Checkpoint Hoogly (Ver 1)
Checkpoint Hoogly – Ver 1 was an interdisciplinary performance project which takes a critical look at political and social issues which are under the radar of mainstream discourse, which could be situated in the subaltern. The objective is to inform and also to find new aesthetics in the process. This is a cross cultural platform working on themes which cut across the border affecting our existence here & now.
Checkpoint Hoogly (Ver 1) : Cafe Toto session was an exhibition cum performance which was the culmination of a residency which was held in Kolkata with participation & contribution from artists based in London & Vancouver. The residency took place from June 19 – 25, 2017. The exhibition cum performance was held at Cafe Toto on June 25, 2017.
About Checkpoint Hoogly ( Ver 1)
The river Hoogly which flows through Kolkata and meets the Bay Of Bengal, is the site of important riverine ports and cities which have played significant role in the colonial history of the Indian subcontinent.
Checkpoint Hoogly : Version 1, is an exhibition and performance which looks at four stories of human interest, particularly that of refugees and the subaltern which resonates with the river Hoogly.
The four segments of the project were
- Slow Cooked
- Monkś Homecoming
- The Other Side of Budge Budge
- Ambiguous Nothing
Slow Cooked : commemorates the ´Komagata Maru´ incident and its consequences on the immigration policy of Canada and the attitude of the British Raj towards its ńatives´.
A Japanese owned ship sailed through the Pacific with hope that laws would be amended in course of its 40 days voyage which will allow them the comforts and opportunities in a strange land. The ship ´Komagata Maru´ and the incidents which unfolded confronted the prevailing attitude towards Asians and particularly people from South Asia in specific, and galvanized support of th essential rights of a human to gain access to live and work in the countries under the British Raj. Hence it bought forth the position of the natives of the British Raj as equal citizens who should be enjoying equal rights, which they were obviously not privy to (overtly or covertly) due to their origin and colour of skin and socio – economic class.
The ship was the Komagata Maru and the incident which led to the rejection of entry for the passengers of the ship (largely Sikhs) into Canada in 1914 and their subsequent return to India and the ghastly shooting by The British forces at Budge Budge station which killed many and led to arrests of the rest , hence uprooting their dreams and leaving them in dire financial straits but more than that usurping their freedom of movement and identity and leaving them as condemned to servitude and wishes of white masters which was a psychological ploy of domination over generations to come. That the Indian freedom struggle reacted and sought to rectify this strategy, has been celebrated and should be celebrated in its spirit of human freedom and in its pursuit of an egalitarian world order.
Ślow Cooked´ – a segment in this exhibition showcases this incident and spirit of free enterprise which hit the dams of colonialism.
We visited Budge Budge to visit the jetty VI, where the Komagata Maru had docked and so had the ship which carried Vivekanada from Madras. We took some footages and sound recordings at the spot. Of course we also visited the memorial here at Budge Budge, Kolkata. This was mixed with footages from Vancouver port and the memorial of Komagata Maru. Sound bytes of traditional Sikh religious folk music from Gurduwaras in USA and Canada was juxtaposed with images of the train journey from Sealdah to Budge Budge & archival images which we unearthed in London and on the Internet, to create a video art piece which was exhibited at the Cafe Toto on June 25th.
