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Saturday night blast from the past: Teen Devian

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The plan was to catch the last show of Australia, but Hugh Jackman, notwithstanding the Sydneysider’s sexiest man of the year accolade, was eventually voted down by the females in the group – in favor of Dev Anand.

This is of course Dev Anand  from way back when – when he was was actually handsome. Handsome enough for the better half and the sister to swoon a few times during the two hours odd playtime, and to be playing a veritable Casanova, the love interest of three competing females.

Not that the sole male member watching the film (from way before any of us were ever born) had much to complain.  The  not-so-sober senses had an enviable troika of beauties to feast upon: a  coquettish Nanda,  and the contemporary progressive female leads played by Kalpana, and a very young and fresh – but  equally sexy and sultry –  Simi Grewal.

Even with the scenes of female helplessness that would make the mildest feminist worth their unburnt bra cringe, not to mention the mild proselytizing about the effects of alcohol, eventually it’s the irrepressible lyrics (by Majrooh) and some of the most melodious tunes composed in history (SD), sung by two of the doyens of playback history (Kishore and Rafi) that makes the film most memorable:

(amongst others)

Not to mention scenes of Kolkata from way back when……..Chowrongee and Howrah Bridge without a crowd !!!!!!

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

December 13, 2008 at 9:20 am

I-Day

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Not sure, when it originated, but there is this recent, post-internet tendency to wish ‘Happy I-Day’ to everyone. Back when we were kids, we just watched the flag hoisting ceremony at Red Fort on DD and enjoyed the rest of the holiday (albeit with a bit of pride instilled in us).

Anyway, as I drove (more accurately, was being driven) about 20kms through the streets Kolkata this morning, I was struck by the paucity of unfurled flags, flag banners, streamers etc. Except for one sad, half-torn streamer tied across the electricity poles at the Gariahat crossing, I did not see one flag.

Perhaps I have gotten too used to the chest-thumping, in your face, we-will-put-a-flag-everywhere-you-can-imagine, kind of patriotism they display in the US on 4th of of July (and to a lesser extent on Australia Day down under), but still it is curious.

Could also be that I was there too early, flag hoisters aren’t possibly early risers or I was in the wrong part of the town.

(For clarification, I am not commenting either way about the lack of flags – just making an observation).

I assume patriotism will be on display on the cable channels through the day ……… although most ordinary folks seem to be looking forward to shopping deals and the release of Bachna Ae Haseeno.

Speaking of which, I will pay good money to anyone who lands a good slap on the face of Ranbir Kapoor. Can’t stand the guy.

UPDATE: Looks like the early morning theory is right. I was on the streets around 7am. I can now see more flags, banners and (FSM save our ears), loudspeakers being put up.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 14, 2008 at 11:02 pm

Taxes at work

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……or a well-spent afternoon.

In a far corner within the compounds of Bhavani Bhaban – the headquarters  of the West Bengal police and well known to to us pre-cable, single -channel Doordarshan viewers as the place where you wrote in information (if you had any) about the missing person whose faded, outdated photo  had just been displayed – lies a building rather ambitiously called, the ‘New Building’.

The building houses various government departments, but our target is the 7th floor. To get there you first climb a short flight of stairs to a landing area that smells of piss. Then you chance your luck with  the solely functional (among three) rickety, open grilled elevator whose LED display continually performs a  vigorous apoplectic display of all floor-numbers in a random manner. So as the various numbers flit by, the only  way to know you are at the desired level is by counting, guesswork or familiarity from a previous visit.

We are of course familiar enough with the place, that particular floor having become a veritable pilgrimage within the last few days: A tea/snack/lunch stall boasting a few rickety chairs to the right, and the DIB division of South 24-Parganas district police on the left.

As we move towards the offices, the walls are stained with post-spit beetle juice stains and  hastily glued posters that range from wishing everyone ‘Shubho Bijoya’ (leftover from last October no doubt, but soon to be regain chronological context),  to exhorting them to donate blood during a special Independence Day function, while a few others warn the innocent people of West Bengal about the imperialistic designs of the evil American butchers (the butcher bit not to be taken literally I suppose).

