Crossings is a Journal of English Studies and is a crossover vehicle into the realms of contemporary English Literature.
I was delighted to see Mr. Rakesh Chandra’s review of the Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories published in the journal of literary studies ‘Crossings’ of the University of Liberal Arts ( ULAB) Bangla Desh.
I am posting below the very detailed review of the book that has been published.
(Salutations to You O Divine Mother, I Invoke You; Who is the daughter of the Mountain; By Whose presence the whole World is filled with Joy; For Whom the whole World is a Divine Play and Who is Praised by Nandi, I Invoke You O Devi Who Dwell on the Summit of the Vindhyas, the Best of the Mountains; Who give Joy to Lord Vishnu as His sister ….)
That once a year rendition in the voice of Biren Krishna Bhadra.
Aswiner sarada prate beje utheche alokomonjir,
Dharanir bohirakashi ontorhito meghomala
(In the month of Aswin, amidst the meanderings of autumn, resounds the light of the sun like anklets
As the clouds disappear from the skies above the world)
Listening to that Chandi path chants and the music in a half asleep, half wakeful state, has always been an intensely personal and endearing experience since my childhood.
I recall my father putting on the All India Radio station at dawn all those decades back, as we all huddled back under the blankets to sleep-awake through Mahishasur Mardini during those wonderful autumn laced mornings with that slight nip in the air. I have tried to continue that tradition.
This year as I lay on my bed listening to Mahishasur Mardini, I saw in my mind’s eye folks who had been part of me since childhood. My father, my father-in-law, other family members, friends. They were standing in two rows and smiling at me. I could sense the love and the warmth seep towards me through the smiles. I luxuriated in the enveloping feeling and closed my eyes. I woke up to find that it was but a dream. Al those who I saw looking and smiling at me were no longer part of my life today, having left for their heavenly abode.
Mahalaya is the day of making offerings to our departed forefathers. According to the Puranas, our patriarchal generations come closer to the living world at this time and this is when they need to be remembered and thanked in our prayers.
Did my dream have anything to do about my remembrance of all the departed souls and them reciprocating back?
The name ‘Narayan’ literally means the Eternal Man. The name is derived from the Sanskrit words, nara, meaning “man” and ayana, meaning “resting place.” Narayan is the name of a Vedic deity who is also believed to be the supreme Hindu God, Vishnu.
Thus ‘Rupnarayan’ might be taken to imply ‘the beauty of Man in his eternity’.
The river Rupnarayan, emerging as it does in the Chota Nagpur foothills, twists and turns like a snake towards the South East till it unites with the mighty Hooghly.
The Chota Nagpur continental plateau in Eastern India is all of 65,000 square kilometres and spreads through the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Chattisgarh.
The Rupnarayan’s place of origin in Chota Nagpur holds another mystery. This is the remains of an ancient civilisation replete with its collection of artifacts consisting of copper and bronze vessels, ornaments and magical figures of men and animals. A civilisation that is believed to be contemporary to Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus valley.
As their waters mix, the Hooghly and the Rupnarayan would surely be murmuring to each other of the Rise and the follies of Man through the ages.
We spent a couple of days at Rupasi Rupnarayan Kuthir resort on the banks of the Rupnarayan near Kolaghat….
Collaboration between two authors can be a virtuous cycle of learning for both.
In her review of ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories, author Manali Desai writes:
All the stories compare a time in India (especially Kolkata) from pre-independence vs now, making us ponder whether things have really changed and also highlighting the fact that ‘the past repeats itself’ and some actions/decisions have their impacts resonated through ages.
The writing style doesn’t always paint a pretty or desolate picture, but in fact, manages to preserve the beauty of simple simplicity by interlinking the heritage of Kolkata with commonality. Though the colours are a bit subdued and faded, but they carry lineage and ancestry.
The most striking feature of the book is how the author has let his creativity rewrite history. It comes out especially well in “The Chronicler of the Hooghly” where the paths have been intertwined with well-known historical figures of Bengal.
