May 29, 2017

Translating Tagore. Again.

চিত্ত যেথা ভয়শূন্য
চিত্ত যেথা ভয়শূন্য, উচ্চ যেথা শির,
জ্ঞান যেথা মুক্ত, যেথা গৃহের প্রাচীর
আপন প্রাঙ্গণতলে দিবসশর্বরী
বসুধারে রাখে নাই খন্ড ক্ষুদ্র করি,
যেথা বাক্য হৃদয়ের উৎসমুখ হতে
উচ্ছ্বসিয়া উঠে, যেথা নির্বারিত স্রোতে
দেশে দেশে দিশে দিশে কর্মধারা ধায়
অজস্র সহস্রবিধ চরিতার্থতায়–
যেথা তুচ্ছ আচারের মরুবালুরাশি
বিচারের স্রোতঃপথ ফেলে নাই গ্রাসি,
পৌরুষেরে করে নি শতধা; নিত্য যেথা
তুমি সর্ব কর্ম চিন্তা আনন্দের নেতা–
নিজ হস্তে নির্দয় আঘাত করি, পিতঃ,
ভারতেরে সেই স্বর্গে করো জাগরিত।

– রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর (নৈবেদ্য  হতে সংগ্রহীত)

My translation:

Where the mind is fearless, the head held high    
And knowledge, free. Where this earth
Is not broken, day and night,
Part by part, by walls. Where the heart 
Shapes speech. Directed human action,
Seeking fulfilment across nations,
In all directions take flight.
Where the petty sands of habit
Do not engulf reason’s streams
Humanity not shattered into tiny bits.
Where you, night and day,
Shape thought, work and play;
Be unsparing, my Lord -- and strike!
To awaken India into that paradise.


Apr 5, 2011

The Remembrance of Things Past

Last week my dear friend in charge of editing this souvenir reminded me, once again, to get my act together and come up with the article I had promised. I was asked, with a generous dollop of sarcasm, if I thought I were Proust. I was also directed by him, in that same (grammatical) breath, to take my finger out of my @#$% and start writing.

I found this reminder poignant, not least because I had decided to write on the lobby; it was one of the places Mr Editor and I hung out for a while to transform ourselves from acquaintances to friends. So, in a true Proustian vein I bought myself some mass-produced madelines from Starbucks to help me indulge in some gratuitous remembering – of things, times and spaces past.

I remember my days well spent at (or, more truthfully speaking, just outside) the Department of English of Jadavpur University. Those days were spent mostly, and most memorably, on a flight of steps just inside Gate 4 of JU that we fondly – very fondly – called the lobby. As far as physical descriptions go, the lobby was a long row of four steps along the main entrance to the JU Arts Faculty building. These steps were intersected at regular intervals by pillars that held up, among other things, the collective weight of learning of the Arts Faculty. At a baser level it turned the long row of the short flight of steps into neat cubicles. It produced for students of the Arts Faculty and beyond, the university’s premier social and socializing space.

And every day, much of the variegated humanity that comprised JU’s students would converge within these spaces. The lobby was for most of our generation at JU a place to chat and argue about the world, its second cousin and the phenomenology of lemon pips in Swapan’s lebu cha. This is where we debated and disagreed; laughed and fought. We played cricket and twenty-nine, adopted stray dogs and indulged in seemingly endless jamming sessions on the steps. We spoke about literature, recited our (often quite terrible) poetry to each other while some of the loons from Film Studies extolled the virtues of “pure cinema.” And yes, we also made friends and found love. These friendships and loves would last us – not all of us, but quite a few – our blessed lifetimes.

And the lobby sure had a reputation. For some faculty members of the English department, this is the closest you could get to the ninth circle of hell. Quite clearly, the “treason” in this equation was one against the attempts at making us discerning readers of literature and culture. (On a different note: hell was close at hand, most materially manifested in the form of the men’s loo in the ground floor of the Arts Faculty).

