Tag Archives: dipankar dasgupta

The Born Loser

Prize‘I wonder why nobody don’t like me,
Or is it a fact that I’m ugly?’

This immortal Belafonte calypso it would seem carries great wisdom, especially so when I look back at my unenviable performance in the circus of life. Indeed, it appears to me that I could be the only person I am aware of in my small circle of acquaintances, who clearly failed to turn out to be the hero of his own life. Indeed, I am a unique counter-example to the generally accepted fact that every cloud is endowed with a silver lining. Leave alone silver, the clouds that hovered over my head all through life did not betray any metallic connection whatsoever, not even to lead.

It is best that we move straight to the mournful heart of the groan-full matter — my career as an under-achiever. Putting it somewhat more forcefully, I appear to have earned meritorious distinction as an epitome of demerit in about all the contests I ever participated, with the result that the few prizes that ever came my way were invariably offered to me under questionable circumstances.

Take for example the time I won the third prize in a swimming competition. There was little to complain about this achievement of course, except for the somewhat embarrassing fact that there were exactly three competitors who took part in the event. Nonetheless, a prize was a prize and I carried my minuscule tin plated wooden shield back home with unmistakable pomp radiating from my face. But people near and dear, my very own flesh and blood, greeted me, not with awe and reverence, but with an emotion that wavered dangerously on indifference. In other words, it was a day that the cheer girls in the neighborhood spent in gloomy unemployment.

Fortunately or unfortunately though, Robert Bruce’s much advertised accomplishment centuries ago continued to be a source of inspiration and I tried for a while not to give up. The next opportunity to prove my mettle presented itself a few years later when I led the college team to a drama competition organized by the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur. Like an inexorable constant of nature, there were once again three teams that took part in the show. Loreto House (an all girls’ college), IIT itself and us. And much to my glee, we won the second prize on this occasion, the first going to Loreto. However, there was a somewhat unsightly fly in our ointment of success. The judges had actually ranked us third and IIT second. The second prize was nevertheless offered to us on the ground that rules did not permit the home team to accept a prize and there were only two prizes to give away! And this piece of information was delivered to the audience over the public address system!

Such being my well-documented record, I was stupefied one morning when a letter arrived for me offering me a prize financed by an endowment in Kolkata University. I was then a student of the MA class in Economics and exams were still far away. By this time, I had reached a conviction, Robert Bruce notwithstanding, that the only way I could ever win a prize would be for it to be offered prior to the competition, before that is any one had had a chance to compete. Such prizes are not unheard of. If I am not too mistaken, dignitaries are quite often anointed by honorary doctoral degrees. Degrees, in other words, which are not backed by dissertations.

I was elated by the news that I too was about to be honored and assumed that it had little to do with my performance, academic or otherwise. But, after embarking on a careful study of the epistle announcing the news, I realized that this was a hard prize indeed that the powers that be were talking about, hard as in cash. I couldn’t believe my eyes and requested all my friends and enemies to study the document under a microscope or at least a magnifying glass, or whatever it was that Sherlock Holmes and his cronies employed to establish irrefutable evidence. And the investigations revealed, that quite unknown to me, I had indeed bagged a first prize in the university, in physiology !

Now, if this piece of intelligence produces a sceptic wrinkle on a brow or two, let me proceed to offer explanations. Before I stepped inadvertently into the quicksand of economics, I was a student of the natural sciences and forced to study the holy trinity of physics, chemistry and mathematics, along with physiology, which, despite its status as a somewhat distant and possibly illegitimate cousin of the aforementioned disciplines, was elevated to the rank of a minor stimulant for the brain. And it appeared that I had, by a miracle that would put Noah to shame, managed to patent this minor tonic, the major ones having been reserved for greater minds than mine.

I am sure that heretics would be wondering by now if I was the only student in the university who had studied physiology that year and I shan’t blame you if you were to entertain such uncomplimentary thoughts. Thankfully enough though, the answer to your doubts is a clear ‘no’, even if the number of adversaries I faced was not large enough to attract the attention of the Guinness Book. To the best of my memory, there were around ten or twelve students amongst my contemporaries who studied this discipline in the university. And I, to my endless satisfaction, had been leading this mini-caravan. This was the closest I ever came to performing the Robert Bruce feat.

