Monday, July 29, 2019

Life after a riot: A girl from the 'field'

How does it feel when you encounter a person from the place you have done ethnography at at an examination centre while you are tasked with evaluating them? It certainly takes you back to the field memories! The romantic field memories, or that is what conventional ethnography tells you. We subscribe to the fact that we let go field as we leave. No matter how transforming your experience is, it's buried deep inside like the heart of ocean carrying a whole library of stories of the past.

Well, Kaleidoscope couldn't afford the romanticism as he found the then higher secondary appearing girl crossed her age and now a student of a good suburban college. She travels to study and stays back if she has to every once in a while. This particular girl let's just call her Jasmine calls her father baba instead of Abbu and mother Maa, instead of Amma. She has adopted the Hindu Bengali kinship term as she belongs to the place predominated by Hindus for five generations now. Her father, as  Kaleidoscope remembers her village might have thought of letting go such terminologies as they were no longer required. The perfect harmony with people with different faith was the everydayness of people in Bhyabla, to the villagers of Tentulia and Tyantra.

All has changed since 2016 slowly and then with riots at different extent in 2017. A deep rooted social cleavage that Jasmine couldn't accept. Overnight my friends became unknown to me. Kaleidoscope remembers on a rainy October he along with his team from Aamra ek sachetan prayas was listening to one of the bank employees version as he said
"I have seen even my childhood friends came and tried to vandalise our house... Yes there were outsiders but insiders showed which one is a Muslim household and which one is not. The person who supplies our daily needs from his shops was also there... I am about to 40 and I have seen this only now... My father is nearing 80, he has seen this at this age.. think about my son... He is only 6 to see this..."

As the kid was asked to remember the day he was sobbing and then cry out loud. One of the lady members of the team with a background in psychology took him away in a separate room and talked only to know how sad he is and how revengeful his mind has become at this tender age. The lady transformed herself from a Hindu to Muslim appearing girl simply by altering the dupatta perhaps the best way to show how these are constructs. The boy ended up smiling.

Kaleidoscope could remember those faces and the expressions. Kaleidoscope could remember how he read Kumar Ravi Priya's article on Bhuj survivors and how deep the trauma could reach so as to make a person permanently unsettled, skeptical and disturbed! 

Jasmine however answered with a degree of certainty to some of the difficult most questions which Kaleidoscope saw others failed to give a proper answer to! Jasmine, however, looked at the ground when he could identify Kaleidoscope! The person went to know whereabouts of riot affected people in Bhyabla. When they exchanged the 'i know you' glances, Kaleidoscope asked her "how are you these days? what about the neighborhood?" She replied "not well... we are not well... things have changed for bad!"

Kaleidoscope could see the 6 year old kid in some future time saying "even if these are constructs... all are not well!"

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Being-in-the Bars: - Construction of Everyday Social Reality in two Spaces of Consumptions

Kaleidoscope is fortunate enough to have a gang of like minded people in an otherwise monotonous built-in-city. He is grabbing almost every opportunity to explore the length and breadth of the built-in-city and penetrating inside the old city which is yet to be explored and known. Such an experience questions his very foundational assumption of the being-in-the-world. 


In order to be as a being in the world, Kaleidoscope's peculiar species makes constant decisions regarding the patterns of interaction and interface with the 'others'. The other includes most conspicuously the fellow species members but it is not limited to it solely. With their constant action and interaction they become being in - this being in is constantly shifting and never settled. This constant critical being in happens to be explained by Heidegger in his 1962 famous work being and time beautifully!

Such being in is part of the constant world building process through which Kaldeidoscope and his fellow species members continuously pass through and it is an ongoing public discourse. Humans respond to objects according to their perception of its meaning which arises from negotiated social interaction (Blumer 1969 Symbolic Interactionism).

The built-in city and stereotypical bars

As Kaleidoscope is now transferred to one of the close to the colonial capital colleges in a built-in environment he often explores the planned and plaza like 'expensive' places. It includes the malls nearby and some of the finest bars which offers some of the finest flavours of the world! He remembers, once one of his very close relatives after having a drink in Country Roads bar - the place where Kaleidoscope often grabs his drinks commented 'it feels like home." Yes, it gave him the feel of Scotland - his present home. These are the places where people from upwardly mobile middle classes come after office, grab a rounds of drinks, eat wonderful mouthwatering foods pay no attention to the increasingly loud music and then leave. These are the bars that play the IPL matches on giant screens, keep the light dimmed and allow some private moment even within the public space. Kaleidoscope has seen couples looking at each other deeply for long pauses, holding each others, hugging and kissing under the loud music, a mix of alcoholic-foodie-perfumy-bodily-smoky ambiance. It allows a transcendence of boundaries between bodies and the world as both of them slowly sleep deep inside the darkness and increasingly loud music. There is hardly any cross table exchange of glances or words. You have options for high chairs to make yourself visible, privy sofas at corners and open sofas on the high raised dais. The three certain places together form the uncertain space. People can definitely project themselves on the high chair or can form a gang like appearance on the conspicuous sofas on dais or sleep into the privacy in the comfortable sofas. Kaleidoscope remembers on several occasions they sat on the sofas of the dais - the middle range space. Whenever he visited with just one friend they choose the privy sofas.

