Projapoti Biskut

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At a time when the Bengali movie going public was torn between looking for an adventure atop the Mt. Everest Base camp (“Yeti Abhijaan “) or flying high inside an aircraft in peril( “Cockpit”) Projapoti Biskut appeared to saunter in with a breath of fresh air. I dare say hopes were raised both for a different aesthetic and commercially viable experience. The former because Anindya Chatterjee’s previous film, although pandering to the nostalgia of the long lost North Calcutta of the 90’s and the early 2000’s, had captured the somewhat bored and freely accepting whatever is served (read scene by scene remakes from films down south) on the silver screen. And the latter, as the production house of Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy do manage to churn out commercially successful films, no matter how much it reeks of middle-class Bengali compromise and sexism. But a man cannot live by hope alone. And although, the Box Office reports have hinted at adding wind to the sails, Projapoti Biskut is like the cookie, after it has been dipped in the tea too long.

Centring around a premise which has not seen too much exploration in the Bengali cinema circle, that of a young couple looking to start a family and for various reasons (be it the over-the-top timidity of the male protagonist Antar, or simply a lack of ” Netflix and Chill ” time) are unable to do so. Things to ponder upon: 1. Even though they have been married two and a half years and are relatively young (presuming being married for a longer period of time calls for heckling from members of the family to carry the family tree forward and the more practical issue of complications in pregnancy for women over 34), there seems to be a sudden uncalled for urgency in wanting to consummate their marriage. Hence, the visit to the Doctors and exploring options of IVF (quite the buzzword these days). 2. If you are expecting to see a sensitive issue being talked of/ spoken of for the first time, without the usual Censor Senguptas with a scissor in their hands, then think again. The film flatters to deceive.

Anindya Chatterjee, frontman of the Bangla Band Chandrabindoo, along with his band-mates Upal Sengupta and Chandril Bhattacharya, has been known to pen quirky lyrics, talking of urban sensibilities and sometimes urban insensibilities. Their lyrics are sarcastic and satirical, unearthing society’s obsession and idiosyncrasies with a surgeon’s precision. But satire is brilliant when subtle but not so when exaggerated and over the top. The captain of the ship, (the director) starts by placing the female (Shaon) protagonist in a familial set up, which is upper/ upper middle class, showing the done to death stereotypes of Tagore veneration in the household, a distaste for Popular Culture, and communist/ Marxist leaning (isn’t the sharing of the same ideological space by Marx and Tagore a bit problematic? One only wonders.) Other stereotypes are pandered to too, the most striking being the sketch of the male lead. Back in the 19th Century, when the British were consolidating their strangle hold on the Indian Terrain and subconscious, one of the ways was to create a binary, of the virile active British Male and the effeminate, lazy Indian counterparts (except the Sikhs and the Gorkhas of course). Their chosen targets were the Bengali “babus”, who were indolent, lazy, seen to be wasting time in luxury and privilege, not fit for any physical activities and hence the perfect fit for the “writers’” profile and thus the emergence of a particular class of individuals and government servants in the “Writers’ Building.” (For a detailed analysis, one may look up Colonial Masculinity by Mrinalini Sinha.)

Over the years, the stereotype has festered and taken up different forms, but the central core remains the same, that of the Bengali Man as a man of thought, words, a part of the intelligentsia but hardly a robust, active do-er. Our hero in peril, Antar is a caricature of this done to death perception. Hardly having an opinion of his own, a firm stand or say in matters of the office or the family, his character sketch is drawn, with the intention of making us laugh at ourselves, but where we end up only cringing at the exaggeration.

