Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Indexed Stories – 4

People change. They change for the better or for worse. But, people do change in ways that they are almost unrecognizable from their original selves. Or do we all have split personalities? Is it about the Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes nestled somewhere in there? Each trying to vanquish the other until there is an eventual victor? On this day while I am trying to articulate my thoughts, Durga Puja is being celebrated - rejoicing the triumph of good over evil. I wish that it were so – a non-negotiable perpetual situation. But, Evil seems to be getting the better of Good.

The incidents of three women being beaten to death in a “witch hunt” in West Bengal and Malala Yousufzai being shot at in the Swat Valley, despite their different geo-political locations, are manifestations of the same evilness inherent in the politics of intolerance. To think that we are in the midst of this reality is scary.

Should we “take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them?” Or play the Ostrich? I personify the Ostrich that grumbles…

The accessories of evil are many. Avarice is perhaps the single most powerful force among them, that which nurtures evil, while crass consumerism justifies it. An individuals’ greed for more – unjustly more, promotes criminality. How else does one explain the person listed first on the D page of my first diary?

Dipali Bhattacharya – Dipalidi, was about four years my senior in art college. She was a vivacious person who could disarm anyone with her warmth and affection. She once lived somewhere close to Lake Market. That was in another life. Now she lives with her husband in an old spacious house on Little Russell Street. I kept bumping into her once in a while. Among the people on the D page she appears first with a Calcutta Telephones number – still seven digits! Drops out in the second diary and reappears in the third with a cell phoned identity.

I try to convince myself that temporary lapses are forgivable – after all we are all fallible. I have had my moments of sheer badness too. But, Dipalidi seems to have changed inexorably for the worse, embroiled in controversies surrounding fake Rabindranath Tagore paintings that she insists are genuine! The case is sub judice and I will not go into the details. Suffice it to say that there is a coterie of people involved in this scam. What a disgraceful end to a career as an artist and an administrator.

On the other hand there was Durga Prasad Kar, a senior functionary of the Income Tax department who I had met under unusual circumstances. His name appears only once in the first diary and does not reappear ever, owing to his transfer out of Calcutta. My brashness at 27 got the better of me one day and I had barged into his office complaining about the harassment that I was facing from one of his minions. I had actually thrown a tantrum. He had listened to me patiently and did what was necessary. We became friends and the common thread between us was trees and plants. He had green fingers and was responsible for much of the greening around his home between Purna Das Road and the Vivekananda Park. He visited our home with his wife a couple of times and every time they would gift us a potted plant.

For just a while I had changed my opinion about income tax people, until I met the biggest rascal in the form of another Assistant Commissioner, who troubled me no end. The system has changed for the better ever since with the introduction of e-filing of tax returns. One does not have to confront greedy palms anymore.

Here I need to go back and ignore the protocol that I have set for myself. I have to go back to Bina Sarkar Elias because in my last diary her name appears above a note that says,” Sunil Gangapadhyay, Parijat, 11th floor” and his phone number. That is where I met Bina once. I had met Sunil babu only once on that occasion and his phone number remains in my diary by default. As I sit writing this post, the news of Sunil Gangapadhyay passing away is being broadcast on television.

Among the others on the D page, people who have survived through the processes of selective editing are my long time friends Dipankar and Shampa Home, whom I have not met in years and Deepak and Raj Dutt with whom I am still in touch albeit infrequently.

One other name that has remained all through is that of Debashis Deb, the cartoonist. Debashis and I first met in Don Bosco School, Guwahati, in Class IV in 1964. We left Guwahati at different times and met up again in Art College in 1973. One of my oldest friends Debdutta Sen was also from the same class and we met up when we both joined Clarion Advertising Services back in 1979…his name does not appear in any of my dairies and I have been unable to trace him since I last met him in Bombay way back in 1990.

Santhali Yama Pata
I started this post writing about Good and Evil. Being an atheist I cannot believe in Heaven and Hell. But, I like the concept of Hell – at least the way it was depicted in a museum by an organization called Prajapita Brahmakumari something or the other on Elgin Road. Heaven was depicted as lush green fields with cows grazing in the distance and under a tree sat a cowherd holding a flute in his hand. My friend and I (we were about 15 or 16 then) immediately decided that Heaven was boring. Whereas, Hell was a bustling city with night clubs, bars, restaurants – the works! There was no sign of any retributive activity there unlike the ones depicted in many pictures, as well as, the Santhali Yama Pata. However, since I live in Kolkata, which according to the Brahmakumari Museum - surely looks like their version of Hell. Therefore, in my afterlife I would be sent to a retributive Hell for my occasional badness. I however would like to go to Hell on my own aesthetic terms…
Yama Pata (Scenes from Purgatory), 2001.

SHUBHO BIJOYA to all of you.

