Radio 📻 and those days of yore

I was probably in five or sixth standard when I made an unusual request to my father.

I asked him to gift me a radio, a black portable one, the trendy thing in those days. It was prior to the advent of ‘fm’ channels which popularised the radio for some reason before that popularity died down considerably , probably being defeated by internet and smart phones.

It was one evening of winter, my dad brought home the radio. I was overjoyed to say the least. It became my constant companion for the next few years. Being an avid quizzard and lover of western music, the radio opened avenues of entertainment for me.

I remember listening to ‘musical bandbox’ and the famous ‘ Bournvita Quiz’ in the afternoons.

On Saturdays there would be some mind-boggling radio plays , the detective stories and adventurous ones.

Late in the evening when father would reach home from office and mother would scrape her time out of household chores, the radio would be switched on.

This time radio plays were heard which were suitable for them.

I had to sit in a separate room at that time and was made to do my home assignments given from school. Still my eager ears tried to get the voices heard in the radio, as if it was my way of trespassing into an area forbidden to children.

But the most significant thing which made radio a matter of great possession for us was the live broadcast of sports events. Be it cricket or football, we would be clinging to the radio and would carry it from one room to another.

Another thing which was so special about radio was a morning programme called ‘ pratyohiki’ which my father listened to with almost religious regularity. I also listened to it waking up. It became a ritual for me, following my father’s ways.

There had been (and perhaps still now) the day when radio became the most sought after thing.

‘Mahalaya’ had been the day. The day when pitripakshya would end and Devi pakhshya would begin.

The whole neighbourhood would be tuning in to radio, right at the dawn, listening to ‘ Mahishashur mardini’ as presented by the legendary Birendra Kishore Bhadra, as ‘Mahalaya’ would mark the beginning of Durga Puja festivities.

Later when I went to study at a residential college, I was pleasantly surprised seeing small china made pocket radios very popular among fellow hostel mates. In those days they were our principal source of recreations. We listened to radios in our leisure and even till midnight. In our moments of pre exam blues we would listen to radio. Post exam revelry also involved radio which blared Hindi and Bengali pop songs.

Later with the arrival of ‘ fm’ channels , radio suddenly became the talk of the town with new channels getting into air almost everyday. Every taxi and auto driver started playing ‘fm’. Every roadside tea stall and pan shop played radios. As if radios had suddenly got a new lease of life.

A phoenix was born.

Btw, today is World Radio Day.

A season of love, of a different kind.

Around this time of the year when the days become shorter and the nights gradually spread their wings to catch our dreams, when the noonday haze declares the mellow fruitfulness, when autumn seemingly prepares to go away and winter is yet to arrive, we bengalis call the season as ‘ Hemanta’ (হেমন্ত), a season which is not particularly vivacious and youthful as spring, nor abundant and flowery as winter ( in this part of the world).

Hemanta never competed with his grander brothers or sisters of the seasons. He has always remained subdued, mild and temperate and yet in his softest manifestations, he forgets not to show the world how he holds his own beauty, not perhaps as accentuated as that of spring or as capricious as that of autumn, yet, a sweet, mellifluous kind of beauty which can only be discerned by some one keen.

Hemanta is a season of love, a love which makes you sit under a sprawling tree and listen to songs of birds and bees, a soothing kind of love which takes you to a sojourn perhaps, brief yet invigorating.

A journey to a different milieu…

When Shri Sunirmal Basu, who had been once my teacher, approached me to do a review of his book, which is a collection of memoir, short stories, poems and essays, I was not very excited about it thinking that a pot pouri of things might never be enticing a read. But I was wrong. Terribly wrong. Unquestionably wrong. For this slim book having a great poetic cover design, is a poem by itself.

The book divided into four sections namely short stories, poems, essays and memoir, is greatly entertaining and at the same time soul stirring.

If the stories reveal the writer’s sense of practical life, the real one filled with its own sobs, smiles and sniffles, the poems set him free for primarily Shri Basu is a poet. A poet with impeccable sense of pathos, romanticism and practicality. Naturally the poetry section is the longest one of all four sections.

I have definitely found his ingenuity when he fuses his personal experience with utter objectivity. If poems like ভাতের গন্ধ ( the smell of rice) brings into fore the struggle of existence , making it existentialist in temperament, (page 84), the very next poem স্বপ্ন কুমারী, মেঘমালা ( the dream girl, string of cloud) is pure romance, in pure filmy terms!

And from that height of graphical romance I fall on the ground of reality and like Shelley perhaps I bleed too when I stumble upon বিবর্ণ ক্যাকটাস(discolored cactus).

