Continued from Previous Page
That House That Age – Chapter 15
Childhood memories of Ranadeb Roy or Rano are rather vague, almost fading. They come in flashes. Nothing is vivid and translucent. The faces he dwelt with in a huge joint family have become faint throughout the unfamiliar years under the burden of his stay and movement from place to place including his occasional sojourn to foreign lands and the burden of time when he moved far away in activities unrelated to his childhood days. But piercing the fading sites sunshine enters to illuminate his memory from time to time, to give a living picture of persons and things he lived with.
In his childhood, quite lesser than teens, he remembers that sometimes he was beaten by his mother who used to remain ever busy with the burden of the huge family on her head. Her health being frail she could not thrash but holding his head, gnashing her teeth, pushed it against the wall sometimes when he became very obstinate and did not obey her persistently. His father seldom touched him but once he remembers; not just remembers but feels the hit and pain on his soft skull still, by the knuckles of the right hand of a huge man. Unexpectedly he fled with loud cry drawing the attention of all busybodies in the family, busy with so many paraphernalia. While his father verbally abused him with what words he does not remember, he was not pursued further.
Sometimes the ceiling of the room came down on his supine body in bed while he was counting the joists and rafters; the memory is still living though vaguely but the why of it was not known as many other things of those misty days. When the ceiling came too close, he shuddered and left the bed to roam about outside. Memories of the teens are sometimes vivid and lively, they come sometimes with greater detail while memories of childhood and even of his infancy come to him sporadically but usually, he does not deal with them or try to avoid if keeping becomes difficult.
Once he remembers to have gone somewhere sitting on the lap of his mother in a rickshaw. His hairs were nicely combed, and face was powdered. Someone else was sitting in the rickshaw by the side of his mother. He does not remember her face but that she caressed him while leaving, he remembers. An accident that happened in his childhood seems vivid. While on the lap of his mother cooking broth or something like that, boiling with noisy bubbles in a big cooking vessel over the furnace which was red-bright with big pieces of burning coals, he slipped into it from her hand and was badly burnt. What happened at that moment he does not remember in detail, but he remembers how his father’s elder cousin brother, who was their family physician, a medical guardian, visited them later and advised many things including prescribing some medicines. The skin on the back of the palm of his right hand was burnt very badly up to the elbow and it became lose and crumpled. His Bodo kaka, an elderly uncle, cared for his wound smearing burnol over the
whole area and bandaging it daily. By nature, he was a nurse and helped many in the family when in dire need.
During his early teens, even earlier, he remembers viewing the scene of cleaning the roads of Kolkata by hose pipe in the very early morning, which he never witnessed again anywhere in his long life. Kolkata roads were full of hydrants (Chapakol) from where the plumbing workers who were usually Odiyas, drew fresh Ganga-water and washed the roads moving and playing with long pipes. Some of the boys used to come out of their homes to see the fun of cleaning roads; sometimes they played with the flow going up and down as they tried to cross it. There was no dearth of such water on roads and in houses too. Ganga water was aplenty. There were workers sitting on stools to help trams move on the lines, linesman for trams. Their counter parts were in railways. Morning over, they would not be noticed during the buzzing movements of the day and evening.
Coming to tramway’s affair Rano remembers a situation which connects him to a long distance in time as funny but actually that was a life and death matter when the accident happened. His father usually spoke in clear and loud voice. In an evening while alighting from a tram he slipped and fell down when the next tram coming near suddenly halted. For fear of life, he started shouting in full voice telling the driver not to start, “Save me, Save me!” It was so loud that all passersby, people in the shops nearby and all those inside the trams and buses plying then were alarmed. All looked craning their necks from vehicles stopped. The driver of the tram he fell from came out of his cabin for fear of catching attention of the gathering public while people saw the victim moving his hands and legs in the air. That was a scene alarming and funny as the witnesses realized after some time. Because of his bulky body he could not get up easily. It was a body so huge and fairly white that a comparison with a cockroach in a similar situation does not suit. However, he was helped to rise up on his feet. The accident became good subject for gossip for some of the following days in the neighborhood. “Bodo Babu fell down from a tram, oh, what a scene!” They greedily laughed.
Few times he remembers that he was present in political meetings addressed by the beautiful looking fiery leader Subhas Chandra Bose, maybe with others. Before the meeting the public would usually assemble when poet Kaji Nazrul Islam with big round eyes and flowing hairs on his shoulders, holding a harmonium in his hands hanging round his neck, played while singing in loud and melodious voice, songs composed by him which were very inspiring with burning patriotism. Musical functions were quite common in Kolkata on those days in big public halls, parks and private houses attended by popular and good musicians like Kamala Jharia, Hemanta Mukherjee, Salil Chowdhury and others. Some of them sang even in political meetings. That tradition still continues though not on the roads but in much larger and sophisticated halls like Rabindra Sadan, ITC Sangeet Research Academy Hall or Birla Sahha Ghar.
