Calcutta Culture Glossary – Issue 2.0
No city is worth a city unless it has her encyclopaedists, illustrators, strange and secret lovers – irregular sons and non-regular daughters. A true city should also have her fair share of dwellers those could be anywhere but consciously made the city their home. Ethereal Minstrels in one way – they are also the pilgrims of the city.
I am also an adopted son of this city. One dark night in East Calcutta, I read Buddhadev Basu’s essay as why he chose to make Calcutta his home. This had been resonating. He told in his Bengali essay, as why he chose Calcutta – an antithesis of everything he prefers – (perhaps) the pull of the eternal spirit of the city – শহরের চিরন্তন আত্বা… I am yet to find a better description for my own engagement with this city.
Palmer Bazar (Place, Calcutta Central): This is an area near Entally area, not far from Sealdah Station. Bengali signboard reads পামার or পামর বাজার । This takes the name from John Palmer, a wealthy merchant who used to be called Prince of Merchants in 1800s. Rajnarain Basu’s short but elegant volume সেকাল আর একাল (first published in 1874) informs us that Palmer was so loved by people for his magnanimity that his tombstone simply reads Here lies John Palmer, Friend of Poor . The volume also informs that some Bengali rhyme master had penned a panegyric on the goras, in line with the Penta-Sati, chanting of whose name in the dawn redeems us. ( অহল্যা দ্রৌপদী কুন্তী…)
হেয়ার কল্বিন পামরশ্চ কেরি মার্শমেনস্তথা ।
পন্চগোরা: স্মরেনিত্যং মহাপাতকনাশনম্ ।।
[ Hare, Collin, Palmer, Kerry, Marshman – chanting the names of these fivegoras redeem from great sin ]
While I looked from the Taxi at the signboard, a thought came to me: How come these men from far flung places could elicit such respect in this land? Do our present democratic/secular/socialist/progressive/modern leaders enjoy even a fraction of this respect from common people? Tick. I got a sentence in mind – uttered by the greatest wordsmith of the land – মনুষ্যত্বে বড়ো না হলে কোন জাত বড়ো হতে পারে না – No race can ever achieve greatness unless being great on the plane of being Human.
Bangla (বাংলা – adjective): One of the confirmed evidences that we use language as a very effective tool for self-pity and self-denigration. CESC / WBSEB lineman joints the wire by Bangla tape, alcohol that is much lower in quality and price is Bangla, doctors stitching quickly and not nicely – Banglaselai. Anything un-sophisticated, sloppy and careless – pre-fixed with this adjective which is also the sacred thing for the community – geography and language. Life, some philosophers say is a mix of sacred and profane. Some males suffer from whore-Madonna syndrome, in campuses; young men practice profanities and this one – something whose ugliness and irony we generally miss.
ডাকাত সস্দেহে পিটিয়ে খুন ( Death by mob beating on the suspicion of being a dacoit)
[Newspaper Report]: This quite frequently adorns local / Calcutta newspapers. This is quite similar in kind as Metropolitan Police in London Tube shot some innocent businessman in one in case of ‘mistaken identities’. Or like the Roman Mob during Caesarean dictatorship who preferred to pluck one’s heart out and then let him go. These readings always make me tremble while I remain in Calcutta crowd – because a single shout of ‘dacoit’ and you are at the mercy of the Mob. I generally don’t allow these thoughts to remain much in my mind while surrounded by crowd because it weakens the knee joint and which Bengali of mother born has not learnt the First Commandment of Being in Bengal : য পলায়তি স: জীবতি । (He lives who escapes)
This is a symptom of urban mobocracy and being inhabitant of intemperate climatic zones, we are susceptible to suspicion transformed into real action. Being denied the opportunity of real combat (wars to be really precise: not battles nor skirmishes nor siege nor civil strife) for our entire history, this becomes retail release.
The day may not be far away when one can hear such headlines - টেররিষ্ট (terrorist) সস্দেহে পিটিয়ে খুন ।
Our increasing tolerance and digestion of violence – real and imagined or framed ones tends to reduce, in statistical terms our chance of physical survival.
Also see in later releases of the glossary – ডাইনী সন্দেহে পিটিয়ে খুন । (Death by mob beating on the suspicion of being a witch)
Tamer Lane: (noun): One narrow Lane in Central Calcutta. Also a dead-end lane. I am curious to know whether it means Tamer the Lame, or some Mr. Tamar. As far as I know, Tamer the Lame restricted his kill and rape orgy in Delhi only and could not come here. Strange Fascination and stranger is recollection of this here.