Archival images refereed to in creating the Video Art piece
The Curatorial Note by Parnab Mukerjee1 : Many reasons…micro-history …these incidents…this also made me look deeper into Sikh history in Kolkata and Komagata Maru in Budge Budge an area in Kolkata….not far away from the city the Kulpi port…while digging deep later…images of Pandit Nehru opening the Budge Budge memorial in the presence of Baba Gurdit Singh remains etched in my mind and how Tagore refused an invitation from citizens of Vancouver to protest against the Canadian immigration policy on Komagata Maru…
2: A few years back while travelling to Singapore to perform a text for an outreach programme of Singapore International Photography Festival..I had a long chat with Singapore-Tamil playwright Elangovan who wrote about Komagata Maru in Singapore in one of his plays
3: Third: My disappointment with the way Ghadar 100 was celebrated in Punjab…it was an international movement that spans number of nations including Iran and Mexico..it turned out to be very shoddy especially that edition of one of the finest political community festival called Gadri Mela in Desh Bagat Yadgar Hall in Jalandhar…the span of the movement…the scope of taking it to schools..involving more youth and community…all these historic opportunity was lost…why? because it would take a nuanced view of history to catch the true genius of Baba Vasakha Singh…Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna
4: The same year (2014)…of Ghadar 100…while visiting Hazaribagh Jail…a historic jail where stalwarts like Rahul Sanskrittayan and Jayaprakash Narayan had been lodged…. no official had a clue that 50 Ghadarites of the 5th Light platoon Singapore Ghadri military revolt…were lodged (the revolt had begun on February 15, 1915 and as a result 3 were hung..44 were court martialled and imprisoned…41 shot dead and many more send to life imprisonment and long term rigorous sentences )…this is the same jail where on December 22, 1919..Makhan Lal was hung…how about a plaque…this is where we go wrong..we are too busy owning a legacy not sharing it…dissemination is absent
A journey across the time line:I would not say tough but at times you are hitting into a wall but I guess my years in journalism helps me to look into a subject as a journey not academic tinted glasses that i have a conclusion to draw..i am interested in framing more questions..so that when history replies to them the scope of the search is widened…let’s look at the journey of Komagata Maru..
4.4.1914…Left for Hong Kong for Shanghai at 5.55 pm
18.4.1914…Mazi (Japan)..11 days
2.5. 1914..Yokohama (Japan) 1 Day
23.7. 1914…set sail for Vancouver through the Pacific Ocean..2 months
15.8. 1914…Yokohama…3 days
20.8. 1914..Kobe (Japan)..14 days
26.9.1914..Kulpi (Hooghly river)..3 days
29.9. 1914..Budge Budge at 9.30 am ..the same day..to a procession on unarmed Komagata Maru passengers some of them who did not take the train back to Punjab…the police fired..from 303 rifles..177 rounds of ammunition were fired..Government reports says 20 were killed…unofficial figures say 67 were killed including two local residents..and in addition to this number four members of the police force
Now..the Vancouver episode has been staged a number of times…and the Budge Budge incident in Kolkata has found a mention in the plays..but what has not happened is a performance exploration of the Singapore- Kulpi-Budge Budge journey..out of 321 passengers who finally came back to Budge Budge..62 were sent back to Punjab under police protection..what happened to the rest…how many really died…
After seven years of being underground…Baba Gurdit Singh surrendered to the British at Nankana Sahib..on the instructions of Mahatma Gandhi…he was released after a year..and then jailed again for anti-British comments..and was released again in 1927..by then the British government took over all his properties…Baba Gurdit.unsuccessfully appealed in Kolkata High Court and lost the case…On July 24, 1954…Baba Gurdit Singh passed away…let’s use this moment as a medium to spread this important message about manufactured exclusion…
Images of the Video Art piece with its creators – Kiran Bhumber & Conner Singh Vanderbeek
Monkś Homecoming : based on the homecoming of Swami Vivekanada from Chicago, as he sailed into Budge Budge Port from South India, and its sharp contrast with the plight of the others.
Letś cut back to 1893, Hoogly once more. A monk stepped on its plank, perhaps was garlanded, photographed, rested at a room, boarded the train which emerged from the port station of Budge Budge, landed in Sealdah, where a horse carriage awaited him and left for North Kolkata. Swami Vivekanada, it was, who was coming home after a brief stopover in South India en route his return from Chicago, where he had delivered an iconic speech in which he spoke his heart out to the ¨ Sisters and Brothers of America ¨, invoking a hymn which he recollected from his boyhood thus – “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”, and concluded with the hope that the human race “Help and not fight,” “Assimilate and not Destroy,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.” It was a pleasant journey, one would think and has become a folklore for Indians and very often a symbol for the universal and international message of Hinduism.
But of course as the realities of the geo – political situation would otherwise show that this Ǵod or that the thou of the ´thee´, was different from or indifferent to the brothers and sisters living in squalor by the railways tracks on the Budge Budge – Sealdah route in 2017, clearly had no idea that a great man had just passed them by.
Another historic landing in Budge Budge….Swami Nikhilananda writes….
