Sunday, October 18, 2009

Unknown among the Known

John Daleiden, the editor of Sketchbook, has awakened me to my everyday unconscious brooding over the very subject which he has suggested for writing and thus helped me to sit before the computer as I am doing now:
A Correspondent Feature may take the form of a reflection piece about the sights, sounds, traditions, mores and distinguishing characteristics of a writer’s country. The correspondents may describe what they see, hear, and feel as they step outside their doors to go about their daily life.
I am surely in my country, India, but my country is very big consisting of many countries. Though there is a cultural, geographical and historical link and now firm political link among all Indians, they are different by their regional cultural choice, by their different thought process and voice or voicelessness.
I emigrated from the capital of the eastern province, West Bengal, to the capital of this southern coastal Union Territory, a small political unit; from Kolkata to Pondicherry. The usual language difference between the two places is as apart as Bangla and Tamil though linked by Sanskrit. The speakers of the two languages do not usually understand each other as they live some 2000 kilo metres away with different food and other habits.
Ever since Sri Aurobindo came and settled here, about 100 years ago, many of his followers have come from different parts of the country and globe and have settled here, taking it as a great spiritual centre with Sri Aurobindo the yogi and philosopher at the centre of it, with the hoary religious and spiritual past of Pondicherry. People from various cultures have mixed to bring a new understanding among themselves creating a composite culture to make Pondicherry really cosmopolitan.
Pondicherry is the capital of the Union Territory called by the same name but recently it’s name has been changed to Pudhucherry, comprising of four parts scattered in three southern provinces of India. Surrounded by provinces, these small costal villages/towns were the areas the French captured and made parts of French India. It had another town in Bengal, called Chandernagore; It did not remain with the French but merged with West Bengal with the freedom of the country from the British rule.
It is on the Bay of Bengal. The eastern part of the town overlooks the sea. French made nice parallel roads on the eastern part of the town for their habitation. There are still some big, high ceiling buildings, samples of French architecture available in the town. Together with some old typical Tamil houses, they make the heritage of Pondicherry. Now the Governments have become very enthusiastic to invite tourists and make places of tourist attraction to earn money by all means. Pondicherry, with the sea, the French legacy and the world famous Sri Aurobindo ashram, has become an important tourist centre; more so because it is more peaceful than the northern towns, than even some southern towns. It enjoys a reputation of peaceful sleeping fishing village. But gone are the village days. It is a town with a population of about a million, nearing to be raised to a city status. The small town has French citizens and large number of retired settlers. The density of population of this small place is one of the highest in India. But the popular Governments do not go for any restrictions here. Wine flows with full flavour in this erstwhile French town drawing all drunkards close. With easy registration process and shop windows for all types of vehicles, the town has vehicles galore, overflowing the streets. The roads and lanes are jammed with different types of vehicles; from biggest vans to three, two wheelers and rickshaws. Road is the garage for many of them. It is difficult sometimes to walk on the roads. There are shops aplenty everywhere in the town with matching buyers. Shopping has become a hobby for most of the populace.
So Pondicherry is a shopper’s paradise as well as a haven for the retired persons. Tourists find solace here mainly for the existence of large numbers of shops, restaurants and bars. Seaside is their temporary refuge. Apt it is to remind that due to port activities and nature’s whim the sea beach has been lost into the sea and the Government has constructed an artificial beach made of boulders and sands. The promenade is wide but they plan to make it of granites recently. All sorts of construction activities are ruining the nature everywhere as in Pondicherry.
This time of the year is marked for festivals, one after the other. And it is time for Deepavali or Diwali, one of the greatest festivals of India which involves almost all Indians in different ways.
The earth is bathed in light during Deepavali, celebrated almost in all parts of the country with lamps (Deep) and crackers, feasts and merriment. Deepavali is a festival of lights. It is a movement from darkness toward light, from evil toward goodness. The sights and sounds of Deepavali are light, fire, smoke and crackers, creating fracas.
It is a complex affair, connoting values of different dimensions to different people. If we get down to the nitty-gritty of it, we shall find that it contains legends galore; it has links with festivals and rituals of the other peoples, other countries of the world. Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth is worshipped during this festival in many parts of India but Kali, the Shakti or the Goddess of Force and Power, is worshipped in Bengal.
