My Soul

November 19, 2011 at 11:14 am (Amitava Nag, Poetry)

“You allow yourself

to be tormented”,

the Holy Mother is pensive,

“Like you” – I bury the

rough sea inside.

It repeats every time,

you

leave me in abyss,

an audience jeers at the drama

and you walk in

from the audience –

to take turns.

I have frozen your credits

to plastic cards

in my wallet,

bulging and red,

one day

I will let them float –

confetti covering

my soul.

– Amitava Nag

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Reverence

July 17, 2011 at 6:09 am (Amitava Nag, Short Story)

Sita gets impatient. She has been waiting outside this temporary makeshift clinic for almost an hour now. There are almost ten girls like her there. She just leans her head back against the bamboo frame. The temperature suddenly got low since last Saturday. She remembers she was waiting for Ramu, her brother. Ramu works in the city mill. He was returning from work after almost three months. He brings in hope, and warm clothes.

 

-‘Sita Naskar. Who amongst you is Sita?’ shouts the matron when Sita awakes from her rumination.

 

-‘Lie down there, on that bed and lower your salwar. And the pants too’, the doctor is nonchalant.

Sita is shy. She has never bared her like this in front of a man. But only once.. she sighed.

 

-‘Fast, fast. We have to test the other girls also and then in the next village’ the matron is irritated. Understandably so, she will have to return home in the city by evening. Sita closes her eyes and lies down on the bed.

 

She can feel the filth, the dry passage of subconscious agony mixed in the stains of pubic blood. She is fifteen only. May be a month or two more. Ma used to tell her about city. The lights of the city. Ma loved red as a colour and Sita remembers how she was so confused and panicked at her first blood. Blood is always red she thought earlier. Last Saturday she felt blood is black too. Sticky and black. So much that it won’t go, it won’t leave its mark even after she washed repeatedly. She was hysteric. Ma is no more to comfort. There is no one else. Sita sometimes thinks, is this every woman’s fate, she is alone, her Ma is also alone – in the city. She never comes home. Sita knows why, she doesn’t question that anymore now.

 

The doctor stoops on her vagina with a pair of tongs and scissors. There are so many things on the tray. Sita gets afraid. She prefers to close her eyes.

 

– ‘Hmm. Do you feel pain?’ The doctor inserts something inside her and Sita instantly knows that she can’t bear it any more.

 

– ‘Leave me sir. I know what happened. I am telling’ Sita reasons.

 

– ‘No. The political cadres will do so. They will help you. But I have to prepare a detailed report. Okay?’ The doctor goes back at pricking Sita’s private parts.

 

The mornings are the best time for Sita. She gets up early and goes to the river bed. With Malati and Latika she collects snails and shells. Its fun. Also that is the time for their girly talks as well. Sita is worried that Madan is taking interest in Malati. Madan is a drunkard. Malati is too simple, Sita gets angry with her only. ‘See, that Madan is only after your body. He doesn’t love you, you know?’ Sita said. ‘How come you so sure? He has promised me a sari.’ Malati basks in glory. Latika is the news supplier for them since her father is close to the Panchayet leader’s driver.

 

The doctor finishes his part. The matron, as sombre as she can be, draws a piece of cotton and throws at Sita,

 

– ‘Clean yourself, for God’s sake’ she is impatient.

 

– ‘See, your case is confirmed. Multiple occurrences. This is my part, rest your political leaders in Panchayet will do. Don’t ask anything from me’ the doctor washes off the blood in his hands.

 

Malati gets in next and Sita decides to wait for her. This is the first time Latika is not with them. She is ‘saved’. Its such a strange feeling when you are not in the same group where you belonged. You are now part of this new group – of 10 teenage girls.

 

Latika told them that police and security forces will be coming to their village – ‘Baba is worried. He said, they will beat all of us and take away the land.’ Sita wasn’t convinced, ‘Don’t be afraid silly. Its not easy, you know. Our Panchayet is here. They will save us. Its our land, if we don’t give how can anyone take that?’