So there was I, during my first week in the department, trying very hard to make the transition from balancing chemical equations to figuring out if Tess (of the d’Urbervilles) had been raped or seduced – tricky question this. Amidst all this, I was told about the lobby. Not by classmates or seniors but by a stately lady professor who wore her hair in a bun that was almost as big as her head.

“And one final thing,” she announced at the end of a class as she shut her volume of History of English Literature by Legouis and Cazamian, “do not go to the lobby.” We were given a tour de force of the evils that awaited us if we did not watch our steps. It would be drugs, disease and all quite downhill from there. Now which eighteen-year old would not think this a tantalizing introduction?
So off we cantered in that direction to be welcomed with open arms by this alleged space of moral decrepitude. And there we stayed for the full five years of our JU life never ever letting said staid professor(s) interfere too much with our education. This needless to say had been the trajectory of many a student of the JU English department.

But much has changed in JU these days. For starters, the lobby is no more. A few years ago, the JU administration demolished the steps that made the lobby into a beehive of frenetic social activity. The socializing and the activities continue today at a different place with the lobby becoming a piece of congealed memory for many of us. So then let me end with the time-tested cliché: the lobby is no more; long live the lobby.

(Written for the JUDE Reunion 2009 Souvenir).

Jan 24, 2011

Public awareness vs profiteering

Sandeep Banerjee

In November, Indian Telecom Minister A Raja was forced to resign over irregularities in the allotment of the 2G spectrum. Indian journalists were busy patting themselves on the back for having unearthed another scam, and for successfully halting the loot of the public exchequer. A week later OPEN magazine published a series of transcripts of telephone conversations between Niira Radia, the head of Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, and a number of Indian journalists and politicians.

Taped under orders from the Directorate General of Income Tax between 2008 and 2009, the transcripts show Radia in conversation with A Raja and Kanimozhi, the daughter of the powerful South Indian politician M. Karunanidhi whose party, the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), is not only an important Congress ally but has also held the telecom portfolio since the Congress-led alliance came to power in 2004. For the record, Radia boasts among her clients Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani. Since Tata is an important player in the country’s telecom sector, these transcripts were bound to raise a few eyebrows, and perhaps a few questions about the industrialist-politician nexus in India.

But the Radia transcripts caught the national imagination for an entirely different reason. It showed one of India’s veteran journalists (who earned her spurs reporting on the Kargil War of 1999) offering to carry messages for Radia to the Congress leadership at the time of cabinet formation. “What should I tell them [the Congress]? Tell me what should I tell them,” Barkha Dutt – the Group Editor of NDTV – asks Radia eagerly. Another transcript has Vir Sanghvi of Hindustan Times (HT) asking: “What kind of story do you want? Because this will go as Counterpoint [Sanghvi’s weekly column for HT], so it will be like most-most read, but it can’t seem too slanted, yet it is an ideal opportunity to get all the points across.” Sanghvi was ostensibly offering to help mould Indian public opinion for Radia (and her client Mukesh Ambani) as Ambani struggled against his estranged younger brother and industrialist Anil over a gas pricing disagreement.

The transcripts provide some manner of voyeuristic pleasure for readers. They eavesdrop on the whispers and murmurs that circulate in New Delhi’s corridors of power and demonstrate how the cogs of political and corporate power gently move in unison to nudge the Indian state forward. But if there is one point that comes across from these transcripts, it is about the state of the mainstream Indian media. It shows – and in no uncertain terms – the mainstream Indian media as nothing more (or less) than another cog in this giant corporate-political machine.

Barkha Dutt has since appeared on a show on NDTV to answer questions and dispel doubts that may have crept into the minds of her viewers. She fielded queries from a panel of reputed Indian journalists, including Manu Joseph, the editor of OPEN magazine. In her defense Dutt claimed she was simply stringing along her source (Radia) who was providing her information on a huge unfolding story (Congress-DMK negotiations over cabinet berths). She may have agreed to carry messages for Radia as a ruse, but in fact did no such thing. She also claims that if there is anything she is guilty of, it was one of misjudgement, that is, of being naïve and trustful of a source about whom she should have been skeptical. In all this, she did not seem to have a convincing answer for the rather pointed question that Joseph posed to her: why did she not report on the fact that the Tatas’ lobbyist was playing for a certain person (A Raja) to be made the telecom minister? Dutt claimed this did not strike her as a terribly important story.

