Somanjana Chatterjee reports about a unique NRB initiative in the United States that helps socio-culturally inclined Bengalis to bond on the worldwide web
A few vibrant young men and women once got together to indulge in a progressive initiative. They blended technology with cultural consciousness, and thus emerged one of the very first platforms for Bengali interaction on the worldwide web. It was called soc.culture.bengali. All the core members of this group were born in India, but were living in different parts of the United States like Massachusetts, Ohio, California and New Jersey. Their academic backgrounds were in engineering and sciences. Some of them were graduate students, and some professionals.
They used to write in “Banglish” – a unique combination of Bengali and English -- soc.culture.bengali. The first “Bengali” novel was published, rather posted, in easy installments, in that forum. It was in “Banglish”, too. Titled “Rahuler Diary Theke”, it was written by one Indranil Dasgupta.
A few of the group members came up with the idea of a webzine. And voila! Parabaas was born 14 years ago.
The vision was to promote Bengali language, literature and culture through the then new age medium of internet since the absence of Bengali writings, in Bengali script, was in dire need of a course correction. At the same time, they wanted the magazine to be accessible to all, not just computer-savvy folks. Parabaas was the first webzine, claims chief-editor Samir Bhattacharya, which could be read by anyone online without having to download any special font. This principle of universal reach required them at that time to actually display the pages as images. Paramita Das wrote about it in the second issue of Parabaas when several readers wanted to know about it. Later, when dynamic font became available, they moved from this process to one where the necessary font could be downloaded automatically, again, at least in principle, without the user requiring to do anything. Dasgupta created Parabaas Axar, a Bengali word processor, and they made it available free — it can be downloaded from the web site’s home page even now. It was used for about 10 years. In the beginning, the Parabaasis received feedback from many who used it to write in Bengali in emails to their parents or grandparents back home. In fact, from the current, 48th issue of Parabaas, they have moved to the unicode platform, which would make it even easier for all to both read and write in Bengali in the electronic medium. So, in a way, the evolution of Parabaas embodies the evolution of internet as it relates to rendering Bangla script.
Bhattacharya says, “Other than making Bengali a ‘valid’ medium of communication on internet, we wanted to have fun in publishing what we felt was a good quality webzine. We had been always aware of the subjective nature of what can be considered as “good”. We did not feel that we were duty-bound, to do anything. In my opinion, an eclectic mix of genres would be preferable, and we were not concerned that we be considered to belong to a specific category, say, either a “little mag” or a “commercial mag” or whatever”.
At present, Parabaas has expanded the scope to include several sections, one for translations into English and several bilingual ones, on Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Buddhadeb Bose and recently added a section on poet Shakti Chattopadhyay. Parabaas is referenced more on reputed journals and publications. Some recent anthologies include large number of articles from Parabaas. It is interesting that Parabaas has been noted, without its patrons being acutely aware, by the academics—as an expression of rebellion against the hegemony of English as a lingua-franca of web very early.
On asking about interesting writings on Parabaas in recent times, Bhattacharya mentions that in terms of genre, he is personally fond of the first true Bengali crossword, along with some interesting features on linguistics and related topics.
He would like to think that their archive now contains several good articles in various categories. May be some “Selections from Parabaas” could be printed as a standalone publication. However, resource (both time and money) is an issue with them.
Then again, what about Non-residential Bengali (NRB) writers in the US?
“Quite a few of our authors are of that category—and very good ones. Again, we do not want to be confined to a specific category like NRB or RB (Residential Bengalis) ---though it sounds like a cliché, it is true that we are in a global village. And that has been going on for a while. Who would know that Raj Kahini by Abanindranath Tagore was inspired by a Scandinavian folk tale. I hope when it is translated into English, the translator/publisher will not drop the original acknowledgement by Ababnindranath to that influence in the early prints of the book,” he says.
By looking into the in-depth knowledge-oriented content and professional look and feel, one wouldn’t know that Parabaas did not even have a mode of regular financing until they started the online Book Store recently. Initially, they used to fund it out of their own pockets. The revenue generated from the bookstore goes completely to publish Parabaas. Many help them with donations, which is very inspiring. They have started doing some charity work out of these. A click on the “Friends of Parabaas” button would give an idea about it.
It’s fascinating how this Bengali webzine has been functioning for 14 years just on the basis of committed volunteer work with team-members who haven’t even met face-to-face. There are dedicated group of illustrators, who had been helping them from the beginning. Also, there are many core Parabaasis who help from selection of articles to developing and writing the codes. And all their service is on a voluntary basis.
Parabaasis are hopeful that if they get some more volunteers willing to help, they can try several ways to further enrich and make the webzine more interesting, and again, it is not just for American readers but the world at large — but they are in a way, constrained by lack of both time and resources.
We wish success and outreach for this wonderful online magazine that strives to keep the Bengali ‘adda’ alive on the worldwide web
Cultural exuberance is wafting across West Bengal eliciting fervent tourism. Ratnadeep Banerji shares some vignettes of this rhapsody that enticed 11 nations in the days of yore.
