Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Sons of the Soil...

At a distant countryside at Kalagachia, around three kilometers interior from Diamond Harbour road at Thakurpukur bazaar, when the village folks are sheltered inside their homes, on a drizzling July morning, Bashir Ali Sheikh is busy digging tons of soil and mud. He is working at a gentleman’s house to dig out a well assisted by his team of laborers.
Drawing out large pools of mud from the digged soil, wiping off his hands in the gamchha tied round his waist, Bashir says, “I have been working here since morning. Though its raining we would not let that affect our work since I’ve given my word to them.”
An eighth grade dropout, Bashir was bound to join his father’s profession around seven years back to support his family financially.
“None of my siblings could complete our education due to lack of money. I am the only child who had the privilege to continue education till eighth grade. My brothers and sisters are not even that educated.”
Bashir started assisting his father in the well digging job while his brother and sister started doing zari work at home itself. These are the only sources of income for the entire family which includes of his parents, his wife and two sons, his brother and a sister.
“My father has been in this profession since the last forty five years. It’s our family tradition, it was my grandfather Rustam Ali Sheikh who started the tradition and the legacy has come down to me. Though I am continuing this work yet I do not want my sons to do this. I want them to study and be educated. My wife Zenatun bibi,is a matriculate and she holds daily tuitions and teaches the primary school children the income from there is exclusively invested in my son’s education.”
At a time, when technology has well placed itself into the well digging scenario, one may question if that has lessened the well digger’s demand. But a timid and hesitant Bashir remains undeterred by this. As per him, there are still certain works related to well digging which a machine can’t do, came the prompt reply. After all a machine or its accessories cannot penetrate into every nook and corner under the ground.
Its quite true well digging demands quite a good amount of manual labor and hardship. Its quite a risk to the digger’s life also as sometimes fatal accidents take place. Sometimes while digging the ground soil, the surrounding area mud slides across the unfitted well walls which causes death of the person working inside the well. Moreover work gets completely stopped in monsoons and it’s like a starvation period for these people.
As Bashir says “Often I’ve to mortgage some property or asset of mine. If there’s no work for around two months how shall we earn and how shall we feed the family? It’s impossible to work during such heavy downpour.”
But for the rest of the year we do get work. Sometimes on contract basis, may be for a week or a month and sometimes on a daily basis.
Bashir also keeps in account of his counterparts at other places. “I know what happened at Liluah and I am proud the way those three well diggers acted. As I already said, not all job can be done by machines. The incident is a proof regarding how human labor is still important in such cases.”
Though he never had a call to rescue any distressed soul fallen in to the well, he did have to rescue the animals who quite often fall in to deep bore wells at his locality. “It’s a common issue. I frequently have a call from my neighbors or friends asking me to rescue their cow or goat that had fallen there.”
“We earn up to Rs 200-300 a day. Sometimes if luck permits, I earn up to even 450-500. But that is not enough to feed the entire family. As a subsidiary, my younger brother does zari work at home.
In view of the recent incidents when the nation has suddenly turned its eyes on these folks and the Government is actually making plans to hire them in the disaster management services, hardly makes any differences to Bashir.
On being asked came the prompt reply, “Is it so? We don’t have any idea regarding all this. I stay at a remote area far from the city at a village called Choukijati. It is quite far away from the city, on the outskirts of Kolkata nearby Diamond Harbour. We even do not have any idea regarding the schemes, the rehabilitation programmes for the BPL families.”
Though Bashir knows his family falls under the BPL category, they still do not have a BPL card to avail the provisions provided for he feels that there are people who earn less than him and they are in more need of that than his family.
I at least earn around 200-300 rupees a day. But there are people who just manage to earn just Rs 50. I feel they need help more than me. We do not even get any help from our village panchayat. But that does not bother us as I can always take care of my family.
Bashir is least bothered of the happenings around him, whether its regarding the government’s decision to include well diggers in Disaster Management services or whether it’s the advent of advanced technology.  He even feels that ten years down the line, their demand in the society shall increase since with increasing people demand for homes and amenities shall increase.
As he finally says that people shall never stop living in homes and whatever the matter is wells will always be required for some purpose or the other. He is happy the way life is moving for him with a distant vision to enhance his business though he knows that requires large amount of monetary investment. “I do want to expand this business but it needs large investment and I really do not have any idea as to how to apply for loans at banks. Hence I have to be content with what I am doing.”
Bashir’s father plans to continue this work for the next five years and Bashir says he would work till the day his health persists. “I do not want my sons to follow in my lines hence I have to earn and save more for their future.”
The twinkle in his eyes speaks high of his dreams regarding his sons who are yet to know of the mundane world. Though timid in expressions yet determined in voice and work, Bashir and many more like him shall always strive to make life a better place more for others than for themselves.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


