Sunday, December 22, 2013


Madanmohan Jiu Temple, Samta (pix credits Wikipedia)
On 9th of June, 2013, a Sunday, two of my friends and I went to Deulti, a nice, quiet hamlet on the banks of the river Rupnarayan, in Howrah district in West Bengal. It is located about 6kms towards the western part of Bagnan.

It was summer and it was June. Everyone, we talked to, dissuaded us from travelling in this sweltering heat. It is definitely uncomfortable. But we were bored with life in the city. We needed some fresh air and a change from the day in and day out trundle.

After pondering over different destinations, the time at our disposal and the money involved, we zeroed in on Deulti. Deulti is one of the oldest stations of Bengal Nagpur Railway. It was built in 1890. One can reach the place by train from Howrah. It is also accessible by car. It is a drive of around one and half hours from Kolkata. There are places to stay at Deulti. One can find them on the internet.

We started early in the morning. We drove along the Jessore Road, crossed the Nivedita Bridge and took the Kona Expressway till we came onto the Bombay Road or the NH6. At Bagnan we asked our way around and learnt Deulti was 4kms ahead. From the crossing of Deulti we turned right to Mellock and were greeted by a statue of the famed novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Deulti station was to the left of the crossing. We booked ourselves into a resort.

Sarat Chandra's house at Deulti
(pix credits Wikipedia)
After breakfast, we set out for Sarat Chandra Kuthi, the house of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. It is a two storied Burmese style house. When it was built, the river Rupnarayan used to flow right outside the window of Sarat Chandra’s study. Now the river has changed course and has moved far away. The house was destroyed in the floods of 1978. The Zilla Parishad repaired it. It has now been declared a heritage site. In front of the house is the village pond which had been immortalized by the great novelist in “Palli Samaj”and other writings.

Sarat Chandra was born into abject poverty in Devanandapur, in Hoogli district in West Bengal. They were four siblings. His eldest sister Anila Devi was married in the village of Samtaber. Sarat Chandra used to frequent this place.  The serene, tranquillity of the place on the banks of the river Rupnarayan fascinated him. When he returned from Burma and settled in Calcutta Sarat Chandra bought a piece of land near Anila Devi’s and built a house for himself. He lived here till his death, with his wife and his brother Swami Vedananda.

We left the house and walked to the banks of the river Rupnarayan. The river is famous for the Ilish or Hilsa fish that abound in it. It is a popular Bengali cuisine. The river starts in the foothills of the Chhoto Nagpur plateau northeast of the town of Purulia. It flows south east past Bankura, where it is known as Dwarakeshwara. In the town Ghatal it is joined by the river Silai. The Rupnarayan finally flows into the river Hoogli. At Kolaghat, on its banks, is the West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited (WBPDCL) power plant.

Deulti has a regular flow of tourists throughout the year. Kolaghat is nearby. One can also go to Garchumuk and Gadiara. Here the summers are tough. During monsoon the Rupnarayan floods its banks. It is better to come here in winter.

Traditional preparation of jaggery, Samta
(pix credits Wikipedia)
Deulti is rich in its heritage and culture. It is famous for its temples. In the village of Mellock near Samta, there is a very old temple built by Mukundaprasad Roychowdhry. He was a famous wrestler. The temple dates back to 1651 AD. The Madan Mohan Jiu temple is locally known as Gopaler Mandir (the Temple Of Gopala). It is one of the largest atchala (Eight Roofed) temples in West Bengal. The temple is large, beautiful and ornamented by terracotta carvings. Now it is dilapidated and under renovation.

Ma Shitala temple, the temple of Baba Lokenath, the temple of Lord Shiva at Shibtala and the temple of Ma Chandi at Shubho Chandi Tala are the other famous temples in and around Deulti. These temples have initiated a lot of myths around them.

The rains came late in the afternoon. They were accompanied by thunder and lightning. The unbearable heat of the day was gone. As evening set in the rain came to a stop. The climate cooled down. Our journey back was comfortable. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We were refreshed and ready to face the following week’s work. The short tour added to our knowledge of history. We came face to face with our tradition.    