While Swami Vivekananda was enjoying the restful boat trip from Madras to Calcutta, a reception committee was busy preparing for him a fitting welcome in the metropolis of India, the city of his birth. The steamer docked at Budge Budge, and the Swami and his party arrived by train in Calcutta on February 19, 1897. The reception was magnificent, with an enthusiastic crowd at the railroad station, triumphal arches, the unharnessed carriage drawn by students, and a huge procession with music and religious songs. A princely residence on the bank of the Ganga was placed at the Swami’s disposal.
On February 28, 1897, he was given a public reception. Raja Benoy Krishna Deb presided, and five thousand people jammed the meeting. As usual, the Swami asked the people to go back to the perennial philosophy of the Upanishads. He also paid a touching tribute to Ramakrishna, ‘my teacher, my master, my hero, my ideal, my God in life.’ ‘If there has been anything achieved by me,’ he said with deep feeling, ‘by thoughts or words or deeds, if from my lips has ever fallen one word that has ever helped anyone in the world, I lay no claim to it; it was his. But if there have been curses falling from my lips, if there has been hatred coming out of me, it is all mine, and not his. All that has been weak has been mine; all that has been life-giving, strengthening, pure, and holy has been his inspiration, his words, and he himself. Yes, my friends, the world has yet to know that man.’ A few days after, he gave another public lecture on ‘Vedanta in All Its Phases.’
Why the juxtaposition?
In today’s swirling times of exclusion and refugee hood…the diptych of these thematic cluster would like to evoke the site, smell and memory of what landing means in today’s times…be it for a Syrian, Chakma, Libyan or a Rohingya..
Do we really land?
Are we perpetually at sea….
Janardan Ghosh and Vidyapati Chakroborty enacted a performance based on vignettes of Swami Vivekanada struggles in USA and his tryst with the caste system. since Vivekanada was not a Brahmin he had to deal with fair amount of criticism and in fact in certain quarters his status as a Śwami’was rejected.
The other side of Budge Budge ; a dystopian hell : brings into focus the horrific living conditions of the families living by the rail tracks.
The holy Hoogly though flowed, a 100 years later, a lot more dirtier with flotsam of faith and development. Jetty No : 6 of the Budge Budge Port is no more, but a rusted and forgotten piece of history, remembered perhaps more as a Canadian Sikh history but completely ignored by the Indian state. Perhaps deliberately ?
Hide as we may in this pre – colonial narrative, justifying and in a way perpetually projecting us as a victim of racism and abuse, we cannot but deny that in the post – colonial world, the state of India and ourselves included have perpetrated or been criminally negligent of human conditions of its own citizens and those seeking political refuge in India.
The segment ¨The Other Side of Budge – a dystopian hell¨, tangibly 2017, perhaps not even a strong enough description of the existential state of families living by the rail tracks which one gazes furtively, not knowing how to deal with this visual and psychological shock, as the Sealdah – Budge Budge local train scuttles down the age old tracks.
This segment provides insights into the lives of such families and begs the question as to whether the state can forsake its responsibility of providing for the basic living standards or will it be left to the market forces to decide their fates. It brings into critical analysis the moral responsibilities of the state and the society to immediately address this great injustice instead of merely seeking blind uncritical allegiance, “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension,” and whatever else the rule books of patriotism and its indelible ink have embedded but not erased.
The Subaltern Sings – Celebrating World Music Day 2017 as part of the project
Engaging with the subaltern which here is the community of people who live by the railway tracks near New Alipore station. The idea was to see how completely distinct characteristics and realities would interact intuitively . Kiran Bhumber is a new media artist from Canada. Conner Singh is a musician and a doctoral student from USA. They come from an entirely different social and cultural context. It was the flute and presence of Pradip Chatterjee (Bulada) who acted as a conduit in this journey. The video was shot by Debraj Jana.
The outcome of this visit was a series of photographs clicked by Debraj Jana, which captured the life & rituals of this community. Selected images were exhibited at Cafe Toto on June 25, 2017.
Photographic Exhibition – images by Debraj Jana
Ambiguous Nothing : is about the ambiguous and precarious position of the Rohingya refugees in India.
We turn a full circle – its ´Komagata Maru´ , tangible again. This time the players have changed, the causes and dynamics different, but essentially the human condition similar – mere puppets once more, lesser mortals – ambiguous nothing.
