Snake-headed goddess

Read more below

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 4.09.11

With Debi Sarpamasta, written by Manoj Mitra and directed by Debesh Chattopadhyay, the Minerva Natya Sanskriti Charcha Kendra presents the talent of its so far unrecognised repertory team on Sunday at 6.30pm. Whereas only four repertory actors got a toehold in Raja Lear, this play has all 24 rep members acting, singing, dancing, and playing folk instruments — dhamsha, madol, flute, kendri and dotara.

“For the first time in the history of Bengali theatre we have a true repertory production. The actors have been a part of the set, light and music design and contributed more freely to the production than they have been allowed to do so far,” claimed Debesh Chattopadhyay, the director of the play, during a preview earlier this week.

Rehearsals of 10-12 hours held from March, a workshop with folk artists of Birbhum and Bankura at the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre and the guidance of folk musician Abhijit Acharya had helped them get the folk orientation needed for this play, the second play produced by the repertory.

Debi Sarpamasta is almost a musical with seven new songs added to seven culled from the original text written by Mitra in 1995. The story is set almost entirely in the dense forests of a high mountain range. The set is imaginative, inexpensive, minimal and effective. The action is spread over the entire performance area, from the catwalk to the aisle.

“Debi Sarpamasta or the snake-headed goddess of the forest tribes is to me a symbol of nature that is beautiful, desirable and at times dangerous. The urban, educated and privileged classes have repeatedly used the nurturing and healing powers and strength of the otherwise forgotten and deprived people,” says Mitra.

“Dwapaiyan, the transvestite of my play Chhayar Prashad, Patokini the forest mother goddess of Ja Nei Bharatey, Hekim the unani physician of Galpo Hekim Saheb are all representatives... the same truth surfaces in Ashwaththama, Chakbhanga Madhu, Nekdre and Bhelaye Bhashe Sita. It is a truth acknowledged by the Puranas, the Ramayan and the Mahabharat. In Sarpamasta, Raja Lokendrapratap of Singhagarh turns again to the forest people for help. A tribal girl becomes his queen,” he adds.

Race against time

A few days ago, a woman hailed a cab in Alipore to go to Esplanade. It was around 4.45 in the evening.

As she settled in, the skull-capped driver turned and asked her if there was a mosque near her destination.

“Yes, the Tipu Sultan Mosque,” answered the surprised passenger. She realised that the driver was on his way for the 5pm namaaz after which he would break his day’s Ramazan fast.

“You will be able to read your namaaz there,” she said helpfully. But reaching the mosque in 15 minutes was a tall order, especially in the peak hour traffic.

The driver jumped the signal at the first red light crossing in Alipore. He was lucky and no cop booked him. He again jumped the next red light near the National Library. A stern sergeant threatened trouble.

Namaaz ka time ho raha hai (It’s almost time for my namaaz),” the driver entreated and the sergeant let him pass. The man weaved through the maze of vehicles to reach Red Road. This stretch has a speed limit of 50kmph and there are Calcutta Police speed cameras to catch errant drivers. Unheeded, the man sped on till he turned towards Esplanade. The watch showed five minutes to five. He crossed the zebra crossing with the lights still red.

A policeman snarled and hit on the car bonnet with a baton. A bunch of the Calcutta Police civic volunteers also rushed at him.

The driver was forced to stop. “Please let me go, its time for my namaaz,” the driver pleaded. It worked again.

“You should have told us that,” admonished one of the volunteers and let him pass. The cop too gave him right of way. The passenger was duly dropped in front of the mosque and the driver still had a minute to spare.

Self help

Two buses were overtaking each other near Ballygunge Phari recently. One hit a navy blue Hyundai Accent from behind and sped away. As the Accent screeched to a halt and its shocked driver was gasping from the impact, a crowd gathered near the car.

But none offered to help the traumatised woman. They had merely rushed to see if she had fainted, or was already dead. An uninjured woman and a dented car did not merit attention.

Meanwhile a police jeep drew up near the gasping driver. Just when she was expecting some help from the men in white, an officer opened the jeep door and said: “Barite giye pujo deben je ei jatra beche gechhen. Oh aar mud guard-ta shariye neben. Ota-r obostha khub kharap (Go home and offer thanks to the gods for coming out unhurt. And fix the mud guard. It is in a bad shape).”

Having thus made his profound observation (he did not even bother to get out of the car) the cop whizzed away. The woman felt shortchanged. But then she remembered that in this city people don’t stop to help dying people. What claim did she have?

Touchy tale

While some may have been irritated by the Rabindrasangeet playing at every intersection, some have had the experience of witnessing first-hand the power of Tagore’s words. On a weekday afternoon when a taxi almost bumped into an SUV at the Esplanade crossing, the typical “look where you’re going” shouting match ensued. No one heard that the song of the moment playing in the background was: “Ektuku chhoan lagey... (I feel the slightest touch...)”

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