Vienna Opera Backstage (pix courtesy wikipedia)

My tryst with drama started when I was in kindergarten. I had the chance to perform on one of the oldest stages of Kolkata – Biswaroopa.  Thereafter, I grew up and saw the IPTA and the Group Theatre movement in Kolkata. I saw Utpal Dutta, Shambhu Mitra, Sabitri Chatterji, Tripti Mitra, Keya Chakraborty, Shobha Sen, Soumitra Chatterji, Kumar Roy perform on the proscenium. I saw Ajitesh Bannerji perform Brecht’s Three Penny Opera, Pirandello’s 6 Characters In Search of a Playwright, and Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard. I saw Badal Sarkar’s Third Theatre plays. I participated in workshops by Badal Sarkar.

Gradually, I was drawn to theatre. I joined a professional theatre group. I worked with the Indian People’s Theatre Association. I did street plays. I did dance dramas. I participated in choirs. I worked backstage. I was part of crowd scenes. I sold tickets. I went out with fellow theatre activists sticking posters of shows on the walls, lampposts, railway stations, trains, buses and trams. I distributed leaflets and handouts. I helped in setting up the sets of plays. I dabbled in everything from music to light to make up to costume.

Then came a Central Theatre Workshop organised by the Paschimbanga Natya Akademi under the Department of Information & Culture, Govt. Of West Bengal. I passed the grueling interview session and qualified for the workshop. The workshop started at Girish Mancha, in Kolkata. Almost all the stalwarts of Bengali Theatre were there. They were kind, empathetic but very strict and disciplined. They put you to your place. They never spared to call a spade a spade. I found my calling. I decided whatever I do, I must do theatre. I might get into films, I might work in corporate, I might get into teaching but I must do theatre.

I started to work freelance and worked with numerous groups in Kolkata. I used theatre as a means of social communication and worked among the marginalized people of the society. I worked in slums and villages, with street children, the residents of correctional homes, the destitute and the sex workers. My work in theatre challenged me mentally and physically. I had to study. I had to improvise. I got to know my society better. I became a different person.

Theatre drove me to learn. It moved me out of my comfort zone. It made me think out of the box. I met new people – people from diverse backgrounds. Theatre made me face new challenges. It enabled me to be at the side of people come what may. Theatre and my work in it have given me immense satisfaction. I have derived pleasure from it. It has given me respect and recognition. It has taught me to move on in life, to accept new challenges. Hence I wish and desire to work specifically in the field of drama.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


The Sepoy Mutinee 1857
 (photo credits wikipeia)
The end of the telegram services in India on July 15, 2013, a month prior to India’s 67th Independence Day on 15th August, is significant in many ways. It was instrumental in establishing British hegemony in the Indian subcontinent.

In 2007, India commemorated 150 years of the 1857 Revolt, which was coined the First War of Indian Independence by Karl Marx. The telegraph service survived 163 years from the day of its introduction in the country in 1851. Since then it had been the basic means of communication in India.

Literature, be it classical literature, whodunits or the espionage genre - is agog with the use of the telegraph service. Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Byomkesh Bakshi in our very own backyard have used the service to telling effect.  

The Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, early in 2013, stopped the telegram service for overseas communication. Thereafter, it decided to discontinue it in the domestic market from July 15. The BSNL Board approved of the decision. Subsequently the Telecom Board gave the final clearance to the withdrawal of the “dot dash” service.

AMorse Key
(photo credits wikipedia)
The “dot dash” or the Morse Code, named after Samuel Finley Breese Morse, the American artist inventor who was the brain behind the Telegraph and the code, used to move through a device that again sent them through wires to another device which in turn typed them in normal letters on strips of paper. In the USA the first telegram message was sent by Morse using the Morse Code in 1830. The USA discontinued the service in 2006.

Financial constraints compelled the BSNL to wound up the services. It had taken up the service from the Indian Post and Telegraph. For a long time, the common Indian considered the telegraph a symbol of imperial rule. However, the services brought this vast country together. Eventually it became an integral part of everyday life. In the long run, it emerged as the oldest milestone of modern India.

The telegraph service was inexpensive and quick. It was used at random to send emergency messages and birth and death news.  The rapid increase in the use of mobile phones and exposure to the World Wide Web accelerated the decline in the usage of the telegraphic service.

There was a time when several hundred thousand telegrams used to move over the wires of the telegraph system in India in a day. As the number of telegrams sent in a day reduced, the losses incurred by the BSNL escalated. But the end of the telegraph service in India will put a major section of its population to disadvantage. There are innumerable Indians who have no access to phones. Withdrawal of the service will put these teeming millions at the receiving end.

