Thursday, November 29, 2007

Remember The Titans

WARNING: Self-indulgent, pointlessly nostalgic post coming up.
Too many of my posts start with this caveat. I think I will stop saying this because I figured from a recent exercise that an overwhelming majority of my readers are 30-something nostalgia-buffs in general and Calcutta-sympathisers in specific! My dad tries to take up the average age a bit but my cousin in the US balances it out.

Okay, so I was watching Humjoli on television yesterday. Humjoli is a film on the torrid relationship that blossomed between two top Hollywood stars, while they were shooting for an action thriller. The full name of the film is Hum Jolie Tum Brad but it is usually not referred to.
Sigh - how many of you believed that? Apart from my sister, that is...
Well, Humjoli stars Jeetendra, Leena Chandravarkar and Pran. I have talked about it before as well.
The scene I started watching yesterday was the famous badminton song after which the heroine bids goodbye and leaves. Hint in the song: "Jaane do / Jaana hain..." Jeetu spouts a stream of sweet nothings. Now a bunch of goons armed with badminton racquets, approach Jeetu and taunt him. Sure enough, he fights them, twists their ankles, pokes them with his racquet and finally throws them off a bridge, which conveniently appears right next to the baddy (pun!) court.
Contemplate this: The hero romances the heroine, plays badminton with her (including an under-the-leg shot), dances in the rain, fights goons, mouths stupendous dialogues - all in the space of about 7 minutes. In the course of the full movie, he eats gaajar ka halwa, doesn't put on a kilo, defies the heroine's father, matches Mehmood's comic routine, sheds copious tears and probably gets into IIT as well. Maybe, not the last one...
AND he was not even one of the more heroic heroes!

In Aradhana, Rajesh Khanna sings loud enough to be heard by the heroine on a train, sings magnificently, impresses his boss enough to take his lover on a fighter plane (Mile High Club?), impresses his father-in-law, keeps his cool while seeing Sharmila in an orange towel, impregnates her in Attempt One, dies, gets reborn as his own son, gets shot down in Pakistan and escapes immediately afterwards!

In Shahenshah, Amitabh accepts bribe as a police officer, pummels a Olympic wrestler-sized goon, wears a 16-kilo iron arm-guard, sings songs with Meenakshi Sheshadri in hot pants, goes up in a hot-air balloon, sings brotherly songs with Supriya Pathak, drives a car in a hail of machine gun bullets and hangs the arch-villain in a court-room.

Look at Shammi Kapoor in Junglee and you know the hero is a paragon of virtue, masculinity, sartorial elegance and clean underwear.
Till about the early 90s, you had these multi-purpose heroes. Salman Khan in Maine Pyaar Kiya. Aamir Khan in Baazi. Sunny Deol in Ghayal. Amitabh Bachchan in Hum. Song-dance, melodrama, yellow drama, fighting, kiting - all in one huge paisa vasool adventure.
I think SRK spoilt the party by playing the villain. There was a thin line between anti-hero and villain. He crossed it. After that, we only had flawed heroes.
Look at SRK in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. He is a cantankerous footballer, who gets hit by a car and the car doesn't get a dent. And then, he limps into an adulterous affair. Contrast this with Amitabh in Silsila - another adulterous man, who first gained sympathy by marrying to save his brother's fiancee's honour. When he restarted the affair with his old flame, he made it look almost like a catharsis.
Look at Aamir Khan in Rang De Basanti. Somebody as handsome as he is can shoot the Defence Minister by spitting bullets at him. Instead, he got beaten up by a nameless constable in front of India Gate. The last time Amitabh got beaten up was by Vinod Khanna in Amar Akbar Anthony. Kishore Kumar got beaten up by Ashok Kumar. And at the worst, Dilip Kumar was whipped by Pran - at least a Grade A Villain.
The amount of effort SRK puts in a lighting a bulb for Swades is what Mithun needs to fight off the Martians and win the National Disco Championship - on the same evening.
Sometimes, it gets worse. The heroic guys are the villains! Hrithik in Dhoom 2. Aamir Khan in Fanaa.