However the section which finds Shri Basu at his narrative best is quite presumably the short story section which introduces us to his literary class. Ten stories of ten different flavours are put together in the book. And here I find a pattern too. It begins with love and passion and then it drifts into villainy and all that non pious ( stories like : দাহ, কেননা মানুষ, page 23,27) before ending with love again as the section ends with ভালো বাসার গন্ধ (the fragrance of love, page 40).

The essay section is comparatively simple and quite contrary to what we actually expect from an essayist. It does not contain heavy anecdotes and footnotes or bibliography. Still when we read রবীন্দ্রনাথ কেমন করে লিখতেন ( how did Rabindranath write) we find as if Shri Basu is following the romantic essay tradition of Charles Lamb, fusing story telling with subjective details. As if Shri Basu is conversing with Tagore himself and bringing into fore all the hidden treasures of the greatest bard of all times from Bengal. Same conversational tone and unorthodox style of analysis can be found in his other esssays on Manik Bandopadhyay and Najrul Islam, two other writer and poet from Bengal.

However the gem lies in the last but one essay in the section ‘ লেখকেরা কিভাবে লেখেন ‘ ( how do writers write). This essay though short, showcases the basic tenets of a writer, drawing comparisons from writing styles and habits of some well known bengali writers like Atin Bandopadhyay, Baren Ganguly, Prafulla Ray, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Amitava Dasgupta, etc.

But if I am to choose my personal choice of all sections, I will choose the memoir section, because knowing Shri Basu from my teenage till first half of my adulthood years, as a student and then later as a resident of almost the same locality in which he lives, I can instantaneously relate to his memoir. I can surely make out what beautiful grand scene of natural beauty he has tried to portray in his memoir on Batanagar.

And when he ends the section by quoting from Robert Frost ( ‘ And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep), I can definitely relate to his journey back home and even beyond that.

Name of book : কৃষ্ণ চূড়ার দিনগুলো, রাতগুলো,

Publisher : Taurean Publications

ISBN 978-93-91074-65-4

Finding Zian …

There is something about Zian. Before the arrival of Zian, I had moderate to severe detestation towards dogs. But then Zian came, against my will.
My son and his aunt Rinki mashi brought the little one some three and half years back. I was curious.
Curious and a bit anxious.
Curious , anxious and thrilled.
Curious, anxious, thrilled and filled with anticipation.
Initially all care of Zian was taken by my son.
I remained a distant observer of sorts.
An impassive one.
Reluctant.

Then Zian one day came to lick my toes.
I tried to shoo away the little ball of fur with tiny beady eyes.
But Zian started following me from one room to another.
From verandah to terrace.
Swift, agile and always ready.
Even at dead of the night!

Three and half years after, specially in the long drawn lockdown months , Zian and I , have become the best buddies. I have heard and seen in English and American movies how the pet dogs are greatly admired and appreciated and called ‘Buddy’.

After three and half years, I now know the importance of those movies. After three and half years of knowing Zian, I now know why dogs are different from all other creatures and why historically there is such a great bonding between dogs and human beings. After three and half years of knowing Zian, I learnt to be compassionate towards all creatures. All , literally.


I watch and rewatch movies like ‘ Hachi: A Dog’s Tale’ ( for those who have not seen it, must watch it, even if you have a great detestation towards dogs. You will just love Hachiko , the little pet dog of the story and you will cry at his devotion towards his master. https://m.imdb.com/title/tt1028532/) and ‘ A dog’s purpose’ https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Dog%27s_Purpose_(film)
Or for that matter ‘ Marley and me.
‘ ( https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0822832/)

Incidentally in all these flicks I find traits of Zian. And I fall back to love Zian more.
I love Zian in every way, in the most agitated state and the most restive state. While asleep, while awake.

And this Love of mine is also shared by my son and wife and relatives and friends.

This is for the first time I am writing so many things about Zian. And that is because I have chanced to click this photo of Zian today , in a pure restive state. It was early in the morning . The weather was cool and calm. I was just sitting then on the swing chair, resting a bit after my morning physical workout. A soft music was then being played on mp3 player.
And then I looked at Zian.
So peaceful and restive, perfectly in tune to the morning. And yet, I know, a slight movement of me would make him spring back to full alertness. And this thing of dogs is the most remarkable feature. They can swing into action and mobility in a wink of an eye.
And about their faithfulness. Who am I to write about that?
That is something phenomenal. Something truly iconic.

