Soumitra Chatterjee is a maverick genius who dabbled the different streams of performing and creative arts with ease and a rare poise. For six decades he remained a harbinger of hope for Bengalis all around the globe. He was a way of life, a pride in the collective racial identity. Only his mentor Satyajit Ray and the universal gurudev Rabindranath Tagore precede him in adoration and reverence.
But Soumitra Chatterjee was never a star in the glamour sky. He was a daily sustenance in the mundane. Firmly rooted, in his private spaces he was a curious mind free of inhibitions. Silhouette editor Amitava Nag had the privilege of engaging with him in numerous discussions over months and years. Not interviews in the formal sense. But exchanges – of ideas, experiences and reflections.
Blue Pencil is set to release a short and succinct account of those interactions as the book Murmurs: Silent Steals with Soumitra Chatterjee, on 19th January 2021 to celebrate the legend’s 87th birthday..
This is the last episode of the book prior to its release on 19 January 2021.
Today, we are speaking about horizons. Is it a boundary? A limit of expectations, a controlling line of virtues, the threshold of human aspirations and the frontier of our failures?
To me, horizon is where the Sun sets. Horizon is a destination you never reach however steadfastly you walk. It is an outcome that never comes.
‘How do you measure defeat,’ I ask him. He is resting on the wooden sofa with a maroon mattress on it. The physiotherapist has left just a while ago but the smell of ointments and rubber equipment that the shortish man carried with him, lingers.
I don’t like the tubes and machines that plague a human body. The soul remains free, the body is a prison of its own fragmented present. There is a prayer in the body that emanates from the soul – however disparate the two become in the passage from the internal to the external.
I don’t like the tubes and machines that cripple the human soul in order to believe in them. The cold insides of the medical rooms repel sensations, invoke delirium.
There is no horizon ever in sight when you find it difficult to get out of your own, on your own. There are no interruptions, just a tiny shivering slide towards a future that has no surprises left in its hearth.
‘How do you measure defeat,’ I repeat. Slowly this time, and also lowering my voice. Not to wake himup if he is catching up a little-left lethargy of the morning.
He opens his eyes with a narrow slit. With age his eyes have shrunk a bit. Now they look tired, insecure.
‘How long have you been here? It’s just that I feel tired at times and doze off during physiotherapy.’
I assure him that it is what happens to most. I had seen my mother snoring shyly as her therapist used to clamp her with machines for orthopedic care. I myself find it difficult to stay awake when the novice barber massages my head after an elementary haircut.
He gets up, straightens up a bit, yawns without covering his mouth and wipes his glasses. He gets up and settles on the chair he normally sits nowadays, and I move ahead to occupy a spot on the sofa in front of him.
‘Defeat or success – I don’t know actually. The box-office successes were there which did rivet me those days. No more. So, I don’t know how to measure.’
‘Yes, you were a success in the box office. A hero, a star. What about the personal defeats, the failures?’
‘Where does success come from? How do you define it is a question,’ he throws it back to me.
‘I don’t know. I doubt I have been successful in most of the things,’ I suddenly realise a truth about myself.
But I know for sure that security is not a product of long experiences or a mature age. Satisfaction stems security and makes me insecure at the same time. It is frightening to be granted and to have been made room for – not by the virtue of my existence but by the penury of my loathed oblivion.
‘It is difficult Amitava, to be constantly wanting to be someone else in your personal life. But we all do so, don’t we?’ he glances a smile at me as I continue frowning with my confusion till now.
‘There is an over-encompassing nothingness in our forms. That strikes hard at times. The reality of it,’ I murmur.
I try to recollect my mother again. An erudite student, a voracious reader, a grandiose cook that every mother is to their children, a collector of memories. When she passed away in 2013, I had a numb feeling about her for years. As I started remembering her sufferings, her inconsequence, her barren waits for care I have started forgetting her pains.
Cause only remembrances help us forget. It frees us from the prisons of our minds.
I search for the ends of the circle, ride a cyclical path to find them endlessly, start again afresh. I look at him and straighten the horizon. Every time, today, for all these days.
Horizon actually Is the mirage of vanishing doubts, the night-stay of a rising Sun. Horizon is a foot away from where I stood earlier.
Horizon is he lying straight on his sofa waiting to rise, again.
Catherine Berge’s Gaach (The Tree, 1998) is a rare documentary on Soumitra Chatterjee. Silhouette is grateful to Catherine and producer James Ivory for providing permission to make it available to the Silhouette readers.
More to read on Soumitra Chatterjee
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