26 Sep 2006

Holiday Preparations by Rabindranath Tagore

Kaash Flowers

Puja holidays come near.

Sunshine is draped in the colour of Champa flower.

The air ripples with dew,

Shiuli's fragrance touches

like the delicate caress of someone's cool hands.

The sky is lazy with white clouds—

seeing which, the mind doesn't feel like working.


Mastermoshai continues to teach

the primitive story of coal.

Sitting on the bench, the boy paddles his feet,

sees images in his mind—

The cracked ghat of Kamal pond,

And the fruit laden custard apple tree of the Bhanjas.

And he sees in his mind's eyes, the zigzag path

that leads from the milkmen's neighbourhood

by the side of the haat,

into the tishi fields, next to the river.


In the economics class at college

the bespectacled, medal-winning student

jots down a list

which recent novel to buy

which shop will give in credit—

the sari with the "Do Remember" border,

shakha washed in gold,

a pair of red velvet chappals, handcrafted in Dilli

and a silk cloth-bound poetry book,

printed on antique paper—

can't remember its name yet.


At the three-storied house in Bhabanipur

a menagerie of shrill hoarse voices talk—

This time will it be Mount Abu or Madurai,

Dalhousie or Puri,

or that ever familiar Darjiling?


And I see, on the red path that leads to the station

five or six lambs tied with ropes,

their helpless cry spreads across

the calm autumn sky that lilts with the brushing kaash flowers.

How do they understand

their puja holidays are nearby?


Mastermoshai = Respectful term for teacher (Bengali)

Ghat = Bank

Haat = Weekly village market

Tishi = Linseed

Shakha = White bangle made of a particular stone. Is worn by married Bengali women.

Chappal = Footwear


Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh


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21 Sep 2006

Pujo Manei...

That Bengali phrase translates to "the very meaning of pujo." Pujo here refers to Durga Puja, the biggest festival for Bengalis. It marks goddess Durga's descent to earth for ten days every year. This year, Durga Puja officially begins on September 23. It's a special time of the year. A time when religion and worship become the venerated background. The foreground is the Bengalis' love for culture, cuisine, and most of all, celebration.

Shiuli Flower

For me,

the very meaning of Pujo is:

the unmistakable slight chill in the air that indicates the enervating summer days are history. The sky looks bright, the air feels fresh, the heart sings with the first autumn notes.

the scent of shiuli flower floating in from the tree outside the house every evening, signaling the coming of Durga.

waking up at 4 am on Mahalaya, the invocation that seeks Durga's descent on earth. Even before dawn cracks through the sky on this day, All India Radio broadcasts a special audio programme, featuring scriptural chants, classical songs, and the story of how Durga annihilated Mahisasura, the demon king.

the memories of taking part in pre-pujo competitions all over the neighbourhood. Recitation, music, art, sports, fancy dress...the competitions that introduced me to Rabindranath, Nazrul, Sukumar Ray, Sukanto. The competitions that brought me books in the form of prizes.

gorging on the most delectable food at various pandals. From spicy jhalmuri to egg-rolls dripping with oil to biryani and kababs. And of course the traditional, delicious bhog.

the inimitable sound of Dhak overtaking the entire atmosphere, silencing the crass automobile horns with its nostalgic beats.

the staying up late in the night at pandals, watching cultural shows. The shows that brought folk theatre like Jatra, folk music like baul and bhatiyali as well as "modern" songs to urban Bengalis. The nights that wrapped you in the cozy aura of black and white Bengali films featuring the never-fading, ever-endeared Uttam Kumar.

coming across friends and acquaintances you haven't met in ages. Like your social studies teacher from middle school whom all the students loved. Or the physics teacher you would have done anything to avoid back when you were her student.

that inexplicable happiness and widespread camaraderie that mingles with the crisp autumn air.


17 Sep 2006

The Book Meme


I have been tagged by the erudite and universally-linked [;)] John Baker for a meme. Thanks, John. It was fun doing this. :)

1. One book that changed your life?
As a high school teenager it was Charles Chaplin's My Autobiography. To me, his story was a testimony of the triumph of human spirit, and the book served as an inspiration for many years.

A few years back, I read A Fine Balance and was jolted out of my complacency. The book made me think for days and made me more conscious about the lives outside my insulated sphere of existence.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Rabindranath Tagore's Sanchaita (collected poems). It's been a constant friend.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

Gitabitan, Rabindranath Tagore's book of songs. It has some of the finest of this sage poet's poetry, sweeping the entire spectrum of the universe. Since I also sing Rabindrasangeet (Tagore songs), this book will be a perfect companion at a deserted island.

