• Blog Stats?

    Friends,

    We wish to thank our readers, this festive season, for their very kind patronage. Onward, this months page views and visitors stats. Cool? We also wish to thank Blog.Co.Uk for having provided this absolutely free blog! Thank You!

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    ...

    Thank you,

    Ajay

  • Jhunmun and The Horrible Spider

    Jhunmun and the Horrible Spider

    by

    Ajay Pratap

    Authors Note: This is a work of complete fiction and not a single word herein is true in any sort of way!

    In a far away forested village there lived a very small boy called Jhunmun Phadnavees. He was a Sholiga tribal by caste. Thus in the manner of all Sholiga boys he grew-up with a perfect understanding of the way trees, plants, animals, easterly and westerly winds, rain spring and pond-water and everything animate and inanimate which exists in nature behave. Just when he was turning six a great curiosity got hold of him as in the manner of all curiosities which seize all six-year old boys all over this wide world. And this was on account of the fact that he asked himself the quintessential question – what does scare me?

    By the grand old age of six Jhunmun Phadnavees had heard enough grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ tales that he should choose from them what he should be scared of. As in the manner of all grandparents all over the world his own had told him to be scared of almost everything so he would stay home with them cuddle-up with them especially on cold winter nights. That certainly did not satisfy Jhunmun as he had now turned six and he was set to discover the world for himself.

    And so it was that one fine morning Jhunmun took his slingshot and having filled his pockets with clay pellets with which to shoot the slingshot he slunk-away into the forest without telling anyone. He had to face the dangers by himself, or so he thought that a man’s inner strength is tested against the worst of monsters and beasts with which the local Kurinchi forests were said to be filled.

    The first hour or so of his walk into the forest of Kurinchi were over known walkways from which he had often collected fruits, vegetables, flowers, honey, and fire-wood, and was thus rather old hat. He had to go farther, where the elephants roam during the day. He had spent many a night cringing in their very low-slung huts in their village Kiddinadu, which had by the wisdom of the ages been built low, so as to escape the marauding elephants notice during the nights when they entered their village to have a go at the Banana trees and the Jack.

    He knew this neck of the woods very well however the forests extended way beyond the area his village inhabited and its people roamed to fulfill their daily needs. He needed to go much farther into the forests, beyond the point any man or boy had gone before. It would take that much going to find the place where the elephants roam and many other surprises await to test his fear-worthiness.

    So Jhunmun sallied forth regardless of the unknown through horrible forests and vines, scratchy leaves, and jungle-bugs, hissing streams and the fear of thugs. Soon a very famous wild buffalo called Bukbuk emerged from the bushes and stood right in the middle of his track and accosted him with these questions – Jhunmun what are you doing so alone and so far into the forest? Do you not know what your grandparents shall say if they learn that you have ventured to come so far into the forest where wild beasts roam all alone?

    Jhunmun was in no mood for such questions from mere jungle buffalo for he respected only the elephants so he fired back – Listen Bukbuk, it is so nice that you are here. Why don’t you give me a ride further into the jungle and I shall explain along the way what I had to come so far. Bukbuk, seeing his resolve, agrees, and Jhunmun quickly leaps above his mighty and broad shoulders and is soon nestled comfortably with his legs dangling on either side of Bukbuk. Bukbuk then starts to move with a royal gait and has his ears propped up all curious to hear Jhunmun’s explanation for his historic journey. Then as they were some miles into the forest and Jhunmun had slept a little along the way he suddenly spoke, “You see dear Bukbuk there comes a time in a forest man’s life when he wants to learn how and why he is different from other animals that he has hunted and eaten traditionally. For surely just as the tiger and the leopard eat us with relish and snakes and other creatures kill us readily we in turn also have a capacity to kill your brethren. However I feel there must be a reason for all this. Is it necessary for us to kill each other in order to survive or are there other ways and means of living? This, my grandparents haven’t been able to explain and this is the reason for this journey. Is that enough of an answer?” “For you yes, dear Jhunmun.” spoke Bukbuk absentmindedly as his thoughts were elsewhere and in the middle of all that trampling through bushes and swamps of the Kurinchi forests. And then he spoke again with greater attention to the question posed by Jhunmun. “Listen here, friend. I eat grass and have chewed the cud for this journey thus far. We have passed many a peril like small carnivores like jackals and wolves that are but sacred of my hoof beats alone. An elephant is kindred to me because he too is a vegetarian but would readily trouble and even kill me if he perceives me as a threat. On many occasions, I have had to ram some perky elephants and thus chase them away. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor! At my ripe age of twenty years I give two hoots which mammal is threatened by my presence and which not. No matter that you are animal. There is also a civil code for us to follow, and no animal may go around all day like a cry-baby whining Oh! He, he, and he too, threatened me!”

    ……………..

    As the two good old friends travel and exchange stories about the nature and nurture of mammalian life they soon near a waterfall of immense propensities. The thunderous cascade may be heard from many miles distant and Bukbuk and Jhunmun both sigh, stretch their limbs, and lick their lips, at the thought of some rightfully deserved rest by the side of the waterfall and some cool sweet water to drink. A swift and cool breeze greeted them. And then looking at the spot by the waterfall which both the friends had selected for some forty-winks and a drink of water Bukbuk said, “Okay, kid. Since we have come thus far I may as well tell you that you are indeed not the first of the many tribes in this region to have come over to this spot for as long as my ancestry goes which is the same age as your ancestry upon this planet. Our respective ancestors were all visitors to this spot for one thing or another.” “And what would that be, Dear Bukbuk? What purpose brought our respective ancestors thus far into the forest at this desolate looking spot? I suppose to lie down like us and to drink the sweet and cold water?”

    ………….

    “Precisely. And more.” said Bukbuk.

    “What else, tell me?”

    “Ah, well. That’s a long story. Once upon a time there lived many buffaloes who roamed this land fearlessly. There were men too, and women and children, who all lived at this place here….”

    “And then?”

    Bukbuk, “And then what? We got so used to see each other, and as we gradually discovered that your kind could also live on vegetarian-food, a process which took several thousands of years, and then we became so friendly!”

    “Is that all?”

    Bukbuk, “Basically, yes…yet there were a few twists and turns.”

    “Really, that is interesting. Do go on.”

    Bukbuk, “You see Jhunmun, we are both basically animals, aren’t we?”

    Jhunmun, “Animals? Perhaps, yes…but only in a manner of speaking.”

    Bukbuk, “In a manner of speaking? How do you mean?”

    Jhunmun, “See. Dear Old Bukbuk. I can talk, whereas you can’t can you?”

    Bukbuk, “Yes. And I can chew grass whereas you can’t can you? That sort of argument can go on and on dear Jhunmun and that wouldn’t lead us anywhere in particular. Let’s try a different sort of syllogism….”

    Jhunmun, “Ayen?”

    Bukbuk, “Oh, argument, silly boy. A syllogism is an argument which explains something.”

    Jhunmun, “You mean talk about something else?”

    Bukbuk, “No. No. Let’s talk about the same thing in a different sort of way.”

    Jhunmun, “Talk about the same thing in a different sort of way. Now let me see. Hmmmm. Can you say that again?”

    Bukbuk, “Yes. My pleasure. Let’s talk about the same thing in a different sort of way!”

    Jhunmun, “Oh. Yes. Absolutely. Got it, dear old Bukbuk. You are intelligent.”

    Bukbuk, “This is just the beginning. You haven’t yet asked me how your species and ours became friends at all?”

    Jhunmun, “Yes, pray tell me?”

    Bukbuk, “Well. We were obviously watching your species go from being pure meat-eaters, toward, vegetarian foods.”

    Jhunmun, “What do you mean you watched our species? Huh?”

    Bukbuk, “Well, dear, Boy! I mean exactly what I said, didn’t I?”

    Jhunmun, “How can your species, the pure animals, watch us? Huh?”

    Bukbuk,” Dear, child. Don’t mix metaphors. Ever ask the Hah…Tiger that question? Hee Hee Heh, heehe he hehe he. Oooooooooooooooonh.”, bellowed Bukbuk, in a typical Bubalus bubalis fashion, as he was nearly past mirth, with this question of Jhunmun Phadnavees, as it had heaved-up his blood having conjured up in his mind the bedeviled meat-eating, predator, the Tiger. He thought aloud, we eat grass, but no one has yet said that grass has life. it is inert, meant only for us to feed-off and dung; dung which regenerates more grass; there you have it; we are perpetually the greatest of living peaceful creatures, but not the tiger”, he scraped his hooves…and uttered a feeble, “no, no.”

    Jhunmun, “My Word, Dear Old Bukbuk. What indeed did I say that you should say such complicated things and laugh too all of which is within your cognitive reckoning and not least mine?”

    Bukbuk, “Dear Child. Consider that the un-manly predators, like the tigers, and occasionally, the leopards, and lo and behold, even the wolves, and, wild dogs, have been hunting our types for a few centuries now. Do you not consider that we would have watched these species for the sake of our survival?”

    Jhunmun, “Yes. Yes. Most certainly.”

    Bukbuk, “Then, in that case, if the Homo sapien, who is just another animal, were also hunting us, for centuries, then do you or don’t you think, that we would have watched him alike? Han?”

    Jhunmun, “You get 10/10, for that one…..as the Masters at our Primary School say. You make perfect sense.”

    Bukbuk, “Ooooooooooooooooooooooon? Do I?”

    Jhunmun, “Yes, Dear Bukbuk. But I must here remark that even in my six long years of life whenever I saw one of your kind eying one of ours I always thought that you were looking at us rather than, as you say, watching us.”

    Bukbuk, “Yes, you would have thought that because it is only the Homo sapiens’ who have something called the EGO! And, then, satisfied as I am with your compliment to a mere animal and then in that case we are ready for the further journey. So Upsy Daisy! Old Fellow.”

    ……………

    Then, and then again, the Bukbuk and the Jhunmun Phadnavees astride Bukbuk, trample, and crash through, bushes of all kinds until the both of them are wondering what these so called primitive folkloric human-animal or animal-human interfaced journeys are all about. And then quite the unlikeliest of things happened which is that the Bukbuk stumbled and fell face-first into a hole in the ground taking Jhunmun with him all the way down to about sixty feet below the Earth where they presently thudded very painfully into a lot of water.

    ……………..

    Jhunmun, “Help. Help. Help. Somebody save me. Help…” as a lot of fresh-water filled his mouth, lungs and nostrils. Even before he knew it the enormous flank of Bukbuk grazed his side, a signal for him to cling on to his sizable horns which Jhunmun did at once, and Bukbuk swam flat-out until he had reached the very rocky sides of this underground cavern through which this subterranean river called Ghorpuri washed the underworld. The utterly terrified Jhunmun was new to this spot, but Ho Ho…Bukbuk was not! At once Jhunmun set about drying his clothes just as soon he had had the time to catch his breath. Then all at once he breaks out in a song:

    Bongo Mile Bongo,
    Bonge Ke Jute Maisur,
    Maisur La Marigwana,
    Teri Guji Ka La,
    Pari Bomma…

    Even as this infant’s voice ricocheted off the enormous and very savagely uneven walls of this ghostly cavern. Of course, the very purpose of Jhunmun’s song was to fend-off the unnamed fears which besotted him in this unearthly place. No Sun, No Moon, No stars, No Nothing. Just the vast sea of roaring waters, eddying, churning, foaming, and seemingly cascading to the right of him. Streaks of blue daylight pinged-off the waters’ surface.

