Eternal Mulberry:Manindra Gupta – Part II

Part 2

Calcutta

A few years later of my mother’s death, my grandmother became eager to see me. It was then for the first time I visited Calcutta [Kolkata] along with my paternal grandmother. Some reminiscences of the city that occurred past half a century still reside on my memory. The house we were headed to was located either at Mirzapur or Akhil Mistry Lane. Inside the house, a small cemented courtyard with an open water reservoir at one side – water to the brim, dead-green deep below, looked mysterious. The reservoir was deep. I may get drowned if I tumbled upon it. The entire place was full of damp patches, devoid of sunlight. The owner of this house was a goldsmith, and a dipsomaniac. During late night one would hear clamor coming from second floor. I never saw him. I met his younger sister, Nihar – would come down anytime to get engaged in gossip. Bold and amorous. I never saw such mysterious magnetic woman in my life. When she used to kiss me, holding tight to her breast, the bird inside me used to flutter- and I couldn’t then move. When my grandmother used to revere her beauty, she used to reply shamelessly, “Would you have tied my knot with your son, had he been an adult?”

A bedstead was laid out in the veranda of the inner courtyard of the house. There my younger maternal aunt used to study. I used to make bridle from thin-string and put it across her mouth while pretending to pull the rein seated on the horseback. My maternal aunt was a marvelous lady. She did not come to the world only because of mundane give-&-take. Within a few years, she died of typhoid. Later as many years passed by, on a distant land, I discovered her wig and the song book from a steel trunk forgotten at the waste room. Holding the bunch of dry hair made me feel numb, as if I clearly saw her: Younger maternal aunt was running away beyond my reach – her long, long hair still files onto the earth. This World static; That World static – in the midst I simply shiver.

One late evening we went to the Hogg Market. How splendorous the light was! Such a fascinating display of items all around! At one shop stood a tall mannequin on their show-window. The mannequin to the size of a human was constantly moving its head mechanically, from right to left. I was told it was a drunken mannequin. The mannequin looked bright, big and somewhat awkward – that is why, I still remember it.

One night, we all took a ride on an open-roof double-decker bus. The black sky above looked marvelous with so many stars, and the fathomless wind of summer. The road was alighted with series of gas-lamps burning timidly. Suave people were seated all around. Finally, I realized the essence of city-centric happiness.

During night when the Kulfi[1] seller would pass across our lane, I used to procure one. Kulfi on an aluminum bowl used to emit smoke.  As soon as it would be put on the mouth, the tongue would have a burning sensation.  The smoky kulfi gradually cooled down and melt. Very cold tactual feeling emanates burning sensation – I had a practical realization of it even long before reading books on psychology.

A holy dip in the river Ganges was a common tradition when someone is in Calcutta. One day the two beyan[2] took me along with them for a holy dip. The Holy Ganga was forming waves as they stood on chest deep water. My paternal grandmother hugged me tightly to give me a dip. Suddenly at that locus, both the beyan made a pact: After the demise of senior beyan I will be transferred under the authority of junior beyan. And right at that time I was literally transferred under the custodian of junior beyan. Taking me tightly to her chest, grandmother  took the holy dip for three time in succession and took three oaths in commemoration to the decision that just took place between them. Within two minutes the founding seed was sowed of my being reared up. This truth was however later recollected by the others.

Later, my short stint of being a Nawab of Calcutta ended, and I again returned into the slow and profound life of the village.

 

Choto-ma

My father remarried when I was two and half. It was said that I acted as the main go-between for this marriage. The incident went on like this: A fair, tall and obvious bony old man used to frequent our house towards afternoon to meet grandfather. Sitting at the porch he talked while I sat by my grandfather. The old man, I realized was humble in a different way, attentive towards me, and was pursuing for something to grandfather. The fact that, he was burdened with the responsibility of his daughter’s marriage and was poorer than us. Moreover, my existence as a son from the previous wife was also another problem.

My grandfather and grandmother was hesitant to give consent to the proposal. It was then one day, when the discussion was about to fall flat, I suddenly called this distressed man as grandfather, sat on his lap and greeted him. And with it, immediately this drowning gentleman established my welcoming and courtesy as God’s wish. Grandfather and grandmother could not object any further. It was as if the issue ended with a divine decree. Now we, five brothers and four sisters, are aware of the fact that for our despotic, hot-tempered father, and being hapless all throughout his life, my choice of the woman as his second wife could not be any better.