4. One book that made you cry?

Most recently it was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

5. One book that made you laugh?

Carry Me Home by Sandra Kring. The book also made me cry in places. Terrific read.

6. One book you wish you had been written?

The Kite Runner. I wish I could like as lyrically, create a setting as enchanting and atmospheric, and evoke emotions as strong as Hosseini did.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Am yet to come across a book like that.

8. One book you are currently reading?

The Plague by Albert Camus.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

SO many. My immediate priority is The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Now for my victims, er, friends to tag. Here they are: Shadow Writer, Lotus Reads, Bernita, Susan, Amin, and Simran. Can't wait to see your answers!

PS: I just noticed I read one of the questions incorrectly. Q 6 asks about "one book I wish had been written," and my response is for a book I wish I had written. LOL. You can expect that from this daft reader/writer. So instead of answering the original question, I am tweaking it here so my answer fits. Yes, I am lazy too.

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13 Sep 2006

Reel-istically Funny

AW Chain 6 is here. An event I am getting addicted to. It's amazing to see how one subject leads to the other, leaving you enriched and entertained by the end of the process. Before me, Kelly spoke about some comedy flicks that featured muscular action heroes trying their best to manage little babies. Now, that instantly makes me smile. The proposition of tough men at their clumsiest worst when it comes to babysitting is intrinsically funny, isn't it?

So what is it that makes a good comedy film? If I had to nail it down, I would say it just takes an intelligently crafted story that taps in to the foibles of human nature and gives them a lighter spin. How do you measure a comedy film as good or trash? Again, the yardstick for me is a simple and time-tested one. If the film manages to make your stomach hurt with laughter even after you've seen it 58 times, it has to be good.

Let me share with you five of my all-time favourite Hindi comedy films. I am not rating them, since they all make your belly explode equally well. On to the laughter pills then:

1. GOLMAAL (Topsy-turvy): Ram Prasad is a middle-class chartered accountant, desperately looking for a job to support himself and his sister. He is thrilled to learn about a vacancy at a firm owned and run an eccentric old man called Bhavani Shankar. However, there is a catch. The old man believes the youth of the country should focus only on their jobs, and not waste time on other interests like sports or entertainment. Ram Prasad, a soccer and hockey lover goes prepared for an interview with this quirky gentleman. He impresses Bhavani Shankar when the latter asks him a question on Pele, and he apparently fails to recognize the soccer maestro. He gets the job.

Trouble starts when the boss spots Ram Prasad on the spectator stand at a soccer match he goes to attend. When called in for explanation, Ram Prasad fabricates an impeccable (and imaginary) tale of his younger brother, Lakshman Prasad, who he says is a wayward young man, wasting his youth on sports and music. He convinces his boss that it was Lakshman whom the old man had seen at the stadium. He further claims the younger brother doesn't sport a moustache. What follows is a rollercoaster of uproarious situations, in which Ram Prasad has to switch between the roles of his own self and that of his sans-moustache fictional brother, forever at the risk of his boss stumbling upon the truth.

2. CHUPKE CHUPKE (Stealthily): A well-plotted story of how a couple decides to dupe their relatives for some harmless fun. A newly-married couple--a botany professor and his wife--plan to play a prank on the wife's brother-in-law, a judge who is very particular about the use of pure Hindi. The professor, hitherto unseen by these relatives, takes up a driver's job at the judge's house, exhibiting his unadulterated Hindi-speaking tendencies.

Things get suspicious for the older couple when the judge's sister-in-law is seen to openly flirt with the new driver. The situation gets out of control when the duo actually elopes and another (planted) character emerges, claiming to be the botany professor. Imagine the older couple’s embarrassment, even as the man claiming to be the botany professor is actually a scholar of English literature and has a hard time teaching botany to a young girl he begins to fancy while still posing as the married professor.

3. JAANE BHI DO YAARON (Let it be, Friends): A remarkable film that was a blend of black comedy and slapstick. Two photographer friends set up shop in the busy Mumbai city. Their first assignment comes from a newspaper editor, and accidentally the two friends photograph a murder scene. They are dragged increasingly into the dark and deceitful world of corrupt administrators and businessmen. A brilliant satire enacted by some of the finest actors of the Hindi film industry, this flick was marked by witty dialogues, hilariously absurd sequences, and an unmistakable dig at urban ugliness (not just the physical part of it).

