[PC] Purba Chatterjee, Chandernagore, India.
DAS, Saibal, A picnic at the Anderson Weir, Randia, home video, 1948, 2.37 mins
DAS, Saibal, A Bengali family take up arms in the 1950s, ready to defend the motherland, home video, 1950, 16 sec
DAS, Saibal, Annual Sports Day at Hospital Grounds, home video, 1950, 28 sec
DAS, Saibal, Chandannagar Strand, longer clip, home video, 1950, 50 sec
DAS, Saibal, Chandannagar Strand, shorter clip, home video, 1950, 13 sec
DAS, Saibal, Eglise du sacré Coeur and bicycles, home video, 1950, 21 sec
DAS, Saibal, Independence Day Parade and Buildings around Mairie Park, shorter clip, home video, 1950, 25 sec
DAS, Saibal, Independence Day parade at Mairie Park, longer clip, home video, 1950, 2.03 mins
MUKHERJEE, Srijit (director), Jaatiswar [reincarnation]: A Musical of Memories, a Bengali music drama, 148 mins, 2014.
‘Kavigaan’, the Site of Contact: Re-exploring the Ambivalence of Colonial Encounter in Jaatishwar. Srijit Mukherjee’s Bengali movie, Jaatishwar (reincarnation), is a musical memoir, concentrating on the arrival and settlement of Hensman Antony (1786–1836), a folk artist of Portuguese origin, in colonial Bengal. ‘Antony Firingee’, as he was popularly referred to, refused to be a firingee or foreigner in derogatory terms, showing impeccable strength to resist such demarcation by becoming one of the popular Kaviyaals (folk artists) of his age. The film addresses the ambivalence, dormant in settler-native discourse – while Antony becomes a Kaviyaal, he is also shown as a social outcast, castigated by a section of local Bengali rural community; his world views and actions are held in tension with the conservative outlook of those communities. In the cosmopolitan Calcutta, he had to struggle harder for acceptance; but the enlightened upper-class ambience gives him a scope to display his talent and he eventually succeeds in creating a space for himself. Anthony’s negotiation with this ambivalence of colonial process – rejected by a section of the conservative rural population and at the same time accepted as the Kaviraaj, the lord of Kavigaan, by the most established singer Bhola Moira in a Kavigaan asor (gathering arranged especially for bard’s duel) arranged in the urban atmosphere of Calcutta – is remarkably addressed in his songs. When Antony sings ‘Sosur bari baper bari eki poshak eki besh/ ei desheri chhele ami Firingeero Bangladesh‘ [There is no difference between sosur bari ( house of in laws) and baper bari (paternal home), for both are different sides of the same coin (‘poshak’ and ‘besh’ both mean dress and used here as a metaphor for dwelling – native and adventitious, the idea being how the two distant places integrate) / likewise I belong to India/Bengal, and Bengal/India belongs to me], one unmistakably notes the earnest urge of a settler to belong to the community where he is a guest. Naturally therefore he is shown to be at ease in a distant land: ‘Ei banglay bangalir beshe anondete achi’ [I am perfectly happy in Bengal wearing the Bengali attire]. Srijit Mukherjee’s film presents Anthony as a de-anglicized Westerner, who gives up his Western clothes for a typical Bengali one. Jaatishwar thus overturns the imperial assumption of the West to look down upon the East as exotic, strange and unfamiliar by indigenising the Westerner. As he decides to settle down, he also endeavours to master the local language. He has no hidden agenda to dismantle the native’s house with the native’s tool; rather he believes that a culture and its language are interminably connected, and so learning one and leaving out the other would only be a half-learning. His sincere efforts got the recognition they deserved as he eventually began composing songs in the local language. He relished the wide repertoire of the music of Bengal with diverse flavours including bhaktigiti (devotional songs), folk songs, classical Bengali music, colloquial version of music from kavigaan asor (Bard’s Duel), songs of troubadours and collected bits and scraps from everywhere, his identity emerging to be a fascinating collage of musical memories.
