. I will read all the four books,  once I’m released from the prison. I will read them just as seriously as I have read text books; by shutting myself in  my room and by staying awake all night.

Even though  I wasn’t aware if Arindam was dead or alive; his ghost was all over me during the last seven days of my stay in the jail. That ghost  which doesn’t have any shadow. Not dead but a live ghost. They reside within living people. Sometimes they surface and surprise others. And then they vanish in thin air. People rarely remember incidents where they see such ghosts. I was reminded during my stay in jail of two more such incidents where I had seen Arindam’s ghost. Arindam’s ghost  was then wearing a light yellow coloured Poplin shirt with the sleeves rolled up over a white cotton Dhoti. I was taken aback on seeing Arindam’s ghost, twice. First time it happened  when he played the tabla accompanying Kalpalata’s vocals during a cultural function of the college. While the second incident occurred when he had flawlessly recited thirty-five slokes from the Gita, starting with “jada jadahi dharmashya,”  the seventh sloka of the fourth chapter till the very end. He was reciting the slokas at the weekly  prayer class of the Christian college. Although his voice was drowned amid the chorus of “O God, give us today our daily bread” inside  the big hall of the Christian college; those who were nearby heard him clearly. I was one of them. On my right was Daniel Srinivasan of the fourth year, in front was the fresher Stephen Anadi Mondol but I don’t recall now who was behind me. Although they were irritated to hear someone reciting slokas during a biblical recital, they neither stopped praying nor did they look at him. At the end of the prayer , they had quietly left the hall. I didn’t realize that Arindam was reciting slokas from the Gita. I hadn’t read Gita. How many college-students have read Gita anyway? How many read Gita even after finishing college or university studies? Gita need not be read as a religious book; it can also be read as a chapter of the Mahabharata. If one reads the Gita, the Koran or the Bible only for the sake of reading ; it’s very difficult to stop once having started.

Those were not my words but Arindam’s. The taciturn Arindam had told me so in private. My sighting of the ghost happened when I was shocked to hear an ordinary classmate of mine recite Gita at the Bible class. That was the second time. The first time I saw his ghost was three months prior to this incident during an evening at the college cultural function. It was a competition of Hindustani classical vocals among college students. Some of them were real talented vocalists. They had brought  along with them their own musical instruments. Harmonium, Taanpura and also their own tabla-players.  Kalpalata’s turn was third in that event. During her fresher year, she had won the first prize in classical vocals. Even in competitive events featuring songs from Nazrul or Tagore, she was the number one. After her name was announced, the hall fell completely silent. A student carried her harmonium & the tabla  to the stage. Kalpalata’s friend, Bonani went up carrying the tanpura. Everybody was awaiting Kalpalata to take the stage with her tabla player. Seconds ticked by. The judges were whispering among themselves. Impatient listeners were clearing their throats. At the backstage, it was a dramatic situation. Kalpalata had tears in her eyes and was unable to even speak. Her  regular tabla player, an Ustad, hadn’t  yet reached. Her name was already called thrice over  the public announcement system. Arindam was standing beside me while Bibhash was trying to explain something to him. As Arindam started to walk away pretending not to hear  Bibhash; suddenly Bibhash raised his voice, “There is a limit to everything, Arindam. You won’t lose anything  if you accompany Kalpalata on the table  for five minutes.”

Arindam: “I don’t play the tabla.”

Bibhash: “That’s all bunkum.”

Kalpalata was as surprised as I was  hearing the conversation between Bibhash & Arindam. In order to rescue Kalpalata from the precarious situation she was in , I had decided to extend my helping hand. In a low tone , I had said to Arindam, “Please help her out this time.”

Arindam had acceded to my request. The same Kalpalata, who had not even cared to cast a glance at Arindam earlier; now clutched at him just as a drowning person  clutches at a straw. “Save me, please.”