Where are those guys who will not miss a penalty against Pakistan?
When will gold smuggling be perfectly justifiable - as long as the hero refuses drug trafficking?
How can I get a guy to sing a song with his lady love and then beat up eve-teasers in the same breath?
And in these times of economic boom, will I ever hear those words - "Maa, main pass ho gaya" - just before the mom goes in front of the dad's portrait and breaks into a soliloquy?

Damn, I so miss Uttam Kumar.
In only one movie, he acted in Othello, dribbled barefoot past seven English footballers, romanced Suchitra Sen, passed Medical with flying colours, converted to Christianity and found a pothole-free road in Bengal to drive his bike on AND sing a song.

I know all her contemporaries are cringing at this senile rambling, but Nilendu - you agree with me, don't you?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hum Toh Aise Hain: From the Ghats of Benares

Raand, saand, seendi, sanyasi
In se bache to sevey Kashi...


Every city has something famous. For Benares, I would avoid the traditional things associated with the city - sarees, paan, ghats, religion.
The most famous thing about Benares is Hyperbole. Maybe, I should generalise that to include the propensity for generating legends. They seem to have a fable / proverb / epigram / rejoinder for all seasons.
For example, the opening lines were quoted by one of the sales guys to explain the difficulties of being in Benares. In a slightly cruel manner, they are attributed to four things found in abundance there - widows, bulls, stairs and sadhus.

It seems that Kashi is exactly the place where Shiv-Parvati were standing when 'time started ticking'.
The name Varanasi came about because it stands in between two rivers - Varuna and Assi. Today, Assi Ghat stands where the river meets the Ganga and the tea-stalls on that ghat is said to be the source of all the tall tales in the city.

Benares is the origin of a few of my favourite images.
Some qualify as high art. Some don't. What the hell?



Feluda was a big fan of the rabri. He even imagined the murder of a famed halwai. "Imagine Kachauri Galli's Hanuman Halwai being stabbed at his kadhai... and his blood flows to give the rabri a pinkish colour..." The art director's work is done here!

Unfortunately, I do not have a liking for most of the things Benares has to offer. Not the rabri. Not the sarees. Not what they call Badshahi Chai.
The Benares team is devastated at this heresy.
Finally, they offered me a paan. I shook my head. They looked even more crestfallen.
This is one thing I have in common with an international gangster, wanted in 11 countries. "Don paan nahin khaata tha."
And the guy from Benares had a rejoinder - "Yeh bahut bura karta tha..."
As I said, people there are always ready with one!

In deference to Rimi's wishes, I have avoided any lengthy description of food. In any case, after the excesses of the previous day, I hardly managed more than six kachoris for breakfast.
And an Anonymous commenter on my previous post recommended Lomotils. There is a saying in Bengali that if you have space for a couple of digestive tablets, you might as well squeeze in one more rosogolla!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Aur Thoda: UP Gastronomy

I just completed almost a cross-state run across Uttar Pradesh. Landed in the morning at Lucknow. Drove down to Kanpur. Then onto Varanasi via Allahabad.

And the food just kept on coming.

First, the Jet Lite breakfast. They managed to redeem the industrially produced omelette with a very good corn-and-potato salad. And just in case the non-veggies are dissatisfied, they managed to throw in a chunky chicken breast as well.

After reaching Kanpur, my bosses confessed that they had slept through the flight and needed food. I pretended likewise as we zoomed in on Tewary Sweets. Gulzar may not have written lyrics about his shop but he makes a mean motichur ke laddoo. Anyway, we avoided the laddoo and put down a couple of piping hot bedvis (a kind of poori made of suji and flour, with daal fillings) with aloo subji. And to put the UP icing on the cake, some jalebis were requisitioned. A snazzy halwai will always manage to make the rings of the jalebi thin (baarik, as they call it) and yet dripping.

