Tuesday, January 10, 2012


                                              Courtsey : www.supercoloring.com

For a budding scribe befriending an established writer can give a boost to push your pen against the vicissitudes of the publishing world. But sometimes things can go the other way and the rendezvous can well turn out to be catastrophic.

I had one such experience last year at a writers’ conference in Agra. The two-day conference was attended by writers and poets from all over India and a few from abroad. As it happens, some desi writers started hobnobbing with foreign delegates to seek avenues for foreign trips. I, for one, was well contented with a coterie of unambitious participants. Among them was my roommate, a Sahitya Akademi award winner, from Orissa. He became a pal rather quickly. For two days we sat together in the auditorium ploughing through the tiring verbiage of the presenters.

As the celebrated expression goes “the morning shows the day”. The inaugural speech was delivered by one Dr Sashikant (name changed), a Padmashree recipient, for two gruelling hours until everybody started talking without bothering to lend their already exhausted ears to his monotonous renditions.

There were too many speakers and too little time at disposal. Too many papers were accepted and hence, the later ones had to be truncated. Most of us accepted the fate barring some “established” poets and poetesses who defied all fervent appeals to “cut it short”. One of them was an old lady who read her poems on the first day but insisted to be given a second chance to present her paper. The organisers curtly refused her. She left the auditorium in a jiffy, for obvious reasons. I read some of her works published in the poetry magazines I contribute to. When my turn came I delivered an extempore speech — a synopsis of my paper — on only the important points of the text and left the hall somewhat dejected.

 When I met her she was fuming. However, finding in me a patient listener, she vented out her anger against the organisers while I nodded in approval. When the storm subsided and the communication levelled down to a mere confabulation, I took the opportunity to present her my book of poems that I had penned a couple of years back. At the end of the conference, the organisers took us to the Taj. She invited me to sit beside her and started telling me her story. She was a spinster, not by choice, but by compulsion. She had to look after her ailing mother. She inherited a property for which she had to struggle for the greater part of her life in courts to deter land sharks from grabbing it. She was ostracised by her neighbours, who, according to her, wanted a share of her property.

When the bus stopped, we had to distribute ourselves into several auto rickshaws to reach the gate. At that point of commotion, we dissociated. Luckily, I found my roommate and went inside along with him. Soon the Taj engulfed us in its grandeur. Our eyes devoured the ecstasy of the symmetry of a mausoleum that epitomises love entwined with pathos. My trance was not destined to last long. Half an hour later I met the old lady on the main podium. She burst into a fit of irrepressible rage. “Why did you leave me like that?” she asked. A volley of choicest adjectives followed. Suddenly she took my book out from the bag and threw it at me. “I don’t want to keep a book by an author who deceives girls!” she shouted. I was left dumbfounded. How could an octogenarian consider herself a girl and where from did the question of cheating arise? But before I received any satisfactory answer, she was gone.

                                          courtsey :www.passiondeambun.blogspot.com

 A strange numbness devoured me. As if the emperor and his beloved were going to sleep. To me the grandeur of the tomb started to wean and dissolved in the ebb of the muddy Jamuna. Suddenly a few lines flashed in my memory:

Never saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
 And all that mighty heart is lying still.

(Published in Strange & Sublime in " The Statesman")
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Saturday, January 7, 2012


                                                            amitava chaktabarty

                                                The Church Of sacred Heart Of Jesus
                        (courtesy:-    http://www.virtourist.com/asia/india/pondicherry/index.html)                      

ANYBODY who has visited Pondicherry must have felt the eerie sense of tranquility in the air. Everything over there is replete with a sense of uncanny silence where the heart and mind can find solace. Probably because of the presence of the ashram and its disciplined devotees, who roam about with minimum interaction among themselves or the visitors, who automatically inculcate within them the discipline of the ashram that make the French Rivera of the East so calm and divine.
It is said that the great saint Agastha had his ashram over here. Probably it is for this reason and for the fact that this hamlet was immuned from the clutches of the British, that Rishi Aurobindo decided to establish his ashram over here. The British was still suspicious about his antecedents and considered him to be one of their principal adversaries though he was acquitted in the famous Alipore Bomb Case. He had no other options but to leave Bengal and settle in a French colony far off, to pursue the newly found divinity deep within him while he was in the lonely cell of the Alipore Central Jail between 1908 and1909. On 4 April 1910, he landed in Pondicherry for the first time and after years of Sadhana in internal Yoga he decided to set up his own ashram with only 24 disciples on 24 November 1926. Today, the ashram has become a gigantic institution disseminating the idea of higher spiritual consciousness for oneself and the community.
I happened to be in Puducherry (as Pondicherry is officially called now) a decade back and visited it recently for the second time and hardly saw any change in the ambience except a few more devotees and tourists. The same colonial heritage buildings, the same clean roads or rues, as they call in French, the same unhurried pace of the people, the same giant doors on walls decorated with bougainvillea, the same noisy surrender of waves of the Bay of Bengal on the rocky beach, all conspiring together to “give time a break”. In a few days Puducherry can take you in her ambit to lull your false ego and rejuvenate your battered soul. If you are willing for some meditation near the Samadhi Sthal, where the mortal remains of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is kept within the precincts of the ashram, you can even feel the magic of the soothing ambience creep into you.
The second visit gave me a strange sense of bliss, though the scorching summer sun was unrelenting. I stayed in the park guesthouse, which has a beautiful garden full of soft, carpet-like grass, ready to welcome your bare feet with its morning dew. I used to sit in a corner for a lonely recluse trying to reach out for my inner-self, which has been brutally subjugated by the urban world around me. After three consecutive days of this lonely practice I felt somewhat relived internally and was convinced to have added some spirituality in my consciousness. I was eager to stay for a few days more but compulsions back home barred my wish of continuing with this newfound rendezvous with myself. 
Time’s break was over for me. But before leaving Pondicherry I made it a point to visit the famous churches. So I visited the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and was awestruck by the beautiful Gothic architecture. The gigantic columns holding the cross shaped arches, the fabulous inscriptions in the glass panes, the twin tower belfry, the sheen of the interior… all made me astounded. Amid that gigantism I came across a fragile lady clad in a tattered violet sari touching the illuminated glass pane, which had mother Mary etched upon it. Tears were rolling down her cheeks, I knew not for what. I couldn’t decipher whether she wanted something or was only there for the sake of faith. Then from the knot of the anchal of her sari she brought out a fifty-rupee note — must be her entire day’s earning — pressed her lips upon it, then worked her skinny hand up the glass so that it reached Mother Mary’s feet before dropping it in the drop-box. 
I realised that to attain such level of devotion one had to grow up in the atmosphere, which Pondicherry offers. Personally, I have miles to go before I reach such level of selflessness.