The position of the human is clearly secondary to all political consideration, they are mere instruments in the larger game. Various incidents now will bear testimony to this none more that the plight of the Rohingya refugees. ¨the Indian government plans to identify, arrest and deport 40,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar¨, where their lives would of would be most definitely endangered. Their current living conditions despicable. There are various rationalities and maybe they justify the government decision, all of which but fails to answer the important question – does human lives matter and are we as a society conscious of the future which we wish to chart and the attitudes which we take in dealing with inevitable & irrational discomfitures which arises in course of ´business as usual´, where a women with a child in her arms, knocks on your door – frightened to death- she asks for refuge from a certain death.
Do you shut the door and tune into your spiritual and patriotic radio !!
This was addressed in the spoken words performance by Parnab Mukherjee, using images of the Rohingya and extrapolating the situation of the problem facing Europe as they are having to make decision which are complicated in political, ethical and social terms when it come to dealing with the Syrian refugee problem.
The Final Performance
Here is the video of the final performance and exhibition which took place at Cafe Toto on June 25, 2017.
Direction : Parnab Mukherjee
Curatorial Intervention : Parnab Mukherjee & Sudipta Dawn
Photography & Videos : Debraj Jana, Conner Singh VanderBeek & Sudipta Dawn
Sound Installation : Kiran Bhumber & Conner Singh VanderBeek.
Video and space assemblage: Sudipta Dawn
Still Installation : Baishampayan Saha
Performance : Pradip Chatterjee, Janardan Ghosh & Parnab Mukherjee
Music : Varun Desai, Sangat Haldar, Pradip Chatterjee, Baishampayan Saha
Acting Mentor: Janardan Ghosh
About the project members
Kiran Bhumber is a media artist, composer, musician and educator based in Vancouver, Canada. Her work examines emotions and memory through the physical nature of sound. Kiran constructs interactive installations and performance systems; allowing performers and audiences to embody these themes through multi modal states of awareness. She has performed and presented her works at various festivals and conferences including The New Interfaces for Musical Expression Conference (Australia), The International Symposium on Electronic Art (Vancouver), The Toronto International Electroacoustic Festival, The Vancouver International Jazz Festival and The International Conference on Live Coding. She is currently completing an MA in Media Arts as a Graduate Student Research Assistant at the University of Michigan. Kiran is continuing research on creating new instruments/interfaces in addition to interactive performance systems and electro acoustic composition. Kiran holds a Bachelor of Music degree (2014) from the University of British Columbia.
For more please visit her website : http://www.kiranbhumber.com
Conner Singh VanderBeek
Conner Singh VanderBeek is a composer, pianist, ethnomusicologist, and scholar of contemporary Sikhism from Salida, California. VanderBeek’s music explores narratives of trauma, belonging, Sikh identity, and mundanity through styles ranging from jazz and classical to noise. VanderBeek’s research is on artistic expressions of Sikh youth in diaspora and on the music of Sikhism. He is currently in the PhD program in ethnomusicology at University of Michigan.
For more please visit his website : https://www.csvanderbeek.com
Pradip Chattopadhyay is musician, performer & a sound artist. He has been the founding member of Ḿohiner Ghoraguli´ which has been an iconic rock band in Bengal. An civil engineer by training, he has traveled the world to perform and work. He is a prolific performer and is passionate about his experiments & research in sound and performance.
Janardan Ghosh is an actor & theatre director, storyteller and a playwright from Kolkata, who has been experimenting with both forms and themes in his performances. Indeed much of the past work has explored the themes of spirituality, myth, gender, sexuality and society. he is currently completing his doctorate in ´Performance and Shri Ramakrishna from the Ramakrishna Mission University. Janardan Ghosh has trained and worked with several international and national theatre and film directors and is a critically acclaimed theatre practitioner in contemporary Bengal.
A spoken word performer, independent media analyst, curator and a performance consultant by profession, Mr Parnab Mukherjee is one of the leading alternative theatre directors of the Indian sub-continent.
A performance text writer and charismatic performer, he has diverse experience in non-proscenium, verbatim, site-specific and physical theatre.
Parnab is multilingual & a prolific traveler. He is a subject matter expert on North East India studies at Colombia University, USA. He works on several United Nations projects as a performer dealing with human rights.