While reviewing sales figures, there were some more jalebis available (to be had with dahi).
Dahi Jalebi is apparently a dish meant for the gods. Since I don't have dahi, I will have to take others' words for it.

Anyway, the lunch is always from Gyan Vaishnav, about which I have gushed before. I claimed at the lunch that it is far better to have lunch at the eatery itself because the rotis are served piping hot but this disappointment was not apparent from the number of rotis that disappeared with the baingan bharta and ghee-laded daal.

Thus fortified, we headed towards the city of Jawaharlal Nehru, Amitabh Bachchan and Mad Momma.
Allahabad has this wonderfully laid back and helpful culture, which reminds me of Calcutta from my childhood. But then as my wife says, everything reminds me of Calcutta from my childhood.
We reached the office and were promptly served masala cashew nuts. They also got some Balushahi - a sweet which is rather undescribably good (apparently). Since I don't have it, you will have to take the help of Google.
Just when I was about to drink some water and close for the day, they came across with an Allahabad specialty - mini samosas filled with masala instead of aloo. This should be banned because of its addictive and unhealthy nature. I - needless to say - popped them in at about 12 per minute, washing them down with some famous masala Thums Up from a shop in Civil Lines. When I was about to collapse, the Sales Manager put in a couple more on my plate.
"Mar jaoonga, Dikshit-ji", I squealed.
He contemplated this. And smiled. "Lekin woh maut bhi kya haseen hogi, Dipta..."
I felt like Bhagat Singh as I had about half-a-dozen more!

If I wake up alive tomorrow, I will talk about Benares.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lyrical Thoughts

Javed Akhtar - who refuses to write obscene lyrics at all costs - recently professed being jealous of Gulzar for writing Beedi. He wished that he had written the song. And I felt that if Beedi was written by Indeevar, instead of Gulzar, it would have been the subject of a least a dozen Obscenity in Bollywood talk shows!
Na gilaaf, na lihaaf / No quilt, no sheets
Thandi hawa bhi khilaf - sasuri / In the cold weather
Itni sardi hain ki kisiki lihaf lei le / It's so cold that I could take someone's quilt
Ja padosi ke chulhe se aag lei le / Or go and take fire from the neighbour
Beedi jalai le jigar se piya / Light up your fire from my body
Jigar ma badi aag hain / My body is hot enough
'Padosi ke chulha' could have a lot of connotations - depending on your point of view. Of course, you could argue that what else would expect Billo Chaman Bahar to sing in front of a rustic crowd, but that's what Indeevar has been saying all this while as well!

Which brings me (finally, phew!) to what I set out to write in the first place... I really must stop this digressing I do for every post!
Anyway, I just wanted to jot down the lyrics of two of Javed Akhtar's lesser known songs and the zany words he has penned for them.

The first one was one of his earlier films as lyricist - Mr India.
He wrote a completely crazy song called Hawa Hawaii, which started with an operatic rendition of the following words... Chi Hua Hua, Honolulu, Hong Kong, King Kong, Mombasa, I see Lucy, Lassi Pisi...
Completely in sync with the over-the-top setting of the song and an apt prequel to an equally zany song in Roop Ki Rani, Choron Ka Raja - which included a song where Sridevi's lines were composed only of words starting with ch - and one line went Chandni Chowk mein chatey chutney...

The second one is Dard-E-Disco from the blockbuster of the year!
When SRK is thrusting his pelvis while showing off his six-packs, he is mouthing lyrics that veer between high-flying Urdu and the complete inane. I keep hearing words like gulposhiyon ka mausam, abr-e-karam, phoota khwabon ka goobbara. But then, the words he rhymes with Disco are amazing!
* Ab phirta hoon main London, Paris, New York, LA, San Francisco...
* Dil tod gaya, mujhe chhod gaya woh pichhle mahine ki chhabbis ko...

