Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ups and Downs - 60 Defining Moments (Part 2)

Dipta has come up with 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 - 30-somethings - 30 Ups and 30 Downs. After 30 "Thumb Up" moments -- here is my list 30 "Thumb Down" events. Again, this list touches events only witnessed in our generation. Thus, choosing a place named "Haringhata" as the dairy land of Bengal would not be mentioned in the flops.

1. Uttamkumar's Mohaloya - 197x

We accepted Arun Kumar Chatterjee as Uttam Kumar, the only Mega Star of Bong movies. However, we hated when we woke up at 4am, turned on the radio and could not hear Biren Bhadra's booming voice that had so far been the traditional start of Puja holidays. Uttam Kumar as narrator and Hemant Mukherjee as music director were heartbroken. It was not only a coy Suchitra Sen listening to Uttam's whispers but pretty much the entire state; it also lacked enough deci-bell to keep us awake so early in the morning. Biren dadu was back the next year, and the next....

2. Dakshinapan Shopping Centre, Dhakuria - 1980s

This could have been the first "mall" of Calcutta with its upscale location, easy access for housewives, nice street food (Rajender's Alur Dom is one of Calcutta's best kept secrets). For some secret reason Dakshinapan never really flourished. Shops are closed by 7:30 in the evening and remain closed on most holidays! Unable to attract many traders, Govt offered s(h)ops to other State Govt Emporiums at dirt-cheap rates. If you want to shop for handlooms, handmade textile, cutesy arty stuff - followed by sipping lemon iced-tea at Dolly's Tea Shop - this is still the place though.

3. Poschimbongo Gronthomela - 1982-1992

Probably it was the Benfish stall that made all the difference - or the overlap with Saraswati Puja for Calcutta Book Fair (C.B.F) - but the book fair run by Govt of West Bengal never really took off. It had several advantages over Calcutta Book Fair (organized by 'Publishers' & Booksellers' Guild') however. This one started in late December and, unlike the C.B.F., had more overlapping holidays. In 1992 both the fairs were finally "merged".

The Govt. lately has started an annual "Boi Bazaar" in Nandan Complex. That too is a sad competitor for the C.B.F.

4. Devang Gandhi - Retired in 2006
Following the footsteps of Gopal Basu, Snehasish Ganguly, Utpal Chatterjee (David), Gandhi ended his career with an excellent first class record and some wasted below-par international outings.

5. Trinamul Congress - 2001

"Hare Krishna Hare Hare|
Trinamul Ghare Ghare".

"Chupchap phul-e chap"

Media (especially Anandabazar Patrika) projected an end to Left-Front rule (then going on for 24 years) in the State legislative Elections 2001. Mamata Banerjee - impressed upon by some journalists from Anandabazar - formed a "mahajot" (Grand Alliance) with Congress, a party she was part of barely five years ago! Her hatred for red went to the extreme where she even gave up "laal cha" ("red tea" - without milk).

Despite attracting huge crowd wherever she went in, she - or her alliance - did miserably in the election. Anandabazar switched sides almost overnight and scathing attacks on her leadership and a detailed analysis on why she lost were on front page the day after the results!

6. Renaming Roads - Continuing

Brabourne Road or Trailokya Maharaj Road - Do You Care?

Communist government's hour of reckoning with "Samrajjobadi Markin Shokti" (Imperialist American Power) came in form of rubbing salt on an open wound. They renamed Harrington Street - where US Consulate is located - to Ho-Chi-Min Sarani right after the shameful retreat of US from Vietnam!

If you think that was funny, then try figuring out where "Anadi Lal Poddar Sarani" is (Russel Street)! Not only Calcutta has streets named after most number of people, the 'official' names keep changing every 1-2 years. Someone recently renamed Hunger Ford Street to Picasso Bithi.
Old timers don't pay attention to such gimmicks, however, and still say "Camac Street" rather than "Abanindranath Thakur Sarani"! Poor taxi drivers and post men!

7. Athithi Niyontron Ayeen - Seen till late 80s in Wedding Cards

"Poschimbongo sorkarer atithi niyontron ayeen projojjo" (West Bengal Govt's "Hospitality Act" is applicable) -- was a standard (and mandatory!) post-script in ALL wedding invitations till at least late 80s.

This law was made during acute food shortage in the state forcing a limit to number of people that can be invited for a social gathering where food will be served. Green revolution and several years of surplus grain production after, people will still put it on the card and invite at least 500 people for the wedding!

8. Sponge-er Rosogolla - ?

"Bagbajarer Nabin Das|
Rosogolla-r Columbus"

Nabin Das "invented" Sponge Rosogolla. The sweet is usually made from cottage cheese and sugar syrup, however "sponge" technique allowed the makers to inflate the volume by using less cottage cheese. This made export of the sweet possible by canning it. Nabin Das' cousin K C Das started producing "Canned Rosogolla". Despite significant amount of advertisements this never took off, at least within the state. True Bengalis hate this stuff only a little more than a Rosogolla made by Marwadis like Haldiram!

9. "Sare Saat tar Khobor" - The 7:30 News @ DD1 -

Our elders left the precious one and half hour after 6 o'clock for us to gobble on a variety of television programs like 15 minutes of Nepali telecast, followed by a children's show called "Chiching Faank" ("Open Sesame") , Saptahiki (weekly TV guide) - mostly talking about the next Saptahiki etc.

But they would require exclusive access to the television as soon as a little globe started spinning on a starlit sky - culminating in a shape like the image on right - accompanied by a music that closely resembles Mozart on 180RPM. That was "sonbad" - news - their only way to know Italy has loaned India Rs 1 Crore (~$5M those days) for industrial development or another TV center was opened in Silchar, Assam.

With arrival of much smarter round the clock News Bulletins from every other channel Bengali news at 7:30 has pretty much died a natural death. It still is aired from a dilapidated DD building, but number of viewers is even less than the number of people who still need to adjust a rooftop antenna to a certain direction to get better picture quality!

10. Nandigram - 2007

A shame for any government, especially a democratically elected communist one, would be to let its police launch a planned armed attack on impoverished peasants - especially on women as they're fleeing - and kill at least 14 people with powerful automatic rifles by firing at their back!

Killing by brutal force is nothing new to CPI(M) - they have done it by burning 17 Anandmargees alive in 1982; opening fires on protesting Congress supporters and killing 16 of them in 1992 etc. But Nandigram has made the biggest dent, so far, on CPI(M)'s image as many ideologues strongly attacked the hurried and improperly planned industrialization efforts at the cost of fertile land.

11. Gariahat Flyover - 2002

A proverbial Govt planned White Elephant, this first city flyover in the 21st century did everything that a flyover is not supposed to do. It almost killed not one but two local markets by restricting access; created traffic bottlenecks on both Golpark and Bullygunge Phanri sides of it; increased number of pedestrian accidents as the buses race for the two minute stretch in a 35 minute-6 miles journey that they can go above 20 miles per hour; created a sewer problem for the buildings underneath and even created security problems for the area residents!

12. Great Eastern Hotel - Taken over from Govt in 2005

  • One of the oldest classy hotels in the world, set up in 1841
  • Address 1,2 & 3 Old Court House Street (Renamed "Hemant Bose Sarani"!)
  • "The best hotel east of Suez" - Mark Twain
  • Hosted Queen, Premiers and most visiting Cricket Teams. Noted from article linked above - "the occasion when a legendary Bengali film actress sent 12 bottles of champagne to cricketer M.L. Jaisimha after the latter had played an impressive innings in Eden Gardens. "It was my job to ensure the bottles were delivered to Jaisimha, and I couldn't resist the temptation, and quietly helped myself to two bottles of champagne," he said. With the Eden Gardens barely half-a-kilometre from the hotel, cricket teams, till the early 1970s would generally be accommodated in the Great Eastern." Jaisimha scored a breathtaking 129 against England in 1964 in Eden Gardens, so we can rule out Supriya Devi. It's Suchitra Sen then! Hmmmm.
  • Taken over by Govt of West Bengal in 1975
  • Number of people attending 2005 New Year's Celebration in its celebrated "Durbar Hall" - 12!
13. Pradeep Kundalia released - 1990s

June 19, 1989. Months old Bhowanipur apartment building just collapsed burying eleven people - most of them happy new home owners - alive under the debris. The builder / promoter / film-producer Pradeep Kundalia apparently had high connections, right up to the door of the then chief minister Jyoti Basu. Even a lenient charge sheet filed by a friendly administration indicated intentional avoidance of all municipal rules and use of sub-standard material to mark profits. The case against him has been pending in Alipore Court since then. He has not only been out on bail but - extremely scary in context of present rapid real estate development in the city - has been happily building homes (and making films, like the one above!) for the rest of us.

14. World Cup Inauguration - 1996

First, a drunk Saeed Jaffrey announced South Africa team as "Emirates". Second, organizers mistook the appeal for the then pop hit "Made in India" (Alisha Chinoy) and made it the central show of the evening. However, none of the 85,000 could catch a glimpse of the diminutive Ms Chinoy from the gallery and booed. Third, a so-called Italian "director" Gianfanco Lunetta was paid a fortune to supervise a grand laser show. It turned out - thanks to the gutsy evening wind vigorously flapping the laser projection screens - as if someone was randomly pointing his two-cell flashlight on each side of a mosquito net. The inauguration (literally!) had an air of failure written all over it.

Emotional newspapers went as far as - "Lunetta should be tied with a rope and detained in Calcutta". Lunetta, mistaking the attack as politically motivated(!), replied with a very tangential - "My company could not and cannot be held responsible for anything by anyone. I have always belonged culturally to the far left, because I do not believe in the bourgeoisie."

15. India-Sri Lanka Semi-final abandoned - March 13, 1996

Scared that the opening ceremony fiasco was not bad enough for the city, drunk-on-cheap-rum crowd of 100,000 could not digest India losing to Sri Lanka thanks to the captain's inexplicable decision to field after winning the toss. Water bottles started flying, Vinod Kambli exited the field weeping and - thankfully - Sangeeta Bijlani was not easily accessible! The match was stopped and later, awarded to Sri Lanka who went on to win the cup.

It tarnished the popular image of Eden Gardens and its spectators forever. Later, at least two more matches at the same venue would be disrupted by the crowd too. Populists blamed "Pan-parag culture" - that replaced the idyllic Orange chewing, test match watching crowd - for the 'bad losers' tag. The proverbial snake, however, had already entered the Garden of Eden when the crowd booed and threw - among other things - bitten apples at Marshneil Gavaskar during a 1984 test match.