Wednesday, February 11, 2009

City of "boi"

From When a poet minds traffic (The Telegraph),
“The literary history of Calcutta is as old as the Battle of Plassey. The city has nurtured three languages, English, Hindi and Bengali. Sir William Thackeray was born in Calcutta, Rudyard Kipling wrote here. Both the National Anthem of India and the national song were written by writers here,” said Shankar, to establish the city’s literary heritage.
“In this city call girls carry half-read novels in their handbags, women of pleasure discuss Sarat Chandra in red light areas and indulgent policemen allow a drunken poet to control traffic,” he said with a smile.
This is just one of the million reasons why I, you and every Bangali by spriti (not ab-initio), should be in Kolkata (Calcutta earlier ... and actually pronounced as Kolkata even before the name change happened).

It couldn't be more true. Often mistaken as my modesty, which is surprising because I take particular care to dispel that myth, I attribute my poetry writing skills to simply being born of Bangali parents, in Kolkata. It is really as simple as that. That I am inclined towards art and literature would be a banal assertion, me being born and brought up in Kolkata, but sadly non-Bangalis often do not appreciate this trait among us.

Writing prose and poems was a commonplace affair in my school (and in other similar schools). It was given its due appreciation but the person was not coronated as the next Tagore. Those not quite apt with this amazing invention known as pen, found their creative outlet in a more verbal form, recititation, debate, jam, extempore speeches ... there was creativity even in the way our inner voice found its outlet. The aroma of literature percolated early in our lives and found its way deep into our heart, maybe also brain.

Throw in books to these intellectually hungry kids and you get a city where bus passengers talk about why should wife get custody of the child in Shankhini (a novel in a leading magazine). A lot many of the College Street boi dokans are in fact their own publishing houses ... maybe publishing a few not-quite read books. Yet they publish and don't perish - there are always niche readers for all kind of subjects. Little magazines to us were like garage bands in 50's USA. Shoestring budget, yet thriving with bang among bongs.

I understand reading is not quite an impressive habit to acquire these days, but for our generation ... do generation switch that rapidly ... we used to read a lot. Just by sheer coincidence, I was reading Prajapati (Samaresh Basu) when my pals were hiding Shobha De in their school bags. Bengali books were just cheaper and easily accessible ... there was a never a waiting list. The English ones I could lay my hands on ... they would be finished within a few nights ... they had to be ... there was always such a huge line waiting. It is really unfortunate I had read only a couple of Hindi books (wait ... did I ? I can't seem to recall ...).

The pujabarshiki craze actually got even the book-neutral to flip through the pages of some special issue that came out just before the Durga Puja - our "national" festival. The other significant craze was The Kolkata Book Fair. I have missed the last 10 years which shall be duly recovered in the coming years. Of course, no commentary about Bangla literary activity is complete without the mention of the bi-monthly periodical Desh. I read it (yes ... I subscribe to the magazine even in this country) cover to cover and you have to read the letters from the readers to realise that Bangla literature is not following dodo, not yet.

This is the city of literature... a city of books... a city of fine arts... it is only befitting that Kolkata becomes a City of Literature.

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