Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sperms in every city

A few short cuts,
In what seems to be a very long run, at times.

A woman here,
A woman there.

Sperms in every state,
Was the journey worth the conclusion?

She shall ask,
when you burn-
In different faces, in different forms..
A fragile heart, the only commonality.
The shadows applaud with some macabre..
They dance, in pyres of glee.

Ides of March, they come.

© 2013 Maitreyee B Chowdhury 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

To the story that every forest carries...

There is a certain charm to growing up amidst trees, amidst the call of birds and exploring things unknown and the ever present curiosity it brings out in you, to see what is on the other side of a reluctant hush sometimes..

I have always felt that like the sea, the jungles have a language of their own. It is in discovering that language that the most fascinating stories are told. 

But wandering into the forest alone is not enough, one must be ready for them, ready to be surprised and know somewhat what lies ahead. Tribes who live in the forests will tell you that the forest has a spirit, sometimes worshiped in the form of 'Ban devi' ( Ban is forest, devi is Goddess) These spirits are the guardians of the forests, of the treasures that lie deep inside the forest...the supposed Yakshas who roam around free spirited.

The tribal s who lived within the fringes would talk of these spirits, living a life in the nights, they would fight, make love, roam around uninhibited and to enter the forest at this time was to disturb their territory.

But during the day, you could roam and the stories would enfold if you had the eyes to see and hear. Anyone who has been in Indian forests will tell you that the forest is never deserted. There are women gathering twigs, peasants taking short cuts and it is they who will fascinate you as much as the forest itself.

During one such session of wandering into the forest, close to a swamp, we were playing 'collect'. Whoever could bring the most unique thing from the forest did and left it in a small clearing where we later stood to examine all the goodies. As we sat around it, a tribal lady, with a bundle of firewood on her head was walking through. She looks at us and did not say anything. Suddenly she spotted the bundle of small things comprising fruits like Guavas, some red leaves, a pretty flower, patterned leaves, etc. She put down her bundle on the ground and suddenly lay down straight on the ground to bow down at the heap, we had gathered. In her simple mind, this was probably an offering to the Gods and she paid her homage willingly too. Without a word to us, she prayed silently and went back to collecting her wood. 

Even that day as today, it is the simple faith that people have, that is like a prayer. It is like an omnipresent beauty that few have and even fewer who understand it. In her faith that day, all of us lay enriched. Little stories of the forest never go unheard, they waft somewhere so beautifully and glide down as only sunshine can...

To the story that every forest carries....

( Picture from the Internet)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

'There is no devotional feeling in bed..'- Devdasis, Art and Dancing

A very famous scene in the Bengali film 'Abohoman' shows Ananya Chatterjee, the actor who plays the role of Binodini( A Tagorean character)wink at the camera during what is supposed to be a sophisticated and artistic rendition. The sheer brilliance of her spontaneity leaves both film maker and his wife impacted in different ways. Much later, as the film maker's wife Mamata Shankar reveals to her son that all her sophistication has robbed her of her spontaneity and much as she is a fine actress and a good dancer, she could never ever dream of doing something like that. 

A bit like life perhaps, the need to make everything a bit of art often robs it of the ultimate sophistication of simplicity and spontaneity. I am somehow reminded of William Darlymple's book 'Nine Lives' and the exploration of the Devdasi tradition which has often been given different colours, different connotations. But what one hears from one such Devdasi called Rani, suddenly hits one very hard. 

When Darlymple asks her whether her auspicious status made any difference to her clients when they came to be entertained . ‘No,’ she said. ‘There is no devotional feeling in bed. Fucking is fucking. There I am just another woman. Just another whore.’

Dancing, religion, life, pretty much the all boils down to the basics and that is where it is extremely beautiful.

( Picture courtesy Google)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Conversations between two stories

I have been a writer for some time now, published a book, saw some success and yet the biggest high is always in writing that one delightful line, nothing else. Obsession with becoming a writer for me belittles my art and my capacity to create as opposed to entertain, because creativity is beyond mere entertaining what another wants to hear or see in the written word. As such sometimes I have very interesting comments and queries in my in box. 

One such day a young man wrote, 'I love the stories you write, are they all your own experiences from real life?'

I wrote back, 'Stories are stories..they are like our shadows, there is no yours or mine to far as I am concerned. You visit a graveyard and there amidst the graves you will find innumerable stories..some told well and others not told at all. At the most one is the Sutradhar, an unbroken chord of the story & its teller. When I write my stories, if you will listen carefully you will find your stories hidden in them too echoing..just not captured..Just imagine if we all stayed within our own stories without passing on the baton to others to come and mingle there stories with ours, how one dimensional it would be  A tale is worth in gold only if you make it and share it & help conjure others from it least by threefold.

No matter how many stories my words may conjure for you..there's always some missing, perhaps just enough to conjure stories of your own?'

