Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Script

The Calcutta-born Bengali man — he could be the faceless clerk travelling with you in a train or the elderly sophisticated bhadralok having a drink with you at the club — doesn’t just talk; he reads out from a script. A script that intends to have an effect on the listener, that intends to create drama in the most mundane of locations, such as the stifling compartment of a local train or within the humid confines of a government office. Pretty much the kind of scripts that Kadar Khan wrote.

This trait, depending on the mood you are in, can irritate the hell out of you; but most of the time it makes Calcutta an interesting, a very interesting, place to visit and an interesting subject for a book. Quotes flying around.

The TTE in my compartment of Santiniketan Express was one such Kadar Khan.

“Age proof achhe (Do you have proof of age)?” he asked the elderly bhadralok sitting across the aisle.

Haan achhe (Yes, I do),” the bhadralok replied.

Ektu dekhan (Please show).”

Just as the bhadralok was about to stand up to reach his suitcase, the TTE gently patted him on the shoulder and said, “Na, na, thhaak. Eto boyesh hoeche, mithye to bolben na. Theek ache, theek achhe (No, it’s ok. You are too elderly to be lying about your age. It’s alright, it’s alright.”

The TTE moved on, leaving the old man shocked and speechless. About an hour later, the Talkative Ticket Examiner found me standing by the door.

Mone hochche cigarette khete chaan (Looks like you want to smoke),” he told me.

Haan, kintu matchbox ta hariye phelechhi (Yes, but I’ve lost my matchbox),” I told him truthfully.

Ei je, neen na (Here, take this),” he handed me his lighter. “Eikhanei daanriye khaan. Keyo kichhu bolle amake daakben (Stand here and smoke. If someone tells you anything, call me). The emphasis was on ‘me’: he was the supreme authority in the compartment.

But I did not listen to him: what if another Kadar Khan came along and questioned my right to smoke in the vestibule? So as soon as I lit the cigarette and he returned into the compartment, insisting once again that I should call him in case someone objected, I hid myself in the lavatory and took quick drags.

While the TTE read from the script to exert his authority and to amuse himself and the passengers, the others, such as singing-beggars and hawkers, used the ‘dialogue-delivery’ effectively to stuff their pockets, even if with smaller currencies.

During this short trip to Calcutta, even though I carried along a notebook, I did not take notes; I find it too tiresome to start working on another book right away. But the scripts from this trip remain fresh in my mind: they will ferment over the next few weeks and maybe then the first line of the book will crystallise. Once the first few lines are ready to my satisfaction, I only have to follow the script.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Waiting to read those first lines!
The Tomato

Sepiamniac said...

On your marks, get set, go :). May the first lines happen and yet another journey begin.

Shankari said...

You pretty much carried us through that train journey - especially since I had been flipping through the pics you'd posted of the train in fb. Keep drawing these pen- vignettes and sharing them.

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