The offices themselves are a line of thin steel desks, some boasting typewriters that might fetch a pretty amount as antiques at Sothebey’s; adorning the area behind the desks, is the member of the human species that  the British so lovingly bequeathed to us – the typical Bengali clerk. And  as expected, while  clerks are abundant, only one or two are actually doing some work e.g a gentleman religiously drawing tables with a scale and a pencil and filling up the squares in neat handwriting (must be a statement against the evil Microsoft – not using the Table feature on Words).  Most others share a dim view of industriousness. One gentleman, I noted, spent an entire hour flicking his pencil towards a goal formed by a  Stapler and an imaginary post. Yet another seemed to have been entrusted with the job of finding interesting tidbits from the vernacular daily, Bartaman.

(Images: Sarnath Banerjee)

Then there was the other typical feature of such offices: The humongous number of physical files – and you could be forgiven for suspecting some of them date back to the Raj days – that abound everywhere; heaped from the floor to the ceiling, or on old almirahs reeling and creaking under the pressure, falling upon each other for support. Who knows, what mysteries of governmental functioning could be deduced from those tree-murdering mess mass buried under a few decades of dust and cobwebs ?

Anyhow, we reach this all-important for us office and wait for three and half odd hours. Much like the quest for the ring, we  seek a letter – a letter reassuring any inquisitive authorities that my dear wife has been the model citizen in India  and had not been charmed by the dark forces, yet –  a letter that was supposed to have been done by 12noon.

“Go home sir, I will personally make sure this gets done tonite” a clerk, looking like the one in authority, had assured us the evening before. Turns out, an introduction letter from the former District Magistrate had done the trick, as well as a village connection with my father in law, both originally hailing from Joynagar, famous for its eponymous wintry sweet delicacy. Our file would be pushed faster.

But, fast is a relative term.

And reverence for former higher-ups and geographical ties don’t seem to be enough, as we discover that the dude had taken off early on that  previous evening without completing the paperwork and was  absent for this day ! Another clerk, harried by the additional workload, would take more time to get everything prepared for the next stage in the journey of our file.

Finally at 330pm, the said file is ready, and we accompany it to another building, five minutes away, one that actually house the SP of South 24-Parganas, and where the final document will be needed to be typed and  signed (yes, in triplicate).  Once there, we find a major a clerical error – rush back to the seventh floor – the head clerk, to his credit, is extremely understanding and corrects the error. Back to the SP building, they will now type our letter on a ‘computer’ (particular emphasis is laid on that last fact). But first, a young lad, who seems to serve in the capacity of assistant and errand boy for the head clerk, has to write out what is to be typed. This is done on a piece of cyclostyled form (if you can believe that such technology still exists).

Then comes the clanger. A harried blue-shirt comes in saying he cannot seem to work the computer: the template file for our letter is on a CD and the CD isn’t starting and the ‘computer-guy’ has gone home! We are heartbrken – four hours of wait for this ? My wife volunteers to help  Turns out that the guy did not even know how to put in the CD correctly !!!! Anyhow, my wife opens up the file for him, volunteers further help, not out of sheer altruism, but out of the selfish knowledge that the work would get done faster. But the guy declines, and as expected we wait 45 minutes for a job that a 5-year old could do in a minute.

However, by this time we have learned the hard lesson of patience being a virtue, especially while dealing with the venerable gorbhmint. The printout eventually comes – we are asked to review the letter: the English is far from Shakespearean but thankfully a step short of legalese, the fingers itch to set right a few grammatical errors, but are too scared to tempt fate. So the letter, imperfections and all, is taken to the SP for signing, along with the all-important ledger that conscientiously keeps records of such activities. Comes back in about 20 minutes – but still, we cant lay our hands on the letter. It has to make its way to the dispatch section. Around 5.30pm, resigned and dejected that we would not be able to go through with our planned next stage for the day – a cold, calculated attack on the Regional Passport Office to convince them to part with yet a  different piece of paper certifying we aren’t vile criminals – we are finally rewarded a  shiny signed, dispatched and duly recorded letter.

After some profuse thanking, both in action and deeds, we depart into the gory mess that is Kolkata traffic.

All this would have been one of my all-so-frequent rants, or even comic, if it were not for the sad fact that I believe we were rather lucky to have got the job done in the short time we did. I saw other people, people who  had come long distances, from villages, with far less means and not knowing anyone who can ‘influence’ the process,  trying to get their work done in a timely fashion, but held up on minor bureaucratic trivialities. Such, as it is, is life on the fast-lanes of Kolkata bureaucracy.

