Unseen Passage: Nimtita

‘‘But have you been to Nimtita? Have you been to the palace there?’’ asked the old man in the tea-shop, with the thatched roof. We were in the village of Lalgola, one hundred and fifty miles from Kolkata, and we had just seen our thirteenth nobleman’s palace and found it unsuitable.

‘‘Nimtita? Where is that?’’ we asked without much interest. We had never heard of the place. ‘‘It is sixty miles to the North of here. You drive up the highway. Then you come to a river which you have to cross. A ferry will take your car across. Then up the highway again for twenty miles. A sign tells you where to branch off… It’s on the river Padma, on the eastern bank. It’s the palace of the Choudharys. I’ve been listening to your talk, and I feel you ought to see this one before you give up.”

We were not very hopeful. We had had enough trouble taking free advice from people who had no idea of our needs. Anyway, the question was: do we or do we not undertake this last trip? If we did not like the palace, it might mean either giving up making this film altogether, or seriously changing its nature. We tossed a coin to decide whether to go or not. The coin said, “Go!”, and we set out on our sixty-mile journey.

It was when I was in bed with my right leg in plaster that I had decided the film on Tarasankar Banerji’s famous short story, “The Music Room” (Jalsaghar). A nasty fall on the stone steps at Banaras had brought about a serious knee injury. I lay in bed and read all the Bengali books I could lay my hands on. Just then, the film distributors were not too keen to take my film for distribution, and may be this was one of the things that made me choose ‘The Music Room’.

Here was a dramatic story which could naturally bring in music and dancing and distributors loved music and dancing. But here, too, was a story full of feelings. So it would be satisfying for me as an artist. I would cast Chabi Biswas, our greatest actor, in the leading role of the zamindar — the zamindar whose love of the big musical entertainments brings about his ruin. But the most important thing was to find a palace. As we had a low budget, there was no question of having studio-built sets. I knew that, if we had the money, my art director could easily build a set which looked like our old palace with the right style. But we just didn’t have the money for it.

Nimtita turned out to be everything that the old man had claimed — and more. No one could have described in words the feeling of utter sadness that surrounded the palace. The river Padma had changed its course over the years, so that now there were endless stretches of sand where once had been villages. The palace itself — Greek pillars and all — was a perfect realization of my dream image. It stood looking out over the stretches of sand with a sad dignity. It had somehow escaped being totally destroyed when the river changed its course. The river had reached within ten yards of the front of the palace — having swallowed the garden — and then stopped. Ganendra Narayan Choudhary, who is seventy and owns a British title and the palace, told us how it happened: “We were having breakfast one morning when we heard a low rumble. We went out to the verandah and saw a big chunk of our estate — almost a square mile of it — going under water, disappearing forever. It all happened in a few seconds. Padma’s appetite is legendary.”

“But aren’t you afraid that the river might encroach further?”

“Oh, yes, the rains bring with them the usual fears.”

On returning from our first trip to Nimtita, I telephoned the author, Mr. Banerji. He had been just as anxious about the location as we were.

“We’ve found our palace at last, Mr. Banerji,” I said.

“Have you? And where is it?”

“At a little known place called Nimtita.”

“Nimtita?” There was a note of recognition in his voice. “You don’t mean the palace of the Choudharys, do you?”

“That’s the one.”

“But that’s extraordinary! I haven’t been to Nimtita myself, but I have read about the Choudharys in a history of Bengal zamindars, and it was the music-loving Upendra Narayan Choudhary who served as the model for my rajah.”

Q. On the basis of your understanding of the above passage, answer each of the question given below by choosing the most appropriate option.

  1. The writer of the passage is a _ by profession.
    (i) painter (ii) filmmaker (iii) photographer (iv) journalist
  2. What helped the author and his friends to decide whether or not to go to Nimtita?
    (i) the suggestion made by the old man at the tea-shop (ii) their own intuitive feeling (iii) description of the palace in a travel book (iv) tossing of a coin
  3. Why was the idea of building a set for shooting given up?
    (i) Shooting at a set would not give a real life effect. (ii) They didn’t have money for a set. (iii) Building a set is very time consuming. (iv) Shooting at the actual palace would be more authentic.
  4. Who is the central character in the story, ‘The Music Room’?
    (i) A local raja (ii) A zamindar (iii) A British official (iv) An artist
  5. What did the author like most about the palace?
    (i) facilities for the visitors (ii) wood carvings at the ceiling (iii) its huge central hall (iv) its Greek pillars

Answer

  1. filmmaker
  2. tossing of a coin
  3. They didn’t have money for a set.
  4. A zamindar
  5. its Greek pillars

Q. Answer the following questions briefly:

  1. What suggestion did the old man at the tea-shop make to the author and his friends?
  2. Why did the author not like the idea of taking free advice?
  3. How did the author sustain a serious injury?
  4. What brought about the ruin of the zamindar in the story, “The Music Room”?
  5. Who was Ganendra Narayan Choudhary?
  6. How did Mr. Banerji react to the information about the palace?

Answer

  1. The old man suggested them to visit the palace of the Choudharys in Nimtita.
  2. The free advice of people had brought only trouble to the author and didn’t serve his purpose.
  3. The author had a nasty fall on the stone steps at Banaras and received a serious knee injury.
  4. The zamindar’s love for big musical entertainments brought about his ruin.
  5. Ganendra Narayan Choudhary was the current owner of the palace.
  6. Mr. Banerji reacted excitedly to the information about the palace. It was indeed the location of his dreams.

Q. Answer any three of the following questions in 25–30 words each

  1. Why did the author choose the story, ‘The Music Room’ for his film?
  2. How do you know that reaching Nimtita was not easy?
  3. What havoc did the river Padma cause when it changed its course?
  4. How had the palace escaped being totally destroyed?

Answer

  1. During the time of his recovery from the knee injury, when even the film distributors were not very keen on taking his film. The author decided to make a film on Tarasankar Banerji’s famous short story ‘The Music Room’. It was a film revolving around music and dancing, a subject favourite amongst distributors.
  2. Reaching Nimtita was a big task as it was sixty miles away from the main city and even the route was tough. First, one had to drive sixty miles to the north up the highway then take a ferry to cross the river and then drive again twenty miles up the highway.
  3. When river Padma changed its course it reached within ten yards of the palace, destroyed the garden of the palace completely and a big section, almost a square mile of the estate went under water and disappeared forever.
  4. Over the years the river Padma changed its course and now there were endless stretches of sand. When river Padma first changed its course it destroyed a big chunk of the estate, and it happened within seconds, but after that it never caused fatal damage though the fear during the rains was a constant.

Q. Find words/phrases from the passage which are similar in meaning to each of the following:

  1. main (para 5)
  2. nobility (para 6)
  3. concerned (para 9)

Answers

  1. leading
  2. British title
  3. anxious

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