The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Foetus and demon stars of horror show in city heart
- Gallery of grotesque

A gallery of the grotesque. Right here, in the heart of Calcutta. A mela is on at Kasba, just next to the police station, where bodies of deformed babies and foetuses are being exhibited for a price.

Two-headed cocks, eight-legged goats and two-headed calves share the table with ‘exotic’ human specimens. Inside a glass jar, floating in water, is a two-headed girl with four arms and legs. A tin plate beside the jar says she was born in Nadia and is aged two years. Close to it is a foetus with two heads, born to the Das family in Debra Nursing Home. The date of birth: “12 Kartik, 1397”. In another jar floats an eight-month-old boy without arms and legs, and with part of the umbilical cord intact. The father, the adjacent plate announces, is “Ujjal Adhikari of Bongaon, North 24-Parganas”.

But the pieces de resistance are too big to fit into jars. The outside walls of the makeshift tent carry a calendar art-style picture of two Bal Gopal-like figures, joined at the shoulder. ‘Ganga Jamuna’ cries the caption. The loudspeaker, in between blaring the latest Bollywood hits, announces “Matrigarbhey manusher petey rakshashi jonmo niyechhey. Baire dekhchhen chhobi, bhitore original (A she-demon has been born in a human womb. The picture is outside, the original inside).” A cloth banner adds that the “rakshashi” was born in Bagda Hospital on October 29, 2002.

Repeated showers have rendered the ground muddy and slippery, but that does not deter the curious from buying the Rs-5 ticket to the macabre mela. Step in and walk by a long table, on which the exhibits are placed. Ganga Jamuna are Siamese twins joined at the chest. There are dead flies floating on the surface of the water and some trying to land on bits of flesh. “This is a boy, the other is a girl,” explains one of the boys manning the counter.

The most horrific is reserved for the last. After the table comes a tumbler on a low wooden box. One look and one knows this is rakshashi — a deformed baby girl with two front teeth sticking out at right angles. The face is distorted and a black tumour is where the top of the head should be. Here, the stench of rotting flesh is revolting.

Members of the MJC Turing (sic) Museum, from Midnapore, say they get the specimens by going around villages. The youth at the counter insists that they give injections every morning to keep the bodies fresh. The water, too, is changed daily. Some of the bottles also contain “chemicals” (who cares for formaldehyde').

Ever since it started on June 2, the fair has been a popular destination for kids, with its toy trains and giant wheels. Like many mothers of the locality, Indrila Guha, a resident of Bosepukur, had taken her seven-year-old son along for what she thought would be a good evening out. “I went in expecting crooked mirrors and other trick shows. But what I saw made my insides churn,” the researcher in economics recounts. “Human foetuses have been kept in glass bottles without a trace of formaldehyde… To hide the stench, flower garlands are slung on the containers. I rushed out in horror, shielding my son’s eyes from the view.”

Gynaecologist Gauri Kumra is aghast at the idea of dead foetuses and babies on display. “The usual procedure is to hand over the foetuses wrapped in cotton to the relatives.” In Hindu belief, children under the age of two are not burnt. There is a burial ground near the Convent Road bridge reserved for children. “But in rare cases, when relatives refuse to accept the body, we call in the Hindu Satkar Samity to do the needful. There is no way it should reach the market unless there is foul play.”

Psychiatrist Bhargavi Chatterjea Bhattacharya advocates an immediate bar on the entry of children. “I do not see how adults can be barred if they choose to go in. But it is definitely not what children should be exposed to.”

While the Kasba fair continues till June 26, the next stop is Rathbazar. The show, however grotesque, will go on.

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