Baba – as I see him

It was twenty-seven years ago on this day you left us.

I remember you to be the youngest son in a family of four – the oldest being your sister Nanda di as you perhaps called her,deceased first, followed by two brothers Sadananda who died early and Nityananda who remained a bachelor until he passed away in the late sixties of the last century. You married Chhaya Chakravarty of distant Meerut in Uttar Pradesh after one of your marriage proposals on the Classifieds was answered by that family.You met up at the Howrah Station Waiting Room overlooking the majestic Hooghly River.Showing great wit you impressed her instantly saying”beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” to her rather beguiling query of not being so beautiful. You continued as a small-time rentier landlord with modest land holdings at Village Bheda Rama Chandrapur,Banki, some 40 kms away, hitherto a subdivision of Cuttack District and Patrapara,a small village sandwiched between Bhubaneswar and Khurda of Odisha.You went on to also becoming the sole owner of the huge Prabhabati Bhavan, housed in Sahebzada Bazar, after your only living elder brother Nityananda(Jethu-to us ) generously gifted his all .With a modest secondary level education from -the,then Victoria School (now re-christened as Bhaktamadhu Vidyapith), a father of four sons and two daughters, you must have felt both lucky and proud when you stood at the head of it all.These were the early sixties…

You were of medium build, masculine in the Ashok Kumarish way.

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Copper-coloured, broad-forehead,big eyes sometimes amped further with those black framed powered spectacles,peppered shock of back-brushed hair,a prominent nose atop a firm jaw,dark and coarsened lips after years of Charminar,a strong hairy chest on broad shoulders_- all of it, standing on two sure legs.Jethu and you did try your hand in some small time business of selling parachute cloth, thread, strings and accessories during the Second Great War(in the black-market) and after.Your passions of the dark made you the infamous and much sought after ‘Jomduthes’- messengers of Death-the Brahmin Doms(undertakers) for preparing the last rites of passage of the dead young girls or widows whom their very own dreaded to touch.You washed all of the terrors and bad name-calling down after the unfortunate but necessary ritual in generous glasses of the very strong and cheap “Desi” (country liquor). And the English one too,of course,every-once-in-a-while.You loved the village,the community with its “Gomastas”(Estate-managers) “Bhag-Chasis”(share-croppers) and people, its coarse and authentic flavour and sights,the earthy and tasty delights of the fresh fish from the pond or the choicest limb on an ocassional butchering of the village goat,home-grown vegetables and the rice off the paddy fields served in the shining family brass plates with an array of smaller saucers .You filled us with the endearing but thrilling tales of the disloyal Pitabasa,the grateful Isra Rout and his devoted family:his wife who famously wet-nursed Dula,the youngest scion and was fondly called”chasa-dudha-khiya”(one who has drunk the tiller’s milk),of the rustic sagacity of the oldest Jaya,the physical commitment of Kula and the spotless fielty of Visuniya see-sawed with that of an Apartiya,lines of sandal wood paste neatly adorning his dark, muscular and shining body chipping away single-mindedly at big chunks of Sheesham creating many a memorable piece of furniture and Dhadiya of Patrapara equally vile and unfaithful on the other.The compulsions of legal cases and conflicts to hold on to litigated properties vied with the addictive thrill of playing ‘pasha”(a local variation of chess played on a stitched piece of cloth of measured squares of black and white, like an extended four way crossroad with a squared centre, with cowries-as the dice).Maa did her own thing but always close holding court to help resolve women issues or just plain listen to their unheard woes.Did you gamble while puffing mouthfuls on the “hookah”(tobacco pipes)like the proud aristocrat in penury of a Jalsaghar, I often used to wonder?Was that your Zemindaar moment?

“Prabhabati Bhavan”, kept you in another world of cares,concern and years of joy

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.Merina and Babloo the oldest son and daughter were your favourites.You secretly must’ve desired to do more for them, than what you could otherwise.Mamarbadi of Meerut (the maternal uncle household) feted you as their chosen “Jamai Babu” (son-in-law).You made it a point to visit them once every year with bagfuls of rice, sweets and vegetables and travel the distance in what was perhaps, an unending journey of almost 2 days.You loved them too -Montu,Khoka Da,Choto Mama and Mami,Muna ,Baduni,Meja Boudi and the many younger.Your packet of Passing Show cigarettes,the Pall Mall tins,the exotic deoderants, the odd Whisky bottle and stylish Tees must have made your day or days shunning the Charminars, all puffed up, talking of your favorite Montu, the one on the ships and forever sailing – only to rush to his dear Jayada whenever she docked in at Kidderpore.

Your friends,Durga and Chatak were forever our very loved Mamas.(uncles).Serampore became our first choice of a holiday home and the amiable call of “Sister” at the doorsteps meant Durga Mama was knocking.

You were quite a pair- Maa and you.

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She the outgoing go-getter and fiesty,never to be satisfied easily.You, the sober and understanding other half.Always there,unobtrusive and discreet.Over time you got used to your domestication,looked forward to the cooking of the odd delicacy, unfailingly making the regular trips to the market, mending the old, rusted electric switches, holders,slipper straps and shoe soles,broken furniture and choked plumbings.You gave up smoking, dressed ordinary and economised every which way you could as the family properties were being increasingly sold to make available the fast depleting funds needed for the upkeep and education of a fairly large family.The rentals did not add up for much.Mejda, Dula and I going to the costly Stewart School would have not helped either. Ponchuaa,our Man Friday must have been a tower of strength making up for all the woes and shortcomings when Maa and your absences were on the increase.You stood rock solid with Maa in her political journeys when she in her own way was breaking several glass ceilings sometimes shocking the conservative neighbourhood.You became a devout and practicing Hindu after the arrival of Badada.The house was all incense sticks,lamps and diyas, flowers,mango and Bel leaves.

