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Nabendu Ghosh

On the 103rd Birth Anniversary of her father, well-loved writer and Bollywood persona, Nabendu Ghosh, senior journalist Ratnottama Sengupta gives a recap of last year’s celebrations where Sahitya Akademi award winner Shirshendu Mukherjee, an important Bengali writer, talked on her father and his contribution to literature. 

By Ratnottama Sengupta

IMG_0437It was the 102nd birth anniversary of Nabendu Ghosh. The bookstore celebrated the day with actor Ramanjit Kaur’s dramatised reading of ‘Fatima’s Story’ from That Bird Called Happiness, an anthology of stories by Nabendu Ghosh translated to English. Feminist writer Sreemoyee Piu Kundu focused attention on the women protagonists who outnumber and  outweigh the men at the centre of the stories in the collection by the Bengali writer.

The most significant part of the evening unfolded when renowned Bengali writer Shirshendu Mukherjee started speaking of Nabendu Ghosh’s writing. Significant, not only for its impact on him when he was a young reader, but also because like his senior, Mukherjee too has lent weight to the Indian screen with  his stories and scripts. So, when the author of watershed novels like Rashmonir Shonadana (Rashmoni’s jwellery, later screened as a highly popular movie, Goynar Baksho, meaning ‘The Jewel Casket’, by Aparna Sen), Manab Jamin ( Man and Earth) and Ghoon Poka (Woodworm) started to speak, Ratnottama Sengupta simply played the tape recorder.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s speech on Nabendu Ghosh  at Starmark/ 27 March 2019, Starmark, Kolkata, 27th March 2019. (Translated from Bengali by Ratnottama Sengupta)

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Shirshendu Mukherjee with two young fans

The Partition of 1947, that carved Pakistan out of India, affected many people, both directly and indirectly. Close to 2 million lives were lost in an unprecedented genocide; 14 million people were uprooted. The resultant refugee crisis affected generations that followed. Sectarian violence became endemic. Carnage and sexual violence was intense; mass abductions and forced conversions were on a scale not seen for a long time. “Some 75,000 women were raped, many of them were disfigured or dismembered,” William Dalrymple wrote in The New Yorker of June 22, 2015.

Both Nabendu Ghosh and I were affected indirectly. We — his family and ours — were not among those who had to cross over with bedding on their heads and mats under their arms. We were among the fortunate ones who were safely housed in the ‘new’ homeland. We faced no trauma while leaving our roots behind. But the loss of our birthplace created a deep wound that has refused to go away with the passage of time. It is a dull ache that has now become a part of my ribcage. I am not certain about Nabendu Da since he was only four years old when his father, a successful advocate in Patna High Court, had relocated from his family home in Dhaka. But for me the loss of my homeland — the soil my ancestors had lived in and where I had grown up on, which I knew as my own country, which was part and parcel of my identity, of my very being — had overnight become a ‘foreign’ land — is a sorrow that still weighs on my soul even at this ripe age of 77 years.

By Ratnottama Sengupta

 

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Gauhar Jaan, a singer and dancer who cut six hundred records in more than ten languages between 1902 and 1930, a woman who popularised Indian classical.

 

Chhaya. Tagar. Basana. Maanada-Panna-Radha. Hasina. Angelina. Gauhar Jaan… What do the narratives of these ladies have in common? They are all engaged in sexual activity for money.

So, what are the sobriquets for them? Prostitute, street walker, wench, call girl, escort, harlot, hooker, hustler, vamp, whore, temptress, tart, puta, fillet de joie, bawd, moll, courtesan, lady of pleasure, woman on the game, lady of the night, scarlet woman, concubine, paramour, cocotte, strumpet, trollop, wanton woman, devadasi, tawaif, baiji, ganika, randi, veshya

This is less than half the 75 synonyms in Thesaurus for the ‘woman of ill repute’. And this is without going into the term sex worker, coined by a certain Carol Leigh, in the last century that has seen people become ‘porn star’, ‘sex educator,’ ‘sexual trainer,’ and even ‘actress turned prostitute’.

Where has the word ‘prostitute’ come from? From the Latin word prostitus, found since the 16th century? But the past participle of prostiture — whether interpreted as ‘to expose publicly’ or read as ‘thing that is standing’ — does not have the abusive association the most ancient profession has. For that matter, the very phrase ‘oldest profession’ — a euphemism for prostitution when delicacy forbade the use of the word — is said to have acquired its opprobrious nuance only in the last lap of 19th century, after Rudyard Kipling used it in ‘On the City Wall’ (January 1889), a short story about an Indian prostitute. Kipling begins by citing a biblical reference:

(On Bimal Roy’s 110thBirth Anniversary, Ratnottama Sengupta traces his enduring affair with books.)

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Bimal Roy (12 th July,1909 – 8th January,1966)

 

“Bimal Da and I – particularly I, being a writer – always looked to literature for story, the raw material of cinema.  People can and do write original scripts for the silver screen, but we did not prefer that because it tends to be hurried writing. We preferred to source our films from books because a writer has already worked on an idea, on the character, on the logic of their action, and its final resolution…”

–Nabendu Ghosh(1917-2007) in And They Made Classics…

He was already a recognised name in Bengali literature when Nabendu Ghosh met Bimal Roy, his film guru. Bimal Roy was a voracious reader. The reasons for this were many.

To begin with Bimal Roy, since school days, had been friends with Sudheesh Ghatak, brother of Manish Ghatak who is better known to Bengali readers as Jubanaswa, a radical writer of  the Kallol era introducing modernism, who drew litterateurs like Tarashankar Bandopadhyay (1898-1971) to his house. The entire family had the gift of story-telling — and not only the eldest brother but also his daughter Mahasweta Devi (1926-2016) and his youngest brother Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976). Even Sudheesh Ghatak has won accolades for this art.

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Poster of Tagore’s Natir Puja from NT

Eventually, Bimal Roy’s penchant for photography took him to New Theatres (NT) which had, since its inception, transcreated the major novels and stories of writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra and Sarat Chandra. In fact NT produced not only Tagore’s own Natir Puja (The Dancer’s Prayer, 1932) but also the comedy, Chirakumar Sabha (Bachelor’s Conference, 1932) and Arghya (Offerings, 1937), besides Kapal Kundala (Bankim Chandra, 1933), Dena Paona (Give and Take, 1931), Palli Samaj (Rural Society, 1932), Grihadaaha (House on Fire, 1936), Devdas (1936), Bardidi (Elder Sister, 1939), Kashinath (1943), Biraj Bou (Biraj the Wife, 1946), and Ramer Sumati (The Redemption of Ram, 1947) — all from Sarat Chandra stories.