Abhishek Mukherjee, Pranab Mukherjee’s son, who contested the Jangipur parliamentary by-poll after his father vacated the seat on becoming President, has won. But political commentators in Bengal are pointing out that he barely scraped through. The results indicate that Congress’ votes have dropped by 1.2 lakhs. This is not just a reflection of the poor overall health of the Congress as it finds itself embroiled in one scandal after another in the rest of the country but an indication that its hopes of making a comeback in Bengal as a major political party (the declared aim of the Bengal Congress after its ties with the TMC snapped both at the Centre and state—is not about to be fulfilled at least in the near future.
AMRI to Reopen
Readers will remember the horrific AMRI hospital fire last December, when 91 people, most patients of the hospital, suffocated to death, trapped in the building while the fire spread from the basement all the way to the top floors through the AC ducts. Amid allegations that hospital authorities and security refused to allow the patients to flee or let rescuers enter the building fearing negative publicity, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee ordered that the top directors and trust members of the hospital be arrested and its premises in Dhakuria be shut down. The hospital remains shut nearly one year since the incident, even though the accused have been released on bail, the. A couple of weeks ago the promoters of the hospital wrote to the Bengal government seeking permission to reopen the hospital. The Mamata Banerjee government has given the nod but not before a complete reshuffle of the board. Only two members of the old board have made it to the new one.
For Calcutta’s Bengalis, waking up at the crack of dawn on Mahalaya (the day of the New Moon six days before Durga Puja) and tuning into the radio to listen to “Mahishashur Mardini” (a program in which scripture reading of the relevant parts of the Chandi that deals with Goddess Durga’s slaying of the evil demon Asura is punctuated with music and songs) is a tradition that started in the 1930s and has become standardized since the 1950s. It used to be a live program until the late 1960s, when a recording in the voice of the original broadcaster Birendra Krishna Bhadra, has been aired every year. My father, who was part of the All India Radio team which produced the programme in the 1960s, used to tell us how as a young journalist he and his colleagues, would face hundreds of questions from listeners days before Mahalaya whether the programme would be on as usual and exactly what time they should tune in. Some years ago recordings of the original program were released in the market in cassette and then CD form. Since then some of the excitement of listening to “Mahishashur Mardini” has worn off since one can sometimes hear it being played at random through the day and sometimes even on days that are NOT Mahalaya. I suppose this is how tradition “evolves.” Sigh.
A couple of months ago, these hard-to-miss billboards appeared along the roads of Calcutta, each with a larger than life picture of an young man or woman—clearly meant to represent the boy/girl/student-next door types—with the Bengali tagline, “Amar shomoy aschey” (My time is coming). They posed before some quintessential Calcutta symbol like a Metro Station and appeared to be mostly studious, serious and no-nonsense. Barely days later, another set of billboards—equally hard-to-miss and larger-than-life burst onto the Calcutta skyline. These carried pictures of men and women – mostly young—captured in moments of playful wackiness—(in one a young woman dressed in a traditional sari has yanked off her feminine sandals and replaced them with colourful sneakers; in another a young doctor is checking his own heartbeat with his stethoscope while his patient looks quizzically at him). The tagline in Bengali reads: “Ami amar moto” (“I am like myself” or “I am like this only” to use our own desi version of the phrase.)
Thus broke out a high profile public media war between two of Bengal’s biggest media houses—The ABP Group, whose Bengali daily Ananda Bazaar Patrika is the vernacular with the highest circulation in Bengal and the Times of India Group, which after giving stiff competition to the ABP Group’s English daily, The Telegraph, with its own English daily, has now taken on its rival in the Bengal vernacular market.
While the first set of billboards announced the launch of TOI’s Bengali newspaper Ei Shomoy (These Times), the second set was that of ABP’s second Bengali newspaper, Ebela (Which means also essentially carries the same connotation of “this time”), a tabloid clearly targeting the young. The first Ebela (don’t miss the ‘e’-connection) came out last month, but clearly as far as TOI Bangla is concerned, its real rival is the main newspaper Ananda Bazaar Patrika. Yesterday, that is October 15, “on the auspicious day of Mahalaya,” as TOI pointed out, Times of India Bengali hit Calcutta newsstands. With crisp reports, clear analyses and evidently cost effective (it has priced itself one rupee less than ABP’s main daily which costs 5 rupees) it looks set to take on its rival head on. For Calcutta’s Bengalis, the media war is good news because competitiveness means conscientiousness and quality. What makes this particular media war more interesting is that the Bengali TOI is being edited by Suman Chattopadhyay, former editor of Ananda Bazaar Patrika.
Old Men on the Bus
On Calcutta buses passengers fight over seats. But usually it is to claim the seats for themselves Recently, two middle-aged passengers were fighting about a seat but each claimed that it was the others’ right. The conversation— to my utter disbelief— went something like this:
—“Dada boshun,” (Dada, please sit down) said one gentleman to another, who had been standing beside him, stretching out his hand magnanimously as a passenger vacated the seat in front of him and alighted.
—“Na, na, apni boshun. After all, eta tor apnar right,” (No no, you sit. After all, you have right of way”), said the other cordially.
—“Keno? Amar right keno?” (Why? Why is it my right?) he said now frowning suddenly.
—“Dekhchen na?” (Can’t you see?), he gestured toward the words written on top of the double seater. It read, “Senior citizen”.
—“Apni ki boltey chaichen…amar boyesh hoyey gechey? Apnar o toh boyesh kom holo na.” (What are you trying to say…that I’m old? You aren’t a spring chicken yourself)
—Apnar thekey toh chhoto. (At least, younger than you.)
Then the bus conductor interrupted.
“Ah. Apnara dujonei chup korun na. Eto boyesh holo ekhono…” (Both of you, please calm down…you are old enough.”
Another passenger took the opportunity to slip in and plop himself down on the seat.