Bengali culture, calcutta, France, religion, Travel

Bong Connection 2.0 : Rediscovering Calcutta in Lisieux

As the summer time approached, we were engaged in another holiday search; the destination was as usual France, so it wasn’t too far to drive, and we could enjoy the freedom of going anywhere we wanted, and anytime. We booked a camping site in a small village in Normandy called Le Brévedent. Normandy evokes a lot of familiarities, the most significant of them is, of course, the D-day landing sites. So our choice was made, that D-day beaches will definitely be the place not to miss. The first item sorted on the list, we were gazing through TripAdvisor and Visit Normandy websites to look for other attractions. There were many places to choose from — historic Caen and its patrimony related to William the conqueror, the famous Bayeux tapestry and other museums, the Riviera of Normandy Deauville-Trouville and Honfleur, picturesque small villages in Pays d’Auge region. Amongst all these difficult choices, almost by chance, I came across Basilique St. Thérèse de Lisieux, one of the most important places in France for Catholic pilgrimage. Our penchant for religious architecture made me tentatively put it on our list, although apart from looking at an elegant edifice almost reminiscent of Basilique de sacré-cœur in Montmartre, I had no idea about the place, its significance in Catholicism or what I’ll soon be discovering — an arcane connection between a remote catholic monastery in rural Normandy and me!

Spending most of my youth in Calcutta, the city is in my veins. A place I still call home, the city I’d not replace with any other place. In a world rapidly transforming at a lightning speed, it still didn’t bother me how Calcutta dug its heels in and held on to the character it portrayed for over last 300 years. The rickety facades along the bylanes of north Calcutta leading to an ocherous swathe we call Ganga, the fish markets of Gariahat where you desperately want to look close at the fish but don’t want the mud splatter on your new sandals, the central Calcutta with its confluence of nationalities and religions living in harmony and camaraderie, and to the swank South City shopping mall or affluent Alipore mansions — Calcutta has a vibe about it that I seldom found anywhere else. A perfect example of adopting a multilingual and multicultural personality without banishing its own inherent cultural roots and character, Calcutta is indeed a fatal attraction. And that attraction, or familiarity, is not just limited to India, but across the world. Apart from being known as the pearl of the British Empire in its heydays, and the perceived cultural capital of India, there is one person whose reputation has made the City of joy known to people from far corners of the world, not just amongst the intellectual circles, where most of the renowned Calcuttans belonged. That person is Mother Teresa, who’d soon be canonised as the Saint of the gutters. I don’t believe she cured the unknown Brazilian man long after her death, but she had nevertheless made miracles happen while standing by the poor and distressed population of Calcutta, who we never thought of while pontificating about the cultural richesse of our beloved city. Shadow under the lamp was a term we often used during our school years; Mother Teresa was the light to that darkness in a city where, despite old money from the Raj reigned, there were more and more people in poverty and destitution, especially during the war and after the partition.

It was during searching for her early life that I came across the name of Lisieux. Agnes wanted to be named after St. Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of the missionaries; and through her life she followed the footsteps of Thérèse, devoting her life to the service of thousands, and inspire millions. So as the opportunity came to visit Lisieux drew closer, it was no longer a tourist destination – marvelling at the awe-inspiring architecture of Basilique St. Thérèse de Lisieux, but it was a pilgrimage for me as well, of a different kind, of witnessing the place where the journey began for Thérèse, and therefore for Teresa, one of the greatest ambassadors of the city I always call home.

The surprise didn’t end there. Lisieux highlighted another connection to Calcutta that I never thought existed. Carmel school for girls in Jadavpur is one of many high echelon missionary schools in Calcutta that boasts of excellent educational standards and alumnae. My friends, ex-colleagues, relatives — I knew many Carmelites. In fact, my own cousin is a teacher there, the familiarity is that close. I often heard their alumnae be referred as Carmelites but the term never made me delve further into its origin. Not until I learned that Thérèse joined the Carmelite order in Lisieux, a thirteenth-century order originated from monasteries in Mount Carmel near Haifa. Voilà! It was the Carmelite missionaries who were inspired by the success of the order in Lisieux, and travelled the world and opened new convents. Carmel in Calcutta is one of them. Now, there were two reasons that Lisieux became a must see place, as a place that popularised the Carmel convents across the world, and above all, pay visit to the Basilique St. Thérèse de Lisieux and the shrine of Thérèse, and understand who this young lady was, who made a profound inspiration on young Agnes, beckoning her to come to Bengal. I almost felt a sense of belonging to Lisieux without even being there, through the connections it has with Calcutta.

Our travel to Normandy was a nightmare involving a broken down car, rain, lost day stranded in a hotel with the entire week in jeopardy…so on the second day, when we were told that the car won’t be looked at until another day, our decision was made. With a replacement car, when we crossed the Seine on the bridge of Normandy, our holiday had suddenly become a reality again! The closest resemblance I could think of is when you wait for a cricket match and it rains, the pitch and outfield were all wet and you keep hoping that the match doesn’t get cancelled and after a long wait the sun suddenly makes an appearance, and although curtailed, it’s all ready to go ahead again. We had to shorten out plans to fit all the things we wanted to see in three days rather than four, but Lisieux was only 16km away, and en route the nearest McDonald’s; hence, our plan to visit Lisieux didn’t change.

After our trip to the nearest shopping our first day in Le Brévedent, on our way back to the camping site that I first noticed the Basilica. It was getting dark and the sky was overcast as it only stopped raining a while ago, and I had no clue where we were. But just as I looked around our car, the silhouette suddenly jumped out into our view. In that dim background, on the hill on our left situated the structure I already felt familiar, yet it looked like a surreal dream. There are moments when you see something remarkable and wished you had a camera in hand, and all I had in my hand then was the steering wheel. Yet, that view will be stored in my mind for a long time, if not forever.

Basilique St Thérèse de Lisieux

Basilique St. Thérèse de Lisieux

Two days later, on our way back from historic Caen, we decided to come to Lisieux. The eerie silhouette finally gained its shape, a shape that was familiar yet the size and grandeur was out of proportions from what was seen on a TripAdvisor page. The off white neo-Byzantine edifice was awe-inspiring, just as were the breathtaking intricate designs at the interiors and the crypt. The description of the building stops here as this is not a travelogue, and the rest can be found in any travel guide. On the contrary, it was my attempt to connect the dots in my mind, with a young Albanian nun starting her life of sacrifice and charity, her becoming an inseparable part of the persona of Calcutta, and therefore my existence and identity, and me standing there in the suburbs of a quaint town in Calvados country looking at the shrine of Thérèse, where this all began about 125 years ago. And another set of dots following the footsteps of the Carmelite monks, which would throw me much further back in history, at least 900 years and up to the genesis of Abrahamic faiths thousands of years ago.

And there I was, teleported to the daily life of Thérèse in Alençon, to her life in the monastery in Lisieux…walking along the sections in the crypt detailing Thérèse’s life, it started to cast more light on the early life of Agnes, and a striking similarity between the aspirations of the two women, to serve the most deprived and forlorn strata of the population…

If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of “darkness.”  I will continually be absent from Heaven–to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

“I love the night as much as the day…I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth. Yes, if God answers my desires, my Heaven will be spent on earth until the end of the world.” – Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

That was the revelation for me. My circle was complete. It became evident that these two extraordinary women took the same trajectory of life, making small changes to people’s lives that led to phenomenal transformations. I felt like Robert Langdon standing in front of the inverted pyramid in Louvre. I was standing at the place that spiritually inspired Agnes to come to Calcutta, the city she gave all her life to, and in turn transfused the traits of her self into the character of Calcutta that I imbibed. My pilgrimage was complete — the answer to “why of all saints, Thérèse de Lisieux?” had been found, as was the answer for who the Carmelite missionaries were.

I think the natural curiosity would set me on the course for the Carmelites monks all the way to Mount Carmel in Israel. But let’s not go that far yet…let’s first wait for a discussion on Palestine!


