Winter in Bengal and Calcutta – Shivers of adolesence

Calcutta Winter : stat rosa pristina nomina

Calcutta, unlike some cities of the Europe never experienced a war and its effect on city landscapes as London, Paris, Prague, Berlin, and Tokyo did. For last three hundred years, Calcutta’s city-landscape-witnessed ravages and segmentation of time but never the devastation by bombs, mortars or by invading armies. Take the example of London and Paris. Since 1666, the time of Great London Fire, the city-landscape of London underwent changes by revolution, a thwarted invasion during Second World War. The city of Paris with its Cathedral Notre Dame fascinating Victor Hugo in late eighteenth century saw Revolution, German invasion and Occupation since 1750. In contrast, Calcutta witnessed a growth from a trading center to a Capital of rapidly consolidating Colonial Economy and later a massive channel on which one of the largest refugee exoduses of history marched, modifying the traffic as well as the channel.

To my sudden fit of geo-political inspiration, I would like to say that - Calcutta is the Eastern Terminus of Europe. By this, I mean that at this province of Bengal, Europe and European soul have found a settlement and that is the one of the reasons of why two hundred years of British Rule has such an influence compared to much longer span of previous Mughal rule. This spirit has done synthesis as well as destructive distillation of Culture. In this Calcutta winter, my mind hovers around the texts of Jibananda Das, who has made winter evenings a symbol of loneliness, emptiness as if the mist is not the water-cooled but freezing of everything else.

In my college days or I may say with a flourish - in my youth's summer, I had few friends, partly because of my own loneliness and party because of my living in a "world within world". I longed for winter evenings but Malabar knows no winter. My friend Deepak used to tell me of winter evenings at Ooty and Coimbatore where he passed his previous years and I used to remember Shillong and that cuddling near to coke-burners in the kitchen as pines cried all night in whispers and sighs. Those years have been terrible in one sense and carefree in another. My acute shyness prevented any communication with beauties around and I felt the pangs of loneliness. This shyness in daily affairs reacted in an opposite way and made me a voyeur in mindscape, with confessor and confession tied up in an agreement of secret silence. Then, after long years, a real yahskhi came - the bridge and the bride between my fear and curiosity. I felt how does it feel like to be in company of a woman - young and beautiful. What I did not know that after a certain mind-resonance, a woman transforms herself from a womanly form onto a sort of individual, present and absent at the same time. I was also chastised by the same real yakshi of relapsing into the memory of the imagined yakshi. It must have happened sometime with young men when in company of a woman, they look for the woman-in-mind whereas the woman-is-here-and-now and she complains. Instinctively, she understands that the mental beam that has so long been cast over her is either closed or made a one-eighty degree turn. In spite of all this we play with the Mind, there is something more permanent, more solid - call it the primordial pull of biology, call it the field pattern of hormones, call it evolutions coding to continue species, call it natural urge, call It by its more precise and raw-rough-plain name - sexual attraction, she remains a woman and at moments, like I have experienced, when the whole Nature confirms that she is a woman. Those are moments of passion and beauty when a man and a woman feel that there is somebody else inside us, someone about whom we have faint idea that it exists. Now, when I rest or just idle, I see my early youth and compare with recent happenings of some years, I understand that I was actually waiting, without knowing that it was a preparation. Thankfully, it was the Cityscape of this Eastern Terminus that has also been a witness of the otherwise inconsequential experiences of this strange wordsmith.

Those were also the times when my attitude was more "scientific" and "philosophical", I was less personal. My ideas were always general and there was little place for individual concern and aspiration. Now, it has somewhat changed My works have softer, more feminine. Like the difference between Red Fort and Taj Mahal. The Red Fort is masculine, its geometry is linear and edgeful whereas the Taj has the Persian femininity. Searching through scrapbook from those days, I reproduce the lines below, written in a hostel room at midnight, sufficiently exhausted and inebriated but I am not talking about cause and effect.

