Less than a week ago, Bengalis everywhere in the world celebrated Poila Boisakh – the Bengali New Year. A couple of days ago, the date was April 19, which is also the title of a celebrated Bengali filmmaker’s breakthrough film – Unishe April (1994) by Rituparno Ghosh. Hence, it won’t harm to change the tracks of this column a little and recommend a book in Bangla this week.
Ghosh never really sat down to write his memoir, but he used to write an impeccably sharp weekly column for a Bengali magazine, that he also used to edit, for a considerable amount of time. In those columns, he talked about the changing nature of things around him – from cinema to politics to travel and religion and the innumerable facets of human relationships.
Unsurprisingly, this is nothing like a traditional autobiography. These are periodic thoughts and recollections, that may have otherwise seemed unmethodical to those who followed the column in the mid-2000s when Ghosh first started writing it. But such was the genius of his luminescent mind, that when the editors of these two volumes – First Person 1 and 2 – gathered these columns in some order, they began to resemble a curious, creative, and daring life.
Rituparno was also one of the few openly queer filmmakers, whose rebellion for an individual’s freedom of choice and expression reflected in his work. Naturally, in these volumes readers also discover that deeply empathetic, wounded but gloriously buoyant side of his personality. Although it’s been over a decade since these pieces came into being, they remain powerfully relevant even today.
Many of his writings also bring back the deep love he had for his mother who had the utmost influence on his life and spirit. The final column that he wrote was on what’s known as “Madur” in Bengal – essentially, they are mats woven from a reed called madurkathi. In it, he wrote about learning humility from the humble mat. This ability of allowing even inanimate objects to teach him something about the human experience is what always set Rituparno apart from the rest. Those who can read Bangla are sure to feel more enriched if they decide to give these volumes a chance. And from what I know, English language readers may get to see a translation of these works very soon.