4. RANG BIRANGI (Colourful): A riotous comedy on a bachelor friend's attempt at rekindling the spark in the marital life of another friend. His script turns the lives of the married friend, his secretary, her boyfriend, and a whole lot of other people in the film into a complicated labyrinth of circumstances. The plot hatched by the bachelor friend is the backbone of the film's plot. Fantastic plotting and rib-tickling scenarios conspire together to produce an explosively funny film.

5. KATHA (Tale): Yet another social comedy, reflecting the dilemmas of urban life. Rajaram is an honest middle-class clerk living in a densely-populated locality of Mumbai. He secretly loves his neighbour, Sandhya, but can't profess his feelings to her. Soon, he is joined by his smooth-talking-but-idle friend, Bashudev. The latter wastes no time in courting Sandhya, even while living in Rajaram's flat at the nice guy's expense. A classic hare-tortoise story, in which, thankfully, the tortoise wins the battle after almost losing it. Bashudev takes the cake, though, entertaining and disgusting the audience at the same time.

All of those sparkling funny bubbles, filled with natural laughing gas are stories of ordinary people caught in the daily grind. They make for healthy, wholesome family entertainment. All of them deserve separate entries. Maybe some other time. For now, let me navigate you to the Indian-movie-loving Simran at Writing From Within.

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10 Sep 2006

In Memoriam: Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006)

With the passing away of Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's Nobel laureate, the literary world has lost an entire epoch. This 94-year-old writer wasn't only a pillar of Arabic literature, but the central figure who brought this literature on to the world stage. Someone influenced as much by his Islamic mother's tolerance for all humanity as by the ancient history of his country, his writing corpus matches the vastness of Egypt's heritage. From the reigns of pharaohs to the socio-political state of modern-day Egypt, Mahfouz's writing captured the entire gamut of this ancient and vibrant culture. A writer who deeply loved his land and never stepped out of it, not even to attend the Nobel ceremony in 1988, his vision was never constrained by any man-made boundaries—geographical or otherwise.

My position on everything I have read throughout my life -- and my readings include the Ancient Egyptian and Arabic heritage as well as English and French creative works -- was, as far as possible, a neutral, unbiased, one. This in the sense that all these cultures are, in the last analysis, human cultures, produced by man, and I am as entitled to the English [literary] heritage as I am to the Pharaonic heritage. In other words, all these cultures belong to me in my capacity as a human being. And if you were to ask me to enumerate my favourite works in order, you might find among them an Ancient Egyptian work, a French one, a third that is Arabic and a fourth that is English. When I read I allow my self to love what seems worthy of love, regardless of nationality.

~ Naguib Mahfouz, in an interview with Ibrahim Mansour


More on Mahfouz in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly.


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6 Sep 2006

PAGLA DASHU (Crazy Dashu) -- II, By Sukumar Ray

Missed Part I? Read it here.

The Deeds of Dashu (continued)

On one occasion, just after the vacations, Dashu came to the school with an intriguing box. Master Mashai asked him, "What's in that box, Dashu?" He replied, "My things, sir." A little debate ensued among us regarding the nature of his "things." We noticed Dashu had all the essential school items with him--books, notebooks, pencil, blade. Then what "things" was he talking about? When we asked him, he didn't give a direct reply. Instead, he clutched the box to his chest and said, "I am warning you all. Don't ever mess with my box." Then, he opened the lid slightly with a key and peeked inside while mumbling some calculations. The moment I tried to lean over to catch a glimpse, Dashu locked it up.


Soon, this became a hot topic of discussion for the rest of us. Someone said, "It's his lunch box. He must be hiding food inside it." But I never saw him opening the box during lunch time to eat anything. Some suggested, "It could be his money bag. It must contain a lot of cash. That is why he never parts with it." To this, another boy said, "Why such a big box to keep money? Is he planning to open a money-lending business in the school?"

During lunch one day, Dashu hastily gave me the key to the box and said, "Keep this with yourself, make sure you don't lose it. If I get a little late in returning, please hand over the key to the watchman before you all go to the classroom." With that he went away, leaving the box with the watchman.