I thought that this post would need a few disclaimers on my motivation for writing this, and here they are…
1. Is this religious post?
No, it is about nostalgia with me searching for the influences on Calcutta and its image outside West Bengal.
2. Does this make me feel more religious?
I’m as raving an atheist as I ever was. I have a hate-hate relationship with religion where I don’t know religion thinks of me but I’m all in to send it away to somewhere like Azkaban, banished forever from human contact.
3. Less religious then?
No, I never was religious to become any LESS religious.
4. Why then I still visit religious sites?
Because despite their religious origin, I see them as brilliant examples of architecture and craftsmanship, erected by ordinary men for the extraordinary greed and hunger for power for their rulers. The same applies to my interests in religious texts as well.
5. So, do I support Sainthood of Mother Teresa?
Yes and No. No, because her deed didn’t need a convoluted story to establish her miracles. She made miracles happen to the lives she transformed. Perhaps Vatican needs to reassess their policy what they treat as a miracle. Yes, because if she did this for her religion, she deserved the highest acclaim the church could proffer. And her contribution meant actually life changing transformations through care and humility, not phoney cures with lights passing through a photo or any such trash.

Bengali, Cuisine

কবসা : চটজলদি পোলাও মেড ইজি

বিলেতে আসার পর এখানে খাবার দাবারের চল দেখে খানিকটা ঘাবড়েই গিয়েছিলাম। রাস্তায় রাস্তায় আনাচে কানাচে “ইন্ডিয়ান” খাবারের দোকান, কিছু রেস্তোরাঁ কিছু টেক অ্যাওয়ে, রান্না হয়ে গেলে হয় বাড়িতে পৌঁছে দিয়ে যায়, আর না হলে গিয়ে নিয়ে আসতে হয়। কিছুদিন পর জানলাম যে ইন্ডিয়ান খাবার দোকানগুলো আসলে চালায় বাংলাদেশিরা, তাদের বেশির ভাগের বাড়ি সিলেটে। আর ইন্ডিয়ান খাবার বলে যা চালায় সেগুলো খেতে দারুন হলেও কেমন যেন অন্যরকম। মানে নামে ভারতীয় হলেও স্বাদে নয়। যেমন একদিন ভাবলাম ভিন্ডি ভাজি খাই ভাত ডালের সাথে, তো ভিন্ডি ভাজি যা এলো সেটা হলো গোটা গোটা ঢ্যাঁড়স খানিক পেঁয়াজ শুকনো লঙ্কা দিয়ে ঝোল। যাক এতো বাঙাল রয়েছে ভেবে খানিকটা উৎসাহী হয়ে পড়ে ভাবলাম এরা রেস্তোরাঁয় মুরগি মটন চালালেও নিজেরা নিশ্চই রুই কাতলা ইলিশ পাবদা সাঁটায়। আব্দার করলে খুব সম্ভব আপ্যায়ন করে খাওয়াবে। কিন্তু সে গুড়ে বালি। তারা অতিথিপরায়ণ হলেও তেমন বাঙালি খাবার খায়না, রেস্তোরাঁয় যা হয় সে সবই খায়। ভারতীয় রেস্তোরাঁ যে নেই তা নয়, তবে হাতে গোনা, তার সুলুক সন্ধান না জানলে খুঁজে পাওয়া দুষ্কর। মিল্টন কিনসে থাকার সময় খোলা বাজারে পেতাম ইডলি ধোসা এসব। আর মিল্টন কিনসে থাকার সময়ই দুর্গা পুজোয় ২ পাউন্ড প্রণামী দিয়ে পেট পুরে খিচুড়ি ভোগ বেগুনি আর রাতে পোলাও মাংস সাঁটিয়েছিলাম সে প্রায় ৭ বছর আগে। তারপর খোঁজ পেলাম লন্ডনে ওল্ড হ্যাম, ইস্ট হ্যাম আর নিউ হ্যামের। তামিল, মালয়ালি, পাঞ্জাবি খাবার ইন্ডিয়ান রেস্তোরাঁর মতো দামি নয়, তার সিকি কি আধা খরচে পেট পুরে খাওয়া যায় সেখানে। আর সেই লিস্টে শেষে যোগ হলো আরো দুটো জায়গা। প্রথমটা নিরামিষ, স্বামীনারায়ণ মন্দির লন্ডনে, আমার সাইট থেকে এক মাইল দূরে, আসা যাওয়ার পথে প্রায় প্রতি সপ্তায় ওই পথ দিয়ে যেতে হতো। কম পয়সায় দারুন খাবার, আর তার ওপর বুফে।  গুজরাতি নিরামিষ খাবার খেয়ে মাঝে মধ্যে আমার মতো ঘোর শাক্তও ক্ষনিকের জন্য ভাবতো এরকম খাবার পেলে নিরামিষাশী হয়ে যেতে আপত্তি নেই।  আর অন্যটা হলো সাউথ ইন্ডিয়ান খাবারের দোকান আমার অফিসের থেকে ১০-১৫ মিনিট দুরে।

এদিকে ভারতীয় হবার যা ঝক্কি এখানে, সবাই ভাবে সব ভারতীয়ই সঞ্জীব কাপুর, যে কোনো ইন্ডিয়ান খাবার চাইলেই তারা সেটা বানিয়ে ফেলতে পারবে, আর ভারতীয় খাবার মানেই বিরাট আয়োজন, পাতি পান্তা ভাত আর পেঁয়াজ কুচি ভারতীয় খাবার নয়। আবার গোটা কয় বন্ধু তাদেরকে যদি বলি শুঁটকি মাছ সাথে সাথে তাদের নাক কুঁচকে যায়।  তা সেই ভারতীয় খাবার রান্না করার তাগিদে বানিয়ে ফেললাম বেশ কিছু পদ বিভিন্ন সময়, তাতে আমার সহধর্মিনীর বিশেষ অবদান রয়েছে টেস্টার হিসেবে। সমস্যাটা হলো ভাত বা পোলাও কি বানাবো তাই নিয়ে। বাসমতি চালের পোলাও বেশ ভালোই হয় কিন্তু সেই গোবিন্দভোগ চালের পোলাওয়ের ধারেকাছে আসেনা তা। বিরিয়ানি বানানোর অশেষ ঝক্কি তার ওপর দুশ্চিন্তা রান্না হবে কিনা। বানিয়েছিলাম একদিন, স্লো কুকারে, ভালোই হয়েছিল কিন্তু রান্নার যা ঝামেলা হুট করে বানিয়ে ফেললাম তা নয়, প্রায় সারা দিন লেগে যাবে তোড়জোড় করতে করতে। এই অনেক খোঁজাখুঁজির পর পাওয়া গেলো সমাধান। কবসা। এটা পাকিস্তানী বা সৌদি রান্না, তবে গোটা মধ্য প্রাচ্যেই চল আছে, এর অন্য নাম হল মকবুশ। যে কোনো মাঝারি থেকে ঝাল মাংসের পদের সাথে খাবার জন্যে আইডিয়াল। আর এটা রান্না হতে যা সময় লাগে ভাত রাঁধতেও প্রায় একই সময় লাগে, শুধু প্রাথমিক যোগাড়যন্ত্রটুকু বাড়তি, আর তাও খুবই সামান্য। হলফ করে বলতে পারি যে ডাল আলুভাজার মত কবসাও এমন একটা পদ যেটা আমি বহুবার রেঁধেছি কিন্তু স্বাদে কোন তারতম্য হয়নি।