(Tomorrow: showdown at passport office)

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(And I have left out all the juicy bits about the absolutely unnecessary clutter of paperwork that had accompanied the file everywhere)

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 12, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Posted in India, Kolkata, Personal

I want to write

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…but I am too tired. The heat, humidity and traffic in Kolkata is getting to me, as is the intricate bureaucratic set-up that is the local passport office and the police.

Even the Sapphire Gin and Tonics in the evenings aren’t of much help.

Speaking of which, I realise to my dismay, Tonic water is extremely uncommon in Kolkata; I could find them only at Spencer’s.

In other news, had a quick, pleasant mid-week trip to Mumbai. The main trip is next week. And still doing the rounds, trying to get a bloody Police Clearance Certificate from the Kolkata passport office.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 10, 2008 at 6:28 am

Kolkata bound (yet again) and Mumbai musings

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This hasn’t happened in the last decade: touching home base twice within an year, far less the same calendar year. It wasn’t planned, but so much in life isn’t.

So there it is……waiting in Singapore to catch the evening flight to Kolkata. Much business to be taken care of in Kolkata, involving lots of loitering around the passport office. Then to Mumbai, briefly, and back to Kolkata, hopefully finish the business there if not done already (the more likely scenario), then back to Mumbai for the main business(this is opposed to the original plans for staying in Mumbai all the time).

Question in my mind: will it be worth it ?  It is a sort of closure, so we have to go through with it. But, as a prominent blogger-friend asked, do we want it ? It is a philosophical question, answerable only after a few martinis.

Sorry about the vagueness, just in a mood for rambling….

Anyhow, hoping to meet up some people in Kolkata, and having fun celebrating a very close cousin’s birthday – last time was ten years ago just before we had left homeland and her age could be counted on one hand. Now she is into modeling and physics !!

Also looking forward to being in Mumbai after ten years.

Mumbai must have changed, although I might not even notice much difference as even while living there, I mostly cloistered myself within the Powai campus,  usually not hazarding a local train journey unless on weekends. But have fond memories of walking from VT to the Marine Drive, all the way down to Nariman Point. Or, catch a dinner first at Bengal Lodge  and then walk to Marine Drive. The best meories of Marine Drive was actually once when my train to Kolkata got delayed by 12 hours and I had to  roam around with nothing to do. The monsoons were on, it was windy, and the sea was spectacular.

Not so fond, in fact , nightmarish memories of the daily commute from Powai to Anushakti Nagar for about three months (summer internship). It started out well, there was a direct express bus right from the campus door-step, easy to find a seat and got there in less than 30 minutes. But wouldn’t you know, it got cancelled two weeks after I started commuting, forcing an additional bus/auto trip to get down the hill and then catching the dreaded Route 399. That was a bus that meandered all around town and took more than an hour (sometimes worse as the monsoons set in and traffic got worse). Sometimes I would spend about 4 hours a day commuting (which, to be fair, wasn’t as bad compared to what many Mumbai commuters face all through the year).

The pain of the commute was more than amply made up by the availability of government subsidized canteen food at BARC. The food was tasty too – hot jalebis with savory upma – try the combination sometime. And Friday lunch chicken biryanis – Rs 10 only per plate e my very second one in the city.

The worst Mumbai commuting story, however, would have to be my only second experience in the city. Again, this was monsoon season. It was my first visit to the city, and somehow I had managed to reach the Powai campus from Dadar Station without any adventures. Now, having finished the business at the campus,  I had to reach my cousin’s place in Thane, with no money for cabs, and a very vague idea of where Thane was located geographically or how to get there. Someone told me I could take bus and numbers such and such – so I stood at the bus-stop. Now this was when they had decided that no Arab numerals would be used on the front of the B.E.S.T buses,  only Marathi on the front.  So unless the bus actually pulled up, I would have no idea what route it was and where it was headed and this being Mumbai peak hour, by the time I realised I should step into a particular bus, it was either full or it simply rushed off. Took me a while, but I eventually learnt the Marathi numerals (which helped in future as well) in the two hours of waiting in the constant downpour that is the Mumbai monsoons. Eventually, I did find my cousin’s place, after reaching some place in Thane by bus, then wading through knee-deep water for a while to get to the wrong rickshaw-stand and therefore charged 40Rs extra (a princely sum for a poor student at that time), only to be dropped off at the wrong gate of this humongous apartment complex where people in one block of the complex did not know the location for a block at the other end and oh – it was still raining, and there was a power-cut, and hence quite pitch dark. I never loved the sound of my cousin’s voice nor found chicken curry so delicious after a hot bath as I did on that night.

