Sunday, April 1, 2012

Of Cell Phones & FM Radio

Riding in an auto rickshaw between Shibgunj and Maheshpur, one encounters a serene – in fact, pretty scenery on both sides of the brick-paved street. There are no signs of progress as would have been epitomised by the presence of electric poles and dangling wires. But, one does spot a few dish antennas. I have no clue about what kind of power they run on – I can only guess. But, despite the apparent low-incomes, one is surprised to notice how commonplace cell phones have become. Not being a compulsive shutterbug, I keep my camera in its bag and thus much of what I see remains only in my memory. I remember having seen on a few occasions, that women tending their small vegetable patches or attending to chores around the house - chatting away on their cell phones. Young men sport theirs like a badge of honour. Sitting next to some of them on a van rickshaw, I have noticed that they press buttons arbitrarily, proudly establishing ownership. One can make out that some of them are not literate enough to understand the number of complex applications these gizmos offer. But, the cell phone is not just a status symbol, it connects them to ‘their’ world and also symbolises 'their' aspirations – a tool that comes closest to the computer and will continue to be so until the electric poles and dangling wires arrive here in Maheshpur, as well as, in much of the Sundarbans.

However, I soon found out that there were other uses of the cell phone. Both, Binoy and Proshanto have cell phones that help them to keep in touch with me and relay instructions to the whole team working on site. They keep their phones close by and one or the other plays music to break the monotony of their working day. They soon realised that this was draining their batteries and opted to pool in money to buy batteries for Proshanto’s transistor radio. So, now the radio plays music and keeps up an incessant and inane chatter that presenters of FM stations always do. On one such afternoon, the radio was tuned into a programme of “Onurodher Ashor” (Listeners Request) on “Payel Betar” a local FM radio station based in nearby Kultali. The presenter chattered on with a caller and I suddenly realized that Binoy was on air requesting a song sung by Ram Kanai. The request was not met and Binoy started cursing. Proshanto tried next and his request too was not met. The others started making fun of the duo. Both the callers slunk away.

Binoy however, would not give up easily. He called again and requested another song. “Play a song by Radhanath Mandal!” he ordered.

“Let me see…whether we have that…” voiced the presenter and rang off.

Everyone split into riotous laughter. “What’s so funny?” I asked.

“There is no singer by that name!” said Binoy, his expression that of a school kid caught in a mischievous act and yet trying to suppress his mirth.

The next day it was Proshanto’s turn. He calls the FM station yet again. “I called yesterday and you could not play my request. My friend called you and you did not play his request. Today you must play my request. If you cannot play a song by Radhanath Mandal, you should close down your radio station!” He thundered. The presenter gave some lame excuse and switched on to some other caller. The same uproarious laughter like yesterday erupted. I was amused by all this and wondered about how a cell phone empowers these humble farm hands and carpenters.

Olive Ridley Shelter: Update

Entrance from the North-West corner.

The outer dome is finally done. It not only looks strong but it really is. About 4-5 people had been sitting on top of it to tie up the joints and I noticed that there was no ’bounce’. The four arches look good. The bridge and stairs have received simple railings. These look good too.

Clock-wise:Arches looking North-East, North-West, South-East, South-West.

People come in to have a look and there are streams of interesting comments. Two young boys saunter in one day, behaving like they own the place and are visiting to inspect the progress. The first, a confident looking lad tells his friend, “This is a bamboo fort.”

His friend, a bit younger and timid looking says, “I didn’t know that a bamboo fort looks like this!”

“This is what a bamboo fort looks like. It was always so”, the confident one asserts.

Of Photo-Chromatic Spectacles & Village Romeos

I have mentioned in an earlier post that I walk through the village from the Ashram to the site four times a day. On these walks I notice many things. Among them, the scenes that makes me want to behave like the teenager in the 1971 movie “Summer of ‘42”, is the sight of women bathing in their family owned ponds. Sometimes I am tempted to whip out my camera, but I desist from doing so. I respect their privacy and cannot blatantly intrude. But, the advantages of wearing spectacles with photo-chromatic lenses are immense. I have also perfected a style of walking I have invented called the “Shufflebug”, that slows down and picks up speed as and when the situation warrants. Without swiveling the head, my darting eyes take in much without exposing my voyeuristic intent.

In the city many women will wear a swimming costume or even a two-piece bikini at the poolside, but none would dare bathe and scrub in public. Here, in the village it is an entirely different scenario. Women, will not expose much while bathing in public. They would be wearing saris, but, the bathing process is long and languorous. Sitting on the paving or the makeshift ghat by the pond, they will soap their legs up to the knee – much like Smita Patil in the 1981 Hindi movie “Chakra”. They scrub their heels on the paving with a kicking movement that allows for quick darts of soapy hands up the sari covered thighs. Next, they wade into the water and take a quick dip, reappearing up to the neck while scrubbing all over. With the dark greenish water as privacy, off comes the blouse which is flung on to the paving. Some are even bold enough to stand waist deep, back facing the street, fling off the top of the sari and quickly hide under the water. The multi-coloured floating sari contrasts with the greenish water – leaving much to one’s imagination.

And what do the local Romeos do? Ogle of course. But, they have an interesting way of doing so. They will come up, make eye contact and ask “Boudi! Aaj ki ranna korlen?” (Sister-in-law, what did you cook today?) And she will answer. Thus, a steady banter will follow as long as the scrubbing under water continues. The episode ends with the woman emerging from the water in a clinging wet sari, deftly drape a dry gamchha around her upper torso and go indoors. This narrative is of course the sum total of many fleeting, fraction-of-a-second 'sightings' - I am in the Sundarbans, remember?

Pond with makeshift timber ghat

I thank all those who are reading this blog for your comments and encouragement and also for forwarding and sharing them with your friends. The blog statistics is looking impressive indeed. Thank you and continue to read, share and comment.


Laurent Fournier said...

The two boys gave your "Bamboo Fort" the kind of certificate I always dream my designs would get...

"This is what a bamboo fort looks like. It was always so”.

I can't say better than these 12 words.

Congratulations Abhida!

amu said...

I was waiting for the update! Loved it again! The Photo-chromatic episode is just fantastic!! I actually had an ROFL moment!!

somnathsays said...

Titumir er kella kirom dekhtey chilo jnatey paro? daruuuuun laglo porey..... very very interesting....ORT r akta total chobi (inpresent condition) post korley khub khusi wishes..regards and respect.....

Anirban Mahapatra said...

My interest is quite piqued by the fact that there's an FM station at such a micro level. In my book, that's a sign of empowerment too.

Shovan said...

bhalo likhchis....sob kotai porlam ....darun...keep writing!!!

ratnaboli bose said...

abhi - you've got so may of us hooked to your blog - that we are really going to miss this when you are done. so that leads me to believe that perhaps funding for the next cluster may not be as difficult...

also since i have now been fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of some village folks from north bengal - i find that not only do they depend a lot on the cell phone - they are also getting picky about the brand of soap they use... here is an interesting link i came across -