What is Art for ?

“Science can manage with talent, Art requires genius” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Artists and creative people, in our times tend to be hesitant in answering the question: “What is Art for?” Aren’t we able to run our lives with our technologies, our face-book, our pornography, our petrol stations, our corporate offices, our ATMs, our you-tube, our Google, our gadgets and shopping malls?

What can be the answer to such a clear and blunt question?

I reproduce two definitions, one from a poet of classical Sanskrit of 7th/8th century central India and another from an Algerian Frenchman of our century.  The poet Bhratrihari says :

sahitya-sangita-kala-bihina-sakshat-pashu-puccha-bishan-hina

–  A human being without any interest / association with Literature, Music, Art is an animal in entirety, sans tail and horn. In the next stanza, he adds with caustic humour : such animals live without eating grass and animals are fortunate, otherwise they would have starved.

Albert Camus, while expounding the absurdity of existence, declares: “Life is inconsequential, so is Art and hence Art captures Life so completely.” This is a devastating exposition while we contemplate our great technological and material edifice and tremendous labour we have put individually and collectively to build. However, there is great wisdom, a penetrating wisdom and a backdoor definition of Art and creativity itself. Consider Music or Painting – music and painting both are de-materialized matter. An artist works in his craft (for example cinema) in a highly controlled environment but the end result liberates us. A Mozart symphony is absolutely faithful to all the rigorous demands of the craft’s grammar and rules but it liberates something inside us. It captures something inside us so completely and consistently that we awake from our illusion and from the larger existential illusion.

Art is a therapy of the soul and close to what is psychoanalysis for mind.

History propels art but Art is clever – history thinks that Art is his hand-maiden but Art has a hidden lover – The Great Time and she has one face of her always beholden to the seminal father and the amniotic space – Eternity. History is the record of emphasis and de-emphasis of dominant power and hence Art, in one of her exposed persona follows the script: it directed people’s attention to dominant power: religion, royalty, communism, corporations, democracy, liberty, freedom, revolution, ideology and so on.

The whole history of Art (which lies within the historical time) endorses this. Had this been the only potency and receptivity of Art, Art would have been classed in the same category of technology which has history but no critical history. By critical history, I mean being self-referential or self-critical and this means that one must step into the value-pool. One must, as an individual make the choice of value. This gives Art her most mysterious power: individuality and attendant autonomy. This autonomy of an individual at the level of Being is the guarantee of our divinity.

Hence Art and madness are so close and intertwined. And this madness which stems from an existential struggle of an individual with the cosmos is the heirloom of all artistic geniuses and what Schopanhuer alludes at the quote at the start of the preface.

Two hundred years back, at the start of the century, great minds of Europe felt a deep pessimism about human condition. Human condition seemed to be in eternal slavery of war, empire and un-freedom. Man was nothing but a pawn, a plaything of History.

Two hundred years hence, when I write this, human condition has entered a phase when the danger is that men and women will become machines. The great celebration of un-thinking has begun. The value-pool is shrunken and there is no one, or very few who still want to exert a value statement. The end of such un-thinking is the elaborate practice of a philosophy called ‘Anything goes’.

What will rescue Men and Women from becoming machines? What will rein the horse of technological materialism? What can re-echo the faint stirring of human nature in the bosom of men and women who are convinced that Heart is a machine that pumps blood and counter this through a demonstration and not simple assertion that human heart is something from which Great Thoughts gush forth.

What can balance both Reason and Freedom? How can we rein our technology and re-direct them for a fulfilled life? What is in our disposal which does not need anything else to interpret (scholars and experts) and implement (Government, Corporate and their combination) it?

This must be something so close to our Being that we must have forgotten it. The greatest wonder and miracle of our time is that we are un-conscious to have overlooked the greatest happening of our times: trans-valuation of human nature.

It is this trans-valuation of values that is sweeping the globe. This process is unfolding in front of our eyes and we are fortunate to be real time witness of this process. “Man is a reed, but a thinking reed” – so goes Pascal while he finds the inconsequential nature of Man in front of the impenetrable Universe but the same Pascal was celebrating human freedom that we can comprehend it. This ‘comprehension’ is not possible now as we are in the cusp of Unthinking.

