Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jatra- the unforgotten pride of Bengal

               Jatra- the unforgotten pride of Bengal       
The tall fair man stepping down the stairs from his studio is Dilip Babu, the doyen of Jatra industry of Bengal. Through a mutual friend, he agreed to meet me at his residence.
The housekeeper ushered me to a sofa set at the corner and looked at the big grandfather clock, said, “He would come down in another few minutes for having tea with you.”  
I could hear clearly even from this sitting hall, his baritone voice reciting from famous scene of Jatra “Karna-Kunti sambad.”
 Age failed to erode   the resonating bass of the voice that still could mesmerize thousands of audience surrounding the podium open on all four sides.
Jatra   is the popular folk theater form of Bengali theater spread throughout the Bengali speaking areas of India and similar to Tamasha of Maharashtra.
These drama groups travel from one performing place to another.   
The musicians, playing the background music to heighten the overall dramatic effect of the performances, sit on two sides of the stage and perform jointly playing Dholok, pakhwaj, harmonium, tabla, flute, Violin etc.
In most of the Jatras there is a common character Vivek (conscience), who in between the play, comments on the action of actors and their consequences.

We became friends before the tea arrived and who said Dilip babu was full of ego? 
Dilip babu said, “I understand, you have some queries on Jatra for your upcoming novel. But let me tell you, my answers shall be on the basis of whatever I overheard and learned through my thirty years involvement in Jatra”
“That shall be great for me. Bookish knowledge is always less than practical knowledge. I want to know what made the Jatra so different from the popular form of Theater.”
“You see, Jatra has its roots in the deep core of rural Bengal. The villagers while ploughing, fishing, boat rowing etc. keep on singing in individual typical tune. It could be to inspire and or entertain the teammates.
These popular lyrical performances formed the very basis of Jatra. Unlike the Theater, although this is not dance-drama but dance and songs appear frequently and relevantly but never as a filler in between the play. In fact, most of the important parts of the drama the dialogues are lyrical and go up and down as per the required scale of the tune.  Good Jatra artists are   mostly born mediocre singers but still take lessons in classical singings besides learning basics of Jatra acting.”
I said “Dilip da, Jatra is now on the wane of popularity. Why So?”
I knew by asking this daring question, I might be thrown out. His eyes glared for a moment but instead of saying "OUT" asked me
“How do you say so?”
“The crowds of Nayeks on   Rathjatra day are gradually reducing. In rural areas, the Jatra arrangers even by push selling, expect to get at the best only two thirds responses that too for   the most hit Palas (dramas) of the year”
There was a Phone call. He looked at the call number and said, “Excuse me for few minutes. Have one more cup of tea.”
I avoided saying another rather rude point. That time was almost the peak of Jatra season. Even five years back, it would have been difficult for the top Jatra artist like him to chat with me even at the onsite green room of Jatra.
In 2001, there were more than 200 companies (now reduced to 58 only) in Chitpore of Kolkata employing about 20,000 people. The “Adhikaries (owner/director) in their “Gaddis” (office) were always busy talking with Nayeks (booking agents) and sorting out an optimized   date suitable for both. The opening day of bookings was Rathjatra (Chariot festival of Lord Jagannath in June) and by evening of that day, almost cent percent of the best time slots were booked by the Nayeks arriving from all corners of Bengali speaking areas of India.
This year although the active Jatra companies are only fifty-eight, even on the Rathjatra day the booking response was nowhere near the figure of even five years back.
Dilip babu returned with a tall glass of brown color liquid. The smell of the liquid was sufficient to guess that he was neither drinking black tea nor cold drink but Rum.
As he offered me one and as soon as I shook my head, he immediately poured from that glass to refill his glass.
He apparently looked disturbed. I overheard just then he was angry with someone on the last phone call for cancellation of a show.
“Yes, what the Nayeks told you for the present status of Jatra?”
I said, “I hear not only from them but also from the villages where I moved for the subsurface ground water exploration. People in general are saying that Jatra is limping before TV serials and just released pirated movies from the internet available at the comfort of home.”
His baritone voice barked, “That is half the truth. Few years back, in the name of modernization most of the new owners of Jatra brought the TV and/or Film actors with Xerox copies of the scripts of serials and films along with light and sound effects. There were few initial successes, but ultimately audience rejected them.
These people neglected the basic format of Jatra. The audience surrounds all four sides open podium at the centre. Acting requires voice throwing synchronized with the   body movement such that audience facing the actors from front, sideways and back gets equal opportunity to be connected with the actors. The scripts copied from cinema or TV serial based on another format of acting could not match. The actors from these industries failed to act in the style of Jatra.”
I said, “That’s what I heard. People told me that they came to see Jatra, not a TV serial or film. They can see that at the comfort of the home and why unnecessary pay money for ticket.”
He gulped his remaining rum and said, “Years before, there were sponsors like Tea garden owners, Miners, village chiefs for the Jatra shows and the entry was free. But now people have to pay a lot.  So surely they want to see Jatra but not a poor remake of Tv serial or cinema.” 
I bravely asked, “What do you think can make Jatra revive.”
He thought for a while and said, “Just get me one Script writer and lyricist like Brojen Dey or Vairav Gangly. This industry has still now veterans like us and young dedicated talents who can still make Jatra back to its Golden days.”
I said “Gate crash crowd of audience…”
Before I could complete he said, “ Not only that,  After our performance, the dialogues and the songs would move from lips to lips of common people. That is the success and our pleasure. A Jatra artist does not hanker for money like those migratory birds of TV and Cinema who ruined this industry.”