This is perhaps the misjudgement that Dutt mentions, and it has provoked questions about her journalistic ineptitude on a variety of social and non-profit media. By failing to see the “story” in a corporate lobbyist who works for a telecom company striving to get a certain person appointed the telecom minister, the veteran journalist had spectacularly missed the larger picture. More importantly, she has failed in what remains the essential aspect of the journalist’s job – to keep the public informed about the goings-on in the corridors of power. It is pointless to surmise whether this act of omission was wilful or not; what is moot is that this exemplary member of the mainstream Indian media failed in doing what was expected of her. She failed to highlight the symbiotic relationship between India’s corporate and political classes.

But the mainstream Indian media’s acts of omission are not new. It has failed to take up issues that fall beyond the ken of the great Indian middle-class. For instance, the Indian farm crisis that has claimed the lives of 150,000 farmers in the last ten years has never really dominated news headlines. While they have conducted public campaigns to reduce New Delhi’s electricity bills or sought justice for the murder of Jessica Lall, it has not really spoken out against the ills that plague India’s rural poor especially in this era of neo-liberal capitalism.

At the same television show where she fielded questions from her peers Dutt also claimed that the time was ripe for a broader debate on media ethics. While this is indeed an important point, one cannot help think that these media companies – like any other company anywhere in the world – strive for maximising their profits. The point then is not to debate media ethics but corporate ethics.

The question that needs asking then is this: how should the Indian media reconcile the twin poles of public awareness and profiteering? Or rather, what is the best ethical middle ground that allows the media corporate houses to rake in the moolah while still allowing for some semblance of the media’s original social function? Right now the mainstream Indian is striking this balance by focusing its reportage energies on the urban middle class. It therefore exists at the confluence of neo-liberal capital and a certain class of Indians. It stands for corporatised values that find favour with the globalising Indian. In this process large swathes of Indians (and India) are omitted from its radar.

There is of course another important point. With its publication of the transcripts, OPEN magazine had managed to violate perhaps the most important unwritten law of Indian journalism: never shine the spotlight on yourselves. As a result, the mainstream Indian media – the ever-vigilant watchdog of Indian democracy – is under intense public scrutiny for the first time ever since its existence. This is the moment for soul searching –will the Indian media continue down this path of wilful disconnect or reaffirm its traditional social values?

This article appeared in The Friday Times, Lahore, Pakistan on December 24, . The original article can be found here.

Sep 25, 2010

তোমায় দিলাম

শহরের উষ্ণতম দিনে
পিচগলা রোদ্দুরে
বৃষ্টির বিশ্বাস
তোমায় দিলাম আজ |

আর কি বা দিতে পারি
পুরনো মিছিলের পুরনো ট্রামেদের সারি
ফুটপাথ ঘেষা বেলুনগাড়ি
সুতো বাঁধা যত লাল আর সাদা
ওরাই আমার থতমত এই শহরে
রডডেনড্রন |

তোমায় দিলাম আজ

কি আছে আর
গভীর রাতের নেওন আলোয়
আলোকিত যত রেস্তোরাঁ আর
সব থেকে উচু ফ্ল্যাটবাড়িটার
সব থেকে উচু ছাদ
তোমায় দিলাম আজ |

পারবোনা দিতে
ঘাসফুল আর ধানের গন্ধ
স্নিগ্ধ যা কিছু দুহাতভরে আজ
ফুসফুস খোঁজে পোড়া ডিসেলের
আজন্ম আশ্বাস
তোমায় দিলাম আজ |

শহরের কবিতার ছবি
সব-ই
তোমায় দিলাম আজ |

তোমায় দিলাম |
তোমায় দিলাম |
তোমায় দিলাম |

(Lyrics of a Mohiner Ghoraguli song "Tomaay Dilaam")

Jun 2, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

In Calcutta, the Indian Museum is my favourite colonial-era building. As a child, I would be fascinated by it, but not only because of the Egyptian sarcophagus or the Gandhara Buddhas in its collection. This grand European building – neoclassical layout, lofted arches, Ionic pillars, sparkling white walls and tall wooden doors and windows the colour of dark chocolate – not only dominated the landscape of the Chowringhee area, it also had a characteristic way of slipping and growing into view every time one approached it. This is what caught my fancy.