পাইন নাট

পাইন নাট/চিলগোজা

রান্নার রেসিপির আগে “কিন্তু”টায় আসি। কবসার মূল উপাদানটা পাওয়া হয়তো তেমন সহজ নাও হতে পারে। এখানে নাম পাইন নাট, হিন্দি নাম চিলগোজা। এখানে একটু খুঁজলেই পাওয়া যায় সব বড় সুপারমার্কেটে। পাইন নাট না পেলে আখরোট বা কাঠবাদাম (Almond) ব্যবহার করা যেতে পারে কিন্তু এবেলা বলে রাখি স্বাদ একরকম না হবার দায় আমার রইলো না আর :)।

উপকরণ যা যা লাগবে:
বাসমতি চাল ২ কাপ
চিকেন স্টক কিউব ২ তো বা চিকেন স্টক পেস্ট ২ চামচ
মাঝারি পেঁয়াজ ১ টা
রসুন ৬-৮ কোয়া
পাইন নাট ১/২ কাপ
মাখন ১/২ কাপ
জল ৪-৫ কাপ


যদি চিকেন স্টক কিউব ব্যবহার করেন তো সেটা গরম জলে আগে থেকে ভিজিয়ে রাখতে হবে পুরোটা গুলে যাওয়া পর্যন্ত। পেঁয়াজ যত মিহি সম্ভব কুচি কুচি করে কেটে নিতে হবে। লম্বা জিরেজিরে নয়, অনেকটা ঝালমুড়ির পেঁয়াজের মত। চাল আগে ধুয়ে নেয়া যেতে পারে কিন্তু তাতে ফোটানোর জন্য জল কম দিতে হবে।  রসুন খোসা ছাড়িয়ে কুচি করে রাখতে হবে। রসুন বাটাও ব্যবহার করা যেতে পারে। আঁচে বড় কড়াই বসিয়ে পুরো মাখনটা গরম করতে হবে। পেঁয়াজ, পাইন নাট আর রসুন মাখনে সাঁতলাতে হবে ৫ মিনিট মত অথবা যতক্ষণ পুরো মিশ্রণটা হাল্কা বাদামী রঙ ধরছে। কড়াইতে পরিমাণমত জল আর চিকেন স্টক দিয়ে আঁচ বাড়িয়ে দিতে হবে জল ফুটতে শুরু হওয়া পর্যন্ত। জল ফুটলে চাল ছেড়ে দিয়ে আঁচ কমিয়ে কড়াই ঢাকা দিয়ে দিতে হবে। ব্যস আর কিছুই করার নেই, শুধু ১০-১৫ মিনিট মাঝে মাঝে চালটা নাড়িয়ে দিতে হবে যাতে তলা ধরে না যায়। চাল সেদ্ধ হয়ে গেলে আর জল মরে এলে কবসা তৈরি। যদি চাল সেদ্ধ হবার আগে জল শুকিয়ে যায় তাহলে কড়াইতে আন্দাজমত গরম জল দিয়ে দিতে হবে। জল প্রথমে বেশি দিলে ভাত গেলে যাবার সম্ভাবনা আছে, তাই শুরুতে একটু কম জল দিলেই ভাল।



যদি চিকেন স্টক নিজে তৈরী করেন তাহলে কবসায় কিছু মাংসের টুকরোও ছেড়ে দিতে পারেন। আর মাখনের পরিবর্তে মার্জারিন ব্যবহার করতে পারেন যদি মাখনের পরিমান দেখে আঁতকে ওঠেন। কোনো মসলা ছাড়াই কবসা যথেষ্ট সুস্বাদু, তবু মসলার স্বাদ পেতে হলে অল্প জায়ফল জয়ত্রীর গুঁড়ো ছড়িয়ে দিতে পারেন ওপরে। পুরো রান্না হতে লাগবে ২০-২৫ মিনিট বড়জোর, আর পোলাওয়ের পিছনে আদ্ধেক বেলা কাটাতে হবেনা। চটজলদি অন্য ধরণের ভাতের জন্য চেষ্টা করে দেখুন কবসা।

Bengal, Politics

যাত্রাপালা : রঙমেলান্তি, ২০১৬ বিধানসভা নির্বাচন ও জনমত

ভোট নিয়ে আগে অনেক পরীক্ষানিরীক্ষা করেছি, সে জোড়া কুঠার (এ ম্যাওবাদী আসার অনেক আগের ব্যাপার বাপু, তখন তিনোমুল মানে মাঠেঘাটে ঘাসের মধ্যে ফুটে থাকা ফুলই জানতাম, কাজেই আমারে আবার ম্যাওবাদী বলে দেগে দেয়ার চ্যাষ্টা কইরেননা) হোক বা বেচারী বারে বারে জমানত বাজেয়াপ্ত হওয়া নেপালী বুড়ো (উঁহু, স্বাধীন গোর্খাল্যান্ডেও নেই)। ভোট মানে তখন লায়েক হয়েছি, আঙুলে কালি লেগে থাকল কদিন সেটাই বেশী আলোচনার বিষয়। তাপ্পর কলেজে তো সব অ্যাপল, রঙ আছে বললেই ক্যাল। তা সে ঠিকঠাকই ছিল, কলেজে রঙবাজি চালাতে গিয়ে নিজেদের মধ্যে লাথালাথি খেয়োখেয়ি না হওয়াই ভালো। গোল বাঁধল তিন সাড়ে তিন বছর পর, দুজন ছাত্র ইয়ার ল্যাগ খাবার পর। কলেজ তো গাজোয়ারি করে সংশোধনের জায়গায় বর্জন পলিসি চালিয়ে বসে রইল, এদিকে খাল কেটে কুমীর ঢুকে পড়ল, অ্যাপল হয়ে গেল লাল। ম্যাজিক নাকি! আরে অ্যাপল তো লালই হয়, লাল না হলেও রঙ চড়িয়ে হলুদ সবুজ পাশগুলোও লাল করলে তবেই না বাজারে খাবে! ব্যাস, ইয়ার ল্যাগ যে কে সেই বহাল রইল, মধ্যে থেকে আশেপাশের কলেজে নির্বাচনের সময় চলে এল বাস ম্যাটাডোর, লোহার রড উইকেট ইঁটপাটকেল সহযোগে সুষ্ঠু ছাত্র নির্বাচন ঘটাতে। সব কলেজ তখন সাহায্য পেয়ে লাল। আমরাও। অ্যাপল-ট্যাপল আবার কী!