(was published in Strange & Sublime "The Statesman")
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Thursday, January 5, 2012


                                                 MEMORIES ON THE MAIDAN
                                                           Amitava Chakrabarty

It was on a cool January afternoon in the mid seventies at the heart of Calcutta that I ran the sprint of my life. I was only six then.
Came X-mas and our tender hearts would flutter in joy as we were let loose from the yoke of our studies prior to the beginning of a new session. Annual examinations being over, our poor mothers could savour their well-earned recess from their daily dose of coaxing and cajoling our restive minds into books. Winter vacation to us was pure fun.
In those days Calcutta was less chaotic, resided by lesser number of people. In winter one could enjoy an afternoon stroll on the pavements without being elbowed by co-commuters busy on their cell phones. Or he could just board a stream and more around the city without being flashed by vehicular emissions from the stagnant traffic. You didn’t have to jostle against an unyielding crowd to get into a bus or to get a glimpse of your favorite animal in the zoo on holidays.

So our parents made it a point to spend the weekends of winter with us visiting the Victoria, the planetarium, the museums, the zoo, etc, while often our mothers took us to the Maidan on the weekdays to play in the afternoon. This arrangement of visiting the Maidan had twin benefits. While we could have our field day on the lush green expanse with our games, our mothers could bask in the soothing afternoon sun and gossip over oranges or groundnuts. We were not allowed to even come close to that congregation where home truths were brought out with impurity. Those were hush-hush meetings dotted by intermittent laughter. We could see our mothers and only hear their laughs from a distance. Only when we were thirsty we were allowed to run into that forum, pick up our bottles to gulp some water before rushing back to rejoin our team.

On the D- day, escorted by our mother we were unleashed into the lush green expanse of the Maidan from the Fort William side. Out came rackets and bats, wickets and balls as half a dozen of us ran to conquer the Brigade.  Our mothers started unfolding old newspapers upon the grass as make- shift sitting arrangements. Soon they settled with their back to the sun. They hailed for the badamwalla, to initiate their adda.

 Gossip and groundnuts are probably made for each other.

We started with badminton. My opponent, a cousin of almost my age, wore a black jacket. I was dressed in a red pullover.

The game had barely started when all on a sudden I saw my cousin’s eye gaping in fear. For a moment he stood still with protruding eyes looking onto something at my back. The racket slipped from his hand. Within a second he regained his consciousness and scram pled towards our mothers.
 “Palao! Palao “ he yelled at me
Bewildered by his knee jerk reaction, I reflexively turned back. I saw with horror that an infuriated cow was running towards me. My cousin has shown a clean pair of heels while I was left stranded to face that monster alone. She was enraged and probably was out of her mind. At least so was the disposition on her face. She rocked his head from side to side, brandishing her two solid horns in air. Instinctively, my feet flung into action and I was running the race of my life.

My cousin was lucky. He saw the cow early. Within moments he reached to the safety of his mother’s lap while my mother screamed seeing his son in this unequal race. The monster was gaining ground fast. My calf muscle strained and my body was running out of my energy before I yielded to those solid horns.

I started to dodge once to the left and then to the right so that the beast could get diverted but it was of no avail. She chased me with amazing obstinacy. I knew within seconds, I would be tossed up and would probably die as a consequence. People around started screaming in anticipation. My mother was so far off that his shawl was just a small speck to me. Soon everything became hazy. I felt my heart would burst out.
 “Bachao ! Bachao! oh Maa”, I yelled.

