Behind the risk of life and limb stood the woman by his man. Running from sick quarters to banks and schools, buying groceries riding cycles or by walk, receiving and seeing off loved relatives all by themselves, while her loved man was away is a quality taken for granted and an unwritten part of the wife’s job description. Cooking late meals without notice with nothing in store for an unannounced number of gatecrashers, the free-flowing rum and groggy men being the proverbial last straw. Do not get it wrong here! These were still early days for the women to enjoy much less taste the tabooed liquor. It took a while before the docile and submissive Nari came into her own. In her Sunday best, she soldiered on with a smile. Tears there must have been and many at that but these were to be borne and shared by each husband in the dark corners of the bedroom.
Some six decades ago a child was born to Mrs. and Capt.Ghosh of “Kanta Griha” at Cuttack. I remember him some four years or so after his birth as Tokon or more correctly Tuhin Kanta Ghosh! Strangely numerous trivia – happy, funny and sad blink in colors bright, or grained when I sit and gape at a table across drowned with laughter and uncut bonhomie…
An angular, sharp-cut, thin boy in starched Uniform, well ironed, one size larger, perhaps anticipating quick and uneconomic physical growth, lots of oil in the hair (Maha Bhringaraj?) that most Bengalis put, if they had active Calcutta connections. Yes, that is how I recall! Ah, and his Cycle which was from the “Lost and Missing” list of the” Great Rayman Circus”. At least, that is how we made fun of his unique ship of narrow roads, humps and potholes. This one had a high perch that let your legs dangle like washed trousers of a clothesline on a windy day. The seat was rock-hard solid made to ensure”Brahmacharya” (celibacy) forever. A skilled juggler or a talented circus clown could ride this one and yes, have the entire audience applaud or be in splits. So could our very own Tokon .It was to keep friends from borrowing that he lent this specialty once in a while. All who tasted her delights had a sorry date with the devil. The sordid aftermath was a screamy bruised story of scratches, painful scars and lots of Tincture-of-Iodine. The tiny me, never touched this vaulting horse both for its weight and size. I was no gymnast, either!
He was blessed with a style known as:”Ghosh Riyaaz” natural to all the scions of Kanta Griha.On any given day the early morning or in the evenings the heritage house used to morph into an acoustic “Woodstockian Special”- a frenetic chattercomb, abuzz with the flutter and flight of whining adolescents, hovering dragon flies droning at the fount wells of wisdom. Astonished onlookers used to discover boys and girls of different age groups (the Ghosh’s were a joint family of several brothers and their children) engaged in the esoteric ritual of “mugging”: the art of memorising in different pitches, scales, tonal variations without affecting the concentration and focus of the other brother, sisters and cousins while quite literally, rubbing shoulders with each other. Yes if you are thinking of the “sargam” you are close but not quite. Memorex, that wonder drug for never-to-forget-anything is said to have been inspired from around this area! Do not however get the wrong notes here.Khukumadi,Manudi,Govindada,Tenten,Babua, Khoko,Rumni,Munmun,Buchkuni et all were uncut costly stones waiting to be burnished.Even before Wilma Rudolph had become a World champion, the pretty girls of Kanta Griha were setting many a sports field on fire in this little nook of Cuttack. As for the parents: distinguished lawyers and policemen instilling enough law and order to this human menagerie.
Tokon, the proverbial good boy could ill afford not to study. His marks were never a reflection of his sincere efforts and this caused a nagging self-doubt. He kept his head above the water though. The delinquents were mistakenly happy to have him as one of their own. He sat in the back benches.True.But; it was this deceptive quality that stood him in good stead. His effective and practical intelligence made him “a lambi race kaa ghodaa”. (A Derby horse?).Not many knew, Mr.Saunders,the Anglo-Indian English Teacher, lived longer, despite a troubled heart for mercifully not having known that the ‘chokra boy-Tuhin'(street urchin) had been graded first in the Sunday English Essay Competitions at the famous “Ali Tuitions” akin to the Rau’s IAS Study Circle of yore! The dreaded Senior Cambridge came and Tokon did not get his deserved grades as it was widely believed that the Hindi teacher had given him disgraceful marks bringing down his overall assessment for not having taken the mandatory tuitions.
Not many would have known either that he had also begun his career of social activism as Secretary of Naujawan Club (which boasted an active membership of 9 only) around this time. He had the unique distinction of having welcomed and escorted many future politicians on his much abused cycle-carrier !The early musical bands and their talents like Mohd Habib and Sangita Mahapatro of Cuttack had treaded gratefully the sacred portals of this unknown club. He had learnt early how to get along with the trendy and famous.
