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Saturday, March 06, 2021

Children’s Day: A letter from a musician to her son

Writing to you in November with the fan whirring above my head. Sheetkaal kakhon ashbe Suparna?

By: Express News Service |
Updated: November 9, 2014 1:00:12 am
musician-main (Courtesy: Moushumi Bhowmik)

From a musician to her son

‘It is the search which will give you strength’

Dearest Aarjan,

Writing to you in November with the fan whirring above my head. Sheetkaal kakhon ashbe Suparna? When will winter come? A poet of this city had once asked his friend. I think those who have grown up in this city crave its winter in a way that we who have known other winters in other lands will not understand or feel. Winter in Calcutta for me is a dry and dusty time — it is getting drier and dustier every year. And less and less cold. I remember cold hands and feet under the red quilt in our Shillong home, and misty windowpanes on which we wrote our names — our hands and feet were small then. Indrani from my left/lost hill town of Shillong says they need fans now, even ACs. And their summers are stony hot, because there is less rain in the hills. Yet, our childhood was so full of the sound of rain on the tin roof. That is what happens, of course, when we cover our hills with concrete and line our streets with cars.

In Calcutta, the winter birds do not come to the zoo any more. I’ve read that in the papers. I think, isn’t that how it was meant to be? That news doesn’t affect me as much because, actually, there is little I expect from this city. You need to belong even to hate or feel anger. (Gayatri Chakravorty) Spivak had talked once about simultaneously being at home and being an outsider in the same place; the mark of belonging, she said, was the anger you felt for the place. It worries me sometimes that as time goes, I feel less and less of anything for this place.

But can it be that I feel nothing? Does that mean I don’t belong? The students of Jadavpur (University) were singing my songs. What are my songs if not a part of me?

I am glad you were following the news about the Jadavpur University students’ movement. Wish you were here at this time. You would have been able to connect, I know. I saw your face in that crowd. Yours and your friends’ too. The day after the police beat up the students in the dead of the night, I joined the protesters and met old friends and new ones. I thought I recognised some; old faces mirrored new ones. Do you remember the march against the war in Iraq in London in 2002? On the Tube, it had seemed like the whole city was going to the march, young and old, children and parents and grandparents. And at Regent Park — what a sea of humanity! We marched that day, millions and millions across the world marched, and yet the war happened. What do we do then? Practise the art of endurance or hone the spirit of resistance and find new ways of subversion?

You know, I have been thinking a lot about Ananyo of late. You used to like that song I wrote so many years ago. “In the sameness of things, of ideas and slogans, in the banality of words and the sameness of gestures, I look for you, Ananyo, you who are different and you who dare to be different. But you are so hard to find.” Remember how I would sometimes sing Aranyo, instead of Ananyo? Now tell me something: what is more important? To search for someone or something special? To keep searching? Or to know that however much you search, you will not find what you are looking for? To know that nothing will change, that we are fighting a losing battle? But don’t things change? Don’t they move even a little? Didn’t they move on the day those 60,000 students walked on the streets of Calcutta? Wasn’t that moment of protest itself the moment of freedom they were looking for? What is Ananyo if it was not embodied in that very moment?

Yes, Ananyo is probably only a dream, Ananyo might always delude. Yet, I think that for someone like you, living between worlds, between languages and identities, it is the khonja, the search, which will give you strength. Even if you know that you will not get what you are looking for.


Moushumi Bhowmik sings and writes and runs The Travelling Archive and Travelling Archive Records, with sound recordist Sukanta Majumdar. Her son, Aranyo Aarjan, is 24. He has done his Master’s in media culture from University of Maastricht, and is looking for himself in London now

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