Lighting lamps is like showing illumined path to the ancestors. Fire has been held as the symbol of rebirth and resurrection. On the Christian All-Souls-Day in Mexico, in the month of November, it is said that the beings already dead join their family. All flock once in a year. In Japan, during ancestor worshipping, all flock to the cemeteries and light lamps all around the place. China has a lantern festival on the full moon day and in Cambodia people offer their ancestors food, as in India, on some occasions. In Belgium, a day in early November is fixed to remember their ancestors. In Bengal they float lamps on the water bodies as they do in Thailand. All this festivals, observations occur around this time, October-November of the year. And then comes the Christmas followed by New Year. They too have their past connected to Babylonian culture and myth.
Diwali is auspicious for beginning a new financial year, so it is for closing the financial transactions, nay, for declaring the business enterprise as closed, Deulia. It is time marked for financial changes in some parts of India.
But this much may be enough for the festival as the issue is different. The climate is autumn. After the summer and rains the earth gradually changes it routine, lead by the Sun. South India is comparatively hot throughout the year. But here too we discern a very slow yet sure movement in nature; the severity of summer gradually giving way to winter. The winter will never be severe in the whole of South India except in hilly stations but it will be comfortable. It is time for transition.
In the mornings we find housewives making some designs with chalk powder before their houses after cleaning the area with water. The drawings- pictures of flowers or animals or simple designs- are quite attractive. This is called Kolam in Tamil. This is an essential ritual on festival days but for many houses it is a daily ritual. As we go out in the evenings we find boys and girls gathering on streets lighting some fireworks. Sound of crackers, loud sometimes, stuns us. We become careful lest some spark of fire may ignite some part of our dress or body. Loud songs through amplifiers are now the essential part of any festival. Commoners may enjoy but we feel it a tyrant.
A poet and writer usually has a different fate specially when he writes in a language which though international and of increasing popularity in India, not the language proper of any people of this country, when he has migrated from a distant place, may be India but from another cultural ethos. Even in one’s own place how many people know a poet, unless huge publicity hype or a big boom makes him known to the people? A writer of an alien language is rarely known to the common people. This way, though I know the people around me, daily see each other’s faces, do marketing together and try to assimilate each other’s culture, as everywhere in India, our acquaintances are very shallow. Shallow is ordinary people’s curiosity to know the other. Ethnicity has spread a deep route in spite of the blow of the global village idea. And I must say that the modern way of living has separated people, even families, tending towards nucleus family units, as in the West. We are not much concerned about the other, living in apartment buildings, moving in our own vehicles.
Under these abiding conditions I am a bilingual poet and writer who rarely now-a-days writes in Bangla, his mother tongue as well as of such other creators like Rabindranath Tagore, Nirod C Chaudhury, Satyajit Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri. Away from Bengal I write in English. I have enough connections with Indian literary magazines, international ezines and I have presence in many of the websites. I have so far written many hundreds of features, essays, good number of stories and poems in magazines all over India and some abroad, in some daily newspapers in India; with some 12 books in Bangla and 14 in English published. I am known to some extent to some local readers and some writers, poets and others who matter in the literary field. There are some local poets and writers in the town who know me. Some enthusiastic people of my community know me but I have friends mostly in other towns of India and abroad. I am busy really doing different types of writing, including critique, cooperating with fellow writers and editors in India and abroad. I cannot say that I have gained the publicity to make me at once known by name but I am on the way. Active in the internet, writing in literary magazines that hardly reach the common readers, writing in English mostly, I am becoming more known to the literary world in general but not much known to the people around me who are the source of my knowledge about human character and culture. Though I take my lessons of life from Nature, it is ever indifferent about the coming and going of people like the ever growing town, always oblivious of its citizens unless man makes some of them immortal. I am indebted to all my surroundings whether they accept me or not. I am a product of my country and age, world wide. I know my neighbours, they know me, we exchange smiles and goodwill, we talk, agree or disagree but they do not know my proper identity. I am unknown among the known.