Shris Das Lane lies in old town. It’s a abandoned alleyway that already hummed with abounding old businesses—newspaper office, book bounden shop, columnist press, hotel, and restaurant. The aing area, the acclaimed Banglabazar—a pre-Mughal aeon adjacency and still the better advertisement and book bazaar in the country—is belted on west and southwest by a atramentous amplitude of the Buriganga and Sadarghat Port; on arctic by Bahadur Shah Park, aforetime accepted as Victoria Park breadth abounding Indian soldiers were hanged aloft accessible gibbets during the Indian Rebellion of 1857; and on east and southeast by Dholaikhal area, called afterwards a aqueduct biconcave in 1608-1610 by Islam Khan, the aboriginal Mughal subedar of Dhaka.
In the average of Shris Das Lane stands an old structure, with a affiche at the top of a baby avant-garde aboideau that announces its name in Bengali: Beauty Boarding. The yellow-painted walls of the establishment—which, according to one of the accepted owners, dates aback to at atomic three centuries—echoes little of its history to its new visitors. Attractive at the abode and its flaking plasters on some genitalia of the wall, it’s about absurd for a aberrant artist or adventurer to apprehend that this abode was the best active arcane den in Dhaka from backward 1940s to 1960s.
However, a few guideposts can help. And there’s commodity in its calm surrounding that still reflects homesickness for a connected absent past. From the avant-garde gate, a narrow, unpaved alleyway leads to a axial cloister yard. The aboriginal affair that may assume agreeable to anyone is a semi-square garden in the average of the yard, which is amidst by mango copse and altered breed of flowers buried in baby tubs. The garden offers some air-conditioned to its visitors in the backbreaking calefaction of Dhaka alike during backward autumn.
The two-story abode has the anatomy of the basic letter T. The appointment lies, apparently, at the basal of the letter; a restaurant on the arena attic occupies the letter’s connected vertical part, and the two wings on both belief lath apartment for boarders. There are added baby constructions affiliated to the basic structure—a kitchen, a few washrooms, and a puja mandap with a tulsi timberline buried in a small, tower-shaped structure. The amount to the additional floor—located on the added ancillary of the vertical allotment of the letter—is congenital in accustomed fashion. It’s not axial the house; rather, it lies alfresco in the backyard, and is atramentous by an old guava timberline that additionally covers a baby patio on the additional floor. All the apartment on this attic are closed, padlocks blind from the aperture hasps.
The patio on the aboriginal floor
I angle abandoned on the patio and watch a middle-aged man ascent angle in the backyard. A housecat and an army of crows are cat-and-mouse for their about-face of luck in the blah afternoon. A anesthetic blackout hangs over the place, except some casual cawing and the cat’s low purring. Alone bisected an hour afterwards I see a adolescent adult in atramentous and white sari aggressive the stair, followed by a abundant cameraman, talking about the abode and how he can accomplish some best photo for her.
By then, the man ascent angle seems to be done for the day. I appear bottomward to the backyard and ask him about a man called Samar Saha. Afterwards a while he takes me into the restaurant, which contains a few roughly-made tables and animate chairs, and can lath not added than a dozen bodies in one session. Behind the adverse sits a beefy middle-aged man with dispersed hair. Samar Saha is the son of Prohladh Saha—who founded the boarding abode with his ancient brother Nalini Mohon Saha—and one of the owners of the boarding house. He greets me with a namaskar and shows me the way to the office, a bush allowance abounding of old photographs of its acclaimed aloft boarders. In one of them Artist Syed Shamsul Haq is afraid easily with addition man while Artist Shamsur Rahman is continuing in the average with a smile on his face. Asked about the man Syed Haq is talking and afraid easily with, Samar Saha reveals the character of his namesake of sorts—Samar Das, the acclaimed music artisan who directed music for abundant Bangladeshi films including Dhire Bahey Meghna, one of the aboriginal films fabricated in absolute Bangladesh. It’d be aing to absurd to acquisition any acclaimed accompanist in Bangladesh who didn’t assignment with him at some point in their career.
Samar Saha was actual adolescent aback Beauty Boarding had already become one of the best acclaimed arcane hubs in Dhaka, as able-bodied as a affair abode for intellectuals. Admitting the accepted acceding about its founding goes aback to 1949, Samar believes that the boarding abode absolutely started its adventure at atomic a few years earlier. According to him, and one of the guideposts that welcomes the visitors at the axial yard, the architecture originally belonged to a zamindar called Shudheer Das. Before Partition of India in 1947, it was the appointment of a acclaimed Bengali daily, Shonar Bangla, christened by Rabindranath Tagore, the alone South Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Shamsur Rahman (his aboriginal composition was appear from here) and abounding added Dhaka-based poets and writers appear balladry and belief from this bi-weekly during its heyday. Aback again the cardboard was brought out in acme size.
Beauty Boarding Sudhi Shangha
However, anon afterwards the Partition in 1947, the bi-weekly confused its appointment to Kolkata, a accommodation which was conceivably motivated added by political affidavit than any added consideration. But anon this abode was to be a arcane and cultural hub in Dhaka aback it’d be busy from a bounded acquaintance by Nalini Mohon Saha and his adolescent brother Prohladh Saha. They started a restaurant and boarding abode business in the old abode acumen the acceptation of its breadth in Banglabazar, a aloft bulge in the abdominal alleyway networks of old Dhaka. Aback again the adjacency was a animate business centermost for book traders from all over the country and the centre of book publishing, printing, and jotter broad bazaar in Dhaka. Nalini Mohan Saha absitively to name the boarding abode afterwards his beforehand daughter, Beauty, who, according to Samar, is still animate and lives in US.
Poet Shahid Quaderi—whose balladry marks one of the arch pillars of avant-garde Bengali (read Bangladeshi) poetry—lived in a adjacent architecture in the aforementioned alleyway in the backward 1940s. He asked his friends—Rahman and Syed Haq, amid others—to appear actuality for arcane addas (chat) and readings of their balladry and artistic works. Over the years, added writers and poets began to common this place. Tea, snacks, and cafeteria were awash at a reasonable price; the apartment could be busy as low as two/three takas. So in a decade, the abode absolutely became a arcane den in Dhaka. “They [Rahman and Syed Haq] would amuse me on their knees and accord me us and chocolate. I was actual young; I’d alarm them uncle. I grew up seeing them talking hour afterwards hour and badinage occasionally,” says Samar.
Soon Beauty Boarding became a basis of adroitness for poets in bygone East Pakistan in the post-1947. Artist Nirmalendu Goon lived actuality for about bristles years. Syed Haq created abounding of his acclaimed works blockage at this place. Painter Debdas Chakrabartee, and poets Shamsur Rahman, Abu Zafar Obaidullah, Belal Chowdhury, Zia Ansari, Rafiq Azad, Al Mahmud, and Asad Chowdhury, amid abounding others, acclimated to accumulate actuality for their black tea and snacks, and appoint in abiding spells of addas about the approaching of backroom and abstract in this allotment of Bengal. That’s absolutely why this place, entwined as it is with the advance of our balladry and literature, is so awful admired by adolescent ancestors of writers. One can about brainstorm charting a aisle for the development of Bangladeshi balladry afterwards common references to this place.
The trio—Rahman, Syed Haq and Quaderi—spent abundant of their time actuality in the backward 1940s and aboriginal 1950s. In fact, there was a abstracted autograph table for Syed Haq who acclimated to address sitting there for hours. Prohladh Saha, however, would sometimes acquisition it difficult to accumulate things in adjustment in the house, with the attendance of these artistic and alert souls. “When Artist Zia Ansari was here,” recounts Samar, “he acclimated to alarm his adherent application our acreage phone. Sometimes my ancestor would aggravate him, saying, ‘If you absorb the acreage buzz for all day, breadth will my added boarders go?’ The adolescent poet, bogged in romance, would consistently reply, ‘I’m about done, Prohladh babu. Accord me alone bristles added minutes!’ But he could never accomplishment it in bristles minutes, not alike afterwards bisected an hour. But my ancestor wouldn’t admonishment him afterward.”
The backroom of Bangladesh took abrupt but advocate turns in the backward 1960s. Afterwards active a actual active business for two decades, the boarding had to stop all its arcane and cultural activities during the Liberation War in 1971. The war additionally saw the killing of 17 bodies complex with this place, including the buyer of the boarding house, Prohladh Saha. “The Pakistani Army additionally approved to annihilate the house. Their collaborators destroyed doors, windows and alike took away baptize bartering pipes,” remembers a abject Samar.
After the war, the boarding abode remained bankrupt for a connected time. Prativa Rani Shaha, Samar’s mother, assuredly resumed the business afterwards a few years, admitting adverse a lot of difficulties. The aloft boarders—mainly Syed Haq and Rahman—came avant-garde and helped Prativa Rani in abounding ways. “At some point they asked my mother to additionally resume the restaurant. It connected to be bankrupt for a connected time afterwards the boarding was reopened,” says Samar Saha.
Time additionally afflicted afterwards the war aback the country was new. Abounding old barter and visitors didn’t appointment the abode as they acclimated to in beforehand times. Sometimes there was no boarder in the house, no aberrant buzz or amusement of ambitious poets, no crooning of adolescent musicians, no abracadabra appearance by a adolescent magician. It was again that Beauty Boarding and its acclaimed arcane adda began to acquisition a abode in the belief of the old town.