A scene out of many flashes in his mind from time to time: He is walking on the third-floor roof of their ancestral house alone, thinking himself a part of the cops with usual uniform; khaki half shirt tucked in khaki half pant and a baton in hand, walking and marching under the half-moon in the sky. His family members knew his somnambulist nature. It was dinner time, might be 9 or 10 in the late evening when all other boys and girls, numbering about 10 to 15 were sitting around one of their eldest cousin sisters, Rikta-di, who would make balls of rice and curry, fish or egg and feed each of them in turn, while the others would look at the one fed with sort of greedy expectation for his turn to come sooner.
One of his elder sisters would move out searching for him finding that he wasn’t there among the eaters. After searching in many places, she would finally reach the roof and discover him alone walking oblivious of his surroundings, may be softly talking too with somebody. She would scold and drag him down through the stairs and almost throw him by a push among the boys and girls gathered. When thus pushed he would recognize his surroundings. Yes, he was with them. His whimpering stopped. He would relish the food at first willy- nilly, as it was thrust in his mouth which would somehow come down to his stomach through the gullet. This was one link of his life out of the many of the forgotten past.
When moving for some errand in Ballygunge area of Kolkata long after this, Rano often visited the house of Rikta- di who was their one-time heroine, feeding them the unforgettable delicacies in their childhood. She eventually became the mother of one girl only. They would talk of those olden days and laugh heartily. Gone were the days with the rust and dust, their habitation changed variously; children sitting around someone have gone away to the other world like the former evenings of a grandmother telling fairytales to her grandchildren sitting around her with ears alert. Some of the children of that time, then old boys and girls, were still passing their days somewhere devoid of any grandmother. Rikta-di would still remember her youth with them. She was older than Rano by 15 years.
Once while coming out of their house Rano remembered a day, hazy yet vivid in his memory; Rikta-di’s father, a simple-hearted Government employee, had suddenly died of heart attack leaving his wife and three children. He did not have enough accumulated wealth to allow the wife and children to carry on even with hardship. After 15 days of his death, she came to their house with mother and brothers, bag and baggage, in a queue, not very long to claim attention. They came and stayed till the house was sol when the two sons had been engaged in services and the daughter was married by her maternal uncles, actually by her aunt taking all charges, from That House.
Long after the breakup of that setting of a joint family Rano, after some years of his marriage had shifted from the capital of the eastern province of India, West Bengal, to a southern town, a coastal Union Territory, a small political unit, after moving and working in services to different other towns and cities. Though settled it is not a permanent settlement. He moves to Kolkata often and on and maybe that he would reconsider his stay again. The usual language difference between the two places; place of his birth and place of settlement, is as apart as Bangla and Tamil though linked by Sanskrit, hidden to some extent and linked by some common culture. The speakers of the two languages do not usually understand each other as they live some 2000 kilo meters apart with different food and lifestyle, diurnal habits. But strangely, nothing prevents an Indian to feel, after some efforts, at home elsewhere within the country. The feeling of our country prevails, not my country only.
A poet and author usually have a different fate in almost a foreign land especially when he writes in English, a language though international and gradually raised in popularity in India in spite of discouragement from the establishments, it is not the language proper of the core people of the town. English is beyond the cultural ethos of the ‘am admi’. Even in one’s own place how many people know a poet, unless huge publicity hype or a big boom like a branded award makes him known to the people through different media? A writer of an alien language, as some call it though it is now Indian English, is rarely known to the common people. Though he knows the people around him, daily they see each other, do marketing together and try to assimilate each other’s culture, as everywhere in India, such acquaintances are very shallow. Shallow is ordinary people’s curiosity to know the other. Ethnicity has spread a deep root in spite of the blow of global village idea. The modern way of living has separated people; even families are tending towards nuclear family units, as in the West. One is not concerned about the other. Living in apartment buildings, moving in own vehicle people do not bother to know his next-door neighbor. Here globalization has set people apart.
Though Rano is known to some extent to some local readers and some writers, poets and others who matter in the literary field, to some scholars and students at the University who study English Literature, he is hardly known to his next-door neighbor. Besides some enthusiastic people of his community, he has friends mostly in other cities and towns in India and abroad. He has jointly participated in literary conferences and festivals with many of them. They are connected through internet, mobile phones and social sites in the Net. This is modern literary or Lit community living closely; mentally but not physically. People living physically close do not often make a community now. Their literary
comradeship continues and when they meet, they welcome and help each other. He is known to many other people like scholars and creators through the internet, alien and Indian magazines, e-zines and social sites but he does not know many of them personally. He has not gained the publicity to be known by name; may be that he is on the way or still far away! In this connection he remembers with remorse and at the same time with pride that he has never compromised with anyone, either junior or senior. So, he has not been in favourite groups helping each other to gain footage surpassing others. He is in India and knows that here everything moves not by quality but by relationship of different sorts; sometimes it is pure nepotism. You would get anything if the authority was your maternal uncle, they say. In any case, a favour by chance or by making it, helps. He has such a personality that it cannot make either a hugging or a boorish intimacy with anyone. He has faith only on his writing quality. However, if he could manage that favour of being ‘my man’ he would have smelt rose as Nolini Kanta Gupta once wrote about his short stories.
