Tuesday, September 25, 2012


A brief extract from Udayan Ghosh’s Khalasitolar Ami Ek Prodigal Khalasi (“I’m Khalasitola’s Prodigal Coolie”), translated by me.

(Udayan Ghosh) – Kamal-da, I ask you so many questions, I hope you don’t get annoyed.

(Kamalkumar Majumdar) – I’m a student, can a student afford to be annoyed while answering questions?

– May I ask you another question?

– Speak, my Lord.

– What’s the difference between painting and cinema?

– Ask Dhaenga this question. [dhaenga: colloquial / slang for an abnormally tall, lanky person.]

– Dhaenga?

– Don’t you know Dhaenga? Your Horbola group’s Manik-babu. A famous commercial artist.

– Oh, you mean Satyajit Ray? I don’t see him nowadays. Horbola itself is now defunct.

– He used to come to Khalasitola earlier. On the pretext of looking for Kamal-babu. Of course, he’d down a few glasses first, and then enquire about Kamal-babu. Yes, he writes fine stories, nice, sweet, incomparable stories. His drawing is not bad either, but everything’s commercial. At least his father, Sukumar Ray, had a far superior film sense. “’Twas a hanky, became a cat”. [ref. to Sukumar Ray's novella, Hajoborola, a classic of children’s literature in Bengali.] That’s cinema, a montage in a movie. I heard that this Dhaenga is running after the other Dhaenga, the political Dhaenga, Bidhan Roy, to make some song or gong … [ref. to the novel Pather Panchali (“song of the road”) by Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay, subsequently made into a film by Satyajit Ray, that launched his career as a major film director of Bengal, India and the world.] He’s also going to catch the poetic author of (the novel) Aranyak, Bibhuti Bhushan. Is it so simple? Has he ever written a poem in his life? Let him try! Cinema is another kind of medium altogether, the greatest medium. Shabda–brahma, rupa–brahma, and above all, a-rupa–brahma operate here. Literature used to be translated into cinema only so long as cinema was in its infancy. But now it is grown-up. So why would cinema accept literature as an element? Haven’t you seen Eisenstein? Haven’t you seen Charles Chaplin? Yes, Dhaenga knows music, but with just that, with story and music, you can’t cook up a film. Image is imbued with life, and cinema is simultaneously imbued with life and sound. Dhaenga is also a cine-club addict. When, from where, from which film he’s copied or imbibed – can anyone here know that? What can one say … Dhaenga does not know painting, the soul of a painting, and the colours fused within that, he doesn’t even understand the power of the sketch lines let alone its sound-imbued version in cinema. Look at his cover of Banalata Sen, think about it. [ref. to the Bengali poem “Banalata Sen” by Jibanananda Das, written in 1934, and Satyajit Ray’s cover for Das’s collection of poems titled Banalata Sen (1942)]. Is “Banalata Sen” only about “her hair, like dark night in ancient Vidhisha”? Or bird’s-nest-like eyes”? Is the meaning of the lines only about her hair? In that case, what about all those lines – “evening arrives like the hush of dew 
/ A hawk wipes the scent of sunlight from its wings / All birds come home / all rivers / all of this life’s tasks finished / … a manuscript begins preparations, then the glimmer of fireflies illumines the delay of the story …” – is the meaning of all this only “her hair … in ancient …”? Is the hair alone a metaphor for all these sentences? And is Banalata Sen only a female face adorned by tresses? If so, then what are “manuscript” and “story”? Let it be! “The delay of the story”, or “all of this life’s tasks finished” ­ – translating this visually is not the business of commerce, but of art. Why then, dear dad, do you try your hand in the art of montage?

Reader, this is Kamal speaking, it’s not as if I could render it exactly, my own writing is part of it. Readers, forgive me. … But know this much, that these words are produced by Kamalkumar.

Image: Cover of Jibanananda Das' Banalata Sen, designed by Satyajit Ray.

200 Killings a Month

A brief extract from Debashis Bhattacharya’s Shottorer Dinguli ("The Days of the Seventies") translated by me.

During the months of March, April, May and June of 1971, killings were the order of the day. However, it was in south Bengal, and especially in Calcutta and the neighbouring districts where most of this occurred. At that time there were about 200 killings a month. Of these 200, the police committed 130 murders. All naxalites used to be killed. 50 killings were by the naxalites. Of these, 20 were policemen, 20 were police informers, and 10 were CPI(M) workers. The CPI(M) killed 20 a month. Of these 20 murders, 15 were naxalites, and 5 belonged to the CPI. In some cases the principal Congress-man of a neighbourhood was also killed.