 ‘The Street That Never Sleeps’ was originally known to the masses as The Burial Ground Road during the British era. The so called ‘Food Street’ of Kolkata was later renamed The Park Street as it runs through the once existent deer park of  Sir Elijah Impey(Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Calcutta reigning from 1773-1789). The Kolkata Municipal Corporation later rechristened it as the Mother Teresa Sarani in the year 2004 as an honorary tribute to Mother Teresa.
Since genesis occurred at the Burial Ground Road, it has been constantly evolving from The Asiatic Society to The Park Hotel to the latest facebook status update on The Park street page!!! Whether it’s the indomitable spirit of the music maniacs at the Someplace Else or the pioneers in production at The Saint Xavier’s University, Park Street never tended to lose its panoramic charm. It’s a kaleidoscope of life rotating among different forms ranging from mindboggling music to good food, from colourful fiestas to good wine, from season’s best baked bread to the Christmas carols. Park Street takes you through a roller coaster stroll of what not you can even wonder!! This street is a well defined conjunction of the west and the east, of music and dance, of Satyajit Ray and Aparna Sen, of Trincas and Barista and much more than can be fantasised in any other street under the sky. You call it the Entertainment hub or you call it the Carnival corner, you name it the Scholar’s room or the Commercial complex, words fall short, phrases shy away and adjectives fail when deciding the apt definition of this lively street in The City of Joy. Lending smiles to joys, hues to colours, rhythm to music, lives to life, wings to butterflies, Park Street is the candescence donor to the incandescent.
Drastic is the word that describes the change of the street right from the very 1940s to the present day scenario. Park Street is the place where the ultimate night life of Kolkata is placed. Whether it’s the decade of the 1970s or the 1980s or times even before that scrolling down to the 1940s, Park Street has always been the most dynamic host to the most prolific,musical,extravaganza night life of our lovely city. Till date it has successfully managed to be the best dining district of Kolkata with varied restaurants and pubs such as the evergreen Trincas or the city’s grilling plate Bar-B-Q!!! Want to have a slurp of the delicacies at the fast food outlets??Then there’s the McDonalds or the Barista!! And if along with being a foodie, you are the novel hunter, then there’s the Oxford Book Store treat for you!!!!Isn’t it very much like Aladdin’s genie??You name it and Park Street presents it!!!
Park Street is where souls intertwine, where dreams dare to dream, where illusions fantasise, where fog lends the warmth, where the rain quenches its thirst, where the eyes speak!! Park Street is where the heart lies!!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