Connecting litterateurs through the medium of English is easier as most educated people in India are connected through it. He knows some of the Indian languages and can manage to speak with the speakers of quite some important languages but no language is sufficient to connect all educated Indians other than English.
The world has grown impersonal. No intimacy is necessary to know each other. Rano has come to this position sailing far away from his joint family situations as they were during his childhood, teens and youth until the link was snapped when the house was sold, and people shifted to other shelters. Still the central attraction has remained; many members of the joint family living in the same Kolkata city in different houses at far away locations are connected by the magic of Whatsapp and Face Book. They physically attend to each other’s marriage ceremonies or other social functions and keep news of each other; the force that was created knowingly or unknowingly still lingers in their lives though slackened somewhat, slackening more by growth of personal vanity and sort of selfishness. Jealousy and competitive rivalry exists as in society elsewhere though most of them seem to be unaware of the world movement keeping abreast of the situations around; almost living in the same old grove. They partially use the online though unaware of its full implications; they don’t know that it’s hanging in the wire held by someone else. The absence of overall management under a single Karta in a joint family has gone towards ending the brotherly bonds as earlier. Family apart, the impersonal world does not help in areas of recognition, Rano feels passionately.
The other day Rano opened the TV and found one of his cousin’s daughter performing as a model in a soap opera in a popular channel. Many of the girls of the erstwhile Roy Chowdhury family have been married to other caste, even scheduled; their grandfather wouldn’t ever have ventured to negotiate with; a matrimonial connection would be far from their dreams. Some of the bridegrooms are good to look at, worthy to mention. Some girls have married boys of the other provinces and he hears a rumor that some one of them has a boyfriend in a Western country; friends are now-a-days like husband and wife without any binding or limitation; no legal relationship. One of his cousin sisters was lost to unknown society, so much she drifted in her floating life. Two daughters of his family, highly qualified and professionally equipped with fellowship, live in other countries with their citizenship changed while remaining Overseas Citizen of India. Among the new generation representatives of the old family someone has passed Law, someone has done MA and another managed a PhD though may not be in the proper channel, to write somehow Dr. before his name. It may be done in regular process through a university but there are easier ways through other, maybe paid channels. Rano has many scholarly works published without going for a Doctoral thesis through proper channels. Many of his biographies and books of essays are theories as in case of many other essayists. Most of the different categories of college and University teachers among the writers’ and authors’ group are PhD degree holders. To be in the teaching profession at college or higher level, having PhD is a must in India and there are PhDs galore in the country. Rano remembers that none either in old joint family or modern split families of the Roy Chowdhurys was in the teaching profession other than one of his uncle’s brothers was Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, he once saw in his childhood. And one of his cousins by maternal side was a big scientist, a doctorate on insects like Locust. He was once in his youth a professor at a nearby college and used to visit them at their old that house with dust of white chalks on his head, arrived just after writing on a black board in the class.
Oh, what a tragic remembrance! Rano suddenly shudders remembering that he was once travelling with his wife after retirement from his many distinguished positions in life, to Asansol but his car clashed violently with a big tree on the way and both of them with the driver died on the spot. Some grandchildren of Balaram Roy Chowdhury’s sisters too are highly qualified and are aptly placed in professional life.
Tight caste system has lost its dignity and offensive rigidity, education has spread in the family but somewhere relationships are hybrid. All these are results of woman’s rights and freedom, men’s choice, globalization and universal education which were highly undesirable, anathema to the commoners in the then society and to most of the conservative joint families of that time.
Most of the shining members of the family are females but some boys too are chasing them. Though not exceptional, Rano hopes that some of the boys or girls might reach up to a considerable height in their career if they persisted with equal zeal. Rano’s youngest uncle passed the Bengal Civil Service examination and progressed up to a good height in service. Later in his retired life he passed the Company Secretaryship. While he had to wait sometimes for hours for a bus as he usually commuted to office in public transport. Years after he has gone some of his daughters and nephews have their own cars, some others often air-dash to cities, never using the old railway routes. That Rano’s two uncles once enjoyed using a dilapidated car abandoned by the family of the father-in-law of one of them for some time was not a regular affair. They tried to revive the habit of their late father, but the car soon vanished from their sight. Sometimes Rano with some cousins were taken in that car as part of a pleasure trip but it is a faint memory now.
Though Rano after passing examinations and interviews, after years of services, was in a coveted position in bank service he always struggled hard and never cared for fashion or show of luxuries. He always commuted in buses and trains. After retirement only he could make some money though it was never planned. In the course of time, he tried to buy residential properties and for various reasons sold them later. While he lived with hardship as money through salary and pension were not quite high, buying and selling some properties which he understands well, helped him on his way to acquire residential properties or lands for better living, never done with business motive. Such transactions gave him good margins unexpectedly between the purchase and sale which might be called windfall profit in business circle. In developing land and properties, he and his wife gave good labour with patience while their growing children suffered dearth of living space, even for study. Selling them in future was never in their mind. As an ex-financial executive, he managed his investments as a professional and increased his resources in the process though just after retirement he had very little of them to depend on. He was helped later when needed by his children too as they are well placed in life.