I knew she wouldn’t hear; too far she was from me. But nevertheless, kids call their mother by instinct when they are in distress.

A coolie was enjoying his afternoon siesta on the soft green carpet with his gamcha ( a long cloth napkin) bundled into a makeshift pillow under his head. Luckily, the clamour and chaos made him to get up. Or probably, he heard my distress call in his sleep.
“Save me! Save me!” I cried.

He took me on his lap as I flung my arms around his neck with all my strength. Suddenly, the man took the napkin in his hand and brandishing it charged towards the animal. The cow thudded to a halt, bewildered by the counter attack, and after judging the veracity of intent in my savior’s eyes, her madness weaned away. Turning around, as if she suddenly realized that chasing a kid was below her dignity, she started to stroll away.

I sobbed uncontrollably in his arms.
 “ Koi Baat vehin, beta, kiske saath aye  ho ?” , he asked. By then my mother reached the spot. Putting me back on the ground the coolie guided me to my mother.

  Thus ended my tryst with a cow, the holy cow, the religious cow, the symbol of peace and tranquility but the most controversial of all domestic animals in India.

Still today I ponder what made her to go berserk. Was it the colour of my sweater or was it the act of some spoiled brat that might have picked its sensitive zones. Or was it furious seeing too much of herself with her calf on the walls, lampposts and tree trunks being a political symbol then. I don’t know even today.

All I remember was that on the next Monday, my mother offered lord Shiva a generous helping for saving her kid.

( The story of the Memories on the Maidan was published in “ Now & Again”, the Statesman)    

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dhamakhali, an ideal weekend escape

                                                       From the roof top of the lodge

The email changed the string of my monotonous weekends last year. It was my doctor friend who first implanted the name into my psyche. “Let’s head for Dhamakhali” he said. “The bookings ought to be done over phone, and if we get it, this can quite be a memorable experience. We can have a glimpse of the Sundarbans”
The thought of visiting the mangrove delta once again was quite alluring. Naturally my consent went out instantly.

Dhamakhali is in in the Sandeshkhali block II in 24 Paraganas (N) district of West Bengal. You will have to drive for two to two and a half hour to reach this weekend jaunt.
The “Sundarban Paryatan Abash - Dhamakhali”
The eighty odd kilometers can take roughly three hours from the Esplanade Bus Stop from where CSTC buses ply at regular intervals to Dhamakhali. From Science City we headed East to take the Basanti Highway and drove past Bantala Leather Complex, Bhangar, Minakhan,Malancha and Sarberia, from where we turned left and at the end of the 10 km road we reached Dhamakhali ferry-ghat. On the opposite bank is the headquarters of Sandeshkhali Block II. Just 400 meters before the ghat is the “Sundarban Paryatan Abash - Dhamakhali”. We drove in through the gate and lo-and behold, a beautiful two storied lodge was waiting for us amid lush-green park and well-maintained garden. 

As soon as we reached the bungalow, I ran up to the roof to shoot with my canon cool-pix in whatever sunlight available. A medical launch was anchored in the middle of a river against the thatched huts. A floating health center in this rivery terrain.

                                                          The sunset from roof-top

. The sun was setting and the kids made most of the dying light - jumping and prodding each other. I turned back and clicked the sinking sun in the Rampur river. Dhamakhali, actually, is at the confluence of two rivers- Chhoto Kalagachhia and Rampur. The two rivers become the Kalagachhia river which in turn becomes the famous Raimangal after merging with river Dasha down south.

                                                                  A lonely lady
The manager, Dinabandhu Das,  arranged the Sundarbans Package. The 1 night 2 days package generally costs between Rs.1800/- to Rs.2000/- while the 2 day 3 night trip will be a thousand rupees more per head. He will arrange for the forest permissions, launch, food, stay at another lodge at Hemnagar Lodge (maintained by this NGO) at the entry point of the main forest. Forest Islands like Jigerkhali, Marichjhappi, Sojnekhali, Pakhirala, Sudhanakhali, Tiger project, Netidhopani (core area exclusive for 2N/3D package) can be visited. As a part of eco tourism he can arrange for folk open theatre(Bonobibir- Jatrapala) folk dance and songs ( Bhadu- Tussu, in local parlance) if you are interested in. These will be arranged in the nearby islands and will cost an additional Rs.2000/-.

                                                               A boatman crossing the river

Even if you are not interested in either the Sundarbans or the folk culture, I will implore you to take a trip between the islands in the starry night on a local country boat fitted with a diesel motor. It will be an experience in itself. Sitting upon the wooden planks and resting your back upon the gunwale below the star studded sky you can feel the pulse of India, which lives in these remote villages and not in the facade of the glittering city.

amitava chakrabarty

For Bookings: Mobile: 09732630178 / 09732586327
                        Email : jydc.ngo@gmail.com  & sgy2ydc@yahoo.co.in

Room Rents : 3 rooms at Rs 300/- 1 deluxe at Rs 400/- 12 bedded Dormitory ( ground floor) @1200/- and a 4 bedded ( ground floor) with attached bath room @ Rs 500/-.
For picnic parties 2 rooms at ground floor and a part of the campus at Rs 4000/-.

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