Jhumri Telaiya is too quaint a name to be real—at least that’s what people who tuned into Vividh Bharati thought. But this town that ruled the requests’ list on radio for decades does exist and that’s where External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is headed this winter.
The Congress bigwig will not be there on a political assignment but in pursuit of his love for Bengali literature, as president of the Nikhil Bharat Banga Sahitya Sammelan. Mukherjee has held the post since 2004—he had held it earlier too, from 1995 to 2001.
Nearly 2,000 delegates are expected to descend on the small Jharkhand town in Koderma district—former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi’s constituency—to attend the Sammelan’s 81st annual conference. The Sammelan’s general secretary, Jayanta Ghosh, who is based in Telaiya, said Mukherjee would preside over the three-day conference starting December 27.
Jhumri Telaiya has a sizable Bengali population and many of them are members of this organisation. Besides Pranab Mukherjee, several other literary luminaries are expected to attend the event. Last year, the conference was held in Bangalore.
Though few believe Jhumri Telaiya is as real as Timbuctoo, national and international attention is, however, not new to this sleepy town nestled in the Damodar Valley. Till the eighties, it was not difficult to spot sahebs and memsahebs on cycle-rickshaws as they made their way through the kuccha roads of this town. Those were the days when mica used to drive this town’s economy. The insulation mineral used in the construction of spaceships and defence equipment was exported to almost all major countries of Europe, America and Asia from here. India, however, knew this sleepy town through the airwaves. Vividh Bharati and Radia Ceylon made Jhumri Telaiya a household name due to the number of song requests that came from here.
The mineral lost its sheen following the discovery of cheaper synthetic substitutes and the collapse of its biggest importer, the USSR. And since people no longer tune in to radio for their favourite songs, Jhumri Telaiya was lost to the airwaves as well.
The December 2008 event, however, promises to restore Telaiya’s lost status. Ghosh said the Koderma district administration has been informed of the conference and senior officials have promised their full cooperation.
All dharmshalas, marriage halls and a girls’ hostel have been booked to accommodate the delegates. The three-day conference will see discussions on Bengali literature, a seminar, besides cultural programmes in the evenings. A procession will be taken out, showcasing the local folk culture.
“Eminent Bengali litterateurs like Sunil Gangopadhyay and Kana Basu Mitra, among others, have been sent invites. The cultural evenings will give a glimpse of the culture of all the states where Nikhil Banga has branches,” said a member of the organisation.