At least three years had elapsed between my accomplishment and the university realizing that an honour hungry talent awaited the bestowal of recognition. Accordingly, the papyrus (or was it parchment?) was despatched to heal the wound of long neglect. There were no festivities associated with the event of course. I was instructed instead to show up at the Darbhanga Hall offices of the university to be guided further about the procedures to be followed, to establish my legal claim to the booty. I proceeded as advised to the second floor of the august building and initiated inquiries, producing my mildewed document for the clerical staff’s scrutiny. Each one of them, as expected, disavowed connection with the prize of contention and pointed vaguely towards dark labyrinthine corridors leading to even darker chambers.

I stuck to my claim like a vice, however, and proceeded intrepidly, inspired by thoughts of the fabled cave in which Bruce observed the indefatigable spider building its nest. The surroundings where I stood did not leave much scope for imagination in this respect either. The room bore an uncanny resemblance to Robert’s cave. After labouring for what might appear to be an eternity, thereby outshining Bruce by several centuries, I finally found the spider, guarding his lair in the guise of a middle aged man who regarded me and the document I proffered with undisguised suspicion for about a quarter of an hour. First, from above the glasses he wore and then from under. I too stood my ground with iron determination, resembling no doubt, to add a French flavour to the Bruce analogy, the young son of Louis de Casabianca on the burning decks of L’Orient.

It was a battle of nerves, the only one I ever won. The gentleman finally exchanged my paper for the one he produced from a secret locker in his secretariat table, explaining most reluctantly the procedure to be followed thenceforth. His paper, as opposed to mine, was apparently a gift voucher, which I would need to produce to a renowned bookseller and the latter would in turn exchange the voucher for a book or two of my choice.

Success at last! I rushed off to the shop in nearby College Street without caring to check how much the voucher was worth. Robert Bruce surely snickered in his grave! Well, as I found out, the prize was worth exactly Rupees Ten. And I had decided to buy the collection of Maugham’s short stories, which, during Ancient Mariner days, cost a solid Rupees Fourteen!

Now, fourteen being a number that mankind has generally recognized to be somewhat larger than ten, my dream and I appeared to be standing on opposite sides of the Great Wall of China.

I tried to convince the seller that a large discount was in order for customers bearing the stamp of brilliance. But the sick old man remained as unmoved as Shylock in pursuit of his pound of flesh. I needed to bear a cost of Rupees Four (which was around 28.57 per cent of Rupees Fourteen, as far as my calculations revealed) for peaceful settlement of the murky transaction. It was an unheard of luxury for a university student with a middle-class background to carry Rupees Four in his pocket during the period of history we are dealing with. But once again, miracle prevailed. After frantically searching inside my pockets (mine, not others’ mind you!), trousers and shirt included, I was able to produce a pile of coins, which the mean fellow counted with supreme concentration before agreeing to part with his proprietary claim over the Maugham collection. I emerged triumphantly from the shop, richer by the four Penguin volumes, but poorer by pocket money that could possibly have lasted me two weeks or so.

I can’t recall exactly how my mom greeted me when I presented her with the news that I had squandered away the money she had allotted me from her less than bursting kitty. It would appear, however, that I managed to survive and I possess the books till this very day.

Whether they can be legitimately described as prizes remains, however, an unresolved philosophical problem in my opinion. To the best of my understanding, 28.57 per cent of the collection fails to satisfy the definition of a prize, though I doubt that I shall ever be able to identify which amongst Maugham’s stories fall in the non-prize category!

Worse, there is no way for me to establish proof that any part at all of the collection was a prize. There is no inscription inside the books recognizing my dubious distinction and the suspicious clerk had taken possession of the only evidence I did have that the prize belonged to me.

So, if you were to test the veracity of this story, I will surely appear to you as a confidence trickster. And I in turn will then have little choice left other than pacifying you with a full-throated rendition of the calypso we started off with.