Follow me and also this write up too at Instagram.
(https://www.instagram.com/p/CRFx88HDlG1/?utm_medium=copy_link)

A Poet’s Nook is all we need

When Koyel , a teacher and a poetess by her own right, first approached me for a review of her poetry book ‘ A Poet’s nook’ ( Publisher : Evincepub, ISBN 9789390442478, publication year 2020) , I was non committal for I was not sure what to get from a lesser known poet. Doing review is always an arduous task, specially when you are doing review of works of first timers, the first time poet, or first time fiction writer. However, Koyel surpassed all my expectations in her lucid approach to poetry, not relying much on creating esoteric rhetoric which some of our very very post modernist poets do believe in. Instead she captures whatever crosses her mind. In her short preface to the book she herself states that quite clearly leaving aside any chance of misinterpretation. ‘ Poetry is the music of the soul ‘ , she declares and how that music strikes the chord of the poet and the reader is all about the art of poesy.

Next ninety pages of the book , having some eighty poems, put me into a journey of a sort. From Legacy of dreams to Black hole, I traveled , and traveled quite seamlessly, feeling no hiccups or even tiredness! Such is the eloquence of Koyel’s soul and mind! If The strange place put infront of my mind’s eyes visions of a place near a forest with a girl sitting on an oak bench, Rain Bash is pure joy of feeling every bit of rain. Then there are short pieces like Anticipation which are philosophical and yet grinding real.

But then , for a flight of fancy there is always pieces like Ethereal which stir the secret chambers of heart and make one realize that there is always a room for finding beauty amidst chaos and unrest. There is always a soothing comforting ease in the midst of disturbance.

I would be dishonest to myself and also to the poetess if I say that the book will sweep one off one’s feet by its sudden grandiose stuff. No, it will not do that. Instead, by reading , poetry will seep into the permeable soul of a poetry lover. It is not a book to fall in love with in the very first sight , having something grand and obscure. It is a book which is to be savored quiet and at one’s leisure. And love for it will grow in graded terms. It is like making an acquaintance. Slow and yet thrilling.

Growing with Janette : a review of ‘ Something here will grow ‘

Reading Janette Schafer is no less than a revelation to me. Not because her book of poetry ‘ Something here will grow’ startles me or sweeps me off my feet by its cerebral exercises, which as a book reviewer , I am , to some extent, accustomed to, but by its utter simplicity. So , with her start ‘ Floating above Detroit ‘ , trying to find the essence of the Green House , her first home in America. In ‘ Elixir’ , too , I again find myself in that house , and with her I go on searching for little slides of memories. Janette does not over power her poetry with imagery which is oblique or far fetched. Instead she narrates and while she does so, for example in ‘A Family History ‘ , we as readers , at once , visualize characters and places, she so aptly describes , without any ornamentation. She can easily announce ‘ My father was the first man I knew who broke my heart ‘ or ‘ My grandfather was the first man I knew who fought monsters’ . The same straightforwardness can be found in ‘ When I was seventeen ‘. She wrote quite matter of factly : I do not date or learn to drive. If straightforwardness is Janette’s key to poetry, her passion for music and sweetness of life , does not go unntoticed. In ‘ Harvest’ , she almost confesses : The sweetness of fruit is almost unbearable. Likewise, in ‘ Ode to Heroin’ , she weaves poetry with music asking queries like : How does the dolphin tell a dove of swimming ? How does a dove tell a dolphin what it is to fly? And yet , even after asking queries like these, she knows too well, what is it to surrender to passion , forgetting the prosaic aspects of life. So she falters not to plead : Kiss me beneath the waves ( That time I was naked with Lisa) or for that matter, in sing song manner, asks her readers to find her ( Come find me) . Reading Janette is like making a journey with oneself.