The writing is simple and yet holds the capacity to make a reader fall in love with old Calcutta making them curious about the city’s past.
The stories are thought-provoking and represent various human nature/emotions like greed, sadness, anger but the most applaud-worthy part about the actions in each story is how they bring home the message of karmic ends.
In my review of Manali’s book, I had said :
“I was coaxed to read the book by a Facebook friend. I had downloaded it in Kindle a while back but could complete the reading only today.
Author Manali Desai took me on a journey. A journey inhabited by three millennials Ayesha Banerjee, Viren Joshi and Abhi Agrawal. A journey which spanned Mumbai, Kolkata and Chandigarh. A journey into the mind and the world of the Millennial. And I have come out enriched!
The prologue containing Ayesha’s poetry recital is at once heart wrenching, as it punches the reader in the guts. Showcase as it does one of the evils of our societal mindset.
Adopting an easy and racy writing style, Manali’s narrative does manage to operate at two levels. At one level, the tale is one of the proverbial romance triangle and what that shows up as in social interactions and conversations – during morning walks, in the college canteen and situations. At another level exists the unsureness and the confusion about making a choice. For me the end was somewhat abrupt. Apart from this a nice read.
I would urge Manali Desai to keep on writing.”
In our author collaborative session, we had an interesting discussion on the above aspects.
The Pandemic has been with us now for more than one and a half years. A virulent new strain, the Delta variant, is the new weapon unleashed by the wily COVID 19 virus to negate all that the vaccines have been doing. Conspiracy theories abound. We look on helplessly through a tunnel with no apparent light visible at the other end yet.
The West and its much vaunted ideal of human freedom is on the backfoot. As US retreats, Afghanistan has once again proved to be the graveyard of Empires- earlier the British, then the USSR and now Pax Americana. The swiftness of the Taliban takeover has been shocking as they begin the task of taking the country back into the medieval ages.
Almost two decades back, US President Bush had declared, “Engendering democracy across the Middle East ‘must be a focus of American policy’ for decades to come”. Today democracy is sputtering like a flame about to go out, with the failure of the much-vaunted Arab Spring and the Middle East in a far worse situation than previously.
We are into an irreversible global warming era, possibly the most serious climate crisis faced by Mankind. July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet. An extreme heat wave in Canada at a searing high of 49.6 deg. C. was a one-thousand-year weather event. Floods ripped through geographically distant countries like Germany and China. Drought stalked others. It is now being widely claimed in scientific circles that the Arctic would soon be devoid of ice with the resultant rise of sea water levels and low-lying areas going under.
The above are glimpses of a frightening and dystopian future we are headed into.
Now here is the other story.
In the last month alone, one billion people have been vaccinated against COVID 19. By the end of this year more than half the people on the planet would have received the vaccine. Truly a stupendous achievement in terms of swiftness of response and effectiveness.
The COVID-19 crisis has led to a veritable explosion of scientific progress in the tinkering of genetic information flow and the formulation of proteins, the ultimate nano machines. Trials are currently being done for protein-based vaccines for diseases ranging from Cancer to HIV.
As we speak, electricity generation from the clean sources of solar, wind, hydro and nuclear has outstripped that from ‘dirty’ coal. Closer home in India, the wind and solar generating capacity has exceeded the milestone of 100GW output. In more and more countries, low carbon economy valuations are rising rapidly. The reason is economic. The average cost of power generation from clean sources is now half that from fossil fuels.
As investors spot a rising opportunity, more money is getting committed to climate investment funds in a day than used to be raised in years a short time back. Three weeks ago, two global asset managers, TPG and Brookfield, closed a combined $12.4 billion in climate investment funds.
Reforestation and conservation funding is taking place in countries as disparate as Indonesia and Bolivia who are supporting equatorial rain forests to United states and Canada who are focusing on wetlands, grasslands and coastal areas and the regeneration of flora and fauna therein.
These are but a few stories of a Utopian future we seem to be headed into.
So which future, whether the Dystopian or the Utopian, would come true?
As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix:
“……This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you…. believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill……. and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more….”