I am now wondering what other lines can be written to rhyme with Disco?
* Late hua jo party mein toh ab khao, piyo aur khisko...
* Irfan Pathan ne kiya out kiya Kiwi Scott Styris ko...
Any other bright ideas?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yes, DEAR!

My wife's school has a lovely programme called DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) - in which one period of the day, all the children have to put away their textbooks and read a 'story-book'.
The upshots of the programme are too many to name (and the person who started this deserves a Nobel Prize) but there is a downside as well.
Some of the more addicted kids have started pestering their teachers (including my wife) at all hours for more books to read! Since about a hundred of her students stay in the same building as us, the pestering literally goes on at all hours!
Since I am the certified bibliomaniac in the family, my wife promptly asked me to make a list of the books that are suitable for children in the age group of 8-12.

I immediately sat down with a pen and paper - and realised it is a lot more difficult than I thought. Simply because all the usual suspects (like Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl and even Feluda!) have already been read.
Of course, my other disadvantage is that I have done 90% of my childhood reading in Bengali. But at least, some of my childhood favourites are now available in translation.
So, I figured that there would still be an interesting list to be made - which would tickle the 12-year olds enough to give them a habit of a lifetime.
Better than cocaine, but just as addictive...

Okay, a caveat - some of these are not strictly children's books, which simply means they are far more interesting than Enid Blyton! But, they do not have risque content either.

Swami and Friends (R K Narayan) - Narayan's best known story about a gang of kids in Malgudi talks about friendship, adventure and patriotism in understated tones and a brilliant sense of humour. Even if a 10-year-old misses out on the subtleties, he can still identify with the angry headmasters, doting grandmothers and rag-tag cricket teams. Some things just don't change...

Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salman Rushdie) - In my humble opinion, this is Rushdie's best novel, beating Midnight's Children narrowly. It is a fairy tale about a story-teller, who loses his gift of the gab when the Sea of Stories is polluted by Chupwalas. His son, Haroun, embarks on an adventure to reclaim the Sea. In this, he is assisted by the Guppees, Prince Bolo and Princess Batcheet. How they all challenge the king of Chupwalas - Bezubaan - in the Battle of Bat-Mat-Karo is a P2C2E (Process 2 Complicated 2 Explain)!

George's Secret Key to the Universe (Stephen & Lucy Hawking) - This is the only book in the list, which I have not read. But I have read the spiritual sequel of this book when I was a little older (about 16) and The Brief History of Time was one of the most interesting books I have ever read.
This time, Dr Hawking collaborates with his daughter to give a children's version of science of the universe. He has done it before and I am presuming that this one is going to be an apt primer for his more popular book.

Going Solo (Roald Dahl) - A wonderful book on the life of a fighter pilot in WWII, I am not sure if this book by Roald Dahl would be classified among his children's books (unlike the sure-shot entries like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Willy Wonka something). I read this when I was almost an adult but I remember being fascinated by the book, which manages to hold one's attention despite talking about a time of which today's children (as well as me!) have a very vague idea of. Having a fighter aircraft under your exclusive command is a thrill which translates very easily, I guess!

Fatikchand (Satyajit Ray) - Okay, this is a non-Shonku, non-Feluda book by Ray and is not one of his best-known works. It is about a boy who is kidnapped and loses his memory in an accident. He meets a juggler called Haround Al Rashid - and the two of them have a ball before the kidnappers return. And so does his memory.
Ray's understanding of children, their fears and joys has been much documented. This is one of the better examples.

Tales from Shakespeare (Charles & Mary Lamb) - Before Omkara and Maqbool, this is where I got my ideas about the bard from! Written in simple English and painless prose, this is a must-read for those who get impatient with slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Actually, this is a must-read for everybody including film directors!
You only have to read The Tempest to see what a fantastic film it will make.