    Bukbuk,” Hoooonh. Hooonh. Hold it there Boy!”

    Jhunmun, “Hold it? How do you mean hold it, Dear Bukbuk?”

    Bukbuk, “Ooof! No. No. What I mean is that if you shut down your vocal then I shall have a chance here to explain to you what this place is and why have I brought you here!”

    Jhunmun, “Ho. Ho. Yes, dear Bukbuk, I see. I see.”

    Bukbuk, “Oof. There you go again. How alien, I should say entirely alien…the idea that a human can see in the dark. Dear Child…shall I just say that you keep quiet for awhile?”

    Jhunmun, “Hmmm.”

    Bukbuk, “Now silly boy. not even that silly and slimy Hmmmm…that puts me off even worse than your talking. You little boys have such a nasty knack for putting elders off. When I say quiet, silence or something of the kind I really mean that I wouldn’t even like to hear a pin-drop from you. Got it?’

    At last Bukbuk’s roar has the desired effect. There is pin-drop-silence. he falls asleep very quickly.

    The subterranean Ghorpuri River’s waters symbiotically and quite magically roll on as if singing a lullaby. Very slowly Jhunmun leans against Bukbuk and deliriously and very fitfully also falls asleep.

    ……………..

    A hour or so later, Bukbuk, the Bubalus bubalis, is awakened by instinct, and as he negotiates his bulk to take a dekko around, he ends-up, waking the little Jhunmun Phadnavees too.

    Wading through the shallow incline of the submerged rocky shelf on which they were resting they saw an enormous white elephant.

    He nudged a little boy into complete wakefulness. And then, he greeted the White Elephant called Airavat, thus:

    Bukbuk, “Dear Airavat Bhai. Thy gait is most wonderful. Thy pale skin most luminous and shiny. Thy presence, most wonderful and welcome.”

    Airavat, “Yeah, Mate. You think that it is all so cool. How convenient for a bovid and a Homo Sapien to make that assumption. Yet this dark-dome is most depressing for an elephant like me. And there are not, Dear Bukbuk, as you very-well know, not very many white elephants like me in this world.”

    Bukbuk, “Man. You’re really bad-out and methinks you are badly in need of some good cough syrup, mate. Look at you. You’re an Elephant man, the king of kings. Yet, you have a nose-run worse than a mouse. It is some long twenty-years, since when we have known each other. You have yourself and quite willfully chosen to inhabit this godforsaken subterranean cavern, where there is no sunlight and do not, please, please tell me, that that is the reason why you are white; and now, that you seemingly suffer a perpetual cough and cold you complain! Vallah!”

    Jhunmun, “What? What?”

    Airavat, “Man! that was quite a diatribe. And, me. I’ve been doing some arithmetic down here. Ha. Growth. Price. Finance. Or do we here need bigger explanations?”

    Jhunmun, “Yeah, yeah. I would indeed like to hear about Growth. Price. Finance. I mean your thoughts on these issues are central to animal and human lives, Dear Airavat. Do go on. I am all ears.”

    Bukbuk, “OK. OK. Airavat Bhai. You may as well tell this kid what we have been secretly meeting here to discuss for some twenty years, never mind your white skin and mine black…”

    ……………..

    And then Airavat, the only white elephant in the world, rested himself, slowly and steadily, so that neither Bukbuk, nor, the little Jhunmun, by accident got crushed under his enormous bulk. And when he was thus settled on this ledge above the dark waters of the mysterious river Ghorpuri, he began to clear his sizeable throat for a speech-act. The thunderous noises he emitted clanged, banged and thus ricocheted of the enormous and very dark walls of the cavern until both Jhunmun and Bukbuk were both practically deaf.

    Airavat,”Growth, price, finance. Three sisters. A lot of patience is here required. but they are all very affable and mix with each other a lot. just like the leaves of various trees when blown away in the wind and piled up on the floor of a forest. very difficult to tell one from the other. but presently we shall get to discovering by experiment that all leaves of all trees save a few taste bitter to varying degrees…and they thought that the one and only…living white elephant…in this world, is having fun, chewing these leaves. Heh. Heh. Heh!!!”

    Now an Elephant’s Heh, Heh, Heh, in terms of its decibels goes a very long way further to similar phonemes emitted by sapiens or bubaluses, and hence, Jhunmun and Bukbuk are again obliged to use their forepaws, hands or as the case maybe, clamped tight over their ears, to shut out this very high-pitched and high veloci-tied sound which multiplied, on impact, as it ricocheted, off the walls of this deep and dark cavern, where this very mysterious subterranean river Ghorpuri runs. And then, he cleared his throat.

    “Lo and behold. Ze miracles of de nature. Modern man tends to think dat he him have all de sholusaans to dees whole probleme of dees universe. Yet, his money dem faast ruunin owt. why is dees? Aaaiyee do beg u de ansaar. If u hab any, that is…?

    Jhunmun, “Naaiye,naaiy, Airawart Ji. Beg, please explain.”

    Bukbuk, “Ho Ho Hooooooooooooooo.”

    Airavat casts a jaundiced eye at his old mate Bukbuk and then raises his eyebrow and looks Jhunmun squarely in the eye, in a manner of askance, as the very whitest, but really, the only very one elephant, in the single whole world, is wont to do.

    Jhunmun, “Naaiye, Naaiye, Airavat Ji. Beg, please explain.”

    Airavat, “Dem money. My dear child is like so many leaves of da forest. Aas laang aas it is fresh we may eat ‘em, no sooner are dey dry daat they are of no use whaatsoever. Dem money is like daat. Immediate use-value or Nothin. Animals eat what dey get and when dey get, dey do naat speculate. It is only modern man which gaat dis sensibility to speculate and which is da reason why dem all be runnin owt of de money. There is enough fawr everyone’s need but not for dere greed.”

    Jhunmun, “Aiyaaaan? Dear Bukbuk Ji. What is this strange talk all about. Where on this Earth are we?”

    Airavat, “Zapota.”

    Bukbuk, “Zapota”

    Jhunmun, “Zapota? Where is that?”

    Airavat, “Zapota. Zapota. Ha. ha. ha. This deer yung maan is quite altogether another werld full of de very big and da very evil spidaars, which eat de maan an de animaal alike. Kruel. Beyaand aal imagination. Ha! Mine. De Mine Gaad Help aas. Welcome yung maan to Dis wonderland of da Zapota. where life an death are aal alike. Where a boy become de maan in a zilch. Here lies, deer boay de test of yaar manhood. prepare. hah. hah. ha”

    And the very suddenly Toba Ash rained down and a wholesome tsunami swept this underground wonderland, a hailstorm broke-out, and then a whirlwind swept by, a tornado engulfed this portal down so beneath dees earth. Aal hell broke loose. Slowly and very steadily den dis earth re-arranged itself into da Gondwanaland with de Tethysea aal arownd. Mayhem. Miracle. da magic of de underworld.

    ………….

    And even as Airavat and Bukbuk braced themselves, like so many times before when this had happened and of which event their memory was so clear, Jhunmun overawed was already very fast asleep.

    …………..

    Then Bukbuk and Airavat, are at long last absolutely free, to confabulate about this world’s happenings, between them.

    ………….

    Airavat, “How are things in the upWorld?”

    Bukbuk, “Just the same as in the downWorld!”

    Airavat, “Exactly?”

    Bukbuk, “Exactly.”

    Airavat, “I have heard strange tell from down here.”

    Bukbuk, “And I have done the same from up there.”

    Airavat, “Exactly?”

    Bukbuk, “Exactly.”

    Airavat, “Good. Then we may talk.”

    Bukbuk, “Yeah, Airavat, but what about? Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?”

    Airavat, “The spider Houdini of course. That’s the worst sort of…umm Animal.”

    Bukbuk, “Not that man-eating witch! You call her an animal, mate? Is that a joke, or what?”

    Airavat, “Yes, Brother Bukbuk. These are very very bad times. Animaal do naat de recognise de daat animaal, very very baad deese times.”

    Bukbuk, “What? Is she on the roll again? Chewing-up people?”

    Airavat, “Worse. Chewing animals too. And that is the point.”

    Bukbuk, “Golly.”

    Airavat, “No. That sort of swearing does not solve this problem. You know that sort of species. These eight-legged ones. She is now asking for a kill every day of the week.”

    Bukbuk, “What? Mumbling Maloogas!”

    Airavat, “yes. yes. Mumbling Malubas indeed!”

    All so very suddenly then a banshee wail of the vilest kind engulfed this underground canyon. Followed by what seemed like a blast of horribly putrefying and fetid smell. That sound and ugly smell startled young Jhunmun Phadnavees to full wakefulness.

    Jhunmun, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

    Buckbuk, “Shut your little mouth. You silly boy. You shall have us all eaten.”

    Airavat, “And you are actually shouting louder than him!”

    Jhunmun fell silent hearing his elders speak aloud thus which clearly revealed their own sense of alarm, which he was very quick to surmise, was due to some clear and present danger. Presently, his own adrenalin began to flow rapidly as he remembered in an instant his grandfather’s tale about how human life was always full of dangers which they must always strive to guard ourselves against. Thus, and sensing this danger, he rapidly took shelter behind a very large boulder.

    Watching Jhunmun take cover behind the boulder Airavat looked toward Bukbuk.

    Airavat, “Bukbuk Bhai. Shall we adopt the earlier strategy of evading her?”

    Bukbuk, “Not so, Dear Friend.”

    Airavat, “And why do you say `not so’ Dear Friend?”

    Bukbuk, “Because Dear Friend we have with us a two-legged species, or did you not notice?”

    Airavat, “Yes. That is so?”

    Bukbuk, “Well?”

    Airavat, “Well…? You are not thinking of pitting this Mowgli against Houdini, of who even such large creatures as you and I are scared?”

    Bukbuk, “It is elementary Dear Airavat. He has a cranial capacity of 1600 centimeter cube. Whereas large as we are, the two of us, relative to our body-weights, we have but ant-sized brains, compared to him?”

    “Do you mean he is a better hunter than us?”

    “Chewing leaves Dear Airavat Ji is called grazing, and not hunting, as a matter of fact.”

    “Ok. Then you are on.”

    “No. Ok. He is on.”

    ………………..

    And then very suddenly as Houdini’s growls of anger grown from acute hunger were closing in, Airavat and Bukbuk dragged Jhunmun Phadnavees to his feet, and shook him to full wakefulness.

    Airavat, “Get-up, you silly boy. There is work for you to do.”

    Bukbuk, “Get-up Jhunmun. There is something you must do.”

    Jhunmun, “Ayen?”

    Airavat, “get-up. I said. You have to kill a spider.”

    Bukbuk, “Ahem. Ahem. Well, frankly speaking, it is larger that Airavat. Heh…heh…!”

    Jhunmun, “You are talking to me? You are talking to me?”

    Airavat, “Don’t waste time with silly questions such as these, you two-legged creature. Tell us how you are going to hunt-down this savage beast.”

