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Bangladesh War – Report From Ground Zero

He also derives “great professional satisfaction” when he thinks of his “daring foray” into Satkhira and from there to Jessore town for spot reporting on the muktijudhdho…writes  Vishnu Makhijani

Fifty years on, crossing the mighty Padma river in a small rowboat with a nor’wester brewing still gives Manash Ghosh nightmares.

Then a “cub reporter” with The Statesman, Ghosh was embedded with the Indian Army during the 1971 operations that led to the creation of Bangladesh, and rose to become the newspaper’s Bureau Chief in Dhaka and its resident editor in New Delhi, before launching its Bengali edition, which he helmed for 11 years.

“Crossing the mighty Padma river in a small row boat in the face of an impending nor’wester gives me nightmares even now in my sleep. Also my close brush with death, again in a rowboat on the Padma, to cover a daring raid on the Sarda Police Academy by the ‘muktijodhdhas’ (Mukti Bahini) on Pakistan Day (on March 23, three days before the start of the war) still gives me shivers,” Ghosh told IANS in an interview of his inspirational “Bangladesh War – Report From Ground Zero” (Niyogi Books).

“I thank God Almighty and providence for saving me from sure death on that day too,” he added.

Every time he gets the news of death of any former commander of the Mukti Bahini with whose help he had covered the Bangladesh liberation war “it at once relives my memories of those historic tumultuous days which have remained deeply etched on my memory”, he said.

For instance, when Abu Osman Chowdhury formerly of the paramilitary East Pakistan Rifles and a sector commander of the Mukti Bahini, died of Covid last May in Dhaka, “the news harkened back for me the early days of the Liberation War. After all he was the first officer of the East Pakistan Rifles to have set up a command structure called the South Western Command comprising four districts – Kushtia, Jessore, Khulna and Faridpur – where the muktijodhdhas had taken on the Pakistani military and fought valiantly”, Ghosh elaborated .

They had kept parts of those districts liberated until the first week of May 1971. Chowdhury had set up his command headquarters in Chuadanga, a sub-divisional town of Kushtia district, which Ghosh had started visiting from the first week of April.

“It was in Chuadanga that I first came to know of Tajuddin Ahmed, appointed Prime Minister by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, (after his unilateral declaration of Independence on March 7, 1971) crossing into India through the Nadia border on his way to Delhi to meet Mrs Indira Gandhi.

“It was at his command post that I first met the intrepid Deputy Commissioner of Pabna Nurul Kader Khan, a strapping Civil Service of Pakistan officer, an Oxonian who had responded to Mujib’s call to join the Liberation War and had come there to collect supplies of arms and ammunition that a BSF officer (in mufti) had delivered to Osman. That was the first time I had seen the Indian defence establishment extending help to the Liberation War effort,” Ghosh reminisced.

“It also reminds me of the heroics that I was witness to of the ill-equipped, ill-clad, ill-fed muktijodhdhas and their irrepressible resolve to free their land from the exploitative clutches of the West Pakistani marauders,” he added.

He recalled with “great pride and honour” that he had the privilege to report on the sacrifices of young ‘valianrmuktijudhdhas’ (cadres) like Nurul Kader Khan, Rafiqul Islam Bakul and Shirin Bano Mitil, “whose tales of valour I could recount in The Statesman for the world to know that Bangladesh’s Liberation War was not just flash in the pan like the Biafran revolt”.

He also derives “great professional satisfaction” when he thinks of his “daring foray” into Satkhira and from there to Jessore town for spot reporting on the muktijudhdho.

“I was the first foreign correspondent who achieved that feat and my reports from Jessore received not only national but also international attention. They appeared on the front page of The Statesman and they were picked up by international media and got reprinted in the leading dailies of the world.

“My Jessore reports for the first time let the world know the scale of genocide that the Pakistani military had committed even in district towns, besides the provincial capital Dhaka to suppress the Bengali revolt in East Pakistan,” Ghosh explained.

