Monday, October 30, 2006

Deshbandhu, Darjeeling, Lazarus and Ken Starr

Last Sunday on that knee-whacking walk down the Bhutia Bustee road, the house where CR Das took his last breath, Step Aside, was seen under renovation. The house has for long worn the atrophied look of the town. It's white exterior dirty, rotten and in many places broken made it seem like a government office of some long forgotten department, and not a building of historical importance which it actually is. CR Das , the lawyer that saved Aurobindo (another Darjeeling product) from the gallows, who rocked the Congress with his independent views and who also was the first Mayor of the Calcutta Corporation, died in this house in 1925. He was only 55 .
It is good that this place is finally being renovated. There were moves early this year to set up a museum of the hill people - something which we embarrassingly lack until today - at the house. It would be good if the renovation is towards fulfilling that purpose. Apparently, Ghisingh's tube light finally came on after he was briefed about the project - that any society claiming to be civilised needs a museum by way of recording the its progress through time. (He has been too engrossed in drawing a self-portrait of a backward people that he would necessarily reject the idea of progressing through time; his chosen subject would be regression. "The Museum of the Regressed" not a bad idea. Appropriate location, inside a zoo.)
And about Lazarus...remember this was also same house where the Bhowal Sanyasin from Dakha was supposed to have stayed. He was taken down to the cremation ground dead and...12 years later he reappeared and triggered off a sensational court case. Those who believe that Bhowal Sanyasin was indeed Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy claim several forensic similarities. Both had "a minute mole on the dorsum of the penis." Would the presidential-penile-expert of the last century, Ken Starr, arbitrate?!

Friday, October 20, 2006


B.S. Nepal of Rockville Road, Darjeeling, informs us through "Hamro Pahad" today that the Darjeeling Municipality has alloted Rs 55,000 - Rs 65,000 to each of the town's 32 wards for maintainence work. This allotment was made at a Municipal Board meeting held on 2 September.
The news is late, the money quite insignificant, but nevertheless it is important that we know. It is important for the sake of Municipality's accountability and us citizens' responsibility towards developing our town.
To BS Nepal: Thank you sir for sharing the information. And your tongue in cheek style of writing drives home the message effectively.

CPI-M, M for Malignant

Who are these people and what do they want?
Last week they organised a huge convention of their party at Gymkhana where they tarred and feathered Subash Ghisingh. (Does the man need any?) They beat their chests about corruption, absence of democracy in the hills and the autocracy of SG. They raised their clenched fists towards the heavens and swore they would redeem this appalling scenario.
To the dead come the scavengers; not to redeem but to assuage their own rapacious appetites.
They have said this before, from our broken hill tops. Shed tears for the murder of democracy in Darjeeling. The problem is when they go down to the plains the tune decisively changes. By the time they get to Kolkata they deny that they said it at all!
Bad cop Asok Bhattacharya swears and abuses SG. The good cop Buddhadev Bhattacharya gets him a cup of hot coffee or maybe the man's favourite brand of chewing tobacco. "Yond man has a lean and hungry look; he constantly masticates like a goat on lime and tobacco: such men are dangerous."
And has this play changed? Don't be duped. The sub-plot is now taking over.
It was surprising to see the PDF (F, for fools) in the front row of the convention at Gymkhana. They were gazing at some circulated literature, perhaps trying to read between the lines which said you guys look so pathetic. If there was any doubt it was all removed the next day: RB Rai revealing his desperation offered to join hands with the CPI-M (yet again) if the latter were to have no truck with the GNLF. (Sad day - the halo of our veteran comrade has fallen to become a noose). AB promptly dismissed the suggestion and said the CPI-M would contest the election in the hills alone.
The perverse absurdity of the CPI-M demanding for early elections in the hills while denying it at the same time is not lost.
By declaring that it is in mind to contest the elections alone the CPI-M has disclosed its long-gestating plan. It wants to drive the hill people to such desperation that they feel that only the CPI-M is the alternative, that only CPI-M can deliver them (which the PDF acknowledges by asking for its hand). For long the CPI-M has been preparing the ground for it. By making a comeback in the hills it can guarantee itself good nights sleep as far as the demand for Gorkhaland is concerned.
They have corralled the PDF into such a small pen that they are of no more use than the pigs who talk about democracy. And PDF has called for creation of Gorkhaland, shooting itself on the foot. They could have held back the demand till the time they got the mandate. Instead, they prematurely ejaculated the point.
On the other hand, the CPI-M has managed in 16 years to make SG appear like a monster that has to be exorcised from the hills. Talk about staying power! They seduced SG into the bed with them and kept him there with exotica like the title of the Supremo. And then while SG convulsed through multiple climaxes the CPI-M set Rome on fire. No jobs, no water, no law and order, corruption, urban choas...and you kept hearing the moans of pleasure from Lalkothi. The councillors joined in the orgy.
The Marxists are now preparing for coup de grace. It will finish the SG sooner rather than later. By going alone in the elections if they lose they will split the Opposition vote and keep their man, SG, safe. Safe until they are in a position to completely unseat him. If they win couple of seats it will be the start of making in road into the council; the beginning of Ghisingh's end. Either way it is good for the CPI-M. If they go with the PDF they would be beholden to them and that won't bring any positive returns.
Sixth Schedule is humbug. Madan Tamang is right in opposing it; but he should have said he would agree to it only if the Sixth Schedule was of the kind created pre-Bodoland Territorial Council. It's not good to oppose without offering an alternative.
Knock! Knock! It's Buddhadev Bhattacharya at the door and he is selling a very Fishy Curry. But now we know.

Friday, October 13, 2006


The G-Company has come up with yet another new rule - no wearing of the Khadas, the ceremonial silk scarves widely used. It has been said that the khadas are not part of the tribal culture and the hill people must stop using it. Woe the manufacturers of khadas and those whose sanity is still intact!
G-Company? Well, the Opposition describes GNLF as a private company but actually the underworld analogy is more apt. Because they are secret, operating behind tinted glasses and high walls. They inspire awe and fear, with their anal-tight demeanour. They have money and protection from higher-ups. They do not hesitate to eliminate and can draw up complicated plots towards that. Just like the D-Company.
Why khadas, and why now? Would G-Company have MPs in Delhi believe that hill people never used khadas, just because they stopped doing so last week?!! According to him, the bill to include DGHC in the Sixth Schedule will be passed next month. Confident? Then why make us change our ways now, at the elevent hour? Or does he fear that the Centre will ask us to become tribals with retrospective effect, so we might as well start voluteering?
Or does our tie-wearing Don have other things in mind? More long term. Like divide the hill society into small bits and pieces until they become so confused about their identity that they fade and finally disappear. The word "identity" has never been so much abused. First we were Nepalis, than we were Gorkhas. And now we are backward tribals. Next? All of us Tibeto-Burmese Brahmins? Why not? In Darjeeling we are ready to take whatever identity the G-Company gives us. Even the gods have to oblige here.
And when we are divided and disappearing who wins? Those who set the task out for G-Company. Those who perpetuate our political underworld. Those who think we are incapable of anything more than bearers, and read the lips, caretakers!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Encounters of the Third Kind

The message from Kolkata is clear: demand for Gorkhaland will be countered with lathis, boots and bullets...
Ajay Dahal, a man for very few seasons, an amateur in politics, must be ruing the day he and his friends decided to declare that they were raising an army to fight for Gorkhaland. Buddhadev, who practices Bushian-Imperialism in the hills, has decided to smoke the boys out from their ratholes. And from yesterday's purpoted encounter in the scenic dale of Pedong, it is clear he also wants them "dead or alive."
The other day Dahal managed to release a press statement in which he marvelled at the rapid mobilisation of security forces by Kolkata to counter their threats. Whereas when it comes to the broken infrastructure of the hills, corruption and criminal politicians, unemployment and a host of other problems Kolkata feigns ignorance. You cannot but agree with Dahal on this point.
Kolkata should not now feign surprise about Dahal and his antics. By suspending elections and thereby democratic processes a thousand flowers never did bloom. But a thousand bombs could certainly boom!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Booker on Us

Ghisingh, the failed novelist and artist, could never draw the injustice in Darjeeling hills on the world canvas. The man had tried writing letters to the UN, which must have been a bit like that loony from South India writing love letters to Priyanka Gandhi some years ago. And if he had employed his inimitable style of writing in English - as displayed in the letter to the Prime Minister in October 2004 - it must not have made past the intern manning the postal desk.
However, by a far-fetched turn of events, if you will, another novelist is set to bring to the world's attention the story of our hills, particularly the Agitation. Certainly, our perception of her work would never have been in the mind of just-declared Booker Prize Winner, Kiran Desai, as she wrote her book Inheritance of Loss. But it was interesting to browse through her book in Oxford some weeks ago and read about the firing in Kalimpong which triggered off the chain of events we all know as Agitation; that there was a story there that the world would be interested in. Of course, the Agitation is only part of the story; as much as it is only part of our reality. Our leaders make it our universe, which is another story, a tragicomedy.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Soul Struggle

Beyond the ugly buildings, broken roads, grimy streets, criminal politics and a demoralised populace, this is a beautiful land. A perfect setting for a grand tragic drama. But where are the artists and their expressions of sensitivity, especially when there is a sensory overload, of both good and bad, in this place? When we have so much to say! Unfortunately, we are no drumming Manipuris sublimating our angry souls. We are still 'smoke on the water' and all that alien and imbecile crap; playing riffs fit to sell toothpaste rather than tell our tales.
But for Mahendra Thami. God bless this man for trying. He is not among the best but he is always up to something new. And now he has opened the town's first permanent gallery! It is located on Toongsoong Road opposite vegetable stalls and long grocery shops, but very close to his own home. This road is a congested with tourists and locals alike, and we hope many of them will enter the gallery (Rs 5 entry fee) and take a break from the smell of oil-drenched shafaleys.

Look closely at the picture on the right. See that old gentleman with the stick. That is Mr Naswan Madan, God bless him too for turning up to encourage MT. And don't tell Naswan he is old; and he is not. Afterall he displays more enthusiasm than our young.

The gallery was inaugurated yesterday afternoon by Mrs Cecelia Edwards at a modest function. This soft spoken lady can deliver one of the firey speeches in town. She should get into politics.
And lastly God bless Ajoy Edwards (in the pic below) who has been the chief patron (unknown to most of us) to MT.
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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Up in the air!

That is the St Pauls reservoir pipeline hanging in the air. Down below handful of men construct a temporary bridge to lay the pipes going to Rockville reservoir. The contractors at the site "feel" they can get the latter restored, temporarily, by tomorrow. St Pauls? At least three days. By the speed of progress it could take another week.
The landslide had occured on 24 September. Work started only last Friday. Corenlius Mukhia, the Municipal engineer said it took couple of days for the slip to stabilise before men could go in for restoration. And then some local villagers wanted the job, delaying the start of the work. Furthermore, some people from rival contractors also came to the site to create trouble, alleged the contractor. He was one of Kiran Dong's man. Dongs got everything going for him. To cut the flab out of the story - it took a week to start the job.
And then, during the weekend the workers "disappeared" to celebrate tikka. For two whole days they were gone! "We went to Third Mile to get them here. It was not easy," said the contractor. Even today not all of them had turned up.
Yesterday, they managed to get the plastic pipes, which will be temporarily installed, after writing to Ganesh Pradhan, the truck-lord of Sonada. All trucks were off the road because of the festival; no trucker was allowed on the road - express instructions from Pradhan. The man graciously agreed to allow one truck to ferry the pipes to the site! He deserves a khada from the people of Darjeeling.
When landslides took down the pipes in Gangtok it took three days to fix it. In Darjeeling there is always a lot of time. There is no hurry. And no dearth of excuses.

Residents, including children, collect water in private cars from a spring on Aloobarie Road, 15 minute walk away from Chowrasta!
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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A beautiful comment, for a beautiful mind

Received this as a comment from an anonymous sender. It is worth sharing...and remembering.

Today our community lost Shasheesh Prasad one of its brightest young luminaries. A great activist with boundless determination and vision that helped improve this place called Darjeeling.

A talented architect who built both grand and small structures, but most important he built dreams which inspired others to believe in a better future for the home we love so dear.

His sudden departure has left a whole in our hearts and minds that no other can fill, but we must carry on his dreams. Certainly his benevolent spirit will help guide us along as we follow his vision.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Down the Teesta, and back to the desert

Enough of sentimentality!! We took our friend down to the Teesta at Lavarbottey, a beautiful spot from where any one of us can go happily. As we returned from Malli after late lunch it was dusk and we saw the pyre dazzling bright on the river bank below. Way to go! Someone hung a banner of the Darjeeling Carnival - Darjeeling, World's Nicest Place, coined by Shasheesh - on the car carrying the coffin. That was a great gesture.

And then we returned back to the town where water tankers were everywhere. Who are these people called authorities who are supposed to have repaired the broken supply lines by now? It is more than a week and they still haven't. They don't care. Homes are running dry. It is a harrowing time. It is unbelievable when its raining all the time that we have no water in our homes!
Our elected and appointed are men of straw. When can we get rid of these pests oh god?!
Rise people, rise!

Monday, October 02, 2006

La Luna

The garlanded photo on the coffin seemed to say, what the hell are you mourning for? Get moving! Do something! Stop uselessly moping around! It was quintessential Shasheesh.
The blue light came flashing through the crowds. A swathe of fog swooped down on the car as it took the bend around Chowrasta. The reality was taking shape fast. The Saint John ambulance was streaked yellow with strings of marigolds and wreaths. It stopped by the door. Ajoy was in the front seat, bringing his buddy home. The brothers behind and some more people. Friends and admirers of Shasheesh were all there. Disbelief was soon disappearing. A massive crowd watched the coffin brought out, hauled over the heads and into the house, up the worn out red-carpet that he had always skipped up and down. You never saw him drag his feet.
The reality completed itself somewhere inside the house. It shot out of the heart, lodged in the throat for moment and ran out of the eyes. Why does THIS man have to go???? Do cry for him Darjeeling. Just this one time, Shasheesh, allow us.
He was carried to the top floor where often friends had come to celebrate the birthday of his children. He was laid in the hall next to the entrance of his room. Sketches of animals on the glass - a father creatively loving and nurturing his children. Happy dolphins. Outside in the corner of the terrace a small garden of rocks, water and plants. He had it built for son's last birthday. The night had fallen by now.
People poured in, struggling for words to comfort a hearbroken family. It wasn't easy. Ranjita, the wife, could still see him come up the steps, the bridge. She will for a long time.
At the hotel the children did not know Papa was home. They were told by Ranjita's sister that Papa had gone to the moon. He was summoned there by the gods who wanted him to build castles for them. It is a beautiful story, and we actually believe it is true.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Soil's Sunny Shasheesh

Right now he must be coming up the broken road. The light has been constantly changing in this cloudy-bright day. Now the clouds recede into the few pine trees left on the hill sides and now again they rise and veil the whole view. The woman washing on the road side has no clue who's passing; that he could have changed her life.
But he was cut short at 36. It is hard to believe that he cannot feel the curves of the road and the cool breeze, nor see the gathering clouds or the traffic rushing to and fro from his beloved hometown.
They are bringing dreams and hope nailed inside a 6 ft box. Farewell, dear friend.