Though Calcutta is quite a baccha in terms of age compared to London, Paris, Cologne Vienna, Prague, Baghdad, and many others, there is occasional space-time combination that makes us wonder…
Nobel Prize: Nobel Prize seems to be quite an issue with Bengal / Calcutta psyche. In 1913, while news arrived that Rabindranath (he was inShantinikentan, discussing budget constraint while starting work of a drain in the evening) was awarded the Prize, few Ashram boys put their theories: a) He is a noble man, that’s why this Noble Prize is given b) He wrote a novel and the Novel Prize c) He is Gurudev and someone to show the respect had given this Noble thing.
The poet’s reply to the reception give to him was so vitriolic that it had caused much long standing friendship to get permanently severed and he had been alleged to have told, in private that this charade seems to have been enjoying the distress of a dog, which suddenly finds a tiny tin drum being tied to its tail and it’s slightest movement attracts attention – not for him but for the sound of the Tin drum.
Now, I put my school-boy theories on the theft of the Nobel Prize: a) It was stolen by someone who after some half a century would auction this to make a fortune b) It is not stolen, only the search has not been adequate c) Some displeased soul, at the present happenings in the Ashram, took it to some unreachable realm.
In one morning, Just recounting, I saw a Notice in University of Bonn’s Department of Physics, which tells how Nobel Prize is awarded. At the end, there was this line: How to win Nobel Prize?
প্রমথ চৌধুরী had written an essay on Nobel Prize in his Essay Collection –বীরবলের হালখাতা – a piece of work in Bengali prose – unique and the style unattainable. His prose is the only prose in the entire corpus Bengali literature which is untranslatable in French. A sample: এটা ইংরেজের জন্য হয়েছে কিন্তু ইংরেজের জন্যই হযনি ।
জলসা (Jalsa) : A vanishing word and also the Age that produced, cultured and celebrated it. One of the sure-shot plots for Bengali romance writers of sixties and seventies to have the fling, i.e. the first sight. What slowly replaced jalsa was Natak ( রাত জেগে নাটকের মহড়ায় চন্চল..), then Nite (whole night song, dance and revelry), then cultural programme, then antaskhari and now – a combination of Bollywood, Community Cabaret including teens and children, Dances of all sorts.
Being more aligned to the age of জলসা in terms of physical age, I visualize that small stage in the para where a young girl sings, in a tone filled with shyness and a sweet, sad gravitas in her dark-dark eyelashes – আমারো পরাণো যাহা চায়…
What my body-mind-soul wanted some two decades back was kept deliberately silent by this ইংগিতের মহান শিল্পী, found the lyrics, in John Denver’s simple, sincere, unabashed and hence eternal and scared declaration:
What’s in my mind / what’s in your Mind
There is really nothing new
I want to be with you, I want to be alone with you
I want to make love with you…..
বিনোদন (Entertainment) : In Bengali mainstream media, the word, in terms of frequency of occurrence, can match বিনিয়োগ (investment) and পরিষেবা (service) । To my mind, the word বিনোদন immediately hypertexts বিনোদিনী দাসী – whose small house is preserved near Star Theatre with even a plaque from Calcutta Corporation.
Investment – entertainment – Service: a very holy or unholy Trinity. বিনোদন – বিনোদিনী – পরিষেবা… We are matured enough to understand that the investment that went behind the entertainment industry of bygone era, that attracted many Binodinis and what was the service involved.
One of the greatest tragedies of our time is that we always need entertainment. Our students demand that study should be entertaining, buyers say that shopping malls should be entertaining, and travellers demand entertainment – online, on-air, on turmac, on lounge, readers need entertaining books, and citizens need entertaining piece of journalism. I shudder while someone will ask to make Hamlet more entertaining or Euclid’s geometry lacking entertainment or Eine Kleine Nachtmusik not as entertaining as An-ja-An-ja. Our Civilization would entertain itself to its Death and that will be the End of Entertainment. We are at the terminal stage of entertainment mania.
In the event of a recession or economic depression, investment would go down, but entertainment needs to be provided as we need বিনোদন at all costs and in all areas. Wherefrom would come our বিনোদিনী দাসী? I don’t know but I think Pentasect would be there to witness and document thatentertaining event of entertainment – minus – investment.
To be continued. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to add some terms.
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