“I remained steadfast in my commitment to stand by the defenceless and hapless Bengalis of East Pakistan and undertook daring trips deep inside East Pakistan to report on what was actually happening on the ground especially in terms of genocide perpetrated by the Pakistani military and the courageous fight back that the Bengalis were putting up.”

Question: You’ve been a close observer of India-Bangladesh relations since the country came into being. What were they in the beginning and how do you see them now?

“Indo-Bangla relations have been through a series of ups and downs ever since the Liberation War started. There had been influential people inside the Bangladesh government-in-exile and the leadership of the Awami League who tried hard to undermine and subvert the Liberation War effort of Indian and Bangladeshi leadership, just like in the present times,” Ghosh pointed out.

Had it not been for the “watchful eyes” of Indian RAW agents, Khondokar Mushtaq, Foreign Minister of the government-in-exile, would have succeeded in striking a deal with General Yahya Khan to keep Pakistan intact, he maintained, adding: “Even now, there are some Khondokar Mushtaqs in Sheikh Hasina’s government who are playing the role of spoilers in Indo-Bangladesh relations.

“They camouflage their thoughts and deeds so well that it is not possible to gauge the damage they have been doing to our bilateral relations.”

How did he remain steadfast with The Statesman throughout his career?

“Since my family had close ties with The Statesman, as my father, uncle and elder brother had worked for the paper in responsible positions, I never thought of leaving the paper despite getting a measly salary. As a journalist, I had grown with the paper. Despite getting lucrative offers I stayed with this century-old great institution out of a sense of loyalty and also because I had seen The Statesman’s golden days,” Ghosh concluded.

ALSO READ-1971 War in Retrospect

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Legacy Goes Beyond

Soumitra Chatterjee, the doyen of Bengali cinema who passed away on November 15, 2020 aged 85, leaving behind an oeuvre of over 250 films – a staggering 14 of them directed by Satyajit Ray – five books, four poetry collections, three dramas and an array of paintings, had once remarked that he would have become a carpenter had he not become an actor…writes Vishnu Makhijani.

It might sound flippant but his admiration for the craft of carpentry was genuine, revealing that he believed in creativity that was useful, something that would be helpful to people, says the first biography of the actor in English set to release on his 86th birth anniversary on January 19.

“Soumitra Chatterjee’s legacy goes well beyond his body of work in cinema, which on its own will probably never be matched. He is best known for being the favoured actor of one of the world’s greatest directors and remains one of the most visible representatives of Indian cinema abroad,” Arjun Sengupta, co-author of “Soumitra Chatterjee – A Life in Cinema, Theatre, Poetry & Painting”, (Niyogi Books), told IANS in an interview.

“However, the range of his accomplishments emerges from his unique nature. He understood the value of education and culture and all through his life remained unwavering in his belief on the importance of social responsibility and artistic integrity. He disdained stardom if it got in the way of his beliefs as an artist.

“He had a varied career that went beyond films. His belief in art and the responsibility of an artist ensured that he brought the same seriousness and breadth of learning to no matter what he did. He was a resolute champion of Bengali language and culture, choosing to dedicate himself to Bengal rather than look for a more national popularity through Hindi cinema. For these reasons and more, he was one of Bengal’s greatest ambassadors to the world,” Sengupta added, who teaches English Literature at the St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, with previous stints at Scottish Church College and Presidency College.

A considerable amount of research went into the book, during the writing of which Chatterjee was personally involved.

“The research involved going through a number of books that have been written on him and about Bengali cinema in general. This allowed me to place his achievements in a greater socio-historical context. Mr Chatterjee was kind enough to lend us his ‘Gadya Samagra’, a collection of his writings for reference. His writings gave me important insights into the kind of person he was. It also allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of his pursuits as a thespian, painter and poet.

