A Star in a Twilight Sky


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Omwati, at work, her head held high

Sometimes I wonder why people take the trouble of dropping everything to go mountain climbing. Isn’t life itself a big mountain?

Completely oblivious and far removed from the debates raging all over the country these days over nationalism, reservations, and hidden agendas of RSS and BJP, Omwati, a middle-aged, semi-literate woman stands everyday near the Uttam Nagar red light with a cart-load of vegetables and fruits along with hundreds of other sellers; from morning till evening, they keep calling out and shouting to attract the attention of the passersby and coax them to buy from them.

Working in an open place like Uttam Nagar has a lot of risks, but she still carries on. The profit she earns by selling fruits and vegetables helps her in supporting her family. Her courage, her quiet determination, and the dignity with which she carries herself are really admirable.

She hails from UP and came to Delhi as a young bride. Her husband was an auto-rickshaw driver during those blissful early years. But a couple of years later, he fell sick, according to her. He doesn’t work anymore and stays at home. She has been selling fruits and vegetables at Uttam Nagar for almost 25 years now. They live in Budh Vihar, Rohini, and have 3 sons; the eldest is doing an ITI course, the middle one is doing a computer course, and the youngest one is in 10th class in school. She is the only earning member of her family.

Her day begins with a visit to Azadpur Mandi early in the morning. She buys her wares from there and brings them to Uttam Nagar in an auto-rickshaw. She reaches here around 12 PM and begins work right away. The cart that she uses is her own now along with the weighing machine. Maximum sales happen in the evening when most of the passersby are on their way home after work. She leaves for the day in the night, around 9:30 PM, and goes home in a DTC bus.

Perhaps you will ask what makes Omwati special, apart from being a female seller in a male-dominated market.  I have been purchasing my fruits and veggies from this market for the last 16 years and I find Omwati always so refreshingly different from the other loud and aggressive sellers. She is soft-spoken and well-mannered and treats her regular customers with great respect. The rates she quotes are generally the most reasonable and when things are not of good quality, she is pretty honest about it. It’s really amazing to see that though she is semi-literate, she knows by instinct that the most important thing in marketing is that customers will return to you only if you give them recognition and make them feel important.

Uttam Nagar red light junction is adjacent to both the Uttam Nagar East Metro Station and the Uttam Nagar bus terminal in West Delhi. Because of such a huge turnover of people and vehicles through this place, it provides a lot of opportunities to petty sellers like Omwati. Even the buyers love to buy from here because of the low prices, probably the most reasonable you can find in Delhi. But for the same reasons, this place remains in a perpetually chaotic state and continues to be a big nightmare for the Traffic Police. Road accidents are quite frequent.

Several attempts were made in the past by the Police to get rid of these petty sellers. They were, after all, illegally encroaching on public property and turning into a big nuisance with each one jostling for space and fighting with each other and, sometimes, with the customers as well. Nearly all of them keep their carts and sacks of goods here and some remain behind to keep a constant guard on them. But the long arm of law could not succeed and the market continues to survive.

This has a lot to do, I think, with the vested interests too.  I have often heard these sellers grumble about the huge amount of money they are compelled to pay to be able to stand here and sell.

Not to forget, there’s vote bank politics also. No government likes to be perceived by the general public as a ruthless dictator. All the open spaces are being converted into malls and government earns huge taxes from them. Often one hears of scams with public money going into private pockets. Where then can the ordinary sellers with hand-to-mouth existence go to? We are a free, democratic country, after all. We do have a right to our free, open spaces, don’t we? We needn’t pay for everything we need to live – water, the air we breathe, land to stand on – these are God-gifted and everyone has a right to them.

Uttam Nagar market is, in fact, like shifting sands with a constantly changing law and order situation.

Sometimes the Police suddenly become hyperactive and extremely brutal. They come out with lathis and  start raining blows on the gas lamps on the carts. I was a shocked witness to this scene once while buying a kilo of oranges. But I was more shocked when I saw that the sellers, without uttering a word of protest, just picked up the handles of their carts and immediately began making a hasty retreat. The money I was supposed to pay to that hapless seller for oranges on that ill-fated evening was already in my hands, thank God, and I thrust it into his desperate hands just before he ran away.

And sometimes, all of a sudden, the place is empty and desolate. Then a couple of days later, the carts return, this time with a vengeance, and in much greater numbers!

I asked Omwati the other day if she faced these problems. She told me that she does and in such situations, she just plays it safe and stays away from the traffic. And then in the night, like snakes, petty criminals, pimps, drunkards, and drug addicts also come out and move around, looking for a prey. Well, these are just occupational hazards that she shrugs off as unavoidable.

