Thursday, June 30, 2011

Remembering Tagore Contest Winners!

Dhantanaaa! We have our ten winners! Here's the list:

  1. Rituparna Ghosh
  2. Vimal Patel
  3. Anuja Agarwal
  4. Anuradha Shankar
  5. Kavya Shankare Gowda
  6. Krishna Bhaskar
  7. Partha Sarthi Chakraborty
  8. Ayushi Dalmia
  9. Amit Das
  10. The Crooked Bookshelf
Congratulations winners! A big thank you to Penguin India for their participation in making this contest possible.

Thank you all for participating. Do keep following the blog for many such exciting contests. Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Remembering Tagore: Erotica and The Poet

Chitrangada and Chandalika – Sexual Awakenings of Two of Tagore’s Most Popular Heroines

~By, Baisali Chatterjee Dutt

For Language Day celebrations in our school in Bangalore, my Bengali-speaking friends and I, decided to present highlights from Tagore’s celebrated dance drama, “Chitrangada.” One of the girls in the group, who studied Bangla as a Second Language and was therefore, much more at ease with the literary lilt of the language, clicked her tongue while interpreting one of the songs and remarked what a sexually-aware man Tagore was. At home, while poring over the text, I asked my mother to explain a few lines from another section of the dramatic movement, and I remember clearly how my normally vocal and never-at-a-loss-for-words matriarch blushed and haltingly explained the song in as innocent and simple a manner as possible, stripping the piece of most of its raw, sexual content. The essence of the meaning was not lost, however.

It’s been close to twenty years since that fledgling, albeit exhilarating performance in school, and since then, not only have my language skills greatly improved, not only has my love for Tagore’s oeuvre grown in leaps and bounds, but my two little sons have also taken fledgling steps into the bright and beautiful world of Tagorean performance.

Being a Bengali, there is just no escaping the mammoth influence of this man. An entire industry thrives thanks to the Bard of Bengal. Had there been no Tagore, the Bengali would have been a much poorer version of his present self...culturally, musically, artistically, academically and yes, in the literal sense of the word, financially.

More than a hundred years later, we are still obsessed with the man, his work and his life. This year being the sesquicentennial year of India’s first Nobel Laureate, there is a frenzy of Tagore-related activities the world over. We create and recreate his works; we discuss, dissect, analyse and philosophise. We study his words in a contemporary context and research his vast oeuvre to find new meanings, to see things with a new eye, to listen through another’s ears and to feel from our own experiences, all the while wondering if there’s any aspect that remains untouched or glossed over.

Well, one such aspect is the erotic aspect of the literary giant’s work. A theme not openly discussed, and I wonder why, since it is agreed that Tagore understood the psyche of women so well; that so many of his heroines are strong and ready to claim their sexuality; that so many of his novels were considered ‘bold’ and ‘daring’.

It’s quite a travesty to the man and his work, to keep this facet of his literary compositions under wraps, considering so many of his love songs and dance dramas were ripe with the themes of desire, longing and the union of not only two souls, but two bodies. What makes Tagore so great is that he did it classily, poetically, taking help from Mother Nature’s bounty and splendour, thus not having to resort to innuendos and titillation. It was always done artistically, using music and metaphor, to create those sensations of urgent longing, naked desire and bodily fulfilment.

This discussion is an attempt to highlight some of the erotic elements of two of Tagore’s sexually-charged masterpieces where we are introduced to two of his most well-known heroines from his celebrated Nrityo Nattyos, or dance dramas, Chitrangada and Chandalika.


Tagore’s work is a take-off on an incident from the “Mahabharata”, where the third Pandav brother, the illustrious warrior prince, Arjuna, meets the warrior princess Chitrangada, during his wanderings while on a 13 year self-imposed exile, while practicing, again self-imposed, celibacy.

We are introduced to Kurupa Chitrangada, or Chitrangada the Unattractive, in the first scene of the musical, where she and her friends have gone hunting in the forest. It is here that she literally stumbles upon a saffron-robed Arjuna, her idol, her hero, who mistakes her and her group of companions to be a band of young boys. Kurupa calls out after him, challenging him to a fight so that she may die a brave and noble death at the hands of the legend she has worshipped for so long.

Losing all interest in the hunt, her friend, perplexed, asks her how it is possible for her to lose her sense of identity in the space of just one glance. And thus, Kurupa, for the first time in her life, feels the stirrings of a strange new emotion – passion. Passion for a man, passion for a warrior, passion for her idol. Passion for the soul-mate for whom she has waited since eternity. She acknowledges these hitherto unknown and unfelt emotions in the beautiful song, “Bodhu Kon Aalo Laaglo Chokhe.”

Instinctively knowing that she will never get Arjun to give her a second glance dressed as a warrior, she entreats her friends to make her presentable. She then goes in search of Arjun and offers herself to him, but he spurns her saying he is on a vow of celibacy.

