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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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 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).
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.
(Cont'd. Look Above)