Friday, August 21, 2009

Jogesh Dutta - Marcel Marceau of India 2009

Today is a watershed day in the history of Indian Mime. People had to stand on the aisles. I was late due to my pre occupation in my office , when I went there it was too late. After 53 years and countless laughs, the Charlie Chaplin of Kolkata performed his last show today before the audience at Rabindra Sadan. Silently, as always.The show is over.

After his final show on Friday, Jogesh reappeared on stage, dressed in white shirt and trousers, and laid his wig and costume on the floor. Fittingly, the ‘poet of silence’ didn’t utter a word. But to those who clamoured for the show to go on, he assured that he would continue to teach mime. And thus, mime will live on.

He signed autograph on the leaflet for me.

Still I met him in the green room. Pierre took the picture.

He cried on the stage.

However Pierre was able to see the show.

Video footage inside the greenroom

When India awoke to a ‘new dawn’ on 15 August 1947, a five-year-old boy, his siblings and parents found themselves on a platform at Calcutta’s Sealdah railway station. Penniless refugees from East Pakistan, the family, like lakhs of others, faced a dark future. Sixty-two years and one week later, the ‘boy’, now 77, stood under the arclights, hands on his chest, tearful and facing a packed house at Kolkata’s Rabindra Sadan, while the national anthem played on.

Friday, 21 August, was Jogesh ‘wordless wonder’ Dutta’s last act on stage, bringing to an end a glorious, 53-year career that won him accolades and awards from across the globe. A pioneer in mime, he washed dishes at a tea stall, was a grocer’s assistant and worked at construction sites before finding his true calling. His parents died when he was very young. He grew up in his uncle’s house and ran away since he was tortured there.

“I was always a keen observer of people and their acts. As a teenager, I used to imitate people, and as word spread, I was invited to perform at colleges, office functions and private soirees. Meanwhile, I also did some acting on stage with a theatre group,” Dutta says.

“I didn’t know what mime was about then,” he says.

While his inspiration was Charlie Chaplin, Jogesh keenly observed young couples snatching a few private moments on the banks of a lake in the city and started imitating them, much to the delight of his friends and associates.

In 1956, he created his first real mime act—a lady dressing up in front of a mirror. The same year, he regaled spectators with this, in what was also his first stage mime performance, at Bally near Kolkata. “I started getting noticed and invites for shows from then on. The National Youth Festival in 1960 at Calcutta was the turning point,” he recalls.

“Invitations from all across the country, and then the world poured in since then,” says Dutta, relaxing in his well-appointed apartment at Ballygunge Circular Road in the city. Previously he used to stay near our house , opposite Dakate (Dacoit’s) Kalibari. I was lucky to see his show at Jogesh Mime Academy at Kalighat.

Dutta’s repertoire includes well over a hundred acts, most of them short and hilarious recreations of scenes from everyday life with a strong undercurrent of sympathy for the poor and underprivileged, with whom he still closely identifies.

“I can never forget my early childhood and the difficulties we faced. We were very poor,” he says. Some of his most famous acts in the comic category are Haircutting Salon, Walking, Bus Passenger, A Naughty Boy and A Society Lady, while his sympathy for the underdog comes through in Unemployed Youth, The Old Servant and The Exploited Labour.

Jogesh founded his own troupe, Podaboli, in 1971 and started, with the help of the Bengal government, the Jogesh Mime Academy in 1975 to research, revive, train and propagate the 3,000-year-old art of Indian pantomime. The Films Division made a documentary on him in 14 Indian languages in 1983, followed by similar documentaries made by Germany, Britain and France. He received the Shiromani Purashkar in 1985 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1993.

Dutta’s final act was his hugely popular The Thief. “I’m old and can’t take the rigours of staging an act anymore. Mime shows require agility and swift physical movement and that’s becoming difficult for me,” he says.



Normally I am not known for my passion for poetry. But we went to see the launch of a book, "Amra Anek Kichu Bhool Jani" by Souvik Bandyopadhay. He is currently the deputy director with the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

The poetries were read by Joy Goswami, BarunChanda. I really liked the poetries and the way it was read by Barun Chanda.