Kolkata’s association with the telegraph goes back to 1850. It was here in November 1850, the first telegraph line of India was laid between the Alipore Telecom Factory in Kolkata- then Calcutta - and the Diamond Harbour Post Office covering a distance of around 45 km.

Sir William Brook O’ Shaughnessy was the man behind the initiation of the telegraph service in India. Sir William was an eminent physician. He carried out experiments with the telegraph on his own. He was successful in laying a seven mile long telegraph line from the Botanical Gardens in Howrah. This was in 1839. But his efforts had no significant impact.

The hanging of 2 sepoys of the 31st
 Native Infantry.
Albumen Siver Print by Felice Beato, 1857
 (credits wikipedia)
In 1848 Sir William succeeded in his effort to convince Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor General of India, about the importance of the telegraph system in this vast country. He made Lord Dalhousie realise that the telegraph would be speedier than rail. The telegraph system came to the rescue of the British Empire during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, thereby, cementing the British domination over the Indian subcontinent.

In March 1851, the first test telegram message was sent by the British East India Company from the Alipore Telecom Factory in Calcutta to the Diamond Harbour Post Office. The service was opened to the public in December the same year. By 1854, telegraph lines were laid across the country, in Delhi, Bombay and Madras.

It was with the help of telegraphic communication that the British suppressed the revolution that broke out against their rule under the East India Company in 1857. From telegraphic messages the British army got advance information of impending attacks and troop movements of the Indians. These gave the British forces ample time to respond and put away their women, children and the sick to safety.

As Babur, with his motley group of soldiers, used the artillery to defeat the huge army of Ibrahim Lodi, in 1525, at the First Battle of Panipat, and establish the Mogul dynasty in India, the British established their control over this country with the help of the telegraph system.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013


PRAN IN KHANDAAN.  (photo credits to NDTV.) 
On 13 July, 2013, a huge crowd gathered at the Shivaji Park Crematorium in Central Mumbai to bid adieu to Pran Sahaab. His last rites were being performed here. 

Pran Kishan Sikand, who was born in Delhi on 12 February, 1920, breathed his last on 12 July, 2013, at the Lilavati Hospital, Mumbai. His body left the Lilavati Hospital in Bandra, a western suburb of Mumbai, at 10.30 am on 13 July, 2013. It reached the crematorium at Shivaji Park half an hour later. 

Pran was an exemplary actor, a thorough professional by his own right and a gentleman in every respect. He had a prolific career spanning 6 decades in the industry.

According to, the famed director, Subhash Ghai, Pran Sahaab had completed his journey gracefully, with dignity, accomplishment and achievements with the best of honours – he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2012.

Pran was in control of his craft. He brought different shades to his roles as villain. He made the art of villainy his very own and did carve a niche for himself. His portrayal of Gajendra, the tyrannical brother-in-law to Dilip Kumar’s hero in Ram aur Shyam, catapaulted villainy to the focal point of Indian cinema.

An actor par excellence, Pran was the highest paid actor in Bollywood from 1969 to 1982. During this period he was paid more than the heroes of some of the films he acted in. Pran appeared in every super hit film of the time.

Vyjyanthimala reminisced, Pran Sahaab was multi faceted and very talented. He could sing, dance, do comedy , in fact do anything. Though villainy was his trademark, he never overacted.  He was a matured villain. Pran was courteous and, says Vyjyanthimala, a wonderful person. She says, “ He will always remain one of the biggest icons of the Hindi film industry.''

As Hindi cinema rolled through the 70’s and into the 80’s the definition, the style, the manner and representation of villains went through a gradual metamorphosis. Pran also transformed himself in the process.

Pran was a versatile actor. His performance in Manoj Kumar’s Upkar, Raj Kapur’s Aah, Gulzar’s Parichay and Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer amply prove his acting prowess.

Subhash Ghai recalls, Pran would arrive before the call sheet time during the shoots. He would definitely bring something to the table about the scene he was going to shoot that day. Pran had the ability to accept rejection. He used to take it gracefully in his stride saying “You are the captain of the ship.” Thereafter they would share a good laugh over it. Pran was a delight to work with for every director. He was generous to his producers too.

He was neither ostentatious nor was he ever obtrusive and never let fame dictate his behavior. Ghai remembers, every time he narrated a story, Pran would listen, smile and react as if he was a new comer, begging for a good role. This was in spite of the fact that at the time Pran was a huge star and films were bought and released on his name. “His face was bigger on the posters than Amitabh Bachhan”, says Ghai.