In the scheme of everyday things, perhaps, it is not difficult to miss the little bright spots of happiness that we might encounter in the city’s nooks and corners, but there’s one spot that is hard to miss. And that spot is occupied by Md Nasim, our quintessential weight machinewala. He is ever-so-ready to greet you with a big warm grin and a tinkle of his bell.
The pavement right in front of the corporation building in New Market has been Nasim’s home since the past one and a half years. “I walked into this city in my early teens. I don’t remember the name of the person who brought me here. He promised me a job in the city and soon I found work as a helper in a hotel,” Nasim says while handing over the change to his customer.  
Nasim’s trade is dwindling and he is one among the only few left in the city. With the advent of automated electronic weight machines in most malls, pharmacies and metro stations, there are few takers left for Nasim’s antiquated weight machine. Most people feel that these weight machines would not give an accurate number.
But the grim situation will not deter Nasim from doing what he does. Explaining his decision to join this trade, Nasim says through his gutkha-stained teeth, “I had an accident a few years ago and had to undergo a surgery on my hip bone. I have not been able to walk comfortably since. So I quit my job at the hotel. Who would have a limping man for such a job?”
“I sit here from 8.30 in the morning till afternoon, and then I shift to Roxy cinema in the evening since I get more customers there.”  When asked about his earnings, he said, “I earn upto Rs 50-60 a day and get around twenty-five to thirty customers.  That’s more than enough to afford two square meals a day.”
Moving through life with a swagger, Nasim says, “I don’t think people will stop coming to me and if such a day ever comes, I’ll move onto other job.” “In this city there’s no dearth of ways to earn money. I don’t have to pay any room rent. The person who has allowed me to sleep at his place at night is kind-hearted, he hasn’t charged me anything all these years.”
“This city is more my home than my village Makhdumpur in Jehanabad, Bihar. I know the streets of this place better than the streets of my native place,” says a chirpy Nasim.  Sarkar babu, as Nasim likes to call one of his regular customers, is an employee of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Here’s what he has to say about Nasim. “This profession will never vanish but yes, they may go down in numbers. Not everybody will go to the metro or the malls to check their weight.”  
Not very far away, sits Md Rafi with his weight machine, whose optimism has been seared, only a little though, by the intense heat of the day. “Who likes to sit on the footpath all day in this sweltering heat? We do it to feed ourselves,” complains Rafi.  “I sit here all day, beginning from 8 in the morning till 10 at night. All I earn is just Rs 60-70, which is just about enough for me. I don’t need to send money to my family since my sons are earning,” he adds.  
Nasim seems to take life in his stride and is not concerned with the hardships. “Aadat ban gayi (it has become a habit now). While there are lots of ways to earn here, there are hardly any jobs in Bihar. People shall never stop coming to us. There are still many who believe in the old way of life. Hence, I will continue to be in this profession as long as my health persists.”
True, old habits die hard but how long these men with their little, round weight machines will continue to eke out a living is a big question mark.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


“I aspire to become a singer. I simply love singing Tagore songs,” was the prompt reply of Kishore Lodh and he soon scores a Tagore song with his harmonium. “Ask him to sing any song and he shall sing it with great poise, “says his mentor Mr. Bikram Sinha very proudly hugging his primary school kid who has been studying in this school since the last sixteen years. “ He has been singing since he was a kid and in the last couple of years he has catered pretty good performances and conquered hearts . He has sung at the Udit Narayan musical concert in 2008, in 2010 he had another performance at a musical concert at the Sunderbans and since then it has been a never ending affair,” chirps his mother. One can clearly see the twinkle and the shine of pride on her face. Kishore, quite unknown of the happenings around him keeps on singing his favorite songs. He is currently in his primary school at the Haripada Biswas Vidyalaya. Kishore is aged 26.

Kishore Lodh sings a Tagore song.