Idols (Sunil Gavaskar)
- Gavaskar writes exceptionally well and there has been no accusation of ghost-writing either. This is one of his better ones, which talks about his heroes and their most endearing traits and enduring performances. It is almost devoid of prejudices and sarcasm. It was also written in the earlier part of his career, where he did not have to justify his actions as a cricketer / batsman. Kids nowadays have cricketer heroes with life span of about a month. Here's one book which talks about more durable heroes.
The natural progression of this series would be Ramachandra Guha's series - Spin and Other Turns and Wickets in the East.

Vikram and Vetal / Vikramaditya's Thrones - The first one is better known (thanks to the serial and the Tortoise ad), where Vikramaditya solved a series of 25 puzzles put to him by a 'phantom' corpse. The second one is lesser known in which a shepherd demonstrates tremendous acumen whenever he sits on a hillock.
Both are phenomenal examples of ingenuous problem-solving (that too in succession), starring one of the most well-known characters of Indian history - Emperor Vikramaditya.

Raj Kahini (Abanindranath Tagore) - In another one of his novels, Aban Tagore described himself as "chhobi lekhey" (writes pictures). That description couldn't have been more apt.
In this book, he puts together a series of stories about the valiant warriors of Rajputana and their famous resistance against invaders. The forts of Mewar, Jodhpur and Chittor come alive in his pen-pictures of the unforgettable characters. History became my favourite subject for quite some time after I read this book.

Mountain of the Moon (Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay) - I have already written about this book some time back, which is one of the most breath-taking adventures ever written.

A Brief History of Everything (Bill Bryson) - This page-turner of a book is a humorous, racy renditions of the stories behind some of the apparently boring topics in school. Bryson reconstructs the stories behind the inventions of physics, chemistry, zoology and botany in a tongue-in-cheek manner - but without compromising on facts or undermining the achievements.
Wish our textbooks were written by him!

I have restricted myself to books that are easily available. Which brings me (oh no, not again!) to the tragedy of translations from Bengali (or the lack thereof).
I am sure I missed millions of books suitable for children - but after leaving aside the best-seller favourites, crying out loud over lost gems and accounting for holes in my memory - this is what I would recommend for 10-year olds.

So, tell me what I missed!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Om is where the Heart Is

If you want to know the secret of how Govind Ahuja became Govinda and the secret formula behind Maine Pyar Kiya's dialogues, then you will have to go and meet the Forrest Gump of Bollywood - Om Prakash Makhija.

As a junior artiste in 70s Bollywood, he out-Gumps good ol' Forrest in meeting celebrities, shaping history, dispensing philosophy and being sweet natured. But unlike modern American history, Bollywood is not something you can squeeze in just one lifetime. So he makes a comeback as Om Kapoor (a.k.a OK!) and almost the entire current film industry assembles to pay homage. (BTW, there is a raging debate on whether 'that 31-star' song has 30 stars + SRK = 31 or 31 stars + SRK = 32.)

Way too much stuff has been written about the SRK's six-packs and Deepika's on-off affairs to leave any space for the avalanche of spoofs that just keep raining at you from the moment the lights dim and that continue till well after the lights come on. If you are interested in Bollywood, you can keep chuckling at the in-jokes of the film. If you are not, then you can just cheer Saif-Salman-Sanjay-SRK taking their clothes off on a bar counter.
But if you are a Bollywood trivia buff, then you would remember that in the Om Shanti Om song of Karz, Rishi Kapoor throws his jacket in the crowd and there is a scramble for it between a couple of junior artistes. After watching OSO, you know that those two artistes were actually Om Prakash Makhija and one Farah Khan - lovely!

And if all else fails, there is the one-liner of the decade.
Karan Johar comes on the Filmfare Awards stage and says, "Heere ka kadar sirf johri kar sakta hain. Aur hero ka kadar sirf Johar hi kar sakta hain..."