I wonder why nobody don’t like me,
Or, is it a fact I’m ugleeeee …

অবৈধ — অণুগল্প

অরুণিমা — ফোন করেছিলাম সেদিন, ধরলে না … ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপ মেসেজেরও জবাব এল না।

পলাশ – ফোন? শুনতে পাই নি তো? ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপটাও বোধহয় কাজ করছিল না। কী জানি।

অরুণিমা — ও আধ ঘণ্টার জন্য বাড়ি থেকে বেরিয়েছিল। সেই সুযোগে ফোন করলাম … তুমি ধরলে না। আজও একটু পরেই ফিরবে।

পলাশ – আমাকে তুমি সারা জীবনে আধ ঘণ্টার বেশি সময় দিলে না। আচ্ছা উনি আমাকে এত অপছন্দ করেন কেন? আমি তো ওনার সঙ্গে শত্রুতা করি নি। করার ইচ্ছেও নেই। একেবারেই নেই। কেমন করে শত্রুতা করা যায় তাও বুঝতে পারি না।  

অরুণিমা — হ্যাঁ … জানি … কিন্তু রেগে যায়।

পলাশ – কেন? কী বলেন?

অরুণিমা — ঐইই … অচেনা পুরুষটা তোমার সঙ্গে যোগাযোগ করে কেন? লোকটার মতলব খারাপ।

পলাশ — বললেই পার … অচেনা পুরুষ না, চেনা বুড়ো … কলেজে চিনতাম।

অরুণিমা — বিশ্বাস করে না।

পলাশ — সত্যি কথাটা বলে দাও। তোমাকে লাইন দিয়েছিলাম … তুমি ভাগিয়ে দিয়েছিলে … খুশি হবেন।

অরুণিমা — রোজ আমার ফোন খুলে দেখে তোমার ফোন এসেছিল কীনা।

পলাশ — বাপরে …

অরুণিমা — হি হি হি …

পলাশ — তোমার সঙ্গে যোগাযোগ না করলেই পারতাম। মানুষ ভুল করে ফেলে … জয়ন্ত তোমার ঠিকানাটা দিল, আমিও আমার নতুন বইখানা তোমাকে পাঠিয়ে দিলাম। ফোন কিন্তু করি নি।

অরুণিমা — ওয়াট্‌স অ্যাপ তো করেছিলে। এমন কথাও বলেছিলে যে আমাকে কোনোদিন ভুলতে পার নি।

পলাশ – বলেছিলাম বটে। কথাটা সত্যি।

অরুণিমা – সত্যি কথা? আমি তো এখানেই ছিলাম। যোগাযোগ কর নি কেন?

পলাশ — সে কী? তুমি তো আমাকে ফুটিয়ে দিয়েছিলে। সারা জীবনে একদিনই কথা বলেছ সামনাসামনি। মানে পাশাপাশি। তারপর আমি কলেজের গেটে ভিখিরির মত দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতাম, আর তুমি তোমার বান্ধবী পরিবেষ্টিত হয়ে পাত্তা না দিয়ে চলে যেতে। ঐ মহিলা ব্যূহ ভেদ করে তোমার সঙ্গে কথা বলা অসম্ভব করে দিয়েছিলে।

অরুণিমা – নইলে কী করতাম? দৌড়ে গিয়ে তোমায় … যাক গিয়ে … এবার বোধহয় ফোন রাখতে হবে। ওর ফেরার সময় হয়েছে …

পলাশ — তুমি আমার দিকে ফিরেও তাকাও নি কখনও। সঙ্গত কারণেই নিশ্চয়ই। যতদিনে বিদেশ থেকে ফিরলাম, নিশ্চয়ই বিয়ে করে সংসার করছ। ছেলে মেয়েও উপহার দিয়েছ। এদিকে উনি আমি পরস্পরকে চোখেও দেখি নি। তাই রাগটা রহস্যময়।  

অরুণিমা — হয়তো তাই। অত শত বিশ্লেষণ করে না।  

পলাশ – মিছিমিছি ওনার বিরক্তির কারণ হয়ে গেলাম। আচ্ছা, তুমিই বা আমাকে ফোন কর কেন? আমাদের কি কোনো সম্পর্ক হওয়া আর সম্ভব? অবশ্য শব্দ তরঙ্গের আদান প্রদানটাও একটা সম্পর্ক হতে পারে।  

অরুণিমা – হবেও বা …  

পলাশ – আর তারপর যদি শব্দের ছোঁয়াটা অন্য কোনো ছোঁয়ায় পরিণত হয়? তাও কি সম্ভব?  তুমি থাক নৈহাটিতে, আমি উলুবেড়িয়ায়। হাতে ছোঁয়া তো কোনো ভাবেই সম্ভব না। শব্দ দিয়ে যদি তোমায় ছুঁয়ে ফেলি … হয়তো তাই ভাবেন …

অরুণিমা — কী রকম?