    Located at New Barrackpore,the northern fringes of Kolkata, Haripada Biswas Vidyalya appears as any other school unless one mingles closely with the children studying over here. Founded by Late Shri. KanaiLal Dutta, in the January of 1997 on the eve of Vivekananda Jayanti, this school has been specially up for the mentally retarded and the physically challenged children. The school has been running since then, lending a helping hand to the children such that they could lead better lives and moulding them in the perfect way to aptly adapt to the society.
“From 3 students to 77 students, the long journey has been quite learning and enriching experience,” says Ms.Madhumala Basu, Vice President of the school committee as well the daughter of Late Shri. KanaiLal Dutta. Penning down the new applicants for the new academic session, she continues on saying, “Initially, it was pretty difficult. My father had a vision and he went beyond his ways to achieve it. We had to almost drag these children to school whose parents were not at all prepared to send their wards to the school for the specially abled. For it was not easy on their part to accept the bitter fact that their wards had some lagging senses in them which needs special care and attention. There were even some were the parents are themselves mentally retarded, so there’s no question of them being concerned for their wards for they did not have that sense to be concerned.” On being asked how are they working towards fulfilling the dream of her father, comes the prompt reply a major part has been achieved that they had desired to yet they need to walk more in the upcoming years.

   Shunning the initial resistations from the society, pleading teachers to join with a meagre salary of just thirty bucks a month, counseling the bereaved parents of the mentally and physically challenged children and running a full on school in a not so developed area has been worth an experience, says Mr. Arun Kumar Sikdar, Secretary of Haripada Biswas Vidyalaya,who also happens to be one of those who have been associated with the school since its very foundation.
Scrambling through classrooms, one gets a view of teachers and students interacting among themselves. Unless you observe them precisely, you would not even have the faintest idea that these children have a lagging sense that has been lost in their childhood.
        Ms.Kanika Pathak, teacher-in-recharge says she’s quite happy and content being in this school. Teaching object identification to her she says, “Since the times my children came walking to this school when they found it difficult to even remember their names and today they can easily identify objects around them, they play with their teachers, they can draw pictures and every time an outsider walks into the class, they are there to welcome you with folded hands.” It instantly gives us the feeling that they are no different and even they love to chatter with every hawker who happens to pass by the window or flash a billion dollar smile when their cheeks are cuddled.

 It’s not only the school or the teachers but also the parents who are continuously trying to get that silver lining of the clouded lives of their wards. Such is the dedication, such is the determination to help their children beautiful and successful life, without being dependant on others, that they have sacrificed all other pleasures of their own lives. Many a parents could be seen waiting in the temple premises of the school all day long who accompany their wards everyday to the school, cooperating with the teachers, motivating the innocent kids and applauding for every small effort of theirs. But, there are a few parents who even don’t know what their wards are suffering of or who cannot even afford to pay the travelling wages for their children to school, still the school is determined not to let it affect the lives of these innocent children.
All the time, the teachers, the therapists, the parents are always striving hard to pin down their dream of lending a meaningful life to their children, making them realize that being bereft of one of their senses, they are no different. Dreaming, inspiring, motivating and making their lives colorful and charming is their real concern.
For the society may shun them, friends and families may isolate them yet they are fighting against all odds reliving the lost innocence. Their quest continues to get the touch of that silver lining in their clouded lives. For once Helen Keller said “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it” and so are they walking on these words on the verge of quenching their thirst of better lives with loads of smiles.