এদিকে আমার তখন নিজেরও রঙ বাছার পালা। নেপালী বুড়ো হয়তো অতদিনে পটল তুলেছে। এ যেন ঘর রঙ করার টেনশন, সামনে ডুলাক্সের কালার চার্ট, কোনটা নি? তত্ত্ব-ফত্ত্ব জানিনা, ওই ইন-কিলাব-জিন্দা-বাদ শব্দকটাই রক্তে আগুন ধরিয়ে দিত। তারপর আবার কিনা শিক্ষিত বাঙালির পার্টি, অন্য কিছু করলে হয় অশিক্ষিত না হয় সিদ্ধার্থ রায়ের গুন্ডা, তাছাড়া কমরেড কথাটা শুনতে মন্দ না, সৌমিত্রও করে…আম্মো লাল হয়ে গেলাম। মানে ঝান্ডা ঘাড়ে ব্রিগেডে যাবার দলে নয়, এই বেশ নন্দন-কফি হাউস-পার্টি ম্যানিফেস্টো-অস্ত্রোভস্কি এইসব আর কী, পেটে লবডঙ্কা, কিন্তু পাক্কা আঁতেলের ভাঁজ মারার ইচ্ছাটা ষোলআনা। দাড়ি মুখ আর ঝোলা কাঁধে প্রেসিডেন্সি না যাবার আফসোস এখনো মনে দাগা মারে। সেই তখন থেকে যত্তদিন ভোট দিয়েছি সব গেছে লালে। এদিকে আবার কী কান্ড! পিসি এর তার সাথে বাওয়াল দিয়ে নিজেই পাটি গড়ে বসল। প্রচুর উৎসাহ ভক্তদের মধ্যে। কিন্তু ততদিনে মাথায় হার্ডওয়্যার হয়ে গেছে এ পিসি সে পিসি যে কোথায় কোথায় ডক্টরেটের কাগজ কিনে, না হয় গায়ে কেরোসিন ঢেলে বিনোদনে খামতি রাখেনা কিন্তু ভোট জিততে পারবে কিনা তা নিয়ে প্রচুর সন্দেহ। সেই আটানব্বই থেকে শুরু। আর পারছিনা গুরু। পরের তেরো বছর এ বলে আমায় দ্যাখ তো ও বলে আমায় দ্যাখ। তফাত হল গিয়ে ওই তিরিশ বছর ধরে যা চলেছে সেটা এখন হলমার্ক, সেই রেকর্ড ভাঙতেই হবে, এটাই টার্গেট। ভজহরি ফিল্ম কোম্পানির আমারো কি চান্সো মিলিবে না-র মত সব নিজের নিজের তামাশা দেখিয়ে আমাদের বেশ আনন্দ দিয়েছে অনেকদিন (কি! আনন্দ! পেয়াদা!)। তার ওপর আবার নতুন প্রজাতীর মহাবির্ভাব, বুদ্ধিজীবি। উরেববাস, তেনাদের মাথা এত বড়, তার ছায়ায় গোটা পচ্চিমবঙ্গো ঢেকে যায় যায়। এনাদের বচন শিরোধার্য, যা বললেন কইলেন জনগন হাপসে খেলো, পেট খালি তো কী বে! এর মধ্যে আবার আই ফোনের যুগে অচল নোকিয়ার মত সৌমিত্রদাদু চক্ষুলজ্জার বালাই না রেখে বলেই ফেল্লেন ভোটখানা বামফ্রন্টরেই দিয়েন। ফেলু মিত্তির বইয়ের পাতায় কতবার আছাড়িপিছাড়ি খেলেন সেই আহ্বান শুনে কে জানে। যাক এগারোর ভোটে গদি ওল্টালো, ভাবলাম এই শুরু হল পাগলের রাজপাট, ভাগ্যিস আমি আগে থেকে কাট মেরেছি। কলকাতা আর কলকাতা রইল না, মেছোবাজার হয়ে গেল্। নাহ, নিন্দুকে যাই বলুক, পিসি নিরাশ করেন নাই, কৌতুক নকশার ডবল ডাইজেস্ট সাপ্লাই দিয়ে গেছেন হরদম। উরেব্বাস রিম্পা-রুঙ্কা-ঝঙ্কা!!! আরে ওরা যে কল্লো চৌতিশ বছর সে বেলা? এ তো তৎকাল সার্ভিস, চৌত্রিশ কী চৌদ্দ বছরে ওদের রেকর্ড ভেঙে দেব। আর এদিকে জনগনের হাতে হ্যারিকেন। তবে জ্বালাতে হয়না, এতো শ্রীর ছড়াছড়ি, তাঁদের দ্যুতিতেই দশদিক আলোকময়। কিন্তু জনগন পড়েছে মহা ফ্যাসাদে। ননস্টপ খিল্লি দিতে দিতে গাল ব্যথা হয়ে গেছে কিন্তু থামার চিহ্ন নেই। কি করা? আবার মানুষের জোট হয়েছে এবারে, এতদিন মানুষ গান্ডু ছিল, এবারে তারা মানুষ হয়েছে। এইব্বার যাবি কোথায়? কমলা সবুজ লাল মিলেমিশে একাকার। আরে ছাগলরা, লালের সাথে লাল ছাড়া আর যাই জুড়িসনা কেন, জানিসনা লাল টা খালি ফ্যাকাশেই হবে? তবে কিনা বেশিরেড বলে তো কিছু নেই, লালে অন্য রঙ মিশলে তবেই না রেড কমরেড! বিজেপি নিয়ে বেশী কিছু বলা মানে সময় নষ্ট, বালের পার্টি বললেই যথেষ্ট। তা বেশ হয়েছে লাল আর বাল একদিকে। আরে পালটা বাকী রইল যে! ও সে তো ব্যস্ত কেষ্টোনগরে ছেলে ঢোকাতে। ফুল হাউস। আর নীল সাদা? পিসির দলকে নিয়ে কিছু বলার ধ্যাস্টামো নাই বা কল্লাম। নেতাদের নিয়ে তো কিছু নাই বা বললাম, তো কারা এই নীল সাদার বেয়াদপি দেখেও ওয়াহ ওয়াহ করছে?  কেউ আজন্ম পিসিভক্ত, পিসিকে একাধিক নোবেল দেয়া হচ্ছেনা কেন বলে সওয়াল করতে ব্যস্ত। আর একদল পাল্টিপারপাস, যে বিরিয়ানির প্যাকেট দেবে তার দিকে পালটি খাবে। কেউ কেউ আবার চারিদিকে তাড়কার ছড়াছড়িতে আপ্লুত হয়ে আহা আহা করছে। কী! বলতিস কিনা শিক্ষিত বাঙালির পার্টি, এবার দ্যাখ সালারা তোদের তিরেই (এই কেলো করেছি, আনন্দর মত তির লিখে ফেল্লামজে) তোদের ঘায়েল কল্লাম। কত বুদ্ধি দেখাতে হবে বল আরো বুদ্ধিজীবি ভাড়া করে আনব, কোথায় গ্যালো তোদের দেরিদা আওড়ানো বুদ্ধুবাবু? কী! অ সেও অবসর থেকে ফিরে পোচার করতে লেগেছে? আর কত খেল দেখাবি বাপু। ছিল খালি আমাদের সুমন নিজের ফেলা থুতু চাটার জন্যে, সেখানেও তোদের প্রার্থী দিতে হবে? কি কম্পিটিটিভ রে বাবা। অতঃ কিম?