The man who had been the absurdist and yet the most lyrical one

The first distinct memory of Sukumar Ray, for me, like many others is definitely ‘ Abol tabol’ ( ‘আবোল তাবোল), his collection of so called ‘ non sense verse’. The illustrations accompanying them were those which left indelible impressions . Surprisingly despite being absolutely illogical or at least being very adverse to usual sense of logic, most of his ‘verses’ having lyric grace and inimitable rhythm, caught our fancy. They were our ‘ nursery rhymes’ and we sang them too oft which only buttressed their popularity.
Many years after, on his birth anniversary, as I try to understand why were they so popular then, one thing that strikes me is the sweetness of fancy that most of his poems evoke. They talk of mundane things like how two persons can quarrel and yet that quarrel never turns into a quarrel as it becomes a poem filled with hilarious anecdotes, or for that matter ‘ bombagorer raja’ ( বোম্বাগড়ের রাজা) comes alive with his peculiar habits. Then there were those poems having ballad like qualities telling stories which can be related to by anyone so easily that they remain unforgettable. So we can never forget poems like ‘ সৎ পাত্র’ ( The suitable alliance) or ‘ কুমড়োপটাস্'( kumropotas). They took us to reality of dreams or fanciful presentations of the real.
Sukumar Ray , can never be compared with any poet for no poet even thought of working on the absurd so copiously as he did. We can find the ridicule and the ludicrous elements in other poets and writers, we can find poets writing excellent limericks, we can find writers bringing in that Coleridgean ‘ willing suspension of disbelief’, but we can never find one singular poet like Sukumar Ray putting lyric charm in ballad like poems having absurdities which are fanciful and fairytale like. And added to that which poet could have ever dared to write impossible songs apparently so meaningless and yet so enticingly rhythmic?
It is difficult, pretty difficult to categorise poems of Sukumar Ray. They are lyrical, albeit illogical. They are fanciful, unreal yet sometimes real and ironic. They carry pure laughter, fun and also sometimes ridicule.
They tell stories of familiar characters and on occasions come up with alien, strange, never seen creatures like hybrids of ‘porcupine ‘ and ‘ duck’ ( হাঁসজারু) . Only someone with a different set of skills embedded into ‘ Imagination’ can possibly think of and conceive ideas that Sukumar Ray so easily conjured up. Yes, he had been a conjurer too, a conjurer of a kind with unmatched sense of the absurd.

A little boy, a golden hill, a lonely mother and her aggrieved son

After many days, saw a beautiful bengali movie. Released this year, this one ‘ সোনার পাহাড়’ / ‘ Sonar pahar’ tells a story of how a son ( after being married) gets himself distanced from his mother, a widow, for he can’t find a proper way to please both his mother and wife. That’s a pretty common thing and people would definitely say ‘ O we know these stories of mother-in- laws and daughter-in-laws , for we have seen enough of these on tv ‘.
No, the director, Parambrata Chatterjee, had no intention to present another sash-bahu story. Instead, he brings in a little orphan boy who after being given the chance to stay with old widowed mother Upama ( played by Tanuja) gradually takes up a great space in her so far uneventful, lonely life. She, who had been feeling lonely, irritable, almost castaway, finds a glimmer of hope and laughter in the boy.
Her son Soumya, ( played by Jishu Sengupta) who always thought his mother was too austere and rigid to make little adjustments with his wife, was almost shocked when suddenly he learnt that his mother and the little boy had gone far away to the hills.
This time, he was more curious than feeling jealous of the little boy who was taking up more of his mother’s attention.
So he arrived at the place where Upama had put up. There, he and his wife, witnessed the sweet friendship between the little boy and Upama. The more they saw them walking holding hands, the more they realised how they actually had left a vacant place in the old widow’s heart and how that vacant place which would have turned sooty, diseased and pained, was filled with giggles and laughter and vibrant colors of life by that little orphan boy.
And more importantly they learnt how their mother, had taken to writing after a long, too long break.
The son, who knew his mother’s penchant for writing, now, standing infront of the hills ( Kanchenjunga) drenched golden in the light of the day, tells his mother, his side of the story, his aggrieved heart which bled and yet which could not be put into full view of his own mother.
The mother embraces her son.
The little boy who had been solely instrumental in bringing the mother and the son close, smiles, standing a few paces away from them.

A beauty of a movie.

