Nandan. Kolkata Short Film Festival. Chitrabani. Sahaj Manush.

They are like rivers from different directions meeting at Nandan and creating  history in the time-space continuum. Nandan is the one place in Kolkata, where with each visit, you come back with fresh ideas and thoughts, rich with cultural nuances of foreign lands and much, much more.

The primary aim of Nandan − the government sponsored film and cultural hub of Kolkata has always been to promote, encourage and facilitate cinematic awareness in society.

In collaboration with Chitrabani, for the 14th year, the Kolkata Short Film Festival was celebrated with audiences and new directors overflowing the auditorium. I had the privilege to be part of the Jury responsible for selecting these films for screening, and it is under these circumstances that I first met with Sahaj Manush and heard them perform.

Sahaj Manush (meaning simple humans) is a musical group which recreate a fusion of Baul music merging  it with  folk lore from the distant corners of Bengal. When they performed at Nandan, they received thunderous applause and wide appreciation from the audience which was enthralled with their songs and dance.

Baul music itself has been included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2005 and it is well-known that Baul harmonies had a great influence on Rabindranath Tagore’s music and poetry and continues to be sung by the younger generation of today.

It so happened that just two days after I had met with Sahaj Manush in Kolkata, I happened to meet Jashoda Sirkar from Joydev Kenduli in Birbhum who invited us to visit the Sahaj Manush Sebashram (in case you want to visit, the contact number is 9732380456) at the Jaidev Mela.

If you frequent fairs and festivals in India then you will be familiar with the Joydev Kenduli Mela (usually taking place from 14th − 16th January) in Bengal’s Birbhum District, located just 42 km from Shantineketan. Situated right next to the Ajoy river, this fair is famous for showcasing its Baul singers who gather here each year in large numbers. The onslaught of numerous visitors and tourists make this an ideal venue not only for enjoying these cultural exchanges but also for celebrating life. The birthplace of the famous poet Jaidev − who composed the Gita Govinda in Sanskrit, turns into twirling and dancing orange flames (the color of the clothes worn by the Bauls), singing straight from their hearts while playing their uni-stringed ektaras.

Jashoda Sarkar, the well-known Baul singer from Jaidev Kenduli had invited us to the fair to experience these harmonies from their birth place. This open-air experience was very unique compared to the Baul music which I had heard within the sound-treated auditorium of Nandan. Having been provided with a list of other Baul performers for the day I thoroughly enjoyed myself, giving into the pure delight of these performances.

In addition to the music I also had the opportunity to walk through the Radhabinode Temple complex which has some amazing terracotta carvings of scenes from the Ramayana.

Thus, what started out with the Kolkata Short Film Festival organized by Chitrabani in collaboration with Nandan, had drawn me right into the heart and soul of Bengal.