The problematics of the film deepen further. With a rift in marital harmony regarding a failed adoption attempt, Shaon returns to her parents. Having done so, she starts sporting a short hair-cut, undergoes a metamorphosis in terms of her apparel(The apparently more progressive Jeans replacing the Saree), and experimenting occasionally with alcohol and cigarettes, signifying a liberation of sorts which underlines the assumption that it is kind of impossible to portray a free thinking strong willed woman wearing traditional Indian/ ethnic wear and being a teetotaller. The case with our male lead is rather more baffling. In a world where Macho ( growing beard, beefing up the physique ) is the new cool, Antar goes clean shaven (reading too much into emasculation am I? ), starts wearing T shirts instead of the more formal attire and out of nowhere seems to acquire the confidence in speech, action and decision making that his previous self had been totally lacking. There is a very vague element of Amol Palekar of Choti Si Baat in this transformation, but if that was subtle, funny and heart warming, Projapoti Biskut fails to live up to the promise of that charm.

The film is slow in most parts. Except for a few witty exchanges, which are a trademark of the Anindya Chatterjee/ Upal Sengupta/ Chandril Bhattacharya stable, the film lacks a nuanced presentation of the issues, be it pregnancy , adoption or class and ideological conflicts within the familial, Bengali societal set up. Caricature or exaggeration works only to a certain degree. This “biskoot” (a very Bengali way of pronouncing ‘biscuit’) seems to have been dipped in froth.

-Sayan Aich Bhowmik

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Revisiting Holmes:Empire and Its Falling Shadows in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Iconic Hero

It is often proclaimed by critics and theorists that there cannot be a specific demarcation between ages. There might be (and seems to be) a transitional phase between two apparently dominant literary, philosophical, social, political,cultural, psychological currents and then the stronger one takes over the weaker. Now, there might not be a specific date but sometimes one can really point out what in poetry is called a Volta: a turning point. In case of the Victorian and Modern age arguably that Volta is the publication date of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin –24th November, 1859. This was the book in which we came to learn about the human evolution –from one-celled amoeba to the multi-celled, complex neurological entity called the human being. The book virtually demolished the age-old religious notion of a coherent unidimensional world with considerable organic collectivity propelled by the church.In this context, one could almost conclusively say that in one moment of epiphany the whole Victorian sense of the superior centrality coming down through the golden middle ages of trust and truth and collective well-being as explored in Everyman, Mankind and similar texts, was gone. From Morality to Materiality, it is a journey towards brokenness –a large and gigantic fluidity with essential dots of superfluous fragments of a shattered post-industrialization, post-neo-classical age of liberal ideas trying to gather its own bits and pieces and as the poet exclaims, against its own ruins.

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In our theoretical classes our professors used to teach us how the age of “heroes” have ended with an emerging concept of the principle character, the protagonist. From the miracle to the morbidity it was all about the cry for the passing one, an all-time ubisunt which eventually leads to a corresponding search for a counter-pointing. With the breaking of the grand narratives like God, Faith, and Morality in a post-Darwinian age, the claws and paws of dehumanised modernity revealed itself more than ever in its overwhelming mechanized machinations. It is interesting to find how through the Iconoclast Sleuth of Doyle, the broken empire shows its lurking shadows; how Sherlock becomes a face of the times forgotten, trying to fulfil the need for what a Jimmy Porter would call a ‘good cause’.

It is interesting to note that Doyle was born in the same year which stands as the age-defining year for the publication of Darwin’s book, 1859. So, technically being born in the post-God-made-thee era, Doyle’s perception of his time was mingled with a belief of the enlightenment, in the super-reality of the massive metier of the empire. The very name Sherlock brings to mind a superhuman deduction with God-like knowledge on multifarious aspects. On the contrary, in the introductory novel A Study in Scarlet Sherlock’s would-be life-long partner-cum-friend-cum-narrator Dr. Watson reveals his vast ignorance about facts generally held to be an insignia for post-18th Century ‘educated intellectuals’:

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done…

Sherlock, brother of an important empire-man does not only seem to be the super example of the construct of the Messiah for the distressed with all his larger–than–life ability to deduct and identify the real culprit but also the man who consciously detests the superficial sense of frugal prosperity.