এখন যদি প্রশ্ন করা যায় এই তুঘলকী ক্যাওড়ামোর জন্য কে দায়ী তা সে হলাম গিয়ে আমি আর আপনি। আমরাই চৌত্রিশ বছর জুলুমবাজি দেখেও কোনো যোগ্য বিকল্প নেই এই অজুহাতে একটা সরকারকে ক্ষমতায় রেখে এসেছি। আমরা মুখে বলি কম্যুনিস্ট, জনগনই সবচেয়ে বড় অস্ত্র, সর্বহারার মুখপত্র। অন্যদিকে সংগঠন চালানোর সময় চুড়ান্ত শ্রেনীবৈষম্য, শহরে আওড়ালাম নেরুদা-দেরিদা আর গ্রামে পুষলাম হার্মাদ, এতে সংগঠন রইল কিন্তু শহরের বাইরে প্রান্তিক মানুষের ঠিক তেমন কোন সার্বিক উন্নয়ন আর হলনা। বরং আজ যা অবস্থা তাতে বলা যেতেই পারে যে যদি কম্যুনিস্ট সরকার চান তো সিপিএমকে দয়া করে ভোট দেবেননা। ২০১১য় কিন্তু পিসির গদীতে বসার কারণ গ্রামাঞ্চলের মানুষের লালের ওপর থেকে ভরসা একদম চলে যাওয়ায়। সেদিক থেকে দেখলে, ১১তে সর্বহারার পার্টি কিন্তু তৃনমূলই। সিঙ্গুর নন্দীগ্রাম আনতে গিয়ে ছিপেম তখন জোতদারের প্রতিভূ। কিন্তু শহুরে মানুষের ভোটে তো সরকার পাল্টায়না, পাল্টায় গ্রামে। তাঁরা এখন কোথায় যাবেন? আগে যারা লালের হয়ে ঝান্ডা আর ডান্ডা বইত, হাওয়া বদলাতে তারা এখন নীলে। যে পুষবে তারা তাদের। কাল বিজেপি পরশু হয়তো আইসিস। তারা আগে ধমকাত লালে ছাপ না মারলে, এখন নীলে না মারলে। কোথায় দেবেন? যদি মনে করেন সব প্রার্থী ভুষিমাল তবে সবার নিচে চুপচাপ অপেক্ষা করা নোটা তো রয়েছে আপনার পুষে রাখা বঞ্চনা হেনস্থা সবকিছুর বিরুদ্ধে কথা বলার জন্য। সবাই জানুক যে পশ্চিমবঙ্গে নির্বাচনযোগ্য দল নেই কোন। যাত্রাপালা দেখিয়ে ভোট টানা আর যাচ্ছেনা তেমন। ক্ষমতা চলে যাবার ভয়ে সবাই গলবস্ত্র। তাই এ বলে নারদ সত্যি হলে টিকিট দিতামনা তো ও বলে হাত কেটে নেয়াটা একটু অন্যায় হয়েছিল বটে। তবে নোটা যে তেমন জনপ্রিয় হবেনা বলাই বাহুল্য। শহরে প্রচুর অ্যাক্টিভিস্ট তারা দুনিয়া পাল্টানোর স্বপ্নটপ্ন দেখে, নোটায় তারা ছাপ মারতেই পারে, কিন্তু দুশ পরিবারের গ্রামে নোটায় বোতাম টিপে পার্টির চক্ষুশুল হলে তখন এমার্জেন্সিতে হাসপাতালে বেড জোগাড় করে দেবে কে? সাধের বানানো বাড়িতে আগুন লাগানো রুখবে কে? ছেলেমেয়ে স্কুলে যাবার সময় তাদের নিরাপত্তা দেবে কে? সেখানে তো আলিমুদ্দিনেরও জোর খাটেনা, হরিশ মুখার্জিরও না। জোর হল লোকাল লিডারের আর তার বাইক বাহিনীর। তাহলে বিকল্প কী বা কে? চোখে পড়ার মত একমাত্র বিকল্প বলতে গেলে তো দিল্লিতে আপ সরকার। তারা নিতান্তই শহরকেন্দ্রিক, কলকাতা আলাদা রাজ্য হলে বলতাম আপ-এর মডেলে সরকার গড়তে। অঞ্চল, রাজ্য, ভাষা সংস্কৃতির গণ্ডি পেরোনোর মত রাজনৈতিক মডেল আপ-এর নেই। গ্রামের গা জোয়ারি রাজনীতিতে সে মডেল চলেনা। অগত্যা? নোটা ছাড়া তো কোনো গতি দেখা যাচ্ছেনা। এদিকে শহরে সিট অনেক, সেগুলো নোটায় খুইয়ে বসলেও গ্রামে যে জিতবে সরকার তো গড়বে তারাই। গোটা রাজ্য নোটায় ভোট না দিলে শঠে শাঠ্যং হবার কোনো উপায় নেই। তবে হ্যাঁ কালসাপ বিজেপি থেকে দুরেই থাকবেন, তাদের পয়সা দেয়ার লোকের অভাব নেই, খানিক পা রাখতে দিলে তখন দু দলই লোপাট হয়ে যেতে বেশি দিন লাগবেনা।  তখন দেখবেন কেমন মজা। আদ্ধেক রিফিউজিদের ডান্ডা মেরে পাড়া থুড়ি দেশছাড়া করার মতলব তো নরেন মুদি রাখঢাক না করেই বলে দিয়েছে। তবে তাদেরকে আর আলাদা করে সাম্প্রদায়িক বলা যাবেনা, ভোটের লোভে সবাই সাম্প্রদায়িক।

উপায় কি নেই? নাকি আসলে জনগনই বেশি চালু, লিডারদের বাঁদরনাচ নাচিয়ে তারাই রক্ষা করছে গণতন্ত্র? সারদার মত বড় মাপের কেলেঙ্কারী (তবে সারদা একা নয়, চিটফান্ড কোন সময় থেকে শুরু হয়েছে তা খুঁজতে গেলে কিন্তু আবার সেই গত চৌত্রিশ বছরের দিকেও আঙ্গুল উঠবে) না ঘটলে সরকার কে গড়ল তাতে সাধারণ মানুষের কি তেমন কিছু ছেঁড়া যায়? দশ-বিশ হাজার টাকা ঘুষ দেয়াটা তো জলভাত কোনো কাজ করিয়ে নেয়ার জন্যে। সে যে পার্টিই ক্ষমতায় থাকুক সেই ট্র্যাডিশন সমানে চলে আসছে, আসবেও। তাই হয় নোটায় ভোট মারুন, নাহলে নিজেদের মধ্যে যোগসাজস করে এমন ভাবে ভোট দিন যাতে যেই জিতুক পাল্লা যেন প্রায় মাঝামাঝি থাকে। তাহলে তিন দলই কাজ করে দেবে, কম পয়সায়। এদের হাতে যত ক্ষমতা দেবেন, ছিনেজোঁকের দল শুষে নেবে আরো বেশি বেশি। নেতাদের তটস্থ রাখুন যাতে তারা মানুষকে সমঝে চলে, উল্টোটা নয়। কাজেই বলি কী, বাইরে যে পার্টি যা রঙই হোক না কেন ভেতরে সব্বাই কালো– নিটোল মাকাল ফল। কাজেই ধড়াম করে দুই কী পাঁচ কী সাত না খুঁজে সবার শেষে পড়ে থাকা নোটা-টা নিয়েও একবার ভাববেন, আপনার পরিবত্তোন আপনিই আনতে পারেন, অন্যের ঘাড়ে বন্দুক রেখে “যত্ত গাড়োলের দল, এ পার্টিকে কে ক্ষমতায় আনলো” জাতীয় তত্ত্ব চায়ের দোকানের বাইরে কেউ খাবেনা। অ্যাপল হয়ে যান সব, বলুন লাল নীল সবুজ গেরুয়া কারুক্কে চাইনা। আমি ভোট দিলে এবার আর লালে নীলে না, সিধে নোটায় মারতাম। আপনি কোথায় দেবেন?/span>

Education, India, Politics

The JNU protests with the context of nationalism

JNU students protests the arrest of the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar

JNU students protests the arrest of the JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar

Thank goodness that this was JNU, not Jamia Millia Islamia, so the students were arrested by plain dress policemen inside the campus and were charged for sedition and their social network profiles are pasted all over Internet as the traitors of India. On the contrary, if they were from Jamia, perhaps the students would have been branded as members of SIMI or potential terrorists. Whilst there were reasonable doubts over Guru’s role in the attacks, the curtain of secrecy around his execution is definitely not a shining example of Indian judicial system. This is not the first time someone voiced concerns over his conviction and execution, but perhaps twenty-something students are much softer targets of the state than the seasoned politicians and stalwarts in the legislative procedures. Needless to say his execution took far too long, but the sudden and secret operation, tantamount to assassinations of Soviet era political dissidents, was not without political motives. If Afzal Guru was proven a terrorist beyond doubt, he should have been executed when he was convicted. It didn’t have to be done hidden behind an iron curtain. How the government wrapped the news around secrecy, didn’t inform his family, or denied a funeral, the integrity of the government was definitely questionable, especially approaching 2014 as all political parties were keen to prove their good intentions to the electorate.

DSU, the hosts of the cultural programme are a leftist student body, and they used the occasion to debate and discuss the systemic killing of Afzal Guru. A bold decision indeed, where the presence of socialist voice in most part of India is in decline. Perhaps the decision to commemorate the occasion was spurred by the reference of Afzal Guru during the Hyderabad university protest and the death of Rohith Vemula, another victim of state sponsored oppression that created an uproar but soon fizzled out and forgotten, with no action against the Uni authority who rusticated Rohith.