My father’s in-law house was at the same village. It used to take around half-an-hour by walking to reach from our home. One day as the dusk settled down, along with my father came the new bride and stood at the silvery-white sandy-soiled courtyard. And then came out hue and cry the children and women from the scattered six houses and thronged up around them. The big courtyard looked white in thin moon-light. Hajak lamp was hung to the veranda. The soft darkness over the thin jungle at the back of our house dispersed over the far-off jungle and water. The sky seemed very still and silent amid the thick small crowd of moderate chaos. Before letting the groom enter the house, right at the courtyard, the women stirred a mix of alta with raw milk into a stone-plate and the new bride was made to stand in this wonderful rosy water. The placing of her delicate feet onto the stone-plate looked picturesque. Our big pool used to stay afloat with freshwater mangrove flower in the evening and gardenia flower used for yesterday’s obeisance –  I sometime used to identify my new mother as one flower or the other.

My father probably harbored guilt or sadness from this marriage. He never took any photograph with his second wife all throughout his life. But the picture what he had with his first wife, he once brought an eminent artist from Calcutta to make an enlarged portrait, framed and hung it onto a prominent place at the house within six months of his second marriage. That portrait was never altered from her position. After two-three years he commissioned one stationary shop in our village market for my uncle. He wrote on his own the banner of the shop: Suprova Stores. Suprova was the name of his late wife. I never liked this at all. Grateful grief is more humane than ungrateful grief. After many years, on a different country, my father gave the name of his last shop as Shanti Pharmacy. Shanti was my new mother’s name. Looking at the signboard I felt really happy – inside my mind a sense of breezy joy took over.

My father had certainly realized before his death, the four sons and four daughters born from his second wife, who all in sadness-pain-dejection became a part of him, they were their own, unselfish and unchanged descendants.

 

BASHTU

The small cot gets glued to the back of the children for a long period of time like just like a king on a king’s throne read in storybooks. They throw their legs and hands, pull big toe into their mouth, but can’t slacken their back from bed. Probably being unable to do any other thing the boy child pees in such a motion that the water-flow takes a parabolic route flowing over him in opposite direction and finally drenches his mother. And the milk-bowl. A child’s early gestures captivates one’s mind. And at the same time it liberates itself from many bondages.

With the course of time a child learns to prostrate, he crawls and follow others and toddles – all tough fight, all on his own – it is the child who only feels the victory with such move.

A child’s world is wrapped in fog, within fog. Still during all these acts when their excited facial expression like Bhima is seen, it becomes palpable that behind stupor there is a tremendous volition that works within. But his real adventure occurs on that day, when it alone crosses the door-frame and steps onto the courtyard evading all eyes. Crossing the door-frame takes a lot courage for a docile child. But the fear gets surpassed from a different call of nature. No child would survive if they fail to respond to such call.

One day, me too crossed the porch to step into the courtyard, day by day from courtyard to reach near the tree, from tree to the woods, from one wood to another, to the poolside and then crossing three poolside took the earthen road and got stuck by the side of canal. Our five hundred bighas of land – from sparse to dense forest, pool, agricultural fields and crematorium – the house of our joint family was surrounded by a canal, like a trench. A bamboo-bridge was laid high above the high-low tide playing canal. On the other end of the bridge lies another house. To be on the lap of a senior traveling to faraway Calcutta, and to reach the side of the desolate canal – there lies a sharp contrast between these two.

But let me first start by eulogizing and describing about our ancestral homestead. On the west of the courtyard of our large joint-family lay our abode. The house is built on clay foundation, wooden framing and tin roof.  The fence is made of full three-headed hogla leaves with cleanly scraped bamboo tied with cane. The entire house is unstable barring the everlasting corrugated sheet on the roof and below, the permanent earthen foundation. With the course of time, the ripened bamboo on the foundation of the house turned smooth and bloody yellow from the constant touch of people.

The fence made of ripe hogla leaf is soft and golden – on a bright sunny day the sun-ray penetrates through the perforation of the leaf landing up inside the room. At night, into the darkness of the jungle when the cooking-fire burns on a Red Indian tipi looks like a shiny paper-balloon, the inside of our house during daytime resembles it – as if the house is within the days mandala. If the hogla leaves placed parallel to the fence has subtle gap the sun-rays would penetrate inside the house, sharp like a blade. Suddenly the rays inside forms a rainbow of colors.

The unstable house was susceptible to storm, and one day it did. That day in darkness, amidst storm and rain we had to run helter-skelter with lanterns. All throughout the night our house, like a bird’s torn nest got drenched in the rain along with some moveable property inside, which the house held close to her heart. The very next day my grandfather and kaku along with a hedger toiled from morning, and re-erected the house by evening at the same position under a clear deep blue sky.

I used to notice there were four different shades of light and air on each four room. The eastern end was open and attached to the verandah, the room at the north-south corner was bright, and fresh atmosphere used to prevail – the sunlight used to come straight into this room, the reflection of the white verandah during afternoon used to look almond-ish from inside the room. The dry shadow of the evening first started to embark on this direction. This room was a bit bereft of earthly phenomena. That narrow room would belong to my grandfather all across the day. After the second prahar the room belonged to my kaku.