Humiliated at this rejection she laments all those years spent in perfecting her archery and building her strength. She sends out a heartfelt plea to Lord Madan, aka Kamadev, the God of love and sex, begging to be morphed into a stunning beauty with seductive charms. That she wants to captivate Arjun with Apsara-like physical charms is no secret as she prays,

“Shudhu ek borosher jonne


Mor deho paak tobo shorgero mullyo

Morte atulyo.”

Hearing her prayers, Madan agrees to change her from her warrior-princess self, to a woman of breath-taking beauty. One who inspires instant lust in a man; one, who even Arjun of the self-imposed celibacy vow, will be helplessly attracted to. Our new heroine, Surupa Chitrangada, or Chitrangada the Beautiful, upon catching a glimpse of herself, is taken aback by her newly acquired beauty. In a moving soliloquy, she realises the transitory nature of her newly-acquired loveliness. She laments that while as Kurupa, she had a history, a background, a lineage, as Surupa, she is nothing more than an exotic flower, whose fragrance once exhausted, will be languishing in the dust. However, she also acknowledges the stirrings of a desire so deep and it finds expression in Tagore’s magnificently worded, “Aamaar Onge Onge Ke.”

Arjuna sees the stunningly beautiful Surupa and forgetting all vows of celibacy, promptly proposes “dushahoshi prem”, in other words, a passionate love affair. Before accepting, Surupa tells him that the affair will be ephemeral, like a dew-drop.

The affair is indeed passionate, explosive even, yet, as Surupa always knew, it is transient. After all, lust does fade. For by this time, Arjuna has heard tales of the brave warrior-princess – “Sneho boley tini maataa, bahu boley tini raajaa” (Her compassion makes her a mother; her strength, a king). She decides to test him and tells Arjuna of Chitragaga’s manly appearance and lack of feminine charms, but that does not douse his resolve to meet this fascinating hero. The shallow nature of their relationship is revealed.

Finally realising the opportunity she has to meet her idol as an equal, Chitrangada once again entreats Madan to change her form...this time from the beautiful, nymph-like Surupa to the plain, almost manly Kurupa. When she meets him in her true form, she breaks into the incredibly moving and thought-provoking aria, “Aami Chitrangada.” In this paean, she tells Arjuna that she is neither goddess, nor ordinary woman. She asks only that he treat her as an equal, to keep her by his side even when danger lurks near-by. She asks only that he treat her as Chitrangada, daughter of a king. This particular song, has long been regarded as an ode to feminism; here, in this one incredible song, Chitrangada rejects the notion that she is the weaker sex and thus an object of pity, rather, she is on the same footing as him, an equal partner at every level.

“Aami Chitrangada, aami rajendronandini,

Nohi debi, nohi shamanyo naari.

Pujo kori morey raakhibey urdhhey shey nohi, nohi,

Helaa kori morey raakhibey peechhey shey nohi nohi...

Aaj shudhu kori nibedon –

Aami Chitrangada, raajendronandini.”

The triumph of intellect over body is indeed a joyful celebration.

This sums up, the bare bones of Tagore’s masterpiece. However, it is interesting to note that in the original Bengali, the Surupa-Arjuna passion play, while tremendously evident, is couched in metaphorical poetics, yet his own English trans-creation, which reads beautifully, seems more sexually charged and explicit. However, Kobiguru never resorts to improper language and yet he leaves nothing to the imagination. Take, for example, the following passage where Surupa recounts to Madana, her passionate tryst with Arjuna:

“The southern breeze caressed me to sleep. From the flowering Malati bower overhead silent kisses dropped over my body. On my hair, my breast, my feet, each flower chose a bed to die on. I slept. And, suddenly in the depth of my sleep, I felt as if some intense eager look, like tapering fingers of flame, touched my slumbering body. I started up and saw the Hermit standing before me... It seemed to me that I had, on opening my eyes, died to all realities of life and undergone a dream birth into a shadow land. Shame slipped to my feet like loosened clothes. I heard his call-"Beloved, my most beloved!" And all my forgotten lives united as one and responded to it. I said, "Take me, take all I am!" And I stretched out my arms to him. The moon set behind the trees. One curtain of darkness covered all. Heaven and earth, time and space, pleasure and pain, death and life merged together in an unbearable ecstasy...”

As in-your-face as sexual desire can probably get without resorting to coarse language and four-letter words. Perhaps, because the original is set to music, Tagore did not need to resort to more explicit language and imagery. After all, the Bengali nritya-natya is an auditory and visual delight, with much of its beauty coming from the music compositions and dance performances. With the English work, “Chitra”, one is left with the sensation that it is better left read than performed.


Gurudev’s “Chandalika” is about a low-caste girl, a ‘chandalin’ named Prokriti, and her desire for a Buddhist monk named Anondo.

Spurned, shunned and humiliated by the entire village because of her low birth, Prokriti is found by her mother sitting near a well, cursing her birth and her life. Her mother, Maya, tells her to snap out of it and to get back to work, but Prokriti, still hurting from the taunts and jibes, is still too depressed and angry. Her mother leaves her there to wallow in her self-pity. It is at this moment that Anondo, a Buddhist monk approaches Prokriti and asks for water to quench his thirst. She recoils in shame and horror and brokenly informs him that she is a chandalini and therefore not ‘fit’ to give him water, more so as the water from her well is tainted. Anondo kindly informs her that they are all the same, human beings.

