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A Taxi Tête-à-Tête with Sankar

August 9, 2015 | By

A sweet memory of a sharing a taxi ride with Sankar, writer of the famed novels Kato Ajanare, Chowringhee, Jana Aranya, Seemabaddha and others.

Dalhousie Square

The majestic Dalhousie Square
(Pic courtesy: Biswarup Ganguly, Wikimedia)

Once I hailed for a Taxi at Park Street and reached the door, but from other side two other men opened the door as well claiming they called too, I just asked where they were headed, they said, “Paradise cinema’r saamne.”

I said, “Fine. I will drop you. I need to go to Dalhousie.”

As we sat in I took the front seat and let them have the rear. They started conversing, in Bengali about Ray’s Jana Aranya. After listening for a few minutes I asked them how they were so intimately connected, as I had seen the film too.

“Well,” one of the gentlemen said. “I am the writer of the film.”

I almost shouted in excitement, “Are you Sankar?” He said he was.

I told him I was his huge fan and read all his novels, though I was reading the translations in Hindi.  So we started talking.

We talked about the film and his novel and I told him I had found the novel more impressive than the film. He smiled. He asked me to pick one favourite from his novels. I chose Chowringhee as the most engrossing. Again, I said the cinema did not do justice to it either. We then spoke about how close the translations were. I said I have read in Bengali as well, just that my flow was better maintained in Hindi.

He said I could meet him again at his CESC office, drop in for coffee with him. I did meet him two more times at his office. But aah… that’s another story.

About Shankar: 

Sankar (Pic courtesy: The Hindu)

(Pic courtesy: The Hindu)

Sankar (Mani Sankar Mukherjee) is one of the most celebrated novelists of Bengal. His first novel Kato Ajanare became a best seller.  He followed it up with a sequel, a path-breaking novel Chowringhee (published in 1962), which is now considered the first novel in world literature that closely observes the murky world in the interiors of a luxury hotel, predating Arthur Hailey’s Hotel by three years. Chowringhee was later made into a popular movie by the same name in 1968 with a topline starcast led by Uttam Kumar. Two of his other books, Seemabaddha (Company Limited) and Jana Aranya (The Middleman) had the accolade of being filmed by the legendary Satyajit Ray. Shankar has written several best sellers and collections of short stories.

More to read in Musings
‘Your Voice is Breaking!’
Appreciating Human Foibles Like None Other
Saviour Teachers

A review of Chowringhee in The Guardian

Renowned books by Sankar – The Great Unknown (Kato Ajanare), Chowringhee, Thackeray Mansion (these 3 novels form a trilogy), Jano Aranya and Seemabaddha

Consulting Editor Learning and Creativity and Silhouette Magazine. To talk of a few passions of Peeyush, one must start with music. He is known to be a collector of music and information pertaining to Indian cinema (majorly Hindi) spanning a period from early 1930s to 1980s. He has a large collection of Bengali and Punjabi music and material as well. He also boasts of a huge library of related material. Peeyush has delivered talks and lectures on music appreciation, contributed write ups in numerous news papers and magazines. He has co-authored a tribute publication on Anil Biswas. He has co-hosted radio talk shows on music and met and interviewed a number of personalities. Occasionally, he delivers talks even now. Peeyush has been the founder secretary of the prestigious, Vintage Hindi Music Lovers Association in Bangalore that honored Anil Biswas in 1985. He is known as a storehouse of old Hindi music and information regarding music and movies. Peeyush is well read in Vedic culture and literature and is invited in various centers to deliver enlightening lectures on Vedic values. His range spans from four Vedas to Upanishads and Darshans as well as Bhagvad Gita. He has delivered talks on Yog Darshan in Yoga schools and large gatherings. He currently lives in Oshawa, Ontario in Canada.
All Posts of Peeyush Sharma

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3 thoughts on “A Taxi Tête-à-Tête with Sankar

  • Antara

    Peeyush da,

    Chowringhee is indeed the most engrossing novel. It is my all time favorite novel. I completely agree with you – the film fell miles short of the book. Uttam Kumar was perfect and so was Shubhendu, Utpal Dutt, Bhanu, Anjana Bhowmick and Deepti Roy.

    Well said Sayan, truly, no one can do a Sayta Bose like Uttam. Also Shubhendu fits Sankar to a T – the typical, inhibited, shy, sensitive and yet educated otee bhadralok – Shubhendu has that written on his face and bearing. Deepti Roy with her impressive personality is the perfect Mrs Pakrashi, Bhanu the golden hearted laundry keeper and no one can do Marco Polo better than Utpal Dutt.

    The people who pulled the film down completely were Surpriya Devi (Karabi Guha ) and Biswajit – this pair undid the entire good work in the film. Besides the film left out many crucial elements in the novel which should have been woven into the script. Pity it could have been a classic but is let down badly because it also does have some great music.

    The one line of Chowringhee that I will never forget and I quote often which loosely translated means – when one is alone with oneself, one thinks of what I have gained and what I have lost. More so, one thinks of what I gained and then lost.
    So true.


    I don’t know if you remember, the film Chowringhee we had seen as kids – it was screened in the local Bengali club Vivekananda Vihar to raise funds for the club library and you and I and two other kids had gone around selling tickets for the show to all the Mashis and Kakus of our colony. The impact hadn’t been all that much.

    But when I read the novel in college, it just blew me off. An immediate comparison had been with Arthur Hailey’s Hotel but I found Chowringhee more deeper and richer in terms of human relationships, plot and narrative. Hotel fares no where close.

    Jana Aranya and Seemabaddha of Sankar and the films made by Satyajit Ray are not comparable. Ray has his own style and objective. He seems to have borrowed the theme content. The films are very different from the novel.

  • Peeyush Sharma

    In finality, while Jana Aranya the novel is intriguing and revealing of its times, the film leaves a bad taste in your mouth. May be Ray wanted it to be very sharp, but that was not Shankar’s intent. One feels like repeating the novel, but I am hesitant to watch the film again.

  • Antara

    Peeyush da,

    I look at the novel and the film differently. If we look at Jana Aranya as Ray’s stinging comment on the moral decay of society, it stands tall as a film not only in terms of its social context but also in terms of the craft of filmmaking. Compared to Sankar’s novel, the film is similar only in the social context. Ray keeps the focus sharply on Somnath whereas in the novel as far as I can remember Sukumar has an equally powerful role and his personal struggles, frustrations and his disillusionment with the society is greater than Somnath’s.

    Sukumar’s sister Kauna too has a much bigger and better spaced out role in the novel than the smaller but impactful role in the film. Sankar had a much larger canvas to paint, Ray concised it to pin point precision.

    In terms of the technique of filmmaking Jana Aranya is a masterpiece… the dash of humor in this very dark film is also something you remember after the film has ended.

    I can watch the film and read the novel multiple times – every time I would find something new in both. 🙂

    ~ Antara

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