If you moved towards the Chowringhee – Park Street crossing from Dalhousie Square, the museum would glide into view from between the trees; it would then grow bigger and bigger (the view, better and better) as you came closer and closer. And because the road curved and curled in a certain fashion, this majestic specimen of colonial architecture would also twist and turn to keep up with you. This was my first brush with magic realism, long before Jorge Luis Borges happened to me. And each time I approached it thus, I felt I knew exactly why we Bengalis call the museum jadughar – literally, the House of Wonder.

Last month when I was in Calcutta, I happened to travel down that much travelled path toward the Indian Museum after many years. As my cab approached Chowringhee I looked out, hoping to see the building do what it had so many times during my years in that city.

I saw nothing. Actually, I saw a gigantic slab of concrete suspended in mid-air. A flyover had grown in between my museum and me.

This is the new Calcutta, one that has dropped magic realism for hard-nosed naturalism. The Communist city is busy telling the world it is reforming; progress has arrived here, cast in concrete and reinforced steel.

As the city reforms, its landscape – and its mindscape – are also being re-formed. For flyovers do more than just add that extra layer to a city’s roads. They alter a city quite fundamentally – the way it looks, the way it feels – and most crucially – the way those living and moving through, relate to it. For instance, generations of Calcuttans will now never experience the Indian Museum doing the shimmy when they come down towards Chowringhee. That visual, and decidedly spatial, experience is lost forever. It’s a relationship (between the city and its user) that could have been, but now will never be. Flyovers are building distances between the city and its people.


The most persuasive exemplar of Calcutta’s progress, however, is a mammoth flyover linking the city’s airport bypass road to one of the bridges across the Ganges. This elevated road, that straddles much of South Calcutta, also happens to pass by the first floor window of Seagull Books, a publishing house run by my friend Sue. Earlier, Sue would look out to a giant neem tree, whose shady branches – apart from strong, black, bitter coffee – helped calm her fraying nerves at the time of desperate deadlines. Nowadays, she relies only on coffee.

Her tree has been felled to make way for the flyover; looking out entails a strange visual communion with stranger commuters in varying stages of animated suspension. Flyovers are engendering new (and perhaps more dramatic) ways of seeing in the city.


I don’t hate flyovers. This lofty concept in urban planning has its uses, especially if you need a quick-fix solution to traffic congestion. But then, not all cities lend themselves to flyovers with effortless ease. Delhi thrives on flyovers, adding a new one every six months or so. Strangely enough, I never seem to mind those flyovers. In fact, I quite like the perspective I get of Humayun’s Tomb while travelling up (and down) the Mathura Road – Nizamuddin one to and from my workplace.

I have often wondered about this peculiar paradox of mine. Why do I loathe flyovers in one city and love them in another? I am now beginning to think it’s not about flyovers as much as it is about Calcutta and I.

Calcutta is my city of memory; the city of my memories – of a group of people and a clutch of places. Like me, most of these people have moved out of the city in search of pastures new. What have been left behind are hazy memories of random conversations in sunlit rooms and porticos; the scent of smoke-filled laughter among cafes and eateries. The places remain, etched in the map of my mind.

Every time I return, the city allows me the comfort of a familiarity that almost never breeds contempt. Calcutta, the physical city, for me is the joy of familiar expectation: of seeing the known, of knowing what one will see and how.