This comprehension of existence through science and technology has already degenerated into speculation and specialized speculation and hence into the domain of careerists and celebrity scientists. The mathematical certainty of science has evolved into statistical doubt. Man resembles a madman of Calcutta footpath playing snake and ladder with God.[1]

A great opportunity beckons us. A great opportunity to dive deep into our Being – inexhaustible and autonomous. There is no statistical doubt or consensus – even the language of Being is so different and radical that we get a glimpse of it – we do not build or capture it – it gets revealed.

Art must become a Revelation, minus the religious aspect of revelations  and this is the great triumph and autonomy of Art and our Being.

Adda-Fe must work, in its greatest scope, while networked with million minds to re-echo and re-direct this Revelation again to human beings who may yet be re-deemed into the fold of Human Nature.

 

[1] Inspired by Mr. Suman Chatterjee’s song ‘Pagal’

A Lecture on Music by of Dr. Hans-Juergen Nagel

An executive summary of Dr. Hans-Juergen Nagel’s lecture on  What is Music and its relevance for a society – Perspectives from Western musical tradition, organized by Wordsmith University on 12th December 2015 at AJ Block Community Hall, Salt Lake, Calcutta.

nagel

Wordsmith University Founder-Teacher Pritam Bhattacharyya introducing the speaker 

The lecture was structured in a very novel way. Dr. Nagel introduced the topic but instead of discussing the relevance of Music for contemporary society as how he thinks, he had read a series of reflections by internationally renewed musicians and conductors on the inexhaustible mystery called Music. These reflections were collected and translated by him. The reflections include musicians like Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Alfred Brendel, Yehudi Menuhin, Edwin Fischer, Helmut Lachenmann, Luciano Pavarotti and many such luminaries. What was interesting was that he read those verbatim and the audience had the opportunity of hearing directly what these musicians thought about their craft and its relevance for society and human life and human nature.

A very brief survey of these reflections is given below:

  • Music and culture are not some extravagance or embellishment of civilization but the umbilical cord that nourishes us. Without this nourishment, we shall lose what is called human nature. This umbilical cord is the guarantee of our divinity.
  • Man has a hammer in one of his hands and a violin in his other hand. The hammer signifies technology by which he brings material comfort and he may tend to think that this hammer can bring him fulfillment. But without the violin, he loses his human nature. He may look into the innermost part of the atom using his technology, machines and automation but without the violin, he loses what is human nature within him.
  • Music deals with de-materialized matter and combining intuition and retaining the purity and accuracy of what the musician wanted to convey through his music, an artist creates something anew. This is told best by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer – Music is the world recreated once more.

 Dr. Nagel then discussed something interesting with regards to culture of a society and he argues that it is the municipality which knows culture of a community better because it deals with their daily lives more than the federal or central government. This is very interesting and novel idea about a society like ours.

Dr. Nagel went on arguing that Culture must be financed by public funds. Sponsoring is an exception, because it serves basically private interests, culture events are not commercial events. Financing has not to be covered by entrance fees.

The most important cultural body is the municipality because it has to serve the interests of the inhabitants of the city and it is close to the pulse of people. Normally it finances opera houses, music schools, conservatories, orchestras, theatres, experimental activities, contemporary music, museums, non commercial films, festivals.

He had mentioned of a historical period of music in Germany when common people used to attend musical performances where music of the great composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach were played and is still done. In a sense, it was a cultural exercise which was close to the daily lives of common people, not restricted to the elites or of a specific class. It is the community that organizes funds and runs these events and not some central and distant government.

He then touched something very important for any human society: living a fulfilled life as an individual and a member of the society. He mentions that Music and Art have always signaled the coming of change much before the actual change manifests itself. He touches the impact of Mozart’s music and its eventual impact in the urge to change society in terms of revolution in thought and philosophy of life in that period. In other words, politicians and policy-makers need to be aware of the fact that political and social changes will be captured by Music and Art much earlier because of its mysterious power. Hence, if we need to mould our conduct to live in an age of change and transformation, something inside our being must change and Art and Music have played this role throughout history. It is this mysterious power that makes art and music not something external or decorative but something extremely powerful in shaping our being in our existential journey.

Furthermore Nagel referred to aspects of the nature of art and its possible relevance for an enlightened civil society. He related to some positions according to the history of philosophy.

Art can be understood as an appearance of the depth (origin) and is defined by philosophers as the absolute, the divine or as the truth, which means by qualities through which art becomes recognizable as hermetic and perfect, comparable to nature. This is a metaphysical world, beyond our daily reality which we usually experience.

The ability to produce art and to find ways for its understanding belongs to the most important qualities of a human  being.