Debraj Jana is a visual artist, photographer and a videographer. He has worked on several documentary & film projects.
Born and raised in Kolkata, Varun Desai is a Purdue University educated computer engineer. His passion for music led him to start DJ-ing and producing events, which subsequently turned into his current profession as the director of an event management company. Since 2002, he has been touring the world, both as a cultural representative and as a music producer and DJ. His company Littlei, founded in 2007, has organised over 400 events and concerts.
Varun is also a graphic and website designer, video artist, creative coder and synthesizer designer.
Sudipta Dawn is a curator, performance designer, and a performance writer. He is the director of Culture Monks.
About Cafe Toto (the space)
Café Toto, known for its exotic desserts and European cuisine, functions as a ‘Restaurants-School’, where young adults from difficult, underprivileged backgrounds are trained to become entrepreneurs. The venture is the result of the combined efforts of NGO Tomorrow’s Foundation and the French NGO Life Project 4 Youth (LP4Y) accompanied by assistance from the French Consulate in Kolkata.
Alliance francaise du Bengale
The Alliance française du Bengale in Kolkata is historically and naturally affiliated to the international network of the Alliances françaises in the world (813 Alliances françaises in 136 countries). Known, at first, as the Alliance française de Calcutta and renamed (in 2007) the Alliance française du Bengale in order to cover not only the capital but the entire territory of West Bengal as well, the Alliance française du Bengale is a cultural centre, a space for documentation (books, magazines, journals, music CDs & film DVDs, etc.) and a French language training institution. Alliance Francaise du Bengale, has been the most significant intellectual and cultural hub in the city of Kolkata.
For more please visit their website : http://bengale.afindia.org
Littlei is a production company based in Kolkata, India. It’s primary focus is to promote live music, the performing arts and innovative design. In the process it has built a national creative commune that includes musicians, artists, designers, writers, actors, dancers, photographers, producers and new age visionaries.
Littlei has been on the forefront of promoting contemporary music and performing arts in Kolkata. It was the first agency to introduce independent and electronic music to the city and works closely with consulates and cultural agencies to bring international artists and performers to Kolkata.
For more please visit their website ; http://littlei.in
Culture Monks is a global collective of artists & people from multiple fields who are working towards the common goal of creating new possibilities in artistic expression, strengthening of infrastructure for art practices, public engagement through arts, cultural advocacy and capacity building in a way which furthers the dialogue of peace, progress and sustainable development of arts, aesthetics, culture & society.
Culture Monks is engaged in research, production, training & development in the field of theatre, performances, performance art, films & other allied activities.
For more please visit their website : https://culturemonks.in
The subaltern shifts continuously…
Komagata Maru – the significant colonial other, who were denied entry into the ´White´ manś world, their identity and existence imperiled and the ensuing resistance which shook the imperial order provoked and informed this project to start with.
The presence of Kiran Bhumber & Conner Singh Vanderbeek, both Indians by origin, their roots in Punjab, but now living in another world – Canada & USA, also influenced a great deal the foundation of the project. We never had any intention of this to a tribute or a genuflection to the Komagata Maru incident, but rather to examine the present through the prism of this incident. It was a journey a challenging one.
A journey which was the outcome of the ´entrepreneurial´ ideation of Baba Gurdit Singh – a journey undertaken with the objective of earning a profit from the transportation of citizens of British India, from Hong Kong to Canada – both imperial precincts and hence he opined in spite of reports which perhaps appeared to him of the efforts by the politicians in Canada to halt the free movement and settlement of non whites in ´their´ land. However, little would be have known that this journey would enter the annals of history not of reason of its success but of instead of its ´criminalization´- through the act of denial of ´rights´ which perhaps were yet to come into ´being´; they were rendered ´stateless´, caught between the deep blue sea and an image of the ´devil´, surely emerging in their minds – a ´devil´ which was white. One does wonder how indeed otherwise people, generally say in Bengal looked at, or still look at entrepreneurship and migration. I would think with a certain degree of suspicion and malice. Then martyrdom transcend ordinary lives and acts to cult status and become symbolic of a resistance which is also a form of appropriation. Did we then appropriate a human reaction and morph it on a larger picture of nationalism and its struggle ? That is exactly why we did not stop our inquiry at this incident but tried and gauge our reaction and that of others on other pertinent instances of injustice meted out to humans, which is very much now .