The room at the back of the narrow room was bigger, nearly square shaped. Here the light and air were both scarce, shadow and reflection of light was more. This was here where my paternal grandmother used to give adda, and by evening it turned into a place for us to loll up. In this room, lying on the earthen floor I discovered the color of the world of stars, the Kinnara and the spirit world.

The story behind my discovery was like this: One day, after running around a lot I came inside the room and laid down straight on the earthen floor. Nobody around. The feeling of coldness coming from the earthen floor felt fantastic. Like a snake, I was lying straight upward-down having my chest remain firmly to the ground.

My low-eye vision like tangent in geometry was two-hand unit away, gently touching the plain. At this position, it is not possible to maintain focus. My body became calm, mind somewhat silent. In this way, I could see the ashened serenity. Suddenly I saw in the body of grey haziness, unclear colored dust rising – like the scattered dust of sindoor there was also green, red, purple, blue, Mayurkanthi. Those delicate colored dusts slowly started moving, changing position, sometime circling like a chakra.  Looking at the scene I gradually started to feel the floor like a greyish sky, and in it, innumerable colorful small stars and planets spinning. That was the beginning. From then I often took the same position on the floor, breathless, looking at the color of the earth. At times the colors used to get dark and its combination would become so macabre that it made me scared. Another time it would be so tranquil, soft and hazy – as if the pollen of flower was on the angel’s wing. One day or so the rays of light used to emit from the color particles. Again after sometime, just like the way cloud hid the stars, in that way shadows used to fall over them. I realized, nobody but me was able to see these colors. The others rather unmindfully walked over these colors on big-foot.

To the north of the second room is the third one, stretching from east to west. The room carries a bit of feminine touch. Chotoma, Boroma – the two brides lived here. In the afternoon boroma, spreading a piece of cloth sew a quilt made of piecemeal cloth with colored border. She used to break twig with a mill-stone. Like the spot mark seen on a spotted dove when the Indian brown lentils used to get crushed, the both edge of the cutter looked like a fountain of flowing bindi of sandal wood.

Chotoma used to try weaving with colorful strings over a mat of gunny cloth. When the birds chirped on the bank of the pond or the garden it was clearly audible from this room. As the afternoon sets in, light shadow air and sun-light swayed like creeper plant inside the room – married and widow – two women and their four friends. To the west of this room’s window stood the night-jasmine tree and pomegranate tree. Descending from the west-door, the left side was filled with row of Arabian jasmine tree, machan[3] to rest the cucumber tree, and pomelo tree.

Trees and shrubs covered the front area of the land. The ripe natal plum hanging from the tree looked like pearls. At the rear, there were many other trees. Fence made of jiol tree. And the west-pond was abound in water spinach. At the opposite end of the pond a forest and garden of larger trees. At the middle of this room stood a bamboo pole. Vermillion-golden in color, the pole was very slippery, as if there had been an oil-flow. I used to hold this pole on one hand and would go around it very fast likes a spinning top. Just by the side of the pole, a ladder.

The top end of the ladder rested on a square wooden loft. Stepping inside the wooden floor gave access to the storehouse of puffed rice, sattu, moa, jaggery – all stacked in jars kept within reach, heaps of ground coconut and utensils. Big mice used to live here along with their kids. During the visit of my cousins I used to sleep with them on that wooden floor. Mist used to fall over the asbestos roof. The refreshing breeze would make its way inside the loft through the gap between the asbestos roof and joints of the fence. Putting my eye onto those gaps, I would watch – the broken moon had tilted. It was as if we were lying on the deck of an immobile ship.

The kitchen was by the side of the third room. Its foundation was two steps below. The room was thatched with round leaves. In the kitchen, there were three earthen ovens, neatly stacked woods and a pitcher full of water. Till three in the afternoon that very room was the center point of the house – the sacrificial ground.

[1] Kulfi is a popular frozen dairy dessert from the Indian Subcontinent. It is often described as “traditional Indian ice cream”

[2] Mother-in-law of a son or daughter; mother of a son-in-law or daughter-in-law.

[3] (in South Asia) a platform erected in a tree, used originally for hunting large animals and now for watching animals in wildlife reserves.

 

About author

Dhrubajyoti Biswas
Dhrubajyoti Biswas 1 posts

Dhrubajyoti Biswas was born in 1977. Though his birthplace is Kolkata he spent first 18 years at Bhadreswar in Hoogly Dist., later relocated to Kolkata. He was graduated from Vidyasagar College [Arts], and an IT marketeer by profession. Beside his job, Dhrubajyoti enjoys exploring arts, music and books, and often indulge in writing.

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