With literature and market-economy politics attract his attention regularly. Many Indian and foreign news media and journals crowd his email Inbox regularly. This attribute of acquiring wealth through the unplanned processes of life has been a help on the way from some unearthly sources like fate and divine grace, he believes. Though he maintains a simple life standard, he sometimes thinks, if he had the urge to maintain a car, he had a garage to keep it; good numbers of people keep a car even without a place to park it when such car is not in regular use to show his so-called status. He could easily do it and sure enough that he could get some benefits by using a car in commuting to some places as are required from time to time. But he never thought it very urgently required even in his quite advanced age. He could even buy a couple of cars and keep them before his house as many do, keep vehicles on the road as one’s free garage, encumbering the roads and creating hazardous traffic situation, disturbing passersby and other vehicular traffic; a pollution indeed. But Rano is an environmentalist; such things are beyond his purview. He uses an electric scooter deliberately not to pollute the environment.
Suddenly his own marriage occupies his mind. It was neither in an old way of negotiated marriage nor just a love- marriage nor an ultra-modern wedding or living together but a strange union mixing the old and the new, sealed by beyond-the-earth bond. His marriage happened quite suddenly; decided while he was travelling and during temporary sojourn to a place, he visited alone with some people he knew together with the girl he married. As her aunt proposed the marriage, he agreed. It was not at all as a result of long negotiations as happened in regard to his two uncle’s marriage and other marriages earlier in their family. He talked to her after he agreed to her aunt’s proposal, and she too eagerly agreed. Rest of the arrangements was completed soon after his coming back to Kolkata. It was not a very coveted marriage. Before and after that decision Rano knew many girls, many were more interested but somehow, he deferred decisions. Some contacts were hung pending a decision for months but after no significant improvement in concreting the relationship they were dropped. Waiting continued; things became normal with usual talks with some but somehow, they lingered. Rano could not help much. When the final contact matured sharply it took shape very fast; after all, some relationship cannot be defined in straight line, Rano realised later. Marriage was marriage and after the initial period it took its usual route. Life goes on.
He wonders still how so promptly the matter was settled without much thought on it. A clue he got in a Chennai restaurant when she disclosed that she was born on the same day and month, though not the same year as Rano was born. This same-day birth relationship too was further verified incidentally after many years when Rano’s birth time was verified with reference to the almanac and it was revealed that though it was the same day but at night as per Indian system of calculation of days from morning to before the next morning, Rano’s birth was to be taken on the next day as it occurred after 12 at night according to Gregorian system of calculating dates and there had been planetary changes as happened before the time of his birth.
More wonders were in store for Rano, he still wonders how it was found out, again in the course of years without paying any particular attention to that; Rano’s wife was born in the same month and year and maybe even date when his mother had died; may be in a gap of couple of days or nearest to that date. The date of his mother’s death was not recorded and those who knew are no longer on earth. And to his astonishment Rano finds that she is particularly attached to his brothers and sister and their family more than her own parental family. It was pointed out several times and tacitly accepted. Even after marriage some girls tried to enter his life, but nothing could take a shape, as if securely guarded.
In spite of the existence of hazardous cultural differences between brothers there has been no cause for squabble and bickering, no serious hiatus in their relationship. Brothers see each other sometimes. They talk over the phone though they have been living separately for long without any close touch. It was just not possible for all to remain in a joint family even in a divided shape as it happened. Suffice it to say that this attachment of Sarbani, Rano’s wife to his close and even extended family members is similar to a mother\s in the usual sense. Rano’s mother might have that touch and relationship with all had she lived in her own way though that might be in different degrees; God knows what would have happened had she lived. Most of them from time to time visited Rano’s house and were fed by Sarbani who’s not only fond of but obsessed with the desire of feeding her cooked food. This is proof enough that the mother was born as the daughter-in- law or at least a portion of her being was born in her carrying the same nature to a good extent in doing unending domestic labour without remorse, in feeding the same persons with fresh energy each time and in cooking and feeding relatives and other friends, especially those who appreciate her and rejoice eating her cooked foods. It must be that that invisible force which made this birth possible compelled this union without any other compelling reasons. Rano has accepted this as a settled fact without alternative which has continued for long years, over half a century. Fact is, he happily accepts this as the best solution for a married life devoid of any futile pasturing.
Rano’s mother died for her excess labour and unnecessary anxiety which none in the family shared, yet she has taken her birth as such for doing almost the same job again in the circle of the same persons. One may justify this with belief in Karmavad; her particular karmic requirement has not yet met with a desired end, so it continues. Rano feels that this death- birth relationship was the most potent, positive point influencing his immediate decision, as if without any alternative. Reference to this death and birth and correlating them between lives now and before does not arise in Western and other societies but in India only where belief in rebirth and Karmavad is solid though such relationship across births happen very rarely or aren’t so glaringly detected as in here. Usually, people don’t know of such things to happen. But this was not something like cause-and-effect relationship in the material world. The force influencing was in the occult or invisible world. The rebirth of the soul at a particular shelter and reaching its desired destination; person in relationship close enough to continue the previous birth’s activities had surely been sanctioned by the power that exists in the world unseen and unknown by the ordinary mortals.
