My Encounter with Diversity

      As I struggle to frame my experiences, a book draws my attention. Its title is ‘Tiya - A Parrot’s Journey Home.’ Writer is a monk of Ramkrishna order named Samarpan. It is a fable in the tradition of Panchtantra. Tiya, the protagonist of the fable, has a comfortable existence in its abode, the banyan tree. It is assured of a secure living and a very congenial community living. Then it so happens that Tiya is tempted by a voice from an invisible, formless source,

“Tiya, you are much more than what you think you are, and you can achieve much more than what you think you can . You need to realise this through experience, you need to actualise this through your actions, by achieving more than you think you can. In a word you have to find yourself. for which you have to get out of this place. As I said, I am here to guide and protect you through words. If you ever want to see me desperately, I will appear before you in the form of a swan. But if you see my real form, you may swoon.”

Prompted by the prodding of Hans, Tiya embarks on an adventure which soon turns out to be a series of misadventures. Tiya flew in search of finding the unknown. Enthusiasm, curiosity and hope gave him company. He moved from security to insecurity. Several times he faced nearly deadly situations. However he survived these insecurities. He eventually turns homeward, but his return journey seems to take him farther and farther away from the banyan tree.

I see reflections of my life in the adventures and series of experiences of Tiya. I too had been enticed to a life of adventure abandoning the assured life of security. I set out on an uncharted path and had to face challenging situations. I was required to prove myself. I now know that I am a surviver. 

         I have been exposed to diverse cultural influences during my lifetime. I grew up in Deoghar. It is an important pilgrimage in eastern India. The temple is the Kernel of the town and region. My father’s family belonged to the Panda community. Pandas — (priest cum guide) constitute the most conspicuous community. They earn their livelihood from their yajamans ( pilgrims). So they are self-contained. It is a closed and conservative community. They subscribe to the immutability of societal mores They feel smug. Ours was a compact community with set beliefs and customs; it was very sensitive and touchy and hypersensitive regarding its identity. They were not obliged to interact with other sections of the local society. Lately cracks in the solidarity of the community are developing under the influence of modern education and political influences. I, together with my friends, had organised movements and meetings to educate the young section of the community. 

Outer to the core one is the bazaar and other communities. Each community has its own dialect. Obviously it is because each of them has migrated to this place from separate sources They have retained their identities But the dominant sub.culture is that of Pandas.

The fringe of the town has a number of ashrams of various sects. On the other hand, communities living in the outer layers and adjoining villages are dependent on the economic activities of the core community (Pandas).

I left Deoghar for higher studies after finishing school education in the year 1950 at the age of sixteen.

Stayed in Bhagalpur and Patna (Bihar) for eight years. Though I stayed away from Deoghar, my association with the community at home remained intact interspersed with frequent visits.

Thereafter my quest for a proper job led me to move to several places such as Turki(Muzaffarpur) — Six months in a secondary School Campus and Barakar (W.Bengal)— (Nine months )A small town in the Coal Belt. Inhabited by coal mine owners and petty clerks, labours.and ) before finally settling in Siwan, a small town in north Bihar. This intermediate period was very eventful and defining for us.

Our stay at SILCHAR — (1961-62 — 20 months) a city in southern Assam, proved to be defining for my growth as a person and as a human being. The region and its people were entirely strangers for us. I could venture to be there on the basis of my knowledge that the Barak valley of Assam was Bengali speaking, a language familiar to us.This information proved to be illusory. They spoke in Sylheti — a dialect of Bangla. It took us some effort to be able to understand their speech. The saving grace was that they understood our Bangla easily.

Incidentally, I came in intimate contact with a cross-section of the local community. Many of them were displaced persons from Sylhet district of East Pakistan in the event of partition. They were still struggling to feel acceptance on this side of the international border. I Iearnt about their deprivations and their struggles to find soil under their feet in the new territory. They had a sharp sense of erosion of their Bengali identity. They were unable to accept that they be identified as Assamiyas. They were under constant apprehension that they would be compelled to give up their mother tongue Bangla and made to adopt Asomiya instead. They were very possessive of their Bengali sub nationalism and were gripped by a sense of insecurity.

We found ready and intimate acceptance from colleagues in my college. I made friends in the town who were very active in cultural activities of the region. It was a tumultuous period in the history of Cachar. I was lucky to be there at that time. The people in general were very compassionate and loving.

In Spite of all this I could not free myself of the desire to be back to the mainland. So when I got appointment at Siwan in north Bihar. I readily moved there.

Siwan, situated in the Gangetic plane, a representative sample of composite culture of the Hindi heartland.or the cowbelt of the country. Many people remember it as Aliganj Siwan. My College. D.A.V. College was established and managed by local Arya Samaj under the stewardship of a dedicated social worker popularly called Darhi Baba. His efforts were actively supported and supplemented by prominent muslim citizens.Significant number among the members of the governing body of the college did not belong to Arya Samaj. A sense of integration was apparent among Hindu-Muslim communities. Practically every mohalla had a mixed population. A Muslim doctor used to have a Hindu compounder and vice versa. Similarly shops were managed by mixed staff. I noticed a strange practice. Jamashtami was celebrated by installing the statues of Bajrangbali and taking out processions matching the processions taken out by muslims during muharram and chalisa. Krishna was conspicuous by absence. This was an anomalous feature and highlighted Hindu-Muslim narrative. But they all loved their mother tongue Bhojpuri. The spoken Bhojpuri was uniform across all castes and religion.There were occasional and regular assertions of identity on the occasion of religious festivals. On such occasions apprehension of communal violence and breach of peace was aroused, but invariably it always proved illusory. There was no record of communal violence, even though there were a few sensitive spots such as Jhagarouwa Peepar and Bari Masjid , to name a few. Shadow boxing and usual Hindu- Muslim bashing was not absent,There were , Victoria MemorialSchool, D.A.V. School, and Islamia school, though, but there was little significant difference among them. History has been very indifferent and cruel towards Siwan. It was known as the land of the freedom fighter of the first line and the first President of India Dr. Rajendra prasad. It is now identified by Md. Shahabuddin, the notorious criminal politician. It is a long story, a pathetic story.

After retirement we moved to CHANDIGARH. It is a different cultural experience to live in the city and and its people. It is a dream city of Pt. Nehru. It was an amazing experience for me when I was new to the city. As you pass along the outer roads you see only the backs of houses. You have to be on the inner roads of most of the sectors to be with the living city. Analogy of a closed book seemed apt to me. You have to open the book.

Chandigarh was designed for successful persons, it is just the rule of nature and society that aspiring and less successful people have also found their niche here.

It is prominently Punjabi culturally. I found out that Sikhs have some special characteristics which the non-sikh Punjabis emulate. The above observation is illustrated by the following.

I happened to pass by the local Medical College this morning. An otherwise common activity drew my attention. In this region, langars for the attendants of patients in and around hospitals m are a common event So as happens with common events , no particular attention is generally paid to them. Today it was an exception for me.I observed each person being handed over two rotis and dal in a bowl made of plant leaves in an orderly way. A cloth sheet was spread for them to sit and partake the food.. They were being offered helpings by the young men serving the langar. I found that two persons were engaged in cleaning the metal glasses used for drinking water. They were all bright young men from respectable middle class families. I noted that they were also taking the same stuff themselves. It was a testimony regarding th
e quality of the food.


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