The absence of accounting actual on the history of Beauty Boarding is shocking. Both Asad Chowdhury, who frequented this abode with his aeon called above, and Pias Majid, a adolescent artist absorbed in the history of Bengali poetry, mentioned a memorable allotment accounting by Belal Chowdhury, but that commodity could not be retrieved alike afterwards arduous searches through Banglabazar, and Aziz Super, and Katabon book markets. Tarok Saha, adolescent brother of Samar Saha, additionally referred to Belal’s allotment but he additionally mentioned addition book, an autobiography, Dhire Bahey Buriganga (Slowly Flows the Buriganga), accounting by Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, acclaimed for autograph conceivably the best memorable song lyric categorical in the anima of this nation—”Amar Bhai er Rokte Rangano Ekushey February” (My brothers’ blood-smeared 21st February). Admitting the concrete searches for this one met the aforementioned fate, the web assuredly came to our aid, accouterment us with a PDF adaptation of the book.
Finally, afterwards scanning 450 pages over the amount of two days, the name Beauty Boarding popped up:
“After active a connected time abroad, I went to Dhaka in January 1993. For already I basic to appointment Beauty Boarding in Banglabazar area. However, I didn’t accomplish my ambition later. I asked myself: what’s the point of activity there? What’s the point of seeing some old stones and artery and woods? Prohladh Saha, the man who was the affection of the place, is no more. And Shahid Quaderi—who founded a active arcane adda there—lives abroad. All the accompany of my agrarian adolescence days—Debdas Chakrabartee, Aminul Islam, Kaisul Haq, Samar Das, Belal Chowdhury—and I, too, are in our afterglow years. Sometimes I attending aback at our heyday and sigh. For us, Dhaka’s Beauty Boarding is now a anamnesis of connected ‘pitiful sighs’. It’s alone a memorable house—a abode abounding of joys and sorrows.” [My translation]
In a acknowledgment to a letter beatific by Tarak Saha, Abdul Gaffar, who additionally appear his fiction and balladry from Shonar Bangla, bidding his abhorrence to revisit the abode of his nostalgia. But Tarak connected to barter letter afterwards letter with old boarders and visitors to animate the arcane adda at Beauty Boarding. Eventually, he and artist Imrul Chowdhury (another ex-member of the adda) formed a 60-member trustee lath in 1995, calling it “Beauty Boarding Sudhi Shangha.” One of the objectives of the trustee lath was to align reunions of old associates and accomplish the abode as active as it was in the 1950s and 1960s.
The new bearing of poets and writers has additionally responded to the trustee board’s alarm and started absorption to the place. “They [the adolescent poets and writers] accumulate actuality for adda on the aboriginal and aftermost Fridays of anniversary month,” says Samar while assuming me some of his claimed photos with the old and new visitors. “The trustee lath is additionally activity properly. Every year in December or January they align a alliance party. They additionally accord awards to accounted writers, poets, artists, and cultural activists of our country,” he adds.
To access the abundance of visitors and boarders, the Saha brothers accept kept the aliment and allowance hire at an affordable price. “We accept 15 distinct apartment and 12 bifold apartment in the boarding. The rents of these apartment ambit from 250 to 500 takas, depending on admeasurement and quality,” says Samar.
The aliment served at the restaurant still retains one of its aboriginal legacies. If you’re attractive for a actual barbecue of a quintessential Bengali meal, this is still the abode you should appointment aboriginal and foremost. Bounded angle curries i.e. kalia of rui carp, curries of poma, pabda, aaidh, sarputi, chital, chanda, koi, and boal; lentil soup and altered mashed items, locally accepted as bhorta, are served with aflame rice for cafeteria and dinner. However, their appropriate account is hilsa angle curry, adapted with alacrity seed, which is an best admired to best Bengalis actuality as able-bodied as in West Bengal.
Undoubtedly, the re-launching of arcane adda at Beauty Boarding is a able anticipation for a arcane ability in Bangladesh. But can this abode comedy its aloft role in abstraction the arcane goals of adolescent poets and writers? Or does Dhaka—one of the best crawling cities in the world, with an estimated citizenry of over 18 million—need added lit hubs to cope with the appeal of a technologically avant-garde time?
Poet Asad Chowdhury, who was additionally a approved affiliate at Beauty Boarding during its prime, thinks that the basic burghal has a scattering of places for arcane addas. “There is, of course, a absence of places for arcane addas in Dhaka. While I was belief at university, I’d blitz to Beauty Boarding after finishing clandestine charge to students. Bodies from altered backgrounds visited the place. In fact, any avant-garde and accelerating Bengali would common Beauty Boarding aback in those days.” The septuagenarian artist believes that admitting Biswa Sahitya Kendra and a few added places action a acceptable arcane ambient in Dhaka, the animate basic needs added places like Beauty Boarding for advantageous arcane growths of beginning poets and writers.
The active accomplished of Beauty Boarding is so august that Bangladesh’s abstract will bless its role for a connected time. While new hubs should be created, it’s now up to writers and poets of the present time to accomplish the “second coming” a reality, which can alone appear through animating old hubs like Beauty Boarding and absorption to new ones as well, and bearing added and added artistic works.
Let all falcons appear aback to the falconers.
Mir Arif is Staff Writer, Arts & Letters.
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