    Bukbuk, “Yes. Jhunmun. It was no accident that I brought you here. This here is the place and this here is the monster which has threatened us animals for a very long-time. So when i saw you lost in the forest the idea did occur to me that wise as your species is, perhaps, even a youngster like you could perhaps solve this long outstanding problem of ours. So do go on and tell us how you would hunt Houdini the evil spider for us?”

    Jhunmun, ‘okay. Let us give the matter some thought. Have we got some time?”

    Airavat, “No.”

    Bukbuk, “No.”

    Jhunmun, “No? Well, then just get eaten-up! You want me to play ball. Then do it my way. Got it?”

    Airavat, “Got it.”

    Bukbuk, “Got it.”

    Jhunmun, ‘Okay troops. Here is the plan! Come and sit behind this boulder with me and let us discuss it. If we speak loudly, just as you both have been until now, why the game shall be up sooner that you could say Jack Robinson.”

    Airavat, “Who is Da Jack Robinson?”

    Bukbuk, “Yeah. yeah.”

    Jhunmun, “Cut it out, you two, will you? That is just a linguistic turn and you are in fact not supposed to understand it at all. Got it? Now pay attention. My ancestors have all been hunters and we hunt only to eat, we do not kill for vengeance. The two of you are so scared of being eaten and bemoan this outcome as if Houdini would be morally wrong if she were to eat-up the both of you, even if it for her to fill her hungry stomach. It is this irrational chaine’ de operatoire which is the cause of the fear the two of you experience at this moment. It’s the food-chain silly.”

    Airavat, “The food-chain, Ha.Ha.Ha.”

    Bukbuk, “Heh. Heh. The food-chain. Ha.Ha.Ha.Ha.Ha.”

    Jhunmun, “Good to see the two of you get over your fears even for a moment. Now. The fact of the matter is that since I have the two of you domesticated, in a manner of speaking, indicates that we must be well into the Neolithic Age. Right?”

    Airavat, “Right. Right.”

    Bukbuk, “Quite right. Quite right.”

    Jhunmun, “Since the both of you have agreed, we shall see if there is an option to killing Houdini out-right. Comprende?”

    Airavat, “Si Senor.”

    Bukbuk, “Si Senor.”

    Jhunmun, “Why on earth are the two of you speaking Spanish? Here we are all, according to the two of you, purportedly about to get eaten to death, although I have challenged very distinctly the possibility of that premise as a being the only correct one beyond all other realms of possibilities, and indeed I am right here by your side trying to prepare you both for a counter-maneuver, for which I must elicit from you both some further information about Houdini’s habits and behaviour, and all of a sudden the two of you break-out into mellifluous Spanish as if we are all headed for the Sunday Sermon and Apple-Pie after that?”

    ………………..

    There was time for nothing else after that as with a very loud crash a nearby wall of the cavern collapsed completely boulders scattering hither and thither and an enormous leg of a spidery-kind magnified a million times so that it was looking like death incarnate thrust some small remaining boulders out of its way and was then in full-view.

    “Run” shouted Jhunmun.

    “What” said Airavat and Bukbuk.

    “Man. I said run. Run like the blazes.”

    “But you said that we were going to kill this thing.” said Airawat.

    “And that that is why you had to elicit some more information from us about her behaviour.” said Bukbuk.

    “Yes. Those who run live to fight another day. And I have already seen that bit of her behaviour which I thought that I would question you about. Can or can not she break stones? So where do we go from here?”

    Airavat and Bukbuk quickly and in a low voice confer and advise Jhunmun, “Why. Haven’t you heard the song…under the water silly…run for it…let’s all dive into the Ghorpuri River. Houdini with her bulk cannot swim. We shall cross-over to the other side in a jiffy!”

    That indeed they all do and are safe for the moment.

    ………………

    Meanwhile, Houdini, in hot pursuit of her day’s prey, has carved a hole in the cave walls large enough for her entire bulk to squeeze through. She does this and then lumbers up to the nearer side of the Ghorpuri River. Here she stands absolutely still eying her quarry across the river.

    Airavat, first to notice an anomaly threatening their combined survival, is quick to alert his team.

    “Hey. Have you all noticed her feet. I mean, the span of her strides. She would be across this river in but a single step.”

    And then again opined Airavat as the tallest of the prey, “And, Dear Friends. Frankly, I do not think we really have the sort of time to reckon will she, won’t she, etc. etc. etc. Just get-up and take a dive into the waters of this river and let’s lie low until she retreats or completely loses interest in us.”

    Bukbuk, “Yaar Airavat. What a wonder of an idea.”

    Jhunmun, “Ayen?”

    Then the threesome take a quick dive into the river and swim down its very bottom. But to their great surprise, and they should have been wiser in such a regard, for before jumping into the river, the threesome quite forgot, that spiders, all spiders of every hue and ilk, are indeed very good divers and swimmers.

    ……………

    Yet when this spider, that is, Houdini the very large spider which lived in this subterranean climes, jumped-in into the Ghorpuri River, chasing her meaty quarries, given her sheer bulk and size, the splash consequent to her jump into the river nearly and almost emptied it, leaving Airavat, Bukbuk and little Jhunmun, very very wet and extremely exposed.

    And this is when, instead of pouncing upon them, as she very well could have and making a very nice meal of them in a matter of seconds, the spider Houdini began to speak.

    “O you residents of the forest Kurinchi and the village Kiddinadu…Hear me speak…and hear me well…As a matter of fact; I am not hungry at all, today. So your lives have been spared provided you get out of my subterranean abode quickly. And, that goes for you too, Airavat. However, I shall presently leave you with these words…Appearances can be deceptive, for I am no ordinary spider, that only makes meals out of whichever living thing passes this way…Indeed I am an old spirit of the Kurinchi Forest, living here to save it from the depredation of humans and animals…only those who have my express permission may enter here…And, surprise, surprise…this is not all I have to say…stay awhile longer and let me finish.

    Now, then. When you go back to your respective abodes, you animals to the forest Kurinchi, and you young man to your village, tell your animals and people that Houdini is a goddess and most of the time she is not in her living form. I live as a painting on rocks and mountains high and deep within forests. I come to life, jumping out of my painted form on rocks and mountains only when I perceive that there is a potential threat to this forest.

    From now onward, let this become common knowledge and which is why I have spared your lives.

    Now go.”

    ………….

    Airavat who had been living within the stronghold of Houdini hidden from her detection for a few weeks now was quick to suggest that the easiest way-out was to float down the Ghorpuri River and emerge where it would. Jhunmun and Bukbuk were in no mood at all, scared as they were, to argue with him. Thus all of them jumped in quickly into the river.

    …………

    Soon they were washed down in a tumult of hands and legs down the deep and dark cavern then out in the open but then only for a flash of a second and then suddenly the huge and a greatly roaring torrent of the waterfall was upon them. Down they went the short but brutal cascade which whipped their bodies this way and that, until they were in calmer waters several miles downstream from this cascade.

    ……………….

    Thereafter, scared as they all were, each of them did exactly as was the Spider-Goddess Houdini’s bidding. It is thus that whenever a human or animal ever sees a painting on the rocks, he is quick to move on from the spot, for fear of what spirits of the forests may come alive from these figures, and harm them.

    ...

    Thank you,

    Ajay

  • Morhana Pahar: A Re-Rediscovery

    Morhana Pahar: A Re-Rediscovery

    by

    Ajay Pratap

    In this paper we shall reconsider the significance of rock art at Morhana Pahar, which was last discussed in a most scholarly article by Bridget Allchin (1958). The work of Mishra (1967), Varma (1957) and Jayaswal (1983) have followed in its wake. As has ours (see footnote!). And yet, very very clearly the total rock art resources of this region of Uttar Pradesh remain unexplored and unexcavated to its limits of possibility.

    For the while, some pictures of it, by way of an introduction:

    DSC07365

    DSC07388

    DSC07395

    (Photo Courtesy: Dr. Nawal Kumar)

    DSC07396

    (Photo Courtesy: Dr. Nawal Kumar)

    (Footnote: Harvard System for Reference or the Citation of Blog Research Data! harvard_referencing_examples_tcm44-39847)

    -----------

    Bibliography

    Allchin, B. 1958. Morhana Pahar: A Rediscovery. Man 58. 153-55.

    Allchin, F.R. 1963. Neolithic Cattle-Keepers of South India. The Deccan Ashmounds Problem. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

    Jayaswal, V. 1983. Excavation of a Painted Rock Shelter at Leharia-dih, Mirzapur District. Bharati, New Series. (1): 126-33.

    Misra, V.D., Pal, J.N. 2002. Mesolithic India. Allahabad. Allahabad University Press.

    Pratap, A. 2011a. Interpreting the Rock Art Imagery of the Vindhyas: Recent Surveys at Wyndham Falls, Likhaniya Dari, Chuna Dari, and Morhana Pahar. In Journal of Vikramshila Institute of Social Sciences. Bhagalpur. Pp?

    Pratap, A. 2011b. The Prehistoric Rock Art Imagery of the Vindhyas, Uttar Pradesh. Ancient India. New Series. No. 1. Archaeological Survey of India. New Delhi.

    Varma, R.K. 2012. Rock Art of Central India. North Vindhyan Region. With Special Reference to Mirzapur and the Adjoining Regions in Uttar Pradesh and Baghelkhand in Madhya Pradesh. Aryan Books International. New Delhi.

  • Bhanua's Cauldron - II

    Bhanua's Cauldron - II

    by

    Ajay Pratap

    Out of Bhagalpur

    There were in these days at the Bengali Tola Mohalla, some Seventeen odd years of them, if I remember them correctly, a few yearly outings for our family, most notably to the famous National Parks and Forest, such as at Chaibasa, Valmiki Nagar, Hazaribagh.

    The Forest at Chaibasa, the Kolhan and Saranda Forest Divisions, bring back such glorious memories as perhaps no other Forest Reserve of India does for me, and most certainly I have seen a fair share of Indian Forests, from the Hills of Assam, to Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh, Rajaji Park in Uttarakhand to Sariska in Rajasthan, to Mudumalai in the Nilgiris; however the forests of Chaibasa in the sixties, take the pride of place for a number of reasons.

    First of all because these trips into the forests of the erstwhile Bihar State were all at the invitation of my Maternal Uncle, who at this time was posted at Chaibasa, as an officer of the Indian Forest Service. These were glorious days, and in between his learning and passing exams in the Ho Language, which I was told by him is necessary for all Forest Indian Forest Service Officers, who are newly posted to districts, from the previous one. Ostensibly, this is so that these Officers may be able to interact better with forest villagers over conservancy issues as for the proper promulgation of the multitude of governmental tribal development schemes etc.

    My Uncle was a very strict person insofar as his work was concerned. In the Indian tradition and family system the Mama is after-all also supposed to be a daunting figure and he played this role to great aplomb! I have therefore to readily concede that my family owes its great love for forests, wildlife and the Tribal People of India to this very early and very very wide exposure he gave us.