পলাশ — মন ছোঁয়া যায় না? তার সঙ্গে দেহের তো সম্পর্কই নেই। উনি বুদ্ধিমান লোক সন্দেহ নেই। ইংরেজিতে sensitive …

অরুণিমা – বলছ?  

পলাশ – প্রেমের জন্য দেহের চেয়ে মনের প্রয়োজন বেশি …  

অরুণিমা – তাই বোধহয় …

পলাশ – তাই বোধহয়? তার মানে তুমি কি এতকাল পরে আমায় ভালবাসতে পারবে? যখন তোমার সঙ্গে শারীরিক নৈকট্য থাকা সম্ভব ছিল, তখন কিন্তু ভালবাস নি। এখন তো কেবল মনটাই বাকি আছে।

অরুণিমা – তুমিই কি ভালবেসেছিলে? একদিন আধ ঘণ্টা কথা বলে কি ভালবাসা যায়? বললাম তো, আমি তো ছিলাম, তুমি কী করছিলে?

পলাশ – আমিও বললাম তো, তোমার তাড়া খাচ্ছিলাম …

অরুণিমা — এবার ছাড়ি …

পলাশ — আমার বয়েস আশি – তোমারও কাছাকাছি। তোমাকে দেখে চিনতেও পারব না। ওনাকে এটা বলেছ তো?

অরুণিমা — বেল বেজেছে। ছাড়লাম।

পলাশ — দাঁড়াও, দাঁড়াও — তুমি আমাকে আদৌ ফোন কর কেন? সেটা তো বলবে?

অরুণিমা – ছাড়লাম।  

ফোনটা এখন বোবা। পঞ্চাশ বছর আগের শরতের রাঙা একটা দুপুর পলাশের মনে পড়ে। ছবিটা পুরোন হল না। সে চোখ বুজে শোনে কে যেন ফিসফিস করে বলছে — শরীর? শরীর? তোমার মন নাই কুসুম?  

Memories — Haiku

            lovely moon shining --
        behind rain soaked rolling clouds --
            lingers on her face ...


শোকাতুর প্রভাকর আপ্তে
পারে নি সে কোনোদিনই মাপতে
ঔচ্চে সে ঢের
নাকি বেশি তার বেড়
কেঁদে মরে প্রভাকর আপ্তে।

Thalia Story

Thalia the Greek
I met by the creek
On a faraway noon
And fell into a swoon.
So I failed alas to teller
That I never ever weller
Loved a girl
Other than
Thus ended
The story of
Thalia ‘n

The Horse

Full of pride, horse astride
I wished to set off on a mission
To steal for me the prettiest bride
That had ever crossed one’s vision
Unfortunately though, I din’t quite know
How to ride a horse
And what was worse, I’d lil to show
On how to saddle’t by fawrce
I decided still to carry on
And climbed up on a stool
To mount my shiny stallion
Only fate turned out too crool
No sooner had I seated
Than my steed began to nettle
And soon alas I quite defeated
Sustained a fall most faytell
I howled aloud with torn sinews
And the horse ran away contempted
It vanished where I wish I knews
With my search for the prettiest bride ended.

Style inspired by Ogden Nash


গরফায় এসে রোজ কালীপদ আঢ্য

নিজের নিজেই তিনি করে যান শ্রাদ্ধ

তারপরে ডাক ছেড়ে

শ্রাদ্ধের ভোজ সেরে

কেঁদে কন কোথা ওরে হরিপদ আঢ্য?