The Arts seem to have disappointed Tokon enough to help him make his first far thinking commercial-career move. A Bengali thinking of money was “Chi-Chi” and doing business was “kelenkari”(disaster). He had made his move .An early bird. Was he? Having graduated from Commerce he moved away to “Calcutta and Mamar Baadi.”He struggled with his Cost Accountancy while adjusting the Books-of- Accounts. The Marwaris, the big financial firms, Simon and Carves, Construction, Real Estate and Infrastructure, remote settlements, god-forsaken locations, cooking for self and colleagues by turn, washing clothes always, far away from friends and family must have taken its toll. The grind was hard but he silently plodded on. He was his own man always.
Things had begun to change. We met him only on occasions and during short leaves or extended holidays. We missed him while he missed us more. In any case that is how we thought it was.But; he never spoke or made a mention. His heart remained unseen to some friends as it missed many beats. The arteries of blood supply and oxygen choked. Later and in time, the sick heart healed with clinical care and Tokon came out singed and chastened. Maybe, a trifle frightened too. Doctors and medicine became a part of his life, like destiny. Friends had gotten married since and moved on.
Families grew and shifted while Tokon learnt to live all by himself. Kanta Griha went nuclear. His parents having passed away Tushar, his older brother and Boudi Kaberi with their son Abhinandan were his immediate and constant companions. He had his closed group of friend who still hung on at Cuttack like Subuda, Pappu’s and Dula’s family with his favorite Mashima and friend –of-friends Gopi.Slowly he gathered the pieces together and re-located at Cuttack together with the lonely silences and occasional bonhomies.A birthday of the new born of a long forgotten cousin, or a groupie session in mindless drinking, abusive gossip or aimless travel with friends, marriage feasts or funerals became his staple. He had hit the mid-forties by then. A happy best-man,always.He became the shoulder to rest your head on when tired and frustrated, the trusting ear to most complaining wives and naughty husbands, the person to go to for the errant and disturbed young. He seemed to have begun to enjoy his single status and the freedom of being unfettered. It was a kind of paradoxical rite of passage. He was just like everyone else. Only sans wife…
All of this seems to have happened a while ago. Now most of us friends and family are not becoming any the younger. Some of us unforgivably lonely. Some tired of nagging husbands or worrying wives. Some still unhappy with the bank balances, or of children doing worse than themselves. Some still find the selfies not good enough for their wilting alpha-egos and fall victim to flighty fancies of what-could-have-been. In sum – still to make peace with their own lives.
Tokon, on the contrary meets more people than before, has more girl friends than the number of days in a year, is more sought after and trusted, sees and travels to more places than your nearest Travel Counsellor,laughs louder than I have heard myself to do ever, looks and wears better and seems good enough for many marriages! And, Yes! What is even better is that he does enjoy doing his own laundry and is not lonely. He is the renowned doctor without an MBBS managing, a flourishing diagnostic clinic. More importantly, his heart is doing well and is very large when last seen.
That said, I cannot forget, however one lunch day at Kanta Griha when Mashima (his mother) had said while serving”Tomraa shob keyoo to Bandhur Biyer Khata Bhableynaa? Ekhon to Anek Deri hoye gaychey.”(You all, never thought about the marriage of your friend? Now it has become very late).The pain of a Mashima haunts to make me sad one more time. Tokon, when asked now, however chuckles.
Khoob Bhalo Theko Bandhu ! (Be Hale, Always Friend)
When most were busy cramming copied notes, buying or stealing comics, enjoying goodies only the fortunate were blessed with, there used to be a young child dark and gangly. Did he wear spectacles then? I do not quite, remember. He, on his own, worked away with quirky tools like the nails, hammer, a broken screwdriver, wood and bamboo, glue and paper, grease and grime making crazy-shaped kites for others to fly and original but distasteful bric-a-brac to adorn certain dark and mildewed corners of chalky walls.While English and only English was the legal tender,his stern but far sighted father, endearingly known as “Masterji”,along with his caring mother (affectionatelyMausi to all) got him to master his Hindi through the government sponsored certifications : Prabodh, Pragya( I’m not sure of the names really). No one took notice ever.Much less bothered.
Sweating away too on a contraption ,popularly known as a bicycle or on spindly legs he made a habit of reporting late to school to catch the not-so-friendly eyes of superiors and colleagues alike..Actually he was busy getting milk or much needed groceries for the modest home to which he was born to. Making the school on time, therefore was a very difficult chore and unsung two- wheeled rickety ride.Forever the left square pocket of his washed but not crisp enough, blue-school shirt had the signature stamp of a leaking fountain pen which he used perhaps, earlier than most.His conduct was a mistaken matter of censure and gloating glee for the many at school: teachers and students alike.He was the proverbial back -bencher or ‘Chokra boy'(an anotonym of the “baba-log”) as the Anglo-Indians ‘chi-chied’ in snooty disdain. The naughty and not so wicked,I dare say, had mistakenly befriended, thinking him to be one of their kind. In the monthly exams he never got marks enough.(under his breath he still curses the teachers of his day).In all outdoor games he was the royal reserve.And always outstanding ! But, never one to be put down ,a special gift made him see much more than most to snap away with the Agfa Click III of yore, for photos,like the one below : (that all my marriage photos were a wash-out is still being sorted out with him, is another story).
