Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Uncommon Common Man

Shri Bijon Kumar Sengupta, my grandfather, was of average height, had the trademark spectacles of the Bengali man of letters, although he had an MA in English and wrote an engaging prose in the language, he was never heard to speak anything but his mother tongue in the bangal dialect. So simple was this man, that one time, according to an oft repeated story of his youth, he had gone out wearing a raincoat because it was raining, and was seen returning still snugly ensconced in it although the sun was shining bright to everyone's amusement. He revealed later that he could not manage to open the raincoat when the rains stopped! This endearing, simple man spent 4 and a half years in various jails of the British Raj in the late 1930s. Even later, the British police had him under surveillance when he visited his in laws' place East Bengal. At the time of his arrest his rented tenement was surrounded and broken into. His wife, my grandmother was with child at that time....My grandfather saw his first born, my jethu, after 3years when my grandmother took him to visit his father in Presidency jail. Grandfather was released in the late '30s when the revolutionary movement in Bengal was in the wane due to severe repression by the British regime and untold suffering was endured by the families of the revolutionaries. My grandmother was lucky to get the support of her maternal uncles to tide her through the difficult times. There were 1000s of others who fought on, none the less.It was the sacrifice of these 'uncommon' common people that gave us our freedom.
This morning the Mr had put on the film 'Shaheed' on TV, the part on the fast in the jail for better conditions for the detainees was so moving. It spoke of the supreme power of sacrifice and a courageous adherence to principals. This was the strength of the youth of those times, otherwise how could they have striven towards such a seemingly impossible dream?
My grandmother never portrayed her husband as a hero, all the incidents related to him that she ever recounted pointed to and reinforced  the fact that he was a simple man. Incidents of his arrest and of him being followed by the police during his visit to his inlaws' place were recounted in a matter of fact manner. It was for us to absorb these facts and realise, over time, how heroic and brave was this 'common' man and his family. How firmly he stood behind his principals, how tenacious was his perseverance, how selfless was his dedication to this nation. He had never sought any recognition or 'compensation'. Him and his kind have brought us our freedom. Our freedom must be celebrated for their sakes, our freedom is pure and blessed due to them. I salute all these 'uncommon' common people of this great nation.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Some Photos of the event - 'Yamini'

All Night Magic With Dance and Music

Attended the SPIC MACAY cultural fest 'Yamini' at IIM B last evening, it was soulful, surreal and utterly mesmerising as performer after performer kept us glued to our seats (rather mattress) and evening turned into early morning without us being aware of the passage of time. I must thank my nephew A, for telling us about this event. The Mr and I arrived bright and early in the venue a bright moon was in the sky and the place was nearly empty. Huge mattresses were placed in front of the podium (it was an open air event) and blankets and shawls were placed in rows on the mattresses. There were rows of chairs too, at the back.We settled ourselves in the second row on the mattress behind two gentlemen and watched the place slowly fill up, it was a wonderful scene awash with moonlight and anticipation.

The first performance was Bharatnatyam recital by Mallika Sarukkai, a lady of great grace and elegance. She presented 3-4 short pieces. The one on 'Maricha vada' was the most dramatic and vigorous.I was under the impression that Sita had asked Ram for the golden deer to keep as a pet, however, in this piece Sita is asking for the hide of the beautiful deer, which shows Sita in pretty bad light in this day and age of conservation and preservation of nature and wildlife. In this interpretation, temptation and yearning for a thing that is out of reach brings out the worst in Sita...Ram also blesses maricha when he demon falls at his feet and the Gods celebrate the bringing into the fold of another 'non-believer' inspite of the fact that his call to Lakshman in Ram's voice would get Sita and the brothers into a lot of trouble. Somehow this interpretation brings to the fore the problems that I have with the story of the epic at several levels. The most entertaining of the pieces was a raunchy and life like interpretation of  'the lady with the parrot' in which the gathered audience showed no interest. The story showed a beautiful woman playing with her parrot and bedecking herself. Her lover knocks at the door, she opens the door in her own time, listens to her lover's false excuses for coming late and throws him out. She returns to her parrot and prefers its company! 'What is the cage and who is the parrot?' asked the one answered or cared. They were all busy asking her to perform the silly and worn to bits 'thumaki chalata Ram Chandra' even though the lady said that the 'lady with the parrot' was more 'her', so to say....Anyhow I made several guesses as to what the cage and parrot is but could not get the answer from her!! While coming to her hotel from the airport, the lady said, she saw a boy wearing a T-shirt with the line 'Dance is the Language of the Soul', she proves this with her dedication and involvement with her art. She says, many a times people have asked her 'what do you do other than dance...' , or 'is this your hobby?' implying that 'dance' cannot be a vocation, however, there are many artistes who dedicate themselves solely to dance and are content to perform, practice and enjoy dance for its own sake

The next performance was a violin recital of the brother sister duo Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi. They are a delightful pair with two very talented percussionists in their troop. They played several compositions including a playful jugalbandi kind of thing which I liked the best.

Next was the turn of the famous Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt inventer of the 'Mohan Veena', disciple of Pt Ravi Shankar and receiver of the grammy award. The Mohan veena is a guitar with a small sherical dome (as in a veena) added to it. Pandit ji screwed the adage on himself before the start of the performance, he has also added several strings to the instrument and makes it sound like a guitar, a sitar or a sarod at will and plays magnificent hindustani classical with great aplomb and gay abandon! He was not too pleased with the sound system here and said that the instrument sounds much better than it was doing. Good sound or not, he had us quite enthralled throughout and got into a pretty good mood himself. At one point he asked, almost pleading, 'May I play for 5 minutes more...', it was refreshing to see the humility of such a celebrity.

Next was a dhrupad performance of  Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, the moon had clambered to the middle of the sky by now and was slowly moving towards the horizon. We had had a hasty dinner at one of the all night kiosks outside the venue and I was rather sleepy. I lay myself down in a huddle next to the Mr wrapped in my shawl and asked him to wake me when Bombay Jayshri came on. Now Bombay Jayshri was the reason that we had decided to watch the whole night program till the end in the first place. We did not know that she was scheduled to perform at 4am. The kids were at home with my parents in law so we were at peace (advantage of having the in laws over)! We were interested in Vishwa Mohan Bhatt to and he too came on well after midnight, so it would be utterly useless to leave at 10pm without catching the big names! Anyhow there I was curled up in a stupour after Pt V M B's performance when a gurgling sound enterd my subconsciousness. It was Ustad Wasifuddin playing with his voice, saying that every kind of sound can emanate from the human body making even instruments redundant! His was making the sound of a percussion instrument in his rendition. It was fascinating! In fact his performance was a lec-dem on the dhrupad in the true sense. Well, I could not remain supine during the rest of the performance, he delighted, intrigued, entertained and energized us for the next 2 hours! His 'Shiva' was the most resounding and proves that music knows no religion nor caste or creed.

Finally it was the turn of Bombay Jayashri who is brilliant but has none of the charm nor the joyous abandon of Ustad Wasifuddin, where as the audience were actually singing with the Ustadji, he would spin a complicated taan and have the people repeat a swar at the opportune moment, it was magical! During Bombay Jayashri's cut and dried perfect and precise renditions the audience sat sober and restrained. She sung according to a pre rehearsed and perfected routine, not anything more nor less. However she is truly superb!
That brought us to the end of our first all night cultural fest together, the first that I have witnessed. We tottered home at 6am having witnessed close to 12 hours of soulful music and dance. How lucky we are, even now I am playing all that I have heard over in my mind and marveling at this great experience.