All Hot Girls and Cool Boys, raise your hands and sway when you watch Om Shanti Om!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Unlimited Buffet

The Great Kabab Factory has an interesting format - they have combined the good ol' buffet concept with the South Indian meal. So, they have a Kabab 'meal' which they keep on serving till - as they say in Sholay - "...jab tak tere saans chalenge..."
And after they start serving, they reverentially ask if the speed is fine or do we want it faster!
Galawati Kabab (with ulte tawe ka paratha).
Murg kali mirch tikka.
Barra kabab.
Murg tikka.
Machhi Amritsari.
At this point, a guy comes up with a solemn expression and says, "We have completed serving the starters. Do you want a repeat or should we start the main course?"
Assuming you are a faint-hearted non-Bong and ask them to start the main course, they ask if you want a break before they start.
After you politely decline and ask 'em to bring it on, they start coming with daal, roti and biriyani. Of course, you are allowed to ask for a repeat of the kababs to go with the biriyani.
At 900 bucks a head, you need some serious foodies to extract full benefit... it helps if the foodie has been starved at least one meal before this one!

This memory of 'eat as much as you can' brought back memories of several bottomless meals I have had over the last few years (actually 33, as The Mad Momma never tires of announcing)!

The most abiding memory of most Bengali children about meals is generally the wedding meal. Several times during each wedding season, there would be invitations on red and gold cards (embossed with butterflies and palkis) invoking the blessings of Lord Brahma and requesting our presence at the reception of Amaresh's wedding with Sushmita.
A mandatory line at the bottom of the card said "Pashchimbanga Sarkar-er Atithi Satkar Ayin Projojyo" (In accordance with the Guest Entertaining Act of WB Govt). This was to comply with some archaic law to regulate wasteful expenditure during social celebrations but that law got blown away from the collective burps of millions of 'live-to-eat' Bengalis.
I innocently thought that the government probably mandates the number of weddings that have to serve prawn cutlets and ensures that too many weddings do not serve mutton on the same day to maintain smooth supply in the markets!
Anyway, the Bengali wedding feast in those days never had buffet. Caterers had just started - and the menu followed a set pattern. Radhaballabi (poori with a filling) and chholar dal, right at the beginning. A fry - usually fish to avoid sacrilege. A vegetable dish - which most people avoided. A fish curry - a woefully inadequate description of the oily, spicy, chunky preparation. Mutton - though some 'modern' people served chicken also. In between came a pulao to go with the mutton and the meal was rounded off with lots of sweets.
Then with the advent of caterers came innovations. The most momentous one was the introduction of the menu - detailing out the flow of dishes on a small card, with the names of the wedded couple, pictures of swans with inter-twined necks and the contact details of the caterer. This was considered by all as an invention rivaling telephone and internet. I mean, the benefits of knowing that mutton was on the way and there is no point stuffing your face with paneer (or for that matter, the paneer dish is actually called Paneer Lababdar) was stupendous.
Anyway, long before they had supermodel girlfriends, convertibles or Google stock options, the Bengali male's machismo lay in the number of Fish Tandooris he consumed at wedding dinners. So, there was an undercurrent of oneupmanship at all these weddings - which got translated into an 'eat-till-you-drop' phenomenon.
That was the training ground where I honed my value-for-money eating skills.

Several years later, when I was in b-school and had made a trip to Bombay, I learnt of a new temple. This was in Tardeo - a restaurant called Only Fish, started by a Bengali restauranteur (called Anjan Chatterjee) whose contribution to popularising the Bengali way of life is second only to Sourav Ganguly.
In those days (admittedly a long time back since I was in college), Only Fish used to have a lunch buffet for 150 bucks. If the price is scandalous now, it was more than reasonable then and we decided to have a sampling. Accompanied by Bengali (one nos.) and Malayali (one nos.) batchmates, I landed up at Only Fish and lost consciousness immediately afterwards (probably at the scent of mustard oil and the sight of crabs). When I regained consciousness several hours later, I could not see the Malayali girl sitting opposite me - due to the mountain of crab shells on my plate (and hers too!). The Bengali boy had a clean plate but he admitted to changing the plate some five times. When we got into one of those dinky Fiat cabs, we realised what they mean when they say 'three is a crowd'.
Anyway, I later found out that the lunch buffet had been discontinued and Only Fish had shut down (to make way for Oh! Calcutta).

