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Sunday, December 25, 2011

* Christmas Greetings!

Wishing everyone A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year 2012!

My short story "April Afternoon" is going to be published in The Four Quarters Magazine available online at from 31st December 2011.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

* Book and Talk!

My research article titled "The Changing Face of the West and the Indian Diaspora: Reading Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Sunetra Gupta and Jhumpa Lahiri" has been published in the book Concepts and Contexts of Diasporic Literature of India, Ed. K. V. Dominic, ISBN: 9789381030240, New Delhi: Gnosis/Authorspress Publications, 2011. 

On 2nd November 2011 Naseeruddin Shah delivered the Nabayug Acharya Memorial Lecture on "Literature and Theatre" at the Darbhanga Hall, University of Calcutta. The hall was filled with students, researchers, teachers and officials, all eager to listen to the actor's speech and some perhaps to get a picture of his. The speaker didn't disappoint, just as he said that for an actor the most important thing is the word.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

* Bordeaux, Booker and Beyond!

A Conference in Bordeaux: Theme: "South-Asian Diasporic Circulations and Cultures: Transdisciplinary Approaches"
Place: University of Bordeaux, France. Date: 14 and 15 October 2011.
Paper title: Food in the Culture of India and the Indian Diaspora: Analysis through the Selected Works of Anita Desai.
Authors: Dr. Amit Shankar Saha and Bhawana Jain
Presenter: Bhawana Jain (Nice Sophia-Antipolis University, France)

An Event in BCL: On the eve of the announcement of the Man Booker Prize winner for this year Aparna Bhattacharya of the British Council, Kolkata, organized a reading and discussion of the Booker shortlisted novels, "Hooked by the Book(er)". The event was conducted  by Richa Wahi. It was a very nice experience and my prediction for the winner came up trumps. 

Recently visited the "Treasures of Ancient China" exhibition at the National Library and "Kalighat Paintings" exhibition at the Victoria Memorial. I will recommend Calcuttans to visit these two exhibitions for some enriching experience.

* This Diwali I had a surprise - a free Dove Nourishing Oil Care Range Gift Hamper. Thank you Dove.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

* Creative Writing Workshop

I attended a two-day Creative Writing Workshop, on 6th and 7th August, organized by the British Council and conducted by Richa Wahi and Chetan Joshi. It was a very good experience. The instructors were fabulous and the group was terrific. In the last session of the workshop the participants were asked to write a story based on the character that each of the participants had sketched by looking at a few random things shown to them the previous day. This is the story (From Moscow with Love) that I produced -

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

* Story, Academia, Wikipedia, & CfP

My short story "The Story Writer" has been showcased in
I am now also in

At the Wikipedia Meetup in Kolkata -

Call for Papers on J.S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women

We look forward to the submission of research papers or articles on J.S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women for the forthcoming critical edition on the same.

The Book shall be published by Authors Press, New Delhi, India.

All submitted research papers or articles on various aspects of this particular text shall be entertained and peer-reviewed.

Research papers or articles shall follow the MLA Style Sheet (7th Edition).  

Final Submissions shall have:  

  1. Abstract of the article, 
  2. the Article and 
  3. a short Bio-note.

For all types of enquiry please contact Saptarshi Mallick over

The Deadline for submission of Research papers or articles is January 2012.
Editors - Prof. Sarbojit Biswas & Mr. Saptarshi Mallick.

Monday, June 20, 2011

* At the Opium Memorial, The Governor's Email and Chicken Soup for the Soul

My romance with the British Council library continues. The day before yesterday I got an invitation from Aparna Bhattacharya of the British Council library to attend Amitav Ghosh’s reading of his just released book River of Smoke at Victoria Memorial Portrait Gallery on Sunday, 19th June. I have read most of Amitav Ghosh’s works and liked them immensely. So it was a great opportunity to be in close quarters with the creator of characters like Alu, Tridib, May, Murugan, Piya, Fokir, Kalua, Deeti, and Ah Fatt. The reading session was chaired by the eminent historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya and the other panelists were Supriya Chaudhuri and Rimi B. Chatterjee.