Leaving his house, at a crowded traffic junction, some one’s car radio was playing the Famous “Sonai Dighi” of Brojen Dey. Even if the signals, turned amber, like me, many of the people at the wheels listening to the Jatra forgot to switch on the engine. Brojen babu can still make the Jatra to come back to it’s golden days. Jatra is yet the unforgotten drama pride of Bengal   

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


I used to think that we waste our time, energy  and debate so much to give a name to a newborn until I met a scholarly and philosopher person Sharma Ji, who compelled me to think otherwise.
He told me “Why we drop our letters only in the postbox? Does the addressee stay there? Because we believe that this is the beginning of the process of reaching the letter to the addressee. ”
I said “I do not get you. What that has got to do with the name of a person.”
With his usual calmness Sharma ji said, "The body is the casing of a soul. Every soul when born is assigned a trajectory path by the Almighty. The name is just like the convention one follows in naming a file; also it is the codified form of that assigned trajectory which the Almighty conveys deep in the subconscious minds of the persons who start thinking to assign a name. In a way, Naming is the beginning of the mission for which a soul assumes a physical shape.”
I still had doubts and asked him “I can show you here more than Five Yudhistirs who are known liars and if some day a light breeze may blow away my driver Hercules, I won’t be surprised.”
With smiles in his face he said “our bank is diametrically opposite to the main market.  Many times from our camp, instead of taking left turn towards market, we turn right towards bank. Because if we do not get money from the bank we cannot do our assigned task of Marketing. If you remember Ramayana, Ratanakar and Valmiki are the names of same person. So if the name appears to be a misnomer, wait and see.”
We had a day long discussion and debate and he told me that a name might be valid for the   literal meaning or it could be a combination of a (latent or active) supernatural vibration and the former. Also as the life advances, a person may get some other name or names. He said” If you do not get a direct bus to Raipur, You take some other means or bus to Jagdalpur and from there you board other bus to reach Raipur.”  
I was so much convinced that on return to my camp,  opened the brown pages of boyhood day’s diary about the names of our brothers and sisters.
My grandma gave the name to all of us along with a ceremony. All these names are in some way are also the names of things  for daily Puja of Devi Durga.
 Long before, we were known as a royal family. Devi Durga is our presiding deity at the ancestral Village home. My brothers and sisters are named by Grandma  as  Sonkho( Conch),  Alpana( Rongoli) and my name is Pradip; this is the main big Deepak consisting of many Deepaks attached to big brass stand. During Maha-arati when it is lighted all other lights except the Diyas near the goddess were put off.
I am quite baffled here. Although brought up in a very religious environment, I am never an orthodox Hindu. I believe very seriously that worshiping can be done by closing or opening your hands or by touching your heart or by any other way. I never think that my way of worshipping God is the best and others are to be put off.
In my profession,  to be a successful geologist you have to listen and give equal importance of other’s views besides your own view. 
I asked Sharmaji about my doubts and he smiled,"Just think of it for some more time, you will get the answer.” I could not get it from him, as one day he suddenly left us  forever.
 My team rediscovered some Iron ore deposits, and some small mine developed copper mineralization and finally a regional discovery of a big deposit of Nickel in Indonesia. I was awarded Ph.D for my research work for a method improvement and mathematical modeling of ore reserve estimation.
I do not know if all these could put some dim light like a small Diya. If so, then I am happy for my name and If Sharmaji was around, I could have told him so.
I was happy with my name till a  friend of my late father told me something, which I did not know before.
My father was a rational man and he disliked any religious bias. When I was born, he was in the Police training college as he got his long waited promotion. He knew that my naming would be made by his mother (Grandma) with a religious bias.
He was an ardent fan of Film star Pradip Kumar   and became very happy when I was named as Pradip.(Kumar, as per our family system is common to all boys but not Kumari to girls.) However our parents   never told any of us about this angle of my name.  
strangely, I was very much active in debates, speech competition and drama from school to college life and some part of my service life in Baildilla(in Chhatisgarh, near Dantewada) and Mossabani. I was more inclined in writing script and to another hobby; writing lyrics of songs.
Except few directors, I do not see films at all and I never saw any film of Pradip Kumar although I heard he was a great actor. Sadly, in my family nobody neither   discouraged nor encouraged my stage performances. One of my bosom friend,  a very successful actress, Film director and editor of a Magazine, requested me to write scripts for her TV serials but I could not make it.
I remember only faintly, once my father told me if I ever wanted to translate my dream into reality he would stand by it. I could not follow that he wanted me to be a Film actor. However he believed in personal freedom and I did what I wanted to do.
 I only disliked this part of my name just for this sake. This part of Namesake shall ever remain with me as a sad shake.
(This is an entry to 7 th edition of Indispire of indiblogger.in)