Flyovers do not have a place in that cognitive map of mine. They may be helping Calcuttans drive that bit faster but for me they hinder the unfurling of the remembrance of times past. They disrupt the way I have grown to see and know my city unfold before me. The new flyovers sprouting in Calcutta violate my known ways of seeing the city and therefore my relationship with it. Perhaps I am being selfish, but then I cannot help my desire to cling on to my city of memory; the city of my imagination.

In Delhi I began life as an outsider, mostly in the company of other outsiders. This accorded me the luxury of detached observation. So the city which I thought an overgrown village at first, I now acknowledge mine. And I have grown to love it: its brashness, the rude and abusive residents, the cafes, bars and bookstores, and above all its ability to coexist in history and in the present with an inimitable ease.

But Delhi does not come with this (sometimes oppressive) baggage of nostalgia that I feel for Calcutta. Delhi for me is a city of new beginnings, a city that I am only now beginning to see. The flyovers of this city are little more than the warts and pimples on an acquaintance, an acquaintance who has all the makings of becoming a good friend.

Images: (c) Bibek Bhattacharya - All Rights Reserved

Dec 6, 2009

Benares

False and impenetrable
like a garden traced on a mirror,
the imagined city
which my eyes have never seen
interweaves distances
and repeats its unreachable houses.
The sudden sun
shatters the complex obscurity
of temples, dunghills, prisons, patios
and will scale walls
and blaze on to a sacred river.
Panting
the city which a foliage of stars oppressed
pours over the horizon
and in a morning
full of steps and of sleep
light is opening the streets like branches.
At the same time dawn breaks
on all shutters looking east
and the voice of a muezzin
from its high tower
saddens the air of day
and announces to the city of many gods
the solitude of God.
(And to think that while I play with doubtful images
the city I sing persists
in a predestined place of the world,
with its precise topography
peopled like a dream,
with hospitals and barracks
and slow avenues of poplars
and men with rotting lips
who feel the cold in their teeth.)

- Jorge Luis Borges

(translated by Charles Tomlinson)

Dec 5, 2009

Translating Das

Arijit sent me this poem by Jibanananda Das.

হয়তো আকাশের বুকের গভীরে
কিংবা তার থেকে গভীরতর কোন এক অজানায়
তুমি বসে আছো নিবিড়, অসীম স্তব্ধতার মুখোমুখি |

নিঃশ্বাসে তোমার পাললিক প্রেম
অবিরত মিশে যেতেছে বাংলার মাটিতে,
যেথায় তোমার ক্লেদাক্ত হৃদয়
অবিরত খুজে ফেরে সন্ধ্যার আবির আকাশ |


My translation:

In the deep recesses of the sky
Or perhaps in some deeper unknown,
Facing the infinite stillness,
You sit still.

Your breath,
Suffused with alluvial love
Continually infuses Bengal's earth;
There, your weary heart
Looks out relentlessly
For the vermillion sky of dusk.

Oct 19, 2009

Translating Tagore

Arijit Sen sent me this poem by Tagore.

ছবির জগতে যেথা কোনো ভাষা নেই
সেথায় তোমার স্থির দৃষ্টি
যে কাহিনী করিতেছে সৃষ্টি
ঘটনাবিহীন তার বোবা ইতিহাস
ছায়া দিয়ে ছেয়ে ফেলে চিত্ত আকাশ
করুণ বিষাদ করে বৃষ্টি

My translation:

Amidst images, in their still silence
You rest your steady stare.
The tale, that unto itself tells,
its own uneventful, mute past;
Clouding the mind's open sky
Lets rain pitiful despair.

Sep 19, 2009

Translating Auden

আর বাড়ব না আমি |
আমি ছায়াহীন,
নিজের ছায়ার থেকে 
পালাবো না আমি আর |
আমি তাই শুধু খেলি |

আর ভুল করবো না আমি |
কেউ নেই, আমি যার |
কাউকে কষ্ট দেবো না আমি আর |

আমি পরাজয় -
যখন সে জানে
কিছুই হবে না আর
কষ্ট সহ্য করে |

যে জীবন তোমার গেছে চলে ,
সে আসবে না আর কোনো কাজে |
তাই তুমি আছ মেতে, নিজের নাচে |

আর অন্যরকম হবো না
আমি কোনোদিন |
আমায় ভালোবাসো |

My translation of a section from Anthem for Cecilia's Day by W. H. Auden (see previous post)

From Anthem for St Cecilia's Day

I cannot grow;
I have no shadow
To run away from,
I only play.