Mycroft, the obese ‘government’ itself-man is the very representative of the centre that was losing its grasp on a world-wide scale. With the emergence of a broken generation on the advent of the Great War with insurgent colonies, with lowered values and higher need for mundane survival, the centre, as it is evident is able merely to give a vacant gaze at the ‘things’ while they fall apart. Sherlock’s intimacy with his new war-returned friend John Watson and his clear preference towards him over family deconstructs the idea that Mycroft symbolises – all that is of the empire, therefore, loftier and therefore important. With his unsocial confinement, his so called weird sense of the universe, man and nature, his lonely ruptures, his curious secrecy about himself and workings of his mind, Sherlock stands apart from being a mere white awe-inspiring Messiah. A nuance of a classical past, of those humanitarian substances in a virtual world of ‘superhuman inhumanities’(Owen- “Spring Offensive”) and made-up truths, his random and often outright condemnation of the present with all its scientific-geographical advancements might be considered as a comment upon the futility of the future to come. A sensitive man of the pro-war generation, Sherlock contains that potential, namely the cause of ‘being’, while the other half of the magic word remains,‘human.’

Probably, this was the reason for Sherlock’s provisional death as conjectured by Doyle –to be by a fall – a gigantic, tremendous and overwhelming fall that will shake the root of every adoring heart, the reverberation of which will last for ages –howling and haunting. Wondrous fact is that, the extent of the wailing of the devotees around every nook and corner was a little undermined by the author himself!

It is Holmes, who pointed out the threatening turbulent east and to strip it of its last residing, notion of the master. As a break from his bee-cultivation in the countryside to help his country with his espionage skill, he proclaimed it. And we see two old little buddies sitting side by side in an uncanny silhouette conversing while giving birth to the crucial prophesy that comes out of a Victorian viz-a-viz Modern bleeding heart, one final prolegomena off the platonic friendship.

In Thucydides’ Battle of Epipolae in his History of the Peloponnesian War, there is a passage on the confusion faced by the Athenians during a battle at night. Unable to distinguish friend and foe, the Athenians became panic-stricken and attacked their own people. The note of the melancholic that one could hear in the Stradivarius compositions of Holmes therefore goes beyond the personal; it virtually becomes an age-defying elegy on the loss of assurance, integrities and finally whatever stands for the humane. A more likely source could be the sermon of Cardinal Newman, ironically on the traditional day of Twelfth Night:

Controversy at least in this age does not lie between the hosts of heaven on the one side and the powers of evil on the other; but it is a sort of a night battle where each fights for himself and friend and foe stand together.(1839)

Instead of being the primeval saviour, the fairy-tale grand-narrative, Sherlock Holmes served as the metaphoric abode for the restless generations, a shelter at predicament, a psychological boost to the depressed empire, an ever-present solution to the impending unnamed complications –the last projection of a sane man probably who could sense the compromise in the prosperity, bring the ancient wisdom to meet newly found aspiration, distinguish friends and foes properly. He was the Hero, even at a failing time when Heroes were scarce; there was a character who is worth speaking of, adding whatever dignity is left off what Alan Kirby would call a pseudo modern or post truth world.

-Saranya Mukhopadhyay

Elle: The Cruel Dichotomy between Rape and its Illusion

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In this era of maddening rage regarding feminism, I wonder how Elle managed to slip through the clutches of radical feminists. Not only that it also managed to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was premiered for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The possible reason seems to be that Paul Verhoeven decided to shoot the film in Paris rather than USA.

Elle directed by Paul Verhoeven based on Philippe Dijan’s book Oh…. presented a reckless facet of chutzpah perfected by Isabelle Huppert playing the protagonist, Michele who is not only a victim but also an arch-manipulator of every one of the narrative scenarios of her sexual life.

Michele is the dynamic and attractive head cum co-founder of a successful videogame company. The other characters encompassing her in the movie are chaotic and twisted out of proportion. Her father was a mass murderer in jail for almost 20 years. Her mother, Irene, still an extremely lustful woman of 70’s. Michelle remains disturbingly normal and unmoved at their death and funeral.  She is mingled in an affair with Robert, the husband of her best friend, Anna and invents devilish ideas of humiliating the young girlfriend of her ex-husband, Richard.