“I also watched and re-watched several of his films, studying the smallest details to appreciate his craft better. All this was supplemented by hours of interviews of Mr Chatterjee,” Sengupta said of the effort he and co-author Partha Mukherjee, a Kolkata-based Freelance Writer-cum-Documentary Filmmaker put in.

To this end, what the book reveals is that Chatterjee did not believe in looking back, and even at 85, kept looking forward to new challenges. This is probably why his death is not a coda because he had so much more to contribute to the world of theatre, art and cinema. Thus, the book is a celebration of his multi-faceted creative genius and his role in representing Bengal on the world stage.

The book explores the making of Chatterjee through his early years and his relationships with theatre exponent Sisir Bhaduri and Satyajit Ray. His 14 films with Ray are a testament to his versatility and virtuosity. As an actor he refused to settle in a comfortable groove and constantly looked out for fresh challenges. Throughout his theatrical career, he not only adapted and directed several acclaimed plays but kept returning to the stage for sustenance and inspiration. His poetry and art are more personal and offer an insight into his idealistic and cultured soul.

Analysing the most important roles of his career, and charting the single-minded dedication and passion that he brought to each one of them, the book reflects on Chatterjee’s stardom and longevity in an industry that saw great changes during his lifetime. Featuring 70 unique photographs, the book is a visual treat and illuminates the versatile facets of a towering artist – a Renaissance man – who along with Ray brought Bengal to the cinematic world.

What it also brings out is that Chatterjee’s poetry and paintings are a distillation of an idealistic sensitive soul. He is forever caught between a desire to escape through memory to an idealised past and a need to engage with the troubles of reality. His art is even more private and personal than his poetry. His paintings are oddly beautiful and could be quite eerie, too. They are nevertheless striking and speak of a vivid and bold personality.

Chatterjee refused to work in other languages. He consciously resisted the lure of Bollywood as he felt his performance gained a lot of credibility from his proficiency in the Bengali language and wondered if it would be the same in a language in which he was not fluent.

His loyalty to his Bengali identity determined many of his decisions in his career. It turned out to be a wise choice because with the help of Satyajit Ray and other acclaimed directors, he managed to stay close to his roots while turning out performances of universal relevance. He has worked in Bengali cinema but in his legacy he belongs to world cinema.

Also Read-Hearty Tribute To ‘Beloved’ Beepathu

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Creative Minds Together With A Game Changer Brand

Top fashion designers collaborate to launch affordable fashion line.

Four of India’s leading designers– JJ Valaya, Ashish Soni, Manish Arora and Suneet Varma have partnered with Amazon Fashion to launch a line of affordable clothing called RIVER. The brand is now available to buy on the e-commerce site.

We caught up with the designers and Mayank Shivam, Director – Strategic Initiatives, Amazon Fashion India to find out more on the idea behind this collaboration and how it can be a game-changer in the industry.

Read excerpts:

Ashish, you have been part of the industry for more than 25 years. How is this different from your other associations?

Ashish: I have probably been part of every ready-to-wear experiment that has happened in the Indian fashion industry over the last 20 odd years. Till early 2000, there was nothing like ready to wear for us. Our industry was very small, majority of it was based around bridal clothing. It was only after 2000, when FDCI was born, that people started looking at easy, ready to wear kind of options.

Manish Arora with a model in one of his designs.

There have been quite a few experiments, some successful, some not so much. If I had to look at them objectively and tell you what’s different here and what went wrong over the years, there are two key points I’d like to talk about. One being the backend. For instance, in all those experiments, all the products would be manufactured by the designers. We are not trained to manufacture products in bulk and at such price points, those are not our strengths. Our strength is design.

So, if you were to ask me to design a line of very interesting t-shirts, absolutely, it’s straight-up my alley. But if you were to tell me produce 100,000 pieces, no I cannot! These mistakes have happened in the past where it became the onus of the design team to manufacture it as well.

