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Apu, Ekshan, Ikebana and being Bengali - Renaissance, uninterrupted - Remembering Soumitra Chatterjee

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Apu, Ekshan, Ikebana and being Bengali

- Renaissance, uninterrupted -

Remembering Soumitra Chatterjee

Monish R Chatterjee ┬ę 2020

Soumitra Chatterjee in a Satyajit Ray film
Soumitra Chatterjee in a Satyajit Ray film
(Image by National Herald)
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Here is a YouTube recitation of this poem and its original Bengali version by Monish R Chatterjee:


youtube.com/watch?v=1epADonfSMc

I was then 14, maybe 15, between studying English and science
Spending seemingly interminable days waiting for the variety
Of Puja Varshikis; back on our 3rd floor, waiting for that magic
Moment for the day's Ananda Bazar to drop in a corner
Of the verandah, launched from the street. And no sooner than
The thud was heard, rushing to get our hands on that treasure
Trove, hungrily wolfing down the day's cartoons and sports pages.
And each day awakening to the heavenly sounds of Hemanta

And Suchitra on the radio. These were the foundations of our
Young Bengali lives. Then, the glamour-filled world of the cinema
Seemed shallow, lacking in substance, hence worthy of rejection.
Yet, right then, the task of upholding higher art in cinema fell
Upon the capable hands of a Satyajit, a Ritwik and Mrinal,
A Tarun and Tapan- a handful of the keepers of a higher culture.
And there was you. Doubtless, in the culture-conscious Bengali
Life, the pairing of Uttam and Suchitra was the unmatched

Heartthrob- yet, in my mind and a handful of others, you were
One so close to our hearts. In you I have seen the artistic intellect
An unfathomable depth of the mind, the subtlety of sensibility
My mind refused to engage in the meaninglessness of branding
Matinee idols. I had met you once, entirely by accident- I had
Yet to see you on film. Cinema almost entirely lay outside our
Orbit. Life had far more gravity than fluff. Yet, the names
Satyajit and Soumitra were quite familiar- perched on seats

Of reverence. It was 1971, as I recall. My brother and I, in the
Company of our Borda, had boarded Kolkata's double-decker
To spend an evening taking in the dazzling neons of Park Street
And the Esplanade. Soon, Borda had treated his cousins to
The delectable Rally's Rose Syrup. Thereafter, Borda had taken
Us to visit the Academy of Fine Arts. Later, having completed
Our tour of classic art, we found a distinguished looking Bengali
Gentleman seated on a stone bench on the portico outside.

Cannot recall if I recognized you at all. Yet that evening became
Etched in my memory forever, when Borda went forward
And engaged the luminous gent in conversation. I discovered
Often Borda knew several Bengalis of world stature. Now four
Decades on, I retain the conviction- you were one of our own.
In your personality there was not a trace of vanity. Before long
Borda called us over, "Manu, Babun- come over. This gentleman
Is Soumitra Chattopadhyay; these two are my maternal cousins."

I first saw you on film in Ray's Teen Kanya, as Amulya in Samapti.
Stepping off the boat, slipping on the mud by the riverbank-
Thereafter, witnessing the ridiculous city guy, pumps in hand,
Caked in dirt, the nearly-obscure young Mrinmoyee's audible
Giggles. In your company, later, Mrinmoyee's transitioning from
A free and wild tomboy to a complete woman of beauty and grace.
Not long after, it was likely Borda again, who had brought home
An issue of a bi-monthly little magazine, Ekshan. Flipping its

Pages, I learned that Satyajit Ray was behind both its name and
Its cover design. It was my first introduction to your literary side-
Then co-editing Ekshan with Nirmalya Acharya. Over the years,
Of course, you were simply indispensable to your cinematic
Mentor, Ray, and over the years, from Apu to Amal, from Amulya
To Felu-da- you brought the characters of his imagination to life
With complete ease. That sense of life as art- it stayed with you
Until the very end- a sensibility born out of the unmatched

Inspiration that was Rabindranath in your life (much as he has
Been for so many of us)- the profuse creative cascades of that
Greatest of poet-philosophers in human history. Upon your
Shoulders you have carried the burden of keeping alive the very
Last gasps of our Renaissance. Your station was upon the highest
Echelon of our collective identity and pride- time and again, I have
Witnessed you never compromising the higher standards of a
Priceless culture, never once did you interchange higher art with

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Monish R. Chatterjee received the B.Tech. (Hons) degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from I.I.T., Kharagpur, India, in 1979, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering, from the University of Iowa, (more...)
 

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