    The forests of Chaibasa are elephant forests in every sense of the term, and as lovely-wooded-dark and deep as any other tropical forest on God's own Earth could be! On one of these trips to places inside this forest, we rode in his Mahindra Jeep (complete with a Trailer carrying the Rasad-Pani) and his half a dozen Ardalees (one of these called Paras was a particular favourite of his!), with my Mama riding shotgun, literally, with a twelve gauge, in what was an entirely open jeep on the sides, as this journey continued through forest roads and tracks known only to him and his staff, through a pitch-dark night, to a distant Forest Dak Bungalow.

    This we reached sometime late in the night. Immediately, the Ardalees all of them went about and put up a great shout.Partly, to awaken as to summon the Dak Bungalow watchmen and cooks, as perhaps to scare away any wild animals. Soon very bleary-eyed Dak Bungalow Staff approached and we alighted this jeep. Bungalow lights were switched on and a set of bedrooms were unlocked by the Dak Bungalow staff.

    In a small shanty shed-like kitchen beside this bungalow, the midnight cooking fires were lit and the cooks, local as well as the one travelling with us from Chaibasa, got to work cooking us some rice,meat and vegetables. My Mama, for his part, had first had all the Newar Beds at this bungalow, beaten thoroughly with stouts canes to chase out any deadly snakes and scorpions which as he explained to me as I stood dumbfounded watching this most arcane of south bihar forest rituals, regularly make these very comfortable white beds their favorite haunts, when the bungalows are unoccupied.

    However, on this occasion, even as I watched very closely, nary a living thing emerged from these very finely woven beds, except that odd Spider! If that provided a mid-night laugh for me, the Millipedes which I was to see the next morning, were as much of a surprise and the subject of a very crisp early morning wonderment and a great but a most pleasant and an equally welcome surprise, for I have never after that time seen such large Millipedes, which for a child of seven years of age or so, which I was at this time, were as large as Rhinos. This area then was truly tropical in every sense of the term (contd).

    Out of Bengali Tola

    After some twenty years of our rented accommodation the Bhagalpur University finally found some grants from the University Grants Commission to begin building some new bungalows and apartments near the university, in its Lal Bagh area, for Lecturers, Readers and Professors, as teachers of Indian Universities were then typically called.

    (Cont'd)

    ...

    Thank you,

    Ajay

  • Bhanua's Cauldron

    Bhanua’s Cauldron

    by

    Ajay Pratap

    Author's note: All characters in this novelette are purely fictional, unless otherwise stated. Any resemblance to anyone or thing, living or dead, is purely coincidental, and not to be taken seriously.

    "For the disclosure of buried civilizations and lost peoples who created them only one thing can be done: it is to dig hopefully and diligently where their suspected localities once were so as to come on evidence of them". From Group 8, Art, Chapter 56, pp 6873. Digging Up The Ancient World - I, Arthur Mee, 1960. Children's Encyclopedia, Amalgamated Press Private Limited, London.

    I am genuinely interested in plants and gardens, especially the wild, unkempt ones which as it were, may be, put in some order? However, let us begin this at the very beginning. There was once a very wild garden that was right in front of our house in a neighbourhood called the Bengali Tola, in the town of Bhagalpur, in Bihar. This was not a garden in any sense save that it fell within the premises of a close relative. Basically it was a bunch of plants, some isolated, and others bush, sprung up randomly in an erstwhile Bengali maath. There was kandel with yellow flowers and slim long leaves, Zizyphus jujuba (ber), and Aegle marmelos (Bel) not much to look at but very precious for fruit; numerous kaanta-wala species, including Datura inoxia, that is given to Shivji as an offering, as well as sundry, unidentified ones, and most notably, the urkussi, or bichchi-patta.

    This was the deadliest. One touch of its shiny white leaves and the body part coming into contact with it would burn like blazes until doused profusely with cow-dung. The mango-trees inside and just outside this compound had also wild bee-hives. An errant volley from our slingshots often roused the bees which stung this one and that one and we would all flee screaming Mai-Baap, Mai-Baap. All these trees and plants grew hither and thither in our Chacha's compound. Many a daring youngster would venture into his compound, which was sans a boundary, to get at the delectable fruits, or just for frolic, or the many wondrous other things to be found in the thickets there.

    My best memory of Shatrughan Chacha is that he was sitting down to an early morning meal of Mutton and Rice reading the Times of India and guffawing. When I entered his range of vision he called me to him and showed me in 1963 my first R.K. Laxman cartoon. Ostensibly it was about some politician's visit to a flood-hit area and the atrocious remedies for undoing the ills of floods suggested by him. Right across from Shatrughan Chacha's boundary was Kolyan Sen's compound and his orchard and those of a few other Baboos of the neighbourhood.

    Wonderous Mangoes, Guavas and other fruit trees were there in Kolyan Sen's compound. I wonder how the Bengali gardens, even urban ones, are always full of fruit trees, but so little spoken of! This is not all that might be said about Chacha's compound which still exists. Along with others, I spent all of the first of seven years of my life playing in it. On the eighth, I left for boarding school at Patna. But the Tola was much bigger and of mixed population in terms of caste. Some Rajput migrants like us from upstream Patna, others Rajputs largely from north (rural) Bihar.

    We are Bisen, by Gotra, Shatrughan Chacha's family, Sirmour, and perhaps a few other Rajput families of various other gotras also existed in the mohalla. There were also Bhumihars, a land-owing caste exclusive to Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh. One owned a very large house in the mohalla and had evidently managed it from an erstwhile Bengali Baboo. Brahmins too existed. Right nextdoor, to the left of us, was Kiran Babu, who worked for Bihar Rajya Transport Corporation. To the right Sisu's family (actually his grandfather's house) mainly in legal practice, but rather large in size, and still retaining their rural links was full to the core with about two dozen denizens of various sizes.

    The best of course was Raj Kumar's family. Most evenings after our daily frolic Raj Kumar would take me to his home. They were recent migrants from the village and their own house was only part pucca, in part thatch, where their kitchen was situated and a separate shed for the family cows. His old Nani (maternal grandmother) would make us Chikna-Roti — incredibly sweet and made and served by the Chulha where she made it. Rajkumar's family owned a cow so did Sisoo's and perhaps a few others in the area as well. Here we must not forget Bhanua's cauldron. Bhanua's father was a building contractor perhaps for roads. Now they use this very big Karahi or Cauldron to boil the tar to melting point with. So he must have been a building contractor. One such huge cauldron lay on Bhanua's roof or the side-roof. Now we were not allowed permission into Bhanua's house. What we did do, all eight or ten of us, was to climb up Mr. Haridwar Rai's staircase and from there jumped onto Bhanua's dad's sideroof, to look at the cauldron, fly kites and talk. The cauldron was most fascinating. What lived in it would today attract a full-fledged National Geographic film "Denizens of the Cauldron” sort of film.

    First of all, there was slime, lots of it. That, in reflection, was the remnant, over-boiled tar that had also rotted and become mid-way between green, brown and black. It was the joy of our life. Yes, that slime was heavenly, it would float and wave, when the very large cauldron was rocked, or when it was raining and the rain poured into the cauldron. It would conjure various shapes and we could then discuss sea-monsters, sky monsters and monsters of all ilk. I may easily say that this was the fulcrum of our lives for many years. Now Bhanua was also the expert kite-flyer. He was absolutely the last word in mastery of the profession.

    Thus, as I was to learn much much later, the mohalla, was quite exclusive. An American University Professor, even published an article on it. Of course, there were, rather a lot of Bengalis in the mohalla. We had a mixed attitude towards, them. Biharis considered ourselves, in some way, superior as we were more Bhumiputras, than them. Of course, the Bengalis could also claim some antiquity over there, as prior to 1900s the states of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa, were conjointly all one. However, we were, after all more original than them, at least in our reckoning in the 1960s.

    This is how; one small portion of Bihar, in the 1960s viewed itself. Of the Bengalis, there was Kiran Babu, in the house adjoining ours, who served in the Bihar Rajya Transport Corporation and next to him, another Bengali Babu's house, who actually ran a tailoring shop. Next to him there was a whole lane full of Bengalis who lived in very nice and well decorated houses. One thing outstanding about this lane, as I remember, was that the Bengali girls were all very good at playing with dolls. I observed my sister play with Shomi, Milee, Chumki, Krishna, Shukla, Runu, Khukomoni; naturally we the younger ones addrressed them all as Didis.

    The small dolly things they made were quite outstanding. But that is what the girls did. We only made occasional forays into the doll-game to steal the miniscule baalishes that were made for the dolls whether or not that was any use to us in what we did for our play. The boys, quite apart from indulging in horse-play, as described before, did many other things. In this mohalla, thanks to its people, the rooftop culture was quite thriving. Kite flying was an addiction for the boys, and it could be said that this very easily took up most of our time. No one knew from where the intricacies of this art originated, but I think we knew every-thing there was to be known about this activity. Where the best kites were sold in town, from where to get the Latai or the wooden whorl, from where the thread unfurls, how to do the Manjha and what attack and defense ploys to undertake to win at kite flying. There are various types of manjhas.

    Take some sabudana (sago), some colour, some fused 100 watt bulbs and of course the length of twine or thread that you wish to prepare for kite-wars. Now take a container, light a small fire underneath it, adding some water and colour. Now take the 100 watt bulbs and smash them gently, one by one, and recover the pieces of glass. Put these bits of glass in a paper packet and hammer (with a piece of stone) till the glass reduces to mere powder. Pour the powdered glass into the boiling sabudana (you may add one or two raw-eggs to add strength), add the colour, usually red or pink and then boil and stir the sabudana till it is really really hot. Next, leave the concoction to cool, not absolutely but to the point it may be touched by hand, and then the manjha begins. Two Latais (or Whorls) are needed for Manjha. One to feed-out the virgin-thread, and after the Manjha is applied mid-way, the second whorl wheels in the toughened thread.

    The Manjha is taken from the concoction of the colour and ground-glass and applied by Chutki (the pulp is put between the thumb and first-finger and the virgin thread is also held in the same grip, such that all the thread coming from the first whorl passes through the Chutki into the second one. The process is slow enough such that that the thread passing through the chutki containing the brew actually imbibes the potent mixture mixed with ground glass, and from there onto the next whorl where it is stored and then dried in the baking sun before further activities. This glass, sabudana, colour concoction was just one of the many wondrous manjhas that Bhanua knew of.

    It is thus that he was the supreme master and nobody could better him in the neighbourhood. Kiran Babu's Brother This particular memory is slightly impaired. One afternoon we heard noises from our neighbours, as is associated with an unusual happening (as in welcoming) an unusual guest. My sister and I ran out of our house to behold a very well-dressed gentleman alighting from a rickshaw. His wife and children were also with him. A little later we were to learn that he was Kiron Babu's brother who had returned after journeying far-afield. On the same evening we were asked by Kiran babu's eldest daughter, Krishna Di, a close friend of my sister, to join their family to see pictures from around the world. Inside Kiron babu's house, into his drawing-room, a slide projector was setup on a side-table and one after the other colored pictures were being projected on the wall. Some of these had Kiron Babu's brother with his family in the foreground and some unusual looking locales in the background, but I swear that he did show us the Big-Ben and the Buckingham Palace.

    He also, in the process, smoked profusely, for us to infer that all gentlemen who travel abroad must smoke, sending curls of exhaust up in their brothers' homes. He also gave us a running verbal commentary to go with all the slides. There must have been about two dozen other people from this small neighborhood who beheld the unusual spectacle. One side-effect of this slide-show was that I and my friends got busy in the weeks following to make a slide-projector of our own. It was usual in the seventies that Film-Halls their reject and other celluloid just outside the premises of the picture-halls, and that was a goldmine for young inventors to pick-up this refuse footage and to use it for such glorious purposes for half-made slide-projectors. There was an engineer's son in our neighborhood as well, and he helped greatly with this project. Jhunnu, Shatrughan Chacha's youngest son, perhaps, got hold of a tin-machine, that was a projector; we bought a 100 watt bulb and fitted it into the projector, and pushed in the celluloid. The contraption did have a lens but I am not very sure that we got the focus right, try hard as we did to make the pictures appear on the wall.

    The Monkey-Troops

    An outstanding feature, from our point of view was the Langur Monkeys that raided our neighbourhood periodically. These were a very naughty and fearless lot. However, we never heard that anyone had been bitten by them or even scratched. However, there was the one case of one of our precious contemporaries who earned the rare distinction of being slapped by a fully grown male Langur. This was a matter of great and long-abiding mirth in the neighbourhood. Usually, the monkey-troop, like my friends circle, moved from one roof-top to another; females, adolescents, lactating-mothers, babies and all. They would make a feast of all edible things that lay in their path. These usually included food-grains laid on rooftops for drying. Some adventurous Langurs even found their way down staircases and into kitchens that was usually emitting aromas of midday meals; to surpirse the matrons, and grabbed whatever they could lay their hands on, leading to shrieks of anger, bewilderment and fright.

    The things they alighted with usually included kneaded-flour, cooked-rice, dal, vegetables and so on. The Langur in question then scaled the rooftop in question and made a merry meal of it while the matron shrieked blue murder. Naturally, the many fruit trees were also an attraction for them. Since mangoes, coconuts, bel, tamarind, guavas and litchis ripen mostly in the summer it is a safe inference that the raids of the Langoors were usually in the summer months.

    Sundari, The Sabjiwali - The Vegetable-Woman

    From as far back as I may remember, our family always owned a car. Our first car, a ramshackle affair, was a Hindustan Ten. They don't make them anymore. Its engine jutted-out royally in front, the nose very streamlined, with silvery accoutrements, four-seater, floor-shift gears, and the hatch or roof opened just a bit, with no guarantee of sliding back in keeping with monsoonal downpours. It was a grand British period car, but not nearly as efficiently running 1959-65 as one would have it. Petrol was cheap at Rs.6:00 a liter, but when a tenure track University Teacher's monthly take-home salary was just Rs.250:00, then even at that low cost of petrol, it was not done to take the car out every day. Those were days of thrift, and consequently, of using the services of the local Rickshaw Khatal and of course buying vegetables from Sundari, The Sabjiwali. Sundari usually carried a headload or bojha of about Ten Kilograms in a dalia (a basket for vegetables woven from bamboo fibre). She would climb our verandah after her usual calls announcing her arrival and call for me by name. I would promptly run out, open the latch to our drawing-room and help her down with her head-load. The heavy head-load emitted earthy and heavenly smells of fresh vegetables like mint. She would cut loose with a few curses about the heat or the cold, some lousy customers and I didn't really remember if she ever asked for even so much as a drink of water. First things first, after her headload was down she would immediately squat on the floor and wipe off her sweat. Then she would ask me to summon my mother. Her dalia (basket) contained Onions, potatoes, tomatoes, other edible roots and tubers that are consumed usually in Indian homes, Brinjals, cucumber, ginger, sem, french beans, green peas, mint, coriander, gourd, bottle-gourd, bitter-gourd, all profusely dowsed with water to preserve their freshness. I would run inside the house to summon my mother even if she (my mother) felt that no vegetables were needed that day. So far as I can remember we enjoyed good relation with Sundari and she never left our house without some of her load dispensed with. Sometimes, my mother would give her some clothes or household things for which we had no further use. Then she would get up and grunt for my help again with the headload and would be off for the day.

    The Bandarwala - Monkeywala

    The Bandarwala was quite unpredictable in his visits. As luck would have it he would visit with his two Rhesus Monkeys around five-ish in evenings (summertime) when all the kids were out on the streets, front-gardens or cavorting in Shatrughan Chacha's compound. At the time, usually, the elders of the entire neighbourhood were usually to be seen, after a thorough baking indoors from the summer heat, lounging out of the houses, sipping tea (not allowed to kids!), chatting or tending their miniscule gardens they had. My father and mother were absolutely devoted to their 10 x 5 sq.ft.garden. They had a good collection of cactii of all shapes and sizes and more than many types of roses. Although red ones predominated however some were grafted locally giving rise to new hues. The bandarwala, like the many other walas, had his characteristic call..."Nirih Nirihiya, Ilaiah...aaa..aa..aaa"., said again and again at a pitch and timbre that revealed that he was a musalman, not that that mattered anything at all for any purpose. If it had been awhile that our gang had seen his monkeys peform, then we would gather around at the door-steps of the house where he was summoned to have a free view ofthe monkey-play. Now the monkey wala (madari), unlike Thakur, the Barber, was a very unkempt man, smelling as bad as his monkeys, two of them, Rhesus (the red-faced-ones!), one male and the other female, both tethered with rope. He wore a very tattered lungi (waistcloth), was usually barefoot, and his upper-garment had once been a kurta. He had a very large shoulder-bag, with all the monkeys' things, that was patchwork, one damaru (tomtom drum of the type associated with Shivji and his tandav dance) and a stout cane with which to periodically prod the monkeys and to threaten away belligerent kids. One of his shows took place in Kiran Babu's compound.The bandarwala sang songs from films(usually Hindi hits!) and beat his drum and the male and female monkeys played the hero and heroine from the film with great aplomb. Then came the piece-de-resistance. The marriage of the two monkeys, Bengali style. He the madari, would change his refrain and clothe his monkeys appropriately and change over to chaste Bengali, "Sosoor bari jabe...are ektoo fashaan Korbe", then taking some dirt from the ground he would rub it on the female's face (Lakme compact powder!); and then again on the male one, "Chaka Chak, Bhaka Bhak". The male monkey would don some kid's rejected clothes (usually shorts and shirt), a broken frame of specs and a cap; the female would get a skirt; an upper-jama, something to cover her head, some jewellery; and then the madari would tug at the ropes and herd them round and round till the seven pheras were complete, the marriage thus complete. It was another matter that since Kiron Babu had no less than four daughters, and no sons, that usually it was at his place where the marriage would take place. It was always the elders that paid the madari.

    Thakur, the Family Barber

    At under six years of age, one possibly engage in conversations such as where how and why Thakur Ji, our family barber, usually roamed the mohalla during the day, the evenings or sometimes only on sundays when his working clientele would likely be at home. He had a wooden-box that he carried with him. It contained two or three fine heavy duty scissors to clip and trim hair, a small metal-cup, a shaving round and a brush, a country, that is old-fashioned razor with the cutting or shaving edge jutting-out from the handle that opened lick a flick-knife, and a naharni (a small sharp metal-tool, again a local invention, to shear nails with). Thakur was usually clad in a khadi dhoti and white kurta and had a red Gamchcha (a cotton-towel) with which he would wipe off his profusely seawting head and neck. He wore chappals that were made of rejected truck tyres, and are still made to day for the use of the subaltern. Thakur was a very soft-spoken man and extremely gentle to boot. He had custom from most houses of the Bengali tola neighbourhood. A hair-cut with him, needless to say, was a family event. I was made to sit cross-legged, on the floor; a soiled piece of cloth smelling of many things was whipped around the neck and tied really tight. While snipping away at the hair, Thakur would break out into a thousand stories, anecdotes, questions and soon, in a haircut that was supervised usually by my father, who would follow suit after mine. These meandering conversations usually drew to a momentary close when the ustara was to be applied, a smear of cold water around the nape of the neck and the side-burns, then Thakur would sharpen his razor on the piece of leather, and whisk-whisk it went until a perfect shape to the hair-cut had been given. I wish I could remember these conversations with him, however, it was a safe inference that it would have been about the prices of this and that, the weather, the local and national politics and an occasional favour that he may have asked of my father. The razor cleaning was followed by dowsing some powder some strokes of the cleaning brush and the hair-cut was over. My father's turn next. He would pull-out a chair from the drawing-room and perch on that and Thakur would give him his hair-cut standing-up, as a measure of respect, I suppose. Thakur had some interesting theories about hairs on various parts of the body. He would absolutely refuse to snip the hair growing on my father's ear-lobes or on his back, "These hairs are Shubh (auspicious), Sahab".

    The Doodhwala - The Milk-Man

    My family never owned any cows, nor frankly, was there any space in our lodgings for such bovines. My father did like dogs, we had one Alsatian, called Caesar, but that did not make up for milk requirements. He then developed an interest in poultry and brought home some chicks. Next to the shower-room in our aangan (an inner courtyard in Indian Homes); a coop was built for them and due course these developed into fine hens and even laid an occasional perfect egg. I remember how excited and scientifically my father was dedicated to their upkeep. Their feed and other rudimentary requirements were brought from the Bhagalpur District Government Farms in Barari. So the birds got good feed. However, the hens' suffered due to the cold winters, and I remember, he placed the one large size mirror in the house, in a chair (near the coop) at an angle that would reflect the sunlight into the coop. That, however, did not keep-away, the cat, the occasional snake, from the nearby evergreen growths just described from trying to get at the eggs or the Chicken and the Chicks. In such circumstances, if alerted by their cackle, we would wake-up and create a racket till the marauders fled, leaving the birds in peace. It was practice that most families in the neighbourhood, apart from Raj Kumar's that is, had a milkman bring the cows in question and have him milk them in front. That however is not something we did. We trusted the milkman and continued to purchase milk that had been watered down considerably. We complained, the milkman complained and the arrangement remained.

    Bheem - The Dhobi - The Washerman

    Bhim also wore a khadi dhoti and kurta and had a wonderful new bicycle that he used to carry clothes with. It was fitted with many colorful things, but he has himself a very somber fellow and very laconic. He was not the only washerman that we gave our clothes to for washing. He had been replaced once or twice, for ruining, this cloth or that, losing this cloth or that, or plainly inexplicable absences beyond a duration reasonable for a sojourn to his native village. However, he was the longest serving washerman at our place, and was therefore legend. He must have worked with us for nearly eighteen years. The main reason for our retaining his services, despite periodic follies, was that he was a gentleman, and never uttered a word whether being praised to high heavens for his meticulous work or being given a tongue-lashing by my mother for having put in too much neel (blue) such that all the clothes had likewise become a sky-colour.

