Saturday, 24 October 2015

Serampore Musings

When Dr. Thomas asked me if we could make it to one of the oldest Arts & Science Institutions in India, at Kolkata, for a Conference on ‘Multiple Shakespeares’, I was thrilled to bits, and gave a big ‘YES’ rightaway! Well, Thomas Sir was talking about Serampore College, Hooghly, Kolkata, which was founded by William Carey, Marshman and William Ward, way way back in 1818.

My great fascination for all things Bengal was the second impulse which spurred me on to go ahead!
The Scenic River Hooghly viewed from Serampore College

Indeed, it had taken us a month’s patient planning to chart out our itinerary for the course of the week.

Now, over to Didi's land: 

The moment we alighted in Calcutta, at Dum Dum Airport, I promptly (and instinctively!?) turned on my ola app to browse for cars in the vicinity and happily ‘confirmed’ one. Mr.* will pick you up in 17 minutes from now, said ola! We waited and waited! More than 25 minutes flitted us by with no signs of the promised ‘ola’. 

In the meantime, with a sense of curiosity writ large on our visage, we wanted to take a look around the precincts of Dum Dum, and our eyes rested on a pre-paid taxi service run and managed by the Calcutta Traffic Police, where passengers were queuing in. We rightaway booked a prepaid cum regulated taxi with them, (cancelling the belated ola, which must have been tottering in on of the byways of yet another corner of Bally, by then, we presume!) and in no time we were blissfully striding along the alleys and byways and highways of Calcutta in an old 1999 model (I guess) amby (ambassador). Thank God the brakes were still at work! The driver was at his rashy wishy washy best and we had to slow him down periodically, enticing him with a cuppa tea, that made his tattered Amby come to a rugged and screeching halt in one of the immediate tea jaunts that adorned the NH. Yet, our driver was a pleasant fellow, and the first thing he asked us on our stopover was, ‘saab, do you know Bengali?’ “mujhe nahi maloom!” we replied, and he was glad to offer his own bengalish hindi-ized commentary on life and society in Bengal and in New Delhi!!! which spanned a huge realm from local ‘Mamata didi’ to ‘Modi ji’ to the local body elections that had recently concluded! Our 22 km-long adventurous journey in this amby was interrupted only by this brief stopover for a cuppa chai (and guess what, for a mere Rs.5 in 2015!!!) He was well-read, going by his panoramic sweep of current affairs! Way to go bhaiya!

Now, our fare came to Rs.460 (cheap & regulated fare) and we alighted at Serampore College, without forgetting to have a selfie with our companion-driver bhaiya.

The moment we alighted at Serampore, we could feel a gentle breeze from all corners of Serampore, enthralling us all along, regaling, lifting and soothing the place with its infinite charm. Thomas Sir was indeed thrilled when he pointed out to me the vast expanse of the fertile river Hooghly (an arm of the River Ganges!) which meandered its way through the city in all its grandeur. Much akin to the River Brahmaputra that we were witness to in Assam, a couple of years back!

If Presidency College, Chennai sits pretty across the Marina beach, and if Sibsagar College, Assam, envelops the largest man-made lake in its precincts, and Pondicherry University in Kalapet looks sea-ward, then the beauty of Serampore College lies in its banks. The river Hooghly! Just twenty yards from college you have boats fishing n sailing along the way. Birds tailgating their pairs yelling pitch-high, good enough to attract the attention of the onlooking seramporians.. It was an awesome sight!

Little wonder then that the  East India Company held fort here for its colonial agenda, as a trade-settlement for many many countries. Again, we were not in the least surprised that Amitav Ghosh makes the Ibis set sail from Hooghly River to Mauritius with indentured labourers on board, in his Sea of Poppies. Indeed my reading of Sea of Poppies gained in authenticity as I was able to relive that ‘aura’ or that ‘felt experience’ in the ‘Land’ of Poppies!!!

Bemused and absorbed, as we were, in enjoying the length and breadth of the river standing quite near Serampore College, we had two volunteers stopping by,—asking us if we had come for the Conference! We landed at the Registration counter in one of the grand old colleges of India! Coincidentally the Seminar Hall was ensconced right below the William Carey Museum that formed the rich treasure house of the Serampore College.

Dr. Bente Wolff, Curator, National Museum, Denmark, was the Chief Guest of the event. She spoke at length on the renovation work being undertaken as part of the Heritage conservation project co-sponsored by the Govt of West Bengal, and she said that, in two years from now, Seramporeans can have coffee in a Coffee House that is as old as three hundred years, which is being renovated to regain its original splendor and grandeur!

Dr. Amitava Roy, President & Co-Founder, Shakespeare Society of India, delivered the key-note address. He was in his elements, in full gusto, enlivening the audience, with his profound insights on new trends in Shakespeare Studies, through Academics and Popular Culture. (full text of his speech follows). His troupe’s dramatization of Macbeth for all of us, that night, was marvelous in its theatricality and unrivalled in its appeal, to say the least!

To be contd…

1 comment: