The only person the average Bengali bhadralok is okay seeing in a ‘discotheque’ is probably Mithun Chakraborty. With fairy lights on his pants and a polished pelvic thrust in an era when throwing your hands up in sync was what elite ‘western dancers’ were lauded for. Yes, he was ‘painted’. But not without some stirring existential poetry in it. Remember, he was a poor little boy struggling to buy medicines for ailing, sobbing mother coughing dreadfully in a cot, in which legions of ’80s Bollywood mothers breathed their last on screen.
Outside the moving, pulsating world of Disco Dancer, the discotheque continued being the Salman Khan in the Bengali kaku‘s (uncle’s) life. Something the world seemed to have gone bonkers over, something you could never figure out. And since you were groomed to assign intellectual grades to everything from eating ice-cream to planning an evening out, you were ashamed to even have the discotheque in your sociological vocabulary. Fair enough!
There’s nostalgia in the Maidan, there’s a we-were-the-first glow about the Metro and there’s anecdotes of India’s first Oscar winner strewn all over Nandan. How the hell is a discotheque supposed to figure in that dainty, dog-eared picture, the great Bengali bhadralok goes to bed cuddling?
So while one generation was packing its bag and taking the first flight they could to Bangalore, or maybe the Delhi of horrors, the ones who decided to shoulder the legacy of the bhadralok stayed back to shame the disco to its place. And the disco, never managed to rise a notch up his ladder of respect. So as the girls, as he saw it, increasingly dumped Tagore with high school Rabindra Jayanti celebrations and hip hopped to the disco, the bhadralok watched with great consternation, how his beloved culture just got flushed down bits of rock, hip hop, trance, tequila shots and ‘model hunts’. And in true bhadralok style, he watched. And thought. Doing things, was, anyway, not high up his list of priorities.
So when the Chief Minister, a breathing fire and anti-colonial grammar woman, decided to shut pubs down at an hour people don’t even manage to make it to them, he snapped his fingers and probably said to himself with a smirk, ‘Besh hoeche’ – a dripping catty Bengali version of ‘serves you right’. Unlike Mumbai, which went up in arms when the Dhoble guy rolled his eyes at its nightlife, Kolkata grimaced and went on living its life. A little alcohol, a little dancing, a lot of fun less from their lives, was okay. Like it told itself, “Duh World, we will still wave two Nobel Prizes at your face. You can have your Yo Yo Honey Singhs and die partying.”
I remember a head of a body constituted to safeguard women’s rights snapping at me after I inquired why they had not uttered a word at how badly the Park Street rape case was handled.
“Why you media people are so bothered about it. Because there is sleaze in it? It was in Park Street and in a disco? Have you bothered to find out how this poor woman was raped in a brick kiln in the outskirts. No. Why? Because there is no sleaze in it!” she thundered before hanging up.
There, the disco. No wrong is wrong enough in a disco, if you were to ask her.
‘Bhadralok’, translated roughly, means a ‘polite man’. Not a man who cribs and whines about what, in his cultural cold storage, doesn’t seem polite. Like the discos. Abhijit Mukherjee is the latter. And he, unfortunately, has company.