Your health had begun to fail. Coughing had deteriorated to asthma and the kidneys weren’t as good.You fought it while suffering.Your sleepless nights coughing, now I know, were so difficult and painful. Those days,I tried sleeping away as Maa patiently nursed with the help of Merina and Alina, the older sisters.You were taken to the PGI, Chandigarh to heal the bad kidney.Mukul,our generous friend layed open his house and the scooter to help.Those were the late seventies.Your daughters had gotten married ,all the children employed and away at other places, with grandchildren coming along to fill a very happy family frame.

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The Bawling grand children !

Thankfully, you do remember Baba, the youngest Dula with his wife Sharmila and children stayed back, to be with you and Maa – up until the last. All the lovely tenants Sushila Masi,Behenji,Boudi,Bijoya Masi,Gokul Babu,Lakahan Da,Baiju bhai,Masterji were your friendly neighbourhood, ever at hand. Mashima and Krishna di,Nini Appa,Sailabala didi,Debjani’s mother were some of your friends you looked forward to meeting.Shanker Bhai, Tokon,Papu,Gopi and Subhashis filled your many lonely hours.In the meanwhile you visited your many Bahus and son-in -laws Sunu and Shanker.Boudi, Sashi and Arti got to see you and know you better.Your family was never becoming any the smaller.

… Each day unfailingly in the morning hours,Maa still sees enough to put a thread into the invisible eye of the needle.She makes a garland or two of fresh flowers- sometimes big and sometimes small.She speaks occasionally.Her memory is like another memory.So they say…But, she does not forget each day to make her silent offering to the only person she misses with all her heart.


It is true, my memories, are never sharp when it is about you.Unlike sons or daughters.I am sure, each of them will have their own stories to tell.
I shall remain your “Pencha”(owl) always.I know you are always around somewhere happy watching what you see.

Masterji: As I remember

Yes, you wore many hats.
I remember you.
Those were the sixties of the previous century when rickshaws were everywhere. The migrants from our neighbouring state, Telugu speaking from Andhra Pradesh drove those cheap, but friendly and ubiquitous vehicles. They were early days to understand eco-friendly modes of mobility.Maybe, there was only a handful, rich enough to own private cars.
In your spare time which was very little, I’d imagine, you worked on these simple contraptions, repaired and even assembled them. There were quite a few of these rickshaws that you owned and employed many robust and hardworking Telugus at your popular outlet, near the erstwhile Capital Cinema Hall. Many who had seen this part of you either quietly sniggered in the shadows or shamefacedly criticised in front.
Now I know and understand the hands-on man, that was you: pioneering, courageous and entrepreneurial. Not for you were the cosy comforts of a staid world bound by non-enterprising mores or pettiness borne out of lazily held property or decadent riches. You were your own man.
I remember the three daughters in their very early teens in colourful Salwar Kameez or flowering skirts on bicycles would set the dry and dusty streets of Cuttack a flutter. They rode the lady-cycles without a carrier in front of the seat and without a care.From “Sati Chaura” to “Chauliaganj” they biked equally comfortable talking to boys as with the others.Eyeballs surely would have rolled like Chinese toys.The girls next door or the touch-me-not unmarried maids and mocking mothers would miss this liberating sight when bounded indoors for their stuck up elders believed that good girls were not to be touched by the polluting influence of the “chokris”.. If there were sighs, heartaches or secret desires seeking such freedom by the nubile lovelies inside of their homes we do not know but can only guess! That besides the cry and spit of contempt of the gentlemen and women could not be hidden and their evil gazes dotted the trail of these innocent, freewheeling cyclists. The mother of the Singh Family, however, dignified and distinguished both in looks and education lovingly let her girls fly.( And mind you, they could cook too!) Masterji was nonchalant, unfazed and happily cheered the family on, well ahead and above of it all. You were modern enough without the usual trappings.
I remember you could drink “lotas”(round vessel of brass or aluminium) of water through your nose and relish a full mouthful of fresh green chillies in equal measure with a “handi”(earthen pot) of Rasogoolas .Dread and awe transfixed the gazes of the uninitiated and the young while the matured and smug continued with their snigger. Who was to tell the latter of their native ignorance’s when they beheld these spectacular feats?
I remember the gather of the men, women, and children from Bihar who found in your home succour, support, and shelter. You were the mentor, guide and father to them who nostalgically missed their distant homes, families, and friends left behind through the humming and mostly loud singing of Bhojpuri folk to the accompaniment of Harmonium, dholaks and manjiras(little brass cymbals) clanging tunefully against each other. The taste of the wonderful choka, puris , dum alloo,dai bhalles and what-have-you still lingers of the many feasts of Holi, Chhat Puja, and Diwali. You made this happen Masterji to get the merry band of migrant Biharis coming together.One question though naggingly lingers.Was your politics not about the belted oversized khaki shorts, lathi and the white gangees(vests)?Just as an aside, good :they are good:those that wear the same today ,a lbeit in trousers they are! But well, that is another story.
Today, you leave me and many else wondering why do we remember now. Why do ideators,polygots,musicians, filmmakers, painters, and authors, artists philosophers while on their path-breaking and innovative drives during their lifetime seldom get recognised or discovered? Why do we not see the many flavours of life and its struggles that different people, cultural diversity, languages, and places bring? Why does it take time to see the seeds being sown for the many flowers to be born from the energy, courage, vision, sweat and toil of an unsung but tireless gardener?
Sadly, it is only, much after, that we do! In most instances, that is, By then, it is but the tale of too little too late I’ d suppose

P.S. After Pappu’s tribute.Another reminisce…

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