We were thrilled! After so long, we had an opportunity; now only the watchman needed to move away for a while. Shortly, the watchman lit his stove to make rotis* and went to the water tap with a few utensils. This was just the moment we were waiting for. Five-seven of us boys bent over the box. I opened it and saw a fat bundle of papers rolled tightly with tattered cloth strings. Quickly opening the knot, we found another paper box inside, which in turn carried yet another small paper bundle. On opening that, a card popped out. One side of the card said, "Eat a green banana,"^ while the other side had the words "Excessive curiosity is not good." We started exchanging stupefied glances with each other. At last someone said, "The lad sure took us for a ride." Another boy said, "Let's tie it up exactly the way it was, so he doesn't have any inkling that we'd opened it. That would teach him a lesson, all right." I said, "Fine. When he returns, you all politely request him to open the box and show what it contains." We quickly wrapped up all the papers with strings and dropped the bundle inside the box.

I was just about to lock the box when we heard a thunderous guffaw. That's when we saw Dashu, seated atop the boundary wall, laughing insanely. The buffoon was actually watching the whole show from a vantage point. We realised the entire chain of events--giving me the key, keeping the box with the watchman, making an excuse of going out at lunch--all these were part of Dashu's prank scheme. He had been carrying that box for all these days just to make us appear like idiots.

Is it without any reason that we call him Crazy Dashu?

* Roti = Indian flat bread
^ Eat a green banana = In Bengal, this phrase is used to mildly snide effect, after fooling someone or to indiacate that a person's wish isn't going to be granted.


[The End]

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh


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4 Sep 2006

PAGLA DASHU (Crazy Dashu) -- I, By Sukumar Ray

The Deeds of Dashu

Read Part II here

By Sukumar Ray
Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh


In our school, there was hardly anyone who didn't know Crazy Dashu. Even those who knew nobody was familiar with Dashu. One time, a new watchman came to our school; he was totally rustic. No sooner than he heard about Crazy Dashu, had he identified him. That's because from his looks, speech, and movement you could tell Dashu was a bit off in the head. He had big round eyes, unnecessarily long ears, and a scrub of scruffy hair. Whenever he walked fast or spoke in a busy manner, it reminded one of lobsters for some reason.

Not that he was foolish. When it came to arithmetic, especially complex multiplication and division problems, his brain worked rather well. Again, there were occasions when he reveled in duping us with such well-forged plans, that we were left embarrassed and stunned.

At the time Dashu or Dasharathi joined our school, Jagabandhu was famous as the "best boy" of our class. He was good in studies no doubt, but we hadn't seen a jealous wet cat like him. One day, Dashu approached Jagabandhu to ask him the meaning of an English word. Jagabandhu snapped at him without any reason, saying, "Do I have nothing better to do? Today I will teach him English, tomorrow I'll have to help someone else with maths, the next day another one would come to me with a new request. And I'd just go on wasting time on this!" A livid Dashu replied, "Hey, you are such a petty little rascal." Jagabandhu complained to Pandit Mashai, "That new boy is calling me names." Pandit Mashai* gave Dashu such a yelling that the poor fellow just went quiet.

Bishtubabu taught us English. Jagabandhu was his favourite student. While lecturing, whenever he needed to refer to the textbook, Bishtubabu would get it from Jagabandhu. One day, while teaching us grammar, he asked Jagabandhu for the book. Our friend immediately handed him the green-cover-wrapped grammar tome. As he opened the book, Master Mashai^ asked grimly, "Whose book is this?" Broadening his chest in pride Jagabandhu said, "Mine." Master Mashai said, "Hmm, is this a new edition? The entire book has changed, I see." With that, he started reading, "Hair-raising detective tales of Inspector Jashobant."

Unable to understand whatever was happening, Jagabandhu just froze, flabbergasted. Master Mashai rolled his eyes devilishly and said, "So you are learning such higher things, haan?" Jagabandhu tried to mutter something, but Master Mashai cut him short and said, "Just shut up now. No need to act nice and good. Enough of that!" Jagabandhu's ears went red with shame and insult, and we sure were delighted to see that. Later of course, we learned that this was the handiwork of brother Dashu, who had replaced another green-cover book with Jagabandhu's grammar book.

We always poked fun at Dashu, often ridiculing his intelligence and looks, right in front of him. I don't recall him getting upset about it even once. A lot of times, he would colour our comments and make up funny stories about himself. One day he said, "In our neighbourhood, whenever someone makes dry mango candy, I am in big demand. Can you guess why?" "Why?" We asked, "Do you relish mango candy?" He said, "Oh no, that's not the reason. You see, when they spread the candy for drying on the terraces, I go there and show my face a couple of times. That's enough to drive all the crows away from the area. So no one needs to guard the mango candy while it dries."

* Pandit Mashai = Respectable term for teacher.
^ Master Mashai = Respectable term for teacher.

Enjoyed? Read Part II here.

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh


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