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<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 121 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 5, 2003

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Leaders without vision

Aly Zaker

Quite a few days ago a retrospective of works by Satyajit Ray was being held in Dhaka. A friend of a Minister in our government suggested to the Minister that he should see some of Ray's films. “Why?” asked the Minister. His friend's reply was predictable. He said that the films were pieces of art and it would enrich the cultural repertoire of the Minister. The Minister took the advice of his friend and saw the famous work of Ray “Pather Panchali”, the film that earned maximum number of awards and accolades for Ray.

Subsequently, when he met his friend the Minister said, “I do not understand art or culture, but where was art in this picture? It was wrapped from top to toe with poverty.”

Now there are two issues here, a) the confession and b) the comment. The confession was indeed frank; although naïve; and the comment, illiterate. The confession was naïve because we often use excuses like “I do not know” as a defence against comments that are preposterous. If you do not know you have no right to comment, period. And if you venture to comment you better know on what you are commenting and whether your comment has any meat in it.

Verily Pather Panchali is not set against a swanky back-drop. It is set in a ordinary Bengali village of days bygone. And who does not know that our villages of the past were, in most cases, not the most affluent places under the sun. Therefore, a realistic story of the common people of our villages would be about poverty stricken people. It is naturally expected, therefore, to see “through and beyond” the poverty and not “at” the poverty. You need a heart and a vision to be able to do that. Remember that great scene when the little Apu, after the death of his sister Durga, discovers that the chain that Durga was blamed of stealing was indeed stolen by her although she always denied having done so? Remember what great emotion baffled us when we saw Apu throwing that chain in the pond as if to drown the last vestige of ignominy of his sister forever? Remember with what craft and sensitivity Ray had created such a scene? Why only this scene? The whole film is interspersed with treatments that have made Pather Panchali a truly great film ever made on celluloid and earn Ray global laurels with his maiden venture. Why? The former President of France, Mitterand came all the way to Kolkata to confer upon Satyajit the honour of Legion of Honour. This, because Satyajit, then critically ill, could not go to Paris. Mitterand later said it was an honour for him to be able to confer the honour on Ray in his home city.

If our leaders are so naïve and illiterate as amply demonstrated by their comments, they should pause to think before they speak, that is, if they are capable of thinking.


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