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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Dog eat man

Sir ' Calcutta is not lacking in animal activists, the chief minister's daughter included, who cry foul at the 'atrocities' on pariah dogs by civic dog squads. But not a voice was raised when street dogs fed on an abandoned newborn in full view of a large number of people ('Cry for Calcutta', Feb 25). May be the baby was not alive, but even in death it was entitled to some dignity. Not long ago, we used to be proud of the average Calcuttan's helpfulness. Sample this story that a non-Calcuttan friend narrated to me in the Eighties. The bus he was travelling in broke down and being in a hurry, he started walking. But after some time the bus, then running again, pulled up alongside at the insistence of fellow commuters. 'Where in India would you find such fellow feeling ' he asked. But this incident changes it all. We may exclaim with Shakespeare, 'O Judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts.'

Yours faithfully,
A.B. Dutt, Calcutta


Not by chance alone

Sir ' There is nothing strange in Amit Chaudhuri re-claiming his aesthetic of 'The casual moment' (Feb 13). For a writer whose narratives are frames of everydayness, the claim for a re-turn to the 'casual moment' is natural at a time the entire corpus of Indian English fiction seems flooded by a hungry tide of historicity. One need only go through our family albums to realize this. With photography becoming more accessible, the human subject has moved out of the frame. As we hanker for the 'exotic', the claims of the 'real' have, ironically, been subverted, and the background has become the foreground. The space for the casual moment in our photographed lives today is confined to the first few days after buying a home movie camera, and even this footage is recorded only to be erased casually, later on, for some other significant moment.

The fading away of the 'casual moment' is also the triumph of a particular ideology. Nineteenth century women writers, whether in Victorian England or Bengal, have repeatedly been criticized by male critics for their partiality for the casual moment. For the latter, this was a mark of the 'feminine'.

For Chaudhuri, who makes poetry out of drying clothes (A Strange and Sublime Address), constipation (Afternoon Raag), a visit to a nursing home (Freedom Song) and eating jhalmuri (A New World), the 'casual moment' surely cannot be just an 'aesthetic of the aleatory'. For Jayojit, the Indian-American economist on a visit to Calcutta, the man selling jhalmuri constitutes a 'casual moment'. But for the jhalmuri-seller, was it a casual moment too' Television and print ads, especially those selling photographic ware, use the unguarded 'casual moment' as their USP, and commercials of home appliances or lifestyle products generate a simplistic narrative of the production of the casual moment. So, with business economics glorifying the 'casual moment', can one take it so casually'

Yours faithfully,
Sumana Roy, Darjeeling


Sir ' While agreeing in the main with Amit Chaudhuri, I must point out that the best in American cinema still revels in the aleatory. Even if we leave aside John Sayles and Robert Altman for not being entirely mainstream, one cannot ignore the brilliance of Clint Eastwood and David Lynch, who work from within the Hollywood system. Chaudhuri must watch Mystic River, Mulholland Drive and now, Million Dollar Baby, to find the aesthetics of randomness of a very high order indeed.

Yours faithfully,
Prasanta Chakravarty, Atlanta, US


Sir ' It is indeed a pity that Hollywood has come to be the benchmark of good cinema. And why are we so obsessed with the Oscars' In the films of today, technology overrides art, while earlier, a good story and screenplay sufficed. We now miss that feeling of being uplifted which all good art must induce, despite all the media hype about mega productions. And the less said about Hindi movies the better, for even in Black, the director could not resist the temptation of being larger than life. Just compare Black to Sai Paranjapye's Sparsh to see what I mean. Modern filmmakers have made cinema another disposable item, to be seen and forgetten.

Yours faithfully,
P.K. Roy, Durgapur


Parting shot

Sir ' Having suffered the anonymity of being an 'ordinary' person over the years, I plodded through the whole of 'Out of service' (Feb 26). At the end of it I asked myself, who reads such articles any more' I went back to the time when I gave up smoking after reading a few sensible articles about its undesirable effects. In the spirit of altruism, I advised a friend, a heavy smoker, to read them. I met him again after a week or so when he confirmed: 'Well, I have been cured of the habit' ' and after a pause, 'of reading such articles'. The moral: people don't read sensible articles like this one any more. If anybody reads it, it is like preaching to the converted. The postal and bank employees who may need to be converted won't read it.

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Madison, US

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