    Tiwari Ji - The News-paper-wala

    Of all the characters, I could sketch to some effect, c. 1959-65 in Bengali Tola Mohalla of Bhagalpur, and if there was any prize of sorts that I could offer to the Star of them all, it would have been, the gentle, good-humoured, mostly punctual, news paper wala, Shri Tiwari Ji, the great. I call him great, simply because he was great. Imagine, the pre T.V. era, when all the news came either from the radio (mostly monopolized by my sister for listening to Radio Ceylon and Binaca Geetmala and various other Hindi Filmy hits, golden oldie, that she would for hours hum and write down the lyrics of in a small note-book and later check it with her friends if she had them absolutely right), then it is Tiwari Ji who provided us deliverance with regards to When America and Russia were really going to destroy each other, and us in the process (remember the great Third World War) - which was also the great subject of discussion and speculations and tall claims, as are made by children when they muse such things as "If Dara Singh and King Kong fight, the who will win?" - an endless and irresolvable sort of proposition and much as children would weigh the options and the sizes of various muscles of their protagonists, so the elders to one day laugh and another day predict complete doom, and the master, therefore , of the piece was the great Tiwari Ji. Behold, his newsbag, was rather diminutive for all that it carried - The Times of India, The Indian Nation, Dinman, Dharmayug, and for the ladies, Manohar Kahaniyan, Manorama, Reader's Digest, The Occassional Span and The Soviet News (both of them were then supplied free), and for the kids, the Indrajal Comics, Tarzan, Chandamama. To buy Superman and The Hulk, we had to go to the A.H. Wheeler Stall at the Bhagalpur Railway Station. It could not be an overstatement that the reading interests of my family and friends were rather eclectic, we would devour anything that came our way, from newspapers to ladies magazines to comics. Of course, my mother was very selective about what she liked to read and had slowly but steadily assembled her private library of Hindi books and novels. These, apart from occasional purchases from other sources, were acquired from Hind Pocket Books, who for a small price of Rs. twenty only proffered the best in Hindi Literature and indeed even world literature that had been translated into Hindi. There was also Gulshan Nanda and Karnal Ranjeet that we enjoyed reading. Otherwise there was Tolstoy, Vidyapati, Rangeya Raghav, Nirmal Verma, Mannu Bhandari, Mohan Rakesh, Shrilal Shukla and some western writers whose names i do not immediately recollect.

    The Encyclopedias

    There was once a ten volume series of The Children`s Encyclopedia (founded by Arthur Mee). This was originally published in Great Britain by the Amalgamated Press, London. The copy we had was reprinted by the Standard Literature Co. Pvt. Ltd., 13/1, Old Court House St., Calcutta. The volume seven under the subtitle Men and Women had glorious colour picture plates like the blind John Milton dictating Paradise Lost to his daughter; the schoolboy Shakespeare, at his lessons. Although women figured prominently in these plates there is almost no mention of enlightened women at par with the men. A chapter later, under the caption, Stories, we find a reference to Harriet Tubman (with a picture of her) and the subtitle - the slave-woman who led her people out of bondage. The children's encyclopedia is divided into the following sections: Group I Earth and its Neighbours; Group II - Men and Women; Group III - Stories; Group IV - Animal Life; Group V - History; Group VI - Familiar Things; Group VII - Wonder; Group VIII - Arts; Group IX - Ourselves; Group X - Plant Life; Group XI - Countries, Group XII Picture Atlas; Group XIII - Poetry and Nursery Rhymes, Group XIV -Power, Group XV - Literature, Group XVI - Ideas, Group XVII - The Bible, and finally Group XVIII - Things to make and do. Each of the sections is highly absorbing and the picture plates being in colour would easily offer an Indian kid a world-tour in a matter of hours. Although it must be said that the text is a mite difficult written as it in almost antiquated English with an emphasis on the commonwealth and its importance to the world. The pictures of famous painters, writers and poets are very informative, so also those of the great architectural, secular and non-secular, marvels of the world - this encyclop3dia is a gold-mine or understanding how the western world saw itself and the rest, in the late seventies.

    I quote below, although on a differing note, a lovely poem by Longfellow:

    The Rain How beautiful is the rain After the dust and heat

    In the broad and fiery street

    In the narrow lane

    How beautiful is the rain.

    How it clatters along the roofs

    Like the tramp of hoofs

    How it gushes and struggles out From the throat of the overflowing spout

    Across the window panes

    It pours and pours And swift and wide

    With a muddy tide

    boys With more than their wonted noise,

    And commotion,

    And down the wet streets Sail their mimic fleets.

    Of course the poem is a little longer, although its fit with the Indian scene is perfect to the extent that like our elders always did and always still do, when it rains like that, is to mention what it might do to the farmer and his crops.

    The Quadros Family

    Reading in the History Books of the recent years I have occasioned to reflect, perhaps wrongly, upon the origins of the Quadros Family of Bhagalpur. Their children, some seven or eight of them, of all heights, shapes and sizes, went to school with us at the Mount Carmel. Further they spoke completely chaste Angika and Hindi but very little of English or any other language. Some like Basil, a good friend of ours must have measured a good six-feet in height ever since he was born. So how come a name of Portuguese descent existed in contemporary Bhagalpur? There was also a Dr. Quadros, who was rather the most famous Gynaecologist of her time in Bhagalpur. Most recently I have visited Basil's house in Nathnagar to find that they are actually urban dwelling landlord's of no small consequence. Are they then the descendents of the Portuguese Traders whose boats sailed up and down the River Ganges throughout the 15th century?

    Life up the Guava Tree

    A word is here in order about our tree-life, as well. Just where Shatrughan Chacha's southern boundary existed there grew an enormous Guava tree. While playing with his three sons, Munnu, Chunnu and Jhunnu, in some ways, my closest associates and friends, it was quite ordinary to climb the upper branches (of course from his roof). This we did we utmost regularity and without a hint of boredom, for all of those seven years that our family lived in that mohalla. Munnu's rooftop was the venue for many other sorts of activity. They were migrants from the District of Gaya and spoke a tongue (Magahi) that was slightly different from ours. However, the most dominant language was Bengali, and the language of Bhagalpur was Angika - so a mish-mash prevailed. Or we resolved this linguistic diversity by speaking Hindi. However, the elders in his family addressed us in Magahi and in time my sister and I picked up their tongue and could speak and understand it with ease. Munnu, Chunnu and Jhunnu's paternal uncle (as we said "our own uncle" which is to underline consanguinity of our relationship) was a burly police Inspector and had had a few postings near Bhagalpur and was therefore an frequent visitor to their house.

    Daroga Sahab

    Daroga Sahab, as elders called him, and Chacha, as we did, was a very jovial, and like his brother, our Shatrughan Chacha, absolutely happy-go-lucky. In Munnu's house macho values (fo males) were held in very high esteem and it would not be appropriate to say that Munnu, the senior most amongst us, had put in some effort to put-together a whole private gymnasium at home. There were dumbbells, barbells, weight lifting equipment, arm-curlers, weights of all kinds, bullworkers, chest expanders, and Mugdars (a country contraption made of wood) meant to improve shoulder, arm and pectoral muscles. Although below seven years of age, Chunnu, Jhunnu and myself were rather precociously occupied with engaging with such equipment, but pray, what was to keep us from it when we saw Munnu's biceps and pectorals expand so much as to fill-up a room. His Daroga Chacha added to our amazement and a bit of jealousy by asking him to lift and heave this or that and would guffaw and remark "Munua Ke Bahut Kabu Hai (Munnu has a lot of strength)". That comment was meant as much to egg Munnu on to do some more of his work as to set us afire with the zeal to get similar muscles. That obviously meant that Chunnu, Jhunnu and I had to spend long hours with the irons, often, on winter mornings, on their terrace, when exercises such as dand-baithak (sit-ups, and push-ups) were mixed with merciless sessions with the dumbbells and rounded off with power massages (that we gave each other) with mustard-oil. The off-time from such exercises was taken up by looking through a pair of binoculars that Shatrughan Chacha had given Munnu. It was a useful means to suss-out what, if any, roof-top activities our other friends like Sisu and Bhanua were up to. Bored with that we would just climb that tree and talk about Dara Singh.

    Roof-life

    As a way out from these activities like roof-talk and branch-talk (about The Phantom , Tarzan, Superman The Hulk and all other superheroes, given their affinity for tree-hopping as well) some days we decided to cook our own lunch. Down came the troop and each one of us into their own quarters to fetch rations: onions, vegetables, salt, turmeric, chilli powder, cumin-seeds, garlic, kneaded flour and utensils like the Karahi (wok), ladle, some bricks to put the karahi on, oil to cook, some fuel by way of twigs and saplings that were in abundance in the compound. That would be a merry day. We would not report home for lunch, none of us, we made our own potato-bhaji and rotis and ate it by the glorious tree. If this tree provided and everlasting and non-complaining shelter to us under its branches, delectable fruits and hours of merriment, then Rajiv Singh's Vilayati (English) Litchi tree was another one of our haunts.

    Rajib's house

    Rajib Singh' house was located net to the bara nala (big drain), about five minutes all from our abodes. However, his litchis were a dampener. They never grew beyond a miniscule size nor did they taste like anything on this earth. That, Rajib insisted, was its Vilayati-ness (Englishness). So we thought that must be true, since England is after all a different country and the litchis from there were bound to be different.

    The Paurotiwala - the Breadman

    Amongst the walas, the Paurotiwala (or sliced bread, since it was said that sliced bread was made in quantities by many workers kneading the dough with their feet...the Paun. this thought remains implanted in my mind to this day, and i have never been able to verify or contradict such an idea to this day) was a regular feature of our mohalla. He carried on his head a wooden box with a see through front. he carried some locally made sliced bread packet in plastic sheets, some locally made biscuits, muffins, and nankhatais, small, again, locally made incredibly sweet pastries, some cup-cakes and very crunchy biscuits of three or four varieties. Unless we had bought our bread from a previous visit to the market the main Bhagalpur Bazaar situated at the Khalifabagh Chowk, well away from our mohalla, we had to buy from him. He was quite popular in the neighbourhood on account of his biscuits and pastries and had regular patronage especially from the Bengali families.

    The Samosa - Rasgulla

    Equally popular was the Samosa-Rosogullawala. His rounds began at dusk when after our evenings horseplay we were lounging indoors and being pushed towards the bath, a welcome intervention too the Samosawalas arrival. An incentive of a hot spicy samosa and two rasgullas was just right to commit oneself to bathing away the days grime. He carried two baskets for the samosas and one tin-can containing the Rasgullas and its sweet syrup. Usually, it was Kiron Babu's daughter Runu, who called the services of this wala on a regular basis and since he would be standing next door to us that would be reason enough for us to also grovel, as Runu did with her mother, with our parents to give us money to make the purchase.

    The Muri Chatwala

    Now Murhi as we all know is puffed rice. Murhichat is a process by which the puffed-rice is added with quantities of chilly, green and powder-red, sliced-onions, some brown grams, some sliced tomatoes, sev, salt and shaken and stirred in a tin cup with quantities of mustard-oil that is the olive-oil of the east. the concoction thus prepared has been and shall be the delicacy of millions for a long time to come. the main reason, perhaps, is the eastern liking, nay, craving for chillies.