I’ve never before heard a haughty girl like Kalpalata speak in such a soft manner. And never after too.  Arindam could not refuse Kalpalata’s plea. The  students present were surprised to see Kalpalata take the stage along with Arindam. Till he sat at the tabla, none could guess that he was the tabla-palyer. They couldn’t believe their own eyes. Kalpalata looked nervous with anxiety as she wasn’t sure what’s going to happen. Only when Arindam played a couple of notes on the tabla, Kalpalata sat up straight and laid her fingers on the harmonium reeds. Kalpalata had sung “Bajubandh khulu khulu jai.” Arindam accompanied her vocals like a professional musician and once it was over, he left the stage as well as the function . He wasn’t to be seen for the entire evening  thereafter. Although his performance was highly praised that evening, there wasn’t any one who remembered it later. The memory of ghost-sighting was forgotten. Kalpalata got the first prize in classical vocals  consecutively for the second time . Her classmates were highly appreciative. I wasn’t any connoisseur of Hindustani classical music. My appreciation of music was limited to popular songs, movie-songs as well as modern Bengali  songs  played on request  from listeners of the radio. I was more interested in listening to the songs that I know rather than to unknown songs. Classical music went over my head. Neither did I have any interest in listening to such music. So, Kalpalata’s rendition of the classic “bajubandh khulu khulu jai”  didn’t particularly leave any impression on me . But what really was impressive  was Arindam’s mastery on the tabla. I’d have never known that one could extract such perfect & melodic notes from  a pair of cheap & grotesque- shaped percussion instruments like the  tabla.  I have never listened to tabla so attentively. How much I tried, I couldn’t think how Arindam learned to play the tabla .  This first sighting of Arindam’s ghost was repeated again in the bible class. Although the after-effects of the first incident of ghost-sighting was unknown  but when the ghost was seen  for the second time in the Bible class, the authorities in the college were struck with fear.

The Principal , when he learned of Arindam’s recitation of slokas from the Gita in the Bible class, had summoned  him from the class by sending a small note to him. What happened in that meeting was unknown to the other students. But I was aware of the conversation between the two since I had  continuously  pestered  Arindam  to reveal me the details.

The Principal, a Bengali Christian, was enraged at Arindam for reciting Gita-slokas in a Bible class and had asked him, in very strong words,  to leave the college for good. Arindam had stood in silence in front of the Principal. He was afraid. Just before the Principal was intending to summon the head-clerk for making arrangements to summarily expel Arindam from the college; Arindam had spoken. “Sir, doesn’t a student of a secular country have the  rights to recite slokas from his own religious book in a religion class?”

Upon hearing his question, the Principal had been unsettled. After regaining his stern composure, he had asked Arindam to take his seat. After a few banal exchange of words, the Principal had discussed  about the religion class with Arindam. A few days later, his order on the same line was pasted on the college notice board. The summary of the order was , that from then-on it was not compulsory for all  students to attend the Bible class. Only interested students would be welcome.

The Principal had requested Arindam to keep the subject matter of the discussion strictly confidential. Although the taciturn Arindam wanted to keep it that way, we couldn’t let go of  the opportunity to politicize the incident.  We beat our own drums , shouted from rooftops and publicized everywhere the role of the students’ union in protecting the secular  environment of the college. On Arindam’s earnest request, we had tried our best to keep him behind the scene. But we had failed. Arindam appeared apologetic whenever he used to enter the classroom.  Later he vanished from the scene for  a few days. I had noticed his absence  but decided to overlook.  A week later, he came to the college and wanted to fix a date with me for a discussion on the manifesto and on the three other books. I requested a month’s time under the pretext of some important work that I was involved with. Arindam gazed at me with painful eyes for a few seconds and then walked away.

In the next 30 days, I would have met Arindam a couple of times. Even after a month had passed by, Arindam didn’t show any inclination to discuss the four books. I was relieved. And that’s how Arindam’s ghost gradually disappeared from my psyche. 

 

End of Chapter 1.

To be continued..
Copyright of translation: JAS 2013