BengalInclusive India

Tunes of Unity: Celebrating Diverse Traditions from Id to Christmas in Kolkata

Optimism amidst solitude, senior journalist Ranjan Das Gupta sings 'Those Were The Days'

My teens, youth, and middle age days were spent in Taltala, central Kolkata. I grew up in a cosmopolitan atmosphere where I learned to respect every religion. Id, Durga Pujas, Nanak Jayanti, and Christmas were, and still are, of equal importance to me. At 63, I recollect fond memories of the week from Christmas to New Year. Staying in the heart of the metropolis, I have many reminiscences of visiting New Market, Park Street, and Lindsay Street with my parents, relatives, and friends. Visiting cinema halls like Globe, Lighthouse, and New Empire to view “Sounds of Music,” “Anne of Thousand Days,” and “Dr. No” are memories I still cherish. Certainly not to forget cakes and pastries at Nahoums and Fluris.

A special memory of music links me very much to those days of yore. “Jingle Bell,” “Silent Night,” and “Fishers of Men” are songs and hymns we sang in chorus during our school days at Calcutta Boys’ School. “Lunch Time Variety” was a popular program on All India Radio that I seldom missed. Songs by Neil Diamond, Dalia Lave, and Engelbert Humperdinck were my true favorites. So were Paul Mariette’s “Feelings,” Ventures, and Philharmonic Orchestras, which inspired my romanticism and creativity.

My childhood heartthrob, professor, and poet Sharmila Ray often sang “Solitary Man” and “The Singer Sings His Song,” Neil Diamond Golden Hits. I used to compete with her singing “Free As The Wind” and “Leaves Are Falling on Me” by Engelbert Humperdinck. These were our musical competitions, just as my college friend Biswanath Somaddar enthralled me playing “Speak Softly Love” and “Windmills of Your Mind.” Christmas to New Year holidays were really enjoyable as he played the piano.

My mature days made me fall in love with the immortal numbers rendered by Pat Boon, Nana Muscouri, Frank Sinatra, Anne Marie, and Paul Robson. My penchant for people’s songs grew after I heard Pete Seager’s “Tell Me How to Kill,” Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” which gave birth to musical protests in me. The connection between Christmas and New Year with these songs was that this particular period was the ideal time for me to listen to them and think or analyze them.

christmas in kolkata bengal bengali id puja Park street
Revellers at Park Street | Courtesy: Facebook: Elina Chakraborty

Not that I was appreciated by all. Brickbats and insulting words, such as “Anglo Son of a Bengali Mother,” were hurled at me by a section of people who were Greek to such niche music and songs. Initially, it hurt my sentiments, but as days passed, I got used to such inane criticism. My singer friend Sujan Bose stood by my side during those days of the middle ’80s, encouraging me to follow my path.

In December 1985, I was enthralled hearing Sujan Bose sing in his inimitable baritone, “Decemberer Sesh Raat” in Bengali, tuned by Debajyoti Mishra for the album, “Bicycle.” Late RD Burman confessed to me he enjoyed listening to “Bicycle,” which I presented to him in cassette form.

No, Hindi songs did not form the gamut of my favorite numbers, especially in the time I mentioned earlier. They appeared light and lacked intelligent feelings compared to “The Man with The Mandolin” or “White Roses of Athens.” I know there are many evergreen Hindi songs, but they rarely harped on those unknown strings of my heart that inspire and make life appear realistic. The reason and purpose of “Sometimes I Feel” by Paul Robson eclipse superb melodies like “Suhani Raat” and “Gori Tore Banke.”

Not all English songs are classics. I was called a fool when I said I preferred to listen to Dalia Lave’s “My World Can Be” more than the Beetles. The VIBGYOR of life was painted in me with music that soothed yet made me think and act. No wonder I could christen my dear health icon and friends, Sangita and Preetha Reddy, Anastasia, and Lady Bird. The romanticism of “Strawberries, Cherries, and Angel Kissing Springs” also made my loneliness fade into oblivion as I visualized the eyes of my journalist friend Roshmila Bhattacharya, especially on Christmas Eve.

To many, I may appear a street Romeo with impractical romantic ideas. I respect my critics. Yes, every Christmas and New Year were never joyful for me. There were many moments of sorrow, and teardrops trickled down my cheeks. I have spent tension-filled days during this period too. Yet, as another Christmas dawns, I sing happily to myself, “Those Were The Days Together” by Mary Hopkins in memory of my earlier times. No, I am not a Solitary Man with pessimism and nihilism overpowering me. I am optimistic this Christmas and New Year, as well as the following ones, will be full of hope and optimism.

Ranjan Das Gupta

is a Kolkata-based independent journalist. He has been doing freelance work for more than 3 decades and writes on arts & culture, cinema, politics, healthcare and education

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button