    The Golgappa Wala

    Now the Golgappa is literally gol (meaning round) like a sphere and is prepared from crushing and mashing dal (lentils). it delicate outer structure is penetrated by the thumb and delicious things like mashed potatoes (again diced with chilly, garlic and onions) are introduced into it. it is then dipped into a heavenly fluid called ras and then one golgappa is eaten full one at a time. an average person may consume a few, but for children there is no limit whatsoever. The Silver-Gold-Melt-wala This man made his appearance only once in a blue moon. What he did do for a living is to carry quantities of nitric acid with him. This he would pour into a plastic container and dip the gold and silver jewellery of various families into it to provide a quick and sure cleaning from the oxide coating. It as quite magical, at dusk, to see what were black looking blobs emerges shining and sparkling from his tub.

    The Mohalla Groceries Shop

    We did most of our grocery shopping in the main bazaar of Bhagalpur town. Such visits were doubly a pleasure as it meant a glass of Banarsi lassi for us and a paan or something for the elders. However some small immediate household requirements of sugar, salt, spices had to be met from a dingy little shop lit by a dhibri (a country lamp) where it was often not possible to see anything at all. This is the shop to which the poorer members of the mohalla, or from outside it congregated for their rations. thus it was a good opportunity to hear all sorts of subjects being discussed and in a variety of tongues as business was being transacted from the purchase of grains, salt, turmeric, sugar, mustard oil or any other thing like candles on account of power cuts or no power in that house.

    Sitaram - the knick-Knacks vendor

    Sitaram's shop was located quite far from the mohalla per se, in fact it was located right next to the CMS (Church Missionary Society's School). His shop therefore had numerous goodies for youngsters, from stationary of all kinds, kites, manjhas, sweets and most importantly pachak a great favorite of ours. However, a visit as far away as Sitaram's required express permission of the elders. the law and order situation in bhagalpur was not very good those days and riots and the curfew were amongst the first words that were learnt by any youngster.

    Of Bengali Festivals

    Owing to the profuse presence of Bengalis in our neighbourhood rather a lot of Bengali culture prevailed (basically everything from the cradle to the grave!). Mainly it was marriages, special Pujas like the very grand Durga Puja, the accompanying Jatras at Vani Sangha and the occasional magic show! The kids were all drifters and there would be no event where they were barred entry.

    The Durga Puja

    Most vividly I remember the Durga Puja or the navratras as we called it. The nine ratris (or nights of pujas) of Durga (The Demon Slaying Goddess so popular still in Bengal and elsewhere!) the Mahishasuramardini (also the slayer of the demon Mahishasura the one who had taken the form of a buffalo). For each one of the ratris we were issued new clothes (as in shirts and half-pants) that we would wear after an early bath in the mornings and then in ones and twos troop-off to the Durgasthan . The Durgasthan is still a characteristic presence of any and every Bengali settlement in the country even today. There was here a usually a huge and very grand statue of the Devi Durga installed every durga pujo. And the loud and laborious incantations of mantras in her worship marked those nine days and nights of worship. Near the durgasthan there would be a mela (festival bazaar) of some street hawkers that would disband a few days after the event. They sold knick-knacks of all kinds, for our purposes there were toy-pistols. The grandest puja was on the ninth-night the night on which according to Hindu legends the Devi let the demon have its comeuppance by chopping-off his buffalo-head. The statues depicted,in fact, this particular scene only, the one in which she is either slicing his head-off with a khadag (sword), much blood flowing; or driving a trident (trishul) into his chest.Mahishasuraa was always shown to be kneeling at the Devi's feet and painted black. On this night the temple would be jam-packed with devotees, the incantations at their highest-pitch, the drums and cymbals crashing at the highest decibels, and onlookers either watching in a religious trance or making small-talk; and there would even be a "cultural programme" as it was called, on the side of which, and despite it, the drums of worship, played by a special group imported, like the statute and the priest, from distant Kolkata.

    The Jatra - Theatre

    The Bengali Jatras were an intrinsic part of mohalla-life, just as our bengali neighbours trooped-off en masse to any bengali films that would come into the several movie houses - Ashani Sanket, Ghare Baire - were at least two such films that were heavily attended, and one more, that had the song "Saat Bhai Champa, Jagori Jagoree..." as I remember the tune to this day on account of it being sung a lot in our circles in the mohalla. The Jatra was usually played in the compound of a very large house whose owner we do not know of to this day except that they owned one of the movie theatres in town. a small stage would be set-up for the "artists" (who had come from Kolkata) and they would wear dhoti-kurta and enact famous sscenesfrom the freedom struggle.

    Marriages in the Mohalla

    As kids the highest point for our entertainment was to attend mohalla weddings. My clearest memories are those that relate with Bengali weddings especially, since the customs of these marriages were uniquely different from bihari weddings. One significant wedding that I attended was in the House of Shri Kanjilal (right behind our house, see map). Preparations for marriages in the sixties would itself take months and visitors to their house would flood each day of that period of preparation. Came the wedding day, my sister and friends, us all, trooped into Kani Uncle's house and watched all the proceedings as best as possible. There was the groom dressed in pure silk kurta and a very stylish white dhoti, and the women folk sat in the aangan where rituals connected with the bride were in progress. hours alter after gawking at the groom and watching his summer-sweat pour we trooped into the aangan to see Kanji Uncle's daughter dressed in complete red saree and bedecked in fine jewellery. Bengalis tie a white coronate onto the head of both the bride and the groom. there is shubho-drishti (fair-view) of each other once the wedding is over. they do not have jaimal like in ours. there is also a periodic sound that accompanying women produce at various points of the rites - that again is meant to herald the auspicious occasion. it was only much much later at night that we were served glorious Bengali dishes the capping glory being the rasgulla with lots of heavily Doi and plenty of sugar.

    The Mohalla Magic Shows

    A integral part of the Bengali lifestyle were magic shows that were more than frequent, and usually associated with saraswati puja, when a magician from distant kolkata was invited to perform in the mohalla. These shows were absolutely heavenly. They were as awe inspiring as they were funny in the very robust Bengali way. the magician would set somebody's head alight and make tea that was usually served in a cup to the jajman or the host, he would swallow a thread and then pull it out of his neck or his hand, pulled pigeons and rabbit out his hat, flowers, colored kerchiefs were also thus magically produced, and of course my hot favourite show "The Water of India". the latter was basically a tumbler or some vessel that was filled with water before the show and periodically emptied by the magician, but the funny thing was that it would fill-up by itself after each emptying and thus called by that name. Like the waters of India, endless. These magic shows were held late at night and we would be half asleep by the time it got over and barely managed to roll back to our respective abodes.

    The Local Movie Halls

    Watching movies was a great addiction and passion for the mohalla walas. The greatest of the movie-goers, other than our group that scarcely missed an action film, were the Bengalis in the neighbourhood. It is only now that I realize that in the 1960s there was very good Bengali cinema that was available and was ardently followed by all classes of Bengalis. Satyajit Ray was the most famous, in Bhagalpur, and the most followed. It is not without reason that we were also told that Ashok Kumar and Kishore Kumar's ancestral House was a large palatial house (mostly abandoned) at the Adampur Chowk. But I am certain that all of Mrinal Sen, Tapan Sinha and all the Bengali greats were screened at Shankar Talkies, Jawahar Talkies or the Picture Palace. Bhagalpur was associated with Bankim, Sharatchandra and in the modern period Banphool, all of whom found the ghats of Bhagalpur, not to mention its overall serene environs, very conducive to their writing.

    The Dhuniya - the cotton-processor

    Bhagalpur had a thriving shopping area and we visited the main bazaar that started from Khalifabagh Chowk till the Bhagalpur Railway Station. This area housed not only numerous readymade garments shops but also those such as The Variety Store which sold exquisite Sarees and in a separate section textiles such as cotton, terry-cotton and more luxurious ones like polyester or tweeds for men. The are was therefore full of tailoring-shops as well. There were also more upmarket grocery shops from where we got our colgate toothpaste, talcum powder, hair-oil (very fashionable those days) and various other cosmetic and household requirements requirements.

    The Mela Store

    This store was run by a migrant Punjabi or Sindhi Family and was the undisputed King of the Stores, as they sold the upmarket VIP suitcases as weell, but we spread our patronage to many stores on account of having to maintain good relations all around. Dhokania & Sons was the most reliable store for cooking appliances.

    Adarsh Jalpan Griha

    There were not many eating houses or cafeterias in town however Adarsh Jalpangriha made redoutable dosas and their dilbahar barfi was just too good to resist. The Dhuniya, or the cotton-processor, enters the narrative owing to his indispensability for reviving sagging pillows and matteresses. in the 1960s it was not fashionable in our neighbourhood to buy coir and such mattresses. Bengalis and Biharis alike preferred the cotton ones that are by far more comfortable for reclining on. one particular pillow was called a masnad and it was longish, cylindrical, in shape. these were usually given, in bihari homes, to children that they may clutch them at night, while sleeping-away from their parents. these were called Baalishes by the Bengalis and mimicked in their dolls play.

    Come winter, the neighbourhood would be alive with the characteristic twanging sounds of the dhuniya and his machine as he would process the old cotton pillows andmattressess, often by adding some new cotton (that was his main income). his instrument for processing the cotton is a bit of a rarity these days. it was about six or seven feet in length and looked almost like a bow. he also had a mallet. he would place the string of the instrument into old coagulated cotton and then hammer the leather string of his bow with the mallet that would both produce a twang and send the cotton flying in all directions. naturally, that took a lot of effort as the dhuniya would sweat profusely in his few hours of operations per household.

    Cutcherry, The District Court

    One of my most vivid memories of ranging-out, just once in a while from the confines of our mohalla, and the watchful eyes of the elders, was when Munnu, Chunnu and I would walk as far as the local Cutcherry. It was located about a half-hours walk from our mohalla, past the government hospital, and at the edge of the Sanders (called Sandis) Compound that was a very large public park, with cement slides and all, and to all intents and purposes the Central-most-Park of Bhagalpur. The most eye-ctaching part of the Cutcherry was its lock-up. There was just one room with an iron-grill that must have housed about a fity or so undertrials and there was always a crush of bodies that we stood gaping at. Behind this miniscule transit gaol were the Cutcherry premises and numerous black-coats would be up-down-and-all-around and we would wonder what indeed would they be upto. The Cutcherry was also a hub of small-time businesses like vendors of semi-precious stones (akik which is agate etc.) that were sold to set things right astrologically for various plaintiffs and others. There were barbers, sweet and Chaat walas, the walas who sold various things like combs etc. made of very colourful (like green, red and blue) plastic and most notably the vendor who sold knives. There were all kinds of knives: Rampuris, called aath avaz wala, and very large switchblades or flick-knives.

    We often wondered what these were doing within court premises. That, however, did not deter us from buying a few for our own experiments and escapes with things of science.

    The Gidar or Foxes-Field

    The Gidar field, in which Gidars would actually roam and hoot in the nights was right behind Shatrughan Chacha's house. As we has plenty of space within our mohalla to play, we would almost never venture into this desolate field. However, it was in use for football and other games by other boys of the neighbourhood. I remember visiting it just once or twice in the company of my friends. Frankly the boys who played their were very much out of our league and may have actually wielded and used the knives that we adored and acquired to cut potatoes and onions on our roof-top kitchen. Thus a visit to the Gidar Field was just a macho activity to see how long we could stand-in there before some rogue bundled us out. That was an experience too!