Under the precinct of the colonial mansion, which Amitav Ghosh termed as the Opium Memorial, since it was the British opium trade that funded its construction, the writer read an excerpt and spoke about his new book, the second of the Ibis trilogy. He dwelt upon the East India Company’s hypocrisy about opium and how they monopolized its trade in Calcutta. In comparison, Bombay’s opium trade was carried by independent entrepreneurs like Behram Moddie, one of the characters in Sea of Poppies who reappears in this new book. Ghosh said that it was his love of history and a tactile sense of the past that made it possible for him to blend history with his fiction. At the academic level history is written much like philosophy, he surmised.  Whereas he is trying to reconstruct the past in his fiction and nowhere it is more palpable than in his depiction of Canton, which according to Ghosh is the real protagonist of River of Smoke.  Ghosh is fascinated by Canton, or the modern day Guangzhou, where past is everywhere present and yet in its enormity it makes even New York look like a village. It was not only opium but also tea, flowers, and image-making industry that fuelled Canton’s economy in the colonial days. As far back as 1763, a Cantonese painter had his painting exhibition in London. Ghosh’s detailing of nuggets of history in his fiction was appreciated by the panelists and applauded by the audience.

In answering to the panelists’ questions, Amitav Ghosh said that he tries to make coincidences plausible in his fiction and he produces conflicting loyalties in his characters to make his narrative pregnant with possibilities. He acknowledged the difficulties of writing the second book of a trilogy, since it is always in media res, but Ghosh sees his book both as an independent work and as part of a trilogy. It is perhaps this important facet of his writing that each of his work has a life of its own, the characters come out of history, inhabit the present and go into posterity. The power of this writer to create in the mind of his reader a world of his characters is what makes him special. When Sujata Sen of the British Council thanked Amitav Ghosh at the end of the session, I too was thankful to the author and the organization for providing me an experience of an extraordinary evening. 
The former Governor of West Bengal Sri Gopal Krishna Gandhi sent to me his best wishes in reply to my farewell message to him - [ ]

Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi was the governor of West Bengal between 2004 and 2009. The state of West Bengal was privileged to have him as the governor not only because of his illustrious lineage, being the grandson of such eminent personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari, but also because of his statesmanship and erudition. His translation of Vikram Seth’s novel A Suitable Boy into Hindi and his play in verse titled Dara Shukoh are prominent among his accomplishments. During his tenure as West Bengal’s governor he frequented many literary and cultural events in the state and mingled with the public. So when I went to Nandan for Amartya Sen’s lecture on “The Idea of Justice”, he was there in the audience. When I went to Oxford Bookstore for the launch of Sunetra Gupta’s novel So Good in Black, he was there to get his copy signed by the novelist. The governor was widely appreciated for his easy accessibility and friendly demeanor.

Now the governor also happens to be the chancellor of the state’s aided universities. So when in January 2006 I got myself registered as a doctoral researcher in Calcutta University, I was thrilled to have Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi as my university’s chancellor. I hoped that on completion of my PhD, I will be conferred the doctoral degree at the convocation from the hands of the person I so much admired. Time passed. My research work progressed. And in November 2009 I submitted my thesis to the university for adjudication. The next month the newspapers announced that the current governor’s tenure will end on the 13th of December 2009. I was crestfallen for it dawned on me that the incumbent governor will not be there as the chancellor of Calcutta University when I will be handed the doctoral scroll.

It was the night of 12th December when in a sad state of mind I emailed the governor a farewell message expressing how often I have been in his proximity and how I will miss his grace. I little hoped for any reply since it was the last day of the governor’s stay in Raj Bhavan and surely he would have received hundreds of farewell messages. But the next day there was this one message in my mailbox -

Dear Shri Amit Shankar Saha,

I thank you for your most generous mail. May I deserve it. You have my best wishes.


Gopal Gandhi

It was then that I realized that I could not have been happier.


Read an edited version of my anecdote titled "The Professor" published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Indian College Students -

Friday, May 20, 2011

* The Day They Brought in Change

[This blog post is especially for Tamal, whose birthday is today.]

It is the month of May and my grandchildren are visiting me during their summer vacation. I had insisted with my sons and daughters that they send their children to me during their summer holidays because I wanted to pass on to them the forgotten art of story-telling. In the indolence of the simmering summer days I have regaled them with myths and legends and they have been enthusiast listeners too. But today I have chosen to tell them a true story - the story of how people brought change in Bengal more than thirty years ago. And how the mighty had fallen against the struggle of a generation and how we should be grateful to those people who brought prosperity that we continue to enjoy today. My grandchildren have a skeptical look on their faces when I say that this all happened in front of my eyes. So to make is sound authentic I tell them the name of Buddhadeb, the mighty chief-minister of who once ruled over Bengal.