The main storyline in the film is well complemented by the movie’s co-plot – the love story of a Gujarati (born and brought up in Kolkata) research scholar, Rohit Mehta, whose unrequited love for a fervent Bengali nationalist and feminist RJ, Mahamaya, makes him learn and compose in the language –thus enhancing his own narrative. In fact, the film is strategically set between two shifting time-frames – 19th century and the present—as it not only helps to propel the two plots forward, one captured through the tattered memory of a fictional reincarnation of Anthony and the other through the attempts of a research scholar who chose Anthony’s life and music as his dissertation topic under some Indo-Portuguese university exchange programmes, but also essentially captures the transnational nature of Anthony and his narrative. Interestingly enough, it is the love for Bengali song that connects the apparently disjointed plots. Anthony’s journey through the labyrinthine paths of a foreign culture following his ecstatic passion and the ultimate recognition he got coalesces with Rohit’s voyage across the emotional turbulence of his life, as if he is following the footprints of a progenitor. The two plots develop in the same pace, one clasping hand with the other, Anthony’s promenade existing as a trace for Rohit.
The addiction towards music of all forms, however, was something with which Anthony was born, something which inevitably made him an outcast in his own trading family. His unflinching dedication to melody compelled him to leave his kith and kin and come to Farashdanga (now Chandannagar). He always harboured an intense desire to be one among the natives and so during his first days, he is shown enchanting a group of native enthusiasts circling him, with his sweet tunes from the far away land of Portugal. As it crosses the binaries of colonised/coloniser politics, it is music that systematically tends to unite the warring sides in Jaatishwar . No wonder Srijit Mukherjee includes within the primary narrative the early 19th century Bengali musical tradition when Kavigan (literally the songs of poets) reached its pinnacle of popularity.
It is Kavigan which becomes the contact zone in the movie. It is significant that Kavigan is a dialogic form of performing folk songs engaging two or more groups. In Kavigan, consisting of usually two competing groups, kaviyaals or sarkars were the chief song-smiths and the accompanying singers were known as dohar whose task lied in playing instruments and repeating the catchy refrains in a duel. Kavigan became the dominant form of musical expression in Bengal in the late 18th century, patronised by the wealthy zamindars and Rajas who arranged asor or jalsa (Jalsa is a synonym for asor, both meaning a gathering where people perform recitation, songs and dance)in the domestic sacred performance space (thakurdalan) to celebrate auspicious occasions. Long before the arrival of Anthony in Bengal more specifically in Farashdanga [Chandannagar], both kavigan and kaviyals wove the narrative of voice and texts, that are fundamentally Bengali in origin and practice. Conventionally, Kavigan is composed of five stages – Bhabani Bishayak (Goddess Durga being the subject of the lyrics), Sakhi Sangbad (Stories of Radha and Krishna), Biraha (sad love songs from the lives of common people), Kheur (frivolous lyrics revolving on affairs of gods and goddesses, sometimes scurrilous) and Lahar (personal verbal attack). The final stage of Lahar is the most deciding one, a slippery zone turning the fate of the kaviyal (lead singer) upside down, while the rest of the five are just preludes.
In Jaatishwar, Anthony’s first invited visit to a concert of Kavigan is at Shobhabazar Rajbari (now in Kolkata), as a guest of Raja Gopimohan Deb, was an occasion which was to change the course of his life. In the musical exchange of the two groups of poets – Haru Thakur on one side and Nilu Thakur, Bhabani Bene on the other – Anthony found a new vista to explore his musical passion, but for a Portuguese to want not only to speak in native tongue but also to compose lyrics for songs ranging from devotional to colloquial, was a Sisyphean task. The songs of the Bengal tradition at that time were deeply rooted in Baishnab Shakto Padabali, which is a verse form containing conversational lyrics between Radha and Krishna (Hindu God and Goddess) centring on the stories of their courtship, love and languish. Anthony started learning the philosophies of the East by acquiring Sanskrit and immersing himself in religious texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Upa-puranas along with roaming from places to places in the lure of all forms of folk music – jhumur, panchali, bhaoaiya, baul and many more. At this pivotal crossroads of his life Anthony met Gorokkhonath who used to work as bandhondar (lyricist for a singer-poet), the helping mate for poets in the crisis of creativity. Together they formed an amateur group (dnarakobi used to be the Bengali term for such a group and it was essential for a Kaviyaal to form a dnarakobi) and Anthony’s voice was ready to enter the discursive grand narrative. It is to be noted that Anthony’s success in the primary stage owes much to the contribution of this Indian lyricist (Bengali language) and this explains his difference in temperament from the other dominant cultural representatives in the movie.