I cannot err;
There is no creature
Whom I belong to,
Whom I could wrong.

I am defeat
When it knows it
Can now do nothing
By suffering.

All you lived through,
Dancing because you
No longer need it
For any deed.

I shall never be
Different. Love me.

- W. H. Auden

Sep 11, 2009

Requies-cat in pace

Jackson was our neighbor's cat. He has been a constant visitor to our house over the past two years. He was all of 21 years and had not been keeping too well in recent times. Today, he was put to sleep.

Jackson. RIP.



This is Jackson. Lording over our porch at 112 Trinity Place.

Image: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Aug 30, 2009

Quiet flows the Ganges

And the madness of life continues on its banks.
Varanasi. Summer of 2009.



Images: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Aug 29, 2009

Darkness Visible

I saw the solar eclipse from Varanasi last month (on July 22). It was quite astounding. As I watched the eclipse this time, I was reminded of Milton's lines from Paradise Lost:

... yet from those flames
No light; but rather darkness visible (I. 62 - 63)

I had seen a total solar eclipse in 1996 but this year's event was grander.

Way more grand.



The eclipse made me realize just how long four minutes can be: that's how long the eclipse lasted. It took place early in the morning. Sometime past 6 am, if I am not mistaken. The birds woke up and before they knew it, it was dark again.

Were the birds feeling a tad jet-lagged from the experience?



There is something extremely awe-inspiring about a total solar eclipse. It is a celestial spectacle. And the sun (and the moon) did put up quite a show.

Take a look.
video

Images and Video: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Aug 24, 2009

If the one I've waited for

If the one I've waited for 
came now, what should I do?
This morning's garden filled with snow
is far too lovely 
for footsteps to mar.

- Izumi Shikibu 

Translation: Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani

Aug 20, 2009

Lessons in Lovemaking

I just got back from Calcutta, the city I grew up in. My thoughts on the city shall be for another blog post, but here is a snippet: Oxford Bookstore, Calcutta has a "Sexology" section.

Why sexology and not sex? I don't know and I suspect they don't either. The -logy probably gives the hormones and the carnality a twinge of respectability.

This was on display at the Sexology section of Oxford Bookstore, Calcutta.

What were they thinking? Clearly not a great deal. And it does say something about the city that is desperately trying to give up its ghost.

Image: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Aug 18, 2009

In Memoriam: Naughty Boy

Those who knew my ground floor apartment (D 735) in New Delhi were well acquainted with Naughty Boy.

Naughty Boy was, well, neither naughty nor a boy. He was the world's coolest tom cat who had allowed my landlord and landlady to take care of him. And he had condescended to let me live in the ground floor apartment. He would of course make sure you knew who was master: during the day, he was often found taking a nap on the bed in the spare bedroom of my flat.

Naughty Boy once had a fling with the road-side tabby. Two incredible kittens came off his exertions. Named Tom and Jerry by my landlord's grand-daughter, they found two extremely caring homes in the ground and first floors of D 735. And after my friend Rudraneil moved in two storeys above, the second floor also became an extension of their home.

This summer in Delhi I learnt that Naughty Boy had left the house one day and not come back. That is how cats behave when they are about to die, Rudraneil explained to me. One of course could expect nothing less from the cat who embodied a wonderful nobility of spirit.

So here's to Naughty Boy: something he inspired me to write a while ago. He made my two years at D 735 very special.

Naughty Boy. RIP.
___________________

A RANDOM CAT MORNING

There are three friendly cats in and around my house.

One is called Naughty Boy.

