Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Anandabajar Ki Bollo?

The rains in Calcutta – like most places in India – make a much-celebrated appearance. Probably, a little more in Calcutta because it follows a stretch of mind-numbing humidity and also because, Bengalis are people who like to celebrate the smaller things in life!
On the day after the first shower – many monsoons ago – Anandabazar Patrika headlined its first page with “Prano bhoriye, trisha horiye…
Bengali readers would stand up from their respective seats and applaud this flourish. Non-Bengalis (including my wife!) would have to make do with my limping translation – Quenching thirst, Filling hearts – and the explanation that this is a line from one of the more famous rain-songs of Tagore.
Basically, there is something about the newspaper which headlines their first page with the first monsoon showers of the season. And comes up with a line, which deserves to go no lower than the first page lead.
Which is what Anandabazar Patrika is all about.

Maintaining a wonderful balance between journalism and literature, it has played an integral role in nurturing the mind of the Bengal over the last seven decades or so. In fact, its current advertising campaign runs with the punchline “Anandabazar ki bollo?” which means, “What did Anandabazar say?”.
This is so apt because a very large number of households in Calcutta, who are primarily English newspaper readers, buy a copy of Anandabazar on those special days – Mahalaya (the first day of the Durga Puja fortnight), the day Sourav Ganguly became the captain, the day Buddhadeb Bhattacharya became the Chief Minister, the day Satyajit Ray died, the day Brazil exited from the World Cup… because nobody chronicles the passions of Bengal better!

And talking of passions, it never runs higher than when you are discussing Sourav Ganguly.
Anandabazar has chronicled the rise (and fall) of Sourav like no other newspaper has ever done of any other sportsman. And the pride at Sourav’s peaks has been of such literary quality that anybody even remotely interested in cricket would be impressed at the chronicles.
The most memorable headline (on the first page, no less) was after the match (World Cup 1999) at Taunton where Dravid and Sourav had pummeled the Lankans in the process of helping themselves to countless world records.
The headline ran – “Sourabhmoi joyey Rahul sarathi”. Literally, Rahul Charioteer in a Fragrant Victory – which, apart from alluding to the famous charioteer of Mahabharata, also played on the word fragrance. (In Bengali, Sourav means fragrance.)
The match report was even more startling. It was a letter to Vinod Kambli!
Yes, it started off with “Dear Vinod” and went on to remind him about his tearful exit at the hands of the same Lankans in the 1996 World Cup. It told Kambli that he took up a place in the Indian squad thanks to his legendary friendship with Sachin Tendulkar, which caused another left-hander to twiddle his thumbs in the same city where he shed his tears. Questioning the sincerity of those tears, the letter went on to inform him that the same left-hander had clawed his way into the team and had taken revenge for that embarrassing defeat.
It was a complete match report – which left out no detail about the statistics, highlights and events of the game, but managed to pack in so much passion that it remains one of the best pieces of sports literature I have had the privilege of reading. Of course, I - along with countless others - had the pleasure of reading this after the pain of seeing an obese, out-of-form Kambli keeping Sourav out of the team on too many occasions.

In another example of bringing in unconnected set pieces, Anandabazar came up with a brilliant line – post Sourav’s marvelous 144 (at Brisbane in 2003-04). It said, “This 144 has effectively taken off the Section 144 on Sourav’s entry into cricketing greatness.” And the headline was again an alliterative gem – “Steve-r durgey Sourav-er Shapmochan” (Sourav shakes off his curse in Steve’s citadel!).
(BTW, the theme of the supporting article on that test on how grateful Calcuttans were planning to get some delectable sandesh over to Greg Chappell, for he was the man who coached Sourav before the test. Sigh, just three years back…)

As is obvious from the above examples, Anandabazar excels in a key aspect of journalism, which is the coining of catchy, punchy headlines.
The latest lovely of this genre came this year - on the day of state mourning in Bengal, when Zidane decided to send the Samba magicians home. In a display of symmetrical alliteration, Anandabazar headlined “Jiju-r Jadutey Shango Samba” (Jiju being the Bong transcription of Zizou!). Literally, Zizou's Sorcery Silences Samba.
The Bengali one sounds so much better, no?

One of the most celebrated examples of Anandabazar’s creativity in the whole mundane business of news gathering and reporting came about 16 years back.
26th August 1989, to be precise. It was the 300th anniversary of Calcutta’s birth and to celebrate, they produced a paper that was 300 years old.
There was a jacket of 4 pages around the normal newspaper of the day, which reported the landing of job Charnock on the banks of Sutanuti-Kolikata (“Sutanuti-r ghatey pher naamlen firnigi banik”). Apart from that, there were 8 more pages composed in the standard newspaper format.
On the lead story, there were reports of a press conference by Charnock, interviews with the Mughal subahdaar and the zamindar of Sutanuti as well as reactions from the East India Company. The French East India Company expressed anxieties of conflicts of interest in the future.
The business page had reports of the increasing trade in cotton, the possibilities of increased FDI (!) and how businessmen are collecting art.
The sports page had reports on cockfights and the betting trends thereof.
Other pages had reports of a kulin Brahmin getting married for the 35th time, centenary celebrations of Chandi-Mangal (a Bengali epic-poem) and lack of civic amenities in certain parts of the village. (While at it, even ITC has pitched in with an advertisement for enjoying the hookah!)
In its entirety, the issue is a triumph of creativity and resourcefulness – where drab historical research of a period has been recreated in the tangibility of a newspaper report. The recreation balances the challenges of historical accuracy along with entertainment well enough for readers to try and collect the issue 17 years after it came out!

In the meantime…
Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is voted the best Chief Minister in the country.
Suchitra Sen is being tipped to win the Dadasaheb Phalke.
Sourav is not selected for the Champions Trophy.
What is Anandabazar going to say?
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