For a girl who has never been treated well or spoken kindly to in her entire life, it is easy to see why she would mistake kindness for attraction, why she would see her own feelings of gratitude as love.

What could have been an innocent infatuation turns into a morbid obsession where Prokriti exclaims that Anondo chose her well over all others because of her. She starts to fantasise that maybe there was an attraction that drew him to her. That the obsession is one of a sheer, physical need can be felt in Prokriti’s intense, longing-filled ballad, “Chokkhe Aamaar Trishna, Ogo Trishna Aamaar Bokhho Jure.” In the song, she likens herself to a “brishtibihin boiskakhi din” – a rainless day in a monsoon month. How beautifully Tagore once again explains a young girl’s budding sexual desire and yearning, while once again taking recourse to imagery from nature.

Another interesting, startling even, observation to be made, is Maya’s willingness to help her daughter reach sexual fulfilment. In a country where the mere mention of the words ‘sex’, ‘lust’ and ‘boyfriend’ are taboo in the living room; where daughters still look at their toes when they confess that they’re in love and want to get married (and thus have ‘legal’ sex), it is definitely a bold overture for a young girl to cry out to her mother that she wants someone, that she really, REALLY wants someone in every which way, and with an intensity and desire so strong, she is willing to drag him, herself and her mother down to whatever level it takes.

Prokriti’s longing soon turns to desperation and like a man-mad virago, she exhorts her mother who is well-versed in sorcery and witchcraft, to bring Anondo to her, wherever he may be. She wants to leave her imprint on him so deeply, so that she will be the face that he sees, the one that he thinks about, wherever he goes and she is willing to resort to depravity if need be as she pushes her mother to use her most powerful, her most cruel incantations.

“Por tui shob cheye nishtur montro –

Paake paake daag diye joraaje dhoruk or monke.

Jekhaanei jaak, kokhono eraate aamaake

Paarbe na, paarbe naa.”

Of course, we are initially shown how a spiritually pure soul can easily rise above the base temptations of the flesh. But, as the incantations become more powerful, Anondo is dragged through fire to meet Prokriti’s mating call. Maya, by now exhausted and spent begins to feel sorry for the monk as she senses his spiritual suffering and turmoil and entreats Prokriti to stop. Prokriti, however, is now drunk with power and on a sexual-high, so she refuses and only pressurises Maya to keep going and to use every spell in the book. Her wild urging is almost climactic in its intensity.

“Oi dekh, oi elo jhor, elo jhor,

Taar agomonir oi jhor –

Prithibi kaanpchhey thorothoro thorothoro,

Guruguru kory mor bokho.”

It is only when Prokriti sees the effects of the spell on Anondo that she finally understands the sheer torture that he is facing and the gravity of her sin; gone is the peaceful countenance that radiated purity that she fell in love with. Instead, his face is a mask of grave pain and self-loathing and so she begs her mother to break the spell, but by then it is too late. Anondo, as if dragged in by chains, stands face to face with her and Prokriti falls at his feet, begging for mercy.

And Anondo, in the true spirit of a monk who has risen above all worldly emotions and passions, readily does so.

I had an enlightening chat with well-known Odissi danseuse and social worker, Alokananda Roy, about the fascinating aspects of these two female protagonists and she asked me to think about their social backgrounds and upbringing. Chitrangada is a royal and thus her desire, no matter how deep, is restrained, refined and couched in flowery language and poetic innuendo. Prokriti hails from the lower echelons of society; her background is that of a tribal girl with no education or sense of refinement and that is why her passion is raw, primal and very in-your-face. While Kobiguru doesn’t use base, improper, ‘unflowery’ language to express Prokriti’s desire, he composes her songs and sets them to a fantastic tempo, almost wild in its growing intensity, just like her increasing passion.

Tagore’s heroines, like their creator, are passionate people. Their desire so real, you can touch it, feel it, almost breathe it. And yet, the beauty of the master’s word play leaves you as in awe with their musical and prosaic enchantments, as do the strength and power of the protagonists’ emotions and ‘realness’.

(Baisali Chatterjee Dutt is a writer, loves music, movies, poetry and bright colours. Baisali blogs at

Monday, June 27, 2011

Winners of the Remembering Tagore contest to be announced shortly!

Yet again an overwhelming response to the contest! Thank you all for participating in such large numbers, we are in the process of shortlisting the winning entries, so wait a while please for the name of winners.

Until then do share with us what you are currently reading or any book you have enjoyed reading recently.

The books I have read and enjoyed recently-

Empire of the Moghul: Ruler of the World - Alex Rutherford
Don't Go Away. We'll be right back: The Oops and Downs of Advertising - Indu Balachandran

Currently reading Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke and eagerly waiting to read Arvind Adiga's Last Man in the Tower.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Some short and sweet reviews

Brief reviews of some interesting titles:

Summer and the City: A Carrie Diaries Novel
The Carrie Diaries series are the prequel to the runaway bestsellers Sex and the City. So SATC fans rejoice! In this book Candace Bushnell reveals the irresistible story of how Carrie met Samantha and Miranda, and what turned a small town girl into one of NYC’s most unforgettable icons, Carrie Bradshaw. This book is second after The Carries Diaries.
A fun quick read. If you are an SATC fan then you must!

