Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ups and Downs - 60 Defining Moments (Part 1)

Dipta has come up with a nice compilation of sixty events that shaped West Bengal in his - "60 years of a state". Some of those events - compiled from a special edition of "Anandabazar Patrika" - predate my generation.

Here's another list of 60 events that encircles my generation - thirty-somethings - 30 Ups and 30 Downs.


1. Sourav Ganguly does a 'Rambo' from Lord's balcony (2002)-

What this photo did for a nation in war, the image on the left did to a nation in doubt with its expression at success. Forget the "Ma Chandi" amulet, don't try to guess how much this guy can bench press - but, seriously, have you ever been prouder as a Bengali? Like all successful people leaders, subtlety is not his forte but an undying passion for the cause is.

The half-naked Maharaja's slap on proud Brit cheek was perhaps as strong as the "Half-naked Fakir's". This moment is all our freedom fighters ever wanted to see. Thank you, oh Prince of Biren Roy road.

2. Bengali in Bond Movie - 2006 - (Copying from an old email after watching "Casino Royale")

"Finally, Bengalis have arrived! My dream is to see a Bengali playing Bond - asking for a Vodka Martini, wearing Dhuti on a Bijoya Dasami afternoon as someone has hidden a nuclear bomb inside the Asur's gut. Not exactly there yet, but good progress.

Remember the guy who played the Doctor in MI6 headquarters who was instructing Bond on how to use the defibrillator as Bond was having a heart attack? That guy is our very own Paul Bhattacharjee - I bet his first name is Palash!

This is the 2nd most important day in Bengali history (first one was when Rabi Thakur returned his Knighthood). Whoo hooo!!!"

3. Kumar Shanu sings in "Aashiqui" - 1990

Bollywood male singer world was never so unabashedly "bong" before. Sachin "kotta" was from Tripura, Kishore Kumar from Allahabad, Hemant Kumar and Mannada were mostly for our jethus and pisis - but Kedar Bhattacharya was from our very own Dumdum. He paved the way for Abhijeet, Babul Supriyo, Shaan, Debojit and many others. Think twice before mocking a bong speaking Hindi - it will be virtually impossible for you to hum in shower then!

4. Sunil Gangopadhyay shows up with "Atmoprokash" - 1966

This is probably the only event in this list that is from the 60s. But Bengali literature would never be the same again. Partly auto-biographical, partly surreal, and almost entirely rebelling - this novel defines the genre that would rule the rich literature for the next half-century. Never before anyone dared to start a novel -- that too in "Sharodiyo Desh" -- with --

"Sokalbela Paritosh ese bollo, esob apnara ki arombho korechen?"

It was thanks to this novel that we got to read about places we go, things we do and people we interact with in the language we actually use. Amit Choudhuris and Jhoompa Lahiris please pay attention!

5. Suman Chattopadhyay's first album "Tomake Chai" - 1992

What Sunil did for Bengali novels, Suman did for Bengali lyrics. No more would "chaNd" be called "sashi"; no more would people bother using "kunjobon" or "preyoshir adhor " to talk about amorous activities.

The title song in the album, allegedly written about Cigarette, gave an entire generation reasons to buy Bengali music cassettes and gave us words that we actually could identify with while walking along the corridors of Esplanade. After launch of several knockoffs trying to live on Suman's success, some over-enthusiast music executive coined the school "jibonmukhi" (life-facing, literally!). It was not quite like the "impressionist" movement in Western Europe but it surely did touch more number of hearts.

6. Jotayu's introduction in "Sonar Kella" - 1971

Unless you're Pulak Ghoshal, you would address him "Lalmohanbabu". We had several great Bengali detectives before - Satyan(W)eshi Byomkesh Bakshi being the best in the genre - but we truly lacked self-deprecating humor. We laughed at "ure"(Udiya), "Bihari", "Madrasi" and "mero" (Marwari) - but no one was laughing at us Bengalis "babus". No one made fun of our fear of experimentation, over-cautiousness at cold weather and suspicion of burly character in the same train compartments till the following lines were written -

"Jini kothata bollen tini dekhte ottonto niriho, ritimoto roga, aar height-e nirghat amar cheyeo ontoto du-inchi kom | Amar to tao boyos matro ponero, tai barar boyos jaaYni | Ini kompokhhe p(N)oitris, kaajei jemon achen temon i thakben|"

7. Muhammad Yunus wins Nobel Peace Prize - 2006

Since Pakistan smirks every time we praise Dilip Kumar, we should retain the bragging rights on Dr Yunus too. Bangladesh, you can keep your deadly cyclones, horrible floods, funny middle-names and even all of Kaji Najrul but let's just be "Bangali" when it comes to Nobel and Padmar Ilish.

8. Amartya Sen wins Nobel Price - 1998

This one is totally, legitimately ours. We don't understand his theories on eradicating poverty through education and how the great Bengal Famine was mostly man-made, but we did not have the luck to sip at Kalor Dokaner Cha (Tea at Kalo's Shop) either.