To be continued…

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Indexed Stories - 3

While trying to remember people from the past, I realize that there were many that I knew who do not feature in my telephone note books. Either they did not have a telephone connection or they lived close by. Talking incessantly on the phone hadn't yet become an epidemic. Telephone connections too were pretty moody things then – you either could not get through, get cross-connected or the phone would simply be dead for weeks. Thus it was more convenient to walk down and meet the person rather than keep dialing and hoping to get connected by some miracle. So, a great deal of people that I knew as a school student and also in my early college years remains as memories outside the confines of these note books.

This character from one of my drawings
always reminds me of Ajit Bnyaka!
 One of them was Ajit Bose – Ajit Bnyaka (crooked) to friends. He was not crooked in the evil sense of the word; he just had this way of turning and craning his neck in a prolonged twitch that earned him the nickname “Bnyaka”. Ajit was a quiet and studious fellow, but his tentativeness in whatever he did amused us no end. In the paternal house just off Mysore Road that he lived in with many family members, there was a passageway with scores of look-alike sandals. Ajit would put his feet into one and “feel” for familiarity, he would continue the process until he was satisfied that he had found the right one! He also had this habit of leaving his house after a number of furtive glances to the left and the right, as if terrified that he might be caught in the act of going out. We would always laugh at his behavior and he would grin sheepishly and scratch his head. One day while walking with him, he suddenly dashed for cover under a shop awning. I was taken aback by surprise and dreaded some kind of impending danger, but burst out laughing when he peered out, looked up at the sky and sighed in relief at the sight of a departing airplane. Such behavior today would have immediately been termed schizophrenic – but, in those days our amused grins and a few back slaps later, everything would be back to normal. I am tempted to say, “Ah! Those were the days.” 

To give you an idea of those times…Kunal, Partha and Shovan studying for their Bsc Part-I exams, while Mrinalda types away at his desk (1973-74)…my sketches of course!
Ajit turned up suddenly about twenty years ago to sell me some insurance; I have not met him ever since.

It is strange how one can remember details of people and incidents if one tries to. They seem to lie dormant somewhere in the recesses of one’s memory waiting to be stoked. There is now a deluge of memories tumbling out from these unknown recesses and I am tempted to write all of them down. But, not now, they have to wait – I have digressed and must get on with the original thread.

Chitrabhanu Mazumdar was in the same school as me – Patha Bhavan, Kolkata. He was a few years my junior. His sister Aditi and my cousin Kumkum were friends and it was because of her that I made the first trip to the house of Nirode Mazumdar as official chaperone. It was an incredible house that was full of cats and dogs. In the first diary the page for C starts with his name.

Many years later when we first decided to set up base in Shantiniketan, we wanted to rent a house owned by Chandranath Haldar. The deal fell through because he wanted to paint the exterior of the house a hideous green – which we had to pay for! His name is at the bottom of the page, not because of the green though. Makes me wonder how difficult it would have been for me to survive in Kolkata if everything was painted green. Instead, a “bilious” blue (term: courtesy Ruchir Joshi) is being rampantly daubed on every conceivable government owned building and perimeter wall - which too is an eyesore, but I am surviving it. I try to avoid such streets or look at other things.

Every city has its own colour code, inherited over time, they are like cultural markers. Kolkata had its creams, whites, terra-cotta reds, pale ochres, browns and greens on windows and other woodwork. But blue it never was, except the sky - when it cleared. I fail to understand how one person’s whim can be thrust upon this city without consulting its’ stakeholders – whose money is being spent! Like the barber in the movie Great Dictator, I wish there will come a time when we will be able to exclaim “Hanna look! The clouds are lifting…”

Looking around the city today, one notices new monstrosities soaring up in the most lurid colour combinations possible - without regard to visual synergies. In time to come will this hideousness become the markers of this city’s visual culture? Anyway let me get back to the indexed stories - I have digressed again.

In between Chitrabhanu and Chandranath there are contact numbers of Cable TV, CESC complaints and Calcutta Telephones. But, what is Centre for Studies in Social Sciences doing here? Don’t remember that I had anything to do with them, though they were located next to my design office on Lake Terrace. This street was later renamed Jadunath Sarkar Street after the famous historian, in whose house the Centre was then located.

In the second diary none of them remain except CESC and Calcutta Telephones. This is when I had a pretty good working relationship with CIMA Gallery - I did a solo show there. Chitralekha Tagore reappeared just for one day almost fifteen years since we last met in college. Around the same time Chhatrapati Dutta held his solo show in Gandhara Art Gallery and that is from when we became friends, although I had known him for quite some time.

In the third diary all the names remain with the addition of Chandra Bhattacharya – introduced to me by Eugene. Chandan Bose our framer friend and Chiru Sur end this page for now. CIMA remains, but by then I had become persona non-grata there. Strange are the ways of the world. I try to find reasons and the only plausible explanation for this ‘separation’, I’d like to believe, must have been for one drawing in a suite of drawings that I had last shown in CIMA. These drawings lampooned consumerism and in one, which was titled “Sucker elopes with Vivek’s wife” there is a signage in the background which says “NEW TAILORS” with a baseline that read “WE ALSO SELL ART”. This must be it! My natural acerbity rides rough-shod over tact and strategies.

