In a trunk containing relics of the past, I found this photograph sometime back. One generally expects people to stand in awkward postures in old photographs. I was a little taken aback by this candid picture. I immediately remembered Aranyer Din Ratri. I was intrigued by the body language of these four young men. It is hard to put a finger on exactly what makes their joviality distinct from the bonhomie of present-day youngsters. But in their smiles, in the way they lean on each other and in their expressions, there is something that marks a particular period, a certain way of life.
The two wearing bell bottoms and shirts with pointed collars (which are very specific markers of the time) sit on the railings, laughing, while the other two, in short kurtas and pajamas, appear to be sharing a witty joke. Those were the days when Bengali men didn’t know jeans; it was normal, actually fashionable, to wear a short kurta with a pajama. In the post Fabindia and denim days, this dress is fairly passé, even unnatural.
The composition of the photograph made me wonder if this was indeed a candid shot. Were the four men posing? Unlikely, I thought, since their expressions seemed spontaneous. At the back of the photo, I found a stamp: “N. Samiran, Photographer, 46-4557”. So this was taken by a professional photographer. But these men are not in a studio, posing for a group photo. So, what was the story?
The place was the Botanical Gardens, and the photograph, indeed, was a candid shot taken by a friend, who was a well-known photographer — Samiran Nandy, who photographed famous vocal artists for the covers of their long play records. Three among the four in the picture — identified as Shyamal Biswas, Tridib Banerjee and Amitabha Mukherjee — called one another Bulbul, Babla and Amit respectively. All three were music students from Dakshini who later became members of another music school, Rabibasar. The fourth one, named Rupankar, separated easily from the others by his thick beard, wasn’t a student of Dakshini. But he was attached to Rabibasar — he played the mandira there.
The bearded one does seem a bit out of place in this picture. In those times, such a thick beard was not common in Bengali men. I would have liked to know this man better. But that is impossible now. Five years after this photograph was taken, this man married my mother and eventually became my father.
But this is not a picture of my father and his friends. This is a picture of four friends, one of whom would become my father later on. At that time, he couldn’t even have imagined me. He was exactly my age — working, practising music and theatre, hanging out with friends, and perhaps only just beginning to imagine what it would be like to start a family.