Bengal is imbued with art and culture. The Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee herself is a poet, painter and writer proving herself an embodiment of the state. The state is ideal for tourism from both its cultural legacy as well as geographical bounty. The government initiatives on the tourism front live up to the Chief Minister's apperception.
A robust infrastructure for tourism is on the cards. In the current fiscal year, Bengal has earmarked 120 crores for tourism sector, 33 percent more than last year’s tourism budget. The Tourism Minister of West Bengal, KN Choudhury stresses, ‘There is need to adopt pro-poor tourism for accruing the benefits to the poor and ensuring that tourism growth contributes to poverty reduction.’
West Bengal verily bears imprint of the plurality of Indian subcontinent, be it ethnicity, geographical variation or cultural. Bengali population comprises of Dravidian, Aryan and Mongoloid races. Stretching from the arid Chhotanagpur plateau region in the west, lofty Himalayas in the north, pristine sea beaches and a skein of rivers makes it an exalted conflation to intrepid travellers be it for discerning history or lapping up nature or partake the gaiety of festivals.
Cruising to explore heritage
The lower stretch of Ganga for centuries has beckoned adventurers. The list includes Persians, Turko Afghans, Europeans, Portuguese, Dutch French, Danes, Germans, Austrians, Armenians and finally the British.
West Bengal has several pilgrimage sites that can be anticipated through the river. Places like Mayapur and Dakhineswar can be approached while savouring riparian delights. The Sunderban area offers a prolific spot to bring up Jungle Safari cruise though some narrow creeks and shallow waters have to be left out. But care should be taken that the sound level does not perturb the fauna and the tranquility of the placid waters. The circuit starts from Kolkata passing through tidal creeks touching upon Namkhana, Bakkhali, Lothian Island, Henry Island, Bhagabatpur, Netidhopani, Dorbanki and retreating from Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve. The Kolkata Heritage River Cruise - The circuit starts with sailing downstream from Kolkata and proceeding up to Murshidabad. This entire riverine stretch redeems Muslim, Hindu and European architecture and culture of the bygone days.
Tea Tourism at Sylee
The Sylee Tea Estate in the dooars is crisscrossed with rivulets, rivers, hills and verdant tree plantation. The area is excellent for bird watching and catching a glimpse of one-horn rhino. The Tourism Department has acquired a land of around 90 acres,intended to be developed through a public private partnership. An areaof 2.5 acres has been set aside for art and craft centre. The plot is located 47 km from Siliguri and 62 kms from Bagdogra.
Eco Tourism at Kunjanagar
This project with the existing dense forest areas and children's park is planned 26 km from Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and 71 km from Gorumara Wildlife Sanctuary. This region has a throbbing presence of Mech, Rava, Nepalese, Tamang and Toto tribe of people.
This site is proposed within Hilly block of South Dinajpur. Over twenty seven different varieties of migratory avian species throng this area. Asian open bill storks, egrets, little green bee eater, barbets, night herons and peregrine falcons are some of them. Bird watching rides will be provided by manually operated country boats. Provisions for bird rescue shelter, watchtower, bird museum and canopy walk amidst the habitat is also planned. Besides, tourists may be provided glimpses of the Santhal and Oraon tribal dance shows and home stay arrangements with the tribal.
The Jharkhali tourism hub in Sundarban
India has 38% of Sunderban delta, the biggest in the world, reckoned as world heritage site owing to exceptional biodiversity of the region. The Indian part has approximately 4264sqkms. Jharkhali is the gateway to Sunderban. It is situated at the edge of the reserve forest area surrounded by River Matla, Vidyadhari and Herobhanga. The tourism department has over 100 acres to be developed as a tourism hub. This proposed site is 110 kms from Kolkata, located on the fringes of forest area adjacent to the proposed Tiger Rescue Centre.
The creeks of Sundarbans host estuarine crocodile, Salvator lizard (water monitor), river terrapin, horseshoe or king crab and varieties of turtles - olive Ridley turtles, green turtles and Hawk's bill turtles. The world's largest mangrove forest is also the bastion of the royal Bengal tiger.
Watersports on the beaches
The coastal strip of West Bengal extending from the Gangetic delta land to the border of Orissa, presents idyllic choice of sea resorts. Digha, Shankarpur, Mandarmani, Bakkhali, Gangasagar, Sagardwip and
Tajpur offer flat beaches. Water skiing and some other watersports are available at these centres. The Government of West Bengal is roping in public private partnership to tap the available potential.
Gajoldoba Tourism Hub
Gajoldoba is located in the Dooars of North Bengal covering over 208 acres of unencumbered land. The Gajoldoba Tourism Hub is being structured as an integrated multi-product mega tourism park. The project site is a part of the terai-dooars forest circuit giving the tourist an opportunity to visit a range of the best of wildlife parks in the country. As many as 7 wildlife parks fall around its ambit - Gorumara National Park, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Baikunthapur Forest and the Neora Valley. The project is poised between the Teesta Barrage and the Baikunthapur Forest offering splendid view of the Sikkim Hills.