Smriti Irani said the anti-India chants were insults to mother India. So did Rajnath Singh, the home minister. Not sure who that fabled mother India is, she must be a polyamorous person, sleeping around with everyone’s fathers. When thousands of years before, the poet wrote Janani janmabhoomischa swargadapi gariyasi, he didn’t confuse the identities of mother with the land one is born. The personification or to be specific, maternalisation of India is yet another subtle way of splitting the society at least in two fragments — ones who are okay to accept it, and most of a billion population belongs to this side, and those who don’t. Mother India, Mother Nature, Mother Earth…the examples are boundless across the world, in every region, every culture. To carry on with the practice in the name of heritage and culture is basically an easy way of indoctrinating nationalist feelings from an early age. Country is your mother, so criticising your country is tantamount insulting your mother — the logic is simple and effective. And we like cheap drama, or nautanki, as proven by the success of soaps. So, the slogans were defaming the motherland etc are all bogus arguments altogether, in order to gain political mileage and appease the crowd that is already biased through a systematic brainwash from childhood.

If a nation is greatly offended by someone challenging the national unity and integrity, that definitely raises a question on the integrity of the nation itself. To truly become a country that is a champion of unity and integrity, the country will have to progress including everyone, not differentially. Incidents like JNU protests question and point at the shortcomings, where the systems and psyche of the nation still have a long way to go before we can truly proclaim ourselves as a diverse yet united country. Perhaps, this was also an occasion to remind ourselves that the nation can be the biggest terrorist – and there are numerous examples across the world – as the country and its government and institutions are the ultimate voice, and it can control the voices that speak against it. Sedition is a blunt concept in this day and age. It only tells if the legal system is at par with the reforms needed for the twenty first century. There were no threat to the country or any violence that ensued the claims, people were debating views and ideas, not dealing ammunitions. The charges against Kanhaiya Kumar will not hold ground during the court hearing, and he will probably be discharged without any conviction. Looking beyond the anti-India chants and claiming to immortalise Afzal Guru, there was an attempt to defy the government, defy the legal system. Defy the fact that no matter who is in power, a nation is still merely a puppet of the whims and avarice of the politicians who run it. It was a protest against the preferential treatment by the government and at large, the public. We act based on the bias in-built within us.

If there were any group of population who are and has always been vocal against such atrocities are students. They are the harbingers of change, the visionaries of tomorrow. The outcry to tarnish all protesters in the same colour is both foolish and dangerous. Even though the charges against the arrested students won’t hold water in court, social vigilantism spread their profiles and images all across the country. And needless to say, in a prejudiced country like India where people still ask age, religion, father’s name, mother’s name, husband’s name for a job application, where equal opportunity is perhaps merely a word in the HR strategy document gathering dust in a locked cabinet, these students will be discriminated against for a long time.

And then there are the right wing student unions like ABVP, they are getting the mileage they wanted on a national platform, whilst the student movements have historically been mostly left wing. Without a direction and vision, their agenda of inciting hatred against the protesters have struck the chord with millions of students, who would now subscribe to their ideology. The ABVP treats themselves as the sole spokesperson of nationalism at university campuses, and in fact their role during the debate was undemocratic, by trying to overrule a meeting that was approved for, by directly threatening the university governing body.

We Indians have a great tendency and ability to paint everything in the same colour. We do not treat issues singularly, but collectively. So, the outcry to shut down JNU is widely endorsed, people voicing concerns over the injustice in India are anti-nationalist and the protestors are traitors to the motherland. And the treatment they received from the country collectively — be it the media, politicians, police or public, just proves their point. They exposed the system and its divisive position. People voiced their opinion against anything undemocratic, before India was independent, and after. However, in the new Swachh Bharat surge, it appears that such thoughts and protests have suddenly become undemocratic, and therefore need to be swept under the carpet. So, rather than condemning the DSU student union for their villainy, we should pat their backs for standing strong against all adversities, and being bold enough to choose an occasion that aptly demonstrate the shortcomings of the legal system and human rights in India.

A caricature on the legal system in India

A caricature on the legal system in India

Also, glorifying another country, even if they were deemed your enemy, does not count as sedition. If Pakistan has done something praiseworthy, people can say good things about them, just as it was found that the government finally passed the Hindu marriage act, allowing Hindu marriages as official. However, the JNU protesters went beyond this, and voiced anti-India chants that mainly caught the media attention. What the BJP government and their ABVP sidekicks are turning a blind eye on, is they cannot make someone love their country, nor can anybody else. Forcing someone to say Bharat mata ki jay does not prove they are proud of their country, but it is tantamount an abusive husband raping his wife night after night and boasting during the day how much she loves him!

It is not necessary to love the country one is born in. It is most likely, as there is a bond developed since the childhood that is mainly nostalgic rather than informed, but that does not mean that people cannot change their opinion later on. Think of North Korea or Saudi Arabia, can the citizens there love their country with the rogue people running it? More oppressive the state becomes, more vocal the voices of the public need to be, before the country truly becomes a place one can be proud of.

The same can be said about the Kashmir debate, which was another reason why the sedition charge was brought in. It is almost comical how the rest of the nation has unanimously decided that Kashmir is part of their country and even debating the subject is sacrilege, although they tactfully exclude the views of the Kashmiri people, whose fate were being decided by the rest of India whether they should stay a part of India. The government doesn’t even recognise what the Kashmiri residents think, let alone arrange a referendum. With the unfortunate disaster at Siachen glacier recently, I wonder how many centuries it will take the fools across India and Pakistan to stop wasting exorbitant amount of money in protecting a border whilst that money could be utilised in progressing the country forward, improving hundreds of millions of lives who still lacks basic necessities of life – food, clothes and shelter.

A University is the ideal platform for such poignant debates, as what we learn in the courses are hardly ever used afterwards, but we we learn from classmates of various location, background and views shape the person we become in the future. Whatever and whoever the DSU supporters have discussed, disputed, criticised or defamed, that could have been countered with an equally critical discussion of their actions and agenda. Also, this has become a platform for all political mudslinging, where depending on their political clout, the parties are extending support or criticising, rather than leaving it as a debate between two politically opposite orientated student unions. There are a multitude of conspiracy theories going around for both sides — about the protesters shouting anti-India slogans coming to campus days before, or the ABVP activists in the DSU rally saying anti-India chants — digressing from the fact that this is not an issue to start a witch hunt, but to reflect the truth behind the claims and debate how the society can progress. Sending police in plain dress and arresting student body president just exemplifies the point these students have been trying to prove — that India is fast becoming an oppressive state and anyone who dares to speak against the government or the country will be publicly persecuted. Let’s hope that the protests such as this keep continuing all across the country, to challenge the government of its actions and the public at large, to change their age-old ideas about nationalism and love for motherland. It’s time we share the social profiles the Bhakt media spread over internet to show they were anti-nationals, to spread the excellent work they have done for human rights in India, and for its better future.

1. Speech from Harsh Mander, a social worker and a writer while attending the protest rally against Police arrest in campus
2. The translation of Kanhaiya Kumar’s original speech
3. A write-up in Bengali regarding the JNU protests, criticising the Government stance, with the header“Musclemen cannot invoke love for nation”
4. An account of the protest, as witnessed by a JNU student present actually present during the protest

The only moot point is that with the advent of technology, we are fast becoming net-activists. We are exasperated at something, we act on it, we criticise, and then within two weeks, that lesson is forgotten. We go back to our daily lives, or find another issue to fight about. We don’t fight hard enough to bring a closure. It’s like thousands of matchsticks are lighting up and put out, and failing to light the candle with a raging fire that the country needs to cleanse the injustice gathered over centuries. To make it really happen, people are needed to come down in the streets, be visible, be heard — revolutions cannot start from the confines of the room.

Equality, Racism

The white man in that photo: Griotmag homage to Peter Norman

It was a historic moment. I had seen the photo in many books on Olympics, a fascination of my teens. Most of the photos only featured Tommie Smith and John Carlos in their epic Black Power salute, fists in black gloves, thrust indignantly in air, and their heads bowed down, feet bare. I did not fully understood the significance on the photo then, but it exuded a sign of defiance, just as did the photo of the lone protester in front of the tank in Tiananmen square. Knowing about the Civil Rights Movement, the enormity of the protest became clearer. It was one of the momentous photo of the twentieth century, a photo that makes time stand still, a photo made me speechless, in anger, in solidarity and in respect.