The next day they heard it in the market as well. No one knew what is going to happen, police is fine but what is security force? Whose security are they ensuring? Sita couldn’t sleep that night. She sent message to Ramu for coming home. Dada is the only one who loves her. She knows that. She also knew that she is afraid.

 

Malati is all tears. Sita also feels like crying but seeing Malati cry she decides to stay firm. She feels sorry for Malati. She is such a kid. They heard, Madan has gone missing since Saturday. Is she crying for her or for losing Madan? Sita is unsure.

 

– ‘Girls. Come here. These babus have come here to investigate. They will send reports and the Government will help all of us’, the political cadre tries to comfort.

 

– ‘Sir, both these girls were there that night. Sita, you tell how many persons were there?’

 

– ‘How did it start? Don’t hide. This is required for their report.’

 

– ‘They took you near the farmhouse of the Ghosals’. Right? What were you wearing?’

 

– ‘Did they take off all your clothes? Or did they tie your hands and mouth?’

 

– ‘How many persons? All at once or one by one?’

 

– ‘See, we need to ensure that such atrocities against women don’t occur again. So that you don’t have to face this again, or any other girl of the village.’

 

The questions start bombarding them as if they are peeled off each layer of vanity. The lips moistened, saliva moving all over the crooked faces. In broad daylight, without moving an inch, they raped Sita.

Sita knew this would happen. Every detail will be plundered like the last thread from her body. That night was only for an hour. This day is for hours, this month is for days, this year is for months – on and on and on, the chronicle of rape.

 

Sita has thought it many times afterwards. What is in it for which this has become such a big farce?  Latika told how her sister is raped every night by her brother-in-law. But is it that there is no pain in it? Can rape be classified – graceful rape or not? She laughs. She knows, Ma is raped every night. She knows Ma loved only one man. She knows a lot, which is Sita’s problem.

In the middle of long chilly nights Sita wondered the definition of dignified woman. Ramu was upset and wanted to take her with him. But Sita knows that dada lives with friends in a mess, he cannot take her there. He will have to rent a new place and that will be too costly. ‘Can’t we girls take our own decision ever? Why should we always depend on men?’ Sita asked Ramu. Ramu doesn’t have answers to any philosophical questions ever, he knows he has to earn a lot for himself, to marry off her sister.

 

In the midst of the market Sita felt lost. She has come alone from her village. There is only one bus from there in the morning. Latika has pleaded not to leave, ‘What will you do there Sita? And what you mean by reverence?‘ Sita also doesn’t know what she means, she spent the whole night thinking of it and she took this decision. Spending more time with Latika means Sita will lose her stance. Latika has an infectious nature. She may force Sita to change her decision. But now that she is already in the city, she feels a little insecure. She has that doctor’s name and address, she also took direction of his chamber. But now as she stands near the chamber she feels nervous. Is the decision good? Or may be leading Malati’s life was better. Even Ma’s. Ma atleast has Sita. What will Sita have?

 

– ‘Hmm. So why did you come here? I cannot give any false reports now. If you wished I would have saved you from this dis-honour, then. Poor girl.’, the doctor’s eyes lit up as if he found his prey in his den

 

– ‘No Sir. I have not come for that’ Sita clears her throat, ‘I have come for a little bit of reverence, for me. I will pay you all the charges and your fees. But you have to operate. You have to remove my ovaries. I don’t need them. And no one else also should need them.’

 

The sun is at its furthest. The occasional mild wind makes the pleasant weather waver a little, reminds everyone of the merciless nights. Sita wraps the shawl tightly. She has won the first battle, and she knows that this time she is right.

 

– Amitava Nag

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Quartet

May 21, 2011 at 12:03 pm (Amitava Nag, Poetry)

1.

Like the sleeping buses

In the garage,

I rest my pieces – disoriented,

The freedom is till theSunrise.

2.

‘I am cursed by you and all’,

She pointed her fingers at me – left,

My hand is bound in love,

I have no fingers left to point.

3.

Inside the aquarium

There is a loner,

I was him for long,

Now I changed the side.

4.

Urchins play in the rain-

Naked,

I had been taking everything off

Raindrops shield me, again.

