Sunday, September 28, 2008

Calcutta is dead…

Long live Calcutta!

It’s something I want to write about each time I go to Calcutta; quite often these days, with my mother staying there alone (entirely her call, we are fairly dutiful children) and requiring attention from time to time: the decay and gradual death of a once great city.

And while I’m sure enough people with a better sense of fatalistic poetry have written on Calcutta over the years, that shouldn’t stop me from keying in my thoughts. And this has nothing to do with Singur and Nandigram. That’s totally incidental.

Now, because I don’t have a set idea about how I want to go about this, let me start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) – when I get out of the 1962-model airport and on to a rickety, noisy Ambassador. Honking. Non-stop. Honking. Fast-swerving cars. Honking. Bumper to bumper traffic. Honking. Abuses. Honking. The smell of petrol (or is it diesel?).

All this in ancient Ambassadors with torn seats with the stuffing flowing out. I love Ambassadors, make no mistake about it, but I like them when they are in their full glory, as these were approximately 20 years ago.

The next thing that hits you – as you reconcile to the fact that the 15-kilometre distance home is going to take around an hour-and-a-half and the honking will continue all the way through – are the number of advertisement hoardings in the city.

For a city – and a part of the country - that is down on its luck as far as industry is concerned, you would be amazed at the number of hoardings all around. Words. Words in different colours, sizes, fonts, languages – including English written in Bangla and Hindi written in Bangla and all other permutations and combinations – scream at you sending you into a claustrophobic haze. You don’t even feel like lighting up the cigarette. And people – semi-nude women (more cleavage in Calcutta ads than in any other part of the country) and semi-nude men (more undie ads than in any other part of the country as well).

The city has been screaming for space for years now, and whatever little space there is has been taken over by these hoardings. Even on water – little water bodies, lakes along the route have hoardings stuck on poles stuck in the lake-bed.

The space is further reduced by a spate of flyovers that have come up in recent times. Necessary. But evil. Because they have been built on roads, which are just about wide enough to function as roads. So the flyovers go parallel to the roads – like a second storey. The entire road is covered. And because of the lack of space, the roads were in the first place built just outside the boundary walls of houses. So the flyovers now run just outside the windows of these houses.

Then we come to the city during the rains. And not say anything.

And then we come to the condition of the houses – residential as well as commercial. And not say anything.

And then we come to the busses. And not say anything.

The pollution in the air. Silence.

The administration. More silence.

Mamata Banerjee. Deathly quiet now. We’re in mourning.

Bad cinema. Bad literature. Bad language on the streets. Uncouth people.

Now, I’m a true-blue Calcutta boy, who has steadfastly refused to hear anything bad said about Calcutta for years now – 11 years; since I moved out to Delhi. But it’s come to a stage where in conversations I tend to take the lead in criticising the city.

But now even that seems pointless. The city is dead. Completely. Even the addas and bookstreets don’t seem interesting anymore. Durga Pujo is a drag. It’s all over. Well past its sell-by date, hurried along by every single Calcuttan, and not just the politicians.

Note: No photos. Tried. None of them succeeded in establishing what I wanted to.

When Time Ran Out...

Paul Newman (1925 to 2008)

Somebody up there likes him...oh well, everybody everywhere liked him, didn't we?

Gorgeous and stylish to the end.

PS: Mahendra Kapoor died on the same day. What a relief that voice won't be heard again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Good show, sis!

Well, I'd shied away from writing anything about my father after he passed away last year. Still feel no necessity to write with any sort of 'importance' on the matter. In any case, my sister chose to 'celebrate' his first death anniversary on the 27th of August rather interestingly - she put together a very good exhibition of his paintings. Baba was an economist by training, taught economics at the end of his education, first in Canada and USA and then in a couple of universities in India before switching focus to journalism. All the while, however, he did dabble in a few of his other interests - painting, poetry, theatre, translations - but it was only towards his later life that he chose to really plunge headlong into these interests of his, painting prodigiously, writing non-stop, etc.

Well, to cut the story short, I thought I'd put up a bit about Baba here because a rather flattering article about him and the exhibition Didi put together for him has come out in the Kolkata Mirror. Not that this will interest anyone who didn't know Baba, but nevertheless...

A Tribute To Samir Dasgupta – A Man Who dared to dream of Utopia
By Anam Rizvi
Posted On Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kolkata, August 28: In an attempt to pay tribute to her late father on his first death anniversary, Ina Puri with the assistance of Darshan Shah organised a painting exhibition at the Weavers Studio Centre for the Arts on August 27.

Most of his paintings are on paper with pastels. Ranging from the abstract to the morbid and rising to great heights of passion in his paintings of the human form, his work flows with a fluidity that tells the viewer that these works chronicle the journey of his life.

“His paintings show his response to nature. Though he was an economist who traveled all over the world, he was a romantic when it came to art. His paintings show what he thought life should be like. He was an avid story-teller and always looked at the positive side of life,” said Puri.

The theme of his work gradually shifted from the human and animal form to nature and this also indicates a maturity and development in his style. Sohini Dhar, a professor in the faculty of visual arts at Rabindra Bharati University who knew the artist personally said, “He nurtured beauty and had a multifaceted personality though he preferred to stay away from the limelight. He was not trained as an artist and was never satisfied with his work.”

Dasgupta the economist, the professor, the author, the poet, the critic and the artist- each avatar of this great man comes alive through the gamut of ideas in his paintings. His earlier works deal with the human form in its various moods. One of the paintings depicted a horse with two heads and two front feet whereas another showed two animals looking up and reaching for something sublime. He does not shy away from using bright colours such as fuchsia, yellow and fluroscent green and orange on a gray background.

Sanjay Sengupta, an artist himself, commented after having viewed the paintings on show, “The paintings have raw passion. The use of colours shows a Fauvist influence. I found the human forms very interesting.”