 The movie opens with grunts and screams of assault. Michele is beaten and raped in her house by a masked intruder. She does not report the matter to the police due to the traumatic childhood memory of helping her father burn the evidences of his crime and the authorities barging in. The trial of her father is closely followed by the press and the photograph of a half-naked, eleven year old girl with “an empty stare” beside her psychopathic father is all that is stuck in people’s memories. Unwilling to be portrayed as the victim again, Michele trains herself in self defense activities- learns shooting, buys an axe and a lethal pepper spray and makes it a mission to identify her rapist.

 The plot of the movie takes an unprecedented turn when Michele’s rapist turns out to be Patrick, the handsome and charming neighbor. In spite of this devastating truth Michele enters into a dangerous sexual contract with her rapist. She extracts her revenge by delving into a horrifying experiment with her sexuality. Throughout the movie she lives with an eerie sense of detachment and denial; vehemently refusing to be the victim. The audience cannot find a single scene where she lets go of her poise and professional attitude except the only outburst she expresses when her idea is questioned by a subordinate at her workplace. She instigates Patrick into a second encounter. However, this time it happens with her permission and on her command. The leash of control never leaves her hand although Patrick is under the comic illusion that Michele is completely at his mercy. Her consent in these situations makes his satisfaction from violence void and he remains ignorant of this fact until his death in the hands of Vincent, Michele’s son. It is not very clear who calls the shots in these sexual scenarios between them but Michele’s snatching the upper hand in them is quite evident. Michele’s need to feel challenged outweighs her conscience.  During a conversation with her best friend, Anna she states, “Shame isn’t strong enough to stop us doing anything at all”. For her it became a quest for the more powerful and aggressive man who could level up to her dark fantasies unflinchingly and forced her to push the limits of her sexuality. There is no verbal evidence of Michele’s consent to the role play; her as the victim and Patrick as the violent assailant who is biologically unable to participate consensual sex. However, due to the element of simulation encased by Michele, the roles are reversed. Patrick arousal comes from her screams and inflicting pain upon her but is horrified when he discovers that Michele welcomes and enjoys the physical torment.

Though the movie ends on a happy note- the mending of the troubled relations in Michele’s life, to the immense surprise of the audience; it leaves behind a contradiction. The clear demarcation between rape and consensual sex becomes blurred. The movie forces its viewers to imagine and explore the darkest human emotions in an audacious yet artistic way. Semantics and ‘isms are teased apart in the movie. In my opinion it can hardly be categorized as a feminist movie.  It is what it is; an outrage of a courageous woman against the perpetrators of violence and trauma upon her.

The movie certainly breaks the cliché surrounding rape victims as depicted in books and films. It stands out in contrast with even the progressive films made in the rape genre in India; Lajja, Matrubhoomi, Damini or Pink. A common story strings the films of rape genre together; a woman harassed or raped, ostracized by family and society but eventually acquiring justice for herself or the victim. In Elle that whole aftermath is contradicted by Michele who is no doubt shaken by the experience but does not allow it to unhinge her accomplished life or her mind. She uses her rapist to her own advantage, gaining pleasure from the sexual power play and lets him bask in the delusion of him as the stronger one and in-charge of the contract. It is truly comical the way he is stripped of power in the hands of his victim.

Isabelle Huppert gave a very convincing performance as Michele-a strong, confident woman in command of every aspect of her life and the people who are part of it. Paul Verhoeven paid special attention to the intimate scenes of the movie which were explicit but not gruesome. The movie is a very important work as it portrays the reality that rape victims carry multitude of experiences and go through fundamental dichotomies. It mocks the practice of uniformity and confinement of all individual cases into an airtight compartment.

In light of the ongoing wave of eve-teasing and sexual abuse in India, Elle broadens the arena of revenge and outrage against perverts and rapists. The initial reaction to most sexual harassment cases in India is suppressing them and throttling the victims because not only charity but allowance of crime also begins at home.  Elle challenges and refutes the notion of victimhood and the hypocritical concept of chastity i.e. the presumption that victims, irrespective of gender, are stripped of dignity when they are sexually abused or assaulted. The film is a major initiative and makes the audience examine the dystopian paradoxes within the society and their selves.

– Sruti Purkait

কথোপকথন

kothopokothon

 

তুমিঃ বেশ তো হল শারদীয়ার পুজো পুজো লেখা
নস্টালজিয়া, পুরনো প্রেম, রবীন্দ্রনাথ ছোঁয়া –
এবার তবে অন্য কিছু হোক।

আমিঃ অন্য কিছু?

তুমিঃ এই শহরের মধ্যে আছে আরেকটা কলকাতা, দেখে লিখতে হবে!

আমিঃ এই ঋতুতে এই শহরে কি যে আছে আর!
বৃষ্টি কাদা জল আর জ্বরের সমাচার।

তুমিঃ সন্তর্পণে হিংসার মুখে থমকে আছে দেশ,
তোমার কলমে পড়বে না ধরা শ্বাপদের ভূষাবেশ?

আমিঃ এই শহর কি হিংসার মুখ দেখে?
হিংসা তো শুধু অন্য কোথাও ঘটে, নিশ্চিত ভাবে অন্য কার সাথে।
সারা বছর খেলা মেলায় ডুবে, শহর থাকে বালিতে মুখ গুঁজে।

তুমিঃ শহর মানে এটুকুই শুধু আজ?

আমিঃ আমাদের আছে অফিস ধরার বাস
আমাদের আছে বাজার সারার রাশ
আমাদের থাকে মাসিক বিলের ঝড়
তার পরে যে মরবে, যা মর!

তুমিঃ নকশালেরাও এই শহরেই ছিল, ভুখা পেটের শহীদেরাও সাথে
চলবে না কি আবার সদলবলে মিছিলগুলো ওদের দেখানো পথে?

আমিঃ স্মৃতির আকর খুঁড়ে আনা বিষম পরিহাস
একের পর এক mall এর নীচে আদর্শদের লাশ;
আমাদের ও বয়েস হচ্ছে ফেসবুক এ তেই চাষ
Share করার শেষে আমার meme এই সময় নাশ।
তবুও তোমায় জানিয়ে রাখি, বলছি কানে কানে,
বিপ্লব হবে সুপ্রভাতের পোস্ট এ,
রক্তিম কোন স্ট্যাটাস ঘোষণা করে।

ভাট বকো না বন্ধু বরং কণ্ঠ ছাড়ো জোরে
দেখা হবে তোমায় আমায় সেলফি শহরে।

—– Abin Chakraborty

Illustrations by Subarnaekha Pal

আবাহন

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1.বেশ অনেক বছর আগের কথা। নবমীর রাত। সবার অনুরোধে দুটি অল্প বয়েসি মেয়ে ধুনুচি নাচ এর ময়দানে নামল। তাদের কথা অনুযায়ী ক্যাসেট চালান হল। মুহূর্তের মধ্যে হেমন্ত মুখার্জী শুরু করলেন ধিতাং ধিতাং বলে। ঠিক ৭ সেকেন্ড সময় লাগলো আমার চারদিকের পৃথিবীটাকে ভুলতে। দুজনের মধ্যে একজন আমার থেকে বয়েসে বছর ৫/৭ এর বড়। সাদা সালওয়ার, ওড়না তা কোমরে বাঁধা। ওড়নার সাথে গোটা জগতটাকে নিজের মধ্যে বেঁধে নিয়েছে। তার হাথে তখন মাটির পাত্র নেই, যেন এপ্রিল মাসের তিরিশটা সূর্য কে নিয়ে সে মণ্ডপ প্রদক্ষিণ করছে। আর আমিও তার সাথে মিশরের পিরামিড, আমাজন এর জঙ্গল, ভেসুভিয়াস এর ভেতর দিয়ে হেটে চলেছি। বয়েস অল্প, সবে সবে ইংরেজি সাহিত্যর প্রেমে পরেছি। ক্লিওপাটরার নাম শুনেছি, সেদিন চোখে দেখলাম। ওদিকে হেমন্ত বাবুও নিজের জীবন দিয়ে গেয়ে চলেছেন। আগামীকাল পূজা শেষ। বোকার মত দাড়িয়ে ভাবছি, জীবনের নবমীর রাত টাও যেন এইভাবেই শেষ হয়।

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2.কতদিন কিছু লিখিনা। লেখা আসেনা। বাস স্টপ এ দাড়িয়ে থাকি। একের পর এক অন্যের কবিতা চলে যায়ে। যখন কিছু লেখার মত পাই, তখন শব্দের এত ভিড় যে উঠতেই পারিনা। না আছে বসার জায়গা, না ভাল ভাবে ধরে দাঁড়ানর। যাই হোক, আজ দিনের ৬ ঘণ্টা রাস্তাতে কেটেছে। বাড়ি ফিরব প্রায়, দেখলাম একজন বছর ২০/২২ এর মেয়ে, চুল খোলা, পুজোর বাজার সেরে রাস্তা পার হচ্ছে। ট্রাফিক পুলিশ ও সিগ্নাল না মেনে সব গাড়ি দাড় করিয়ে দিয়েছে। পৃথিবী একটু আস্তে ঘুরছে, সূর্য টাও যেন একটু ওপরের দিকে উঠল। মেয়েটি রাস্তা পার হয়ে গেল, অষ্টমীর রাত এর ধুনোর গন্ধ পেলাম। প্রতিমা দর্শন ও শেষ।

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3.দেবী আসে, দেবী যায়। জলে মেশে রঙ, মেশে মাটি। ক্যানভাস জুড়ে ধবধবে খরা কাঁদে শুধু। দেবী আসে, দেবী যায়। কখনও দরজা খোলে যদি, কালো ঘোড়ার মত, তুলির টানে দাপিয়ে চলে ঝোড়ো মেঘের চুল। ওপারে ঘণ্টা বেজে ওঠে। মাতালের মত, বুনো মোষের মত। বোধন না বিসর্জন?

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  1. টিম টিম চোখে, কাঁপা কাঁপা হাথে, তাল তাল মাটি থেকে, দেবী জেগে ওঠে। আঙুলের আদরে ফোটে চোখ, ঠোঁটে হাসি। এই দেবী মারে না, কাটে না, শুধু স্বস্তির আশ্বাসে বলে, সকল ঝড়ের মাঝে আমি তোমার আশ্রয়। সাধন শোনে আর তার চোখে ভিড় করে আসে কয়েক দশকের শরত এর ঝরা পাতা। মুছে যাওয়া কোনও এক মানবী প্রতিমা, সাধনের দেবী হয়ে ফেরে বারবার। রাত নামে, শীর্ণ ক্লান্ত দেহে, সাধন ঘুমের দেশে ভাসে, বেহুলার মত। পাশের বাড়িতে বেতার বেজে ওঠে। জর্জ দা গাইছেন,

” সব ফুরালে বাকি রহে অদৃশ্য যেই দান,

সেই তো তোমার দান,

মৃত্যু আপন পাত্রে ভরি বহিছে যেই প্রাণ

সেই তো তোমার প্রাণ। ”

-Sayan Aich and Abin Chakraborty; Illustrated by Subarnarekha Pal

জাহান্নাম 

1. জাহান্নাম
মাটির নীচে দু’হাত বিকেল। কৃষ্ণচূড়ায় লেপ্টে ঘাম।
পা রেখেছি পাতালরেলে। তোমার বাড়ি জাহান্নাম।
হয়ত যেত অন্য মানুষ। হয়ত হত অন্য শেষ।
সন্ধ্যে নিত অন্য জীবন। রাত্রি হত অন্য দেশ..
কীংবা তুমি মৃত্যুমুখী। তোমার কফিন অন্ধকার।
কী বোঝাবে সন্ধ্যে তাকে মৃত্যুযোগে জন্ম যার..
কিন্তু খসে পলেস্তারা। ফাটল ধরায় বিধির বাম।
সন্ধ্যে নামে পাতালরেলে। তোমার বাড়ি জাহান্নাম।
জলপ্রপাত থাকলে হতো। শ্যাওলা পাথর, অন্য ভয়..
জলের হদিস থাকলে কী আর উৎস থেকে ফিরতে হয়?
প্রশ্ন শুনে চমকে উঠি। কোথায় গেল পুতুলনাচ?
ঘরের মানুষ ফিরছে ঘরে। আয়না একই। অন্য কাচ..
পায়ের নীচে খেলছে তড়িৎ। বাদবাকি সব মর্ষকাম।
রাত্রি ফেরে পাতালরেলে। তোমার বাড়ি জাহান্নাম।
2. অশ্বমেধ
ভীষণ মাতাল সিঁড়ি, ষোলোর পায়ে পা, ক্লাউড নাইনে ঢিল, শূন্যে চোট
নেহাত অবাধ্যই, কে কাকে টানছে, কার কাঁটায় কার ঠাসবুনোট
তুমুল তর্ক শেষে আবার লাইনে পা, ক্লান্ত চৌকাঠে অন্য মত
দরজা দেওয়ার আগে এক ঝলক ফের, জুতোর মনে থাক কক্ষপথ
খোলস নামিয়ে রেখে শরীর স্নানের ঘরে, তৃতীয় সন্ধ্যার সূর্য ম্লান
আগুন জ্বালতে চেয়ে জেহাদী দেশলাই, তবুও ভিজে যাক অগ্নিবাণ
জমানা বসে যাক প্রবল বর্ষণে, বাষ্পে জমা থাক লক্ষ্যভেদ
একুশ জন্ম নিক ষোলোর মরশুমে, দেওয়াল চিনে নিক অশ্বমেধ!
3. আরামদিন
চিবোও কাকা শহর চিবোও
তিতকুটে এক চিউয়িংগাম
ভাল্লাগে না সন্ধ্ব্যবেলা
আঁতেলপনার সংঘারাম
নাগরদোলায় ঊর্ধ্বে চলো
পায়ের তলায় মুব্ধ ভিড়
বৃন্দাবনের পাহারাদার
ধরণধারণ বিপ্লবীর
বৃষ্টি-কাঁটায় শরীর ভেজাও
গলায় নরম উষ্ণতা
আদর দিয়েই হিসেব হতো
জুতোর মালা অন্যথা
রং লেগে যায় চোখ-মণিতে
হাতের আঙুল নপুংসক
তেমন হলে জলকেলিতে
ভিজিয়ে নিও গোপন ত্বক
খামখেয়ালি জীবনযাপন
মন্দ তো নয় কি চার্মিং
শহর চিবোও কফির সাথে
আজকে তোমার আরামদিন
আমার হাতে ধোঁয়ার কাঠি
জাগলে নাকি? চুমুক চাই?
যে যাই বলুক, আমরা জানি
শ্যামের বুকে ক’জন রাই!

Teachers’ Metamorphosis: Instrumental Rationality and Academic Clerkship

umbridge
Umbridge’s mayhem isn’t as alien as we would like

The modern Indian academia is haunted by apocalyptic acronyms like CAS, NAAC, RUSA and not to mention that progenitor of endless eccentricities: UGC. What generates the spectral power of these acronyms is the nexus between money and paperwork to which are subjected young academics full of hope and promise and intellectual acuity who realise soon enough that the system only demands imitation, repetition and boundless vacuity. A college or university needs adequate infrastructure for a teacher to impart education properly to students. To that end it needs adequate financial grants. Hence the inevitability of NAAC and RUSA. But the teachers also need to lead a reasonably worry-free life to dedicate themselves to the project of learning and teaching. And s/he may have committed the blunder of having a family. So s/he needs money, and given the inflation in this country and the rising cost of medical assistance, food and accommodation, quite a lot of money. So s/he needs (and deserves) upward movement along the academic ladder popularly known as the promotion. Hence the relevance of CAS (Career Advancement Scheme). What binds these acronyms together is the demand for production of endless papers with different formats, immense data and repetitive hollow rhetoric of many kinds, all of which is supposed to justify either the distribution of money to institutions or to individuals. For example, anyone who has had to endure the pathetic farce that unfolds in the name of a NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) visit will know how the whole college is forced into a collective enterprise of fabrication, manipulation and concoction of data that covers almost everything from what percentage of SC/ST students were there in the college 5 years ago to what is being done by students who passed out from the college, some of whom did not even bother to attend the classes while they were there. And much of this conjuration happens through a process of duplication where one canny colleague smuggles in the SSR (another pesky bugger) of a college that has recently suffered NAAC and the current victim-to-be simply changes the name and the relevant data with what the former-victim has painstakingly (maybe not, may have been re-appropriated from the similar document from yet another co-suffering institution) fudged for months. As stated before all these translate into imitation, repetition and boundless vacuity. Something similar happens for CAS. One’s ability, dutifulness and accountability is measured through reams of paper congealed into an apparently fat file whose weight alone should impress prospective experts among whom one may even find associate professors or professors who have never qualified NET (National Eligibility Test) and have climbed the ladders of academic hierarchy with somnambulist stupefaction. None of these processes have anything to do with the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge which is supposed to be the essence of academia, or which should have been the guiding principle of academic life. Instead, teachers are forced more and more into immersing themselves in exhausting paper work.  And they also have to sit idle for hours while waiting for students to arrive with proper papers during admission season. And they have to draft stale and perfunctory letters to different offices and departments for assistance during examinations.  And they even serve as presiding officers during elections. None of this has anything to do with pursuit and dissemination of knowledge which alone should be the task of teachers. Academic institutions are supposed to be endowed with non-academic staff who should be able to take care of the other stuff as they are not professionally bound to pursue and disseminate knowledge – a task that requires single-minded devotion. While there is no denying that a group of people involved in teaching presently are incapable of such devotion and undermine the profession by dabbling in ten thousand other things, there has also been a systemic devaluation of the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, mainly by clubbing it with other professions and by introducing alien mensurational methods based on quantification which are utterly incompatible with the academic vocation. The thrill that one feels when one learns something new or the ecstasy that courses through one’s veins when s/he is able to impassionately teach something and see the glint of recognition in the eyes of the audience – these are immeasurably precious experiences which cannot be identified through quantifiable data and attendant analysis. Teaching and the alchemic communication that takes place at times through teaching is a matter of affect, a visceral tripartite bond between the teacher, the student and the text which arouses wonder, stirs the intellect and motivates the heart to soar like the skylark into a Rushdie-esque sea of stories where multi-coloured strands of stories are merging and splitting into innumerable other strands of inexplicable hues. Teaching is supposed to be a plunge into such oceans where the teacher first guides and then allows the student to swim in his/her own style, with his/her chosen currents towards whatever shore he/she envisions. None of this is a matter of quantifiable data and mechanical procedures culminating in points/numbers/grades. But there is no daring prince in this land of cards who might shake things up with his defiant tunes and gestures.

Such absence is evidence of the total domination of instrumental rationality over the lifeworld of our societies. Since capital only moves through the abstract hyperspace of data, numbers, figures and performance models of one kind or another, the growing commercialization of the education sphere has meant a pervasive integration of the teachers with the rationality of capitalist domination and as an obvious outcome we have become shackled in a world of spectral mechanisms of control heralded by the notorious acronyms with which I began.  The result of such control is the gradual transformation of teachers into a hybridised clerk whose greater qualifications only breed frustration and discontent as he/she remains chained to various forms of bureaucratic drudgery that clinically oppose that realm of freedom, innovation, experiment and affective bond which the academic world deserves and yearns for. Even the grand old Shantiniketan of Rabindranath is no exception to this process. Mercuse’s nightmare is coming true, the one-dimensional man is proliferating through the flatlands of Indian academia.

“Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach? 

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. 

I do not think that they will sing to me”.

 

Will these lines be our chorus then? Or will we dare to “bombard the headquarters” (figuratively, of course)?