– Amitava Nag

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The Wait

April 27, 2011 at 9:51 am (Amitava Nag, Poetry)

The float bobs
once more,
the angler waits –
hooking himself
to the bait.

I pay out the line,
the reel runs out
the fishing line,
the rod – bend
further away.

The sky above
is blue with love
I move up
for the roe –
the angler holds back.

– Amitava Nag

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Tapan Sinha (October 2, 1924 – January 15, 2009) : A Grossly Underrated Auteur

April 20, 2009 at 3:40 pm (Amitava Nag, Cinema)

  

There are a few childhood memories which remain vivid even when you grow up; more or less this happens to everyone I guess. Like the first circus experience or the glimpse of the tiger in the zoo, it was Airabat, the giant white elephant for me when it comes to cinema.

It was a time when we didn’t have TV at home and our cinema viewing programmes were heavily censored by my parents – they ensured that me and my sister didn’t watch anything ‘adult’ at that time. So this is one of my first few films that I can recollect and I do remember I loved the climax of the film, which otherwise kept me and my sister sobbing almost the entire reel time. It was Safed Hathiand back in school we all were excited about it – enacting the different roles of the film. We never bothered over who directed the film; it was good and that’s what mattered.  Over a period of time as I grew up under the over-encompassing virtual tutelage of Ritwik Ghatak’s films, I had almost forgotten one name – Tapan Sinha. Or maybe we chose to. Satyajit Ray was always dear and we probably couldn’t ignore Mrinal Sen for many a masterpiece of his, but definitely there was none apart from the trio in our radar.

This is the fate of Tapan Sinha, like Uttam Kumar, the central character of his second film Upahar (1955)– neither of them got their due from the serious film audience (read the film critics). But as life does such a balancing act, Tapan Sinha is loved by the educated, middle-class Bengali more than anyone else, probably second only to the towering Ray. Looking back, as Sinha passed away on the morning of January 15, I was rather reflective – what does his cinema mean to me? And I was not very sure. On the one hand, his staggering range and diversity would definitely have made Ray proud as well, and on the other hand, there is his debatable, yet unfailing belief in film being a 100% linear narrative medium. His range is so diverse that in the 40+ films that he made over more than 50 years, it is hard to find any one film a sequel of a predecessor, leave alone a trilogy! From classics like Kabuliwala, Kshudita Pashan, Hnasuli Bnaker Upakatha to the more urbane Jotugriho, Apanjan (remade in Hindi as Mere Apne by Gulzar), Ekhone and social awareness in Adalat O Ekti Meye, Ek Doctor ki Maut, Atanka, Antardhan he had ventured into almost every genre. And his rich repertoire of satirical offerings in Galpa Holeo Satti (whose sub-standard Hindi remake is Bawarchi), Ek Je Chhilo Desh, Bancharamer Bagan side-by-side with his eye for children’s films is worth appreciating.

The five Sinha films which are etched in my mind more than the others are – Kabuliwala, Jhinder Bandi, Jotugriho, Sagina Mahato and Ek Doctor ki Maut. The Bengali version of Kabuliwala (1957)played by none other than the inimitable Chhabi Biswas had been a delight to watch. Sinha was faithful to the original Tagore masterpiece though he inserted a number of subplots that carried along the main narrative.

An extremely goofed up makeup of Biswas along with a number of technical glitches couldn’t peg back this film which remains vivid in my heart for its sensitive rendition of the basic human emotions of love and longing. It remains a masterpiece of Indian cinema and justifies Sinha’s position as a natural story-teller who relied heavily on simplicity and the intrinsic goodness of individuals.

Jhinder Bandi (1961),based on a Bengali novel with the same name by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay is a successful ‘Indianized’ adaptation of Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda. This film is one of the oldest Bengali films that showcased drama and suspense in a way very few films of the time portrayed. Yet again, the length of the film induced by an inordinate expense of reel time to setup a love relationship between the two central characters along with some very naïve sword fight sequences might have held it back from being a classic. However, one important point to note is that this was the first time the two legendary Bengali actors appeared on-screen together. Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee probably never looked so good together in any other film and this is the first time that Soumitra was cast as a villain. This is quite an event because with Soumitra’s marked aristocratic looks and refined personality he looked more at home with the Tagorean characters. Sinha brought out this rare aspect of the versatile actor, which remains one of Chatterjee’s finest characterisations as well.

