We will never know how Suchitra Sen looked in her advancing years. She made sure --- and she did the right thing --- by taking herself out of the public eye, the better for her admirers to remember the beautiful woman she was in her many avatars on the silver screen. And that is precisely what we have done.
In the innermost recesses of our souls, we have kept in almost sacred manner Suchitra Sen's serenity, that softness which comes with quiet glamour, that innocent temptation which rises in us at the sight of beauty of a heightened kind.
Suchitra Sen's appeal was quintessentially Bengali. Demure and therefore alluring, she remains the epitome of Bengali womanhood. Add to that a dash of the intellectual and what you have is that other Sen we have known in our lifetime.
Aparna Sen's beauty comes packaged in large dollops of grey matter, just the kind of woman with whom you can spend an entire afternoon discussing almost everything under the sun. Aparna Sen is every inch a modern woman and yet every inch a woman in the rich tradition of Bengali womanhood.
Here on this side of the old Bengal, beauty in women has always been part not merely of life as it is lived but of folklore as well. Long before the days of parlours and the development of notions of beauty being arrived at by dieting, there was genuine charm in Bengali women.
They wore sarees, had a tantalizing khonpa and had their sexuality coming clothed in poetry. Kabori, all these years after she ventured into filmdom as an attractive teenager, still can turn your head with that sparkle in her eyes and good cheer in her laughter.
Or think of Shabnam. Hers is beauty undefiled by time. Watching her in the twilight hours as she enters a room and makes everyone turn to observe her, you would think time has stood still, that you have gone back to a past where Shabnam has weathered all the assaults of nature inflicted on her.
No discussion of Bengali feminine beauty will be complete without dwelling on the perfect, almost Greek features of the Tagore artiste Papiya Sarwar. Age has not withered her and it looks as if it never will. The actress Babita is one more instance of the canvas of beautiful womanhood a Bengali can truly be proud of.
In her is an abundance of grace coming in tandem with humility. And if you were to go back to a conversation on the intellectually beautiful Bengali woman, there is Shompa Reza for you. She does not age; and with a voice that seduces through a high summer-like recitation of poetry, she only adds to thoughts of the myriad ways in which Bengal has yielded up its women in all their raiment of irrepressible glamour.
In her time, Jahanara Imam was emblematic of all that was appealing about Bengali womanhood. In times closer to ours, the late politician Ivy Rahman was one individual whose presence was a powerful statement on the place of feminine aesthetics in our lives.
When you think of Suchitra Mitra, it is gravitas that you recall, the demeanour which complemented grace in the Tagore artiste. With her salt-and-pepper hair, a voice that seemed to touch the heavens with its reach, Suchitra Mitra was proof that beauty is a generational thing, that it sharpens itself as it passes from one generation to another.
There is, almost in the manner of the unseen yet endlessly celebrated beauty that was Helen of Troy, the poet's muse in the shape and form of Bonolota Sen. In talk of her beauty, Natore turns into a perennial point of interest, even as the Bengali literary tradition lifts itself on to a higher perch of expression.
A darkness of complexion is one of the factors which have regularly contributed to the emergence of beauty in the Bengali woman. It is said Pakistan's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was infatuated with a dark Bengali beauty named Husna Sheikh. She was dark, had long tresses and reportedly possessed all those attributes that gave her a poetic turn of appearance, in that physical sense of the meaning. No one quite knows what became of her. In our times, the singer Krishnokoli sends us into raptures with her music. And adding thrill to the songs is her dark beauty.
West Bengal's Moon Moon Sen, for all her sixty six plus years, remains one beautiful woman who can yet cause fire in the male soul. In our part of the old Bengal, Runa Laila and Sabina Yasmeen typify feminine charms in their individual ways. In Runa, the beauty is heightened by her showmanship (or is it -womanship?) on stage; and Sabina is a reminder of the kind of beauty --- cheerful, petite, and possessed of politeness --- one endlessly misses in these less than natural times.
Among the younger generation of Bengali women, Opi Karim and Tisha (and there are so many others as well) are good points of reference. In the 1970s and 1980s, Mita Chowdhury's was beauty inimitable. The academic Suraiya Khanum and her broadcaster sibling Dilara Hashem were beautiful, elegant women in whose presence the city lit up in ecstasy. Hashem, into proper ageing today, remains nevertheless an embodiment of good looks and womanly grace.
Bengal's beauty lights up the room when your friend, defying age through a consistent enhancement of her grace and charm, sails into the room, almost into your arms. It is in the soft, near tanned cheeks of the woman you serenade in poetry when the fading afternoon sun shoots its rays into her as she finds her way home. You touch her. And she blushes deeply.
The writer is Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age
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