Everyone specially enjoyed the title poem that went Amra anek kich bhool jani ar shegulo je bhool sheta amra jani na…
Seeing the huge crowd of enthusiastic readers and poetry lovers, somebody from the panel very correctly said, “Every Bengali is hit by two ailments once in their life - one is malaria and the other poetry, may no one be infected by the former but let the latter flourish.”
In between the recital Pradip Chatterjee,who is a founder member of the Bengali band Moheener Ghoraguli, sang a beautiful song. He is the younger brother of Gautam Chatterjee.
The type of music that Moheener Ghoraguli pioneered, had the seeds of now very popular Jibonmukhi gaan or 'Songs of ordinary life'. Two decades after Moheen, singers like Kabir Suman, Nochiketa and Anjan Dutta took Jibonmukhi gaan to a new level of popularity, but the origins of the genre can be found in the songs of Moheener Ghoraguli.After the programme we talked to him.

Also known as Bula, Pradip is a flutist and vocalist. An engineering graduate from the prestigious Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur, he joined the Calcuttan engineering firm M.N. Dastur, after the break-up of Moheener Ghoraguli. During the course of his service with the company he travelled over many places from Orissa to Libya, but his quest for world-music was never deterred, but enriched by this varied experiences.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

China town and Chinese breakfast in Kolkata

The Chinese has been around in Calcutta since 1783: mostly Cantonese and Hakka migrants. The first chinese At Kin Sun (?) came to India for Sugar Plantation. After him , Achipur near Maheshtala is named. There was a large Chinese Community of more than 500,000 until 1962, the Sino-India War which led to the imprisonment of many Indian born Chinese to Gulag camps in Rajasthan.

Not many Indians know about this tragic past and ill-treatment of the Indian born Chinese which the Indian government tries to suppress til present day.

I happened to see an interesting award documentary called "Fat Mama" , twice, at a film festival where they showed the life of these people and their suffering during 1962.

The Chinese left for other countries after, and what remains of the Chinese Community comes alive on Sunday at Old Calcutta where mostly the Chinese from the Guandong province resides.

The Chinese Breakfast or YumCha is quite unique to Calcutta, it has been around for more than 100 years. Back then was pretty popular with the British and the Chinese Community. This little street called Sun Yat Sen Road, next to Poddar Court, near Central Metro station/Lalbazar. It comes alive around 5.30-6 am when the little stalls start their business.

Only a few stalls are left, selling Pork, Chicken Buns and uniquely Bengali Chinese, huge chunks of Prawn paste and Fishpaste ‘Siew mai’ . Sunday is the most crowded and where most of the Chinese left in Calcutta comes to eat and mingle. Nowdays the stalls cater to mostly Bengali crowd and their taste buds. The dimsum here is a little rough and less refine than what I am use to, but it was tasty and fresh, typically bengali chinese.

How to get there : The place is close to Esplanade, Central Police Station(Lalbazar). The Chinese Breakfast aka YumCha is at Poddar court , along a small lane call Sun Yat Sen Street. The main road is Tiretta Bazaar.

Time : it starts early around 5.30am. I was there around 5.10am when they were just setting up the stalls. It comes alive around 6.30am where trinkle of the local chinese community comes to buy tofu, mocha (rice cake) and dimsum. Breakfast ends around 9am, although, it is best to come before 7 am when the stalls sells out.

for details see .Everything, except the one in italics has been sourced from her blog.

I went their more than once and met Stella , owner of only Chinese grocery store . She still uses Abacus the for calculation!!

Chinese temple nearby on Chattawala Street.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rupashi Bangla - Bishnupur

We (Pierre and me) left for Bishnupur on Monday (15/8/2009) early morning by Rupashi Bangla Train(fare Rs 65, from Howrah station- new - at 6.05 pm and reached Bishnupur at 9.50 pm. Alternatively the buses are available from Esplanade (opposite 
Metro cinema) bus depot.

Bishnupur 150 km west of Kolkata (Calcutta), just beside Ramsagar, was the capital of the
Mallabhumi dynasty. Bishnupur, formerly known as Malla Bhum, is famously known as the temple town of West Bengal for its architecturally exclusive temples.

They ruled over a small region from 697 AD until the 8th century. In the 16th century they expanded and became powerful during the reign of King Birhan Bir.His fort is almost gone, but he developed the city with many lakes(called Bandh in Bishnupur like Tal in Kumaon) and ponds in true Bengali style.

Simultaneously during the Hindu revival, Chaitanya preached his faith and many temples were built as a result. There are 30 temples (17th-18th century) in Bishnupur that are a treasure-trove of terracotta sculptures.

Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu and his love Radha, are detified in most of these temples. The Mallabhumi dynasty also had cordial relations with the Shaivites.
In the 17th century they fought the Marathas and in 1806, the East India Company took over, gave control to zamindars (local chieftains) and Bishnupur faded into oblivion.


We took a rickshaw (Rs 20) to reach our hotel Paryatan Abash (Bishnupur Tourist complex ; 03244 -252200) and rented a double bed room for Rs 130. It is 1.5 minutes walk from most famous WBTDC tourist lodge . One can also stay at Heritage Hotel (with AC): 03244-254 298 & 9434 160 193. 

There we met freelance TV journalist Sushanta Nandy (9233 211 572) , who normally works for 24 ghanta channel.He was of great help to us. He is a local guy. He insisted that we should stay back to see Jhapan festival.


Then we took a city tour by hiring a cycle rickshaw (Rs 200 for 4 hours).The name of the rickshaw puller is Kalu Das (His brother's name is Bibek Das - mobile
9932 85 1256). He is quite nice. 

Kalu Das in front of our hotel.

I think it is the best way to navigate the lanes and by lanes of Bishnupur. At one of the by lanes of Bishnupur we saw an interesting sculpture of Kali.We also a devotee of Kali.

I must say it is much much better than what I thought. The terracotta of Bishnupur is simply mind-blowing. It is difficult to understand why it is not a major tourist attraction

We started from Rash Mancha, focal point of Bishnupur, very near(1 minute) to our hotel and 3 minutes walk from WBTDC Tourism lodge.

From there we went to Madan Mohan temple,which is at the Northern periphery pf Bishnupur.It is best to start from that temple. We then saw Jor Bangla, Shyam Rai Temple(probably the best) ,Pathar Darja,Lalji Temple, Chinnamasta temple(uninspiring). If you come out of Chinnamasta temple take right and after 60 metres take left(after you see a sign post of a Hotel).Then you see three more interesting temples. Go up to the Eco tourism park 80 metres from the hotel, have a tea in a tea stall (opposite park entrance) and come back. The journey of 40 minutes will be enchanting.It is worth going. See the pictures below:

On the southern outskirts are temples made of Laterite and not brick. Laterite, which is red clay, is also called red earth. Since it is a hard stone it can be used for construction. However, it is coarse in appearance and hence is usually finished with stucco. Since it is much cheaper than stones, it is used for foundations, platforms and even walls of buildings. The sculpting on stucco is generally of a very poor quality and it wears off after some time.

Unlike the temples and monuments , found elsewhere in India , built out of marble and stones brought from far-off places, the basic construction material for the Bishnupur temples was the local red soil. Out of the red clay, terracotta tiles were made.

On the tiles, scenes from the the immortal Hindu epics like the the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were artistically depicted.

The distinctive feature of the of the Bishnupur temples is that in their structural design, they resemble the local huts.

Then we met Sital Fouzdar (Mobile 9732 08 34 28) , 87th generation of Fouzdar family who makes playing cards (Ganjifa card) based on 10 avtars or incarnation of Vishnu (10 X 12=120). It is played with 120 cards. Thanks to Kalu Das, our rickshaw puller, we were able to visit that place near Sakhari Bazar. The cards are hand painted (made of vegetable colour) . Each cards costs Rs 50 . I bought one from him to honour his craftsmanship. He explained how he learnt the game from the descendants of Royal families (who were reluctant to teach him) with the help of a German lady(who stayed in Bishnupur for 3 months and paid Rs 1000 to the descendants of Royal family every day to learn the game !!). These type of cards are made only by five families in Mysore, Jaipur, Orissa (Raghurajpur) and Bishnupur.

Sital Fouzdar took almost an hour to explain all to us.
Madan Mohan Temple

Shyam Rai Temple, probably the best temple in Bishnupur

Rash Mancha

Bishnupur is also famous for exquisite Baluchari Saris , generallly priced above Rs 2000.