Whereas Jhinder Bandi dealt with a near fantasy where kin-rivalry unfolded into a bitter drama of betrayal and killing, Jotugriho (1964)brings up the subject of marital discord with impeccable finesse at a time when the subject itself would have been perceived as daring by most Indian film-makers. Again adapted from a poignant short story Sinha deviated little but added interesting insights into the main narrative that made it look interesting. As always, in most of Tapan Sinha’s films (another trait that he shares with Satyajit Ray), this film is also studded with fine performances – this time Uttam Kumar coming out with a sterling exposition of an introvert engineer stung by life. What makes this film so unforgettable is the sense of void that is inflicted on the audience in the empty cul-de-sac called ‘life’. What went wrong, what was the problem? There were no villains, it’s just the way things turn out that puts the two endearing souls far apart, forever. This sense of helplessness is so prominent that we empathize with the characters – the one big difference from its Hindi remake Ijazatby Gulzar where we can feel that the marriage might have been saved in spite of the love triangle

Sagina Mahato (1970)and its remake in Hindi by Sinha himself is one of his overt political statements. Sagina was a coolie who fought against injustices meted towards them by the tea estate owners and soon rises to be their leader. And as he becomes too hot to handle, the management takes advantage of his innocence and ignorance, turning him into their puppet against the same men who chose him to be their leader. Dilip Kumar as Sagina was fantastic, quite different from his otherwise romantic roles, and this film raised questions about the success of the trade union movements at a time when Bengalwas burning over the Naxal issue. In most of Tapan Sinha’s films it was mostly the story of the struggles of the common man and how he triumphs over his situation. Sinha once said –

I have always believed in individual courage and effort. I think, collective system or life hardly allows an individual to discover the infinite strength within him. I like the individual who has the courage to face any untoward situation, which is why I have shown an individual as a relentless fighter against all hazards in Aadmi aur Aurat (1982), Atanka (1986) andEk Doctor ki Maut (1991). My protagonists in these films have practically done miracles by their own strength and self-confidence.

This belief in the individual made him sharply different in his philosophy from many of his colleagues who had strong Marxist leanings. And in this regard he probably is closer to Dr. Stockmann (of Henik Ibsen’s The Enemy of the People) who said, ‘…the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone.’ Notably, even Satyajit Ray turned the end of his film Ganashatru (1989) based on the Ibsen play to include the ‘mass’ in an individual’s struggle for existence. This Ibsenian touch is found in Ek Doctor ki Maut where a doctor who invented a drug to cure leprosy is constantly harassed by his colleagues out of jealousy. In a claustrophobic society talent loses its battle against middle-class sense of animosity arising out of uncertainty and incompetence to acknowledge excellence. The doctor is devastated by his hostile environment that forces him to give up his research, but he finds a way to love his life.

But where did Tapan Sinha falter then? To me, Sinha’s greatest drawback is probably his simplistic solution to situations when he dealt with social or contemporary issues. His penchant for human victory at the end also exposes his weakness – the director coming out as too prophetic at times. In the earlier films where he played with classical stories, his narrative strength was probably more than many. But then again, his place in post-Renaissance Bengali culture alongside Ray ensured that his craft was always compared only with Ray (and never with Ghatak or Sen) – an unfortunate situation, which probably was difficult for him to shrug off. And it was probably unfair too. If Sinha would have happened now, probably he would have got more space than he got. Surely he deserved more. But then again, probably he wouldn’t have taken up films which made him an icon among his niche viewers who took pride in sporting a ‘Bangali-aana’ (the cultured Bengali persona) which is so rapidly disappearing these days. Sinha chose to remain humble, always reclusive and impeccably restrained, another trait of a bygone era. He chose to be a small man in this world. But his films ensured that he had always been big. It was us who never could give him his rightful place.

– Amitava Nag

( Another version of this article was  first published by  www.dearcinema.com  on 18th January 2009)

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