Mother and the shiuli blossoms

She had been a professional nurse. My mother. Sefali Ghosh was her maiden name before she got married to my dad and changed it to Sefali Dutta. Quite interestingly Sefali is the name of a flower found in this part of the world which blooms every autumn. So come autumn , I go into a different mind, a difficult mind too, if am I to say so, for it is like revisiting my childhood and having glimpses of my mother who happily went taking the stairs to heaven.
That year too the autumn had been awesome. The festivity had been all around. I took her for a ride around the city. Being a person who knew how bodies work, how diseases spread, she perhaps guessed something about her illness. She had a heart which had erratic beats. I remember she telling me all the time while we were having a tour of the city, through its lanes and bylanes, watching people and the trees and cars and all that are the usual part of the cityscape, that it might be her last tour with me. I laughed.
But then , she was a nurse. She knew it. Like she knew how my eyes had an inexpressible medical condition of being wet with salty water at that time when she said those words to me. She knew it that I was trying to be brave. Her brave boy.
And she climbed those stairs easily. Without making even a groan. She just slept and woke not.
Next year, I planted a sefali / shiuli tree just on our small piece of land by the car shed, beside that patio. It was summer. A full grown horrid Indian summer. The sun blazed hot and cruel. But I had to save that sefali tree. Every morning, that summer, even before the sun would turn like a scorching red hot ball of fire, I would wake up and water the tree. And every time I did that , I just prayed with all my heart that it survived that summer. The sultry boring lifeless summer of that year. With all my heart , nerve and sinew , I took care of the shiuli tree. If I would find its leaves turning yellowish a bit , I would check the soil, rake it, apply manure and water. In the evening, I would go near the tree and touch its little branches and leaves. I thought of myself as perfect gardener perhaps then. Caressing it. Loving it. Not that I took no care of other trees. Of course I did that. But that shiuli tree was always under my scanner. Once I found a worm crawling at its body. I took it and threw it far away. But before that I took and snapshot of it and searched the internet to find its genus and species. Once finding that I with some kind desperation like that of a medic, found out the measures to be taken to save the tree from onslaught of worms and pests like that.
That time I thought of myself a nurse too. A nurse to a tree. The shiuli tree.
Then came the monsoon. It rained for hours each day that monsoon. I had to take a spade and create a nullah or a makeshift channel on the ground to prevent that particular spot from getting waterlogged, knowing accumulation of water could weaken the tree at its roots.
That time I felt like a construction worker. A sewage cleaner also.
And then, the monsoon also passed, giving way to autumn. The delightful autumn.
For the first few days of the season, all other trees bore flowers. But that shiuli tree had none. I was worried. I talked to my wife. She went with me to that small garden we had beside the car shed. Our son went there too. We checked for buds. The tree though had grown taller and greener, had no signs of buds.
Butterflies!
My son suddenly quipped.
Yes, we needed butterflies to carry pollens and to make the tree bloom.
So again I searched for trees which attract butterflies most. Found some. Brought them and planted them.
That time I felt I was like a priest. Purifying the earth praying with all my heart for its beauty to arrive.
Praying those trees which attract birds and bees and butterflies to grow faster.
They did. Butterfiles arrived. Bees too.
The smell of flowers wrought my senses with joy.
I felt that time I had become half of that garden.
Only that shiuli tree.
I waited.
We all waited.

Then one fine morning, as I went near the tree I found them. Those white shiuli blossoms with an orange core waving to me from the branches of the tree. They had bloomed overnight!
I called my wife and son.
We three stood under the tree.
The air around it had that unmistakable fragrance of shiuli blossoms.

That time I felt perfect like a nurse.

Kumortuli

One of the most talked about spots of the city of Kolkata and often visited by tourists and photographers is ‘Kumortuli’ as it is so called because of the residences of clay image/ idol makers which congregate here.

Situated in ward number nine of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, between Ahiritola and Shovabazar, by the banks of river Hooghly, this place accommodated potters and clay idol makers after the British East India Company decided to create separate districts for ‘ the company’s workmen’ as can be found in the orders of John Zephaniah Holwell who succeeded Robert Clive as the Governor of Bengal. In accordance with those orders different ‘ districts’ were formed like ‘ collotollah’ ( quarters for oilmen), ‘ chuttarpara’ ( quarters for carpenters), ‘ ahiritollah’ ( quarters for cowherd), ‘ kumortolly’ ( quarters for potters and clay idol makers), etc;

From then on till date , many families of potters and clay idol makers , have not only been living here, but also have been keeping alive their profession of making idols and pottery items.

A visit to this place around this time of the year would be a fascinating one for any art lover or photographer.

For in the lanes and by lanes of kumortuli we could see how the artisans and clay idol makers work on to give shapes to the idols. They spend most of their days and nights in front of the idols they are busy creating. The creation of the idols, a time consuming and fully labour intensive process ( as there is hardly any use of machinations ) often takes months and most of the artisans who work there, keep on working under time constraints, around this time of the year, for come rain, come shine, they are supposed to deliver the idols of Durga and her sons and daughters within the stipulated schedule and there is no way of moving an inch away from it. So they work on.

On my visits to this place, everytime I am left amazed by the sheer, should I say, devotion of these workers who, not by any stretch of imagination, getting hefty pays, simply work on in cramped places, often covered by tin roofs or tarpaulin. They work there and often take their naps on the floor of those tents or sheds before they wake up and start again with their works.

I have found how women folk of the area also join in their male counterparts in helping them with making ‘adornments’ made of shola or thermocol as they are called.

Though idol making had remained by and large a male bastion, in recent years , many talented women have made forays into that. With the advent of theme based puja, the demand for traditional idols of Devi Durga have perhaps dwindled but still, many idols are being made and sent from here to different parts of the state and also outside. Kumortuli has its own Durga Puja as well which got started way back in 1933.