ঋতুরাজ, ঋতু নির্বিশেষে (The King of all seasons, despite seasons)
by Gargi Bhattacharya for AlalODulal.org
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead…
—W. H. Auden
The morning newspapers are replete with careergraphs, and legends of the transgeneric, transtextual and transsexual diva that Rituparno Ghosh’s being and becoming had chronicled, along with suitable scenario-anecdotes and photographs. And yet, there is a lack—a deadlock where grief has saturated the print profiles of the auteur and the consequent recession of a celebration of his life and living in terms most appropriate to his larger than life persona has doubled the angst of a guilt-ridden society, which is now castigating itself for bullying the foremost intellectual.
I remember feeling the same suppressed suffocation, the same bilious dose of the mundane yet hard-hitting truth paralysing me when I watched Unishe April (1994), that I had while reading Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). It had such literary underpinnings, such detailing of sentiments, of moments, that a heart-wrenching moment of epiphany had the same agonising echo in the audience as one had while listening to the faraway tunes of a Raindrasangeet, perhaps ‘তরী আমার হঠাৎ ডুবে যায়…’ that he made Srikanta Acharya sing for Noukadubi (2011). Fifteen years later, Abohomaan (2009), where he reached the zenith of his directorial skills, made me feel the same silence surrounding my being, the same need to feel tranquillity and quietude, in the transience of love, death and all that lies between.
The shock of his demise can only be surpassed by the dramatics of it. And hence, the drama-queen, the prodigal son of cinema, hastened his exit while the party lasted. He reminds me of one of my most favourite controversial characters of cinema—the indelicate and witty transsexual prostitute, La Agrado, in Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother (1999)—who inventorised her ‘lady parts’ on stage before a live audience and remarked, “Well, as I was saying, it costs a lot to be authentic, ma’am. And one can’t be stingy with these things because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed of being.”
It is the dream of being that I see personified in him/her. What did he dream of being? Did he write a poem about it? Was there a favourite character from a play, a film? Did he love Agrado as much as I do? Was his personification of Chitrangada his ultimate self-expression? Much poeticism has been lost in dialogicism, and much beauty lost in conflict in the life of a man who wore his liminality proudly on his sleeve, celebrated his queerness, squeaked at detractors and ambushed unsuspecting spectators with sinister intertextual references concealed in his cinema. He was testing himself, as he was always testing everyone else around him. And all along, he lived with such brilliant, bedazzling pomp, such gaiety, such ostentation as to raze to the ground the exalted plebeian morals of a clannish, aspiratorially intellectual middle class.
I love him. I love the way he addressed the rest of the world as“তুই”—a syntax carefully culled to carry equivalence in a casual, if all-too-friendly, way—so much so that my friend’s father, unable to take the challenge of the address, once retorted to him, “তুই কি তোর বাপকেও তুই বলিস?” I loved the way he blasted Mir for imitating him on public television on his chat show, Ghosh and Co., all the while insisting he does not personally take offense at being mimicked but making his vulnerability all too apparent. I loved the way he wore his heart on his sleeves. His long, beautiful, bejewelled, princess-like sleeves. The mellifluous tonality of his scenes blend with the রাবিন্দ্রিক sensibilities of his dual self—he is Binodini of Chokher Bali (2003) and Chapalrani of Arekti Premer Galpo (2009) rolled into one. The named and the unnamed parts of him, the surreal superfluity of sexuality, and the softness of the eternal feminine was him. The প্রাণোচ্ছল-অ্যান্ড-ন্যাকা ‘Rituda’ was him. The distant dream of the dead, that scene from Shob Choritro Kalponik (2009) was him. The King of all seasons, despite the seasonality of it. Me, on a cloud-licked, melancholy weekday afternoon, sitting with two kittens, mourning the loss of an intellectual I hardly knew but on stage, is him.
I adored that economy of gestures that many a stand-up comedian made fodder of. And staying true to that gesture, I want to say, in the words of La Agrado:
“Just don’t disappear again. I like to say good-bye to the people I love, even if it’s only to cry my eyes out, bitch.”
Gargi Bhattacharya is a Ph.D. scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a published, author and photographer. She wrote this obituary for AlalODulal.org