Kolkata Soundscapes

Hutom Pyanchar Naksha

 Kaliprasanna Singha, Hutom Pyachar Naksha (The Owl’s Tale) [Selections]

Frantic ‘Dhak’ beats enliven up the cityscape of Kolkata, that enticingly titillates the backs of the ‘charakis’. The ironsmiths are busy making the irons for the ritual. Carpenters, milkmen, grocers and bronze smiths are all being seen in their best fashionable attires and ornaments, and merrily announcing the ceremony of ‘Gajon’ festival at their ‘Babu’s’ place.

On the other hand the low caste bearers and palanquin-bearers, sporting ornamental anklets and wearing sacred thread threads around their necks, exhibiting their austere practices and attainments are dancing around with multiple body piercings done with ritual irons at the drinking houses, whorehouses and residences. The ‘Dhak-beaters’ are beating around the whole locality to amass the ‘Sannyashis’ for the ceremony; the primary school is called off; the young boys, having renounced their homes, closely follow the ‘Dhak-beaters’. They also add chorus to the hail-cry of Lord Shiva and while pecking and pricking the decorative trinkets of the ‘Dhak’, leaving their anxious parents anticipating some hazard to fall upon.

A huge crowd pours in the ceremony ground, namely ‘Gajontalla’, amidst loud ‘Dhak-beats, with the inception of the hysteric head-nodding and head-banging of the ‘Sannyashis’.

Everybody cried out the hail to Lord Shiva accompanied with the noise of ‘Dhak-beats’ and the ‘Babu’ prostrates before the Lord.

The twilight bell ringing ceased. The streetlamps are alighted. The trade-cries from the florists and frozen desserts are being around.

A fashionable owner of a dancing house has started playing on his sitar after the evening course of freshening up and a light meal. Young boys at adjacent homes are engaged in loud readings of the ‘Barnaparichay’ by Vidyasagar .

Women fish-mongers, at the market belonging to the Shovabazar rajas, in the wee shopping hours, are trying to convince and sell rotten, stale and salted fishes to odd customers, some even resorting to coyly addressals. Some customers, falling prey to such coyness of oration and going beyond permissible limits of conversation are being rewarded with abusive rebukes. Paupers, addicted to opium, marijuana and alcohol, with a stick in hand and pretending as blind Brahmins are asking for alms to obtain some money to buy their addictive stuff. All of a sudden the ‘Dhak-beats are heard again along with the hail-cry of Lord Shiva and a clamour announcing the ritual of ‘Jhul Sannyash’.

The church clock struck four o’ clock of the morning forcing the night-roamers to head homes. The Oriya Brahmins begins flour grinding at their flour shops. The streetlights go dimmer. A gentle breeze is blowing around. The pet cuckoos sing from the whorehouse balconies. The great city is all silent but a few cuckoo calls, crows crowing and barks of stray dogs. Some women are going for a dip in the Ganges, deeply engrossed in a noisy conversation over the family disputes of their neighbours. The butchers from Chitpur are carrying their loads of mutton chops. Sergeants, inspectors and sentries of the police force, who happens to be the nightmares of the commoners, are returning to their respective stations at the completion of their night rounds filling the air with their boot-strides.

The cannon shot is heard that forces the crows to leave their nests crowing loudly. Shopkeepers open their shop-hatches and sprinkle Ganga water after prostrating before the Godess of trade and business and replace and refill the overnight hubble-bubble water to have a fresh smoke of tobacco. Gradually it turns brighter. The porters are moving with their loads of fishes followed by quarreling women fish-sellers.

Again the church clock rings the avowal of seven o’ clock in the morning. The clamour of the city goes unbearable. Crowds, ‘Dhak-beats’, incense-smoke and stench of alcoholic drink fill the street. The exhausted ritual-keepers dance their way back from Kalighat after completing their feats of austere. The verandahs of the whorehouses are full of people who have gathered to watch the morning part of the  ‘Gajon’ ceremony. The assembly mostly comprises of patrons of the whorehouses, amateur ‘Pachali’ singers, crooners from ‘half-aakhrai’ music troupes and members of Gul Garden.

The ‘Dhak-beating’ ‘Gajon’ procession moves along the street of Chitpur, a place that turns muddy even by a cloudy sky. The procession is headed by two porters carrying a large brass gong slung from a bamboo pole on their shoulders, along with some boys beating it with wooden clubs and followed by a motley crowd. Then comes the ‘Haris’, a lowly caste of people who moves along, singing ‘bhajans’ to reveal the glory of Lord Shiva. After that comes the ‘ babu’s  ‘ guards, messengers and sepoys, adorned with the signs of their employer’s status. Also moves in the disguiser resembling Lord Shiva, all covered with ashes and chalk-dust, wearing metal-made serpents as head-gears along with another disguised as Parvati too. A group of ritual-keepers with their side-abdomens pierced follows, burning incense and dancing. Some others go on piercing their tongues and arms. The procession is adorned with long and sleek bamboo poles with pith-made models of shrimps hanging from them. Some are using those to hit the ‘Dhak’ and produce the beats. Finally, the nephews, younger brothers, and cousins of the ‘Babu’ are atop carriages, with blood-red eyes for having left their beds early at three in the morning and bearing dusty heads from the streets of Bhawanipore and Kalighat. The spectators are deeply engaged in their watch. Suddenly the clamour agitates a horse that results in a huge commotion and pandemonium that drives and forces some of the watchers to tumble over a shop or in a ditch. The overhead sun shines furiously with a skull-cracking effect but without being able to disperse the gathering!