Beyond all the songs he composed and the melody he created, his expansive philosophy transmitted a kind of aura obliterating binaries. Anthony achieved the apex of fame and appreciation in a duel with Bhola Moyra arranged during the Durga Pujas (the most popular festival among Bengalis, the heart of Bengali culture). Bhola was one of the pioneering Kaviyals prized for his ability to spontaneously coin charismatic phrases and defeating him therefore was difficult. The musical conversation from the lahar stage of Kavigan between Bhola and Anthony, extracted from the film, is illuminating in the way how Anthony was treated as an over-ambitious marginal entity even after adopting the culture and language of Bengal wholeheartedly. Anthony’s prompt yet thoughtful reply reveals the complete transformation he underwent. Anthony’s identity was hybridized and marginalised from the perspective of the people desperately clinging to the centre which itself lost its validity when the voice of a foreigner became inseparably united with Indian ones, even in accents and intonations. To Bhola’s taunts — “Tui jaat firingee, jabarjangi/ toke parbo na to twrate/ son re bhroshto, boli spashto/ tui re nashto, mahadushto/ bhajge ja tui Jishu Khrishto/ Seeramporer girja te” [You are a foreigner, an upstart crow/ You have forsaken your religion/ You are rotten and wicked/ Why don’t you go and worship Christ at the church of Seerampore?], comes Anthony’s fitting rejoinder “Krishte ar Christe kichu tafat nai re bhai/ Sudhu namer fere manus fere…./ Amar khoda je, Hindur Hari se.…” [There is no difference between Krishna and Christ….Man is lost in the maze of names….My Allah and your Krishna are one….]. Anthony’s catholic ideas mesmerized his opponent, so much so that Bhola accepted Anthony as Kaviraaj (‘raj not as ruler but as superior proponent of song) greeting him with his own garland. He further adds ‘Amar khoda je Hindur Hari se’ [my Allah and Hindu’s Hari are similar]. More than preaching communal harmony, Antony tries to liberate the Kavi clan from their narrow, selfish perception of a firingee. Truly, Jaatishwar offers a fresh perspective to colonial discourse where the settler tries to find a link among diverse religions through song. Aptly the lyricist, Kabir Suman, writes in one of the intense songs from the movie “Khudar Kasam Jaan” [In the name of Allah, my love]: ‘Girjar Ghontay mile jawa bhorer ajan..’ [The Church bells mingle with the morning prayer (ajan) for Allah]. Overlooking the religious divide, Anthony finally asserts the value of a common humanity above anything else.
These laurels, however, are counter-balanced by the disturbing twist in Anthony’s personal life. His failure to create a ‘third way’ becomes evident towards the end of the movie. His appreciation and acceptance within the cultural frame cannot rescue him from the blind conservatism of the rural populace. The huge hiatus between the enlightened and the intolerant people are obvious by the time he reaches his home, at the outskirts of Farashdanga (Chandannagar). The puritan, moralist, rural society that never accepted Anthony’s voice against sati and always considered his marriage with Soudamini, the Brahmin-widow as a transgression, sets his house on fire, leaving him a deranged man, guilt-ridden and self-blaming for Soudamini’s death. The limitation of cultural interaction is stressed as Anthony Firingee, the song-poet whose devotional Agomoni songs ( songs sung to welcome Goddess Durga) are eternally valued, lost his everything to a retribution inflicted on him by the rural people for worshipping the idol of Goddess Durga in his courtyard.
The Bengali word Jatiswaar means a reincarnation, somebody who remembers his past life, a figure in transition, trapped in between a half-forgotten past and an out-of-the-place present. In the film Kushal Hazra, through the lens of whose memory the life and times of Anthony are viewed in glimpses, suffers from a split-personality disorder, he being reborn with the memory of a past where he left a commitment unfulfilled. The film is shot in many locations in Chandannagar – the Strand, in front of the Sacred Heart Church, including Central library and the crowded market place. Srijit’s narrative essentially talks about a Chandannagar (Farashdanga) from the pages of history expanding throughout the late 18th to the early 19th century during the Governor-Generalship of Lord Cornwallis and later. The film itself stands as a reincarnation of a musical past of Chandannagar, a city which was established as a French trading post in 1763, and which could not shake off the memories of a French past. It exists as a palimpsest of a European heritage in India that is never really lost.