So, with RIVER, we’re working pretty much like the rest of the world does. We have manufacturing partners who take that load off of us. We work with a design team at DBS, and there is a range of manufacturers who are producing these goods for us. Therefore, ensuring great quality and being able to produce at those price points, that’s very key to all of this.

The other thing in the past was that there was no online player in those days and here we have the largest online player in the world as our partner in this. Beyond that, it was limited to 8 or 10 cities where we could have physically had brick and mortar stores. Amazon has changed shopping, today we are able to deliver across all pincodes in India. I couldn’t even imagine that someone would buy a shirt from me and have it delivered at their doorstep in 48 hours!

Redefining designer wear in an affordable format is tough for couturiers. How were you able to achieve this and also tell us about what the customers can expect from your collection?

Valaya: What do Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Choo, Versace, Victor & Rolf, Lanvin and Kenzo have in common? The fact that they are all super-luxury brands which at some point of time collaborated with Swedish fast-fashion brand, H&M! … and I am happy to say that RIVER is at the forefront of a similar revolution in India! RIVER is India’s first-ever initiative where top high fashion brands have a design collaboration with a mainstream platform that is Amazon Fashion, in this case, to bring forth an accessible line bearing the distinct ethos’ of the four designers.

In our case, we have taken the spirit of my design DNA, which is steeped in royalty and applied it to a clean, modern “royal sport” line of separates, unlike anything we have done before. I’ve always felt that if we were ever offered an opportunity to design an accessible line for a larger audience, even if it’s for a limited period of time, the euphoria of having a significantly larger audience experience it first-hand would be amazing … RIVER at Amazon Fashion not only takes care of that feeling, it also provides the ideal virtual platform for all to connect with us on.

What do collaborations like these mean for the future of the fashion industry in our country?

Varma: The way we have joined forces, it is definitely going to be a way forward for many collaborations… coming together of creative minds, great strength of design, production and availability along with bandwidth to reach out to a sizable audience.

Furthermore, in the light of the current pandemic, people are not going to step out to shop in crowded spaces, so they will be buying sitting in the comfort and safety of their homes and at that point, there is nothing better than shopping on Amazon Fashion because of its country-wide reach.

For designers like me who wish to reach out to a larger audience and want to develop a line that can be sold to clients in every part of the country and not have to risk losing sales, collaborations of this nature are the best. In the future, I expect many such collaborations with designers and online retail space which is going to be an incredible growth pattern for us.

Designer wear is said to be catering to only a certain section of
society. Do you feel it’s going to change with this collection?

Ashish: It’s not just been a desire but a dream that we should be able to reach out to as many people and markets as possible. That’s why when we come with that tag that oh you don’t make affordable products, it’s only for a certain audience, and RIVER changes that. It completely breaks that barrier for us. The first thing aside from great design is that it breaks that barrier with fantastic value. Every consumer today is looking for great value, so no one is really splurging out there. They really want to spend but they want value out of the purchase. RIVER as a product is great design with great value. In terms of distribution, what Amazon brings to the table, I am hoping it’s a game-changer.

Mayank, what are your future plans for Amazon fashion in reference to this launch? Will you be looking at more collaborations for the collection?

Mayank: We will continue investing in the fashion segment in India. For RIVER, this is Season 1 with four very celebrated designers, this is the start of a journey where we make designer wear more and more accessible, affordable and reachable to customers. We will continue to grow and scale this. Right now we are focusing on season 1, and the partnerships we have with each of the designers is to make sure it’s a big success.

We will also be listening closely to our customer feedback; we always listen to them and would want to know what they think we can do differently, and we will do that. For us, this launch is hope to artisans, karigars, embroiderers and weavers as well. There is a long list of people who make such collections happen and we want them to get the benefits as well. If this business scales, each of them somewhere will earn the rewards and we will be very proud that we could do that. We value such partnerships and we will continue investing in them.

Also Read-Tanya Shares ‘A Suitable Boy’ Audition Experience