Kolkata Soundscapes

Jorasankor Dhare Translation

Abanindranath Tagore, Jorasankor Dhare (Around Jorasanko) [Selections]

On the other hand, various sounds could be heard, a certain thong thong sound came flowing from the street- junction with the fall of afternoon, ‘Utensils, utensils for sale’ – and then the sound faded away. Then came, ‘Bangles for sale! Toys, toys for sale!’

They were often summoned by the ladies quarters, and would sit down with their baskets of colourful glass bangles displaying them in nice patterns. A very exciting kind of toy was also found in their baskets; extremely small fishes made of tin and a magnet stick.  You could keep the fishes afloat on water and make them swim by maneuvering the magnet stick. What an alluring piece toy it was! The rest of the kids of the household could often get hold of that plaything. With me, it happened on rare occasions. Because nobody noticed me much. Then the summer day was about to come to its end and an ice-cream vendor would cry out aloud ‘Ice-cream, ice-cream for sale, kulfi– ice-cream for sale.’ – A song penned by Jyotikakamashai, my revered uncle –

“’Ice-cream, ice-cream’, cries the ice-cream seller

Be relaxed, the night is at the offing.

‘Jasmine, Jasmine flower’, yells out the flower man…”

“Jasmine” was the sound of evening. The cry ‘Jasmine, jasmine flower for sale’ would walk away from this side of the alley to another. Maids would call them to buy jasmine flowers.  The young ladies of the house would make garlands. In the prime of evening, Mushkil Asan (one who is believed to be in possession of supernatural and spiritual power and can dispel all ominous eventualities) would arrive on our doorstep yelling ‘mushkil asan’ (end of all problems) – a long-bearded man, holding a flickering lamp in his hand. I observed his appearance from the veranda. On his arrival, food items, money, and the like pre-allocated for him in the office were readily handed over to Mushkil Asan. He would leave crying aloud his word. There was another sound which still keeps playing in my ears. In middle of the characteristic quietude of the empty afternoon, the sound of ‘Kuor ghoti tola’ (lifting dropped things from well) could be heard.

To me it appeared as if a strange bird kept singing. During night-time, lying on my bed during, I could see through the open window the dark and mysteriously projected vertex of the tamarind tree. The maids told me that the umbilical cords of those born into our lineage remained buried there. At times, the otter roamed around on the terrace, the sounds of its footsteps evoked stories in me; the stories of Brahmadwaitya (ghost-monster) tramping and the Joteyburi (sinister old woman) coughing. The Joteyburi did exist in real, and would come holding a stick which made a thok thok sound; a peacock once pecked her eyes out. The picture of Shoshtiburi that I drew for my book Khirer Putul resembles her very closely.

Around 10 o’clock at night Noto Khonra would start playing violin in Nondo Forash’s room downstairs. It was a single note that he kept on playing incessantly till late night. As if the violin was trying to memorize in tune the numerals: one-two-three-four; one-two-three-four. Later on, while composing the music for a jatra (a kind of folk theatre), I had drawn inspiration from it. Soon after the meeting in my father’s room, another session started in Nondo Forash’s room, involving Sweeper Chhiru, Noto Khonra, and several others. Early mornings had the sounds of horse massaging top top thop thop. This was done in front of our house. Even before the birds would start chirping, I used to wake up to that sound. Every day before going off to sleep and after waking up, I used to hear these two sounds: one-two-three-four of violin and top top thop thop of horse massaging.

In those days, each hour had its own sound. Now those sounds are no more, they have all mingled into the cacophony of noise. The bhow-bhow sound of taxi, the cry of shopkeepers, and with all the commotions on streets, one can hardly hear anything even in one’s own room. Moreover, the ghorghorani of aeroplanes above, the bhonbhonani of radio, and so on are the latest additions to it. The music of Jyotikakamahsai’s piano from the second-floor terrace, Robika’s songs, and my elder uncle’s loud laughter have drifted away into what oblivion!