But media is a weird thing. They go at great lengths obscuring the complete picture, and only represent the distorted version to suit them and their reader base. And thus, the story of Peter Norman, another legend who was as much part of the protest as was the two Americans, remained out of limelight. He remained “The other white man” in that iconic photo. Nearly 50 years later, his record still remains an Australian record for 200m sprint. Yet, Norman was shunned in his own country for donning the badge Smith and Carlos wore during their salute, and never represented Australia in Olympics again. It took Australian Parliament to officially apologise for their discrimination that ruined the career of one of their greatest sporting heroes.

Apart from the record books, Peter Norman was not known to me until today. Yet, his enormous athletic achievement during the final race was eclipsed by what he did on that award ceremony. On that day, he stood up for humanity, he stood up for a cause that he believed in, against injustice, only to go back home in ignominy and shame.

Peter Norman, the Silver medal winner stands in the podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their momentous Black Power Salute, seen wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge
Source : Griotmag

The main article from Griotmag is shared here, featuring Peter Norman, The white man in that photo1

Once the famous poet tagore dedicated this song to the Indian freedom fighter Subhash Bose:

If they answer not to your call walk alone
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
open your mind and speak out alone.
If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou unlucky one,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.
If they shut doors and do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite your own heart,
and let it burn alone.

On that epic day in Mexico City in 1968, three young sprinters stood up in solidarity for the oppression of the black Americans. They knew what awaits them once they came off that podium. Smith and Carlos later became a champion for their cause as USA embraced diversity following the Civil Rights Movement. Norman remained a pariah even after his death, the retribution of the AOC still denying his due respect. But they were well aware of their fate, and decided to stand for what they believed in. In the words of Tagore, they trod on the blood-lined track alone, for humanity, for a balanced society, for a better world. They are inspirations to millions, who believe in a cause, yet, don’t stand up for it against the whole world. They made us believe that if we stand by our ideas, and beliefs, and if the whole world does not agree, stand firm still in defiance to the world, and it will change, if not in our lifetime, but one day2…So let’s not forget Peter Norman, the unsung hero of the Olympics Black Power salute, so his sacrifice of a lifetime does not disappear into oblivion.

1. The original article by Italian writer Riccardo Gazzaniga L’uomo bianco in quella foto.
2. Australian Parliament issued an apology for their discrimination against Peter Norman. Australian Olympic Committee, however, refused the claims and in fact asked for a retraction and apology from the author and the magazine retraction and apology from the author and the magazine

Entertainment, Nostalgia

The fall of Top Gear : End of Clarkson era

When I was a kid, I often had fever, and whilst I was unwell, my dad would get me a toy of my choice, and a bag of Cadbury’s Gems, an equivalent of m&m’s. Most of the time, I used to pick up a car for a toy. A bit later, in the pre-satellite TV India, my most favourite programme was Street Hawk, where a masked protagonist fought crimes in his futuristic bike. Since late eighties until now, cars has been an integral part of my media experiences and like most of the youngsters, I was fascinated by the cars. Just like guns, cars probably represented the most widely rendered boys’ toys and I was no exception, marvelling at the Audi R8 Spyder ad, or the Batmobile in Batman Forever.

My tryst with Top Gear is only limited. After settling in the UK, following my MBA, I moved to a flat where my flatmate was a bike enthusiast — always participating in rallies circuits, and road trips. I found myself shell-shocked, when I came to know about Jeff’s accident in Germany, that claimed his life, whilst he was enjoying what he liked most — riding his bike on a road trip. It was after moving to the flat with Jeff, that I started to watch a few episodes of Top Gear, sitting down after a long day’s work. After Jeff moved out of the flat, I can count how many times I watched Top Gear since. Then there were the recent controversies and the exit of the original trio that marked the end of an era. It was during the Christmas of 2015, watching an anthology of Top Gear episodes that I reminisced the programmes in 2010, and the lounge overlooking the Thames outside the balcony in the setting sun. And the nostalgia feels even stronger knowing Jeff is not here any more.

Top Gear: under review by the BBC

Poster from the Top Gear
Source : The Guardian

The recipe for Top Gear seemed very simple, just as a low-budget Hollywood high octane thriller. Lots of cars, three presenters doing crazy things but most importantly exuding a sense of camaraderie, the burning smell of rubber on the Tarmac — that’s all the show had to offer, but packed with various stunts and laps by celebrities, review of new cars and other snippets. The introduction of Stig, the masked speedster reminded me of the double life of the Street Hawk protagonist, demonstrating extreme motoring skills in disguise. Top Gear struck a chord with the British adult men in their thirties and above. The universal likeness to cars and the interest about maintenance to discounts to spare parts, Top Gear became a holy grail for the ones following an active lifestyle, participating in motor rallies and cross countries, as well as the ones who were settled down in their life, yet the willingness to have a spin with mates was either not materialised or never happen in the frequency as hoped due to other familial and occupational commitments. Perhaps Top Gear, with all its revving the engines and spinning/ skidding round the bends, complete disrespect of the speed limits — the appeal attracted most of its viewer base. To say the show only appealed to adult males would perhaps be incorrect as I know many women preferred watching a real life entertainment programme rather than the prime-time soppy soaps. What struck out as the most significant contributor in the popularity of the programme was the bond between Clarkson-Hammond-May. It seemed as if three amigos got together testing some fast cars in a multitude of road surfaces with exciting backgrounds, having a laugh in a slightly touché undertone, but above all, they represented an eternal boyhood, the “lad” on the wheels and far away from the drudgery of the daily life. The followers basked into an hour of that virtual reality.

Then there were the controversies. Controversies that avid fans would like to laugh off as mild banter and political correctness gone crazy. Clarkson had been a tongue-in-cheek personality all along, but perhaps he became too big-headed towards the end. After repeated allegations of racism, prejudiced stereotyping and uncouth behaviours, it reached an all time low, while shooting the 2015 episodes, when he broke into a fight and punched the producer over a steak. BBC had to discontinue the contract as Clarkson became too arrogant and defiant to the BBC senior management. There were accusations against Clarkson of using racist terms, but he got away with a slap on the wrist. Top Gear was often alleged to have used inappropriate and abusive language, and at times being sexist, as well as promoting reckless driving, road rage, disrespect of the environmental laws. Amongst the mainstream viewers, the criticism came as the show was regarded as the big-boys-playing-with-machines. Also, public opinion was that the show perhaps had run its course, the presenter were a shadow of the past as most of the stunts and challenges have been attempted — leading to the programme either repeating the similar acts or plan newer stunts that are more daring and dangerous. Similar to many Hollywood sequels like Matrix and Jurassic Park, the series hit a stage, where the captive viewership may not drop drastically, but the purpose of the programme was finished. Although the camaraderie amongst Clarkson, May and Hammond was still there, the show already started to give a déjà vu feeling towards the end. So, when the allegations were raised against Jeremy Clarkson, it was a golden opportunity for BBC to cease the programme and let it end as the most widely viewed factual television programme.

On the contrary, driven by zeal, BBC continued to record new series featuring Chris Evans. With a completely new cast, BBC wants to pretend, quite childishly so, that the past 13 years of Clarkson-era never happened. The expectations are high from viewers, who want to see how the show in its new avatar turned up, whilst most of the Clarkson sympathisers have already defected to other shows. Unless the production team came up with a completely new format, the show is likely to fail. It will fail not because Chris Evans is not Jeremy Clarkson, on the contrary he is a fabulous presenter, but because the new Top Gear team will not have the same dynamics that the trio had developed over a decade. Rather than a flamboyant farewell, BBC has chosen to give the show a slow disappearance into oblivion.

