All posts by Soumashree

About Soumashree

A writer living in the quiet chaos of Calcutta in India.

My books

To honour the great reader of 2015 that is I, I will now list my favourites under the following heads. i found it in a blog called Calcutta Chromosome.

Ideal December read: One book I remember reading in December and enjoying was An Equal Music by the guileful master Vikram Seth.

Most beautiful cover: A cover that recently appealed was that of Wanderers, All by Janhavi Acharekar. I did not read the book, however.
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A book you identify with: Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies.

A book character you’d like to meet: Brett Ashley from The Sun Also Rises, Nobeen from Shei shomoy and

Wisest book you’ve read this year: The Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

A book you keep going back to: The Harry Potter series by my good friend and counsellor, JK Rowling.

First book you remember reading: Tor ki shurjo achhe? (‘Do you have the sun?’) – a book on a puppy and its chick friend. Both are newborns and quite alone in this world, so they think that the sun belongs to them.

A book that gives you the chills: The Shining. Predictable answer, but I read it only seven months ago.

Favourite mythological tale: Dionysus’ birth tale.

A book that makes you want to write: Good question. One must begin at the beginning and say, Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk.
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A book character that you want(ed) to marry: Harry Potter, Feluda and Rabbit (who is not an actual rabbit but the protagonist of John Updike’s Rabbit series).

A book that you have pretended to read: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

Your curl-up read: To have a particular book that needs to be read each time I curl up seems a waste of resource.

Your favourite book series: Harry Potter, Harry Potter, a billion times Harry Potter.

Your favourite Jane Austen character: Emma.

A book that makes you hungry: Good question. Almost all the recent books that I have read have had passages describing meals in great detail. Like what Kadambari Tagore was served the afternoon that she died in Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Prothom aalo, or what Kilgore Trout was eating when he ordered breakfast in Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions.

Favourite autobiography: I have, till date, not read a single autobiography. Because Pamuk puts himself as a cavalier champion of Istanbul’s soul in his books Istanbul and Other Colours – those would be the closest to autobiographies I have read and loved.

A book to read when homesick: Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines.

Favourite fairy tale character: Cinderella. Very boring.

A book to gift around Christmas: What. Give anything. 
A book that makes you cry: A Moveable Feast by the god himself, Ernest Hemingway.

Best book you ever received as a gift: The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell.

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Favourite family read: I still read a lot with my mother. Recently we read a bit of Rilke’s Duino Elegies.
 
Favourite Christmas book: Little Women?

A book on your shelf you haven’t read yet: Far too many to count.

A book you couldn’t put down: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson.

An author you discovered this year: Junot Diaz.

Your best read of 2014: The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Your favourite Rudyard Kipling character: I have studied literature for five years but not read anything by Kipling other than the poem If.
Most awaited book of 2015: It was Ghosh’s Flood of Fire.
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‘Play Home’: Observations on the Theatre of Kolkata

Ours is a strange city where middle-aged men catch half a play at the Academy of Fine Arts, before catching the bus home from work. Following are a few observations of the quirks indigenous to the theatre culture of Kolkata.

1. Curtains in theatre halls in our city are like heirlooms in old households. They are thick and heavy and impeccably grand in design even though the layer of grime accumulating on the golden thread braided on the red velvet has permanently changed its colour to light brown. Curtains are Kolkata’s lasting colonial vestige. Like flaccid bystanders, they need not change with the pace at which the world enclosed by them evolves. They are retractable fourth walls at which an audience shifts its eyes and concentration after the second bell rings. They are the essential divide in realist theatre, and the essential commodity that has to be done away with if the audience is to be robbed of an illusion. They are the keepers of the anticipations of the entire population in a theatre. In places the fabric has faded to translucence, offering the actor the feeble hope that he might be able to judge his audience through it before the play begins. The power it wields is tangible, silencing an entire audience as it rises. The older the playhouse, the stronger the smell of dust on its curtains.

2. Armrests are spaces of immense tension. But unlike disgust over ringing phones, battles between those who hog armrests in theatres and those made to keep their arms to themselves, are fought silently.

3. Curtain calls are to a play what acknowledgements are to a book. They are varied in duration, ranging from fifteen minutes (in case of first shows where the director introduces each member of the cast and talks about his play at length) to a hurried parting and closing of the curtains during which the cast and the director fit in a hasty humble namashkar before scurrying away tiredly into the wings. Sometimes the curtain never falls back down and the actors break positions to mingle among the audience who are unsure as to whether to treat this as part of the performance. At other times the curtain call too is a choreographed and rehearsed presentation, involving elaborate sequences of bowing or routines where characters portrayed as adversaries in the play reunite amidst general applause. Most actors look visibly excited during this coda to the performance but a few are noticeable in their impassiveness and tendency to get over with a curtain call as quickly as possible. As some members of the audience stand up, a few others urge them (with characteristic Bengali attention to collective appreciation of the arts) to sit still and wait till the show (which is technically ‘over’) is over. The call also serves as an opportunity to click the ensemble cast with phone cameras which had to be kept away till then. Most importantly, however, the curtain call is the time set apart for the Kolkata audience to smile at the actors on the stage as if they were very old friends.

4. An actor’s wig or a part of his costume coming apart on stage is an event of great anxiety for the spectator. While the performer is intent on seamlessly acting out his part as if nothing has happened, the audience has already decided that it is the flailing wig that is going to occupy their complete and undivided attention. When he at last reinstates or gets rid of the errant accessory, the audience heaves a collective sigh of relief, having been freed of the great discomfort of watching the actor’s distress at the unraveling of the machinery involved in creating his character.

5. The other day audiences of the play Bishorjon (‘Sacrifice’, written by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore) witnessed a rat making its way across the Academy of Fine Arts stage as the priest lay in a crumpled heap over his protégé Jaisingha’s dead body. The rat travelled deftly through the network of ramparts holding up director Suman Mukhopadhyay’s slanted wooden set, entering through the right wing and leaving through the left, having utilized the performance space like a seasoned stage veteran.

Some pictures as a guide

Some light on an open book
This an example of the kind of pictures that I usually take. This is some light on an open book by Orhan Pamuk.

 

Flower Bar
This is one of those kind of pictures that I wish I took more of. When the light is as mellow as it is here, I seem to sink into newer depths of languid contention. Thus, there is just this one picture.
The Old Man and the Sea
This isn’t a picture I have taken. It’s a still from the short animated film ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, inspired by the short and inhuman story, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, by Ernest Hemingway.