We still bought his books, placed it exactly beside "Geetanjali", locked the cabinet firm and went to our local tea-shops to speculate why his marriage with Nabanita Debsen could not survive the battle of the intellects.

Nabanita Debsen, BTW, is the author of first ever Bengali e-book!

9. Calcutta Metro Rail inauguration- 1984

Gokhale was only partially right! What started in Bengal in 1984, took - not a day - but a full twenty years to start in Delhi! We Calcuttans love the 16 mile stretch metro so much that we actually try not to spit once we are underground.

"Poroborti station Rabindra Sadan. Next Station is Rabindra Sadan. Agle istition Rabendra Sadan" in that lady announcer's melting voice on those warm, patchy, sweaty June days was the closest to sex one college-goer could manage!

10. Vidyasagar Setu opens - 1992

One of the best ways to enjoy a drunk night in Calcutta is to hail a cab to Vidyasagar Setu, bribe him (and any cop that may approach) a few bucks and stand on the bridge (not *on* the car tracks!) for a few minutes. Calcutta looks like Sydney even if you are, by chance, sober.

If you're not a Bengali you probably best know the "setu" as the place where a stunt man's motorcycle ran over Vivek Oberoi's left leg and watching the incident - Yuva's director - Mani Rathnam had a mini heart-attack. Chances are it was the stunt man's first time on the bridge and he was lost in the beauty that surrounds it before ramming over to Aishwarya Rai's then boyfriend.

11. Dalmiya elected ICC chief - 1997

One of the most astute administrators of the game from the east 'whitewashes' the Pommie-Aussie lineage. Never again would the match referee could dole out any punishment to our players. This man from Calcutta not only revived a cash-strapped ICC, marketed Cricket like never before but also made sure that India will bully others - if not exactly on the field - in the global meets.

12. "Swetpathorer Thala" - 1992

Bengali mainstream films had never had it so rough after Uttam Kumar's death and before the release of this movie. It was ridiculed by urban elites enraged at titles like "Beder Meye Josna"; and sidetracked by fares from Bollywood - or even, by Jatras - for rural folks. No one in his sane frame of mind on this side of Noihati would dare see a Bengali movie not made by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen or a by-then-decaying Tarun Majumder. This movie launched few fresh faces, threw Bollywood interjects out of New Theaters window and remained true to a popular Bengali novel (by Bani Basu). Suddenly, our mothers and maasis were flocking to theaters like Rupabani-Aruna-Bharoti or Minar-Bijoli-Chobighor.

Prabhat Ray - who started as an Asst Director to Shakti Samanta - proved his mettle in the middle of the line Bengali movies that no one would be ashamed to see and yet would not lose on the investment.

13. Jiten Seal dies of heart attack - 1997

Watching the book fair getting raged by an unforgiving fire, Mr Seal had a heart attack and succumbed to it. Contrary to the popular belief, he did not die from or even had any burn injury. Till date, a two minute silence is observed every year at the Calcutta Book Fair in his memory.

14. Ban on Noisy Fireworks - 200?

Even Calcutta woke up to the cause of pollution and any firework that breaks the 65 decibel limit was banned by law. We all laughed at this and our elders waited with their earplugs at Diwali night. Surprisingly, political goodwill joined by popular mandate made this one of the very few such laws that was indeed enacted!

15. Bengal wins Ranji Trophy - 1990

If Duckworth-Lewis tests your sanity, you probably have not dared unraveling the "quotient" formula used in Ranji Trophy till early 90s. But a sharp Arun Lal surely did, the final was played in Eden Gardens and "mysteriously" the pitch was wet in the morning (without any overnight rains) to delay the match exactly to the point where Bengal would be favorably placed on "quotient". We did not exactly win it as much as we made Delhi - with three national members in team - to lose, but we did it almost after half-a-century.

Bengali parents quickly put "Cricket Coaching Camp" in the to-do list of the children, along with Rabindra Sangeet, Recitation, Bharata Natyam (if girl), Math tuition (if boy), NCC, Boy Scout Camp, Swimming at Lake Club and other very important things outside school.

16. Bakulbagan er Durga Puja - Continues since 80s

The idol typically 'made' by a popular art-director (Gautam Basu) or painter (Bikash Bhattacharya) or sculptor (Mira Mukherjee) or fashion-designer (Sarbari) or sketch-artist (Rathin Mitra) ; the pandal typically displaying true Bengali artwork of Dokra, Kantha, Pata, Terracotta etc - this was the reason to start "Sharod Somman". This is a puja that even a snooty "bong" cannot refuse visiting year after year.

17. Tram Company (CTC) starts running Bus - 1992

Running at huge loss, CTC starts running buses without laying off a single employee. The buses were - surprisingly - on time, brand new compared to the 30-year old ill-maintained 8-Bs, and would not wait endlessly at the stops to pack as many people as they can.

18. Prannoy Roy - Since 1988

What Mithun did to "bong" Hindi, Prannoy Roy did it to our English. Friday nights were all about eagerly waiting to see Prannoy Roy - inside Delhi studio - talking to an overcoat clad Appan Menon in Red Square standing next to Russian tanks!