And then that weird kite, fondly Pappu, caught wind , and soared up and above the world so high .The wheel of fortune seemed to be turning, for once. Come the ICSE Exams,he beat most and to their disbelief got a thumping first division.Friends shook hands while the nay-sayers were still shrugging their shoulders in contempt or disbelief. Just when the knives were being sharpened, yet again, when he flunked the Graduation exams from Ravenshaw he had cracked the unthinkable;the SCB Medical College Entrance Exam.
The sagging thread had finally shed its slack.An MBBS was soon to be followed up with an MD and then a DM in Gastroenterology from Vellore,to HOD, SCB.And more of such puzzlingly rearranged alphabets in two’s and three’s made impressive credentials adding fat to his otherwise, slender frame.There has been no looking back ever since.While all this was happening, he got married to a very companionable Sudha, sired two equally beautiful daughters,Haley,not a comet actually ( who is also a doc married to another doc ) and Lalli,the architect designing the foundations for future governance.
Daktar Babu had finally arrived.Dr Shivaram Prasad Singh,he had become. Friends and family stand by cheering with their hands together, for the “late bloom,” which they always knew, was to and would happen.We are all very happy ,and not a bit embarrassed that you exceeded our expectations .
It was along time ago when life was but a game of snakes and ladders ;being bullied by the cowards, sermonized by the not-so-holy,taught by the unkind, forgotten in the dusty rear benches and to become the victim of the “Conduct Marks”conspiracy.(Discretionary marks awarded at the end of the month on the basis of individual discipline and added to your aggregate to determine final tally) We believe you to have found those legs to keep running and running as only one in a marathon can – strong in the knowledge of one’s own ability and spirit, faith in the love and compassion of family and friends and to resolutely consider, no distance is impossible to complete and no difficulty is daunting enough !
You have found your love and vocation. Your sport and spikes.Keep running. From a wet-in-the-ears Bihari to articulating the unnumbered notes of Borborygmi has been some travel…
A Very Happy Birthday ! Friend
Much abused. Much misunderstood. Much revered.
Someone said, it is, yet, too early to understand the lessons of the French revolution. So I think is also true about Netaji.His United Front Tactics of having joined hands with Nazi Germany and Japan much like Mao and Chang Kai Shek,Stalin and Hitler and many others to believe : my enemy’s enemy is my Friend was very tactically sound and also radical. He correctly assessed colonial India’s weakness and saw in the Second Great War an immense opportunity and not as a threat as most incorrectly judged . The Communists, got confused, kowtowed the Soviet Line of joining the Allies and supporting them while the Indian National Congress, on its part, followed a policy of appeasement.RSS, the backbone of the present day BJP was quite happy abusing and spoiling with the Muslim brothers while cosying up to the British.
Please do not liken the present day mad rush for shaking hands and political alignments in a similar vein.At best it would be a disservice and at worst blasphemy-which it shall be !Netaji loved his India, his people and died fighting.Not many would know ( it is being grumblingly conceded, today, by historians) that the sacrificial role of the Indian National Army and the Royal Indian Navy Rating’s Mutiny of 1946 hastened the handing over and transfer of power to India by the English.
That Gandhi and Nehru were not quite his friends is little matter.Netaji’s daughter Ms Anita Pfaff remembers and very fondly, that both he and Nehru , were secular and non-communal and extremely tolerant.She ventures however, to suggest, if not anything else, India and Pakistan would have been friendlier;had he been alive.
I shall ,however,always, in a very silly way feel proud to have studied in the same school as he did.And I am not in a bit embarrassed for trying to bask or steal some of that blazing bright !
May you inspire all for justice, freedom and dignity forever !
Happy Birthday !
“Netaji” Subash Chandra Bose and Stewart School, Cuttack
Easily the most illustrious alumni of Stewart School, Cuttack, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose was admitted to the school on 8th January 1902, when he was about 5 years old. As per authentic records in possession of school, he was born on 23rd January 1897. Stewart School was the place where Netaji began his elementary education and spent his early formative childhood.
Netaji received six years of elementary education in this institution, which was, then, known as the Protestant European School. Interestingly, the school, which started as an Orphanage School in November 1882, came to be known as Protestant European School in 1891 and in the same year, it opened its doors to Indian students. It was re-christened Stewart School, in 1919, after its founder, civil surgeon William Day Stewart.
Besides Netaji, his brother Sailesh Chandra Bose, other brothers and sisters also attended the school.
The school records indicate that “he had attended no other school” and in his case “exemption from religious instruction” was “not claimed”. He continued his education till he was promoted to Class VII.
When Netaji left the school after completing the academic session in Class VI on 31st December 1908, his character was certified as “very good”, as per authentic school records. Mr. J. Young was the principal of the school when he was undergoing his stint at Stewart School.