ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Memories of Calcutta Nights

This is with regard to Aishika Chakraborty’s paper as part of the Review of Women’s Studies on Bengali cabaret dancers (“Dancing the Night Away: The Erotic Outlaws of Democracy,” EPW, 28 May 2022). It brought back memories of my days as a journalist with the Statesman in the early 1960s when I was assigned to write a report on the crooners and cabaret dancers of Calcutta bars. I remember watching Miss Shefali performing at the Lido room at Firpo’s hotel. Much later in 1973, I met her at her flat in an apartment at the crossing of Circus Avenue and Kareya in Park Circus. She was no longer dancing and was dependent on the earnings of her trainees. I was sad to hear about her passing away.

Talking about cabaret dancers, I treasure the scene of Helen dancing in the film Howrah Bridge (made way back in 1958) singing “Mera naam Chin-Chin-Chu ... hello mister how do you do?” while moving from one table to another in a bar.

The author is right in pointing out the conflation of cabaret dancing with sex work, for example, in her interview with Ruby Khan. This reminded me of a parallel profession of striptease acts conducted in the privacy of a selected audience in clubs or hotels. In the course of my reporting assignments in the 1980s, I observed two such striptease performances. The first was in a club in Bangkok where the Thai female performer had to take on the role of a silent submissive target of the laughter of the male audience as she took off her clothes one by one. My second experience was in a night club in a city in the United States where, in contrast to the Thai woman, the White female performer laughingly shouted four-letter words addressing the male audience while taking off her clothes. The self-assertion of her sexuality—“a female wilfully placing her body”—as the author would perhaps define it.

To get back to whom the author describes as the “erotic outlaws” of Calcutta of the 1960s, some among them were welcomed by us as “erotic in-laws” at that time. I am talking about the crooners whose voices enthralled us. I remember Patricia singing in Magnolia in Park Street (I wonder if that restaurant is still there) the soulful song: “There’s a fire down below, down below my heart” or the fast-beat funny one: “Kiss me honey, honey, kill me honey!”

I loved reading Chakraborty’s well-researched and well-documented paper, which stirred up old memories as well as stimulated new thoughts.

Sumanta Banerjee



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Updated On : 18th Jun, 2022
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