Wish you a better future ahead, Omwati, and I hope God makes your life easier in the coming years…

Here are some more pics of her.

 

 

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Raja Oedipus…An Actor’s Wife Speaks…

Sukhanghsu as Creon (Center)

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I had the pleasure of watching Sukhangshu play as Creon in the Bangla play ‘Raja Oedipus’ at Muktadhara Auditorium on both 5th and 6th March 2016. Perhaps you will wonder why I went on 6th as well. Well, I missed the first 20 minutes’ show on 5th as I couldn’t leave office in time. But I managed to catch up with it the next day and got the chance to understand the play better.

Here is a little bit about the play. Raja Oedipus is a Bangla version of Sophocles’ Greek classic ‘Oedipus, the King.’ The translation from the original to Bengali was done by late Dr. Sisir Kumar Das. The original play ‘Oedipus, the King’ was first performed around 429 BC and is widely regarded as Sophocles’ masterpiece. Of his three Theban Plays that deal with Oedipus, Oedipus the King was the second to be written. However, in terms of the chronology of events that the plays describe, it comes first, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone. Oedipus the King tells the story of Oedipus, a man who becomes the king of Thebes while unwittingly fulfilling a prophecy that he would kill his father, Laius, and marry his mother, Locasta.

Raja Oedipus was enacted this time at Muktadhara by Backdrop Theater and directed by Deepak Guha.

I found the play quite interesting and I was amazed to find that even though it is based on a mythological story from a different culture, the adapted form and the way it was played did not look alien at all. All the actors looked very natural in their different roles. The colorful make-up worn by the actors, their masks, their slow, gliding movements and the varying stage lights were all very graceful and dignified and gave an ethereal feel to the play.

To be honest, I am not really a theater buff and I generally go out to watch a play when Sukhangshu is one of the actors or when he insists on my seeing certain plays which he considers too good to be missed, like Sekhar Sen’s ‘Kabir’ which played in Delhi’s February 2016 NSD Theater Festival.

The best part of watching Sukhangshu perform on stage, as far as I am concerned, always comes after the play ends, when the viewers come up to him to congratulate him and sometimes the thrill gets prolonged for a few more days when rave reviews on his performance appear in the newspapers, as in Anjon Kanjilal’s ‘Asukh’ where he played a lead role and Bapi Bose’s ‘Seventeenth July’ in which he played the role of a Police Officer.  Sukhangshu has been into theater since his teenage years and by God’s grace, he seems to be getting better and better.

Sukhangshu and I came to know each other about 26 years ago in a company where we worked as Marketing professionals and our work had nothing to do with theater. But a few years after we got married, we decided that it would be better if he just followed his heart and that’s how he turned into a professional actor.

In 2009, Sukhangshu played in Amal Allana’s ‘The Metropolis’ during Delhi’s Ibsen Festival. Just 2 days prior to the show, he met with a serious accident during the rehearsal and fractured his left arm. On the D-day, with just a few hours to go, his stomach became severely upset due to the heavy doses of antibiotics and painkillers. His condition kept on worsening and none of the medicines that were prescribed seemed to work. It was in this state that he played his role of Usman Mirza while our daughter Suroshri and I watched anxiously in the house-full Kamani Auditorium. The play turned out to be completely different from the ones I had seen earlier. Never in my life had I witnessed such a grand production played out on stage in this manner, replete with so much high-tech wizardry. It was for the first time in my life that I saw sub-titles flashing on stage. We were all absolutely wonder-struck! Sukhangshu told me later that after every scene of his, he had to rush to the washroom.

Finally, when the play ended, one of his mentors remarked excitedly, “Sukhangshu did an excellent job. He is, I think, one of the best actors now and I don’t think he is even aware of it! It is just as well that he doesn’t know.” From where did Sukhangshu get his strength come from? This was what I asked myself that day. It must have been God, I told myself quietly. It couldn’t have been anyone else!

A couple of years ago, when our only earthly possessions were the clothes on our bodies and the dreams that throbbed in our hearts, we had once gone out together to see a movie. While eating popcorn during the interval, I remarked casually, “One day, perhaps, we would eat popcorn while watching one of your movies.”

Caught off guard, he exploded into laughter and said, “Me in movies? How very unlikely! I don’t think I am that good!”

But in 2013, God heard our prayers and gave us something really wonderful to celebrate about. It was Shoojit Sircar’s movie Madras Cafe’ in which Sukhangshu played a small role as an undercover agent. The camera focused on his face in a close-up shot for only about 2 minutes, but for us and all our friends and family members, that was a historical moment, something  to cherish all through our lives. Here is that shot!

