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.