This book comes from the author of Seabiscuit, which won the William Hill sports Book of the Year and inspired the Academy Award nominated film. Unbroken is a story of one man’s journey into extremity, the book is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body and spirit. Louis Zamperini, though an athlete who participated in the Berlin Olympics, becomes an airman when war calls.  This embarks him on a journey that led to a doomed flight, a tiny raft and thousands of miles of open ocean.
Laura Hillenbrand’s writing is vivid and descriptive. The book manages to hold a reader’s attention till the very end.
Tilly Bagshawe’s book Scandalous is about how two women who unite against a man to get even with him for all the damage he single handedly has managed to cause to both. Sasha Miller has to leave Cambridge University in a scandal after losing her heart to sexy professor Theo Dexter. He goes on to become a television heartthrob but while he is famous his wife Theresa is an unhappy woman. She realizes that trust and fidelity are two words her husband doesn’t understand. Years later Theresa and Sasha join hands in a daring scheme to bring down a man who almost destroyed them both.
Quick and easy read. I of course haven’t forgiven Bagshawe for trying to fill into Sidney Sheldon’s shoes.
Never Look Away
Linwood Barclay is the bestselling author of No Time for Goodbye and from her comes another interesting read Never Look Away. It starts with a trip to a local amusement park. David Harwood is hoping a carefree day with their young son will help dispel his wife Jan’s recent depression. But Jan disappears and no one can find her. David surfaces as the biggest suspect and to prove his innocence David must confront a terrifying possibility: that someone is prepared to destroy him and his family in order to keep a dreadful secret.
The book could have had a better build up but it is a well paced thriller novel. Interesting read!

Review: Carte Blanche

Jeffrey Deaver is well known for his bestselling thriller novels and I had recently enjoyed reading his book The Burning Wire. So when I heard that Jeffrey Deaver is writing the next Bond novel I was super excited since both made for an exciting combination. But sadly I was to be disappointed.The 21st century Bond is a pale shadow of 20th century Bond that Ian Fleming created. The portrayal of Bond does not inspire the same aura and mystique that the earlier one did.

The story goes thus 007after returning from Afghanistan has been recruited to a new agency. The aim of the agency is to protect the Realm, by any means necessary. And to fulfill this mission Bond has been given Carte Blanche to do whatever it takes to succeed.

The story is flat and does not rise above being an average thriller. There is no real build up to a climax leaving us with an empty feeling. Even the villains in the book are neither menacing nor ruthless. You really can’t associate a garbage collector as a Bond villain. As a standalone Bond book, without going into comparisons of Ian Fleming’s Bond, it turns out to be a decent weekend read, that is only if you have nothing better planned. If you are really looking at reading a bond novel might I suggest that you stick to Fleming’s Bond. At the hand of a good scriptwriter the book might turn out to be a good movie but as a book not worth the money spent.

About the Author:

A former journalist, folksinger and attorney, Jeffery Deaver is an international number-one bestselling author. His novels have appeared on bestseller lists around the world, including The New York Times, The Times of London, Italy's Corriere della Serra, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Los Angeles Times. His books are sold in 150 countries and translated into 25 languages. The author of twenty-seven novels, two collections of short stories and a nonfiction law book, he's received or been shortlisted for a number of awards around the world. His The Bodies Left Behind was named Novel of the Year by the International Thriller Writers Association, and his Lincoln Rhyme thriller The Broken Window was also nominated for that prize. He has been awarded the Steel Dagger and Short Story Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association and the Nero Wolfe Award, and he is a three-time recipient of the Ellery Queen Reader's Award for Best Short Story of the Year and a winner of the British Thumping Good Read Award. The Cold Moon was recently named the Book of the Year by the Mystery Writers Association of Japan, as well as by Kono Mystery Wa Sugoi magazine. In addition, the Japanese Adventure Fiction Association awarded the book their annual Grand Prix award.
Deaver has been nominated for six Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, an Anthony Award and a Gumshoe Award. He was recently shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for Best International Author.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Remembering Tagore: The Broken Nest- Charulata


 - Kiran Manral

My introduction to Tagore came about rather late, when Doordarshan showed a nightly retrospective of movies based on Rabindranath Tagore’s work. And one night, I settled down to watch Charulata (adapted from Nashtanirh). The story of a woman caught between a husband who is steeped in his work, older than her, and seemingly uncaring and her sudden incandescent fascination with a young man in her house, her husband’s cousin was delicately depicted and sensitively handled by the director. At that point I marveled at the insight into the workings of a woman’s mind that had led the Poet Laureate to write this character, and the situation she finds herself in, when to all outward appearances she has a perfectly comfortable life. And there was Madhabi Mukherjee playing Charulata, the upper crust lady, blessed with a perfectly expressive face that hovered between the woman of the world and the ingénue, she was every bored housewife, wanting to spark up her life, thirsting for appreciation.

