Saturday, 13 October 2012

Indexed Stories - 3

While trying to remember people from the past, I realize that there were many that I knew who do not feature in my telephone note books. Either they did not have a telephone connection or they lived close by. Talking incessantly on the phone hadn't yet become an epidemic. Telephone connections too were pretty moody things then – you either could not get through, get cross-connected or the phone would simply be dead for weeks. Thus it was more convenient to walk down and meet the person rather than keep dialing and hoping to get connected by some miracle. So, a great deal of people that I knew as a school student and also in my early college years remains as memories outside the confines of these note books.

This character from one of my drawings
always reminds me of Ajit Bnyaka!
 One of them was Ajit Bose – Ajit Bnyaka (crooked) to friends. He was not crooked in the evil sense of the word; he just had this way of turning and craning his neck in a prolonged twitch that earned him the nickname “Bnyaka”. Ajit was a quiet and studious fellow, but his tentativeness in whatever he did amused us no end. In the paternal house just off Mysore Road that he lived in with many family members, there was a passageway with scores of look-alike sandals. Ajit would put his feet into one and “feel” for familiarity, he would continue the process until he was satisfied that he had found the right one! He also had this habit of leaving his house after a number of furtive glances to the left and the right, as if terrified that he might be caught in the act of going out. We would always laugh at his behavior and he would grin sheepishly and scratch his head. One day while walking with him, he suddenly dashed for cover under a shop awning. I was taken aback by surprise and dreaded some kind of impending danger, but burst out laughing when he peered out, looked up at the sky and sighed in relief at the sight of a departing airplane. Such behavior today would have immediately been termed schizophrenic – but, in those days our amused grins and a few back slaps later, everything would be back to normal. I am tempted to say, “Ah! Those were the days.” 

To give you an idea of those times…Kunal, Partha and Shovan studying for their Bsc Part-I exams, while Mrinalda types away at his desk (1973-74)…my sketches of course!
Ajit turned up suddenly about twenty years ago to sell me some insurance; I have not met him ever since.

It is strange how one can remember details of people and incidents if one tries to. They seem to lie dormant somewhere in the recesses of one’s memory waiting to be stoked. There is now a deluge of memories tumbling out from these unknown recesses and I am tempted to write all of them down. But, not now, they have to wait – I have digressed and must get on with the original thread.

Chitrabhanu Mazumdar was in the same school as me – Patha Bhavan, Kolkata. He was a few years my junior. His sister Aditi and my cousin Kumkum were friends and it was because of her that I made the first trip to the house of Nirode Mazumdar as official chaperone. It was an incredible house that was full of cats and dogs. In the first diary the page for C starts with his name.

Many years later when we first decided to set up base in Shantiniketan, we wanted to rent a house owned by Chandranath Haldar. The deal fell through because he wanted to paint the exterior of the house a hideous green – which we had to pay for! His name is at the bottom of the page, not because of the green though. Makes me wonder how difficult it would have been for me to survive in Kolkata if everything was painted green. Instead, a “bilious” blue (term: courtesy Ruchir Joshi) is being rampantly daubed on every conceivable government owned building and perimeter wall - which too is an eyesore, but I am surviving it. I try to avoid such streets or look at other things.

Every city has its own colour code, inherited over time, they are like cultural markers. Kolkata had its creams, whites, terra-cotta reds, pale ochres, browns and greens on windows and other woodwork. But blue it never was, except the sky - when it cleared. I fail to understand how one person’s whim can be thrust upon this city without consulting its’ stakeholders – whose money is being spent! Like the barber in the movie Great Dictator, I wish there will come a time when we will be able to exclaim “Hanna look! The clouds are lifting…”

Looking around the city today, one notices new monstrosities soaring up in the most lurid colour combinations possible - without regard to visual synergies. In time to come will this hideousness become the markers of this city’s visual culture? Anyway let me get back to the indexed stories - I have digressed again.

In between Chitrabhanu and Chandranath there are contact numbers of Cable TV, CESC complaints and Calcutta Telephones. But, what is Centre for Studies in Social Sciences doing here? Don’t remember that I had anything to do with them, though they were located next to my design office on Lake Terrace. This street was later renamed Jadunath Sarkar Street after the famous historian, in whose house the Centre was then located.

