Voices that haggle over prices sing Tagore

Shop-keepers of IA Market stage Rabindrajayanti

By Brinda Sarkar in Calcutta
  • Published 7.06.19, 7:01 PM
  • Updated 7.06.19, 7:01 PM
  • 3 mins read
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Shop-keepers enact Tagore’s comedy Khyatir Birombona Picture by Saradindu Chaudhury

If you visited IA Market on the evening of Rabindrajayanti, chances are you went home empty-handed but with a smile on your face and Rabindrasangeet on your lips.

A good number of shopkeepers had left behind their shops that day and headed to a stage they had built in the middle of the market. Like the rest of the township, Bidhan Nagar IA Market Traders’ Association was celebrating Tagore.

The show began with a chorus of Jodi tor dak shune, that drowned the loudspeakers of a political meeting outside. Ashok Ghosh, the meat seller, snapped his fingers happily while singing, Amlan Dutta, the mobile shop owner, bobbed his head with the rhythm and Ratan Das, the stationery shop owner, swayed his hands with the rising and falling notes and his face reflected every emotion he was singing about.

Rishiraj Ghosh, who runs a shop selling party items and who is secretary of the association, used to be a tabla teacher once. He accompanied solo singers with his percussionist.

The vendors enacted the comedy Khyatir Birombona directed by Purbachal-based customer Jishu Bhatto and their family members chipped in too. Ghosh’s wife Arpita and sister-in-law Susmita Kundu, got their dance students to perform and many children of the vendors recited and sang too.

“I’ve performed in my neighbourhood before but this is the first time I’m singing at my father’s office function. I’m delighted that his colleagues liked my music,” said Akansha Das of Class VI, whose father Ashim runs a studio.

For the love of the arts

Most vendors said they have an artistic bent of mind but that their work doesn’t allow them time to pursue it.

“I must have taken stage today after 25 years. How I missed it!” exclaimed Ghosh. The chicken seller is a fan of Rajesh Khanna and has always loved acting. “I have even taken acting classes from a teacher, Parimal babu, in Purbachal before.”

The lead role in the play was essayed by Niladri Shekhar Mondal, who runs a dashokarma bhandar. He and Ghosh are avid trekkers and left for the hills soon after the Rabindrajayanti show concluded.

“Performers crave a stage. Mahajati Sadan or IA Market makes no difference,” said Das, the stationery shop owner who has worked with the theatre group Mangolik in the past.

The actors practised for about 20 days in the market passage or caretaker’s room (the caretaker, Meghnad Halder had a brief role in the play too). They also hung sheets around the carrom corner in the market and turned it into a green room.

For recitation, the vendors requested Palash Taru Purkait, who runs Debi Kishori Decorators in Falguni Market, to do the honours. “A few years ago, I got bed-ridden after an accident. That’s when I started reading and writing vigorously,” said Purkait. “Falguni Market has never celebrated Rabindrajayanti but I’ll surely propose one at our next meeting. Vendors of every market deserve recreation like this.”

A chorus of Jodi tor dak shune by the vendors
A chorus of Jodi tor dak shune by the vendors Picture by Brinda Sarkar

Shock and awe

The stage had been erected in the circular open space in the middle of the market building. The vendors had done their best to squeeze in as many chairs as possible, dodging a jackfruit tree in the centre. Tagore’s garlanded picture was placed on a chair that stood on some steps.

As the show proceeded, the rest of the market as if emptied out to come watch. Giggling salesgirls rushed out of Orchid Cosmetics store, staff from Ashirvad book and hobby store lined up in the balcony, pushing away hanging balls and rackets to watch, the hosiery shop in an inside lane lay unmanned, with fans on and unpacked garments lying on the tables.

“Today shoppers won’t get anything as all of us are here,” laughed Siuli Paul, who had left her meat shop to watch the show. “I’m too shy to perform but I’m happy my colleagues are on stage.”

Das said he was so busy with the show he couldn’t even open his stationery shop on Rabindrajayanti.

For customers, the show was a pleasant surprise. Some stared disbelievingly while others smiled away and stayed back to watch the show. “I couldn’t go to watch any Rabindrajayanti show this morning but I’m getting my due now,” smiled Anita Sengupta, a shopper from HA Block. “The vendors may come from humble backgrounds and may not be highly educated but I’m very happy to see them appreciate, respect and attempt Tagore’s work.”

Present to encourage the vendors were councillor Minu Das Chakraborty and general secretary of the All India Fair Price Shop Dealers’ Federation Biswambhar Basu. “The nature of a shopkeeper’s work is monotonous so cultural programmes like this are something they all look forward too,” said Basu.

Hand of help

No sooner did the anchor make an announcement than Satyendranath Ghosh jump up from the audience and stomp towards the stage with his fist in the air, shouting: “Don’t call it Tagore’s 158th birth centenary! It’s his 158th birth anniversary! There’s a difference!”

Ghosh was just another well-meaning customer who wanted the vendors to be factually correct. In fact, he had been helping the vendors throughout. “I’m an actor and director, having worked with groups like Nandikar, Sundaram and Aneek. When I learnt the shopkeepers don’t have a title track for their play I got my professional sound recordist to create one for them,” said the Purbachal resident. “Their endevour is so earnest that it makes me realise there is more to a vendor than taking money and giving goods. And it makes me realise that everyone has the right to love Tagore.”