While on the subject of unlimited eats, it would not be out of context to mention the Happy Hours I have enjoyed at several institutions.
The most memorable has to be the one I had on the same trip to Bombay (yes, it was one hedonistic ride!) - and that was at the Lancer's Bar of the Oberoi. I don't know what the bar is called now - but I do remember it had one picture window almost the size of an entire wall. But when one summer intern and one fresh software engineer congregates for Happy Hours beer, a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea is not very high on the priority list.
A beer at Oberoi would be 110 bucks (including taxes!) and during the Happy Hours, the effective price would be at almost Gokul levels. To avoid a stampede, the Happy Hour ran from 4:30 in the afternoon to 5:30. It would have hardly made a difference to us even if it started at 4:30 am!
Anyway, coming from small villages from the eastern part of the country, we really had no idea how a Bombay 5-star hotel conducts a Happy Hour. We presumed (to be on the safe side) that only the liquor that one 'consumes' during the fateful hour counts as 1+1. Of course, urban sophisticates can guffaw at our callow behaviour but there was no expert we knew and even Google did not exist. On top of that, there was this small matter of Nilendu having to go back and 'punch out' as he had left office at 4:25, citing some urgent bank work.
Well, all I remember that we threw in some 4 beers each in a span of 1 hour and when I waited for Nilendu to 'punch out' and come back, I felt like I was standing at the centre of a giant turntable as Malabar Hills and Nariman Point rotated around me at 78 rpm.

My roommate from college - a true blue Kannadiga - had once taken me out to that Southern institution of delightful pleasures. Mavalli Tiffin Room, more popularly known as MTR, turned out to be a reasonably shattering anti-climax as not only did we have to queue for only 45 mins (my roomie promised 3 hrs!), the food was nowhere close to my Southern comfort - the Andhra thali. When I expressed this sentiment, my pragmatic roomie advised me to keep mum as the Bangalore police force was not equipped to handle riots larger than the Cauvery ones! Safely ensconced in Jat-land, I think I can commit the ultimate blasphemy and call MTR a load of crap!

Finally, to remain on the subject of unlimited meals, let me end here with a wish for Diwali.
Agle saal mein sirf aapka pet hi nahin, dil bhi bhara hona chahiye!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pujabarshiki 1414

Despite being in centre of Bong civilisation in last year's Pujo as well, I did not get around to buying my quota of the Pujo annual issues. (BTW, the centre of Bong civilisation is C R Park. Bengali civilisation is centred around Maddox Square.

This year, however, I have bought and been gifted a set of three Pujo annuals - Anandamela, Anandalok and Desh. But thanks to my hectic travelling and flight missing in all parts of the country, I have only managed to finish Anandamela and read a few pieces from Anandalok.
The reason for reading Anandamela first was simple - it is the first ever magazine I started reading and that habit is a little difficult to kick! Also, the famous novelists in Bengali are always in great touch when they are writing for children.