Antara Mukherjee and Sayantani Chakraborti
Chandernagore, the ‘Blossoming Flower-Garden’: Colonial footprints on Native Soil.
ADDHYA, Akshay Kumar, Hooghly Chuchurar Nana Kotha (Various Aspects of Hooghly Chinsurah), Vol 1, Hooghly: Hooghly Samvad, 2005, 215 pp.
MAJUMDAR, Subhendu. ডুপ্লে কলেজ থেকে চন্দননগর কলেজঃ একটি ঐতিহাসিক পরিক্রমা (From Dupleix College to Chandernagore College: A Historical Journey). Chandernagore: n.pub, 2006. 67pp.
Indo-French Educational Connections: Chandernagore College, Then and Now. Chandernagore College had its origin probably in a free primary school established in 1835, known popularly as Piru Saheb-er School [The School of Mr. Piru]. Initially, the school was partly funded by the French Indian Government at Pondicherry and partly relied on generous contributions from private individuals. Originally it was located on the south-west of Fort de Orleans, by the Grand Trunk Road (then known as Rue de Paris). M. Piru, however, was only a teacher in the school, which was headed by M. Rissy (due to which the school has also been called by some as Rissy Saheb-er School [The School of M. Rissy]. In the opinion of Sri Hari Har Sett, who became the first President of the Free City, as well as others, it was this school which later came up at Rue General Martin (later Rue Barabazar), and was taken over and re-established by Rev. Fr. Magloire Barthet, a Jesuit priest of the order of Frères du Saint Esprit, who is also credited with founding the Sacred Heart Church, into St. Mary’s Institution/ Ecole de Sainte Marie in 1862. Like its predecessor, St. Mary’s Institution, too, was a free primary school, Ecole Elémentaire, with French as the medium of instruction in place of English. However, due to the pressing need for English education, an English section was opened alongside the earlier French section in 1872. As per necessity, arrangements were made with the British government to let the students of the English section of St. Mary’s Institution appear for the Entrance examination under the University of Calcutta. When St. Mary’s Institution was handed over to the French Indian Government on December 15, 1887 by the missionaries, the institution was secularised and came to be known as ‘Ecole Publique de garçons’ [Boys’ Public School]. The school formally begin its journey as a college only in 1891 and was affiliated to the University of Calcutta for Intermediate classes up to the First Arts (F.A.) standard. Students of the institution first appeared for the F.A. Examinations in 1893, with three students passing in the second division and three passing in the third division.
The second phase: Collège Dupleix.
In 1901, ‘Ecole Publique de garçons’ was renamed ‘Collège Dupleix’ by an order from the French Indian Government, in memory of Joseph François Dupleix. The College then had, apart from Intermediate classes, an English school section teaching up to the Matriculation standard of the University of Calcutta and a French section teaching up to the standard of ‘Brevet Elémentaire’ of the French curriculum. In terms of administration, the College followed the Directorial system, with a Director and a Sub-Director for both the school and the College sections. The institution was placed under the control of the ‘Chef du Service de l’Instruction publique’ (Director of Public Instruction). The College had the following Directors from its affiliation in 1891 to its shutdown in 1908, namely M. De Larue, M. J. F. Duillo, M. Sirot, M. F. Decosta and M. Poudens. In 1893 the eminent Indian revolutionary Sri Charu Chandra Roy was appointed as a Professor of English in the institution. A member (later President) of the revolutionary group Bandhav Sammilani at Gondalpara, Sri Roy was led into the mainstream of revolutionary activities by Barindra Kumar Ghose, brother of Aurobindo Ghose. He was, for a long time, the Sub-Director (and the Director for a short while in 1903) of the College and was widely popular. His fervent patriotism, towering personality, depth of knowledge and selfless love for students made him an admirable figure among the young ones. It was he who was largely responsible for the emergence of the College as among the epicentres of revolutionary activities that followed the Partition of Bengal in 1905. Among his students were eminent revolutionaries like Upendranath Bandopadhyay, Narendranath Bandopadhyay, Rash Behari Bose, Srish Chandra Ghosh, Dr. Nagendranath Ghosh, Kanailal Dutta and Manindranath Nayek. It was this group of revolutionaries- known infamously as the ‘Chandernagore gang’ in the report of Charles Tegart on the revolutionary activities in Bengal in 1913 – that was involved in a number of activities such as the spread of Swadeshi and boycott in Chandernagore, the obtaining of arms from France and supplying them to various revolutionary groups, the attempt to blast the train of Andrew Fraser at Mankundu, the supply of arms at Alipore Jail, Kolkata, for the murder of the treacherous Naren Goswami by Kanailal Dutta, the attempt at the life of M. Tardival, the Mayor of Chandernagore and finally the granting of shelter to Aurobindo Ghose; however, there is hardly any documented evidence to trace whether the College campus was used as a centre for revolutionary activities or not. The ever-increasing participation of the students and the youth of Chandernagore in the anti-British revolutionary activities alarmed the British rulers. In 1908 Charu Chandra Roy was arrested by the British police due to alleged involvement in the Maniktala bomb conspiracy case. The year also saw the historical shutdown of Collège Dupleix on account of its role in the spread of revolutionary activities. Although official records stated that college classes were abolished due to lack of students, it was evident that the French government had been under pressure from the British; Prof. Sudhangshu Sekhar Dutta, opines that the French Indian Government found it difficult to continue the Intermediate classes attached to Collège Dupleix, and ultimately had to abolish them in the year 1908.
The third phase: re-establishment, Sett, Roy and the world wars.
Collège Dupleix, thus abolished by the French Indian Government, remained closed for a period of 23 years. However, efforts were made towards the end of 1917 by Sri Hari Har Sett who promised to bear all costs for two successive years for the maintenance of the College if the College was re-established. Although M. Martineau, the then Governor of French India, agreed to this proposal and issued an decree dated July 27, 1918 to this effect, it did not come into effect, as the new Governor, M. Gerbinis, was not in favour of spreading English education. The efforts of Sri Narayan Chandra De, the then Mayor of the city of Chandernagore, too, turned futile as the grants which he had promised on behalf of the Municipality was considered inadequate by the ‘Conseil Général’ (General Council) of French India; thus from the year 1908 till 1930, Chandernagore could only look forward to and rely on the mercy of Hooghly College for imparting higher education to her children.
The first successful lead in the matter, however, was given by Sri Charu Chandra Roy, the then Mayor of Chandernagore as well as a member of the Conseil Général. Sri Roy, aided by M. Champion, the then Administrator of Chandernagore, was able to bring home to the French Indian Government the dire necessity of reinstating the abolished College-classes in Chandernagore, and the latter ultimately had to yield to the popular demand voiced through him as well as many others. In 1931 the new Governor of French India, M. Adrien Juvanon, granted Rs. 6000/- for the re-establishment of the College. Rs. 4000/- was granted by Charu Chandra Roy on behalf of the Municipality, as promised earlier, and the long-closed College Dupleix was finally re-established as ‘Collège Dupleix – Cours Intermédiat’ on July 4, 1931. The College, on its re-establishment, was kept on an experimental basis from 1931 to 1939. The University curriculum, meanwhile, had undergone radical changes, with the setting up of different faculties of Arts and Science. The College was, therefore, affiliated to the I.A. and I.Sc. standard of the University of Calcutta, and was started in Somerset House, a rented house on the south of the Kuthir Math. In 1932, M.J. Buffard, the teacher of French was temporarily appointed the Principal of the college.The laboratory equipment and library of the College were in a deplorable state. For this purpose, Sri Charu Chandra Roy secured donation of valuable books from a number of benevolent gentlemen of Chandernagore. While M. V. Champion and M. Lehureux donated collections of French Books, Sri Panchanon Banerjee of Gondalpara, Sri Satyakishore Banerjee of Telenipara, Sri Phatiklal Das,Ex-Director of the college, donated valuable books on History, English literature and Sanskrit respectively. During this year 120 students were admitted; 84 in the First year and 36 in the Second year. The institution was placed under the direct control of Governor of the French India, and was financed by the French Indian Government which realised an annual grant from the local Municipality for the purpose. In October, 1933, Sri Dhirendranath Mukherjee, the Professor of Mathematics, was appointed the Principal of the College. From 1933 to 1938, every year the College ran the risk of being abolished. It was mainly due to the efforts of Sri Mukherjee, together with the tireless efforts of Sri Charu Chandra Roy and Sri Sadhucharan Mukherjee (both elected members of the Conseil Général), that such an unpleasant consequence was averted, and a permanent status was finally given to the College by an decree dated June 2, 1938. The College now came to be known as ‘Collège Dupleix- Section d’Etudes Supérieures Franco-Anglaise de Chandernagor’.