She has emotional bonds with the elder sister of Rano who loves her as she gives what she mentally and vitally cries for, though for temporary period from time to time for which she seeks opportunities for receiving personal attention, care and services. She craves for it. Both the giver and receiver crave for it.
Some people are born self-sufficient and avoid other’s services for his or her personal requirements. They avoid even when such services are available aplenty. But some others crave for getting others’ services; parasites by nature, as some say but it is a habit of the Nabob who extracted such services from servants; a type dynamically opposed to M.K. Gandhi's principle of life, Rano comprehends as he too loves self- servicing. Most of the members in the old families who asked servants and juniors to press their legs or doing other personal services were of that type. Rano witnessed them in his early life. Even uncles and some cousin elder brothers to Rano were keen to get services like massaging their body and legs on some pleas of pain or other problems, mostly lame excuses. To serve as such a really ailing persona is a different matter.
A family girl sings in TV channels occasionally, someone deliberates in conferences in India and sometimes abroad, writes and someone joins in songs and dances in a foreign country or performs there in various positions including contributing write ups to magazines. One of the boys has become a Press Photographer. Rano is an old banker and went up to a good length as Bank Executive. One of his cousins too became a Bank Manager. Some others too from the same family joined the banking profession. They are growing up, still neophytes. One of Rano’s youngest cousins picked up the capacity to run business and he had begun shipping and cargo agency. But unfortunately, with business he picked up another habit of his great grandfather, habit of drinking. While his great grandfather was a veteran and had all such addictions under his control, he often became boozed. It was unfortunate enough that he suddenly died of cerebral thrombosis. He was the one who opened the line of similar business as the family of Babu Sumatha Nath as he had inherited from his father. One of the son-in-laws of the family once had inherited such a business. One of the present-day daughters of the family, among so many changes, has kept up a habit of spending even surpassing the habit of Babu Sumatha Nath Roy Chowdhury. A perfect prodigal. To her today’s hundred rupee note seems to be a rupee note only. But she is genuinely generous, a very rare quality in Roy Chowdhury family. People usually give or take something in exchange or in expectation of something else or some occurrence at some other point of time; variations and exceptions are of course there. Is it the heritage which keeps the tradition obstinately intact and aloft among all changes sometimes? Shall the scientist say that it is the DNA which is responsible for connecting someone of the present generation with Sumatha Nath of the past?
Considering the condition of life in his surroundings, that time in contrast with the time in his old age, an incident came to Rano’s mind; one of his very respectable uncles drank wine and ate meat daily in shops, visited bars and other public places but when by chance someone in a highly aristocratic club proposed to him that a girl from his family whom he knew to be an efficient dancer, may one day be invited to perform in their club, he was so upset that he never visited that club again and severed connections with his friend. “What an audacity! The bugger proposed a woman of my family to come out to dance before the public, swaying her breasts and hips!” He said boastfully to his friends.
Everything has gone with the wind in three four generations! Yesterday’s conservancy is today’s ignorant prejudice! Culture, Whither Goest Thou!
That pride, conservancy, superstition and arrogance between few of them apart, it must be said that that household had humour and gaiety enough floating about it. People of that time were not competitive; jealousy did not eat at the core of their heart. Rikta-di’s younger brother Pakhom often cut jokes with people and Rano too sometimes joined him in teasing someone, he remembers with sort of shame. But that was a jovial time.
There were numbers of servants of different types engaged for different works in that house. A certain Digbijoy Chatterjee was a cook for some time. He was intimae with the children and cut jokes with them. He was somehow a brain cracked fellow. He used to run sometimes instead of walk in the house. Pakhom knew when that moment would arrive. He once took a bucket full of water and placed it at the middle of the stairs going down to the kitchen area.
Chatterjee was coming down the stairs from the upper floors at full speed. After crossing two such rows of stairs and the connecting passages he came running to the third one going down to the kitchen. He was in force as summoned below by a lady whose temper he knew. Running through the stairs he suddenly became cautious and alert even in semi darkness. Observing the silly and risky object to stumble on at the middle he somehow diverted it and reached the lady but every bone of him remembered the trick. It took five minutes for him to complete the job in hand. Pakhom was keenly observing his movement from some hidden place and was alerted in turn that no accident occurred. He guessed that once his work was over, he would surely jump to take action against the offender; this he knew well studying his nature that Chatterjee had intelligence enough to catch the culprit. He ran before Chatterjee had chance to spot him. While Chatterjee moved up in his search, he left the house and didn’t come back till late noon. Everyone was searching for him as the time for lunch was passing. Chatterjee came forward to go and search him out. “O.K.”, they said. As he went out of the house for, he had guessed where he might be, Pakhom came in and occupied his place in the row for eating his meal as it was being arranged to be supervised by Rikta-di. Chatterjee came when they were in the process of eating. Gnashing his teeth at Pakhom he left the place.
