Thursday, 9 May 2013

Indexed Stories – 9

A long period of inactivity has lulled me into a deep and blissful ennui. I am becoming prone to these attacks of utter idleness and a detachment from everything that can be considered as work. For the moment, following the news on TV, the scams and the shenanigans of the ruling class and their cohorts seem to be the most important thing in life. I greedily devour these in large morsels like an awe-struck child listening to fairy tales.  I love to listen to stories and the news channels provide me enough every day. But, I seem to have an insatiable appetite for almost all genres of stories including news – whether they are fact or fiction hardly matters to me.  The only thing that matters is the degree of ludicrousness – the more the merrier.  The biggest scam recently is that of defalcation of depositors’ money by a Chit Fund company.  Every day either a depositor or an agent is committing suicide, millions have lost their life savings. Platitudes and promises are being mouthed, but what takes the cake is the installation of shoe-shine machines in Writer’s Building. The timing is perfectly ludicrous. This is the kind of plot that any of the magic realist would give an arm and a leg for. Maybe someday I will attempt yarns on these lines, but not now. I can barely manage to write about two thousand words, after which my interest wanes. Alas!
Tagore wrote that humankind is nurtured on stories, well, not exactly in those words. But on this day- “pnochishey Boishak” - his birth anniversary - I think it will be more apt to translate a passage from “Golpo” written by Tagore. Its simplicity is delightful…


 “Tell me a story” he demanded, the moment he learnt to speak.

And grandma began “There was a prince, a merchant’s son, a sheriff’s son…”

“Three times four is twelve” bellowed the teacher.

But, the Demon’s roar was louder and multiplications did not reach the boy’s ear.

The self-righteous locked up the boy in a room and admonished, “Three times four is twelve! That’s the truth; the prince, the merchant’s son and the sheriff’s son, they are untrue, so…”

But, the boy’s imagination by then had sailed to distant lands, to addresses that one could not find on a map. ‘Three times four is twelve’ doggedly followed, but unable to fathom the depths, floundered in mid-sea.

The teacher thought that the boy was just being naughty, nothing that a few strokes of the cane could not correct.

The teacher’s mien stunned grandma into silence. But, this nuisance just wouldn’t go away, one left and another took his place. Then the storyteller arrived and started narrating the episode of a prince banished to the forest.

When the sharp-nailed-she-demon’s nose was being hacked off, the righteous said,” there’s no proof of that in history, but that three times four is twelve is beyond doubt.”

By then Hanuman had leapt sky-high, while history failed to soar to that height. All through school and college they tried to curb the boy’s imagination, but nothing could kill the thirst in him that rang, “Tell me a story!” 

Tagore continues…

…From this we learn that it’s just not children, even adults of all ages are nurtured on stories. Thus through the ages, in every home, by word of mouth, through the written text, the vast collection of stories that this world has accumulated adds up to the most valuable asset of humankind…

…Thus, when two people meet, they ask “What news? What next?” The story of human civilization, our history - has been woven out of these “what next’s” (Tar por?).


“What news neighbour?” Gitanjali often asks when we pass each other at the gate. “What news?” asks Gautam da on the phone or whenever we meet.  Some friends ask me “What’s new?” instead.

There are quite a few names in the G pages of all my telephone diaries and most have retained their respective positions. This augurs well – it means that my relationship with them has remained stable and all of them ask me the same question by way of a salutation – “What news?” 

So, my obsession with surfing the news channels is not a compulsive disorder as some would like to believe, it is my inquisitive mind asking “What news?” But, I must admit that my interest in the ludicrous could be a valid cause for concern to many of my well wishers. 

Coming back to Tagore, I wish to share with you a piece I wrote for the Gallerie magazine a while ago…

Rabindranath Tagore and his impact on Bengal and the world or how he continues to inspire me can be explained as a narrative that implicates my being.

Right from the day I could follow a tune, Tagore and his songs have remained with me. In fact, raised in a middle class Brahmo family, I had an overdose of “Rabindra-Sangeet” to the exclusion of all else – a rare variety of chauvinism had afflicted the so called elite of Bengal into believing that everything else was base and tasteless. He was therefore the only ‘culture’ that mattered. Soon, the single-channeled absoluteness resulted in my disliking the sound of his songs (for no fault of his) – that was my first run-in with Tagore: I was still in my early teens. What mattered to me then was the Calcutta ‘B’ station of All India Radio that aired western music and the occasional clandestine foray into Vividh Bharati and the world of popular Hindi songs – considered an abomination in our insulated world of ‘Rabindrik’ culture.

It was much later when I was exposed to the gamut of musical styles that Bengal’s culture comprised of – I realised that there was much more than just Tagore. After all, there was life before him. Having said that, I must hasten to add that, Tagore was a colossal presence. The sheer volume of his creative output in all the disciplines that he delved into is reason enough to justify our collective inferiority complex. However, despite my early defiance I now stand corrected and more often than not, I catch myself humming his songs.
Whatever may have been the reason for the adulation he continues to receive, he was undoubtedly ‘the’ cultural icon whose brilliance remains undimmed even to this day. Did this and the fact that his dynamism was boundless, elevate him to the status of a super-human? A God?

This is where I come in again. A second run-in with the idea of Tagore happened when I created a work titled “My Prayer”, intended to question this idolisation. Having employed the popular to investigate a popular icon, I received my share of brickbats, some of which were particularly vicious and nasty. The people who worshipped him were very angry indeed!

My prayer (2002), 36 X 65 inches, Acrylics, photographs, ply wood, sequines, etc.

 On the occasion of the tercentenary birthday celebrations of Tagore, everyone seems to have gone on an over-drive. The new political dispensation in West Bengal deemed it necessary to further popularise Tagore, by playing his songs over public address systems at almost every street crossing - to the accompaniment of blaring car horns and the rattle of decrepit buses! 
Along with the change that this state has so resoundingly trumpeted, Tagore songs have become the staple for starting and ending election speeches, political rallies and all other state, and private functions. Tagore, I am sure would have found this amusing if he was around.

Finally, not being able to hear myself think because of the blaring loudspeakers, I telephoned the local Police Station to register a complaint. The phone rang at the other end with a caller tune (to my disbelief!) of Tagore’s famous song: 

“Jodi Tor Dak Shune Keu Na Ashye, tobe ekla cholo rey…” 
(“If they answer not to thy call, walk alone…)