The College came under the Public Instruction Department of the French Indian Government and the service of the College staff was regularised. In order to separate the College from the school section, a decree issued by the Chef du Service de l’Instruction publique in 1945 changed the name of the College to ‘Collège de Bussy’, after the French general de Bussy. The wide popularity of the College due to the brilliant instruction and University results now called for degree courses. Due to the efforts of Prof. Sudhangshu Sekhar Dutta, who was also a member of the Representative Assembly at Pondicherry, degree courses were introduced in the college in the year 1947-48 in English, Bengali, Sanskrit, Philosophy, History and Mathematics, together with the introduction of Honours courses in English and French. The tutorial staff was strengthened by fresh recruitment and the library was enlarged to meet the growing demand.
The Present: Chandernagore College, the free city and beyond.
In 1948 the city of Chandernagore was declared a free city (ville libre). The administrative council of the Free City was intent on the development of higher education and thus concentrated on the expansion of the college. In 1948, the College de Bussy was renamed Chandernagore College by virtue of an administrative order which also caused the junior section of the college to be named Kanailal Vidyamandir, after the famous revolutionary and martyr Kanailal Dutta. On 2nd May 1950, Chandernagore was included in the Union of India as a Union Territory, before being included in the state of West Bengal on 2 October in the same year. The responsibility of the college, too, went in the hands of the Government of West Bengal in 1954, following the recommendations of the Jha Committee, article XIV, which stated that the maintenance of Chandernagore College should be the responsibility of the State Government. Since then, it has flourished profoundly. Presently, Changernagore College is affiliated to the University of Burdwan and has been considered equipped enough to run a postgraduate degree course in French. This has been one of the missions set during the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1981. Interestingly enough, the joint efforts of the French and the Bengalis, which contributed to the advancement of the institution, is, perhaps, best reflected in the successful commencement of postgraduate courses both in Bengali and French. This institution is in a position to set up a language lab, for four languages (French, English, Bengali and Sanskrit) are being taught here.
The college is a historical monument, bearing testimony to the collaborative efforts of the French and the Indians (Bengalis, to be specific) in colonial Hooghly. It reflects how amicable relationship between the settler and the native could ultimately pave way to the development of education in colonial Chandernagore. The efforts of Rissy and Piru, the missionary zeal of Father Barthet, the untiring attempts of Harihar Sett and Charu Chandra Roy and the immense contribution of Prof. Kalicharan Karmakar reflected the Indo-French cultural and educational ties in colonial Chandernagore. Still popularly known as ‘Dupleix College’, Chandernagore College bears the memory of French Governor-General Dupleix, as it had borne the name of de Bussy, in whom the people of Chandernagore had once found their spirit of patriotism, liberty and hatred against the British.
Antara Mukherjee and Arcaprova Raychaudhury
BASU, Sitis Chandra. ‘A Brief History of Chandernagore College’. Chandernagore: n.pub, 1955.
DATTA, Sudhangshu Sekhar.’Our College’.Chandernagore: n.pub, 1955. 23pp.
MAJUMDAR, Subhendu. ডুপ্লে কলেজ থেকে চন্দননগর কলেজঃ একটি ঐতিহাসিক পরিক্রমা (From Dupleix College to Chandernagore College: A Historical Journey).Chandernagore: n.pub, 2006. 67pp.
SAMANTA, Basanta Kumar. চন্দননগর কলেজের সংক্ষিপ্ত ইতিহাস (১৮৬২-১৯৮১) ‘A Concise History of Chandernagore College 1862-1981’. (Golden Jubilee Volume, Chandernagore College). Chandernagore: n.pub, 1981. 52pp.