Sunil Gangopadhyay has contributed Kakababu-r Chokhey Jol (Kakababu Weeps) and it is a huge disappointment. His famous character, Kakababu, 'solves' the problem without any assistance from his teenage nephew-cum-assistant, Shontu.
Kakababu is a disabled archaeologist, who always solved problems with his brain and overpowered villains with 'moner jor' (mental strength). High quality of detection was never his forte but the settings and the ensemble characters (including the villains) were interesting and the stories eminently readable.
This time around, Kakababu appears as the Incredible Metrosexual Hulk. He weeps ('fnupiye fnupiye knadlen'), he fights swordsmen with his crutch and he burns himself in fire (literally) - all to save a precocious kid, who is so berey paka (smart alec) that he probably deserved to remain kidnapped anyway!
Also over the years, Sunil had introduced a plethora of walk-on characters in his various stories - almost all of whom have stayed back. So you have a large number of characters hanging around and not doing what they are expected to do.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay - the other stalwart - comes in with Aghorganj-er Ghoralo Byapar (The Mysterious Affair at Aghorganj) and is in fine form.
Shirshendu is the only children's author I can think of, who does not have a fixed hero. Like always, his story is set in rural Bengal and involves astrologers (Jateshwar Ghoshal), doctors (Karalicharan), ghost-catchers (Bagalapati Pretosiddha), local goons (Batu Parihar and Gopal Guchhait) and general hangers-on (Bipod Bhonjon and Shanka Haran). And, as per tradition, all the characters have quirks funnier than their names.
The astrologer's 100% inaccuracy rate makes him a highly respected man. The cantankerous doctor is not beyond curing patients by hitting them with Gray's Anatomy. There are ghosts who do not believe in ghosts. And there are aliens, who are chased by watch collectors! All in all, vintage Shirshendu!

A recent comment on my post on Bengali children's literature mentioned that there were very few girl characters in the novels we grew up on. This is very correct, considering Mr Ray himself was guilty of banishing females from all his novels.
I can only think of two Feludas, where females had a 'speaking part'. One was Ambar Sen Antardhan Rahashya (The Mysterious Disappearance of Ambar Sen) - where a smart little girl accused Topshe of lying - and that was merely a device for explaining a discrepancy between the early Feluda stories and the later ones. The second was Shakuntala-r Kanthahaar (Shakuntala's Necklace), which had an intelligent, young lady called Mary Sheila Biswas. She actually assisted Feluda in his detection (though the novel was probably the weakest Feluda) and there was a hint of romance (or maybe, I was imagining things) as she came to meet Feluda when Topshe and Jatayu were away.
Samaresh Majumdar and Sunil Gangopadhyay did introduce a few female characters - but they hardly did anything of significance. They remained on the sidelines, said a few 'girly' things and even the romantic angle was not explored.

This year, two of the novels had a central female character - the detective's assistant. Of course, I have come in a little late because both these characters seem to be around for some time.

Suchitra Bhattacharya (another accomplished author) has done a double whammy - her detective is also a lady (Mitin-mashi) whose niece (Tupur) is her assistant. She is married to a regular corporate executive and has a son (Boomboom - what kind of name is that?) but is a private detective.
The adventure - Chhokta Sudoku-r (The Sudoku Grid) - is set in Singapore as Mitin-mashi's husband wins a trip to Singapore in a Sudoku competition and a mystery erupts. While I found the plot a little too ambitious for the scope of the novel, the likeability of the characters and the research was spot on. Mitin-mashi is a techno-savvy, urbane woman - who thinks nothing of using Handycams to track quarries and chomping stir fried squid at road side joints. Nice.

The other novel - Hneyali-r Andhakarey (The Darkness of the Riddle) - is by Sukanto Gangopadhyay. It has a male detective - Dipankar - who solves maths puzzles in his spare time. His assistant is Jhinuk, a college going girl who knows a fair bit of karate and thinks nothing of diving full length to catch criminals escaping on motor-cycles. In the novel - about a family's lucky mascot being stolen - it is the detective who gets kidnapped and the assistant arrives in the nick of time to save him!
In a very interesting twist, Jhinuk gets jealous of a boy, who is a maths genius playing games with the detective. "He wears spectacles. Will he able to fight goons like the way I do?", she wonders as the boy solves a puzzle.
The day of the demure girl on the sidelines of adventure novels is over!