According to Heidegger’s Time and Being, everything is there and at all times, but is concealed (revealed) and must become unrevealed. This happens with regards to historical processes, but also during the development of an artistic production.

It seems to be obvious, that somebody, who finds an access to the depth or truth of art, will also find an access to deeper meanings of the world beyond the pretensions of which we are confronted in our daily lives. He has become knowing. This is the reason, for instance for political systems to oppress the freedom of expression because of its danger in terms of influencing the political opinion of its citizens. Those tendencies are also relevant for the so called open societies, as Karl Popper has demonstrated in his publication – The open society and its enemies.

apples and biscuits

Apples and Biscuits by Cezanne – 1884. This was used by Dr Nagel to illustrate how art looks in a fresh way and recreates 

He mentions that we need to learn the art of living life and only scientific knowledge of the world or the technology to do so will not be enough to have a fulfilled life. This is evident in many highly technologically advanced societies grappling with the crisis of living a fulfilled life. He examines the world ‘fulfillment’ in a direct, ironic and humorous way through the example of a newspaper dated 12th December 2015. The newspaper shows an advert of some real estate company, asking people to buy their apartment and claims boldly and in bold and highlighted print – Fulfillment starts at 43.8 Lac!

There was a great collective smile – both wise and ironic in the faces of the audience and thus the lecture ended. The curiosity is to know as to what level the fulfillment ends if it starts at a certain number!

There followed informal discussions after that one of the interesting observations by one of the members was that in the supermarkets, a very special kind of booming music is being played and continuous exposure to such kind of music destroys the ‘internal composition” of a person and he/she now responds in a controlled way to such kind of musical stimulus.

Note: Wordsmith University is working with Dr. Nagel to publish the reflections of the musicians in the form of a book entitled – What is Music – Reflections of internally renowned musicians and conductors on an inexhaustible mystery. The idea is to circulate this book to music schools and academies, politicians and policy-makers in addition to music lovers and interested readers.

Why is Philosophy important ?

Since the beginning of recorded history, two opposing  thoughts regarding human progress are visible :

  1. Human progress is towards development, things are becoming better. Most of the scientists since Newton till date are more or less subscriber of this ‘faith’. Technically, this is called ‘telos‘. Engineers and technologists subscribe to this faith more unconsciously as otherwise they will not be able to bring the next improved version.
  1. Human progress is more complex and not linear and not towards any ‘development’ – human stupidity increases with human intelligence just as an amplifier amplifies both signal and noise.

But we ask : How to live our life in the best possible manner ? Science and Technology cannot answer that because this is beyond their scope. For science, every new theory transcends the previous theories. Technology, especially the technology of our times is so interwoven with business that it is impotent to be sufficiently critical of its own ‘course’. Hence history of technology is the history of dominant idea / power of that period. Technology is a slave of power in all its forms and a demure and obliging hand-maiden.

Five hundred years back, Rene Decartes visualized human being fighting with Nature and winning it. The win came but what a sterile victory of bitterness it has been !

The same cannot be said of a question like : “How should I conduct my life?”

Only Philosophy deals with this question and this question is a hall mark of human species.

Today, philosophy is important because of all sciences and technologies, it asks : ‘Should I join facebook ?”

The answer is not important or not even relevant. The question is important and this habit of mind is what philosophy teaches us.

In certain circumstances, this question may save you

Beware of the the ‘cult’ of entrepreneurship

[ I acknowledge my thanks to many ex-cult members who kindly shared their experience but for obvious reasons remains anonymous ]

After interacting with “entrepreneurs” ( those who do not call or do not like to call them petty or growing or established business owners, professionals, freelancers or by function – programmer, content writer, video editor)  for some three years, I have detected some orientation of mind which borders on cult psychology. A brief summary :

I. Never graduates, an open ended becoming into a vague, fog-filled territory 

Most of the entrepreneurs cannot say what or what measurements will be considered ‘graduation’, ‘success’, ‘finish line’ for their journey. The journey remains open-ended.  I have seen the same with entrepreneurs running businesses from the range of INR 5 Lac to INR 25 crore.

Consider many cults : new entrants find near impossible but not clearly defined or verifiable goals – nirvana, freedom, eternal joy, zero exploitation system, eternal peace – an Utopia. The leaders constantly urge them to do more,  push more and a guilt pervades inside the entrant : I need to do more. How can I relax now ? So many things need to be achieved… so many impossibles to be made possible. 