The youngest of my listeners, on hearing the name cries out, “Is he related to Aranyadeb - The Phantom whose story you told us one day?” The oldest of the lot, who was old enough to understand history, guffawed loudly to the chagrin of the little one. I remember that last year I had told them the story of The Phantom. But since these kids were growing up watching the urban superheroes in films they could not relate to the forest-dwelling superhero. So I had taken them for a visit to Jungle Mahal to witness the life of the tribal people living close to nature. But now silence has again prevailed and I tell the children that Buddhadeb was not a superhero. I add that he did not live in the forests because the forests at that time were infested with Maoists guerrillas. The chief-minister was a man of hubris and his downfall was brought by the woman under whose leadership change was ushered in. That woman was called Mamata - the champion of the poor.

It was now the turn of the eldest to question me. “But didn’t she have to tackle the Maoists too?” The youngest could not have a revengeful laugh because the topic had already surpassed her comprehension. So I give them a simplified answer, “She gave orders and everything stopped. It was because the people trusted her.” They all sigh an “Oh!” But one of the older ones again asks, “How did she gain the trust of the people?” So I tell them that it all began in what is now the industrial town of Singur and how the then government’s land acquisition policy backfired because it belittled the opposition and used strong-arm tactics against the poor farmers. And Mamata led the agitation promising to return the land of the farmers if she was voted to power. Then again in Nandigram, which is now an agricultural hub, many people who were opposing the land-grabbing attempts of the government were killed by the ruling forces. And again the oppressed farmers found the champion of the poor beside them fighting for their cause.

This time the youngest, again finding courage, asks, “Were those responsible for killing the people punished?” I say, “Yes. In the summer of 2011 the man of hubris was inflicted a crushing defeat at the hands of the champion of the poor in the Assembly election.” The children are satisfied so I do not go on to tell them about the poor condition of the state health services or the problems of the state education system or the general state of lethargy and and corruption in the government or the regimented system of favouritism and victimisation by the ruling party prevalent in the state at that time. These children who are born in one of the leading states of India may not be able to appreciate the struggles of the likes of Kabir Suman and Bratya Basu to bring in the change. But these children when they grow up will tell their progeny the story of the triumph of the champion of the poor over the man of hubris that day long time back even before their parents were born. So I continue with my story of how hopes were fulfilled through the change brought in then. 
My research article "Emotional and Sexual Wants in Diasporic Life as Depicted by Jhumpa Lahiri" has been published in the book Indo-English Fiction: New Perspectives, Ed. Arvind M. Nawale, Jaipur: Aadi Publishers, 2011, ISBN: 978-93-80902-39-5.  

Read my review of Nishi Pulugurtha's Derozio: A Monograph in Muse India Issue 37. 

Read my poem "Peace of Mind" at

Friday, April 22, 2011

* The Anthonian's Literary Pursuits

Read my poem "Dream College", which won the First Prize in Poetry at the Wordweavers Contest 2011.

Read my poem "To Florence", published in Issue 11 of Palki.

 Read about my experiences in the British Council library (Kolkata) at Indian Blog World.

 The article also appears in the official blog of the British Council at

Visit my school's literary club's blog - The Anthonian Literary Club -

My PhD thesis (No. 12407) is now in the Calcutta University Central Library and available for consultation. Title page and Contents page from the online catalogue can be viewed here -

Saturday, March 26, 2011

* Lecture and Anecdote!