The typical stereotypic space that one can find in the posh park street or perhaps at many places of the world gets reproduced in the built-in city of New Town Kolkata.

The formal inside story of country roads

The radical bars of the old city: 

Kaleidoscope moves on to find relatively cheap places to drink whenever he manages to go to the old colonial city. While he wrote exclusively on the Apolitical bar in a blogpost he was fortunate enough to spend hours in perhaps one of the oldest and arguably the cheapest bar of the city named as Saw's.

Shaw brothers offer you an extraordinary large hall of a masculine space which is filled with numerous chairs and tables . the style of the furniture represents that of a previous century. The staff wearing traditional waiter dresses having brass badges will take you to the past. Shaw brothers does not allow you to keep your belongings on any of the chairs and radically brings people closer. You can have your table but you can see that there will be other people occupying your table as well. You can talk to them, argue, even share your food and drinks with a complete stranger.

Kaleidoscope was amazed with the enormous shape and size of the bar which looks exactly like a running market where people are actually in a hurry to have food and drink! But they are not. None of the consumers are in a hurry and the space no matter how fleeting it appears is comfortably settled in itself. As they ordered the waiter demanded the money - yes, its prepaid. What about food? Kaleidoscope was even more astonished - there are running hawker like waiters who will bring your food from outside. They are part of the famous delicious street foods of Kolkata. The variety will knock you out. You can have Alu-Kabli (a boiled potato snack) to Panir Tikka in veg and Fish fingers to mutton liver curry and plain fish fries including that of tiny fishes. All in unthinkably low price. The liquor you order are served at the lowest rate in the town. You can go outside to smoke where a couple of sellers are standing with all international and local brands of cigarettes, cigars and hookahs. You can buy single piece of 555 or Dunhil which is otherwise unthinkable in Kolkata.

Crowd is equally interesting. Its a microcosm of the vibrant Kolkata. Kaleidoscope could see people drinking alone at different corners, aged and suited officer-looking people in groups, college students, research scholars, and small businessmen radically challenging every boundaries that human species proudly reproduces in their everyday lives.

The entire space challenges the boundaries between formal and informal economy, class divisions, divisions of inside outside spaces and gives a carnivalesque appearances.
The masculine space inside

The three glasses with three shots of white mischief came on top of each others carried by a juggling waiter. No hanky panky glasses. It's straight and questions the capitalist dimension of unequalising nature often manifested in different kinds of glasses for different types of beverages

The smokers den immediately outside the space

Street food at your table and the boundaries are radically challenged

Consumers intersubjectivity:

While the consumers - the living human elements are always fleeting both the spaces that minutely alters the patterns of being-in of the bars, the broad categorisation remains the same. The built-in bar is formal, restricting and excluded space from the outside world. While even being a confined space the Shaw brothers doors are hardly closed ever. Its almost always swinging with the outside informal world stepping in and the inside liminal and uncertain formalinformal world is stepping out. The careers of street foods or the alcohol serving waiters are the agents of the radical and juxtaposed existence. Kaleidoscope could understand why G H Mead found material culture as a collapsed act bearing a sign of completion that is never complete. Thus while Shaw's door keeps moving as the agents goes out and steps in and Country Road's automated sliding door formally opens with a heavy blower creating curtain of airconditioned air flow it fixes the two radically different experiences. Like Tuan (1980 The Significance of the Artifact) notes material culture fixes our experiences much in the similar manner in which text fixes discourses.

Kaleidoscope can however, enjoy the radically free flowing growth of the material surrounding in his imagination and in his subsequent visits. Its getting built up every moment and then falling flat everytime like his own name - Kaleidoscopic!

Since, now Kaleidoscope is more conscious regarding his being-in the stereotypic late capital bars as on stage, and in those radical bars are off stage, next best thing would be to bring the off stage self inside the stereotypic bars to see if the world cares!

Monday, July 8, 2019

July- A personal Aranyak story

July, the month Kaleidoscope's part of the world dedicates in planting trees. July is the month for monsoon in this part of the world, no wonder this is the time for Grand Forest Festival. Unlike many other festivals this doesn't have canvassing, because Kaleidoscope lives in a society which still sees forest in derogatory sense. Forest- jungle - jungli are never seen as part of the life of the people who are adapted to the urban environment. Since, it's part of the urban centres, it does have a considerable ideological apparatus to trickle down at the places where people still find it compatible to live with forest.

Perhaps the most celebrated novel on forest is Bibhuti Bhusan Bandyopadhyay's Aranyak. It is also the most empathic one, however, even here the protagonist was tasked with transforming the forest into a land for habitation. 