Among the jovial incidents the remembrance of Suddhachit Kaka gave Rano a real cause for sorrow. He was a small and insignificant man behind the big name of Suddhachit Nandy. He hailed from a remote village in the leprosy infested backward Bankura district of Bengal. Middle aged or little over 55, he was brownish in complexion, short in stature and of a light body, rather frail. His skin in the legs
as exposed below the length of his short cloth and hands bare as seen from the half-sleeved shirt, were deep brown and cracked. They formed some square and round marks at places which resembled snake’s skin but otherwise they had no resemblance with snake as its skin is always glazy and smooth. Nandy was a poor man working in a shop selling homoeopathic medicines, as its compounder. He never used any cream by habit; he could not perhaps use enough body oil while taking bath. But he was happy it seemed for Rano and others never found him morose nor he exulted in anything. He was a perfect good-humoured gentleman. He was universally called Suddha Kaka. Rano’s father and his next called him by name. Whenever he got time during the day or at its end, he visited that house as he had almost none in Kolkata to keep contact with. He felt at ease sitting in any of the rooms of the house talking to any in the household among all the brothers and their wives, children and servants. He talked frankly and simply. Whenever he entered our house one or the other housewife would give him one of their children to keep on his lap until he left rendering herself free from the burden for some time at least. He would go from room to room carrying the child on his lap and talk. He was given, maybe some snacks or the other and tea in one room or the other. On occasions he lunched with us. On such occasions when big gathering was arranged with sumptuous foods, he was given charge of the store house of foods for the guests and children easily sneaked into it to steal delicious savories. Certainly, he lived on those nights and rested the next days.
He was a paying guest in one house but was given bad foods and uncomfortable place to lodge as he might not be paying high charges. But sure-enough that such a good man was not dealt with honestly. He accepted smilingly whatever the food and amenities he was given. He was generally loved and familiar with us. But his strange reaction was never forgotten by Ranadeb from the moment the proposal to sell the house was floated. It was Ranadeb who handled it mostly. After the house was sold and its members scattered to different shelters, Suddha Kaka never visited any shelter. Asking for his favour to visit them Ranadeb was told that it was a gravest mistake on their part to sell the house. He would not hear of any other problem. His problem was that he became companionless in the vast city. There remained none to ask for his favour in supplying some medicines like Nux Vomica 6 or Bryonia 200 free of costs as he could get them as an employee. He became really sorry at heart making Ranadeb and others too sorry as such. But Ranadeb thinks that the sale of the house was inevitable despite Suddhachit uncle’s protest.
Observing the trend among the fifth generation descendants of the house from the beginner who established the business houses and the plinth of the family house in Kolkata, Rano reminisces with a nostalgic sigh that he in the fourth generation has not seen a second one among all the descendants of the patriarch who had so many types of hobby as he had.
From his childhood he was attracted to plants and flowers as it was known to one of his childless aunts, Swarna Pisima who first knew of it when once from her courtyard compound Rano took a small pink periwinkle plant, just growing, as she observed it from her kitchen. It was almost a backyard. She asked him to tell her in future if he required any such plant so she could arrange to give him a better plant packed properly. Rano kept it in his pocket. He was confident of its life to continue, and it was so when he planted it at home. Actually, he could sense the feeling of a plant and still he communicates to many of them. Perhaps his instinctive love for them was first inspired by his grandmother who had numbers of plants she daily nurtured with water and tended with care. Rano’s plants have remained with him while he moved from place to place up to his old age. Many new species of plants with foreign origin were introduced by him. Though he had to sell his garden house his city-home has large numbers of them, of innumerable varieties.
Unlike any others he was addicted to playing marbles and was such an adept in it that he was invited to play with others in different areas of his city. When the house was sold, he had a small trunk full of marbles of different varieties as he was enamored of the round shaped favourites of different hues. Oh, it’s otiose now to search where they have gone. His memorabilia among various other things of the lost world were mingled with the dust or flown in the storm. He used to spin tops not only on the ground but sometimes raised it to his palm while spinning without touching the ground. Sometimes he could pull the spinning top up and spreading the thread allowed it to fall on it spinning. This is very much indoor game raised to high standard by practice. He was once mad after flying kites; he would surely occupy a portion of the afternoon sky with tiny kites when he came home from school, and it continued even when he first joined offices in the same city. Two of his last uncles were very fond of flying kites in the group of many cousins and nephews who used to come even from distant places. The youngest uncle kept the habit up to a long time, flying kites from his rented houses in mofussil wherever he was transferred.
Rano loved the colourful fishes swimming in aquarium and small four walled tanks in the house. One or two uncles, one before the last, indulged his fish rearing. Some of them were interested in music like the youngest uncle who played flute nicely, particularly on the full moon nights, but his amateurish habit did not encourage him to go for professional practices. A cousin of Rano’s generation knew playing mouthorgan and his two brothers sang well imitating the masters but none among the adults helped them to learn further. That was beyond any idea to spend time with. He too liked and practised singing following the legendary singers; he still hears them regularly and sings at home; he is especially fond of Rabindra Sangeet and Hindusthani Classical sometimes extending to Karnatic Classical music. Organizing drama and other cultural shows and acting became his hobby for some time. He acted in quite some dramas in famous theatre halls of Kolkata, many of which were closed later like most of cinema houses. Photography also occupied a portion of his travelling spree; some of his photos have been published with his write ups in newspapers and even once displayed in an Exhibition.
His hobby was almost endless. He played football on public roads sometimes and many times in Marcus Square or Gader Math, the vast ground which is now called Maidan after the Esplanade and adjoining areas in Kolkata. He played cricket on roads on holydays and badminton in clubs when he went to mofussil towns on transfer during evenings. He loved volleyball and played in many grounds sometimes winning prizes. While in school he joined the National Cadet Cops, attended a camp, handled rifles and passed their examination too.
Many things have gone but writing has remained with him, not only as hobby but as a passion, as the basic urge of his life, sometimes as part of his profession though it doesn’t reward him much monetarily. While remembering the hobbies and passions of his childhood days Rano remembers the days of his studies. Studies are his thirst, hobby indeed!
His family looked agape at him as soon as he passed the School Final examination at 17 years with hunger as to what he was going to do next other than engaging himself in service and earning something! Somehow his school fees were managed to be paid by borrowing or otherwise but there was no chance for him to go to a college. He got most ordinary jobs at the beginning and gradually through competitive examinations got a job in the Government and later managed to get a job in bank and gradually climbed the ladder of career to higher grades through examinations. Competing in examinations and passing them too was his hobby. Sometimes he dreamt of them during his sleeps, and it became his almost never ending endevour. He continued his studies very tenaciously attending to evening classes or studying at home, attending to correspondence courses.
He still remembers two occasions meticulously in this respect. When he was waiting to deposit the amount, a good amount, as fees for his School Final examination at the counter without any money in hand but with hope only for the money to come, a close friend of his father who had been so requested by his father, arrived with the money. He took it as a providential help! And the second one, though not of that magnitude, it is remembered as a fond memory of his youngest uncle that he accompanied him to Vidyasagar College where he later studied in evening classes, to introduce him to get admitted for the first time. To begin with he studied commerce and graduated in it as a private candidate.
He got his master’s degree and other diplomas and certificates from various renowned Universities and Institutions including some professional institutions. But he remembers what great struggles he had to do at times to wedge his ways strewn with rocks and thorns for undergoing some courses or trying to get admission in some academies. His ideas to pass some examinations failed as he could not enter through the right gate. Hurdles were many; his colleagues would not allow him to join a day class managing his duties in staggering ways, even when authorities would permit. Some of his dreams to reach some heights were cut short by others in his condition of life and sometimes he found that home studies without any help from proper guides would not allow him to go to the threshold of an educational temple of some special institutions or pass through their examinations. There was none to help. Otherwise, some would wonder what need for studying that course, say French, when you got a job and getting money through it! He studied some more courses for master’s degree, some professional courses but had to stop in midway.
But diseases aren’t hobbies; they are impediments to them, impediments to smooth work and progress in life. Like hobbies diseases have been giving him company from his childhood.
What happened and how he doesn’t remember but there was some bleeding during his childhood in some lower parts of his body and his uncle treated him and then that accident of falling in boiling broth happened. He has often been suffering injuries causing bloodshed either from events in the play fields or a sudden fall till his very ripe age; recently from accidents while driving scooter and the like. He suffered from many ailments minor and major. Twice in his middle age he had to undergo two major operations in his stomach. Eyes give him some trouble in his old age, teeth gave him problems from his childhood. Here Rano remembers a funny story.
Like many other hawkers one or two old ladies passed below the window of that house in the lane shouting, “I bring out worms from the teeth, cure teeth.” She Knew that she had her clients in that house. Sometimes Rano’s father would call her to cure the teeth of few children who suffered from carries in their teeth for indulging in sweets and chocolates regularly. Children would sit surrounding her and she pushed a lump of cotton in a child’s mouth. Then she started chanting her mantra for some time in a language which perhaps required decoding but none bothered about knowing what were the exact words she chanted, usually esoteric words in her vocabulary. But the result was apparently wondrous. After chanting for some time, she would take out the lump of cotton from the patient’s mouth and lo!
There were numbers of living white worms like tiny earth worms writhing before the eyes of everyone present including the adults. She kept the cotton separately to dispose of suitably and a fresh lump of cotton was pushed in the mouth of another child to treat him similarly. The cottons used were checked fresh without any stain or anything in them. Quackery or whatever it was the child treated was relieved of his pains for some days.