Friday, 25 May 2012


Gariahat, the vibrating shopping hotspot of the city witnessed people from the cross-sections of life come together to protest against the prevalent practise of victim blaming in cases of sexual harassment. It was a day of rejoice, of revolution – men, women, transgenders, students, mothers, fathers and children joined ranks to uphold basic human dignity.
What started as a protest against a Toronto police official, who irked the women fraternity in Canada by his statement to dress properly to avoid sexual harassment, has also inspired Jadavpur University (JU) students to bring issues related to women injustices before Kolkatans.
Anek bhalo sheje dekhechhi, ja porecchi besh korechhi “ (we are done with dressing up correctly, now we shall wear what we want) were the words echoing on the busy lanes passing the Gariahat market on the sultry Thursday evening as a sign of revolt against the shadow rules dictating women wardrobe. 
The Kolkata edition of SlutWalk marked its debut from JU premises, and though it was meant for the women fraternity it included people from various sections. The protest march, an entirely apolitical one, was unique because it was attended by men, women, girls, homosexuals and transgenders.
Though Kolkata’s response to SlutWalk took a year after it was started on 3 April 2011 in Canada, it attracted good attendance despite its low profile campaign. On being asked what he feels regarding such late response of Kolkata, Sayak, one of the many male participants of the rally replies, “Better late than never. We were late in responding but I think ours is the most unique walk because participants from all walk of life have joined the cause. The turnout is more than what we had expected. As you can see, around 400 people have joined us. Doesn’t that reflect the awakening of the city towards such injustices?”
“I am participating in the rally because I am against any sort of harassment upon any person, irrespective of gender,” continues Sayak. He adds, “It is not the age, not the dress nor the gender that actually provokes sexual harassment. It’s always the approach of the molester that leads to such incidents. We are not against any community, gender or political party. We are protesting against the indecent approach of people, who feel they can take the esteem of any person for granted. It is a show of solidarity for all-the victim, the oppressed. It’s for every other victim who happens to be harassed almost every day on the streets, at home, work or school.”
Encouraging participants while distributing pamphlets, Dona Dey another young girl proudly explains the basic goals of the rally to an old passerby.  “I am wearing a dress which I am comfortable in and I love to put it on, but that doesn’t mean I am provoking you to put your hands on me,” she adds while moving forward to join the crowd.
Taking a break from shouting slogans, “Neiko haya nei pobitro,esho haanto dushchoritro (we are beyond the pales of shame and purity, the fallen walk together)”  to gulp some cold water, one of the participants, a transgender says, “It’s not only the women who are targeted. Haven’t you heard of transgenders being molested? I am such a victim. I am a transgender and that’s not a shame. But it’s a shame when the person feels that I am easily approachable.”
One of the chief organisers Shreya Sen, says: “I came to know about the walk through Facebook, I knew that this is the day when I can openly voice my protest against such injustices in the society. Every day and night, we are being harassed in different ways and I wanted to protest against it. It’s our fault also that we never fight back due to societal constraints. I contacted the students of JU and the next moment I was preparing the strategy for the rally.”
On being asked why they did not publicize it much, she replied “We never wanted any publicity stunt. Therefore you can see there are exactly no celebrities attached with the rally. It’s an outcry for the common man. It’s for one and all. It’s for the teenage girl who is being sexually harassed by her uncle, it’s for the kid who is being molested by his tutor, it’s for the boy who loves boys and not girls, and it’s for me for I am also a victim of eve teasing.”
“Sensationalising the topic would just gain us mileage but our ultimate goal would never be fulfilled. We could have invited some high profile feminists to join us for a good publicity stunt, but even I am a feminist. You are a feminist. Because I think every woman who fights for her own rights, raises her voice against injustices to her and is vocal regarding her choices in life is a feminist,” she continues.
“We want to change the attitude of people towards the word slut. It’s not any particular incident that has fuelled us but yes, I think this was the need of the hour. We want to hold more such rallies in the near future. Just an hour of Slutwalk won’t change the stereotype thinking of people that has been prevalent since decades but we are still optimistic regarding the attitude towards victims of sexual harassment. We know we can bring that change. And that would be the real poriborton.  Isn’t it?” she adds.
The fact that a mother and her daughter skipped their shopping to join the rally clearly indicates that the message has struck the right chord.
An old man, who preferred not to reveal his identity said, “Seeing these people do such a good work, I approached the volunteers in hope of getting some help from them for my daughter who is being physically tortured at her in-laws. I was taken to the members of a NGO participating in the rally.”
Though the change may not come in a day, with just one piece of rally yet the organisers believe such events will give another platform to create the awakening and bring the awareness among people regarding the social injustice towards women in our society.
The volunteers had ‘no entry’ specially written over body parts that attract male glare. The bold step mirrors the confident mood of the participants, who have joined the war path singing we shall overcome.