One hundred years have passed……. a charming apology in the evening (after a not such a charming morning) has been made. Has the ´devil´been exorcised ?
June 20, 2017
The journey which took Kiran and Conner – young students from Canada and USA respectively to a hot & humid Kolkata in June, with nothing more than an abstract notion of what was to follow.
The train ride from Sealdah to Budge Budge, offering perspectives & sights of human existence which one would gladly ignore – tracks scattered with every conceivable rubbish, the putrid smell from the sewers dark with effluence lined with hovels, people, unimaginable, squatting on the tracks, children running about – a brief glimpse of what dystopia is like. A musician with his portable amplifier and microphone rendering old Kishore Kumar and md Rafi songs in Bengali and Hindi. He was actually begging, or was he an artiste ? This, Wait , there is scope, for it seems that in Mumbai ´Most beggars singing in trains are trained in music: Study´. The man sang well .
Budge Budge station, now renamed as ḰomagataMaru´, this is where the train has to stop – its adead end. Then a rather ; the long walk to Budge Budge port, – a highly secured area, one of exclusion for security reasons´- an entry into which was secured through much cajoling and some misrepresentation, and finally due to the benevolence of the officers landing at Jetty no. 6, surrounded by security personnel. It’s really in shambles – this jetty, the landing has collapsed and now houses a police outpost. We didn’t get much time though. Ńo photographs´ – one policeman said as he approached us. We quickly exited and serendipitously landed in front of the Ḱomagata Maru’ memorial, enveloped by what aesthetically speaking sounded like a poor mp3 recording of a kirtan – nothing alarming, two dogs, and truck – a policeman glancing at us, as we walked back to the ferry ghat which took us to the other side of Kolkata. On the ferry we would meet a salesman, dressed like a Monk, pitching an autobiography of Swami Vivekanada, in a continuous loop of well rehearsed English ´ past is past, present is present, future is future´ – which was ironic considering the burning dead body in his backdrop, and the wailing of a tortured soul. Very soon though the ferry stuttered on and the man started selling digestive pills. We sniggered.
From the other side the ships and jetty looked smaller, already insignificant, a mere abstraction. We were happy that the skies held – its been raining heavily otherwise. A train to Howrah and the across the river once more and a taxi ride to a colonial heritage building – the Park Mansions; chinese lunch and then a talk ´Death & Beyond : the afterlife´. Death – the final master, sleep your agent – dreams the impostor, day – breaks the resistance.
June 21st – Fête de la Musique
We crossed the railway tracks at the New Alipore station and Bulada was already excited. I could see that glimmer in his eyes – he already thanked me profusely, even before we descended into a randomness found a configured space, which reductively could be called a ślum´ – and the hovels suddenly became homes. Bulada with his flute, Kiran her clarinet, Debraj his camera, me a sound recorder and Conner.. well, we easily conjured up a can for him. What followed was a disharmonious interludes in the constant humming of normative. Watch this video.
Mohiner Ghorali (Mohin´s Horses) are still grazing in the horizon, some other horizon – the Hegelian sort.
But did the subaltern sing ? Like the game of passing the parcel, in any case found out to be highly promiscuous, with no regard to class or gender or social order — it was perching on someoneś shoulder, egging them to the performative and then flying off to the next shoulder or branch or the inanimate. Then it was a very brief encounter to really stick, and indignation did not give way to wonder, but what about our next great idea – coming soon. Open to all subalternists … drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and iĺl tell you.
The Performance. Projector & aftermath
We were thankful that the projector was small, cheap and steady – typical Chinese contraption to empower the masses, but smart enough to withstand Parnabś sudden brainstorm of playing with it like a toy. The space indeed transform, but it wasn´t too bright. The downside is that anyone who has seen the video of this performance refuses to lend me their projector anymore . But the good thing is they are being very creative with their excuses.
We were also subsequently asked to tone down the volume of our future performances – the neighbors might complain. Thankfully that day being ´Jamai Shasti´, and everyone occupied with some serious devotion to the patriarchal presence, few took notice or paid heed to the carnage, which was inside Cafe Toto.
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