A Session With Subha Das Mollick

Last year during the lockdown a few friends approached me about joining them in founding an online group devoted primarily to Indian independent cinema outside of Bollywood, and the Independent Film Circle was born. We quickly amassed members in the US, India and Bangladesh and had an incredible year, starting with a 12-week Film Appreciation course led by film director Debashish Sen Sharma. 

I’m thrilled to share that a week from today we’ll host a talk by our newest member, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker and educator Subha Das Mollick. 

One of her docs, Crosswinds Over Ichhamati, about the impact that the Partition of 1947 had on rural border communities in what are now the nation of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and the Indian state of West Bengal, is available for free on youtube and quite engrossing.

https://youtu.be/CL1HYNW89KU

Contacting the Dead in West Bengal

If you’d like a genuine Bengali planchette board just print this out on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper. Ideally a rupee coin would do the trick but you’ll have to improvise.

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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I’ve traveled India a bunch in the past five years and have learned that almost no one in India seems to have heard of a Ouija board. I’ve also been in tons of stores ranging from rustic bazaars to gleaming shopping malls and have never seen a Ouija board for sale even though they have plenty of other Western toys and board games.

People there do, however, know what you’re talking about when you explain it, only they call it “doing planchette” and those who do it would only ever make their own. The idea of buying one seems foreign to them. Culturally, “doing planchette” seems to hold the same place as it does here: spooky, scary, forbidden, inviting doom, naughty, tempting, very real. Once I got my wife’s Hindu family elders talking about it, they recalled tons of stories that pretty much parallel the kinds of escapades you hear recalled in the US.

Her great uncle warned me against it, telling me there’s a reason God has created two separate dimensions for the living and the dead, and that to try and bridge the gap is inviting trouble. He then told me how once as a young man he and a bunch of friends were vacationing in a small shack in the jungle on a wildlife preserve (the Indian version of the “cabin in the woods” archetypal horror setting) and one evening they got bored and someone made a planchette board. They typically use a coin as the planchette. They soon were in touch with a man who said he was recently deceased. He said he was a Naxalite (Indian Marxist rebel) who had recently been killed by a rival Communist. At that moment the lights went out, engulfing them in darkness. Everybody freaked, they balled up the planchette board and threw it away and my great-uncle vowed never to do the planchette again.

He remains true to his word. I asked him if he would draw one for me exactly as they had drawn them back in the day, and he grimly said, “This is not possible.”

I dropped the subject but later that evening I approached my wife’s grandmother to ask the same question. She shrugged and said, Continue reading “Contacting the Dead in West Bengal”

Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith

Jeffrey Stanley’s latest essay is in the Washington Post. A born again experience? In a mosque? With Allah? Why not.

May15, 2013

On Faith

Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith

Walking a mile in another man’s shoes leads to kismet

by Jeffrey Stanley

Three years ago I got married to my wife in a traditional Hindu Bengali ceremony in Kolkata and spent three weeks touring the country. I bought a pair of sandals there which I wore throughout my trip and back home here in the States. This December my wife, our young son and I went back to India for a month to visit relatives. I brought my well-worn “India sandals” with me.  A week into the visit they broke irreparably and I tossed them. The location of their demise seemed appropriate — from India they had come and to India they would return. The next day while we were out sightseeing we stumbled upon a tiny shoe store, one of a zillion in Kolkata, where I found the perfect pair of replacement sandals. They were simple but unique enough that they suited me as a souvenir.

Nakhoda Masjid. Kolkata, West Bengal, India. January, 2013.

A few days later I struck out on my own for a sightseeing visit Nakhoda Masjid, the largest mosque in Kolkata, built in 1926. A billboard told me with no intended irony that this was Road Safety Week in India. Still the taxis, auto-rickshaws and pedestrians were up to their usual danse macabre.

After a requisite insane cab ride and a short walk down a crowded, narrow street full of screaming sidewalk merchants selling Muslim prayer rugs and other Islam-themed souvenirs I found the mosque. It was sparsely populated at that late morning hour. The Continue reading “Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith”