Sunday, January 30, 2011

Roots or something like it

About three weeks back, I watched Ashutosh Gowariker's imminently forgettable film "Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey" starring Junior B and Junior Mallya's current arm candy. One that Rajeev Massand writes of as  "Under his (Gowariker's) heavy-handed approach, most of Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey turns into just what you dreaded – a dry history lesson." So why am I blogging about a bad movie? That three weeks after I watched it? Well, while the movie was a sure cure for insomnia, the setting and the story that the movie was based upon was a part of my roots that I was (admittedly a tad ashamedly) unaware of...

Based on the book Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-1934 by Manini Chatterjee, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey is an (ordinary) attempt to showcase the (not-so-well-known but extraordinary exploits) of real-life heroes. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se is the true story of a band of 64 revolutionaries — five commanders, led by Surjya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan) and their fervent teenage soldiers — who set out with 14 revolvers, a dozen rifles and some chloroform to challenge the British Raj in Chittagong.

The Chittagong Uprising, that began at around 10 pm on April 18, 1930, is to Bengal what Jallianwalla Bagh is to Punjab. The revolutionaries planned to unleash a subterranean raid against the British occupation in Chittagong. On April 18, 1930, they simultaneously attack several British outposts - the armoury, the cantonment,the telegraph office, the European club - with their indigenous bombs, weapons and raw valour. This lead to four years of hide and seek, where the patriots tried to escape the wrath of the Raj that struck back ruthlessly. The story culminated with the martyrdom of the brave boys and their fearless leader. 

(Here are some excerpts of the story from Amar Chitra Katha... click on the images to enlarge)

The TOI described the movie as: "Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey helps you rediscover forgotten heroes -- and a forgotten sentiment -- at a time when a scam-tainted nation needs to celebrate the national sentiment the most." - well the movie helped me rediscover my roots or something like it...

My grandfather will turn 90 this year. This is a story of his time and his land. To be honest, Calcutta has always been home to me. I know of Chittagong only as a cricketing venue. (Read this article by Siddharth Mongia of Cricinfo) When someone asks me where I am from, I always say Calcutta. But Calcutta was my grandfather's adopted home. He hails from Chittagong or Chottogram as we call it - the tumultuous times forced him to seek refuge in Calcutta. We still have some family there - one of my granduncles and his sons. But I have met them only once in my life and have no definite recollections of them. My only connection with the place was the sporadic stories that I have heard (in most cases with no particular interest and today I write with a tinge of regret, that I go don't remember much of these tales)

The Chatgaan folk (people who hail from Chottogram) are / were considered to be the most boisterous (for the lack of a better word) of all the people who came from Opaar Bangla. But I think that is a tad unfair. These are proud and passionate people who love their heritage and wear their hearts on their sleeves. In a world where people wear multiple masks and sneakiness is virtue (referred to a being diplomatic), these folks are misunderstood. Take my grandfather for instance - at the age of 85, he insisted on going to hear Mohd. Yunus deliver a speech (Mr. Yunus hails from Chittagong) and after the ceremony, he waited patiently in line for over 30 minutes to have a word with the Nobel Laureate!

Thus there was a peculiar camaraderie, a sort of umbilical bonding of the Chatgaan folk  seemed to share, at least till my father's generation. I mean if someone from their generation came across another person of Chatgaan origin, they would almost get up to hug! Thankfully (?), my generation has lost this bonding. There could be many reasons for this. For starters, the Chatgaan language is a dialect of Bengali that does not sound anything like the Bengali I speak. It is so alien to me that it actually sounds like French or Portugese to me - and at best I follow the odd phrase. (You should hear my Dadu speak to his brother on the phone to understand what I mean) And then there's food - ask anyone from Chatgaan about Shutki maach (dried fish) and I guarantee you instant acceptance and love. I have never been able to stand the smell of the dish being cooked - let alone eat it. Till this date my father and uncles relish it and on days it is cooked at home, I eat out!

 But then, last Saturday, EPSN was broadcasting a show on the world cup venues and I saw them showcase Chittagong. For some inexplicable reason, I felt a tinge of nostalgia about this alien land... as if many moons back, I was there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy Republic Day

अभी तो बाज की असली उडान बाकी है,
अभी तो आपका इम्तिहान बाकी है,
अभी तक तो अपने ज़मीन देखी है,
अभी तो पुरा आसमान बाकी है.

Abhi to baaj ki asali udaan baaki hai,
Abhi to aapka imtihan baaki hai,
Abhi tak to aapne zameen dekhi hai,
Abhi to pura aasmaan baaki hai.