The young man smiled, we have since then co-written many stories, in the little exchanges that happen between us, in the sharing of little joys and shadows of reality. But somehow I began to realize that every story he told me was that of his own. It was like a being overwhelmed with birthday wishes on your birthday. And much as one is grateful and happy for them, one is saddened at the excess of the idea of 'ME'. 

As we go through life, the stories that we tell and those that we seem to listen to are often increasingly about us and for us..occasions that celebrate oneself appear be claustrophobic at times to me rise for the need to look beyond our own and finding happiness in completely remote and unconnected ways and those are the true beautiful moments...telling the story of another for a change.

(Image from Google)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stories from a railway platform

I was sitting on the railway platform in Benaras. Contrary to my family's advice that I should take a flight from Benaras to Calcutta, via Bangalore, here I was sitting on a platform full of tourists of different shapes and sizes. While some looked tired, others were rejuvenated and talked excitedly. I sat down on my suitcase, took out a book and put on a floppy hat, a picture complete in warding off any gesture at communication perhaps. Being someone incapacitated in the art of making conversation, I perhaps carry an expression that wards off conversation, so I was distinctly at odds to see a middle aged woman, making herself cozy right next to me. 

For a single person, she carried numerous bundles and bags and placed them all on the floor, took out a Paan( Betel leaf) from a small case and plonked down herself too, like one of her bags. At a safe distance from her sat two other women. Since she was staring at me, I gave her a hesitant smile and quickly got back to my book. But not to be deterred, she opened conversation with a 'Ki podcho?' ( What are you reading). I was reading Jack Kerouac's 'On the road' and showed her the cover of the book. She took it then from my hand, turned it upside down and said, 'Kono chobi nai?( No pictures), I smiled and shook my head in the negative. And she let out what seemed like a list of expletives in Bangla.

She then made herself more comfortable and took a good luxurious look at me and blurted, 'bari te ke ke ase?' ( who is there at home). I tried dismissing her with a, 'Shobai ache' ( everyone), but she was not content and demanded a frame by frame explanation. My attempts at looking away, or plunging my face into the book had absolutely no affect on her and her random questioning. Thoroughly irritated at her forceful conversation, I attempted to hide in the depths of my mobile phone, going through the pictures that I had clicked during my stay in Benaras.

As if from nowhere, the woman was up in a jiffy and bent over my head with her head smelling of Jabakusum that moment I realized I would be less scared of a hooligan, than her perhaps! She demanded that she be shown the phone and once she was close enough she declared, 'aamgo barite o eirokom phone ase' ( I have one like this at home too) The next 15 minutes as I waited for my train to come, she regaled me with stories of how her son had promised her a new phone for the Pujas, to how she was traveling with two of her servants, who cooked and cleaned for her, wherever she went and generally scoffed at the whole idea that a woman like me with a kid at home should be traveling alone. 

I listened to it all, in silence, punctuated with the occasional nod, only to be startled when she asked me, 'tomar reservation ase toh?, tahole ami tomar sathei boshi. eder reservation ase, amar nai' ( I guess you have a reservation, I shall then sit with you. The servants have a reservation, I don't) 

To someone like me, for whom saying 'No' has always been a problem, I heard myself saying a determined, loud and clear 'Na' (No) and walk off to the rhythm of the train pulling into the station while she looked on, for the first time speechless.

( Image from Google)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

When love is like the scream of the deaf

Sometimes love is not measured in numerous days of sweet nothings..but that one touch of warmth, or even that one night when you belonged completely-

I touch your hair
those speckled bands of Grey
of shady evenings in shackles
coloured with austerity.
Your song drunk and meaningless
I come home to screams of togetherness
of a memory lost in time-
I shall scream again tonight,
my memory of you a deluge.

And then I recollect the Loire..( lines from Hiroshima Mon Amour)

"The Loire, a completely un-navigable river..its always empty..due to its irregular course and sandbars..In France it is considered a very beautiful river. Due mostly to its very soft. If only you knew.."

"When you're in the cellar, am I dead?"

"You're dead..I loved blood since I had tasted yours..The world passes by above my head, in place of the sky of course..I watch that world pass by, hurriedly during the weeks..leisurely during Sundays.."

"I call your name softly"

"But I am dead"

" I call your name anyway, even if you are dead..then one day I suddenly scream..loud like a deaf person.."

"What did you scream?"

"Your name..just your name.. the only memory I have left, is your name."

"I promise I won't scream anymore.."

There is more to emptiness, than love and death put together and that is where you reside perhaps.

© 2013 Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A man and his umbrella

If there is one aspect of living in a small town that I miss, it is the habit of people doing things for each other naturally, without someone thinking that there would be a motive behind it.

We were posted in a township called Tinsukia, in Assam, when I was still in high school. Those were turbulent times in Assam, with most people scared with militant activity which affected many of our daily lives, no matter how much our parents tried to keep us away from it.

My father was one of those people who would never compromise on his principles and much later in life I came to know that there were many threats that had come his way, working in an environment that had to be tread with lot of care. 