    The Annual Melas and the Gemini Circus

    The annual circus was held in the field indicated. It was called the Lajpat Park, named after Lala Lajpat Rai, the famous freedom fighter, who is quite popular in Bihar. From our point of view it was an enormous field and many local children used it for games like football and cricket. The Lajpat Park was host to all the melas or country-fairs, and the annual circus usually the Gemini Circus. Quite like the Durga Puja such meals and circus were event that could not be missed. Literally bullock-cart-loads of people would pour in from the villages of the district and this created a mystery and magic that was part and parcel of any event in that park. A usual mela could have many things from the room of distorting mirrors, the half-snake half-girl girl, the bijli (electricity) girl in whose hands bulbs would glow of their own), the X-ray or skeleton man, the snake-man, the leap-of-death, the bicycle-man (he would ride a bicycle non-stop for two or three days), and the sweets and chaat stall. The circus was best of them all. Quite like circuses in any other part of the world there would be a big central top were the main events like display of animals, the gymnastics and various other rope tricks, the Cannonball-Man, the jokers and the dwarfs were exhibited. Also the well-of-death (in which a man used a motorcycle to go round and round in a transparent metal sphere) was a chief attraction. Sometimes the well-of-death was moved inside the big-top. It was sheer mystery how humans could perform trapeze and other gymnastics at such great heights, just as it was more than exciting to roam the circus compound during the off-hours, usually daytime, to get a closer look at the tiger, bears and elephants. the canonball man was usually served as the sweet dish at the end of about a few hours of the circus. a garishly dressed man wearing a pith-helmet and aviator goggles and boots would insert himself into the mouth of a canon and then to great surprise, excitement, and fanfare the canon would boom and he would come out flying like an arrow. It was he who would also make his motorcycle leap off a ramp and land on another placed several meters away.

    The Chota Nalas and the Bara Nala - a History of the Mohalla Drains

    Alongwith being very interested in the developments inside Bhanua's Cauldron we were also mesmerized by the various open drains in the neighbourhood. The mohalla was on a gradient downwards from the Ghantaghar, in a culvert, so that the heavy monsoonal downpour would create roaring torrents in the drains and all this would exhaust itself into the Bara Nala (the big drain). Shatrughan Chacha's compound would also fill-up completely with water making it and the drain ideal for boating. I mean for sailing paper-boats. For years, other than the Ganga and the occasional pond, this is the largest body of moving water that we would encounter. Paper boats were usually made of newspapers or school leftovers and the whole gang would chase the boats from its journey through the smaller drains into the big one to see whether it sustains or capsizes. That was fun. Quite close to the bara nala was Andu-Shatu's house. there was one fruit which they called Kul which grew only in their compound but they were kind enough to let the kids have a go at the tree to get hold of some Kul. As such their house was very royal and palatial and to the side of in front Kolyan Sen's house which was even bigger and palatial, and was built in the style that Bengali Zamindars would build their houses. Sufficient use of yellow and red materials as paint.

    I must mention that snaking between the boundary wall of Andu and Shatu's boundary wall and the Bara Nala was foot-path that led to a small settlement of about twenty thatched huts, next to the Nala. The residents of this hamlet were the menial staff of the locality and we were mostly forbidden from going into that area. However, the area did hold a great mystery for us. Who lived there? How did they live? What language did they speak?

    Mount Carmel (Junior) School

    At two something I went riding-off in a rickshaw to a school named as above which was run by AC nuns at which location my elder sister was already studying. We were despatched by rickshaw before the school, as yet new, hired buses were to come into the picture very later. the pre-primary or the nursery was as it should have been all fun and games only. at that time the school was housed next to the General Post Office compound of Bhagalpur in a very large pre-modern building with khapra tiles(country or indian or indigenous tiles that are today considered chic and ethnic). the school had also another modern set of classrooms however the story of the nursery school as always is about wetting pants and roaming and colliding like brownian particles in milk. the memories are all very good and i suppose the purpose with which our parents sent us to this school was to remind us what the future beheld at least for my sister and in some measure for me which is that - white cassocks of one kind or another awaited the both of us for a very long long time into the future. after eating tiffin on some days my sister and i walked back from school which was close enough as the GPO was situated near to the Ghantaghar. At this chowk was located a very large building that was in the path of our short-cut. the very large gates of this white gothic building being wooden were always closed at the time our school gave off. it had a huge metal lock on it but the two doors were slightly ajar due perhaps to age or design allowing a peek inside for the curious. we just saw brilliant colours, after hoisting up using the lock as a lever, only to learn much much later that it was stained glass of Jesus and Mary. the sisters ran a very tight shop and it was customary to get whipped. I made several acquaintances at this school who I know and treasure to this day.

    Mount Carmel Senior School.

    Now the larger campus of the Mount Carmel School was built very far indeed from this hutment sort of building next to the GPO. It was built by the AC Nuns at Barari. That was a fine building, in several floors, and must have had upwards of fifty lecture rooms. My Sister and I were transferred to this distant School as soon as their new premises were ready. This meant a longish bus-ride from bengali-Tola. Tiffin-Boxes, School-Bags and Water Bottles. The Sisters here wore White and Black Cassocks and said "My Child, My Child" before using their few foot long sticks to chastise non-native speakers of English for pronunciation and spelling mistakes. The School had very large metal gates, with a sentry, which the nuns said were meant for keeping-out Chokra-Boys!

    Rajkumar's Nana or Maternal Grandfather

    Another character I could usefully like to sketch is the maternal grandfather of my best friend Raj Kumar. Although unlike the Chikna-Rotis I never got the goodies he would ferry for Rajkumar after court every-day, we were nevertheless apprised of his more than large presence owing to his punctuality. I don't remember if we ever saw him going to the court (he was an advocate!) every morning, but surely we would notice his return, everyday, as he walked back in his white pants, shoes, black coat, his silvery-hair, his dark faded umbrella carrying that little something (mostly rasgullas!) for his dear grandson. we would usually be squatting in Shatrughan chacha's compound playing tops or marbles when he would appear glance just once in our direction and Raj Kumar who had till then been totally engrossed in play would be off for the day like a rocket - shouting "Nana Ji, Hum Abee Rahal Chiayi".

    Mohalla Games: Marbles, Tops, Gulli-Danda

    The games that were really popular with us kids of the mohalla were Gulli-Danda, Marbles (called Goli in Hindi or Gulli in Angika), Tops ( called Lattoo), Kite-Flying and various hide and seek games. Gulli-Danda was my great favourite as we could hit the Gulli far and wide and then go chasing it. The player that lost had to stand on one leg, hold the other in his mostly the left-hand and jump that way all the kilometer or so of the way traversed during the game. There was a popular refrain that we sang as we chased the loser on his trail back to the start of the game "Langri Ghori Paan Khaye, Hagte Hagte Jan Jaye" (translated in Englsih as The Lame Mare Eats Beetle and Shits Her Guts Out).

    Marbles

    These were a were a real addiction. In the sixties one anna could buy quite a few of them, and there were upwards of twenty different games that could be played with marbles. For one, the marbles were very delightfully coloured and were named by us according: soda, lalki, neeli, harawala, and the smallest was called chunni and the largest, the anta. somebody very good at marbles was called a bara juari. Playing tops was a different ballgame...

    Shastri Ji's Fast

    Some time in the 1960s Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Ji, the Prime Minister of India, announced that there was an very acute shortage of foodgrains in the country. He suggested, as a measure for tiding the crisis, that each family do not eat grains, at least for a day, every week, perhaps for a year. Come the appointed day, perhaps, on sundays or other appointed holidays, my mother would remind us that it was `that day` and we were served roasted peanuts, Kheera (cucumber), bananas, Makhana, and other seasonal fruits. That was just as well since we got to eat a lot of fruits.

    Catching Squirrels and Pigeons

    Munnu, Chunnu and Jhunnu were past masters at this art. They have a kind of wok in Gaya District of Bihar which is called a Barguna (or Barah-gun-wala-pot or the pot that has twelve virtues or functions). The Barguna, as I saw it in Shatrughan Chacha's house, was usually a Bronze Utensil. Most usually it was used in their home for kneading flour, cutting vegetables etc.. The other use of this most curious of vessels of course was for hunting. Munnu, the chief, out troop-leader, and lord of the muscles, would climb the roof of their bathroom which was removed from the rest of their house, and set-up this most curious gaya district trap. He would lever-up the Barguna with a stick, and the stick would be tied to thread, which could be held by the hunter well-removed from the sight of the pigeon or squirrel which would walk under the trap, and try to get at the grains spread there beforehand, as part of the trap.

    As soon as that would happen, the string would be pulled, the stick would fall, letting the Barguna cover the hapless creature. Squirrels bite quite wildly and fiercely if they are captured so we would let these off, but pigeons, flutter as they would, were not spared, as they were far too tasty and just right for our roof-top kitchen.

    The New Year's Picnic

    It was customary for all teachers at Bhagalpur University to celebrate the beginning of a New Year, usually on the first of january which would be a holiday, with great aplomb. The Bhimbandh, Masanjore Dam, the Kharagpur (Lake) Guest House, or some times the large public garden at barari were our usual choices. Usually two to three families collaborated and some cars would be hired and loaded with supplies like mutton, chicken, rice, spices, sweets, etc and the caravan would be off early morning.

    The journey was itself a blast. usually Munnu, Chunnu, Jhunnu, Raju, and Sunil, along with myself, would be loaded in a willys jeep, and munnu and sunil would bring their .22 Winchester rifles as well so we could do some target practice as well. Masanjore is a very large dam that is located some distance from bhagalpur and its banks provide an ideal location to make a fire (Shatrughan and Indu Chacha along with my Father would cook the mutton or chicken while the aunties and my mother would do the Pilaf), in the duration that the boys and the girls would be exploring the rocks and boulders near the Masanjore. on one picnic we saw a tribal mortuary remains a little removed from the picnic spot and made a hasty retreat to where the elders were parked.

    Bhimbandh was quite another story. here there were hot water springs and a guest house. we would camp in the forest, next to the springs where we could bathe and enjoy ourselves. the Kharagpur lake guest house was very picturesquely surrounded with hills and that large water-body. the Guest House dated to the British period when it was built for R & R of the employees of the Indian Tobacco Company located at Munger.

    I remember one particular picnic at the Barari public garden with great delight, when our dear paternal uncle K.B. Singh who was with with the Indian Air Force joined us with his family. naturally the Bengali Tolawalas could not get their fill of discussing jet-fighters and the like. of course he was very jovial. connectedly, I quite remember and very vividly too that on a family visit to his family while they were stationed at an unnamed air-base, at my sequestering him for as much of a favour that he actually took me to to the runway where the big jet engines roll and that I was made to climb into a trainer-jet, that is, into its cockpit, was belted-in, but was only explained the function of the eject-lever. Subsequently, and therefore, I have since enjoyed greatly the Hollywood film "Behind Enemy Lines", which I must have seen about a hundred times, as the protagonist of this film, the fantastic actor Owen Wilson, pulls just such an eject-lever, and with such finesse and panache, that he would put to shame very many would-be-eject-lever-pullers like us.

    Contd

    ...

    Thank you,

    Ajay

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