August 11, 2020
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Calcutta Corner

In the city of chatter, no other topic has been discussed as much as the chit fund scandal.

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Calcutta Corner

The Chit Chatter
No other city engages in as much chatter as Calcutta does. You will always find groups of people sitting around discussing something or the other, whether at roadside tea stalls or in the many coffee shops strewn around the city (not to mention the famous Calcutta Coffee House) or at street corners, neighbourhood grocery stores, parks, buses and other public places. Usually the topics vary from location to location, like let's say, the elderly who gather at the local tea shop for their daily dose of adda would be discussing state elections, while the Kaki maas at the grocery store would be debating inflation in loud, animated voices. But never in my life have I seen just one topic being discussed, that too at such great lengths, at every street corner, every tea shop, every adda joint. And that topic is: the chit fund scam.

Here are some sound bytes from the city streets since the scandal broke:

  • Okey aar keo bachatey parbena” (No one can save him now – presumably about Sudipto Sen).
  • “Top to bottom shob chor (Everyone from the top to the bottom is a thief – possibly referring to top leaders and their alleged involvement in the scam).
  • Kotha achhe na?Oti lobhey taanti noshto’.” (As the saying goes, ‘too much greed is not good’ – most probably a comment on the investors’ being lured by unbelievably high returns).
  • Onner takay eto phut phutaani? – ekhon bojho” (“Living it up on other people’s money? – Now face the consequences!” – no doubt addressed at Sudipto Sen and his accomplices, who lived ostentatious lifestyles on the money of the multitudes of people they duped).

Unabated Storm
In the meantime, the chit fund storm continues to rage unabated. For a recap of the week’s developments: After announcing that the state government would raise 500 crore rupees by taxing tobacco product users so that Sharadha investors could be refunded at least partially, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has ordered immediate closure of a number of chit fund companies. At least one of them, Prayag, had its director appear in a TV ad to dispel investors' fears and not “pay heed to negative news about the company”.

And the political mud-slinging has reached a crescendo with each political party pointing accusing fingers at the other for having chit fund links. While CPI-M’s Gautam Deb accused Mamata’s nephew and brother to be owners of chit funds, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee smugly told a public gathering, “At least we have never been associated with these shady companies.” But a few hours later, at a public gathering Mamata brandished a bunch of old newspapers with photos of different Left leaders who at various times were spotted with people allegedly with chit fund connections. “They say they don’t have any connection with chit fund? She thundered. “What are these? What are these? And who are they?”

The most significant development is the debate about whether there should be a Central CBI probe or one conducted by the local CID. Amidst growing demands for a CBI investigation the state government is insisting that it stay local.

Ray Tourism
May 2 was Satyajit Ray’s 92nd birth anniversary. On the occasion the state government announced plans of turning the sites where the iconic filmmaker shot many of his movies – for instance the railway track along Boral, in the city’s southern fringes – into tourist spots. The tourism department said that it is in the process of sending such a proposal to the Centre for approval. Bengal sure needs something like this to gain back some lost honour after the shameful chit fund scandal.

Forecast Faux Pas
On the evening of May 2, a reliable and well-respected television channel (not one of the chit-fund types, mind you) broadcast a little item on the Calcutta weather. Reporting on the soaring mercury, the cameras panned on random people sweating it out in the sweltering heat. It then reported that according to the MET office there was no respite from the heat at least for the next 24 hours as there was no chance of rain. Even as the reporter spoke I could hear the rumble of distant thunder and saw flashes of lightening through my open window, accompanied by strong gusts of wind. I could see it had started drizzling. It didn’t rain hard but the storm raged through the night. Wonder who got it wrong – the MET office or the TV channel? Sure, to err is human, forgive divine, but what if fishermen depended on such a report and went out to sea?

The Saga of Sound
The Bengali movie Shobdo (Sound) directed by Kaushik Ganguly, is an eye (ear?) opener. The protagonist is a cinema technician or a “folio artist” – one of those nameless, faceless entities who work behind the scenes to create sound effects to correspond with the visuals. The uniqueness of the folio artists’ job – to find representations of sounds so that these could be reproduced in the dubbing studio in lieu of the original/actual sound – is explored by Ganguly sensitively as he depicts the artist’s almost thankless but inevitably all-consuming obsession. So Tarak played by Bengali television and film actor Ritwik gradually becomes a victim of sound as he begins inadvertently to dissociate with the rest of his senses. In fact, he subconsciously blocks out all other aspects of this life and is consumed by sound. Perceived in society (his wife seeks the help of a psychiatrist) as a psychological ‘disorder’ he is made to undergo treatment. Ganguly is able to explore this extraordinarily complex theme with a simple and engaging story. And it opens our eyes and ears to the sound effects that accompany visuals in movies. The crackling of the fire for instance is not the original sound of the fire when the movie was being shot but a sound recreated by crinkling up newspapers in front of a microphone in the studio. There are more such fascinating examples — from the sound of pigeons in flight to the sound of footsteps.

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