The original title given by Tagore in Bengali, meaning The Broken Nest, is much more evocative than the simple name Ray chose to title his film. The nest, the home, in this case, metaphorically speaking, isn’t a nest at all, because Charulata doesn’t have children to occupy her. She lives with her husband, an intellectual at the height of the Bengal cultural renaissance in the late nineteenth century, who is older, more mature and has a newspaper to run, and therefore little time to give his young wife. The opening sequence of Charulata sets the tone of the movie, a woman, running from window to window of her huge mansion like house, watching the world pass outside her courtyard with opera glasses, evocative of both her boredom and her restlessness. We get a sense of her feeling trapped in her domestic situation. Her husband passes her, and walks past her without even noticing her, so engrossed is he in a book. And as he passes by, she looks at him with the same opera glasses she was looking at the outside world with. At that moment, with that gesture, the viewer knows that there is an estrangement and a distance between the husband and wife, which is leading to a restlessness yet to be fulfilled.

While she does have a huge house to run, it is efficiently staffed leaving her with effectively nothing to do. Enter her husband’s cousin, Amal, younger, more towards Charulata’s age, interested in poetry, indulgent towards her literary pretensions and ambitions, and the inevitable happens. Charulata falls for him. Amal is reluctant to encourage this, naturally, given the circumstances he is in, and Charulata experiences a minor triumph when a short story she has written gets published in a local publication. The movie shows Amal going away abruptly to end Charulata’s infatuation with him, and her husband’s realization of her feelings for his young cousin. The film ends with Bhupathi returning home after wandering around aimlessly, hurt and bewildered and Charulata’s tentative reaching out to him, but the hands donot meet, implicit in the message that the nest has been irretrievably broken. In the movie, Ray discards Tagore’s original ending which had Bhupathi saying he was going out of town, and Charulata asking him to take her with him. And then sensing his hesitation, she tells him to let it be. Their relationship is, to all purposes, now over.

Charulata was the film of which Ray said that had he to make it again, he wouldn’t change a single thing. And indeed, it had the kind of perfection when all elements in the film, every little detail, come together harmoniously.

I am shamed to say, I still have to read the book though it has been on my to read list ever since I saw this movie. Maybe, this year, I should rectify that.

(Kiran Manral is a writer, blogger, social activist. She is also the Creative Head  at Karma Communications, Mumbai)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Remembering Tagore Contest!

The Book Lovers in association with The Penguin Tagore Bookshelf  is proud to present a brand new contest for all our readers and Tagore fans. The winners of this contest stand a chance to win exciting titles from Penguin's Tagore Bookshelf. How to go about it? Here's the deal -We will be asking three questions related to Tagore. If you know the answers email to us at bookwelove(at)gmail(dot)com. If your answers are correct and you are shortlisted we will get in touch with you shortly after the contest ends.

So, are you ready?

Our questions:

A) Who wrote the introduction to, and actively promoted, the English translation of Tagore’s Gitanjali?

B) Two of Tagore’s songs are now the national anthems of India and Bangladesh. What is Bangladesh’s national anthem?

C) Which University awarded Tagore with Doctorate of Literature and in which year?

Simple enough? The rules are simple too! Here goes:

-          We have only ten copies to giveaway so rush your entries soon!
-          The answers should be emailed to us at bookwelove@gmail
-          The contest closes on 21st June, 2011.
-          The decision of the judges will be final.

Remembering Tagore: Teen Kanya

Tagore's short story "The Postmaster" is ostensibly a simple story - that of a young man Nandalal, whose comfortable life in the lap of his family in Calcutta is disrupted by a transfer to a village post office. As expected, nothing measures up to his expectations - the job, the immediate environment and most important the people . He fails to appreciate the beauty of rural Bengal, he pines for home and family . Having nothing in common with the villagers, the only ray of weak sunshine is the general factotum of his one man household - the orphan child Ratan , who cooks ,cleans and nurses him through a bout of malaria . He teaches the girl to teach , chats with her about his family and in the process livens up his life and offers a ray of hope to Ratan who , bereft of any love dreams of becoming a part of his family .Ratan's little tryst with hope and happiness is shattered when Nandalal gets a transfer back to the city and as compensation to Ratan, without an inkling of the fantastic dreams she has conjured up , offers her a generous tip which she is too proud to accept . A simple story , no doubt, ordinary even but lifted to a level of excellence in characterisation and situational narratives that could only come from Tagore .

The film by Satyajit Ray stars Anil Chatterjee as the whining, complaining postmaster Nandalal who cannot reconcile himself to his new environment and Chandana Banerjee as the orphan girl Ratan. The camera almost caresses the serene beauty of rural Bengal . Ray who had a magic touch with child actors (think Apu-Durga in Pather Panchali,Apu's son in Apur Sansar and the little boys in the Feluda films ) extracts a stellar performance from Ratan who conveys more with her expressive eyes than through dialogue . When the postmaster, ecstatic with joy at his transfer forgets all promises made to the child during their long evenings together , there is a proud and quiet dignity in her moment of epiphany when she realises that people do not mean what they promise on impulse and so she withdraws into herself , treating the tip he gives her with the scorn his action deserves -that money is not the alternative to what she craves - a sense of belongingness , security and a family to call her own .