II.  Post-Human icons, examples, leaders, role-models : change the world 

It is almost of the same probability to start a company and become like Steve Jobbs with that of landing into Bombay VT station and then becoming Shah Rukh Khan after a decade. But we always hear such talks – statistical miracles. Everyone is supposed to be now out in the morning to get the next great thing or that idea that will ‘change the world’

All hardcore cults, without exception drill into the recruit’s mind the overwhelming and urgent need to : change the world.  Some recommend chanting, some recommend some breathing exercise, some recommend armed or non-violent struggle, some say that becoming vegetarian is the key, some say greenhouse gases, some say the ice in polar regions, some opine that putting some RFID inside each individual and as such.  Without this motivation to ‘change the world’, human mind does not get sufficient traction.

III Environment control and closed social interactions – Us and They 

Entrepreneurs tend to live within a controlled group and since they are out to change the world, there is a sense of superiority and subsequent : us and them divide. The world is now divided into two parts : Solution-provider or saviour and solution-buyer and user. 

All cults create this divide : us and them. It is our duty to  make each one like us or we reject or ignore them and for some people – use them. This usage goes in subtle and gross way. Many cults keep attrition away by brainwashing their members that the world outside is ‘full of vices’, ‘under mensch species”, ‘nasty’, “filled with demons”, “full of low energy people”.

IV. Suppressing the inner voice and common signals – Delusion as heroism 

Reality still finds cracks and light shines into a world-view carefully created and sealed. Many entrepreneurs (as told by a blessed soul) are not happy doing what they do, they are neither motivated, they are irritated. General signals and their conclusions demand radical re-examination, even exit. But outside, the show goes on – the conditioned responses and actions and talks and the next great thing is just round the corner !

I know some ex-cult members whose mission was to make ‘the world a happier place”. Many after few years felt terribly unhappy inside and felt like running away. But they could not and in their closed group and with outsiders, they faked a ‘happy face’ with a crying heart inside. This kind of dissociation of personality will have attendant psychological disorders and dysfunction.

V. Sleep deprivation, Specific Food regiment, Sexual over (under) drive 

Most of the entrepreneurs I have interacted with suffer from minor to major sleep deprivation. They also eat in a regimented and mechanical manner.  Sexual life also gets affected. Now what these have to do with our subject ?It does. Read below.

Any influential cult, down the ages, will be observed to control three things of a biological person : sleep (wake up 4 am to do some work), food (eat some specific kind of food ), sexual abstinence or wanton indulgence. Why ? Because, controlling these things, a person becomes ready for brain-washing. In more direct way : his mind – the autonomy of the mind can be manipulated by more powerful group-mind. The result : doing away with all the autonomy and its attendant complexities of an individual person.

V. Learning, Learning, Learning …. the robotic urge to be programmed more and more

Entrepreneurs have a favourite word : learning. But it appears to me that many develop an insatiable appetite to learn (a kind of eating disorder for mind) – from conferences (paid), speakers (paid), seminars (paid), webinars (paid), talkathon (paid) and it goes on. They ask each other whether they did attend the last conference or not ? Most are paid ones and considerable learning-tax is paid. But just like lust feeds on its own appetite , learning hunger seems to increase and does not show any sign of waning.

Most of the famous cults have developed their wealth by either selling a mantra, book, literature, workshops, lectures, ideas, lifestyle (including sexual reticence or abandon), drugs,  physio-mental experiences et el. This wealth is created by the army of salesmen (and women) who are members of the cult. An ex-cult member told me that when he had joined the cult with the objective of doing some service for the world. However, a few years down the lane, the objective of  doing service gets shorted with selling the cult’s offerings to earn money. And – he was not clear whether the money such earned was spent in what manner !

An entrepreneur first goes to the first workshop / conference to learn something for the new journey. He listens to and then more hunger comes for advanced learning. Few years down the lane, he becomes a regular in all such ‘learning spaces’ and spends money and mixes with same group of regulars. His learning to apply and outgrow that part of learning seems to be shorted with the urge of learning more and more (and paying more and more) into an infinite open ended loop. See Point 1 above.