"…. Her chin sat upon my shoulder and the breeze from the mountain rustled her perfume hair on my face as if speaking by the alphabet of touch. She leaned little close and looked at me with eyes upwards like the lotus in a clear pond so softly looks at the sun. With a movement so soft and subtle, like lotus startles while a fish makes a swirl in the pond without showing any trace, she touched my lips with hers. It was like a butterfly slowly resting on a tree, winds beating slower and slower and when it came to standstill, there was Light."

[On hearing Schubert's Ode to Joy for the first time - Malabar'1996]

My words are indebted to all that came before and all that will come after. A man never fully grasps what a woman feels like. Perhaps she also cannot. And that is why a dialogue between a man and a woman remains the oldest and most-fresh story of all time. And the dialogue is the fire, the fuel and the ash - all together. The passion coded by Nature, imagination- the fuel and Memory and its slow burning is the ash. As Antony suffers and discovers about Cleopatra - the passion feeds on its own appetite. And many a people, after a lifetime's experience only could confirm the precept - a marriage is a long conversation.

Coming back to Calcutta Winter, I live in a city, which I knew more by imagination than on actual co-ordinate. But after a decade I am finding true winter, with its slow morning, its fast vanishing midday and the afternoon that hides quickly onto the night air. One November evening, I was driving back to Calcutta, from Halisahar (where Ramprasad was born) after an official assignment, it was a classic winter dusk of Bengal countryside. Both sides lay vast plains of land, grayish yellow and mist resembles like cloud falling, falling far away but each follicle of your body trembles, like the leaves of amlaki tree. One part of the mind on the wheel, one part feeling the absence of the seat at the left, the journey was an expectation as well as its non-gratifying emptiness. Another time, early January, this time in Shantiniketan and what a chill it had been…. I took my lodging in a lodge inside the ashram (not meaning campus) whose name has been memorable - Paushali, derived from the month of Paush (December-January) in Bengali calendar. During daytime, young women in bi-cycles paddled towards classes and in the evening they returned. I sat at the table in the courtyard, gulping coffee at regular intervals, smoking and presented myself a laziness that can only be imagined during winter. My laziness was only disturbed in the afternoon when I saw a young man sitting at a distance across the road, near the open field with a woman clad in a pink saree, with one bi-cycle standing guard. As the pink of the saree and her black of hair was getting harder to distinguish, the young man softly took her in arms and before she could turn her head to see whether someone's there behind, her eyes darted like a doe and she was his… It was after complete dark that I saw a bi-cycle coming back, and the man's chin was touching the back of her head and I had a bet with myself that the rapid and long breath of the young man cannot be due to the exhaustion of carrying this slender and slim passenger sitting at the front. The perfumed hair of a Bengali maiden is prison enough where we would like to die with our eyes closed, our breath stopped and one of my brother wordsmiths has spoken about this urge to die in so infinitely an immortal way:

Tumi howh gahin gaang - ammi tate dubh-ya maari

[Be like a deep river - and let me die there, drowned]

As the html tags will carry this to the Cloud of Internet, I remember - it’s the first day of Asahar and another poet of India has made its first day holy by simply these opening lines - asharaysya prathama dibase. From Paush to Asahar - these intervening five months have made me qualify to feel of what sort of melancholy the yaksha at Ramgiri was speaking to the Pushkalavarti Megha. He had a poet to express his inner sadness but none knows from her direct version what his wife at Alkapuri felt like…Except that she has grown thinner and keeping a melancholy temper with visitations of memory of passion and passionate memory, we know nothing. Her silence has been more vocal than yaksha's repeated references.

As I watch a rapidly darkening sky, with monsoon rains already starting the Water Colouring Festival of Gods at Malabar, it must have passed across the Ramgiri Hills, now dancing over further East, nearing Shillong-pahari, moving more south and there, in this evening is a soul that will believe all these grandiloquence and excesses of mine. Her mind is melancholic and that is the state of the mind what the poet of Ujjain calls as - sukhino-api-anya-patha-britti-cheta - even the happy people feel a tinge of sad miss in their heart. Who is she? What is her name? I am also asking the same..Her name, her name, yes - Stat Rosa Pristina Nomina