Saturday, May 07, 2005

Kafka Moment #3

It’s been one of those phases when people want me to “speak”, on anything from industrial resurgence to ethics in advertising. (The latter gave me an opportunity to expound on the common occurrence of Googling for Angelina Jolie. Don’t ask.)

Doordarshan (India’s state-owned television channel - I explain merely for the benefit of the teeming millions of non-Indians who visit this site …) wanted me to make up the numbers for a “panel discussion”. On the prospects of the sponge iron industry in West Bengal. Riveting stuff. Should have the viewers welded to their seats. Chance to prove my metal. Yes, well, where was I?

In the cavernous innards of Doordarshan Kendra, Kolkata, actually. I had to negotiate my way through a series of half-hearted barriers. There was a gate wide enough for a carnival float to drive though, but of course it was shut. Entry was through a tiny gate off to one side, then into a hut that evoked déjà vu. I’d last seen it in “The Dirty Dozen”. Donald Sutherland hit his thumb with a hammer building it.

A large middle-aged lady who had more lipstick than good taste asked me why I was there. Beside her, an alarmingly frank gentleman who lacked two buttons on his shirt scratched his intimate regions with obvious enjoyment. Beside him, another man sat in the manner of Borneo’s “man of the jungle”, gravely contemplating his nether regions where his hands cradled his manhood. Neither of them displayed the slightest interest in the proceedings.

Having convinced the Lady with Lipstick that I was not an arsonist or a carrier of the plague, I filtered through to the main lobby. As I left Sutherland’s Folly, the Large Lump of Lipstick fished a smelly substance from beneath her table and bit into it. With a loud squishy champy sound. I held my breath and speeded my exit.

The lobby was dusty and large. Very large. At first glance it seemed to cover the better part of an acre. What with the dust and the distance, I had this vision of Peter O’ Toole and Omar Sharif, canteens held aloft and eyes crinkled, riding out of the far corner.

“Turn left”. Through a door-less frame, past a glass-and-plyboard enclosure where a step-ladder reached into a hole in the false ceiling, down a corridor with finger-prints on walls of indeterminate colour, “through the door we never opened / Into the rose-garden / ‘Quick’, said the bird …”

Corridors stretched to right and left, corridors filled with an echoing silence, with the smell of years of “Polli Kotha” and “Chiching Phaank” and timorous sarengi recitals and “High-Power Transmitters will now de-link for the News”, ominous with the threat of po-faced doctors holding forth on skin diseases or juvenile hysteria.

For some time I “wandered lonely as a cloud”. In that strange place, where dreams seeped into reality and no human voice intruded, I walked what seemed like miles, up one echoing dark expanse and down another. Mid-way down one stretch I had the feeling of being observed. A wary glance over my shoulder spied nothing, till I lifted my gaze and saw It, “perched above a shelf above a frame above a door”. No, not the Raven, but a bearded brown bust that regarded me gloomily.

In Bengal, the default option for bearded busts is Rabindranath. (Tay-gore, for the academically inclined) This one looked more like Alan Rickman about to ask for an aspirin. I passed on before it could clear its throat and broach the issue …Eventually, I wearied of my Long March and started to retrace my steps. Then came the Apparition.

Round a corner it came, with short rapid jerky steps reminiscent of the Egyptian Walk of the ‘80s. Brown trousers and a shirt of a violet hue so virulent as to be actually audible, blue-strapped “Hawaii” sandals that slapped on the dusty tiled floor. At the other end, thick-framed glasses perched on a nose like the Raven’s beak, Adam’s apple jerking convulsively from the strain of concentration. He looked not to right or left. I might have been a formless wraith for all the attention I got.

One arm swung vigorously at his side as he marched forth. The other was held up in a S-curve, ending in outstretched hand, palm upward. Balanced on the palm, saucer, one brown ugly. Balanced on the saucer, pantua (gulab jamun in the rest of India), three numbers …

Violet shirt and the slap-slap of Hawaii sandals receded into the gloom. With the pantua. I resumed my trek to the nearest outpost of civilisation.


. said...

sir, myself liking your imagery a lot. this being another time I saying it, that's all, only.
(sighing on gulab jamuns)

Anonymous said...

And to think once I applied to be an anchor on DD National.

thalassa_mikra said...

Pantua and gulab jamun are the same? Then what is golap jam?

Rahul Bhatia said...

Teegee, it's not that bad. Just don't wear the clothes they give you. Have you seen the Fair and Lovely Fourth Umpire panel?

hemangini said...

sigh. yes. - Teegee

nothing said...

@ mikra,
Golap jam in bengal is a slightly different sweet, resembling a pantua but with a rose flavour. It is also a fragrant and sweet berry.

nothing said...

cholche na, cholbe na.
amader dabi mante hobe.
blog chai, blog chai
inqilaab jindabaad, jindaabad

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Take Indian porridge! Or, as Kamu Mukherjee famously put it in "Shona'r Kella", 'Ley halua!'


nothing said...

Etai to progotishil-der pontha. ami blog korchi-na to ki hoyeche, apni korchenna shetar protibad kora uchit. ta na hole jonogonotantrik hoya jabe ki kore. otoeb punorbar:
Protikriyashilra nipat jak,nipat jak (shomobeto konthe: nipat jak, nipat jak)
ei bonchona manchi na manbo na (sh. k.: manchi na manbo na)
shwoiracharir kalo hat bhenge dao gundiye dao. (sh. K.: bhenge dao, gundiye dao)
Inquilab jinabbad, jinabbad (sh. k. jinabbad, jinabbad)

Rohit said...

good one.

Vishnupriya said...

i havent ever been to dd kendra, but i remember going to air bhavan once for a program where i pretended to be 35 and a mother of 1. it was the most i could do to not giggle throughout.

Anonymous said...


Love your writing. Why haven't you written for so long? Please come back soon.

Re. the last post, absolutely enjoyed the bit about “High-Power Transmitters will now de-link for the News” :)

greatbong said...

Very vivid....chiching phaank, harekorokomba and the high power transmitters are all a part of folklore.

Anonymous said...

In modern English, metal and mettle are pronounced the same, and they are in fact all related. Middle English borrowed metal from Old French in the 14th century; Old French metal, metail, came from Latin metallum, from Greek metallon, “mine, quarry, ore, metal.” By the 16th century, metal had also come to mean “the stuff one is made of, one's character,” but there was no difference in spelling between the literal and figurative senses until about 1700, when the spelling mettle, originally just a variant of metal, was fixed for the sense “fortitude.” The history of English has numerous examples of pairs of words, like metal and mettle, that are (historically speaking) spelling variants of the same word; two other such pairs are trump/triumph and through/thorough.