—————————————————————————————————-

De-programming 

  1. I am not an entrepreneur – I am a business owner. I have started a business which I own – legally and emotionally but I am not a prisoner of it.
  2. The business needs to be run while respecting the laws of business and not by some fancy words and its attendant lifestyles.
  3. Big Idea is dangerous : it can kill you !
  4. All your iconic entrepreneurs did not care to become an entrepreneur or not. It is your (and group-mind’s) projection.
  5. Your life has a worth and autonomy independent of your achievements (or non-achievements) as an ‘entrepreneur.
  6. Penetrate through statistical miracles.
  7. Any life-destroying thing does not appear first with red flags but with an overabundance of good intentions, great ideals, super-human call to achievements and changing the world.
  8. Sleep well, enjoy your food, exchange human warmth and closeness.  Your achievement is in the future – a kind of post-dated cheque but a good meal is realized cash ! Enjoy the grace and be thankful
  9. All movements, great or small, forces of history are programs or design – large and small and do not make them holy or glorious. Your icons may be a worse person – headed man to man with you.
  10. Do not ignore sho0ts of doubt in your mind : this may save you from greatest of catastrophes.

[Monsoon – 2015 – Calcutta / Kolkata ] Entrepreneurs de Bengal

My friend and colleague Sushobhan records a meeting of 20+ entrepreneurs of Bengal with a vision to start a lasting and blooming association. Not the chandimantap  variety but something noble. The land has long lost the idea of true nobility. However, without this sense of nobility, there is no culture or no civilization.

ENTREPRENEURS DE BENGAL

(Do not miss the poem he penned and also the translation. This invocation by poetry gives an insight into a Bengali mind : Heart has a reason which Reason will never comprehend)

1880 / Calcutta, India : Powerhouse of ideas, enterprise and confidence. High Renaissance of Bengal – fractured or not.

1930 / Calcutta, India  : Independence. National Mission Accomplished. Bengal like France in Europe has enriched India with the miraculous fertility of her womb.  Lethargy and Convalescence. Bengal has spent her last refined fuel.

1990 / Calcutta / India :  Crisis of the Cadre state – inception.

2005 / Kolkata : Almost no entrepreneurs, no dreamers, no lovers – only workers, cadres, deal-makers, operators and managers.  Three things went for sale : land, labour and women by the irrevocable law of history as a rich family descends into poverty.

Still, there were some who were keeping alight with their heart’s blood as fuel a spirit of entrepreneurship in the land. They were like lighthouses in the massive darkness. We do not know their names, most of them at least.

This monsoon, the spirits of those lovers of Bengal watched as a team of Bengali entrepreneurs assembled in East Kolkata with a noble purpose, generally absent in the land. The purpose is to consult notes of each other’s dreams.

Wordsmith Team welcomes this initiative. This is the stirring of a new life and as an obscure but passionate lover of Bengal and I welcome this :

প্রিয়তমা, সুন্দরীতমারে আমার – যে আমা উজ্জ্বল উদ্ধার

অমৃতের দিব্য প্রতিমারে – অমৃতেরে করি নমস্কার

[First published work by Priyam] Interesting Science Experiments

Our eldest son Priyam had attended a science camp in his school. I had asked him to write a summary of his experience in the science camp. He wrote the first draft and then we sat with this draft and aided by wiki and Google, he was introduced to the heritage of modern science. The excitement of being published made the young author attentively read and study many things which a normal coursework would not have done. Parent’s learning from the experiment : Make study feel like something completely different – like earning glory :)

Interesting Science Experiments

On 8th of March, we had a science camp in our school, DPS Newtown, Kolkata.  It was conducted by Sam Gibbs, who came from Australia with his team. Sam Gibbs is a renowned science educator and he has been interacting with students of South East Asia since 2003.

He conducted a number of experiments and explained about these interesting science experiments.  A few of them are explained below:

  1. He took a four bladed helicopter which flew over our heads and made back flips and front flips.

Explanation: This experiment is based on the principle called Bernoulli’s principle. According to Bernoulli’s principle, when an object moves in a fluid (e.g: air, water) it creates pressure difference. This states that total energy – kinetic energy, potential energy and internal energy is always constant and when one energy increases, other one decreases.

  1. Gibbs took a bicycle wheel and tried to balance the wheel with a

string but he failed as the wheel would fall in the ground. So he spun the wheel and the spinning wheel was found to be balanced.

Explanation: This can be explained by Newton’s laws of motion. When the wheel was at rest, there was gravity only acting on it. Hence it was not balanced and was falling down. However, when the wheel was rotating, the centrifugal force balanced the force of gravity. Hence the rotating wheel was balanced.

