The City of (lost) Joy

Posted: March 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

I faintly remember an image of Calcutta (at that time, the city still retained its identity as the old British capital) which I could never capture. I was sitting on the front seat facing the engine, on the top deck of a double decker bus (Route number – 5). The front seat on the top deck opens up the front view from a top angle. It would almost give you a sense of riding over the streets of Calcutta, as the bus moved through the rough streets. I remember one such riding over the Howrah bridge as a white tram approached from the opposite side of the bridge. It was winter morning. The Ganges looked like a mysterious river flowing under us. It was a delightful cityscape, lost in oblivion. I must have been less than six years old, because trams were discontinued from Howrah bridge since 1993. The little child in me always wanted to ride the double decker buses, the trams, and the hand-pulled rickshaws. No, I had no camera back then. My love for Calcutta heritage was not a photographic opportunism, it was a soulful affection and admiration of an introvert middle class child.

Just like the landscapes of a captured land, cityscapes too change with time. It is not the presence or absence of something that matters, but the scape in its totality no longer resembles the same image as it used to. Calcutta became Kolkata. Red and green flags fought with each other for power and authority, autocracy and ego. None could win, except in elections. The city suffocated. The culture suffocated. And with it, suffocated the introvert middle class child who never voted for a party, but waited for a change.

The warm lights gradually gave way to cooler tones. The sepia tone was replaced by a clownish amalgamation of multiple colors. An orchestrated chaos turned pretentiously organized. Shopping malls popped up like sophisticated ornamental plants amidst a fertile paddy field. People were attracted by glittering colors, by the gloss of an unsubstantiated fetish. Calcutta became neither London, nor Mumbai. From a gorgeous city with a soulful presence, it transformed into a corpse clad in branded attire. Monkeys danced to the tunes of the day, but the soulful suffered.

It reminds me of a poem I had written few years back. No no, I’m not going to write it here. Relax! It was rather a dream, which later turned into a poem. I dreamt that someone had tied me to a post right at the center of the Shyambazaar crossing. It was dark. Traffic was coming from all sides and the headlights of cars and buses were dangerously intense. The lights were burning my skin. I was crying for darkness, but alas, lights had to fall on me. There was a traffic police who was wrapped up with slogans and he had fire in his eyes. He heard me cry. But he didn’t help. I saw a dog with two faces, barking at the headlights. He must have felt my pain. Then a white fox jumped out of an ambulance and chased the dog. The dog and the fox ran in circles around me. They ran very fast, and appeared to be chasing each other. After that something happened. But I don’t remember it anymore. My dreams are used to silent deaths. They come to me at night, and perishes in daylight. Some dreams like this stay back as a faint memory. But why did I write about this dream? Was it a dream or a nightmare? What is the connection between my dream and this city? I lost it. I lost it. I lost my track.

Whenever I lose track of something, I leave it right there. I start something else, right from the scratch. Manipulations don’t bring one back on track. But alas, the city of joy, has been manipulated in order to be kept on track. No one left her, as she was, set free to be herself. Everyone forced her to be the one they would want her to be. She had her own grace, her own charm, her own beauty. She was a goddess in herself. She was complete and divine in her own traditional attire. Why did they give her a mini-skirt then?

Sophistication (as they meant it to be) has always tormented me. Sophistication is like a plastic that wraps up everything in stereotypical packages. It suffocates the city, as much as it suffocates that child in me. Today’s generation identifies with the shopping malls, the newly constructed parks, and the high society night clubs and discos. But they fail to identify with the roots, the cultural depth that once prevailed in this magnificent city. Whatever culture is left in the city, has been obsessively manifested into iconic benchmarks. The city had much more than a Ray and a Tagore, a Didi and a Dada, a Mahanayak and a Rasogolla.

Whenever some outsider visits my city, I ask them enthusiastically about their experience of the city. Unfortunately, they reveal no experience at all. They talk just about the bricks and concretes, glasses and glosses. They talk about South City mall, Nicco Park, Science City, Victoria Memorial and Park Street. Of late, Salt Lake seems to be the hub for rich outsiders. When I hear from them, I feel the blood intensifying in my veins, I feel the tears accumulating behind my plastic smile. I don’t react. I wish I could show them my city. The heart and the soul that is embedded behind the bricks and concretes. The last remains of heritage and culture that is hidden behind the predominant intellectual bankruptcy. But alas, the introvert child has long been sleeping. He doesn’t wake up in front of anyone. He wakes up only in lonely midnights and tells me – write, write, write! I explain him that words have lost all power and relevance in today’s world. No one reads anything except purposeless chats through their dumb gadgets. I try to convince him with utmost conviction that time has changed. I try to thrust the truth on him that the remains of this historic city will soon be wiped out. Old buildings are brought down, one after the other. Libraries are closing down, cinema halls are being brought down and reconstructed into shopping malls. I tell him that he must stop thinking. Today’s world is all about buying. Just buy, and buy and buy. Don’t think. But he cries. He insists – write, please write! So, unable to control him, I waste my time in writing. I write just for him, not for myself. I’m matured enough to understand this world, but a child is a child.

Oh no! Again I have lost track. I write just as non-linearly as my films. But I don’t mind that. There’s no obligation to join the dots. The few of you who will read my blog will be able to interpolate and extrapolate, wherever necessary. I am certain about that. So, yes, I was writing about my city. I haven’t been very specific though. But do I need to be? Just visit my city, walk on the streets, explore the place with your own eyes. That will be an effort worth spending. But I started with an image of my city, I need to end with something significant. But I’m not finding words at present. Diving into the past, I remember a song by Suman Chattopadhyay (Kabir Suman) which made me fall in love with Kolkata all over again. It’s not a tough guess …

তোমাকে দেখছি কফি হাউসের কাছে

তোমাকে দেখছি খুঁজছ পুরনো বই

পুরনো কিম্বা নতুন মলাটে আমি

আসলে কিন্তু তোমাকে খুঁজবই

Let me try to translate the lines for you:

I find you near the coffee house,

I find you searching old books;

Be it in old cover, or in new

I’ll always keep searching for you.

P.S – The ‘you’ in this song is not just another lover, but she is the city of Calcutta personified as a lady love.

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