I believe in absolutism, and for all the wrong reasons – all the casual racism, sexism, insensitive profanities and other allegations, Top Gear should have been withdrawn or moderated by BBC long before the fracas of 2015. However, for the ground-breaking success of the show, the Beeb carried on turning a blind eye, and therefore, passively encouraging Clarkson and the crew to be more audacious, more insensitive. That perhaps kept the TRP high for the show, as the viewers — especially the target audience — preferred it a bit rough, the big-boys-giving-a-toss-at-nothing attitude. Top Gear was the ultimate show for the thrill seekers, the car-wankers and the placid domesticated men who still in their imaginary world, dreamt of living a lad’s life. The show had been a grand success, with some fabulous illustration of driving, no-nonsense car reviews and some hair-raising stunts. It represented the journey of the three presenters picking up the baton for a popular show in its new persona, and developing it into one of the biggest money-spinners for the BBC. They represented the small screen version of the Fast and Furious, the ultimate high-octane entertainment. But the Clarkson-May-Hammond trio looked a shadow of their past, their presentation iterative, jokes repetitive and stunts sillier by the day. It became a representation of three haggard looking men trying to clutch to their wondrous past and failing. It became a dinosaur of our time, a show for pledging unabashed masculinity, a virtue suited for the 18th Century cowboys. In the 21st century world that is more multicultural, interconnected to all corners of the world, more diverse and less discriminatory, Top Gear was too passé, too out of league.

I’m not a Top Gear enthusiast, and on any day I’d choose a Nat Geo documentary over TG. And this is not a tearful adieu to the Top Gear swansong of the Clarkson-era. Instead, whilst watching the Top Gear: From A to Z during Christmas, I just remembered watching TG in that South-East London flat, when viewing the programme was an experience, and I didn’t pay much attention to the content. The Christmas homage to the past 13 years of the programme showed the highlights of the show, a summarised version sans the controversies. This is an obituary to the programme, which was a massive hit showcasing three men playing with machines, and now its demise perhaps should send out a wake up call to the wannabe boys to come out of their reverie and brace the world outside…


The logo for the programme
Source :

Politics, Russia

Alexander Litvivnenko murder inquiry and Putin’s rogue state

A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow May 22, 2007. Moscow cannot extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy to Britain on charges of murdering fellow ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko because of a constitutional ban, the Russian Prosecutor-General's office said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA) - RTR1PYPQ

A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman gallery in Moscow May 22, 2007. Moscow cannot extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy to Britain on charges of murdering fellow ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko because of a constitutional ban, the Russian Prosecutor-General’s office said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA) – shared from The Guardian

Russia never failed to amaze me, from the Soviet Union during my childhood years, whilst reading the fables and folklore from the snow laden land, to now, knowing more about the state after the Iron Curtain was lifted, through various media coverages and current affairs, and all such information merge into a collage with stark contrasts. With its contradictions, Russia is in many ways similar to India, yet in many ways is miles apart. During my childhood, whilst marvelling at the utopia that all people lived as equals there, and that Lenin and Stalin were demigods, protecting the interests of the proletariat without a shadow of blemish on their persona, Russia was painted as the El Dorado, by our local communist press. Even when my beloved Tintin uncovered the oppression of the Bolshevik state, I was greatly miffed at Hergé and wondered whether he took sides with the capitalists. Then came the teenage years, with Rocky and Rambo dominating the silver screens, including many other films and books featuring the Cold War and showing that the Soviets were the actual bad guys there. I didn’t believe it, and treated most of it as they were represented — a work of fiction. Around the same time, however, the end of Communism and falling of Berlin Wall marked a new chapter in Russian history, which not only split the Soviet Union, but it also left all communist parties across the world in utter disbelief. The ripple of that seismic change in the global political equation also reached the east Indian state of West Bengal — one of the few states remaining as the last bastion of Indian communist movement. The fall of Soviet Union left indelible marks in the future of the party command, as there were no ideals to follow, no role models left. During my early adulthood, the keenness to learn more about communism kindled the fondness towards Russia, yet the search for more information was in vain without the access of computers and Internet. The next decade reaching up to my thirties, Russia remained a state that I adored before and still did, place of economic hardship and political oblivion, a state that is more humane than the Capitalist America and Britain ever was, and I always remained a supporter of Russia in games, sports, contests over the capitalist countries.

Until then, the images of Russia invoked a feeling as the land of Communism, and Siberia and Santa Claus. Of lake Baikal, of Ural Mountains, of Steppe and Tartars, of Volga and Vodka. Of leaders with undoubted integrity like Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev. In my thirties, I had access to more information through my researches and media — information that would starkly refute my rose-tinted vision of Russia, Soviet leaderships and the Bolshevik Revolution itself. The secrecy weaved by Lenin had turned the country into the Iron Curtain by Stalin, adding to it the atrocities during the WWII or the Katyn massacre, the Marxist dream probably was already slipping away. From WWII until the fall of Soviet Union, the state was mired with atrocities, espionage, distrust and suspicion.

With the wake of the CIS, and subsequently the Russian Federation, following the dissolution of the other member states, the communist idealist views were dead, but the ghosts of the practices from the Soviet era remained unchanged and with time, the power of the state was devolved into a number of powerful business leaders and the ex-secret service officials, the epitome of which is the charismatic president Mr Putin. Despite the highly censored media, there were instances of gross human rights violations, provocative actions at the international territories, secret assassinations, intimidations and at worst, annexing part of a foreign territory of Crimea through a dubious referendum. The presence of Russian Mafia in many of the European countries dealing arms to extortion made the threats to rest of the Europe palpable. With the corrupt officials at the helm, the presence of state sponsorship to such dealings is irrefutable. The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko exemplifies one such tale of secret assassination, state protection of the Mafia, and throttling the voices against the government. An incredible read, this report can only highlight the audacity of the events that unfurled on that fated 1st November 2006, and Russia’s complete disregard to the diplomatic relations.

Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder

On 21st January, the high court in the UK released the verdict on Alexander Litvinenko assassination, that it was the Russian state who “possibly” murdered a UK citizen and an MI6 informer. However, the proofs and alibis scream loudly of the involvement of the prime suspects Lugovoi and Kovtum (Lugovoi has recently been awarded the state honour by Putin. And the source of the Po-210 isotope, which is a highly controlled substance and could only be sourced from the state run labs or reactors, corroborating the allegations. The case is open and shut, that the murder was definitely been carried out by the Russian state, with direct orders from Vladimir Putin. What changed the outcome of the report is unknown, possibly the lack of circumstantial evidences or the reluctance of the UK government to be on the wrong foot with Russia whilst dealing with ISIL or Iran’s sanction uplifting.

Russia was an enigma, and still is, and it has given the world great scientists, artists and thinkers. However, the present government has now been reduced to a bunch of corrupt officials from communist era, pimps and the thugs, who jettisoned their communist ethos of improving the lives of the others, and instead exploit the lives of its citizens and plunder the national wealth. At the same time, the methods of spying, interrogation, intimidation adopted in the Communist era to thwart the capitalist threat has now become the mechanism of the rogue state to continue its reign of torture, secret assassinations, extortion and trafficking whilst continuously flouting at the UN regulations.

People around the world still worship Putin, still rejoice how he shuts down the leaders of the capitalist countries, how he is a man of character and how a leader should be. Some people still like Hitler. That doesn’t make them right, nor do their fuzzy feelings justify the lives claimed by these “angels of death”. To conclude, here is the parting shot from Alexander Litvinenko on his deathbed, to his assassinator:

“You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.
You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.
You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.
You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.
May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”

And the outcome of the inquiry may not be significant in terms of how much it would affect Putin, and Russia will claim the report was politcally motivated; but almost 10 years after his assassination, Alexander Litvinenko proved to the world the true colour of the Russian president…