  1. We went to the field and saw a water rocket which would fly with the help of water. We saw a launch pad, a bicycle pump and a small button. Mr. Gibbs took a bottle of water and poured it inside the rocket. At the first try, he pumped 25 times. Then he asked us to press the button and when he counted 3, I pressed the button and the rocket flew in the sky and went some distance. Then he had asked to pump 50 times and to press the button and the water rocket went higher than where it went during the first try.

Explanation:  This can be explained by two laws of physics. One is Bernoulli’s principle and another is Newton’s third law of motion. When pressure was built with water, and then suddenly released, the internal energy got converted into kinetic energy. This made the rocket fly. The direction of the flight was governed by Newton’s third law of motion which says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  When the force drives the rocket upward and the force of gravity moving downward, the two opposing forces are balanced and at that point, the rocket was pulled down by gravity.

  1. One of our teachers took us to our activity room and asked to make groups and make a strong building with plastic rods that would not break if it is thrown from a low height.

Explanation: We built structures of various sizes and we had found that a dome shaped structure is more stable than other forms of structure. It was explained to us that for such a structure, loads are most balanced. This is the reason we find many building with dome shape.

5.Mr.  Gibbs took a thrust machine and a plastic foot ball. He turned on the thrust machine and threw the ball in the air and the ball floated in the air and rotated.

Explanation:  The thrust machine was pushing a steady stream of air and this force was balancing the force of gravity. Hence the ball was floating. This is the same principle which keeps an airplane flying in the air.

  1. We again went to the field in the afternoon and it was sunny outside. Our teacher brought a sun spotter which showed the sunspots on the sun which are also called the cooler regions on the sun. Then we saw the sun with a telescope. The sun looked like a red ball with sunspots as tiny black dots.

Explanation: The sun has many cooler regions and these are darker and called sunspots. These sunspots are observed by astronomers to know about the sun. It is dangerous to look at the sun with naked eyes as it may damage the eyes.

  1. Mr. Gibbs brought an optical fibre connected with a laser at the end of the optical fibre. As he turned on the laser, the whole optical fibre was glowing like a neon light. We also learnt about Morse codes which were used to send telegrams in previous times.

Explanation: An optical fibre uses the principle of total internal reflection when light passing through a medium does not refract but gets totally reflected inside the medium.

2 examples of Morse code are as follows:

A:   * —

B:   — * * *

At the end, we learnt about the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) and learnt about radio waves, gamma waves and other things of this. We also learnt that even our bodies radiate electromagnetic rays which are infra-red or heat rays.

Conclusion

The whole day was full of fun and we were lucky that someone from a foreign country had come in our school to educate us and to do many exciting things. I came to know many things about physics. I have written this article to share my experience with other people where they will come to know of many important principles of science.

Priyam Bhattacharyya is a student of Class V in DPS, Newtown, Kolkata/Calcutta.

 