In early 1960, Pran played a real hero to Waheeda Rehman. They were attending a party in Chennai. Some of the revelers got inebriated and tried to misbehave with Waheeda Rehman. Pran, reportedly, came to the starlet’s rescue.

Pran had a great sense of humor. He was well read and had keen interest in Urdu poetry and literature. An avid sports lover, he kept abreast of all sports events. He would often be at the Cooperage to watch soccer matches.       

Kapil Dev, the cricket legend, said – “If I had a son I would have named him Pran.” In 1980, Kapil  had to undergo a knee surgery. He was having problem arranging the money. The Indian Cricket Board was cash strapped those days.  Kapil received an unexpected call from Pran, who told him that he would bear the entire expenses for the surgery. "Don’t worry about anything. Just don’t compromise on your health,” Pran had said. Kapil Dev was touched by that call. Eventually Kapil tided over the impasse with help from the Indian cricket board and his family. But the care and concern for sports expressed by Pran remain etched in Kapil’s heart.

Amitabh Bachhan, in his blog, paid glowing tribute to this legendary actor.  “A gentleman of the finest order, an admirable colleague, a thorough professional, a master of disguise in the characters he played, a delightful companion after office hours and a considerate human” – is how he describes Pran.

In his early days, Pran wanted to become a photographer. He started assisting a professional photographer in Simla. His first film was Dalsukh M Pancholi's Yamla Jat in Punjabi. It happened from an accidental meeting with writer Wali Mahmood Wali in Lahore in 1940. 

When he came to Mumbai, after Partition, Sadat Hussein Manto, the famed litterateur, along with the actor, Shyam helped Pran get a role in Ziddi (1948), a Bombay Talkies film, directed by Shaheed Latif. It starred Dev Anand and Kamini Kaushal. Thereafter Pran did not have to look back.

As the legendary actor moves on to his heavenly abode we have respect and admiration for the villain who had a big heart. Our hearts echo the words of Amitabh Bachhan on Pran -  “we don’t make the likes of them anymore.” 

Friday, July 12, 2013


Krishna counselling Arjuna at Kurukshetra
Focus on the work in hand and not on the result and its outcome.


– do not think about the result or  its outcome just keep on doing your work. Thus spake the Gita or the Bhagwad Gita. To be specific this was what Krishna told the third Pandava – the warrior prince, Arjuna.

The Karma Yoga chapter of the Gita enunciates the principle of work – selfless work. But what does it really mean to say?

If one asks Andy Murray, the reigning Wimbledon and Olympic Champion, to go on training and participating in tennis tournaments without thinking of winning the Grand Slam, shall he adhere to it?

It was the beginning of the epic battle at Kurukshetra between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Arjuna was the Commander-in-chief of the Pandava army. Krishna was Arjuna’s charioteer.

As Arjuna drove into the battle field, he looked at the rank and file of soldiers on both sides. He saw that he was going to fight against his own brothers, friends and revered teachers. He was appalled. He put down his arms and declined to fight.

Responding to Arjuna’s confusion and moral dilemma, Krishna explained his duties as a warrior and a prince and elaborated on a variety of philosophical concepts. He counselled Arjuna. Krishna imparted him wisdom, the path to devotion and the doctrine of selfless action.

The Bhagawad Gita, or simply, the Gita, begins here, at the start of the start of the war at Kurukshetra.  The Gita is a part of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. It upholds the essence and theological tradition of the Upanishads.

In Karma Yoga, Krishna elucidates how the performance of prescribed duties, but without attachment to results, is the appropriate course of action for Arjuna.

The Karma Yoga upholds the necessity of action. However, this action is to be undertaken without any attachment to the work or desire for results. The Bhagwad Gita terms this “inaction in action and action in action.”

The concept of such detached action is also called “Nishkam Karma” or actions performed without desire. In the following verses, Krishna elaborates on the role actions performed without desire play in attaining freedom from material bondage and transmigration:

“To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits;
 let not the fruits of actions be thy motive;
 neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.”    

Way back in 2011, when Andy Murray roped in Ivan Lendl as his coach, did he focus on the result or he did so to improve his performance? The day Lendl started coaching Andy Murray was he certain that Andy, his pupil, will become the first British man to win the singles at Wimbledon in 77 years!