At the Mohini Mohan Bhattacharyya Memorial Lecture 2011

On 24th March 2011 at Darbhanga Hall, Calcutta University, I attended the Mohini Mohan Bhattacharyya Memorial Lecture delivered by Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty on “The Human in Postcolonial Criticism”. Prof. Chakrabarty teaches History in the University of Chicago and is the founder member of the Subaltern Studies Collective. Among his important works are the essay “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for ‘Indian’ Pasts?” and the book Provincializing Europe.  Prof. Chakrabarty said that in preparing for this lecture he read about the person in whose memory this lecture is instituted. Mohini Mohan Bhattacharyya was the first Gooroodas Banerjee Professor of English in Calcutta University and his doctoral thesis was on the influence of Plato on Edmund Spenser. The British rule in India made many Indians fall in love with English Literature. Although there is some truth in the statement that English education was used by the Britishers to colonize the Indian mind, it does not explain the concept of love. When Mohini Mohan Bhattacharyya visited John Keats’s lodging in Rome he saw bright flowers of varied colours growing outside the window of the room where Keats breathed his last. When he visited the Protestant cemetery, where Keats was buried, he saw the flowers as pale. Such perceptions cannot be inculcated by colonizing the mind.

Prof. Chakrabarty then went on to his area of specialization and said that history is the study of human affairs where the shadow always falls between theory and performance. It is quite ironical that humanity is no longer a political candidate because in the wake of globalization and global warming the world has come to acknowledge that we all are affected. This is the postcolonial condition, the theorizing of which had begun in the departments of English studies and has brought diverse people like Homi Bhabha and Stuart Hall together. Earlier there was a simple-minded assumption that humans as a subject can exercise rights and the subaltern will one day claim their rights through a revolution. Then there was the advent of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak with her essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” It was only then that the history departments belatedly started investigating postcolonialism. Moreover there is the newly emergent subaltern – no longer just the peasants – the illegal, unrecognized migrants. There is this widening gap between the two categories – the barely human illegal immigrant whose cheap labour force is exploited and the ideal of civic citizen. And there is the grim reality of the impossibility of the former category for civic recognition. No doubt, Europe is littered with detention camps. Prof. Chakrabarty narrated an anecdote about one of his visit to Delhi. It is sometimes seen that when highrises are built the labourers who work in its construction mark their passage by writing obscenities on the walls of the building. In Delhi once when he entered an under-construction building he was surprised to find the writing on the wall in Bengali. He was later informed that Delhi is filled with illegal Bangladeshi migrant workers.

The last part of the lecture dealt with how humans, who are always marked by difference, have now become the new agent of geological change. After the initial phase of denial about global warming brought by human agency, there has appeared three ironical twists to it. The first defence is that the results were unthinkable when the use of fossil fuel started. Secondly, the impetus given to productivity by the use of fossil fuel helped in the creation of free labour. And thirdly, human beings will have to adapt to climate change, which implies that many people will die inevitably. The time of Mohini Mohan Bhattacharyya was when the world was perceived as commensurable but the human in the postcolony is faced with an incommensurable world. 
An anecdote from school:
Sunetra Gupta has added the link of my interview with her published in Muse India (Issue 31, 2010) in her website -
I am now a member of Pegasus Journal. Visit my page in the journal's website -

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

* Tagore: Place and Space

Dear Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta,

I know that you are expecting a blog post from me about the International Conference on “Tagore: At Home in the World” organized by the Department of English (DRS SAP – III, Phase – II) and Rabindranath Tagore Centre for Human Development Studies from 10th to 12th February 2011 held at CSSH Hall, Alipore Campus. During those three days of the conference you and your team created in that place a space, which was not confined to just listening to paper presentation. In fact being ten floors above the earthly moorings the participants were, in a rather primitive sense, in space. The place / space dynamics is quite interesting as Dr. Debarati Bandyopadhyay pointed out with reference to Tagore’s poem ‘Tal Gach”. The tree’s place is the earth (“Ma je hoy mati tar”) but its space is created by its aspirations ("Moner shad”). The place of the conference had an address but the space of the conference was the conjunction of minds from a diversity of nations, professions, and affiliations. Differences of being presenters, professors, researchers, and students were perceived as sameness under the label of “participants”. You said in your first day’s address that Tagore had anticipated such postmodern dualities and the discourses during the conference amply displayed that. No doubt even UNESCO is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore.