[2006-2015] Resident Alien of Calcutta, Wordsmith, Rennessiance Club

This is the concluding section of the auto-biographical post I have been commanded by my colleague and friend  Mr. Sushobhan Mukerjee  The first part of the series – Metropolitan Man, Muffsil, Train of Time  covered a long stretch. This part covers the period which I call, The Hibernating Decade  ———————————————————————————————- In 2002, I came to Calcutta as a man with some six years of working experience, bachelor but betrothed, working in a corporation and ready to start the process what in Calcutta is called : settling down. I did settle down, first into the chair of the office and then into the great confusion of the city. I frequented heritage house – not only for the attraction of the house but also for reasons I dare not speak now. I started to search for the Calcutta I have lost twenty years back (when the 2nd Howrah bridge had a gaping gap in the middle and Lighthouse Bar with its blue lights not extinct) but became a wanderer. Wandering into the great city like a lost soul, I have become like Jekyll and Hyde. During the day, I was a middle manager of a mediocre corporation and in the night – like Dickens, was trying to lose myself in the city’s bars, pleasure joints, boat-houses and underpass smoking joints. It continued for a year and like all my wanderings, I did alone and hence no witnesses. In 2005, I boarded a British Airways flight (now extinct) bound for London while coconut trees of Jessore Road seemed like close relatives waving and in the previous afternoon I read Madhu-kabi’s epitaph and then found that many leaders of young Bengal’s resting place now receive nitrogenous waste from young Bengal. I concluded that the dead poets (Derozio for example) now cannot get votes or investment and hence does not feature much in the schemes of things. Cut to 2006 – I returned back from England – now a father of a young boy of one year, no job, no house to stay and effectively –  completely un-settled. I was retired by that time and rented a flat in Salt Lake area and having settled the family in the flat, I had become a pure loafer in the city.  I frequented old haunts – Chota Bristol for example with the only difference being that I had the whole day to me. I remember once, in a summer day, I was asked by a young boy to keep the thread of his kite but I could not, my finger missed and the kite flew away. I apologized as being quite drunk, truthfully enough and he looked at me with eyes of innocence and wonder ! It was during this time, I read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul  and in a moonless night, while I was crossing from Howrah to Armenian Ghat, a great desire to write something for Calcutta was born. My wife, showing no less patience and indulgence for her husband than Henrietta did for madhu-kabi and did not whip me to earn more money and think for the future etc as is the fate of most of married men of Bengal.  I was drifting and in this fatal period, she was the Lakshmi and Annapurna of our house. I was well aware of the fatal nature of the drift and it was all the more dangerous because of herself thinking this to be some kind of great hiatus for a great man. Poor soul! I read, translated and drifted and this was only broken while I received my CPF and gratuity from my previous employer and again felt to be a monarch of all I survey. I immediately started buying books, started to plan some summer trips to Bolpur and in short, lengthening the loafer life. 2008- in the next one year, due to our household Lakshmi’s understanding of Lakshmi in the form of money being restless, most of the money was used to buy a small flat all cash deal and then I was in trouble. An invitation in Oxford to present a paper and also to attend alumni meet (with some dakshina included) made me travel in Dickens’ London and Wordsmith Communication became more of a genuine business.  The whole story is documented here in a small book called Wordsmith Book of Business 

wsb-cover

My first business book and a good friend and earner

DSC01952

This is in the same period of wandering – now in front of Oxford’s Bodliean Library after paying tribute to Nirad C Chauduri in Lathbury Street with Oxford blue plaque

In 2008, the business stabilized, I thought of keeping a mistress in  the tradition of previous Calcutta citizens of yester years. I figured out that this is not possible – legally and practically and launched an online magazine : http://www.pentasect.com. The mistress started demanding as all mistresses do, more time and effort. I kept her in good humour and then kept a distance. It was also the same time when the demon of writing a Cultural Glossary of Calcutta took hold of me. Till 201o, in these 4 years, I had no connection with Calcutta citizens except with their grandparents in National Library and old books and older authors. I did not care to read news-papers. My wife, now performed the role of an Annapurna and kept feeding me delicacies at times and took care of our child, leaving me enjoy the life of a sperm-donor father. She also did take care of the business in a considerable manner in my physical and mental absence.

The Oxford Park - the green of the grass, I was told by a gardener there : it can happen only after 800 years of regular watering, care and scholarly walks

The Oxford Park – the green of the grass, I was told by a gardener there : it can happen only after 800 years of regular watering, care and scholarly walks

DSC01950

Oxford College – Light and Shade – University of Vidya and University of Avidya

In 2009, in this field, a strange feeling to write a history of Bengal(which I used to  write to pass time ) seized me. I started taking notes and I felt as if the sunlight and the green are mixed up and entering through my eyes, nose, ears inside and creating a suffocating sense of being in-inseminated.

aihb_back cover

Mayapur, Isckon – where this photo was shot by my sister-in-law Indrani.

I took notes in the bus to London and reached Hammersmith as if under some drug. I took the manuscript and started writing and within 3 days, with some bread, butter and gin-tonic and some 100+Mayfair cigarettes, the manuscript was more of less complete and published. Few Chapters of the book are available here in summary form Till 2012, I have continued my exile in Calcutta but Calcutta was also working its magic on me.

aihb_front cover

Sankhadip Sengupta – the only poet of my generation whom I know , kindly gave a photo shot by him. He gave me two immortal lines for me while I was making my return to Calcutta – jobless and helpless : Calcutta has place for everyone. She will have have place for you. She did.