Varieties of diseases like typhoid, pneumonia, malaria, other viral attacks, excess of Uric Acid, spondylitis, psoriasis in the head, filarial attack perhaps at a very young age and at times some silly skin problems pestered Rano. Detecting some weakness in the heart was a precautionary diagnosis resulting in prescriptions by doctors. Problems are there to overcome. Many have been overcome, some remains to stay, and treatments continue as usual. Hypertension is a tension with many, and they have to take precautionary medicines like Rano though not quite serious for him… He gets his tensions diluted. After all, the body system is a Natural machine which continuously runs to give signs of living. But its vigour and regularity gets diminished with age. This system is the mainstay of doctors; on the whole body-knowledge. It is mostly materialistic. Treatment depends on scientific observations and experiences, empirical but many times mechanical, sometimes speculative. Even mind is a part of the body, a materialistic object treated by psychiatrists. There are innumerable divisions among the Doctors in their expertise. Each specialist tries to attract the patient, finding faults in his body to fit in his particular area or a patient with those faults comes to him. Rano became cautious whenever he met a specialist. It’s a dangerous path, especially if the specialist is a surgeon who prefers surgical operation as more suitable to cure. The system of treatment is numerous. Rano has been treated under various systems including excessive intake of medicines and medicines superfluous. Sometimes one system works sometimes the other. In the modern world patients depend mostly on allopathic system of treatment and medicines. Let experts deal with them but Rano may say that none is infallible, body-knowledge is only a tiny part of the vast knowledge-world; material knowledge is a tiny part of the vaster world replete with super sense and subtle ideas forming great wisdom. Let one drive deeper into epistemology to find if end is there. The Great Isaac Newton found himself playing with pebbles from the shore like a boy while the vast sea of knowledge was before him. And among the doctors of his time how many, even among lakhs of doctors, are or were like the legendary Doctor B. C. Roy (also the Chief Minister of West Bengal)?
Rano has seen doctors knowledgeable, accurate, sympathetic, eager and keen to cure and doctors trying to complicate the diagnosis, twisting it by instilling fears on patients and trying to cure by surgical operation even when cure in that process is speculative or uncertain. More and more the doctoring has become a lucrative commercial field where professionals and related business houses wish and try to continue with the diseases remaining to affect humans and others, so the business and incomes continue rather than the patients get cured to live better life. Often and on a patient is pushed into ICU by Nursing Homes and other commercial medical business houses. Man carries the universe in him in a sense. He carries innumerable living things inside and surely some sort of diseases. Yesterday he did not know what he carried but now he is specifically informed the disease he carries inside so he is forced to take preventive medicines thereby maintaining, carrying the medical and professional world prosper. By all this opinion Rano does not think that all such things like preventive medicines, surgical operations or ICU are otiose. They have their values in patient’s life and he himself was benefited by them sometimes, but the growing expansion of commercial attitude makes use of such things with other motives than medical necessity at times. In the heart of his heart Rano admits that twice major operations in his stomach were done by two efficient doctors of Pondichery and Kolkata and both were successful to the entire credit of such surgeons and their teams. He expressed gratefulness to them and remains grateful to more surgeons and professionals like dentists and few general physicians. He had and has courteous relationships with them.
He knows that his opinions are debatable. Let the people concerned take their own decisions. As a responsible member of the society, he expresses his opinions and ideas for further consideration of those who face or may face similar situations in life. Frankness should not be suppressed on such matters for courtesy or shyness, he feels.
In the early mornings Rano gets up usually. During the autumn and part of winter it is the time for rains in the southern town he lives in due to return of monsoon climate as air carrying water and moister is turned back from the massive body of the Himalayan Mountain walls. But such rains are not constant though sometimes copious. On many occasions nightly rains cease to fall here in the morning. Years back when he had settled here, he viewed some wintering birds passing through the sky in the early morning when the rain paused. It created a spectacular view on the sky; unforgettable when rain paused, and birds passed through the clearance. Some lines from a poem written then comes to his mind, as if coming out from the point of its creation, As if a body of bright white cirrus Passed through the black dark moulds; Flocks of flying birds Egrets or cranes in cadence Speeding for winter homes Between the rains in haste; Paths were cleared as they flew past Thinning the cumulo-nimbus White cloud boats began to float The sky was misty devoid of colours.
When with emotion he again looks at the sky, no bird is there; he cannot view the skyline as he viewed it earlier, as if someone blocked his views or cut the sky out of his view. Instantly he realizes that nothing remains the same, not the same water flows through the same river, the site of viewing also has changed as earlier it was on a different location in a different house at slightly different time. The pain of not being able to view them remained. And in silence he smelt some rain-soaked flowers deepening into strong rose fragrance coming from some unknown source. Intuitively he was drenched in bliss.
As usual, before going out for his morning pilgrimage Rano cleans photos and furniture and do some meditation as preparation for it. While cleaning the horses he specially cleans and fixes the ears and tails of both of them, placed prominently over the bookcase. He ensures that they are in places, and they are in readiness as before to stride. He goes out for his morning pilgrimage, sure that his horses are prepared to run just as he would ask when time comes. Horses remind him of Pakshiraj and Pegasus.
To be Continued