Ray's treatment of Manihara is pure Gothic. The film opens with the village schoolmaster crossing the ruins and gardens of a house to the ghat on the river which lies beyond , carrying with him his opium pipe and a manuscript . On the steps of the ghat he meets a man draped in a shawl sitting on a lower step, strikes a conversation with him and narrates the story of the people who had lived in the house beyond. The young man is played by Kali Banerjee and his wife by Kanika Majumdar.

We meet Manimala's feet first, shod in elegant velvet slippers and then we see her almost ethereally beautiful face and the exquiste muslin sari she wears. Phanibhushan is besotted with her beauty and would like to claim her entire being but she eludes him. Besotted by her lust for jewels and terrified that her husband would use them to save himself from financial ruin, she plans to go to her paternal house and recruits her rascally distant relative and ex lover, played in a brilliant cameo by the young Kumar Roy , to take her there . For a moment she hesitates because her husband has promised her jewels on his return, if he is successful but the survival of her jewels is uppermost and flinging her keys on the bed she departs .She never returns - except as a wraith, trying twice to enter and failing and finally succeeding on a full moon light , drawn by the promise of the jewellery .

Besides being a ghost story , it deals on different levels with power , pride, possessions, lust , craving and dissatisfaction and a deep sorrow .A sense of impermanence pervades the film , the river a metaphor for change and havoc in the lives of the couple .

The subtle play of light and shadows and the strains of the song “Baajey Karuno shurey “ interspersed with the haunting cry of the curlews creates an evocative atmosphere and brings out the gothic component very forcefully .

Kanika Majumdar’s Manimala is distant -her eyes are constantly searching , her head cocked to one side as if she is listening to a distant song . She is brittle and delicate. Her eyes glitter with a febrile intensity as she becomes temporarily insane, runs her hands through her jewels and adorns herself with them before preparing to run away . The jewels her husband plies her with and which she guards fiercely are a substitute for a deeper craving.

In the short space of about an hour we are caught up by brilliant performances and tremendous cinematography - almost a distillation of a larger canvas done in miniature.

In a sense Samapti or The Ending is the lightest in texture and mood and peppered with a great deal of humour . The story of a girl’s transition from unmarried bliss to marriage – a story of coming of age – the confusions, the ensuing hilarity, perception of mockery of the institution of marriage are played out consummately by Soumtira Chatterji and a very young Aparna Sen who transcends the boundaries of a tall gangling teenager to a woman who realizes what marriage, affinity and love could mean. Ray’s superb touches are there in the scene where Mrinmoyee discards her wedding bed , social norms and shackles to run away and play on her swing in the moonlight , each upward propelling motion reflecting itself in the sheer joy of living that only freedom can gift , the puzzled expressions on the girl’s face when she cannot decipher what she is required to do as a married woman – a set of rules , customs and bindings which have no meaning and the moment of realization when she perceives that she loves the man she is married to .

Tagore’s sensitivity and his exploration of the feminine mystique were far beyond his times. Ray has captured each nuance of his sensitivity and translated them on to celluloid with such consummate mastery that even if one were one not to read Tagore in the original, it would be a stepping stone to understand this Renaissance man.

(Mallika Ganguly works in an Oil PSU, her life revolves around her family and friends. She is also an amateur photographer besides being a blogger and a farmville addict! She blogs at . )

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: I For India

I For India, is 26 year old Karan Khanna’s debut book. Karan writes a story weaved around the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and how the protagonist of the book also named Karan reacts to it.
The story is pretty simple, easy to read. Karan Sehgal is an Indian living in Australia and has everything going for him in life. His father owns a huge construction empire and there is nothing that is missing in their life. Except for the pull of motherland! This is what brings Karan to Mumbai, India and as is likely to happen with any NRI who has never stepped on the soil of his motherland and witnessed firsthand the issues facing the country, he finds himself utterly disillusioned and unhappy seeing the state the city is in. The rampant corruption, the class divide, the close to nothing development. So he is not too happy with the state of affairs but life goes on, till he finds a girl who he falls in love with hook line and sinker! The day he proposes marriage to her is 26/11 and they happen to be at the Taj. He manages to escape but sadly his fiancée cannot. Utterly miserable he returns back to Australia, but the call of motherland brings him back, this time with the aim to improve the life of the others. Till this point the book was all good but after this the book goes into a total I, me, myself mode. Where he only talks about his success, reaching new heights in social entrepreneurship but that too is cut short when he has a bitter encounter with the UP cops. He once again decides to chuck it all and chooses to become a politician, since he realizes, that that’s the only way he can make effective changes in the country, if you please! And then again it goes into a monologue of how successful he is at that. Also successful enough to be shot at and acknowledged by no less than the PM and asked to share the platform with him.
Yes the book does get unreal at times and leaves you with unbelievable optimism. Also in parts you feel the author is far suspended from reality and at places too filmy! But the thought behind the book is commendable. 26/11 managed to change a lot of perspectives in the youth of our country, else why would, a businessman turn to writing a book on his ideas of changing the country’s scenario and more youth involvement.
Here’s wishing Karan Khanna a long and happy innings as a writer from The Book Lovers!