This is my landlord's tom cat and the most adorable cat in the universe. Naughty boy is big, red, usually scared-shit and not naughty at all. He sleeps at my place sometimes, never behaves badly and from time to time decides he is a decorative piece. At those moments he can be found sitting very still at strange places. Like on top of the bookshelves and such.

Naughty Boy was horny once. The consequence was the other two friendly cats of the neighbourhood.

One of them is a tom, the other a tabby. The tom looks like the mother (black and white) and is everything Naughty Boy isn't. The tabby looks and behaves like naughty boy. She is also incredibly shy. They have been evocatively named Tom and Jerry by my landlord's granddaughter. I do not like these names so I usually call them things like Jagabondhu, Byomkesh, Harinarayan, etc. For those who don't have the context - these are the more extended and extensive names of Hindu divinities. This is in part my Hindu upbringing that teaches me to see the divinity in all things (as also in the beef steak).

Anyway, I digress.

This morning I was woken up by a howling cat. My landlord's granddaughter's Tom aka - depending on my mood - Jagabondhu, Byomkesh or Harinarayan was howling his guts out. Because the little thing was on my neighbour's fourth floor terrace. Head sticking out, it was crying madly. So I roused my landlady Mrs Mitra, who in turn roused roused Mr Mitra - the neighbour, not the husband - and then Mrs Mitra and I set off on our cat expedition.

The terrace door was opened and we found the object of our undying affection on the terrace of the room on the terrace. Hearing us, Byomkesh came and checked us out, still howling away. So I fixed a makeshift ladder and began climbing up on to the terrace of the terrace. And then the cat did what one can expect of all cats. It came up to me. Then went away. And then jumped from the top of the room on to the terrace and ran for its life down the steps. Mrs Mitra and I (standing midway up the frigging ladder) looked on.

A little later I heard from the first floor of my house the voice of admonishment of Mrs Mitra. "Keno gechili? Keno? Kotobar baron korechi na jetey." (Why, why do you not listen to me and keep going outside?). A wonderful communion. Wonderful. Puts the Wordsworthian daffodils to shame, if you ask me.

Then, there was more.

A little later - about half and hour later - I heard two babies crying. I came out to look. It was Naughty Boy and his father. The mews had taken on a cataclysmic pitch as they prepared to launch into combat.

A historiographical digression that may sound straight out of Robert Graves's Greek Myths: Naughty Boy was adopted into the Mitra family as a child because his father had tried to kill him. Naughty Boy has since adopted the best that the civilizing ethic of Bengal has to offer. For instance, when he met his lone male son and heir (Tom for some, Byomkesh, Harinarayan or Jagabondhu among others - depending on my mood - for me) he did what you would least expect a Tom cat (and what you would most expect a Bengali, according to some learned authorities on this subject) to do.

He stuck his snout out.
Smelt him.
And then sprang back twenty paces, either ashamed or frightened (both?) at the outcome of his passionate time out with the neighbourhood tabby.

Rudraneil (some of you know him: my e-mail editor's spellcheck insists he be called Quadrangles. I suppose he should have an opinion on this) and I concurred a couple of days back - over cream and bacon pasta and strange Mediterranean fantasies - that Naughty Boy could not fight. If he were called to fight, he wouldn't and it would be Harinarayan who would do the fighting. This came up as we had spotted a fat grey cat (It must have been Eliot's Mungojerrie) and Naught Boy's dad - terrible, ugly, red and white son of a bitch (I'm being metaphorical here) hovering around our house.

But Naughty Boy proved us wrong.

So where were we? yes, mewing and such like. By the time I figured out what was happening, the two had got into the act. On my cornice, father and son battled it out. Actually, bit and scratched it out. And then they were in a bloody embrace, dad's teeth in son's front paw and son's teeth in dad's left ear. Naughty Boy had entered - with this one act - into the Bagha Jatin Memorial (aka We-Bengalis-despite-being-labeled-non-martial-by-the-Brits-can-also-fight) Hall of Fame.

I am unfortunately a Bong - body, heart and soul. I do not like bloody insurrections. I suspect I would have been a clerk in Calcutta's Writers' Building if I were born under Pax Britannica. So I decided to put an end to this. And like a good Bengali, I wielded the broom screaming "hoosh, hoosh" in my incantatory best.

Hoosh, hoosh be damned.

The bloody balls of fur rolled on. Naughty Boy and Naughtier Boy in bloody embrace still. Then the ball(s) became still. The embrace (and respective sets of teeth) in place. I have seen a trailer of Anaconda on Star Movies (or was it HBO?) and these two looked incredibly like an anaconda swallowing a..a...whatever. Extremely disconcerting to see Naughty Boy - teeth still sunk in dad's left ear - looking me in the eye while lying dead still on the ground.

I then decided to continue the Bong routine. I ran into the kitchen. Filled a jug with water. And ran back and chucked it at them.

Water be damned too.
The rolling continued.

Then, disengagement. But only for a wee while.

They went up the metallic spiral staircase, braving the cold water that lunged at them.

Re-engagement. And how. It was a complete dulce et decorum est pro patria mori moment.

They jumped at each other (just as in the 70s Bollywood films the hero and the villain lunge at each other, including that completely ludicrous jump-lunge just two seconds before engagement).

I go, I go.
Look how I go.
Faster than an arrow,
From a Tartar's bow.

Into my landlord's house they went. Through the back door. And then into my landlord's loo. (For some inexplicable reason, the metallic spiral staircase led to the first floor loo. This mystery I have not been able to unravel.)

Synchronised fighting had now given way to synchronised playing decorative piece. The sets of teeth intact, and inside each other's furs.

As I manoeuvered the broom and jug, I was, even then, struck by my act. A tad matronly, I dare admit. Seeing none of my anythings had any impact on the happenings I called my landlord. He is a sweet and somewhat senile man nudging the eighties.

He came.
He saw.
With Caesarean imperiousness, he entered the fray.
And conquered.

A rap with a clothes beater on the back of daddy cat sufficed. Daddy cat went off, roaring, into the unknown.

It was now time for Communion II.

There was an air of haughtiness, coupled with hurt, disbelief and disgust as my landlord - the sweet, somewhat senile man nudging the eighties said: "Amaar baritey dhukey, amaar beral-key kamracchey!!" (Entering MY house and biting MY cat!!)

We were quite clearly a surreal tableau.

The sweet, somewhat senile man nudging the eighties with a hearing aid in one ear, a beret on his head and a clothes beater in one hand standing on the first floor landing of the metallic spiral staircase. Naughty boy, bloodied, shaken, stirred, his marbles (olives, to keep the metaphor going) intact, his voice quavering at a point in-between a violent miaow and purr. Me, below, green jug in right hand and broom in left. Ready to take on the universe and its second cousin.

Then, Communion III

" Aajkey kom jol esheche. Shamley" (We have got less water than usual today. Be careful)

Jul 8, 2009

Elsewhere in the Himalayas

In and around North Bengal and Sikkim.
With friends.



Images:
(c) Sandeep Banerjee, Arijit Sen, Shamya Dasgupta - All Rights Reserved

Jun 8, 2009

Tunganath

This summer I was at Chopta, in the Garhwal Himalayas. From there, I made the short trek to Tunganath (literally: The Lord of the Lofty Heights). Tunganath, at 12,072 feet, is possibly the highest temple (as opposed to shrine) in India. And it is one of the five kedars, the most important of which is, a few valleys away, at Kedarnath.

But Tunganath is exceptional for the views of the neighboring peaks that it allows the visitor. On a good day you can see the Yamunotri, Gangotri, Trishul, Sumeru, Kedarnath and Neelkanth peaks. And all the khambas of the Chaukhamba (lit: Four Pillars: chau: four, khamba: pillar). Thankfully, before the monsoon arrives in the mountains, good days are aplenty.

So this is what the traveler saw.

video

Video: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Jun 7, 2009

Lord of the Lofty Heights

Views from (and around) Tunganath.



Images:
(c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved