Puja on the billboards

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 13.09.09

Some Durga pujas are recession-proof. While companies continue to cut back on stationery and business tours, pujas across town are in an ad overdrive — through billboards, PR agencies, media write-ups and TV slots.

Especially billboards. About a month before Puja, massive billboards came up at strategic junctions. It’s possibly the race for the awards that is driving the organisers into such a frenzy. Is there a “longest queue” award?

At Ballygunge Phari, a huge hoarding asks everyone to visit a pandal in Tallah Park. Obviously, the organisers have enough in their kitty, shelling out a few thousands on a back-lit hoarding at a prime spot exhorting people living in south Calcutta to visit the north.

Some have attitude. “We do not do theme puja, we do Durga puja,” says one hoarding in Salt Lake. A closer look reveals the hoarding has actually been put up to seek advertisers for stalls and banners.

Remember to forget

It felt like the meeting of a secret cult. A tiny room in an art gallery off Park Street was packed with people silently bobbing their heads to “lost political songs composed by Salil Chowdhury”. On August 29, Salil Chowdhury’s songs written between 1945 and 1951 and preserved by the original members of the Indian People’s Theatre Association were presented as “Songs of the Consciousness” at the Park Street address. There were songs on a railway strike, songs that talked about following “Mao’s China” and songs that mirrored the “art for art’s sake” school of thought. One song said: “Amra gaan gayi, keno na gaan gayi, jehetu gaan gayi” — underlining Chowdhury’s belief in “music for music’s sake”. But Sabita Chowdhury, singer and wife of the late composer, felt that many of the songs weren’t written to be remembered.

Chowdhury was remembered by another lot of music lovers, the Amit Kumar Fan Club. Last month, the club paid tribute to the composer at Uttam Mancha. A compilation of Chowdhury’s Malayali film songs was released on CD by Saregama at the event.

Bhanu Gupta, who played the harmonica in many of Chowdhury’s compositions, said Chowdhury was “warm and kind”. Chowdhury was also aware that he made music that was often difficult to play.

Gupta recalled how he had picked up a guitar lying in Chowdhury’s studio and taught himself to play it. While recording at a studio later Gupta was asked if he was Christian. “And then they told me, ‘congratulations you’ve just become the first non-Catholic, Hindu guitar player to play for Bollywood’. That would not have perhaps happened without Salilda,” Gupta said.

Burman beats

R.D. Burman’s music will never die either. A huge crowd gathered at Kala Mandir on a Saturday last month for Pancham Beats, a programme on the composer organised by Euphony. One man even lurked around the entrance asking “Extra pass ache (are extra passes available)?” The event dwelled on the various kinds of percussion Burman used for his songs. From water bells, which one had to immerse in a shallow plate of water to ring, and take them out as they began ringing, to squeezable plastic toys for their trademark sound. Another instrument played was the Reso reso, an African instrument which looks like a hollow pipe, has very fine marks on its surface and is often played with a flat strip of hard metal. Others used such instruments to support the main percussion instruments like drums or a bongo, but Burman often used them as main instruments.

Percussionist Amrutrao Katkar, who played the reso for Burman for years, even recounted fashioning a metal reso reso out of a metal pipe for one of his songs. And thus Jana o Meri Jana from Sanam Teri Kasam was born.

Classical problems

Goethe-Institut and Max Mueller Bhavan Calcutta are set to provide specialised training for teachers of Western classical music in schools.

Professor Bernd Clausen, who teaches at the Wurzburg Academy of music in Germany, and Reimar Volker, director of Max Mueller Bhavan, have returned from a 10-day field trip to schools in Bangalore, Mumbai, Goa and Delhi to study the techniques of learning practised in Indian schools.

Clausen, also a composer and performer of various instruments, including the Japanese flute shakuhachi, visited the ITC Sangeet Research Academy and Calcutta School of Music in the city.

Clausen feels students in India chose instruments not out of personal passion but according to the availability, likes and dislikes of parents or for their association with an icon they admired.

Teachers admitted they were confused and often didn’t know how to address a musical problem. There was not only a paucity of able teachers but because music was not part of the regular school curriculum and even finding a radio station playing Western classical was difficult, there was no musical environment.

Clausen said he disapproved of the system of studying for a certificate. He felt that a distance between the teacher and student in Western classical classes here was a hindrance to learning. “In Germany the teacher and student are more like partners.”

Classical music once accessible only to the very rich in Germany became a part of the school curriculum in 1923. The curriculum has been through various phases and tools have been tested to accommodate the changing attitudes to music.

Fish fetish

The Bengali obsession with fish, particularly “jyanto maachh” (live fish), has reached menacing proportions. Others see fish happily swimming about; the Bengali babu salivates thinking of the jhaal (spicy curry) it will make.

A gentleman buying fish at the Dhakuria market displayed such obsession. “Maachh jyanto (Is the fish alive)?” he asked the fish-seller, indicating a shallow tray of water with fish struggling for breath in it. The fish-seller nodded yes. Not convinced, the buyer asked: “Will it be alive by the time I take it back?” The fish-seller answered: “What do you need it for? The aquarium?”


(Contributed by Anasuya Basu, Malini Banerjee and Sebanti Sarkar)