This site is only 25 km from Siliguri, the second largest city in West Bengal and stands right at the entry to the northeastern states as well as falls adjacent to Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. From Gajoldoba Tourism Hub, New Jalpaiguri is just 18 km and Bagdogra Airport falls 40 km away.
The masterplan envisages 5 acres of camping area with log huts and 12 acres been earmarked for botanical garden and herbarium park. A huge area of 18 acres is set for water body. A golf course is also on the cards.
Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal is promoting several lesser known places, monuments and facets of Bengali culture.
- Royal Palace (Rajbari) of Krishnanagar in Nadia district has collections of rare antiques and exquisite wall decorations. Krishnanagar clay figures are exquisite in their expressions.
- In the district of Purulia, the village Banda is famous for a solitary temple built in the 'rekha' style with a broken amalaka. The base mouldings and the exquisite floral fabrications throughout the outer and the inner sections of the temple walls is impressive. There is another such lone surviving temple of Rekhi style at Telkupi. Pakbirrah is the largest centre for Jain art with an archaeological museum maintained by Government of West Bengal. The remnants of 17th century civilization have been discovered in Cheiama village. The terracotta figurines and the exclusive carvings around the temples of Cheliama are proof of prosperity in the 17th century.
- Mungpo in Darjeeling district was visited by Rabindranath Tagore. While staying there in the bungalow of Dr MM Sen, Tagore composed numerous poems, articles, letters, stories and paintings. Many a times, he used to recite his poems here. In 1940, one year before his death he had visited this bunglow for the fourth time. His birthday on 25th Baisak was celebrated here with the local hillmen. That very day, Tagore composed three poems.
- Morgan House at Kalimpong is an old colonial bungalow. It is under West Bengal Tourist Development Corporation. Kalimpong also has a golf course.Mac Farlane Church in Kalimpong has a magnificent architecture. This Roman Catholic Church was built in 1890 and has symbols and wall paintings worth seeing.
- Buxa Fort was initially built by the rulers of Bhutan to guard the trade route. During the British rule this was used as a high security prison for freedom fighters and was the most dreaded and impregnable prison in India after the Cellular Jail in the Andaman. NetajiSubhash Chandra Bose is said to have been in detention here for some time here. The prisoners had once writte a letter to Rabindranath Tagore and even received a reply. Buxa Fort now almost in ruins stands 30 km from Alipurduar.
- Buddhist sites in West Bengal like Dhosa, Tilpi, Moghalmari is a revelation.
- Lava near Kalimpong is perched at a height of 7016 feet is a haven for bird watchers. Rare animals like red panda. Clouded leopard and golden cats can be easily spotted.
- The district of Malda has several ancient mosques of India. Bara Sona mosque, QadumRasul Mosque and Lattan Mosque at Gaur and Adina mosque at Pandua is worth a mention.
- Sandakphu at 3636m is the highest point in West Bengal-Sikkim border. It has over 600 species of wild orchids
- Sangalila National Park, Gorumara National Park, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary beckon nature lovers.
State Tourism secretary, VikramSen in upbeat mood says,’The state government is spearheading to tap the immense potential of tourism in Bengal holding out the true picture. We have roped in Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) as well as Adventure Tour Operators Association (ATOI). We have put congenial terms for public-private partnership.The Buddhist circuit and river cruises will go a long way.’
Gorbhanga village in Nadia district is home of Bauls often called Sufi Fakirs. They sing marfati songs while strumming dotara. A resource centre has been built with the support of banglanatak dot com and the European Union. Here one may sit with the bauls and get to know their philosophy.Next GorbhangaFakiriUtsav is slated to happen on 17-19 January, 2014. A whiff of the rustic splendour of Rabha dance and Bhawaiya songs or Gambhira and Domni dance lets out the tenor of bucolic Bengal.
The invisible bonds that connect the nearly 30 million strong Indian diaspora are culture, traditions and the shared heritage. This is the biggest link that keeps generations of People of Indian Origin still feel deeply connected with their mother nation, reports Deepthy Menon
At every PravasiBharatiyaDiwas, there is immense focus placed on keeping India’s cultural ties with its widespread diaspora alive and thriving. The seminar on India’s culture and heritage moderated by India’s Union Minister for Human Resources, Dr ShashiTharoor proved to be a global forum in representation too. Apart from eminent personalities of the Indian diaspora from world over that included legislators from the United Kingdom and Malaysia, politicians representing the national governments of Nigeria and Canada provided the outsider’s narrative to the story of assimilation of the Indian Diaspora into their host countries, even while preserving the customs, traditions and culture of India intact in their chosen lands.
They say marriages are made in heaven and many couples want to create it an epic grandeur, and opt for exotic locales -- from tranquil beaches to royal palaces. Weddings in India have always been a larger than life affair. Mritunjay Kumar explores some of the best destinations for weddings in India.
Nowadays, bachelor hangouts in Goa and ethereal bridal showers in the pristine locale of the Himalayas are not enough to pump up the adrenaline rush, topping on the cake is to locate exquisite venue to say “I do”. We know your dream destination for wedding should be serene, family-friendly and filled with romance.
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