Friday, 18 May 2012



Old is Gold or obsolete??Which is one is more preferred real or the remix??
Let it be any aspect, different people have got their own distinct opinions. While some people feel that the old and classical songs have their own heart caressing nature whereas some say that the brand new renditions are far more refreshing!
Before going further, first of all we need to question ourselves, why this sudden concept of old vs. new has bumped into our minds. One may promptly answer “Generation gap”.
Our parents, forefathers have their eardrums attached to renditions by Madanmohan, Pancham da or even Pt. Jasraj. Most of them are simple annoyed when they listen to music of the present days. Even they hardly show any interest in the present day culture. Whereas on the other hand the present day generations have very little interest in the music and movies of the yesteryears.
This difference in opinion, shall never have a vanishing point and shall continue endlessly.
But, as the old saying goes that every matter, big or small has its own dignity. Hence, old or new, real or the remix, whatever it may be, we first need to understand the significance of each of them.
For example, when a newly married bride enters her in laws home, don’t the people arise questions regarding her adjustments in the new environment?  But the same girl, after a couple of years becomes the breathe of the house. Russian vodka or wine, isn’t it that the people prefer the one that is the oldest??
“OLD IS GOLD”-But why??
Analytically speaking, for today’s generation the old is precious. Yes! And that’s because the cultural and social life in the yesteryears was quite different from today’s date. There were birth of certain ethics and values that have been carried out till today but some were lost in the evolution of time and space. And speaking of music and movies, everything was mostly subtle, soul soothing and meaningful.
And what is actually old?? Something that does not belong to our present age. The rocking remixes tomorrow shall become old for the next generation. A matter can be considered old only for its future generation and not for the time when its born. Things, taking birth now, are as per today’s time and taste. It shall remain static and on high demand as long as it caters to the mood and tastes of the people. The day it loses its much gained popularity, it becomes old.
But anything that is old has witnessed a certain time and space. Old matter is the greatest evidence of the past days. So how come it’s obsolete??it helps us rejuvenate the lost times and tastes. And that makes it as precious as Gold.
But does that mean that new is vulgar?? Not at all.
The basic fact is, whenever a new culture or matter pops up, people are a bit apprehensive regarding accepting it as a validated property. People remain in suspicion regarding its longevity. It does take time to get absorbed by replacing the old.
 New is never bad. The society makes it such. When the great philosopher and social reformer, Raja Rammohun Roy fought against Sati system and raised voice for women education and widow remarriage, the society didn’t accept it at one go. When women from the Tagore family started riding horses, going to school and long voyages, the society condemned their acts as filthy. But later, history is evidence to how the same society made the same people their idols and joined hands in reforming further the Indian society.
Yet the society is not to be blamed. Anything new can never be accepted at once until and unless it proves its validity, its actual worth and when it gets adapted to time and becomes capable to stand up to the expectations of the people, it gets easily accepted.
Now coming to music, these days remix versions are always a hit. But that doesn’t mean that the old day songs are obsolete!
The fact is that originality is in itself always unique as it has come up as something new at some point of time has been accepted by the people for its newness and anything new is unique. Once reformed and changed at some beats, it becomes a remix. And considering the varied tastes of the present generations, fast, upbeat tracks are always a hit list. It shall not be considered a nuisance until and unless, it, in any ways tends to tamper the dignity of the original rendition. And what can one expect more of it when it is catering to the needs of the people without destroying the beauty of the original rendition??
And as already mentioned above, real, the original is always unique and distinct. And as a unique piece, when it becomes old, it’s considered gold. The concept of remix has now been readily accepted by the people. The society is no more apprehensive regarding acceptance of such remix matters. And when these get soaked with time, it’s quite obvious for tomorrow’s generation to consider the same remix renditions as gold.
Ultimately, for the time being we can state that the old or the new, the real or the remix-all of them coexist with each other. These are very much interlaced and interdependent upon one another where the essence of one cannot be understood with the absence of the other.
Compiled by-