Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Making

This is my story.

My birth, like much of my entire life, remains a largely forgotten incident. I was born to Anglo-Indian parents - an almost-extinct species in this vast ocean of humanity that Kolkata is.

I've heard that my grandfather's mother used to be a Londoner. Her husband, a Bengali Babu, was a random clerk in the British Raj. Exactly how they had managed to end up together is clouded in mystery, but the fact remains that they did, and went on to produce a lineage of Anglo-Bengali clerks working in random independently and identically distributed ancient, dilapidated buildings with gargantuan, slow ceiling fans and glasses of uber-sweet, muddy-coloured tea, somewhere in the Dalhousie area of the city.

I was no exception. In fact, I was so common an entity from my very early days that you'd probably not remember my existence even though you might have met me four or five times a week. I was not smart enough to secure high marks; not cool enough to seek attention from my classmates; I couldn't play cricket or whistle tunes. In fact, even my parents were so keen to ensure that I wasn't singled out in my school that they never gave me anything to do with beef for lunch.

Not that I minded. I loved being one of the crowd. To be honest I was often petrified at being watched by anyone - let alone girls of my age. I preferred being a middle-bencher, and somehow scraped through every test that I needed to pass. My ancestors, through their strong genes, somehow imbibed into me the realisation that I was born to serve one purpose: to land up in one of those offices in Dalhousie and spend the rest of my life there.

And so it started one day. The "bush-shirts", the oversized trousers, the glasses, the pen, and my father's ancient office bag that he had taken to work for the better part of a career spanning thirty-five years. I had made it. Made it to where my bloodline belonged. Finally. This was it.

***

Years passed by. People around me got promoted. I trundled along in a mindless monotone. Kolkata winters melted into summers, and then soothed back into winters. Promotions happened all around me. I continued with my drone.

And then, something happened. Something utterly unthinkable - something that neither of my father, grandfather or great-grandfather had ever felt. Or even possibly have known the definition of.

I got bored.

It must have been my great-grandmother's adventurous British traits that lay dormant somewhere deep inside me. Without any real warning, they threatened to break through the barrier and push me to do something exciting. Something fun.

I was not born for this. I was not born to lead a life of monotone, my life dwindling gradually in the labyrinthine Government sector of this three-hundred-year-old city. I was born to do something reckless, something different: I was born to defy my stereotyped legacy.

It was a feeling I had never known before. I went home. I went to work. I saw vacant, expressionless faces all around me. Everyday. Devoid of excitement. Threatening to claw at me, to consume my existence, to digest all my remaining years in the serpentine alimentary tracks of their mundane world.

I needed to do something.

And then, one day, I received a phone call. A curt one. There was possibly someone who was trailing me all this while. Someone who had noticed my restlessness somewhere.

I had agreed. Agreed to earn money illegally. Not that I needed all that cash - my job paid me well. But I needed the excitement of doing something illegal, seriously illegal. I hadn't felt like this in ages: a warm flow of blood ran through my veins - a sensation I had not felt in years.

In due time, the package arrived. With all the information that was required. And some advance cash - fifty per cent of the total amount. A hefty sum, but it hardly mattered. I was finally set to defy my genes - and take my first step towards a life of some sort.

Time raced. And then, finally, I reached the scheduled place. At the scheduled time. Would I be able to pull it off? Would I, now, really? My insides churned, and for a moment I freaked out and decided to back out. But I did hold my nerves. I had to do this. This was it.

As I pressed the calling bell, a new panic paralysed me. This was my first time - what was I going to do? What was I going to say? Was I going to stand there, like a mute imbecile?

Rajesh Sen opened the door himself. I knew what he was supposed to look like. It was him. What shall I say? WHAT ON EARTH?


And then, before I knew it, the words blurted out of my mouth - those instinctive words that I had said so often to random strangers, words that had no relation whatsoever to what I was supposed to do within five seconds from that point of time:

"Nomoshkar. Ek minute."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kahaani: not a review


I liked Kahaani. The story was nice, the script was crisp, and Bidya Vidya Balan was really brilliant. A well-made thriller, packed with a surprisingly Tollywood-dominated star cast - all of whom have supported Vidya really well.

However, seldom have everything - the performances, the story, the script and the entire execution - taken a backseat. They had to. With Kolkata as one of the competitors, the contest was a no-brainer from the very first scene.

Kahaani is about Kolkata. More importantly, it's about Kolkata the way I have known it to be. No false overglamorous depiction of my city, no. For example, a significant part of the story revolves around - not The Oberoi Grand - not even Hotel Rutt-Deen, but Monalisa Guest House.

M o n a l i s a   G u e s t   H o u s e.

Did the director actually know about a kid in shorts, cuddled up in a window seat on a 221 or a 47A or a Golf Green-BBD Bag, looking out of the window to catch a glimpse the ubiquitous guest house every time he passed it?

"Ma, what is a guest house?"
"When people come from outside Kolkata and they don't know anyone to stay with, they stay in hotels and guest houses."