Jr 23 March, 2021–Paper and Pastry

I can’t quite recall when I woke up this morning. Nor am I sure if I looked forward to my day ahead. In fact, I am a habituated non-forward looker. I see nothing much blooming ahead of me, except of course the final day. But there is a great deal that forces me to recede back into the past.

As soon as my brain began to whisper early in the morning therefore, I travelled back to January and ruminated over a tryst I had with destiny. Some call it a bank. My account there had been hacked. Most of its contents, otherwise known as money, had disappeared in less than 15 seconds, as I stared in wonder at my phone and admired the finesse with which the job was accomplished. By someone, who amongst other things, was quite invisible. Frankly his skill impressed me to no end and, had he not insisted on remaining invisible, I might have even agreed to pay him the rest of my money in the bank simply to watch him perform. But he was not visible. So I rushed to the bank, panting under my covid mask. The bank in turn prodded me to rush further to the police station and then rush back to the bank to tell it what the police had to say. The police actually had not said much. But one policeman gave me a number to be handed over to the bank. Which I did, not knowing what the bank needed it for. As I had correctly surmised, the bank didn’t know what to do with it either. But it did store that secret number in a secret enclosure and forgot about the matter.

Since there was not much point hanging around, I travelled further back in time to recall one of my favourite Beatles songs. This is the way the song ran — You never give me your money/You only give me your funny paper/And in the middle of investigations/You break down. For those who are over-inquisitive, here’s the link .

That’s the way I spent the last two months. Forcing my vocal chords to crow this song in my inimitable soprano or whatever. My neighbours complained probably, but I remained blissfully immersed in my money music. For two whole months! There were intermissions of course. Vaccination for one and the time wasted in the vaccination centre, all because a large number of people had forgotten that each one of them will need to die some day or the other, some way or the other. I was at peace with myself though. Nothing to complain about, till a certain Saturday arrived. On that sacred day, at 7 in the evening, I was delivered a digital message by the bank that, in accordance with my request, my account had been completely deactivated.

After an agonising Sunday wait, when banks, like God, take rest, I huffed and puffed back one more time to the bank to find out when I had made the said deactivation request. And the guy said he didn’t know. Upon which, I produced for him the message I had received and inquired what seemed natural to me. Didn’t the bank send it? His reply was a confident “yes”. And as far as the reason underlying the bank’s decision to excommunicate me went, he was equally clear. “I don’t know,” said he with supreme confidence. He appeared to be an honest idiot. Honest, since he didn’t disown the note. Stupid, because he had no idea why the note had surfaced in the first place.

Alternatively, he could have been an existentialist philosopher, drawing my attention to the absurdity of existence itself. I stopped singing my Beatles song therefore and sighed. He sighed too, sympathy oozing out of his eyes. He stuck doggedly nonetheless to the principle he had enunciated at the very beginning of his speech, viz. “yes it is, but no it is not”. As far as a resolution of the problem went, like our mutual sighs, the guy stared at me for a while and I stared back at him simultaneously. Both avoiding speech as a means of communication. Which is when my brain waves brought up a new question and I found back my speech. “If you didn’t send this message, but it went from your machine all the same, could it be possible that someone who’s not you, but who’s you at the same time (somewhat resembling the “yes but no” theorem) walked into your office and shot the ‘arrows of outrageous fortune’ at me? Or, does it have something to do with that fateful number?”

“What number,” asked he, visibly shaken. “Your bank account number?” “No,” said I, “the one that the police guy gave me to pass on to you.” He was taken aback. He had no idea that a number had once played a role in the drama, however nebulous. And that was the end of the episode more or less. I searched the wall behind him just in case the mystery number was lurking there under the paint. Without success, needless to say. Those Beatles guys were super intelligent. They knew that a chap never gave away his number, creating thereby a breakdown. The mention of a number had a debilitating impact on the “yes-no” man. He collapsed in his chair and since I didn’t wish to accompany him to a hospital, I quietly left the bank in search of the rest of the day.

And during that search, I remembered Ashim all of a sudden, who lived next door during my youth in Jatin Das Road. Hard to avoid this. The past invariably keeps landing me there. Well, it so happened that Ashim had managed to arm himself with a pocketful of money and offer me a treat in Tiger theatre (it no longer exists) on Chowringhee Road (now Jawaharlal Nehru Road).

Quite elated, I accompanied him to the theatre where we purchased 2 matinee show tickets and waited outside the auditorium for the show to begin. In the meantime, Ashim felt hungry at the sight of rich cream layered pastries on sale right next to the entrance to the theatre. The large hearted chap offered to buy me a pastry too and I readily agreed. Unfortunately though, as he was getting rid of his money in exchange of the pastries, my attention was attracted by a poster showing Audrey Hepburn at her loveliest best. It was an ad for the next movie to be shown at the theatre.

Well, when Audrey Hepburn captures the attention of a teenager, he cannot be blamed I suppose for dismissing pastries to the realm of oblivion. Only Ashim had not noticed the poster and went on to procure the pastries in question and came back and stood next to me. “Here’s your pastry,” he said merrily I think. But at that particular moment, it was Audrey Hepburn whom my heart desired in helpless agony. So, I hardly knew what Ashim had said. I ignored him completely and concentrated back on Audrey Hepburn, forgetting alas the long tested wisdom underlying the proverb that a bird in hand is worth a million or so in the bush. Ashim repeated his offer. I hardly understood him and merely muttered, “Oh, I see! Keep it in your pocket!” I must have confused the pastry for his money and forgotten completely that the money had found its way into the vendor’s pocket and Ashim’s pockets were not exactly suited to store cream layered pastries. Then suddenly the bell rang, announcing the beginning of the show that we had gone there to watch. I turned around and caught the expression on Ashim’s face as he was trying desperately to push into his pocket the pastry of contention. He bore an expression on his face that appeared to be precariously balanced on a razor’s edge separating rage from homicide. It took me less than a moment to realise the blunder I had committed and I quickly retrieved the pastry peeking out of his trouser pocket. I am not sure if I consumed it finally, but I remember distinctly the cream smeared gooey state to which his pocket had descended.

Ashim didn’t speak to me for several days following that event. But finally we managed to make up, though he often reminded me that he liked my brother more than me. And Audrey Hepburn never spoke to me at all. Her picture merely ensured that Ashim lost his money, in those deep, dark prehistoric days. Long before digital money was born. But then, money was invented by humanity with the sole intention of losing it. Wasn’t it?

গগনবেড় — Pelican

A limerick that cannot but remind you of Ogden Nash, was apparently not written by him. It seems to have been penned by yet another American, Dixon Lanier Merritt, in 1910. There are two versions of the poem.

Version 1.
A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His bill can hold more than his belican.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

Version 2.
A funny old bird is a pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belican.
Food for a week
He can hold in his beak,
But I don’t know how the helican.

Incidentally, I searched for other poems by Merritt, but could not locate a single one other than this one.

Produced below are two of my own Bengali adaptations of the limerick.

Version 1.

আজব পক্ষী বাবা পেলিক্যান
উদর চাইতে তর ঠোঁইট ক্যান
ধরে বেশি খাইদ্য?
শিবেরও অসাইধ্য
দেওন এ রহইস্যের ব্যাইখ্‌ক্যান।

Version 2.

গগনবেড় (পেলিক্যান)
গগনোবেড়, সে জাতে ক্রৌঞ্চ
উদর ছাপায়ে যার চৌঞ্চ
ধরে বেশি খাদ্য
বোঝে কার সাধ্য —
সে কি শুধু অলীকো প্রপৌঞ্চ ?


ভাসতে ভাসতে মেঘটা হঠাৎ থমকে
দারুণ ডেকে আমায় দিল চমকে
তারপরেতে জানলা দিয়ে খানিক হাপুস চোখে
দেখল আমায় — মিছেই মনে পড়িয়ে দিল ওকে
আসল ফিরে গানগুলো তার বৃষ্টি ভেজা সুরে
মেঘের কোলে এলিয়ে যে গান হারিয়ে গেছে দূরে
মেঘটা কেবল থমকে
মিথ্যে আমায় চমকে
এমনি করে পালায় কেন অনন্তকাল দূরে?
যেখান থেকে দেখবে না কেউ একটি বারও ঘুরে?