Review: Ibne Safi series

One of the quirkiest and most prolific Urdu writers of the 20th century, Ibne Safi migrated to Pakistan shortly after the publication of the first Jasusi Dunya novel. His novels had a cult fan following not just in Pakistan but also in India.
Jasusi Dunya is an intricately demented world of larger than life villains, beautiful femme fatales and mad genius detectives. The series spans 125 novels published between 1952 and 1979 and continue being bestselling books in Urdu till date.
Tranquebar along with Blaft publications has published some of the translated works of Jasusi Dunya by Ibne Safi. First of all it is commendable that publication houses are making an effort to translate such works for a bigger reading audience.
I did read Poisoned Arrow which I found was very predictable. The two detectives, Colonel Faridi and Captain Hameed are immensely likeable but the detective story is nothing extraordinary. The other titles in the series are yet to be read.
But yes considering that they form a part of a cult following you might want to pick up a few titles in the series.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Remembering Tagore: 'Tagore Stories on Film'

May 7, 2011 marked the 150th Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore and to commemorate this Nobel laureate, the Government of India released a special collection of six DVDs titled ‘Tagore Stories on Film’. Apart from five films based on the writer’s stories, the collection also includes two documentaries, one by Satyajit Ray and the other by Tagore himself.  

The culture and information and broadcasting ministries commissioned the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) to bring this DVD of all his cinema-related work. It’s been a fantastic journey bringing this collection together and we’re specifically launching this so that the cinema goer of today and the audience that is newly cultivating a taste for cinema gets to sample some of Tagore’s finest work.

Tagore was arguably the greatest writer in modern Indian literature and to see his work come alive is a privilege. I write to you to seek your help to spread the word about this extremely special DVD set and would request your support to educate your readers about this special project.

This set is moderately priced at Rs. 399. The NFDC would love for all Indians to get a piece of Gurudev. If you’d like to buy the set, you can buy it at any premium music/ video store like Planet M, Landmark, and Rhythm House etc. 

We’re trying to build an entire movement around the set and you can see it here:

The five films in the set are:
  1.        Khudito Pashan  
  2.        Teen Kanya
  3.        Kabuliwala
  4.        Ghare Baire
  5.        Char Adhyay
Bonus Features:
Natir Puja & Rabindranath Tagore made by Satyajit Ray

A treat for all Tagore fans!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Remembering Tagore: Celebrating Tagore in Bangladesh

 - Haroon Habib

(This piece titled ‘Celebrating Tagore's Legacy’ appeared in The Hindu: Literary Review. We would like to thank Haroon Habib for allowing us to reproduce the piece here for our readers)

The simultaneous celebration of Rabindranath Tagore's 150th birth anniversary in India and Bangladesh marked an exceptional move to honour the poet-philosopher. It also symbolised the deep admiration that exists in both countries for the man who enriched literature as much as he did humanity as a whole.

The versatile genius, who was much ahead of his time, wrote in his mother tongue of Bangla. But he did not limit his message to the people who lived around him. His creative works introduced a powerful dose of love and internationalism. This Indian rose to international heights: he was the first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1913.

Tagore was poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, educationist, spiritualist, painter, lyricist, composer and singer – a rare set of distinctions, an unbelievable conjunction of talents. His creative works, which still influence billions of people globally, are a matter of pride for the people of India and Bangladesh. He was born, grew up, worked and died here.

At critical moments he has been an inspiration for the people of what is now Bangladesh. Protagonists of the two-nation theory wanted to wipe out his influence. Pakistan's first military ruler, Ayub Khan, banned his songs. But the poet only became more relevant then before. A strong sense of linguistic nationalism grew around him. Finally, the people launched a strong cultural and political movement that culminated in the formation of Bangladesh.

Tagore made the Bengali middle class feel that he was an essential part of their national ethos. The emerging middle class, including students and intellectuals, regarded him as one of them. In no way could they think that Tagore was alien to them because of his religion.

Strangely, as in Pakistan's case, the successive military regimes in Bangladesh showed little interest in upholding his legacy. Tagore's songs and poems inspired Bengalis in their fight against Pakistan in the 1971 war of liberation. His songs and poetry inspired them culturally and politically. Never before had a poet left such an imprint and wielded so deep an influence on the psyche of the vast majority of the people. While India chose his Jana gana mana as the national anthem in 1947, Bangladesh has had one of his songs as the national anthem since its birth.

Sri Lanka's national anthem was also penned by Tagore: Apa Sri Lanka, Nama Nama Nama Nama Mata, Sundar Sri Boroni was originally Nama Nama Sri Lanka Mata in Bangla, written and set to its tune by Tagore. He did it at the request of his favourite Sri Lankan student at Santiniketan, Ananda Samarkun, in 1938. In 1940, Ananda returned to his native land and translated the song into Sinhalese and recorded it in Tagore's tune.