In the Intimate History of Bengal, I posited 2 thesis – a) Bengal is the Eastern Terminus of Europe of the living b) The only miracle in South Asia after the birth of Buddha in Nepal was the renaissance of Bengal in the high tide of 1860 – 1920. In 2012, the urge was born to publish the book I visualized on Calcutta and notes collected during my loafer days some six years back. The manuscript matured and with the 2nd boy child arrived a year back and Lakshmi and Annapurna needing help, I became a baby-sitting CEO. It is in those baby sitting sessions, spent mostly in the small park of 206, Salt Lake, I typed and retyped the first draft of Calcutta Culture Glossary. The book eventually got published and snippets are available in Pentasect.com.   An entry from the glossary with the illustrations  by Ms. Rupsha Bhadra for the illustration of the lady with the bicycle     product_thumbnail

The Young Girl in the Bi-Cycle Almost everyday, I see a young girl in a very nice-looking bi-cycle in the area where I commute. She must be between 16-17 years old but has the dignity of a lady. I had seen her in yellow, blue, sage green and crimson red dresses and she looked equally commanding in all these colours with her impeccably clean bi-cycle. She has an imperious look and reminded me of Estella of The Great Expectations by Dickens. One blessed morning, as I was crossing the KS Canal from the Saltlake side, a balding, middle-aged man as I am, I gave her way to pass with her trusted companion – the bi-cycle. She looked at me and gave a gracious smile. I became Pip and the last few immortal lines automatically sounded inside: Her indescribable freshness and radiance is gone but a mellow sweetness remained….

4In 2011, I also started teaching online – how to lead a time rich cash poor life and this resulted into Wordsmith University  – a tol of Internet age where teachers teach and students pay dakshina and it morphed slowly into People’s Business School. In 2013, after almost seven years being a resident alien of Calcutta, I was pulled into mainstream by Mr. Sushobhan Mukerjee, the same friend whose command made me write these posts while I am in my summer hiatus at heritage house. I was almost sucked into mainstream – a PhD student in IIT, Kharagpur, Mr. Gobinda Roy, another noble friend and colleague and also an alumni of the institution. It is only the extreme weather of Kharagpur that saved me almost the doorstep of being inducted. Mr.Mukherjee, a successful business owner and CEO himself, as if pulled me out of my self-imposed exile and I started to get acquainted with the polished society of Calcutta in person (previously I only met their grand-fathers in books and old histories). This resulted into my visitations and meet with business magnates, entrepreneurs, policy makers and many men and women of my generation based in Calcutta. It was like a Rip Van Winkle waking from the dream and as if I was asking them : ‘Tell me Sire, what are all these commotion here in the streets and why are they so anxious and angry mob-mob-like. I am, my noble Sire/Madame, a humble subject of Her Majesty” The collaboration with Mr. Mukherjee and many other noble planets in his orbit enriched me and provided me with contemporary and flesh and blood experience of Calcutta. Like Srikanta, I felt, Calcutta is Rajya-Lakshmi for me – she did not allow me to come close but did now allow to escape her orbit. I became like a satellite, trapped and charmed in the orbit of the City. The Collaboration gave birth to one object and one institution : a book and a Club. The book Mr. Mukherjee so kindly allowed me to co-author is Fool’s Walk – A journey of two fools and duly published on 1st April this year.
product_thumbnail (1)

Another one is founding of Renaissance Club which is a Club which is based on the idea of production first and then consumption of tasty delicacies. Every member has to read / write / present an original work, followed by consumption of quality eating material.  A complete session of Renaissance club is reproduced from the archive

The members in deliberation and production

The members in deliberation and production

consumption

Consumption ( of the only true, authentic, first class, recession proof, elegant, sweet, heavenly product of Contemporary Bengal) and madhurena samapoyet

I think I have tried to execute the commission as entrusted by Mr. Mukhherjee and here, I take my leave as shadows linger here – in my summer home after a hot day which makes jack-fruit ripe and men listless, I take leave of my readers. Even though I have always admonished all talented men and women of Bengal to be un-Bengali but as I mature, I find a mellow tenderness for Bengal which for me is distilled as : green fields, blue sky, wide expanse of water, dark and doe-like eyes of a Bengali maiden and I again go back to one of the greatest and immortal but least understood by his countryman, the creator of Indranath and Srikanta  এতকাল জীবনটা কাটিল উপগ্রহের মতো – যাহাকে কেন্দ্র করিয়া ঘুরি, না পাইলাম তাহার কাছে যাইবার অধিকার, না দূরে যাইবার অনুমতি And also, a prayer for the City, where the City takes human form, almost a demi-goddess and Buddhadev Basu’s translation of a French poet echoes and let this be what I like to say to Calcutta, my city, by adoption : প্রিয়তমা, সুন্দরীতোমারে আমার, যে আমার উজ্জ্বল উদ্ধার অমৃতের দিব্য প্রতিমা্রে, অমৃতেরে করি নমস্কার