Professor Ana Jelnikar spoke of the Tagore’s universalism in a world of particulars as the moment of becoming indifferent to difference, where all individuals fill the Golden Boat (“Sonar Tari”) with their harvest but themselves stand outside it because the boat is symbolic of the world and life but not the individual. Professor Indranath Choudhuri contended that in Tagore often the self and the universe becomes one. It is perhaps this that helped Tagore, as Professor Krishna Sen argued, to look at the Europeans as people like him and not exactly the other way round. One of the important points of Professor Sen’s paper was that the non-metropolitan locations of Tagore’s writings destabilize postcolonial binaries. She explained that it is more important to study how Tagore looked at the world and theorized it than how the world looked at Tagore and theorized him because Tagore was not just responsive to modernity but constitutive of it. Her comparison of Tagore and Fanon was very interesting because it starkly delineated the West’s distinctive relationships with India and Africa. For Tagore true freedom lay in the freedom of the mind and it is nowhere more apparent that in his signing of the the “Declaration of the Independence of the Mind” charter at Romain Rolland’s invitation, as Professor Chinmoy Guha pointed out. Professor Choudhuri also stated that Tagore understood the fundamental difference between the West and India – the West develops through substitution whereas India develops through accommodation. It was this non-parochial and inclusive notion of nationalism of Tagore that was in disjoint with the prevalent Swadeshi views and the concept of ethnic nationalism. It made Tagore declare, rather rhetorically, that he was not a patriot since he sought his compatriots all over the world. Professor Amartya Mukhopadhyay countered that Tagore was a patriot with a difference because he did not recognize the nation with its impersonality as in the European sense. Instead Tagore’s love for his country was equivalent to his love for his country people, as Professor Subhoranjan Dasgupta emphasized.

Tagore’s inconsistencies are said to be his weakest points but these are not inconsistencies of irrationality but of creativity, and hence are in a sense his strongest points too. Professor Tutun Mukherjee showed how Tagore explored the uncanny in his ghost stories and through his experimentation with planchet. It was Tagore’s creative way of probing the dimensions of reality. Another point of contention was Tagore’s attitude towards gender issues. Professor Sudeshna Chakravarti demonstrated this through Tagore’s debates with his contemporaries like Chandranath Basu. Professor Blanka Knotkova-Capkova too took up the gender question in illustrating how spiritual principles are gendered in Tagore’s poem “Bairagya”. Professor Jharna Sanyal indicated that the irony of hailing Tagore as Bengal’s Ibsen and his “Streer Patra” as the Indian version of The Doll’s House lay in the fact that Tagore always put aesthetics over theory whereas Ibsen did just the opposite.

It is poignant to note that in Germany and East Central Europe Tagore’s reception, though did not have any colonial context, was still mired by his wise man image. Professor Martin Kampchen exquisitely explained through the anecdote of a Gurkha soldier keeping his faith on a German soldier (or was it the other way round) on hearing Tagore’s name on his lips during the First World War. But the mystic East was to fade soon from their imagination and along with it Tagore too. Professor Imre Bangha showed how Hungarian attitude to Asian literature was shaped by the translations of classic Chinese poetry (of poets long dead) juxtaposed with the translations of Tagore (who was still living), thereby pushing Tagore into the tradition of the past.

Professor Uma Dasgupta’s paper was an exposition on Tagore’s conception of Santiniketan and Sriniketan. Tagore wanted to bring about a fruitful conjugation of the urban and the rural. But what came as an inadvertent hindrance towards the realization of his dream was the lack of state support and paradoxically his own high culture. Dr. Amrit Sen in exploring the recurrence of the word “tirtha” as a motif in Tagore’s travelogues could also equate Visva Bharati as Tgore’s “tirtha”. Professor Ramkrishna Bhattacharya observed that Tagore’s later travelogues became a cross between diary and philosophical notes (often written in epistolary form). It was the transcendent aspect of “tirtha” which formulated Tagore’s Santiniketan as “Bhraman Vidyalaya” (travel school). Tagore took as his inspiration the forests schools of the Upanishads. Professor Udaya Narayana Singh in his address made an interesting comparison that in India civilization grew up in nature unlike in the West where civilization grew up within fortified cities. Ramkumar Mukhopadhyay lamented that post the theft of Tagore’s Nobel medallion walls are being erected around Santiniketan. Tagore’s vision of a space for imparting knowledge will now confine itself into a walled place. 