In the second diary none of them remain except CESC and Calcutta Telephones. This is when I had a pretty good working relationship with CIMA Gallery - I did a solo show there. Chitralekha Tagore reappeared just for one day almost fifteen years since we last met in college. Around the same time Chhatrapati Dutta held his solo show in Gandhara Art Gallery and that is from when we became friends, although I had known him for quite some time.

In the third diary all the names remain with the addition of Chandra Bhattacharya – introduced to me by Eugene. Chandan Bose our framer friend and Chiru Sur end this page for now. CIMA remains, but by then I had become persona non-grata there. Strange are the ways of the world. I try to find reasons and the only plausible explanation for this ‘separation’, I’d like to believe, must have been for one drawing in a suite of drawings that I had last shown in CIMA. These drawings lampooned consumerism and in one, which was titled “Sucker elopes with Vivek’s wife” there is a signage in the background which says “NEW TAILORS” with a baseline that read “WE ALSO SELL ART”. This must be it! My natural acerbity rides rough-shod over tact and strategies.

Sucker elopes with Vivek’s wife

 Politics in art is an oft debated topic. I have spent many an evening with friends – shouting ourselves hoarse trying to win an argument. After all, the whole point of an argument is to win it in the end. Otherwise it is a pointless exercise. A discussion is a tame affair and not an argument and some of us love arguing vociferously. On one such occasion, on a lovely winter evening in Nandini and Rupinder’s home in Delhi, an artist friend from Bengal proclaimed that there is no politics in art! What kind of a Bengali is he? No politics? A true-blue Bengali can and will smell one miles away even if there isn't any! And there should also be legislation to ban naivete!

To be continued…

(some names have been changed to conceal real identities)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wonderful anecdotes... it reminds me that our common friend Dipu would often call me on teh phone, start to say something, and before he could finish his first sentence he'd abruptly stop, and after a moment of silence, ask me if I plan to be home. He'd hop on a tram, and after half an hour show up at our place and complete the thought he just started on a phone call. Time moved much more slowly during our college days -- the time when you sketched our desperate examm preparations

  3. Yes Kunal, Dipu was an amusing person. Remember his acceptance speech :) I knew you would like this...most of my waking hours were spent at your Motilal Nehru Road home...

  4. Do you have the name of your friend who was scared of the sun in your diary? Like to hear about him. Amuses me no end!

  5. @Abhijit -- I'm enjoying all of them, but this one was also personally nostalgic. Looking back, I don't feel particularly proud of those days, but that doesn't make it any less nostalgic.

    By the way, the first comment on this thread, that was removed, was by me -- it was put in without my name, so I reposted. Just in case you are wondering why would anyone retract a comment.

  6. Bappa,
    This the person, exzcept that it wsn't the sun he was scared was airplanes and he also wouldn't cross the road if there was a traffic cop there!

  7. Chaitali Mitra has given permission to add this as her comments to this site as she has been unable to do so on her own...must be a platform mismatch. Here's what she says....

    Telephone Diaries: S-O interesting! You are articulate and OBSERVANT! Some parts were outright hilarious! "Passageway with scores of LOOK ALIKE sandals" - have seen a very similar scenario somewhere, in one of my Cal relative's house (the Bangal side of the clan, just can't remember where!) and how Ajit would just "feel into" one of these sandals for finding "familiarity" (ha! security ?) Again: "WE ALSO SELL ART HERE"! I almost laughed aloud! I could personally relate to some of these characters! After all, haven't we all 'bumped' into similar personalities at one point or the other in our individual lives, and they all ENRICH our experiences directly or indirectly (we just don't happen to know it at that time!). And talking about those "pretty moody things" (e.g. telephones). Tell me about it! Have experienced first hand for almost a decade
    (ACROSS the CONTINENTS!) while desperately trying to say a few clich├ęd pleasantries (had to be 3 mins exact those days = 20 $, Canada to N Delhi) with my own Ma and Baba, invariably the lines would get "disconnected", every single time, not to ever be able to be reconnected at least for another, 24 long hours! Yes, am talking about those long-distance, overseas calls (that meant SO MUCH to me those desperate, homesick days) in the early eighties. I personally think that good write ups like these, add yet another dimension to the reader's mind if he/she can personally relate to some of its content- matter.

    So, THANKS Abhijit Gupta! will wait for the next segment.

    From Chaitali ( Oh no!! Did it have to be yet another 'C'? after Chitralekha, Chandra Nath , ChitraBhanu and...!

  8. Chaitali,

    You would have made it to my Telephoner khata, but we are yet FB friends! Hope to meet you soon and right that....:)