Sucker elopes with Vivek’s wife

 Politics in art is an oft debated topic. I have spent many an evening with friends – shouting ourselves hoarse trying to win an argument. After all, the whole point of an argument is to win it in the end. Otherwise it is a pointless exercise. A discussion is a tame affair and not an argument and some of us love arguing vociferously. On one such occasion, on a lovely winter evening in Nandini and Rupinder’s home in Delhi, an artist friend from Bengal proclaimed that there is no politics in art! What kind of a Bengali is he? No politics? A true-blue Bengali can and will smell one miles away even if there isn't any! And there should also be legislation to ban naivete!

To be continued…

(some names have been changed to conceal real identities)

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Indexed stories -2

Although I knew Bikash Bhattacharya as a student in Art College and interacted with him a couple of times later on in life, we were never close; in fact we did have a few unpleasant run-ins. So it is surprising that his name is the first on the B page. Badhan Das was close to me and my family, but his name comes second!

Chhotoder Karl Marx in Rimbik (1984)
Bikashda was called “Bicasso” behind his back. This was when he was producing canvases at a speed akin to an automated assembly line and no sooner that these were done, they flew off the shelf! By the same yardstick, Wasim Kapoor was called “poor man’s Bicasso” again behind his back. Badhan Das was called “Chhotoder Karl Marx.” This sobriquet was freely used in front of him. He used to laugh his good natured laugh. Much later Sanjay Bhattacharya arrived on the art scene, his outstanding water colours too sold like hot cakes. We called him “Bicasso Junior”. Both have now passed away (Bikashda and Badhanda). Their names thus don’t appear in my second diary. It starts with Bimal Kundu and includes Bibi Roy and Bajaj my next door neighbor. Basumati Press makes a quick entry and exit. We had printed posters supporting religious tolerance after the demolition of Babri Masjid (6th December 1992). We, that is, about a hundred artists, poets, writers, film and theatre people under the banner of “Samparka” made a trip to Ayodhya on the first anniversary of the demolition. 

In the third diary, Bikash Bose who owns a photographic studio specializing in black & white photography and whose services I used only once is at the top of the page. Bajaj and Bimal are followed by British Council and Bina Sarkar Elias. Seems there is a shift of focus here! Bibi Roy has been dropped – no fault of hers, it was my “Chokher Bali” misadventure. The last name is Bhutu (Shohini’s nickname) and Anirban with separate mobile numbers. Our daughter had just married and they had moved to Delhi.

The house felt empty at first, actually it still does despite the fact that they are back in Kolkata, lives two blocks away and visits us often enough.

Telephones however for me, remains a necessary evil, used sparingly for work related communication and emergencies. It irks me no end when someone calls up to chat. I used to be very impatient and curt in the beginning, but over the years my attitude towards the telephone has somewhat changed and I am now more tolerant, except for unsolicited marketing calls – with them, I am as rude as ever. Despite having listed our phone numbers in the ‘No Call Registry”, there are a few who push their luck. I pick up the phone and say, “This number is on the No Call Registry…I will report you to…” the line goes dead before I can complete the sentence! But truly, who do I report too?

Back in the late eighties, I actually looked forward to the long conversations over the phone with my friend Kunal who lived in Montreal then. Long distance calls were still expensive here and so Kunal used to call, he still does. Since the mid nineties these conversations happen through Skype. I can now call at will without having to watch the meter ticking away. In fact planning a long conversation on Skype is quite a ritual – drink and cigarettes on the ready next to the computer. This is bliss! I can even tell my friends – Kunal and Eugene, “Hang on a bit. Let me get myself another drink!”

But, even in the seventies and eighties despite friends calling up from overseas and having long conversations, much remained unsaid. So, we often wrote each other long letters, sometimes ten to twelve pages. I have preserved them as valuables should be…hope my friends too have kept mine. I still love getting hand written letters in envelopes with postage stamps and my name on it! But, with the internet becoming such an efficient tool, the art of writing letters is fast disappearing.

I used to write letters to Smriti both before and after our marriage. A few of these letters were written and hand delivered to her by me! No, these were not like memos; these were proper letters and sent in sealed envelopes. Many years later, when Smriti was staying in Shantiniketan, she had taken all our letters there and the house was burgled - we lost all those letters. The loss of belongings like clothes and household items did not affect us as much as the loss of those letters did…it hurt us to our very core as we felt that our privacy had been rudely violated.

Smriti in a new hairdo (1985)
When I would be traveling and would be away for more than a week, Smriti would write to me. When she sat down to write, our three year old daughter would also do the same. She was too young to know how to write, but refused to be helped. She spoke as she scribbled away and so Smriti is privy to all of its contents – thanks to the running commentary. I am still to decipher what these letters actually say (alas! the running commentary had gone unrecorded) except that they are filled with a delightful daughter’s baby talk. What more can a doting father ask for? 

Let me share one of those letters with you…

The author of the letter in 1984

To be continued…