We went back to school and was not so impressed by our English teacher's accent anymore.

Prannoy also got us hooked to the mammoth telecast of election results - interspersed with movies like "Do Bhai" - running over 2 days in early 90s.

We still want to know how you can look so impartial Prannoy!

19. Pranab-babu - Since forever

Indira Gandhi apparently advised him to always keep a pipe in his mouth -- to keep it shut. He is one of the last "bhadralok" old-school politicians, never been(blatantly) involved in any scandal, and always been relied on by any prime-minister. He is probably the only leading politician who (almost) never won a people's vote and who has never been bitterly attacked by any of his rivals.

His English accent is not really like Prannoy Roy's - but it reminds us of our dad, or of a close uncle. It's difficult to hate him.

20. "Chokher Bali" - 2003

Rabindranath-Rituparno-Aishwarya- and a forbidden triangular love with enough hint of an activity Bengalis are so sensitive about. "Madam Bovary" becomes a widow without bra.

21. Cleaning Poll Graphiti off the walls - 2005

Who knew a vague"West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976" would clean up our walls of ungainly political
campaigns! But, like the noisy fireworks thing, this one worked too.

Now, can someone please clean up the beetle stains?

22. Bollywood " Bong-Shells" - 200X

We had a plump but cute Moushumi Chatterjee in 70s leered on by Lalaji in Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. We even had an out-of-the-world classic bong beauty sporting bikini in 60s, but our lasses - on average - were never really known for sharp curves in Bollywood. Every babe we sent near Arabian Sea after 1990s sizzles. No one needs to send a middle-aged paunchy laala to pounce upon the hapless beauty to titillate the audience anymore. Present day bevy of babes rather keep hunting for hunks strutting their stuff in undersized undergarments.

The jaw-dropping doesn't necessarily require them to act, however. Sushmita Sen, Rimi Sen, Reema Sen, Riya Sen (carrying on legacy of her mother), Koena Mitra, Bipasha Basu, Celina Jaitley etc are cozily riding their precious first class coupe while Rakhee Sawants and Mallika Sherawaats are fighting for a seat in the unreserved compartment!

23. Visitors - Derrida etc - Various

Our lives will be meaningless without listening to the Hungarian director at the Calcutta Film Festival. Derri-da caused so much amusement while waiting at the long serpentine Book Fair queues.

Russian delegates from Communist Party apparently were puzzled seeing the huge crowd waiting to see them. One reportedly commented - "We led a revolution, but never seen such a big crowd". Recent visitor hero Hugo Chavez caused more people to assemble than in Rabindranath's funeral procession!

Who else would dare call Pope John Paul II - "Poltu-da" - on his only visit to the city of joy?

24. Subhas Dutta - 200o onwards

Probably the only bald in the list, but he deserves a standing ovation for actually pursuing the cause of environment. If you ever take a dip at Babughat - and still be alive - you have to thank this man!

Despite our love for Bookfair - and Benfish - we did not lynch this guy when he singlehandedly made the Bookfair to move out of Calcutta Maidan quantifying the enormous air pollution it causes near the lung of the city.

We hope this man would launch crusade against the ridiculous move to demolish Calcutta Race Course and build a - guess what- mall there!

25. Mother Teresa - 1997

Easiest entry in the list. The only surefire way to let people ("foreigners") know exactly which city you're coming from is to take this name.

26. Steve Waugh - 2000s

We relish the fact that our Maharaj made Him - the skipper of Australian Cricket team - wait at the toss. Despite that, and despite losing the 'last frontier' in this very city, this man has consistently been doing nice work much to the line of the person noted just above this entry. Kudos mate!

27. Kona Expressway - 2002

The new town Rajarhat expressway is merely cosmetic to attract the NRI money to nearby real estates. This four-lane expressway truly made an impact on many people's lives. A city dweller now can actually drive his car to Shankarpur beaches and enjoy the ride.

28. Binoy Chowdhury - 2003

Perhaps the closest to the Bengali definition of a "Hero" in this list, Chowdhury was honest, patient, humble, educated, capable and yet the least ambitious to always remain happy to be on the second spot. One last communist leader that probably everyone loves to admire.

29. Moonmoon Sen Kidnapping - 1983

One daring actress always ready to exhibit more than what her body could endure got "kidnapped" by two Marwadi "fans" from a crowded Park Street. Sen was later released "unharmed", apparently the kidnappers were smitten by her and just wanted her "autograph". However, this single event probably ruined the last chance many in our generation had to have healthy sexual feelings to the fairer sex.

Feminists, this event was included in "ups" because we must have at least one from the "tabloid quota". No?

30. Nalban - 1990s

Sector V - or its vicinity - today has one bowling alley, a few theme parks, a classy watering hole and several CMM Level 5 software companies. However, in the early 90s Nalban was probably the one of the three places in the city you could go with the girl-next-door eagerly waiting for her to put her sweaty palm on your's and still not be scared for a cop or local goon to arrive out of nowhere and embarrass you. If you gotten married to your childhood sweetheart, thank Nalban. If you're not, thank your next girlfriend!