It was 7 p.m. on a winter morning and his mobile phone kept ringing. Ankur tossed around in his bed trying to prevent the sound from disturbing his sleep. It was cold and he definitely didn’t want to get up from inside his warm blanket. It had been a few months that he had started working independently as a free-lancer editing videos; recording and designing sound for films. He had spent all night doing his work on his latest project and it wasn’t even four hours that he took to bed. Early morning calls left him groggy and grumpy. With utter reluctance and annoyance he picked up his phone without even caring to see who had called.
“Hello,” he said grouchily
“Hi Ankur ! This is Brad, “said the voice on the other side. “Sorry to wake you up so early, buddy”, said Brad his friend from college days. “I had no other option”.
“Yeah tell me “, said Ankur in a friendly and pacified tone.
“Can you reach Sealdah station by 9 o’clock today?” “I have some interesting work for you in Burdwan. The Block Development Officer there is shooting a documentary film and he wants a good sound recorder and video editor for his project.”
Ankur kept silent thinking for a while. Ankur had never been to Burdwan before and the prospect of seeing a new place also excited him. “Yes, I’ll be there by 9”, he said finally.
“You will be paid within one week of completion of the documentary,” added his friend.
“It’s okay, Brad “, said Ankur.
It was ten minutes to 9 when Ankur reached Sealdah station. Brad was waiting near the ticket counter for him and standing beside him was a middle aged man. “Let me introduce you to Samirda . He works in the Block Development Officer’s office in Burdwan,”said Brad introducing him. Ankur shook hands with him.
“Samirda told me about this project”, said Brad. “He will take you to the Block Development Officer’s office.”
It was 11 o’clock when Ankur and Samir reached Burdwan station and a half an hour more to the office from there. A thirty-two to thirty-five year old intelligent looking man in spectacles was sitting in a chamber leafing through a file and writing notes on it.
“May we come in? “, asked Samir standing in-front of the door of the chamber.
The man looked up at them and said, “Yes please”, gesturing towards two chairs which lay on the opposite side of his table.”
“Sir, he is Ankur Mukherjee who would be doing the sound recording and video editing for our documentary”, said Samir and then he turned towards Ankur and said ,”Meet Sir, Mr. Debashish Bose, our Block Development Officer.
“Good Morning Sir,” said Ankur extending his hand towards Mr.Bose.
“Good morning Mr. Mukherjee “, said Debashish shaking his hand.” Please have a seat. What would you like to have tea or coffee?”, he asked.
“No thank you Sir. I have already had tea a few minutes ago “.
“Okay , please give a few more minutes and then we will talk about our film.”
Ankur looked around the room. There was a rack at one side stacked with files of different sizes and registers. Another table close to his stood with a computer on top of it, most probably for his personal assistant.
“So Mr. Mukherjee as I was telling you I am planning to make a short documentary on our new project Bengal Nirmalaya which has been sanctioned by our State government,” said Debashish after a few minutes. “By this film we want to propagate the beneficiary of building toilets in the homes of our villagers and using them instead of urinating and defecating outside in the fields, near railway tracks or the roads which is not only hazardous for their health but also bad for our environment and personal cleanliness as it spreads all kinds of diseases. I will accompany you to a few Santhal (tribal) villages here. There we will shoot our film and show the reality of their existence and make them aware about their unhealthy practice.”
“Yes Sir I am all geared up and ready to go, “said Ankur “and please don’t call me Mr. Mukherjee; just call me Ankur as I am younger than you.”
“Okay Ankur, then let’s proceed,” he said.
They all got into a jeep which was waiting outside for them.While their way to the tribal belt Ankur learnt that the camera man and the director would be waiting for them at the village. They moved through winding and uneven mud roads to reach the hamlet. There were a few small mud huts in the hamlet beside vast stretches of paddy fields. On asking the Santhals about their homes they got to know that these very tiny mud huts which were not more than 4sqft in width and 5sqft in length were all they had to call their own and they worked as laborers in the paddy fields. Ankur and even Deabashish were experiencing something which they had never before. In these small rooms if you could call them that at all, they cooked and they slept with their families in dire poverty. It was the same story in other hamlets they visited. How could they provide the luxury of having a toilet?
“Can’t you see we don’t have space for a toilet. Give us some land if you are so concerned about our cleanliness”, was a common response.
These were issues which had to be looked into.
“How do you plan to make the documentary?”, asked Ankur .
“Look Ankur ,”said Debashish in deep thought .” I am not a politician. I have come to work and I will portray the truth in my film.”
They spent seven days in shooting the film and taking interviews of these poor tribal people which they included in it. This film had to be shown to the ministry of Rural Development and after having a look they would sanction it to be shown to the public in general. Debashish was at a conundrum . He knew not what fate lay for him. Maybe his job would be at a stake as he may irk the politicians with his brave projection of the true state of these tribes. But his conscience was clear and he was at peace which also was very important to him.