Tagore was against imperialism and all forms of injustice. That is why, as Professor Amiya Bagchi said in the inaugural session, he was not at home in the world he was in. Tagore gave away his knighthood in protest against the Jalianwala Bagh massacre. Tagore refused to go to Canada because of Canadian government’s discriminatory policy towards the immigrants. Professor Bagchi referred to Dr. Binayak Sen’s case to remind us how Tagore’s speech in Town Hall where he said that the strong thinks that the weak has no rights is relevant even today. Professor Probal Dasgupta, in his address on “Tagore’s Book of Consecration, Naibedya”, posited that Tagore reconciled his democratic and anti-authoritarian ideals through his devotion to god. This thesis was also apparent in Professor Madakranta Bose’s beautiful presentation where she showed how Tagore transformed Jayadeva’s divine figures into unambiguous human figures, shifting them form the religious to the secular sphere, without diminishing the aesthetics of Bhakti. 
And when Professor Amita Dutt (Mookherjee) and her disciples employed the dance form to explore Tagore’s songs it became almost divine – a completion of an aesthetic spiritual circle. Professor Moon Moon Majumdar in her paper on Tagore’s Shillong trips had spoken of Tagore’s fascination with Manipuri dance. Dr. Shoma A. Chatterjee too had shown the Manipuri dance form in her presentation on the usage of Tagore’s songs in films. So when Professor Dutt made a fusion of classic dance tradition of Manipur with the folk tradition of Gujarat it came out admirably in the performance with cymbals by her two disciples to the tune of “Dui hate kaler mandira”. It was followed by Professor Dutt’s own performance to ‘Marana re tuhu mama Shyama samana” where she revelled in the “abhinaya” aspect of Kathak. And there was another performance by one of her disciples to the song “Nupura beje jai rini rini”, which came a as  pleasant bonus at the end. I remember Professor Dutt’s performance in the 2006 DRS seminar at Derozio Hall where there was a proper stage but this time round she did not have that advantage. Yet, as she herself said, one should not assume that the viewer lacks imagination. I could not help but compliment her when I met her in the tea lounge.
Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta with Prof. Amita Dutt

So far I have been telling you what happened officially at the conference, which you already know, and recording these here is my act of minimizing the probability of forgetting them. But there were voices on the sidelines too, which you may not have heard, and I put those too on record. I was strolling in the passage between the lounge and the seminar hall on the third day after lunch.  When Sahila looked at me askance, I told her a half-truth that I was just waiting for the post-lunch session to start. The other half of the truth was that my waiting had become coterminous with watching and listening at the margins. I heard voices that berated that Tagore could never accept Islam as a religion of India; how when Tagore heard that Oxford University Press was going to publish some criticism of his work, he used his stature and his influence to stall such a publication; and how Tagore wrote in pseudonym to newspapers castigating those who criticized him. It was then that I understood how Tagore could return the gaze to the West, which had conveniently put him on a pedestal and as conveniently shoved him into oblivion. It was then that I realized that Tagore could afford to be inconsistent without any loss to his status. That was the human Tagore.

On the sidelines something else too happened. I met for the first time in person Professor Sandipan Sen and Professor Siddhartha Biswas, both of whom I had known for a number of years but only online. [By the way I am now an associate member of Pegasus journal and my page at the journal’s website can be accessed here.] Now if you are wondering why I have employed the epistolary form for this blog post then the blame should squarely fall on Professor Chinmoy Guha anchored and Ladly Mukhopadhyay directed excellent documentary on the letters of Rabindranath Tagore, which implanted the germ in my mind as soon as it was shown in the final session of the conference.

And you don’t have to remind me of your impromptu transformation of the valedictory session into a photo-op for all the volunteers and faculty members who helped to organize the three-day conference so successfully. Your gesture was highly commendable. I can still visualize Saptarshi handing over the conference kit, Sanghita calling for tea, Prasita distributing the participation certificates, and the rest of your team who by their efforts made the participants feel at home during the conference. I personally thank them all. And a special thank goes to you.

Amit Shankar Saha

Thursday, January 27, 2011

* Criterion!

My research article titled "The Spiritual Sense of Alienation in Diasporic Life: Reading Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee, Sunetra Gupta and Jhumpa Lahiri" has been published in The Criterion: An International Journal in English (ISSN 0976-8165) Vol. I. Issue III (December 2010), Ed. Dr. Vishwanath Bite.
Arekti Premer Golpo! Where it fails?

Is Arekti Premer Golpo a good movie? Yes. Is Arekti Premer Golpo above criticism? No. So, to criticize or not to criticize? – That is the question. The film in question has been basically running a one horse race in the field of films exploring the third space in gender with success (pun intended). Obviously there have been serious films earlier like Fire, Darmiyan, etc. of this third space (and here I don’t take into account non-Indian films like Boys Don’t Cry etc.) but those movies came at a time when the cognizable Indian society was still in the phase of denial and anger at such portrayal. Since the decriminalisation of homosexuality the Indian society has entered the phase of acceptance (though not without a snigger). In fact the film’s name itself vouches for this acceptance phase. So, Arekti Premer Golpo’s focus has to be rather different from the other films and no doubt it is so. But the focus has to give some latitude for extrapolation and it is here that the film fails. I saw the film about a month ago. When I came out of the movie hall I overheard a couple of youngsters – a boy telling a girl that the message of the film is that any relationship with people of the third sex is bound to be unsuccessful and cause pain. I at once felt that the film has failed to convey the right message to the lay person, though it has succeeded in creating an atmosphere of acceptance where such issues can be discussed. In the postmodern world it is the celebratory aspect of the third space that facilitates critical communication with the people at large and it is this celebratory aspect that Arekti Premer Golpo lacks in its content (though not in its production or marketing).

In academics the third space is used as an instrument of deconstruction where binaries like colonizer / colonized, white / black, male / female, etc. are destabilized by inverting the hierarchy of the privileged first term. Does Arekti Premer Golpo destabilize the accepted gender hierarchy? Not very strongly I must say. Basu’s bisexuality appears in as negative light compared to Abhiroop’s homosexuality. Uday’s matter-of-fact liberalism is linked to his Western locale. Abhiroop’s mother-fixation appears and disappears too conveniently. Chapal Bhaduri’s pangs gets too distracted in the cacophonic digressions. The bonding between Rani and Abhiroop could have been so even without Basu’s malevolence. And for the umpteenth time I find a director portrayed in a film typically as manipulative and saddled with a smoking, drinking and constantly English-speaking immediate assistants. One does not need to necessarily complicate matters to problematize an issue especially when the exploration of the third space of gender in films is at a nascent stage and does not have a queer theory background as is present in academics. I may be accused of taking a too critical view of the film but when the credit titles give Rituparno Ghosh’s name as the creative director then I cannot help but have very high expectations from the celluloid treatment. Perhaps the credit only exploited the commercial value of Ghosh’s name and not its critical value.

Sometime back I have been discussing Arekti Premer Golpo with a young friend of mine who said that earlier she had quite a prejudiced opinion about the third sex. But in Arekti Premer Golpo she can sympathize with Abhiroop and Chapal. It was then that I realised that I had grown up at a privileged time – watching films from Dersu Uzala to Amelie on Doordarshan (and not to forget the regional language festival films) and had attained adulthood watching English, August – that freed me of any perceptive biases. Whereas the generations who are still in the process of being initiated did not have such privileges and find themselves baffled by multiple television channels and multiplexes. What came to me by default has now been lost in a gamut of choices presented by the forces of commerce and the newer generations have to make their own wise decisions in choosing. In such a situation if one wants to watch a good film one has only reviews to depend on for guidance. And if a good film gets any kind of criticism, especially from a celebrity reviewer, it becomes a strong discouragement for the potential viewer. Not even the director’s reputation can guarantee a film staying on the screen for more than a week in the face of adverse publicity. The case of Dev Benegal’s Road Movie is a prime example. Maybe that is why Anjan Dutt and Bani Basu have fallen just short of making any incisive criticism of Arekti Premer Golpo in The Telegraph, which may have proved detrimental to the viewership of a good film. Moreover, the film released at a time when Gautam Ghose’s Moner Manush (a movie that explores the third space of society and religion) was running with critical acclaim and commercial success. So there was competition too in the so-called prize-winning film category. Hence the film, finding no safety net (not even of Nandan), had to exploit commercial marketing strategies to the hilt. It seems that the third space created between popular cinema and art-house cinema by off-beat films, where good films could be criticized and still watched, is somehow lost. So, why have I made public my rather unflattering opinions about this good film that might influence people? Primarily, because I am not deluded to think that my opinion counts for much and can have wide influence. Secondarily, since the film already has had a well-deserved commercial success, I find no reason to refrain from making my opinions public any further.