Is our future really like the story of the blue and red pills and the need for us to make a choice of the path?
Or could it be that there is no choice after all? The two futures, dystopian and utopian, would always exist together, like the two sides of a coin. It would all come down to our world view and the context lens we choose to use. If our context was one of dystopia, we would see signals of collapse in every situation we look at. Similarly, if we were to deploy our utopian context, we would notice the signals of renewal and hope all around.
Our story, the shared and evolving narrative that it is, would always contain both dystopia and utopia, both collapse and renewal. It would depend on us which context lens we choose to deploy, which future we would wish to live into.
“What we do makes a difference, and we have to decide what kind of a difference we want to make.” Jane Goodall, English Primatologist & Anthropologist
Acknowledgement: The above piece is inspired by ‘Collapse, Renewal and Rope of History’ written by Angus Hervey, Future Crunch Journal, Aug. 24th 2021
“Dipen crossed the road to move towards his home in the Bhukailash estate. The narrow winding lane had a few single storied houses on the right. As he moved past the third house, his head turned as if on its own volition to the small verandah on the ground floor. His heart skipped a beat. There she was, the young woman in her twenties. Today in the failing light of dusk she stood, her head bent slightly to one side as she appeared to be combing her long lustrous black hair. Their eyes locked for a moment and then Dipen looked away quickly as he hastened his faltering steps. This had been happening almost every day over the last few months.”
The above is an excerpt from the story Pandemic, part of ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories.
Adjudged ‘Book of the Month’ for March 2021 by Booknerds, Professor Gracy Samjetsabam column author in Sunday Guardian Live and copy editor, in her review in Borderless Journal (May 14, 2021), writes:
“….. Ghosal sprinkles confetti of his coaching in life skills into the storytelling to create a set of modern-day tales that are easily relatable and palatable. The style and the settings are like fresh air that enlightens as it entertains. The stories are vibrant and close to current realities, making them a worthy read.”
Ichamati River, a distributary of the mighty Padma flows quietly, separating as it does the land masses of India and Bangladesh at places.
The town of Taki is one such place.
I sat looking at the serenity of the Ichamati waters from my hotel room in Sonar Bangla. As the tide ebbed, the river bed peeped above the water. As if separating the water itself between the banks of the two countries. The sad impact of the river bed silting is so visible. Decades of uncontrolled construction, encroachment and forcible occupation of the land have contributed to this.
But Icchamati continues to mesmerize the visitor.
I am told the Durga Pujo immersion ceremony on the Ichamati is a unique spectacle with boats full of folks of both the countries immersing their respective Durga Protimas.
In the words of the famous Bengali writer Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
‘The ashes of so many burnt bodies have been carried by the river to the blue ocean over millennia. The man who expected so much return from his plantain trees on the southern side of that green, and at the bend of the river put bamboo traps to catch fish, is lying today on the bank of the Ichamati – only his white bones remain, bleached by sunrays.
…….… one listens to the music of eternity when one spots the old flowers or smells the pungent fragrance of herbal plants in Autumn. Some can visualise and dream the unlimitable unknown eternity in the image of the Ichamati river during the turbulent rainy season.’
‘Came the partition of the country and the independence speech of the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in which he proclaimed, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”.
What followed was something quite the contrary.
Rather than awakening to life, people were awakening to bloodshed, killings, rape and pillage. Rather than awakening to freedom to live where they chose to, people were being forced to leave behind everything they possessed and cross a newly created artificial border, homeless and penniless.‘
The above is an excerpt from Ashtami, one of the stories in ‘The Chronicler of the Hooghly and other stories’ which recently received the Nazm-e-Sahitya award for 2021.
On this day, as we mark the 75th year of India’s independence, the following excerpt from the section ‘Hebrews’ in the New Testament comes to mind.
“So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.
We may feel alone, but we aren’t. We are surrounded by an army of witnesses. They have run the race of faith and finished well. It is now our turn.“
Let us not forget all those who have gone before. Indeed, now it is our turn.