They fixed a goal and worked towards it. Day in and day out, training session after training session, they honed their skills, polished their technique, improved upon their fitness and hoped for a positive end.

When one embarks upon a project one has to look at the result. Result is of utmost importance.  The Sales Manager has to deliver sales. He has to increase revenue. Or else both he and the organisation he works for has to face the worst. In order to increase sales he has to work for it. He has to plan for it and execute the plan.

A sale is the outcome of the sales process. Winning or losing the Ashes is the outcome of the cricket series between England and the Aussies.

But one has to work towards it. One has to plan for his goal. One has to follow the plan. One has to execute the plan on field. 

It is like Algebra. If one follows the steps correctly, does not flounder with the digits and is strong in BODMAS the sum has to be correct. One must move step by step. Each step is important. Each step needs focus and extreme concentration. Each step has to be covered meticulously. The result, then, is sure to be favorable.

That is what Krishna said when he spoke to the warrior prince Arjuna about selfless work to focus on the work at hand and not to think about the outcome. If one works towards it, follows one’s steps diligently, without heeding to the result and its outcome, one is bound to succeed in one’s endeavor. 

Monday, July 8, 2013


Rituparno Ghosh died on 30 May, 2013. It was too early for him to call it a day. The sudden demise of Rituparno, of all persons, was a surprise to all and sundry. He had so much more to contribute to the industry as well as to the society. He was primarily the next generation of film makers, a very important one by his own right.

Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Nemai Ghosh, Tapan Sinha were filmmakers of the post independence era. Buddhadev Dasgupta, Utpalendu Chakraborty, Gautam Ghosh were the product of the fiery turbulence that wracked West Bengal and India from the mid 60s to the mid 70s. Aparna Sen, Anjan Dutta, Raja Sen came into film making much later. But they also are the fall out of the volatile ultra left Naxalite movement.

Rituparno started making films in the nineties. Hirer Angti, his first film, based on a story by Shirshendu Mukherji, was released in1992. 

He lived in Kolkata, worked here. He saw Calcutta being transformed to Kolkata. He saw the Metro Rail slowly expand its network to span the length and breadth of the city. While he thought his films and wrote scripts for them, he saw the coming up of multiplexes, the coming into being of malls in and around Kolkata. He saw the upwardly mobile Bengalis leave their ancestral homes and get into condomiums. He observed the mass exodus of Bengalis from the city. 

Rituparno saw the advent of Sector V, the sprouting of the IT hub in the Eastern Metropolis. He felt and observed the facade of the decaying left politics in West Bengal. He also observed the fall of the Soviet Union, Romania, and the continuous struggle of the Serbs, the Bosnians and the Croatians.  These he saw, observed, comprehended, absorbed and assimilated and evolved to become perhaps the most important Indian film maker of the recent times – a milestone by his own right, in the realms of intellect and film making per se.

The subjects he brought into film making, his treatment of them were inevitable. He had to speak about them. Those were the subjects relevant to the then society, the milieu he lived in, the ambience he belonged to. One would not call him bold. One would rather say he followed his compulsion, his commitment to his art, intellect and legacy. All the film makers he inherited and thereby disinherited were trailblazers. Each of them - Ghatak, Ray, Sen – were path breakers. They were forthright. They were bold. Rituparno, by his own admission, was inspired by Ray. He also had another very important influence – Aparna Sen.

Aparna Sen is an institution by her own self. She is a successful actor and has a big fan following. She was immensely successful as a heroine of the Bengali commercial cinema. She was a bankable actor who created a niche for herself. She had been a youth icon. She did theatre with Utpal Dutt. She did professional theatre. She is a journalist of commendable stature. She makes socially relevant films. Rituparno found a mentor, a confidante in her. She was a big influence to the late filmmaker. Rituparno moved ahead with his subjects, his treatment of them and thereby the statement he made on them.

Rituparno was an icon of the LGBT community in India. He cross dressed. He explored transgender lifestyle. He openly confessed his homosexuality. Rituparno was a necessity of the then society. He was bound to happen. As a creator, as a performing artist, as a film maker, he stated what the society made him say. Others hold themselves back thinking about conventions, about being ostracised or it might be so they lack in craftsmanship.

Rituparno was not pretentious. He was a master story teller. He broke conventions but never compromised with aesthetics. He was a cultured craftsman who was in control of his art. The society we live in needs him. He had much to give, such a lot to say. That is why his death is untimely. That is why we all will rue his absence.