July, the month when one can easily buy (or collect free of cost) saplings from many places to satisfy the zeal for the green. Kaleidoscope's grand father was a compuslive Gardner. An artist by profession, after India's independence he bought a piece of land in Birati and instructed his son, my father as he grew and got a public sector job, to built a kachha house. The lowland was then filled by digging up a pond and a home in the middle of low land - in the middle of nowhere was constructed. My grand father started buying plants (especially the tree category plants) to make the place a perfect greenery. Feidnds during his freedom fighting days often came there and spent days and another kachha house was built to accommodate them. Kaleidoscope was born in1983 and completed his 5th standard to see electricity for the first time of his life. 

July, was their favourite month, because he knew his grandfather would bring one after another variety of trees to plant. As his grandfather suddenly left in an accident his father also waited for the July to come. 

July was the month when Kaleidoscope had to stop wearing laced boots and wear water friendly chappals, to give numerous folds in the end part of his full pants.

July was the month when Kaleidoscope could enjoy the cycle ride over the water logged lanes and bylanes. As his sycle sped up, water dispersed like a ship -perhapa his little Titanic. 

Until 1995s his place grew little greener on every July. His grandfather could motivate his neighbours to plant a variety of trees which he bought for them. His father continued until people started to divide their lands and completely fill up the lowland which was the home of a variety of wetland grasses and wild animals. Kaleidoscope could remember jackles, heirs, cevet cats, Bengal fishing cats roaming around their courtyard. 

July 2003 was the time when his grandfather's dream was finally dismantled completely as their land was divided and apart from their portion the rest was sold off and on the pond transformed to give room to several families. 

July, 2018, and Kaleidoscope is on his way to a sub-urban college a little away from his place. He sees plants are kept at a busy crossing of the district headquarters. Fresh saplings are kept beside a dead trunk. 

Like Satyacharan, Kaleidoscope doesn't have a choice than to see the world as it revolves around, only that in his imagination there lives a July which is way more rainy, green and a space where people can plant trees - the large ones.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Mandarmani - sea, sand, sombre in late capital extravagance

Kaleidoscope often takes refuge to the imagined reality - perhaps in a hyperreal snapshot of the memories, facts-artifacts and perhaps hyperfacts of the ideal types. The quick tour to the posh weekend destination of Bengal - Mandarmani perhaps represents one of those refuges. Where the imagination could unleash with a help of a variety of feudal spirits aided with beautifully served tandoors!
It's the salt-sand-sombre in the evening silhouette that gives you somewhat out of the world luxury in the middle of nowhere. Few years back the beach was the house of the famous red crabs who used to populate the beach to make it look like a red beach. Perhaps the name came from local name madar boni - madar represents the wilderness! The wilderness which once used to occupy the space that has been encroached by the fast growing weekend destination.
Mandarmani that lives in the imagination of Kaleidoscope is that of 2009 when he and his colleague took their students to a quick tour as they were returning from Digha after a 15-day-long fieldwork. The mandarmani had a super costly place to stay -Rosevally - the name now commonly associated with financial scam and the rest of the beach was empty. As they approached, it's just 10 years Kaleidoscope thought looking at the numerous places that offers a stay and food to the tourists. If one can afford the journey one can afford to stay! Hence, Mandarmani, Kalieodscope thought is on its way to become perhaps the second Digha. Digha is crowded and concreted minus the beauty of the famous Marine Drive, Mumbai!
As they reach to their destination they were informed that because of the lack of communication between the Kolkata office and the hotel, their booking information was not updated. The hotel candlewood beach resort apologised and arranged kaleidoscope and his friends and fsmiliest into another resort nearby. None of them were satisfied with the rooms offered to them but they were assured to be given the best rooms of the resort on the day after.
Kalieodscope, his family and friends were class conscious and of course it was rather an adjustment to the situation. The candlewood had beautiful decoration, well maintained garden and cushioned large half tilted chairs. They had a tandoor counter outside from where they could order items to be served on the beach while one can enjoy rounds of drinks. Seeing the approaching evening in slaty blue sky along with such extravagance would be a dream for a middle class mind who aspires to embrace the ecstacy of the aristrocate.
All these happened with the best available room being offered to them on the next day as Kaleidoscope enjoyed their stay for the entire trip.
It was their child's first trip outside the known territory and hence it was full of excitement and uncertainty. The baby cooperated and perhaps made the trip even more happening with his excited gestures of seeing the limitless sky water lovemaking over the silhouette canvas. The little one tried to have a grip on wind that blew over them. He smiled at the strangers, waved at the other kids months elder of younger than him and kept participating in the late night parties by entertaining Kaleidoscope's friends - the newly weeded couple!
He cooperated by sleeping early on the next day when the team was offered a stay at the most expensive cottage of the resort.
The journey to the retreating sea during the low tide along with the little one to a point where the wet sand met the sky and embraced the reflection of love affair has been dissolving one. The water is a great leveller. Whoever stays at whatever place gets wet in the same water where river meets and rain falls. Perhaps the only equaliser that one can imagine in a hierarchical society!
Some of the moments worth sharing!

The extravaganza