[ Pous – The ninth month of the Bengali calendar, from mid December to mid January]

It is three o’clock. Keeping aside the work in hand, I leant back in my chair. My handwritten long row of small words on the white sheet of paper  – just like dead flies on a white wall; each line resembling a slithery black snake. I had finished one page after an hour of hard work. I have transformed an atomic part of the vast and unclear world of the thought processes in my brain, into decipherable human language – watered through eons of years, the developed feelings in symbols, in conversations. The process involves extreme anguish and pain. Despite that being so, I just have to go through it… I have to bear the pain through the whirling days and sleepless nights, through weeks, months, years upon years, until the day death will bring the last and ultimate respite. When I look at the sheets of paper filled with my handwriting, I shudder to the bottom of my soul. Words, words. Endless, unending words. Maybe these words are meaningless to everyone except myself.

Are there six people in this land who’d understand what I wanted to say upon reading my writings? The way I want my works to be read, will there be three men to read them? I know what happens. On a summer afternoon, closing the doors and windows of the room, turning the overhead fan on, the deputy homemaker lies down on the mammoth cot holding my book in her hands, (if she doesn’t have any boy or girl nearing the ‘about to be fallen’ age) then after reading two pages, the printed words become hazy, she turns aside and dozes off to sleep. The weight of her fat hands would squeeze the open pages of the book with three hours’ of sweat. And the guys from the public library vie with each other in order to get hold of my books; only the fortunate returns home clutching his prize within his armpits, jumping with joy, gobbles up the book from the first to the last pages – turning the pages like a madman, to get whatever he wants, whatever he understands, for which he has saved his pennies with extreme diligence. Instead of offering these at the pious feet of the screen’s gods and goddesses, he turns the pages of my books ravenously, in search of the same pleasure. Then after his disillusion, he creates various juicy stories and anecdotes about me and in this way, takes his revenge. I know, I know. 

 

Reviewed by  Haimanti Dutta Ray

 

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Title: Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route

Text: Goutam Ghose, Michael Haggaig

Photographs: Goutam Ghose

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Date of publication: 2019

Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route is  joint collaboration by award-winning Indian filmmaker Gautam Ghose and British writer and producer, Michael Haggiag. Ghose in his introduction has named this  venture ‘a film-book’ because it is based on his five-part documentary, a cinematic marvel, also named Beyond The Himalayas.

Made in 1996, his documentary had been screened extensively on Doordarshan (India), Discovery and BBC in the late 1990s. The book, Beyond the Himalayas, commemorates the silver jubilee of the journey he undertook to make the documentary in 1994. Ghose writes in his introduction:“The so-called ‘present’ is a fraction of fractions between  the past and the future and hence the present moments are stored in our memory as recent or remote past. …. This book narrates one such vivid memory , a once-in-a-lifetime kind of adventure.”

In his introduction to the book, Ghose reveals how he came across old negatives and slides which featured  their journey through the meandering valleys and endless deserts of the fabled Silk Road more than two decades ago in a ‘caravan’ of jeeps. Breath-taking reproductions of these negatives and slides intersperse the narrative which is based on the script of the documentary.

By Haimanti Dutta Ray

 

People gathered at Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata, on the evening of the 3rd of May, disregarding the Meteorological Office’s predictions of the impending cyclone, Fani. The occasion was the book launch of the acclaimed film director, music director and cinematographer, Gautam Ghose, and the subsequent panel discussion lined with luminaries from the literary as well as cinematic circles. The book, Beyond The Himalayas: Journeying Through The Silk Route, has been co-authored by producer and writer Michael Haggiag.

The panellists for the evening included renowned actress and film-maker Aparna Sen; novelist Kunal Basu whose The Japanese Wife was made into a film; former diplomat and essayist Jawhar Sircar; critic and editor Samik Bandopadhay, who is also known for his translations of works by noted playwright Badal Sircar and celebrated author Mahasweta Devi; and film scholar Jagannath Guha. Guha had accompanied Ghose on his expedition along the famous Silk Route. Gautam Ghose had made his documentary in 1996 based on the journey he had undertaken. The film was also named Beyond The Himalayas.

Gautam Ghose, the recipient of many national and international awards, including a knighthood from Star of Italian Solidarity, thanked all the persons who had worked tirelessly with him to bring out the book. He especially mentioned his co-author, Michael Haggiag. Haggiag was not present for the occasion. Ghose said that the idea for the book came to him when he re-discovered the negatives of the Silk Route lying at the bottom of his cupboard. The 14,000 km journey they made in1994 took them through Central Asia, China and Tibet. They journeyed through a number of places like Bukhara, Tashkent and Samarkand.

Reviewed by Nilesh Mondal

The Circle of Life and Other Tales

Title: The Circle of Life and Other Tales
Author: Haimanti Dutta Ray
Publisher: Locksley Hall Publishing (LLP), 2018
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Considering it is her debut book, the author writes The Circle of Life and Other Stories with a wild abandon and an almost childlike glee, which becomes both the boon and a bane for this collection. What you first notice in these stories are their characters; most of the characters are well fleshed-out, relatable and carry the general essence of being a Bengali in their subtle habits and mannerisms. The author uses her understanding of the Bengali culture to its fullest while drawing out her characters, giving them voices which are at times unique, at times a reverberation of how the community functions.

‘The Final Curtain’ talks about the famed theatre circuit of Kolkata and one man’s journey through life and later, death on the stage. Another story, ‘Mimesis’, features a man and woman who love each other but never really learn how to understand and navigate through the subtleties of their relationship, leading to a tragic, if not unpredictable, conclusion. The characters in both stories, although entirely different from each other in behaviour, hold the same pattern of being souls who live in the present but have their roots stuck somewhere firmly in the past, quite like the city in which these stories are set. Not only are the characters relatable but also the struggles they go through. Whether it’s the marital problems that the characters in ‘Mimesis’ try to deal with or the themes of mortality and loss in ‘The Final Curtain’, the grief and guilt that the characters struggle with remind readers of their own lives. In doing so, the stories become less of fiction and more of a slice from our everyday existence, fragile to a fault and fraught with problems, but with hope and empathy as their saving grace at the end of each day. Her description of the pousmela, the Bengali fair celebrating spring, or the artworks of Rabindranath and Abanindranath Tagore, evoke a sense of deep nostalgia in every Bengali reader, at the same time bringing to the non-Bengali reader a taste of the culture.

However, the characters are only part of the larger stories, which unfortunately suffer repeatedly from other factors. These are largely bad pacing and the conclusions that neither befit the beginnings nor do justice to the erratic assembly of characters. ‘Wait Until Dark’, for example, starts off as a whodunit but eventually devolves to something that can hardly be taken seriously by the end. The endings of most stories are disappointing, building the narrative to a point where it can’t carry through its own momentum. The characters have similar voices, a problem that becomes all the more evident because the stories showcase a wide variety of people from various facets of life, and who are therefore, expected to speak differently.