Hopefully, I can avoid such nightmares this time around.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 30, 2008 at 12:06 am

Posted in Immigration, India, Kolkata, Life, Personal

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‘Arey… Gorpar-er lok moshai… Hindi ki keu sadhe bole….!?’

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A wave of nostalgia induced by this post, led to an youtube-hunting session with a desire to revisit what is possibly one of the most memorable – not to mention comic – scences ever created in the history of Indian cinema :the meeting of Jatayu with Feluda and Topse on a train while it stops at Kanpur.

I have seen this film possibly more than hundred times and this particular scene is etched in memory, yet it doesn’t age.

Sorry Non-bongs, look elsewhere; no amount of translation can convery the nuanced wit.

PS – On the way back from Kolkata, the current crop of Feluda, Topse and Jatayu were traveling on the same plane till Singapore. I gathered they were on their way for an on-location shooting, not doubt with a view to butcher (sorry, not a big fan of Sandip Ray’s version of Feluda’s) Tintoretor Jishu (IMHO, one of the weaker Feluda novels).

Suffice to say, that these guys, Sabyasachi (Feluda), Parambrata Chatterjee (Topshe) and Bibhu Bhattacharya (Lalmohan Ganguly) are no patch on Soumitra, Sidharth Chaterjee and of course, the incompareable Santosh Dutta. I especially took an instant dislike for the new Topshe: of course he was out of character, but all-together too much of a smartypants. Topse is supposed to be innocent.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

May 22, 2008 at 12:49 am

The reverse culture shocks….

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…..when I went home recently after a gap of 3+ years did not involve the burgeoning number of new shopping malls, or the new fly-overs, or the sudden new-fangled fad for Mehendi (Gariahata crossing was chock-full of Mehendi-wallahs adorning nubile arms), or even the (as Dipanjan had warned) inflated value of the rupee (although I did pause for a brief moment when I heard the cost of phuchkas, one rupee now buys less a phuchka!).

But I did a double-take when I saw two teen-aged guys blithely walking with their arms around each other!

Took me a second to remind myself it was all quite normal: Boys (and some girls) of all ages from kindergarten to college-bound, walking with arms around each other, or holding hands. Did not have any additional meaning. [Not that there is anything wrong with people of same gender having mutual affections, its just that my automatic thought for the first few seconds was how India had progressed socially to be accepting such a behavior 🙂 ].

And there it was – the things that hadn’t really changed in Kolkata, the mundane managing to catch me off-guard. Amidst the mental preparations for the various transformations you hear about in India, I had forgotten how much living away had changed me.

Among the other such experiences, which used to part of my daily life, but seems strange now:

  • The lack of personal space; not that I really expect it in an overcrowded country, but more than once I came across this irritating habit of the person behind me in a queue edging as close as possible (hoping no doubt that the extra few inches gained would allow him to get his job done mighty sooner).
  • The absolute and unabashed manner in which people delve into your personal lives, especially in regards to question of employment, salary and importantly, the issue of having kids (I am told that there are a few well meaning people – who aren’t even relatives or close friends – in Kolkata who are losing nights of sleep over the fact we haven’t had kids yet).
  • The fact that simply standing quietly in front of the butcher’s, fish-monger’s or vegetable-vendor’s, waiting for your turn to be called by the shopkeeper gets you nowhere. The trick is to push in and announce what you need – you will be served. But no one’s going to flash a smile and ask what you want.
  • The fact that duties of a good host involve force feeding people till they are sick. In most cases, I was actually the victim; but then there were couple of instances when I would ask guests if they wanted some extra food or sweets and when they say no, I would not ask a second time. Took a while to remember that perhaps they indeed wanted more food but were being polite; I was supposed to continue insisting a bit!

Sigh ! Just ten years away from the motherland and I am – as some of the relatives would not fail to point out disapprovingly – turning into a saheb !

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

May 12, 2008 at 7:22 pm

Posted in India, Kolkata, Life, Personal, Uncategorized

Tagged with