Indeed, Rabindranath is not only the pre-eminent literary genius of Bengal but all of South Asia, perhaps the whole of Asia.

The joint celebration of Tagore's birth anniversary began in Dhaka on May 6: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated it. In India, it was opened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi on May 7. With this joint celebration, the great poet, who represents much of the common heritage and philosophy of the two countries, brought the two closer still.

The changed political circumstances in the two countries made the joint celebration possible. Tagore's philosophy, vision and outlook must bring the two closer. He is a monumental treasure that can bless us with love, humanity and justice.

Remembering a personality whose ardent belief in humanism and universalism was striking, India has instituted a Rs. 1 crore award in Tagore's name. Bangladesh has decided to set up a Rabindra University at Shilaidaha in Kushtia, where the poet spent a considerable part of his creative life while supervising the family estate. Bangladesh will also preserve the poet's intimate memories in ‘Patisar' and ‘Shahzadpur.' Dhaka has also expressed its willingness to construct a Bangladesh Bhaban at Santiniketan. India will run a special train, Sonar Tori, between Dhaka and Kolkata.

Speaking at the inaugural, Dr. Manmohan Singh said Tagore's ideas of universal humanism resonate in the contemporary world. His belief in the spiritual unity of the East and the West was a powerful message of redemption for a society beset by greed, callousness and irreverence. The joint celebration, he felt, was of “unique significance” — it was the first cultural exchange of its kind between the neighbours.

India cherishes the Tagore legacy fondly, just as Bangladesh does. Together the two must endeavour to enrich that legacy for people's welfare. Tagore is a lighthouse, a strong voice of humanity. He should guide the social consciousness of the two countries. Vice President Hamid Ansari, who attended the celebrations in Dhaka, rightly termed the celebration a momentous occasion.

Rabindranath remains a pre-eminent man of letters on both sides of the border. He is still the most influential writer in his language. He is South Asia's voice of love in a wider global perspective, a bridge of friendship. His songs should be sung forever; his works should be read for centuries to come.
Tagore's enduring influence on history comes through the many layers of his thoughts. He modernised Bangla art by refusing to follow rigid classical forms.

As a story-teller, he is second to none. His lucid, lyrical prose and grasp of the human psychology are unique. He is the foremost lyricist of his language and the most celebrated composer. He wrote more than 2,000 songs, and these are widely considered to be his best creation. His songs are an integral part of the Bengali culture and collective psyche. His novels are also some of the best in Bangla. He wrote lovely plays. He was a painter of note.

Tagore was a committed anti-colonialist. He had a deep understanding of the world at large. He visited more than 30 countries and had personal ties with scientists and literary giants of his time. He was not a revolutionary in a political sense, but he inflamed his people by renouncing his knighthood after the colonial army indiscriminately killed Indians in Jallianwala Bagh in 1919.

Tagore is a precious guide. He held that promoting one's own culture and approving the cultures of others could be one and the same attitude. “I believe,” he wrote, “the unity of human civilization can be better maintained by linking up in fellowship and cooperation of the different civilizations of the world.” The humanist added: “Let the mind be universal. The individual should not be sacrificed.”
He was a member of the elite, but Tagore did not have elitist views on education. He wrote: “I believe that all human problems find their fundamental solution in education… Poverty, pestilence, communal fights and industrial backwardness make our path narrow and perilous owing to the meagreness of education…”
Reflecting on the plight of his country under foreign rule, Tagore understood, just as Gandhi did, that violence cannot serve the ultimate purpose of humanity. He was deeply aware that India needed more than a change of political regime. Therefore, he opted for a self-reliant village economy. In the region that is now Bangladesh, he initiated projects of local initiative, local leadership and local self-government, developing cooperative systems. Besides being a poet and philosopher, Tagore started innovative research in agriculture and rural development in Patisar, Shahzadpur and Shilaidah. This spoke of his vision and commitment to the people around him. In a world dominated by technology and science, his thoughts are still relevant as he wrote: “Science has given man immense power. The golden age will return when it is used in the service of humanity.”

Tagore stood against exploitation and injustice in order to rise above geopolitical, economic and ideological divides. His messages can serve as a vital source of inspiration for cultural tolerance and lasting peace. As the two countries commemorate Tagore's birth anniversary, they should pledge to keep at bay the scourge of deadly birds of prey. A truly secular and democratic India and Bangladesh can keep alive the spirit of the great poet.

Tagore was born on May 7, 1861, in Calcutta, and died on August 7, 1941, at 80 years of age. Even a century and a half after his birth, his place in the collective life of India and Bangladesh is only getting stronger. The birth anniversary celebration is testimony to a new realisation and awakening. Invoking 

Tagore's timeless message of universal brotherhood, his thoughts and messages should be translated into reality.

Tagore belongs to India, and Bangladesh too. But in the truest sense, he belongs to the world. Even after 150 years of his birth, you feel his presence.

(Haroon Habib, based in Dhaka, is a Bangladesh litterateur and journalist. E-mail: