A Visit to Mundapara

Between the forest and the village lay an acre of land, cultivated, furrowed, unweeded. Yards had patches of all sorts of vegetables, maize, and tall lean betel nut trees. Men and women still working on their fields. Children were all barefoot and some of them had running nose. Elderly men and women sat on their haunches on the dusty path, and gossiped.

It was winter. The day was chill and icy. The sun for the whole day hid his face under the veil of smoky clouds. And a mild breeze blew. It added more bitterness to the cold. Still the villagers braved it. They hardly had the luxury of any woollen clothes.

The evening began to descend tip toe. Birds flew over our heads, and sat on a bamboo bush. They chattered and chattered till darkness enveloped the earth.

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In a late January afternoon I went to Mundapara. It was a small village by the western outskirts of Jaldapara forest under Moiradanga Gram Panchyat. The tin huts and sheds were scattered. A dry rivulet cut through it and ran zigzag. From the village one could see the tree tops of the forest swaying and singing. The village just stopped touching the edge of the forest.

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a betel nut garden of a peasant, a reliable source of yearly income.

Between the forest and the village lay an acre of land, cultivated, furrowed, unweeded. Yards had patches of all sorts of vegetables, maize, and tall lean betel nut trees. Men and women still working on their fields. Children were all barefoot and some of them had running nose. Elderly men and women sat on their haunches on the dusty path, and gossiped.

It was winter. The day was chill and icy. The sun for the whole day hid his face under the veil of smoky clouds. And a mild breeze blew. It added more bitterness to the cold. Still the villagers braved it. They hardly had the luxury of any woollen clothes.

The evening began to descend tip toe. Birds flew over our heads, and sat on a bamboo bush. They chattered and chattered till darkness enveloped the earth.

the deserted huts of the village with a non-functional tube well.

I saw the scattered huts. They lived here years on. On my way to the village I was barred by a drunken man. He was close to 50. A lean, tall man, clothed in a shabby sweater. I stopped my bike. The man walked unstable to me. He threw his hands in a way typical of a drunken man. He spoke loud, but his words all got blurred. His pants loosened down his waist, and he tried to hold it up by his left hand. When he spoke, his mouth all watery, and spit sprinkled out of his stained lips. Seeing the scene men from the fields and women and elderly from the nearby huts crowded me. They pushed him and tried hard to take him out of my path. But every time he was pushed, he automatically like an elastic came before me. I then requested the peasants not to mind him. They all enquired my whereabouts. I made my point and laughed. I did so to lighten the awkwardness of the scene. They were not happy with my designation. They thought me as a timber agent.

If it was not, I perhaps came in search of stolen pure logs of the forest, needed for furniture of a newly built house. They all badly needed money, and the only way to easily have it was to sell some logs, hidden under bushes at the backwards of huts. But when my words touched nothing in which they were interested, they immediately lost interest in me. And perhaps the crowd muttered ‘a good for nothing fellow,’ as my education and cultural baggage had nothing to soften the rough hedges of dried, poverty ridden, unfed, mal-formed, illiterate, sullied life of adivasis.

a typical tribal/ peasant/ village haat

Suddenly a man, aged almost fifty five, clad in a napkin and a much weather beaten T-shirt, face dull and eyes sank deep under scarred cheeks, came to me, and followed me. He saw a nylon bag stuck to my bike. He peeped into the empty bag, snatched it, and rushed to his field of brinjals. The brinjals were long , and light black. He soon tied the heavy bag to the bike. I protested, but his cosy stubbornness defeated me. He laughed, and greeted me again. The adivasi with his abysmal poverty, unfed children, and tiny hut was a symbol of pure heart and grace of everlasting humanity. Such a man kept my heart warm, and glowed . The arts of life we learnt from learned spiritual gurus, and enlightened intellectuals. Our media, print, virtual were agog with such gurus. But such a plain heart was rare. The cramming education had derailed lakhs of youths to unknown, and unknowable. Let the elderly be not talked, as they had been sinners for their lifetime. The heroes of our day, were not the enlightened derelicts, not the political humbugs, nor the pious religious men, neither the fortune tellers, and palmists, nor the poor chauvinists. But the real hero was the Kaloo Munda. We were suckers, not the nourishers of our earth. But he was.

After a while, a red monkey capped youth in black sweater and pant, faced me. He was chewing vaaga, and because of the juice of raw betel nut, his lips, and mouth became bright reddish. And the filtered remains of the grinded nuts showcased his lower and upper gums with a thick layer. The young man, not gloom, but he had a cheerful disposition. He had a nubile daughter,reading in class x. A groom, a daily labourer, was found after much afflictions. He didn’t let the chance go. Rs.50000 and a bike, gold , and bedding for the would-be couple for mating would have to be given as dowry. Otherwise, marriage would not see the light of the day. He begged me some rupees. I promised and on my later visit I paid him some rupees, and a sari for his daughter.

Next, I heard from them stories of elephants’ attacks, and damages they caused. They lived in constant fear of the elephants. Earlier they seldom encroached human habitats. But now because of scarcity of food in the jungle, they frequented the villages, and left a trail of ravages. They ate paddy, banana, and other crops and vegetables. They destroyed huts. But we were not afraid of them. We had nothing to do, only to go to bed by the mercy of gods. And the Beat babus helped us. They supplied torches, crackers, patkas, and we lighted fires and beat drums. ” Dada,” a youth called my attention, “you couldn’t believe! When they came, they came in a group of hundreds.” Another man said, ” We came to know their arrival by the chill air. When they came, the air became cold.” An elderly woman pointed me to an abandoned hut destroyed by the mahakaals. She thumped her forehead for the loss, and accused the forest officials for not being compensated.

Her man was aged , eyesight too poor. You couldn’t think that he was blind. And you can’t be blamed either. Because his eyes were liquid, and the pupils all broad, and bare. He looked at me, and I thought he was discovering something in my face. But the old woman told me that his vision was all blurred. And the man also lost his voice a few years back. He sat on a broken plastic chair. His hands trembling, and his eyes hovering around me. His bare legs smeared with dust, and lines of scratching were imprinted on them. It seemed he admired me, as the tan of his wrinkles brightened a bit. In front of his hut was an old tea garden. Plants were all made bare by clipping their leaves and twigs. And men and women were busy in collecting the dried twigs used to be fuels at huts. Now to collect lakhris from the forest is strictly forbidden, and if caught one has to pay huge sum as fine.

a tea garden at the outskirts of Jaldapara forest

The evening descended on earth a while ago, and I left the village soon. It was not completely dark, and the layers of mists already blurred the horizons. I biked to the dry bed of the stream, and stayed there. It was all silent, occasionally broken by the mooing of a cow, long pitched crowing of a cock , and barking of dogs. Birds still chirping, but were unseen. The air was heavy, and sands and dusts forgot to fly. And then through the green vegetation of tomatoes, potatoes, and ploughed fields, yards of betel nuts and pumpkins, gourds sheds, sleepy cottages I came to Kunjnagar haat, and sat for tea at Volu’s. He greeted me with such warmth and joy, and his word “Saaar” made me think that after all my life was not futile. Money, fame and name I didn’t get. But who can hear the sugary “Saaar” in a nameless haat of a nameless village by a nameless man.

Thanks for happy reading!

@abusid

BANGLAR MUSOLMAN

The book details the unsaid stories of the Bangla speaking Muslims of West Bengal

The book details the unsaid stories of the Bangla speaking Muslims of West Bengal. It also bares the poisonous religio- political threads with which this community is ensnared.

The book challenges many suppositions and stereotypes and common rhetorics prevalent in the parlance of both lay men and self serving intellectuals.

Published by Sopan, Kolkata.

February, 2018.

THE LURE OF “HO-OOLE”

Now when he said to Shama: “Hole! That’s what your family has got me in.This hole!”… Now he keeps his address as secret as an animal keeps its hole. And his hole was not a haven. His indigestion returned, virulently; and he saw his children increasingly riddled with nervous afflictions. Savi suffered from a skin rash, and Anand suddenly developed asthma, which led him in bed for three days at a time, choking, his chest scorched and peeled by the futile applications of a medical wadding.

A House for Mr Biswas

Now when he said to Shama: “Hole! That’s what your family has got me in.This hole!”… Now he keeps his address as secret as an animal keeps its hole. And his hole was not a haven. His indigestion returned, virulently; and he saw his children increasingly riddled with nervous afflictions. Savi suffered from a skin rash, and Anand suddenly developed asthma, which led him in bed for three days at a time, choking, his chest scorched and peeled by the futile applications of a medical wadding.

A House for Mr Biswas

I live in a district town. My forefathers were all peasants and died in remote villages. I’m a farmer’ son. Read some books and have become a lecturer and for a life of a “Wow” came to a moffusil town. The wow bursts.

Read hows…

1.

Soon my legs touched the street I saw rows of tuk tuk drivers on both sides of the street. The drivers, pale dry faces, smoked biris and eagerly waiting for babus of the holes. The babus dressed in fine clothes hired them for a paltry sum of Rs. 10. The rickshaws all vanished from the scene, and the pullers by overnight became jobless. The elders died or stayed in shanties. The younger pullers either made way to Bangalore or Kerala, or mortgaged wife’s meagre gold and bought the tuk tuk. Among them muscle and party powers ruled strong. Urban drivers enjoyed both while the drivers from outskirts of hole were often bullied and abused as ‘geyo voot ‘ and other offensives. Skirmishes and hot altercations regularly ruled their lives. The city babus are all dumb spectators.

2.

a regular scene at K N Road, Berhampore, Murshidabad, west bengal

There was no footpath, all encroached by hawkers, and clothes, utensils plastic and stainless, slippers and fake shoes, lottery tables, tea stalls, chop and chowmin shops, panipuri stalls, home furnishings, toiletries, cheap articles of daily living were in full display. And the hawkers either sat on stool or jute rags hollered, smoked, sang Hindi fads, spat. Footpath gone. Now the main path, all jammed with tuk tuk, vans, buses, cars, cycles, bikes, cows and buffaloes. It seemed Dante’s Hell was far better than this ‘hole ‘ existence. People quarreled, argued, fought, for a passage through hole.

3.

a soil/ rags picker of Berhampore town

And in this hole lanes crowded the cosmetic hurs in scooties, and shanties’ poor side by side. Ladies shut in expensive cars passed by the stinking gutters of filth and squalor, heaps of garbage covered with flies big. They buzzed and buzzed. Amid this odours rising jobless star youths in Enfields stumped and stormed.

4.

I saw traffic police taking a bribe of even Rs.10 from hay vans and trucks at broad daylight. I thought what wonderful service they provided to society. Potbellied police need to punished for their self service. They had no moral, no integrity, lest honour. They sold them @Rs 10. How could we expect help from them. Their moral was too low. But police is an example. Such rot grasped the entire society. Men don’t think twice to do the most heinous crime…selling the self for nothing. I saw great post holders behaving like cockerels. Why did such men live? Only for serving the rotten putrid ugly soiled self .Why did not they commit suicide? Why did they live a cheap life of rats and cats and jackals? Why not of lions and tigers. The answer. Because we, the self servers saw no light from womb to tomb, and were happy to live a life in hole, darkened forever.

5.

mushrooming of holes day and night of the town

My pigeon hole is circled by many other pigeon holes. I often saw a lanky boy, aged nine or ten hurrying and scurrying in one of the the holes alone. Parents were all busy. The boy often peeped out of the window wistfully, saw the tree tops tossing their heads, birds fleeted from one twig to other, and perched on a clothes line on some rooftops. Sometimes he came all alone on the roof and tried to play badminton and cricket, but no playmates were there. He found no joy, and he was dull. Now the mother called him for tuitions. Teachers came and went whole weeks and months and years. The boy was puzzled. Every guardians of holes worked hard to make his child “first” in anything and everything. The boy was tired and pale, enslaved by the parents’ great expectations. They were in hole, and doing everything possible for buying another hole for their little darling, and killed his childhood mute and silent.

6.

The air is full of dust and smoke. Vehicles pass and belch out smoke, and the men on the street are covered with soot. The hole people most gratiously inhale it and become paradisically happy. The waterbodies being filled and highrisers rise to the sky. The bellies of the cheaters and the officials bulge out. They buy expensive cars and jam the lanes, and sound deafening horns nonstop. People on the lanes look at glossy cars and mutter and abuse. More vehicles sold, more India shines. And the ease of doing business becomes really successful. The traffic is so much heavy that a man cannot pass from one side to the opposite. The street is a nightmare. The children and the elders can never imagine to use it without the assistance of the well and the sturdy. It’s not the life line. It’s a death line. People hurry and scurry, and jostle and tussle and bustle. Like robots they withstand the vagaries of being holed.

7.

patients from villages before a reputed pathology centre, Laldighi Nursing Home
anxiety-stricken poor patients squat on the pavement with lost looks

Visit a doctor, and see the crowd of young polished MRs. The hole of the doctor is all nuisance . A patient can wait for hours, but MRs cannot. The nexus is too apparent. Nobody has the ability to protest. While the suited booted mrs move in and out of the hole, critical patients sit and sigh. Moreover, the highhandedness and rudeness of petty managerial dalals is simply intolerable. The disease is cured without medication. The chemo of such extraneous torturers (MRs and dalals) cures the patient. For a mere bellyache, headache, or a simple viral fever, the patient has to go at least 4 or more unnecessary tests besides buying a bag of many colourful tablets, syrups. People mutter that doctors have been butchers. The networking among the doctors, mrs, pathology and diagnostic centres, medicine stores is strong. And none dare to protest against such unethical practices, going on at tendem from ages. The hole is too lucrative to be resisted.

8.

The hole’s health deteriorated because of sound pollution. From the deafening horns of the everyday vehicles to the festive and political pandemonium by all sorts of social workers created malignant tumours to the body of the hell. Every now and then a rally with blaring mikes assisted by self serving social workers passed through the hole. The traffic stopped for hours. Police were dumb spectators. And good law abiding citizens of the holes clamoured and abused. Abusers all I knew, but the abused I didn’t. The school children during such circuses played among the boxes. Ambulances horned unending and tried hard to squeeze past the line of noble social workers. Of late, a new nuisance in the name of bike rally added a new gloss to the putrid contours of the hole-existence.

9.

An elderly couple, my neighbours, lived in a hole. Their sons and daughter were all established, lived in Bangalore and Delhi, working in multinationals. They earned huge money. The coupled lived all alone, and they loved it. They liked neither children nor neighbours. The man and woman all day lived in the hole. Only for an hour in afternoon they shut the hole ,and walked in the dust and smoke. Then they returned immediately to their hole and shut it. The night was cool, and they admired it both. Such degeneration of human beings was not exceptional. This beautiful life of hole neither deadened the soul and body, nor enlivened them. They gathered food somehow not like the primitive hunters. They were modern crums gatherers. And they loved hole perfect. No grudge, no blame game, no pain, no happiness, no desire, no more demands on earth. Only the remaining days to be penned in a hole. And breath a life’s perennial bliss in a cage, modern and sophisticated.

10.

The lure of hole is too irresistible. Like me many others from the four corners of the hole came here in search of a “higher” life. All left their ancestral lands and homes, friends and relatives and neighbours.

a lovely cauliflower field in a village

They left tipsy villages, checkererd with ponds, grazing fields, broad paths, wide skies , dark nights, shiny days. Bereft of all ties, the former villagers, now city dwellers, all lived in their holes peace and quiet. In old days known, half known and even unknown relatives stayed in their homes days and months. Now the closest friends and relatives are hesitatingly welcomed for a cup of tea in the hole. Our children had ten tutors, and the lone child of each hole was inhumanly pressurised by educated parents. Their faces dried all. They had a peculiarly vacant look. The life of hole with its putrid drains, polluted air, footpaths encroached, dadagiri of the jobless youths, traffic jams, cheating traders, stale fish and frozen meat, mall consumers, dishonest doctors,lawyers,police, sponsored arrays of festivities religious and secular, processions of parties, known and unknown organisations and ngos, is really pleasant and smooth and beautiful!

“A High Life ” indeed!!!

@abusid

A GLIMPSE OF DAKSHIN KHAIBARI (DOOARS)

The forest is now thin, and the wild animals–tigers, leopards, dwindled. The tourists from all corners of India came to visit the park. They took pictures of the forest, scattered plastics, and went back home and talked to relatives and neighbours about Dooars’ beauty. Look intently, and you would easily find the variegated trees, shrubs, undergrowth bushes of medicinal properties. Some bushes were in full bloom, others were dry and wild with huge foliage–all green, and a musky odour if you would stir them choked you. In the midst of the forest, some old trees died, and still stood high. Perhaps they were waiting for the axe of woodcutters for their funeral.

At the entrypoint of Dakshin Khairbari Jungle on 6th January, 2018, one of the coldest days of Dooars. I went at least 14 times there, sometime with my family, sometime with friends and colleagues, and alone.

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undergrowth at South Khairbari forset

The forest is now thin, and the wild animals–tigers, leopards, dwindled. The tourists from all corners of India came to visit the park. They took pictures of the forest, scattered plastics, and went back home and talked to relatives and neighbours about Dooars’ beauty. Look intently, and you would easily find the variegated trees, shrubs, undergrowth bushes of medicinal properties. Some bushes were in full bloom, others were dry and wild with huge foliage–all green, and a musky odour if you would stir them choked you. In the midst of the forest, some old trees died, and still stood high. Perhaps they were waiting for the axe of woodcutters for their funeral.

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men cutting age old trees for’ deeevoloopment’

Bushes of shrubs, undergrowth plants, resting under the shade of the tall huge trees. Lay here and there brown patches of withered grass lands. Enter the forest in a scorching day, and be welcomed by its serene cool air and tranquillity, rustling of the leaves, and humming of the bees. Even at noon you could hear a whirring sound coming out somewhere from the depths of the forest. It was late afternoon. The sun declined in the west, and the rays lost effulgence. Yet the sky and the earth gleamed with a rosy hue. The long leaves of the Saal, and Sheshum glistened. And the rivulet running on the west fringe of the forest all orange purples. With the passage of each minute the jungle became gloom, and dour, like the faces of the Munda women. A layer of mist hazed the distant lines of tree tops, and the air was heavy with dew. The jungle looked eerie, with the tapestry of mists, laced the trunks, twigs and foliage.

an early wintry morning scene of the forest with the dews laced with the trees

The ground underneath was strewn with dry leaves. I walked and and the leaves made khosh khosh noise. The tall trees were silent and still. Some languars jumped from one tree to another. Parrots fleeted over my head and sat on a leafless tree, and chattered. Two peasants made a fire with the leaves and baked their hands and legs. On the outer fringes of the forest the cows grazed, and mooed.

me & with Rofikul, a lover of nature

We went at the entry bar and drank tea. The sun already set, and the darkness began to envelope the forest. It was too cold, and we shivered. Tourists after the day’s picnic returning to the parking area. Their drivers made fire and baked themselves and smoked and gossiped. Within half an hour this area too would be deserted. Elephants might come, and the peasants living by the borders of the forest getting ready for the night’s ordeal. They were in continuous fear, and made some unique mechanisms to drive the mahakals out of their yards. by bursting crackers, beating drums, and making ulooo ulooo, especially by women folk.

@abusid

SWEET HOME

Coming home in holiday is both pleasure and pain. Plesure as my village is serene and starlit, and laziness marks the days and nights.peasants all poor, and their talk circles around daily living chores.Freed from city’s noise and hurry, false promises and myriad injustices, pigeon holes, nauseating smell of garbage heaps, filth and squalor,cheap police, squatted shop keepers, demoralised humbugs,papers full of filthy stories of corruption and politics. Pain I feel hearing sudden demise of many a familiar faces, some neighbours, some near and dear ones, long forgotten

white herons flying freee..

Coming home in holiday is both pleasure and pain. Plesure as my village is serene and starlit, and laziness marks the days and nights.peasants all poor, and their talk circles around daily living chores.Freed from city’s noise and hurry, false promises and myriad injustices, pigeon holes, nauseating smell of garbage heaps, filth and squalor,cheap police, squatted shop keepers, demoralised humbugs,papers full of filthy stories of corruption and politics. Pain I feel hearing sudden demise of many a familiar faces, some neighbours, some near and dear ones, long forgotten. Almost each time I visit home I hear the news of some funerals,Hindus, Muslims were they. In my infancy I spend wonders with them.Stories of brave men, ghosts, witches–all so dear to my heart I sucked. Usually the place of the tales was the front yard of our house.Peasants gathered after sunset and sat on the cart and began the story. I tiptoed there and with a chadar I covered myself and heard the strange stories of the Sahibs,indigo cottages, their hunting and disciplines. Especially the evening when stories of ghosts I heard, my heart shrank and I sat still and was often accompanied home by an elder and when walking I looked back and felt the sound of the footsteps of haunted me.I walked,he walked. I stopped he stopped. I often gasped and reached home somehow.

a dazzling yellowed rai (mustard oil) field

Among childhood stories one was of particular interest. I was eight or nine. There was a marriage ceremony in our neighbourhood that night. I came outside of our house for urinal. It was ten pm or so. A group of the bride party asked me to accompany them to a pond or river for nature’call. I accompanied them to our river, five kms away from home, by the outer side of the village. Meanwhile I was nowhere. My parents and uncles began a search in the bushes,nearby water bodies, in the adjacent mango and banyan groves. But they all failed to trace me. Mother began walllowing. She thought I was carried away by “huloo”, a local variant of ghost. Later more people joined in the search with fire and knives. But of no avail. And during this shock, the neighbours saw me accompanying the strangers of the night from the river side to the village. I was snatched away from the party and the bride men were showered with torrents of abuse.They all asked forgiveness and our neighbourhood forgave them. Reaching home,as it was a wintry night, I was shivering and my mother folded me with a warm quilt,caressing me again and again, her lost child came home.

@abusid