Things came to this pass as a result of launching “action” in the cities, following Charu Mazumdar’s dictum, and the spread of “red terror”. Charu-babu used to say that one was not a communist until and unless one’s hands were coloured with the class enemy’s blood. He said, don’t be afraid to sacrifice yourself! The Congress’ goon squad had not yet entered the field. Congress leaders smiled wryly observing the situation in early 1971.

Going through a report of the state home department, one finds that in 1968 there were 9 political murders in West Bengal. In 1969 there were 109. Between 1 January and 31 December of 1970 there were 435. During the four months between 1 January and 30 April of 1971, there were 401. Killings by the police and killings of policemen were not included in these figures. Only killings by and of political party workers had been counted. During the 365 days of 1970, all told, 1247 people were killed in Calcutta. And 1067 people had been killed in the districts.

Between the end of March 1970 and the end of March 1971, there were 142 incidents in the state of seizing of guns and revolvers by naxalites. But between 1 April and 15 May of 1971, within these 45 days, there were 146 incidents. During this period, guns and rifles used to be snatched everyday in Birbhum district. The guns of bank guards were snatched. In April 1971, a squad of naxalites threw chilli powder in the eyes of a Nepali durwan guarding a wealthy person’s house in Alipore in Calcutta, and snatched away the khukri on his waist.

Between March and December of 1970, about eight and a half thousand naxalites were arrested in the state. Of this number, only one person was sentenced by the court. Refusing legal redress, bail, and the various facilities due to prisoners that had been earned after many battles, the naxalites converted the prisons too into arenas of struggle. In the CPI(ML) party’s almost-monthly mini-paper, Deshabrati, writing under the pseudonym, Sasanka, the state committee’s secretary, Saroj Dutta, wrote: The revolutionary prisoners have declared their loathing for the prison walls.

On 14 May 1971, "action" was launched in Dum Dum Jail, and 45 naxalite prisoners escaped. Later, prison officials and police jointly beat and killed 32 naxalite prisoners. More than 90 persons were injured. And on 15 May 1971, 5 naxalite prisoners were killed in Howrah. What was the key to the success of the escape attempt? A comrade wrote a letter to Charu Mazumdar after his escape. He wrote: It’s only because I had learnt to hate and annihilate the centrists that I was able to escape. If the prisoners in all the jails read CM’s tract on centrism, and then try to escape, they will surely be successful.

Today, many of those who broke out of Dum Dum Jail that day get irritated at the very mention of the word ‘politics’.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Farewell, Chandan

One of my dearest friends, Prof Chandan Sengupta, sociologist, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, passed away on 9 September 2012.

"I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."

He lived his life with courage, dignity, compassion, generosity and strong values.

Rest in peace, Chandan, you are an unforgetable gem.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Love IPL

SC: Are you all backing Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL? How do they play cricket in this heat? KKR is in the play-off places.

BA: Kolkata Knight Riders etc - that's not really cricket, its just a pajama party for bored yuppies with money to waste. Fully faltoo!

SC: Thanks A! I like your description of KKR. I don't know how a Third World country can pay such high wages to rich Western cricketers for so few weeks work.

BA: The money ultimately comes from India's affluent idiots, who as everyone knows are the biggest ullus in the world, any con-man can pull a fast one and relieve them of their money. Of course, they have lots more where it came from, from their loot and bloodsucking of the poor. They pay '000s of rupees and travel by air to watch matches - but don't think twice about arguing over 2 rupees with rickshaw wallahs etc. And the money comes from media and advertising, on TV etc. People watch the matches on TV. If everyone simply decided enough is enough and got bored - then the whole edifice would collapse. But that's not about to happen. Tomorrow if you packaged shit and sold it to India's oh-so-shining, they'd buy that too. Only one response for them: goo kha.

SC: Hear hear! The cap fits. I think I can recognise these mean rich ullus. I have seen them waving flags on TV. What are they screaming for? Their players don't even hail from their cities/states. And too much 20:20 is rendering India impotent in Test matches! Are they proud of that?

BA: The ullu class has neither knowledge nor values, neither taste nor aesthetics, they are just monkeys with money. Not for them cricket aesthetics or any aesthetics for that matter. If the maoists or the jihadis wiped out this class, the net result would only be positive!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Here to stay!

Today's newspaper reports that the Mayor of Calcutta, Sovan Chatterjee announced yesterday that fresh licences would be issued to hand-pulled rickshaws.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation had stopped issuing licences in 2009 - following upon the former chief minister's announcement, in 2005, that the hand-rickshaw would be banned.

I hope this brings to an end the travails of the rickshaw pullers, in regard to the uncertainty surrounding their livelihood. Now it is time to empower the rickshaw pullers and improve their working and living conditions.