Like is prevalent in Assam, we had a person staying in our outhouse, much like a man Friday, rolled into the grandfather we never had the luxury of playing with. He belonged to the Coolie race, who comprise a major section of the tea garden workers in Assam. Sturdy as an Ox, faithful to the last blood and generally an extremely funny man who had his own idiosyncrasies. He taught me gardening, chased me with a broom when I trampled his flower beds by mistake, climbed trees to bring me flowers, scolded my father, bossed us around and was ready to jump into any kind of action, all at the age of 60. 

We would call him Nana( also an Indian equivalent of grandfather). During those days, I had to go for Maths tuition, which was about 3 kms from our house. Contrary to other kids who would always take the car, my father asked me to walk often. In those days of limited independence, it was a great opportunity I thought, but I found myself being followed by Nana at a respectful distance. 

Every time I turned around and asked him why he was following me, he refused to answer and looked at the sky or the market in general in total ignorance. To make matters worse, he would carry a huge blade( usually used to chop trees ) with him, while a stray Indian mongrel who had made himself a member of the family also sauntered along. With this rather odd retinue following me around everywhere, I was the butt of many jokes with my friends. Much as I would rant and rave I could not shake off Nana, who would eat chana while I studied, or talk to Brownie the Indian Mongrel, while people on the road looked at him oddly.

Much later I came to know that he had had to suffer much in the name of being a guard. Nana suddenly decided to leave us, after staying with us for about 7-8 years, during which he was more than a part of the family, but would still not give up on his bohemian ways. He would not take money while going away, nor anything else, when he was asked if he wanted anything, he scratched his head and looked at the sun. 

And then he turned and looked at me and said, I have guarded her in many sun s, I want an umbrella. The shade that such people provide us in their simple ways of giving are perhaps irreplaceable..I still miss the joys of people doing things for each other on a lark.

( Image courtesy Google)

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Bengal has had a rich tradition of music steeped into strains of folk. Much like Baul music, these songs some of which are written as long ago as the 18th century have strains of wonderful local sights that are infused into mythology that is spread across India. Abhijit "Pota" Barman lead singer of Bengali band Cactus, brings the haunting rendition of a delightful story of Krishna and Radha, set beneath the beautiful 'Kaodom Gaach' ( Kodom tree) very reminiscent of Bengal.

It is interesting to note that Kadamb is also the tree in Vrindavan under which Krishna sits on to take the clothes and in that perhaps he is woman incarnate. As Narada says he is only man, all the rest of us are women !

The lyrics of the song  goes-

Mai tui jole na jaiyo 
o ki o he kolonkini radha 
kodom gache boisha ache kanu haramzada

O ki o jole na jao ghate na jao 
bhate na jao laaje radha 
maye bape naam rakhiche 
kolonkini radha

o ki o na jaiyo na jaiyo radha 
kodom tola diya 
kanaiye patiche fande 
radhe ko lagiya

koloshi te pani nai 
jamuna bahu dur 
hatite na pare radha 
paye te nupur

o ki o kohe dijo kobi rotno 
radhe bhagyoboti 
jonome jonome hok 
krishno te bhokoti

( Lyrics from the Internet)

This delightful song is based on the Ras Leela of Radha Krishna, wherein Krishna is lovingly referred to as 'Haramzada', or the mischievous one. Bordering on Brojoboli bhasha, which plays with a softness on the playfulness of the relationship. Radha is asked by the singer not to go to the water or to the land near the Kodom Gach( Kodom tree) because krishna has laid a trap for her there and she will be caught in that if she doesn't heed the advice. 

The song is wonderfully localized to suit Bengali locale of Kodom Gach which finds mention in much of Bengali literature or music. It not only brings back strains of Bengali folk music but in small and simple lines shows the relationship of Radha and Krishna and krishna in his omnipresent avtar all around us. 'Kolonkini Radha', is a reference to the supposed illicit relationship of Radha and Krishna. The word Kolonkini is derived from the more popular Hindi word Kalank meaning a shame that is associated with such a relationship.

But then one wonders, what is the power that is Krishna without the delight that is Radha, more importantly without the delight derived from her, what will such power achieve? Radhe Radhe!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

When Krishna stole flowers

As we go through life, the stories that we tell and those that we seem to listen to are often increasingly about us and for us..occasions that celebrate oneself can perhaps be claustrophobic at rise to the need to look beyond our own and find happiness in completely remote and unconnected ways...tell the story of another for a change.

I was on one of my walks, when I saw this lady. I see her often in fact, she picks flowers for puja from flowering trees outside people's homes( which have been planted by the people, who's house's are close to the pavements..since in India often we don't have pavements anymore) I went close to her and asked her why she plucked flowers from plants that had been planted by the house owners.

She looked at me and smilingly said, 'krishna stole everyone's butter, why did no one accuse him of anything.' I smiled and asked if I could help her..she seemed to be pleased and asked me to carry her little bag, while she rounded up the flowers for Puja...I came back strangely at peace.