Sukhangshu in a scene from Madras Cafe’ (Sitting beside him is late Jayanta Das of Vicky Donor fame)

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Sukhangshu subsequently got another chance in 2015 to shoot for a film. It was for ‘Hai Dil,’ along with the immensely talented and highly acclaimed actor Benjamin Gilani!

This was followed by a prominent role as Suraj Singh, a villain, in the TV serial ‘Wah Chaudhary’ on DD Kisan. Sukhangshu says that for a long time he had dreamed of playing a bad guy a la’ Pran and Jeevan of Bollywood and this serial fulfilled his heart’s deepest desire. Take a look at the scene below. It’s my personal favorite. Do you see here what I see? A poisonous snake spewing its venom with angry, blazing eyes!

Sukhangshu in a scene from ‘Wah Chaudhry’

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Now here is something that will bring a smile on your face. Several years ago, in the Bangla play Pratham Partha, as soon as Sukhangshu appeared on stage in a very unfamiliar getup, our little Suroshri clapped, laughed and shouted loudly, “Oh, wow, see what Papa has turned into!”

For a few seconds, the spell was broken and the audience sitting in the B.C. Pal Auditorium turned away from the spotlight on the Sutradhar (the storyteller) and stared at his daughter. It was a very awkward moment, but as the well-known cliche goes, the show must go on, and this play too went on and was highly acclaimed by one and all…

Sometimes, during my idle moments, I shut my eyes and allow myself to daydream about how it would feel like on hearing someone announce breathlessly, with a pause in between, “And the Oscar goes to …Sukhangshu Chatterjee!” I know that’s a bit too far-fetched at this stage, but it gives me a very beautiful feeling inside. Who knows, even this dream might become real one day…

Given below is our family pic which was clicked by a friend at the end of Raja Oedipus…

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Wish you all the very best, Sukhangshu, and of course, many, many more years of mishap-free, exciting, and challenging roles !

To read more about Sukhangshu Chatterjee’s work, check out his blog: 

URL:https://schatterjee210.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nahid Kaiser

Photo courtesy: Jasbir Chatterjee

Nahid Kaiser, looking bubbly and cheerful…

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I had the honor of meeting Nahid Kaiser, a young, talented writer from Bangladesh, on 1 March 2016 at my friend Shampa Das’s place in Dwarka, Delhi.

While she recited her poems from ‘Eve Unbound,’ her latest anthology launched this year in the SAARC poetry festival, we listened to her, spell-bound, completely mesmerized by her sincerity. I could easily identify with them; they were so similar to what I had written myself in the past.

But what impressed me most was her completely uninhibited style of reciting poems on subjects that most women don’t feel very comfortable talking about in public. When you consider the fact that she comes from a country of imperiled bloggers and a society where women have a long way to go in matters of social liberty, it is, I think, quite a commendable achievement. She managed to make it look very innocent and not for once did I detect any kind of vulgarity.

Beginning with her first period, she went on to talk about “Qabool, Qabool, Qabool” when she was dressed as a bride, then about her life as a wife, a mother, and ended with her thoughts on her grandma. Sometimes she laughed, sometimes she cried, and sometimes her voice quivered and trembled in keeping with the different moods in the poems.

Most poets are introverts and it takes them several years to learn to express themselves aloud as eloquently as they do in their poems. When I started out myself, it felt like getting my teeth pulled out from my gums…

As the evening progressed, the poetry and play readings graduated to a Rabindra Sangeet session. Somewhere in the middle, the group mentioned that they were going to sing “Sonar Bangla” in her honor. With her characteristic smile, Nahid stood up and said, “Eta amader jatiyo gaan,” meaning “This is our national anthem.” We took the hint and we also stood up, tall and erect.

Suddenly the room with its makeshift auditorium resounded with the melodious voice of the singers singing this beautiful song accompanied by soft music playing in the background. It was a lovely moment!

It served as a gentle reminder that freedom and free speech are not free and come with certain responsibilities which are mandatory for everyone.

Inspired by Nahid’s recitation and my subsequent interaction with her, I wrote a poem of my own the following day, ‘My Shadow and I.’ It kind of matched with a photo I clicked recently. The photo is given below.

I wish you all the best, Nahid, and of course, a long, happy, poetic life ahead!

My Shadow And I

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My Sweet, Little World…

Just like lotus flowers in a murky pond, Semal flowers are now in full bloom in the drab and polluted Mayapuri Industrial Area. Yesterday, I took a few minutes off from work and clicked some pics. Here, take a look. Looking at these pretty images helps in staying calm when the going gets tough. As I mentioned in Facebook too, this post is inspired from Mayank Austen Soofi’s numerous posts on this lovely tree which blooms in the brief Spring season in Delhi…

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