In the evening we purchased mementos/souveniers from a decrepit shop "Karu Kala" owned by an old man,Prafulla Pandit, 100 metres from Chinnamasta temple . He is selling at an unbelieveable price (you cannot get anything cheaper) and also very courteous and extrememly honest ( I mistakenly asked the price of an item " Is it Rs 5?". He said " it is Rs 3" !). Please do not go to his son's (Raja Pandit) shop , 90 metres before his shop. Phone no. of his son (Mobile 9474 04 83 03).Pierre became mad after seeing the price of items and was thinking of shipping a 50 Kg elelphnat (Rs 100/-) to France. I could restrain him only because of transportation cost which will be quite cheap, 20 times the price!!! . We purchased the horse and elephant , among others, which is the hallmark of Bishnupur craftmanship. 

Bisnupur school of music ( Bishnupur Gharana) is also world famous. Unfortunately we cannot go to the place where the musicians stay near Sakhari Bazar. The most famous musicians are Jadu Bhatta,Radhika Mohan Moitra (Sarod), Manilal Nag(sitar) and daughter of M Nag, Mita Nag. Interestingly we saw a live programme of Mita Nag at Calcutta school of music on 14 th August 2009 and even talked to her about next days trip to Bishnupur !

The only place in whole of India, where you will find terracotta artefacts like Bishnupur horse and world famous temples, famous Baluchari  & Swarnachari sarees, Conch shell carving, its own classical musical school or gharana, Dokra and Dashavatar cards - all in one place - believe it or not !


On 16/8/09 we went to Garh Panchakot (rather Panchet- nobody seems to know Garh Panchakot at Bishnupur). 

First we went to Bankura by bus (Rs 20) at around 7.30 am (in fact the bus to Gangajalghati left an half hour ago) and from Bankura another bus to Saltora (Rs 20/-). From Saltora we took a trekker (WE SAT ON THE TOP OF THE TREKKER !!) for Rs 9/- to reach Madhukunda.

From Madhukunda, which is basically a railway station, we hitch hiked a motorbike to reach Sarbari More. At Sarbari More , we had our lunch at around 2.15 p.m. and again hitch hiked a SUV (Tata Sumo) to go near Garh Panchakot WB Forest department tourist lodge (Puapur) (minimum room rent is Rs 800/-). From Puapur we again hitch hiked a bike to reach the lodge. One can meet Lalan (Mobile 9933 66 27 78) to arrange a booking in the hotels (other than WBFD tourist lodge) .He is however not a tourist guide. He helped us a lot. The address of WB Forest Development Corporation Limited, 6 Raja Subodh Mullick Square, 7 Th - Floor, Kolkata - 700013,opposite Hind cinema,beside Wellington.

There we met a group of travel enthusiast and went for the tour (hitch hiked) around the Panchet hills. The views are stunning to stay the least. After the tour they dropped us at Sarbari More.Without them we would have been in real soup!! I am really thankful to them (They have an interesting travel blog

Breathtaking view.............

From there we w
ent to Madhukunda to catch a train at 5.30 pm to Bishnupur via Adra (Purulia).

Next day (19/8/09) there was famous snake festival at Bishnupur called Jhapan festival(Worshiping Ma Manasha). It is amazing. It is held every year on the last day of Shraban.

On Monday the famous Jogesh Chandra Pura Kriti Bhavan Museum (or simply "Museum" for locals) is closed . So we could not visit that museum. It is 2.5 minutes walking distance from WBTDC tourist lodge You can see snake charmers showing tricks.

One of the tricks being mind blowing, snakes biting their tongue!!!!!

Picture of Sukumar Bauri, eating snakes - he is from Bankura. He said within few years time , there won't be any snakes, because there is no toad in the field because of insecticides.

Interesting Ma Manasha(Hindu god) song by snake charmers. The person on the left hand side is a Muslim, Sheikh Kalua(if I recollect the name correctly)

The festival ended at 7.30 p.m. Then we left by a rickshaw at around 10 p.m. (please leave by 9.45 pm , otherwise the rickshaws will be few and far between) and reached at Pokabandh (lake) bus stand. From there you can get bus to Kolkata from 10.30 p.m. till 12 pm ( I have been told). It reaches Kolkata within 4 hours . Because of immersion of Ma Manasa the bus was late and came after 11 pm. We reached Kolkata at 3.30 a.m. We took this route because Rupasi Bangla train leaves at 5.30 p.m. In that case we would have missed Jhapan. Then there is Chakradharpur express train at 10.30 p.m. , but you won't get to seat, we were told, since it is very crowded. The early morning Rupashi Bangla train at 5.55 am is not very convenient , since I would have been late in the office next day.

Chronological order