And then, Maharani. Possibly the most popular food joint in 700029, the pin code I associate the best years of my life with. One of those places whose food you can actually taste if you concentrate for a while, even if you're maybe a thousand miles away.

And then, Mocambo. Not Peter Cat. Not Bar-B-Q. Not even Olypub. But Mocambo. My Mocambo. The best Park Street restaurant that ever was. Of Mulligatawny soups and Chateaubriand steaks; of hideous red sofas in a 3-1 layout and a bizarrely ancient decor; of memories worth, well, no idea.

This is my Kolkata. Not the Kolkata usually depicted in movies - of lofty skyscrapers, suave workplaces and expensive hotels; or of the most dizzying depths of misery and poverty, aimed at portraying a disturbing image of my city to the world.

This is Kolkata as seen by Kolkatans. The average, middle-class, graduate Kolkatan. One that rides metro rails or the occasional taxi; one that goes to the Pujo at Triangular Park, one of the middle-level pujos in the vicinity of the giants like Ekdalia Evergreen and Maddox Square; one that takes the tram as a mode of transport and still manages to seek pleasure in gazing out of the window; one who braves the Lansdowne Road traffic in public transport; one whose mother stays up for him and makes anxious calls whenever he is late from work; one who probably earns less than his counterparts in the more glamorous cities, but has still stayed back - not because of lack of opportunities, but because the city is the world to him.

Sujoy Ghosh knows Kolkata inside out. He doesn't fake it. He really does know the city. Well enough to make a Kolkatan desperate to churn out his insides and maybe let go the loudest of yells.

Thanks mate.Thanks for re-creating my childhood, adolescence and twenties on screen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Don't go...

About twenty-five years back I had locked myself in a bathroom and wept when one Sunil Manohar Gavaskar had announced retirement.

I didn't cry yesterday. Maybe it's because I'm a quarter of a century older. Maybe because my heart is already too saturated with other preoccupations. Maybe it's because I have seen other legends of the great game quit in the period in between.

There are moments of grief when you cry. And then, there are some others. Others that make you realise that you won't even be able to ejaculate tears. You suddenly realise that when we will be 6/1 in future, some other bloke shall come out to bat at number three. Some strange entity, maybe familiar in some other role, but certainly not the perpetual bread-earning 6/1 guy, based on whose hard-earned money the others in the family can make merry.

And that's what it feels like, right now. It's like losing the fulcrum of the family. Not losing the coolest, most popular guy, but the unthanked backbone of the unit, the merit of whose existence can be felt in his absence rather than in his presence.

And that is precisely the feeling that I was not matured enough to go through at the age of nine. Hence the temporary tears, not a permanent void.

I know that this is a rather ill-written post - lacking coherence and substance of any kind. But I suppose I cannot blame myself for that. No one can write in peace when there's no wall to protect you from the relentlessly uncompromising outside world anymore.

Must you go, Rahul? Won't you give us another chance to thank you, or at least deserve you?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Mine

I was in Mumbai when Arnab had his book launch in Kolkata. And was in Kolkata when it happened in Mumbai. So there you go.

Life has not been the easiest for me over the past couple of months. Along with everything, my concentration had taken a toll, and even though I had realised that the book was gripping, I could not read at my usual a-page-a-minute pace.

Then I picked it up today, and focused on it. And finished it off. And am left with a hollow feeling in my stomach.

***

I hadn't underestimated the book, to start with. Arnab remains the inspiration for most Bengali bloggers of my generation (I'm not an exception). In fact, I had huge expectations from the book, which was further triggered by excellent reviews by Diptakirti and Tapabrata (the latter written while I was actually reading the book anyway).

The first Sunday of March 2012 was almost entirely consumed by The Mine. And for a solid thirty minutes or so after I was through with the book, I sat still, the incredible intensity of the book still grappling my insides with some invisible hook of sorts.

One of the aspects of most thrillers and horror stories is the fact that they start off well, then lose the pace somewhere down the track. Not The Mine. It keeps you hooked throughout, and despite the gore that might make a lesser heart cringe, even nauseate at time, the book succeeds in one thing: it makes itself more and more unputdownable as the book progresses.

I shall not go into a short summary of the book or of the characters. What does deserve a mention, though, that Arnab has managed to create horror out of our own thoughts - thoughts of completely forgettable laymen like us. Any of the characters of the book might have been you. Or me. Or anyone you know. Just anyone. You cannot help but place yourself in the shoes of the characters, one by one. And possibly shudder from guilt, since you'd know deep inside that - well - I suppose you should read the book to find that out.

Arnab has mastered the psychology of the average man, after all. And by that I mean the deepest, darkest nooks of the human mind where most shudder to penetrate. I have no idea how, but it cannot be denied that he has made an excellent job of it.

I suppose it shall be a few days before the book goes out of my system.

***

Another aspect must deserve a mention here. I typically refer to Arnab as Greatbong, but this book isn't Greatbongish at all. It's a flavour he has managed to dish out from somewhere beyond his much-worshipped blog. This is an Arnab I wasn't aware of.

He has arrived. In print.

Followers