18 June 2011

1/7 Bondel Road by Gautam Benegal

Tutul’s stories
Gautam Benegal added me on facebook, we had many friends in common, and when I saw his paintings, particularly his Mumbai Irani café ones, I was impressed indeed. Last week I saw this book on his wall and ordered it online for just Rs145. It turned out to be good value for money.
1/7 Bondel Road is a collection of short stories set in Calcutta in the 1970s. The cover design, the layout and the paper quality are all excellent. Best of all, this book is well written and I found most of the stories to be of a very high quality. They give a vivid experience of a region of this world in a particular section of time.
In the 1970s, the impressive industrial base developed by the British in and around Calcutta was on its last legs and factories were closing. The city is full of ditches and other depredations of the CMDA, the Calcutta Merry Diggers’ Association, and even the street cleaners have heard about Venice.
To cut the cellotape holding a box closed, a smart kid would run and bring a blade, unscrewing his father’s razor to get it out. Keshto is opening a fish plate shop and his clients will be the Bengali taxi drivers who generally stopped to answer “Nature’s call” near the corner of the park in Ballygunge Phari. To install a black-and-white television in your home is a profound ceremony that involves confusion, much passion, and involvement from all in the neighbourhood. Sit and watch and you will see a new Baul (till then just a fake because he was only a Sharma and not a Das) take birth on stage. And also a cyclist who will not stop for three days (food, bath, big job, small job, all on the cycle itself) to raise money to buy medicines for his six-month-old son.

These stories are told by a child, and when I asked Gautam Benegal on facebook chat how much of it came from his own childhood, he replied, “Quite a bit, actually...”
So you might as well know that Tutul’s father is a well-known artist and he has an extremely annoying elder brother who reads the Communist Manifesto at the dinner table and writes “Enjoyed the Cubist undercurrent in your work” in a visitors’ book at of their father’s friend's exhibition.

Two of the stories made me laugh like anything. In one, Tutul is travelling by train and speaks English in a fake accent, pretending to be from Marlinspike Hall in Somerset (his parents are settled there; they sell coal to Newcastle). His copassengers' responses are brilliant.

In the other, Tutul, despairing at ever getting an objective critique of his artistic output, invites a pair of children street singers in to look at his work. “Hahah…,” said Gautam Benegal, “Yeah...that one is 100 per cent genuine...”

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