A Visit to Mundapara

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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A GLIMPSE OF DAKSHIN KHAIBARI (DOOARS)

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. 20180106_162414 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. 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. 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. 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.

Kunjnagar Eco Park & the Haat

Situated at a distance of 12 Kilometres from Falakata and 20 Kilometres away from Madarihut, Kungnagar Eco Park by the outer fringe of internationally recognised Jaldapara National Reserve Forest once boasted its exotic and lush green beauty with tigers, elephants, deers, chitahas, ghorials, and myriad birds like parrots, mynahas, peacocks, doves, herons, wood-peckers, sparrows, cuckoos, of exotic hues and cacophonies. One can see in the brilliant radiance of blazing sun set the crowd of parrots and sparrows flung over one’s head. Your hair will be flicked with a bird’s sudden swift flight almost touching your head. Somewhere in the upper sky among the tinged cloudlets a lone eagle lazily supervises his vast empire. His eyes glisten, and far flung heavy wings mellow with the reddish white rays of the setting sun. Below down the river men are catching fish still in the languid lapping slimy water. A mist begins to overlap the tree tops of the Jaldapara forest on the opposite side of the park. Dew drops begin to fall on the grass of the park. And our feet are bathed at the embrace of recalcitrant tendrils of long grass decked with dew drops.

The half naked mahout with a wet napkin somehow fastened around his loin bathes and brings his elephant back home standing on the back of the giant elephant with a small knife in her hands. It is a regular scene of evening. One day I with my wife and daughter was walking around the park. We are in the in the middle of the path looking at the parrots sitting and flitting among the tall lean trees. Just then my daughter noticed the huge a tamed elephant with the mahout standing on it with a small knife and a huut huut sound approaching us. My daughter and wife screamed and we made our way quickly to the bush, leaving the path of the elephant’s pass vacate. And the mahout while passing, however, assures us, ‘no fear, he will do no harm.’ Now the evening descended. It’s a closing bell. Most visitors already left the park. All birds took shelter on the branches. Only a lone small pitch black bird, we call it fingi raja, still perched on the crest of a sleek lean bamboo. We left the park.

The park Before colonial period the area was a deep forest and rare tribes lived on its honey and timber. Then the British came and planted tree gardens clearing and cutting the forest with the help of the coolies collected from Jharkhand. These coolies later become the tea tribals of Dooars. Rural economy was destroyed, and the forest depleted day by day.

You have to pass first Kunjnagar haat to visit Kunjnagar Eco-Park. This haat was a legacy of the British . The haat, otherwise sleepy with a few tin huts and sheds, wore a festive look especially on Sunday. The tea labourers, farmers, rickshaw paddlers, lottery sellers, milk men, vegetable and fruit sellers, meat and fish sellers, quack doctors begin to crowd the haat one by one from noon onward. More time passes, more people come. By the sunset it is abuzz with shouts and cries of the village sellers and buyers. From a mile or two in the evening the tiny bulbs with their dim flickering make its existence known. During rain or power cut the shop keepers light the lanterns and candles. The haat looks eerie with dim lights, and dark buyers. People come from nearby neighborhoods to buy domestic needs and to erase the stains of days’ drudgery. They buy vegetables, groceries, medicines, meat and fish, take a cup of tea or drink a pot of haria, chew vaaga and gossip with friends and acquaintances. The visitors range from the children of seven to the wrinkled eighty. Everybody is in his or her own pursuits. Children along with teenage crowd televaja shops of chowmin, samosas, pakoras. The middle aged and the elderly gather in tea shops. They sip tea with sipping sounds and tell the story of local politics and domestic problems—finding a suitable match for his MA (distance mode) pass daughter, the winners of lottery of the day or week, amassing wealth by village netas by pilfering Govt. fund, marriage of a school master and his elahi arrangement of foreign liquors for the guests, deaths by snake-biting and drinking excessive alcohol, flood of 12th August, 2017 when people caught fish in the yard and swam in the street, adultery of a youthful widow or elopement and arrest. Light of last rays of the sun disappear, the stars begin to bloom, and the two days moon smiles in one corner of the sky. Now the buzz of the bazaar has waned. The people thin, but still they are buying for tomorrow. The elderly with torchs and lathis make their way homes a while ago. Some sellers are packing after the day’s brisk buck. By 9 pm the shops are all closed. The haat is deserted, and stray dogs take the verandas and the sheds of the haat as sleeping bed rolls. They occasionally bark at the movement of a jackal and chase it. The rats scamper and feast on the leftovers.

By one side of the haat there is a vast uneven playing field where the boys play football in rainy season. In summer the field becomes a sort of breathing resort for the elderly males and females, boys and girls for gossips and rumours of rustic life and scandal. The lungi and dhoti clad men sitting on their haunches smoke biris and chew vaagas (beetle leaves) and pass by chattering days’ monotonous events. The women with cheap cotton sarees and worn out kameezes sit idly on the grass fanning with hand fans made of palm leaves and whispering scandalous rumours of elopement and family quarrels. There is a huge pakur tree at the northern entrance of the haat under which some men are selling singharas, chops, chowmins, egg rolls, papads, boiled eggs, ghughni, etc. and the teenage boys and girls make a beeline before them. The tree has spread its branches in all directions. And the root of the tree is fenced with tiles with images of gods and goddesses. Idle men sit under the tree, some on haunches, some cross legged. It’s a seat of shadow in scorching summer days, and people pass the day’s toil with easy laughter and churlish banter.
There are four or five saloons specialized in Nepali hair cutting and the adivasi young boys are their regular customers. They wear patched jeans and new shoes brought from local footpaths. The haat boasts of three medicine shops where only some first aids and bottles of yellow, red, pink syrup are available. The quack doctors with dubious degrees diagnose the adivasis and the rural folks and give the patients the same tablets for different ailments of dysentery, fever, headache, pain in stomach etc. Among these doctors I like one most, Mr. Kalipada who has got his degree from Dhaka, as his board reads. At first sight you must take him as a shoe-shiner. A man of over sixty with dirty Panjabi and stitched dhuti, wrinkled face and white thin uncombed hair sits on his only old wooden chair with two legs pressed to his chest like a dog in a wintry night. No patient comes. Now he squirms, and now he etches his head and a week’s white beard and mumbles himself. He does not possess basic diagnostic apparatuses like stethoscope, scale for measuring fever, weight machine etc. His only possession is some bottles of syrup and tablets already expired or on the verge of expiry. He looks pale and fatalistic. And his four by six tin roofed hut is smelly and dark with one china bulb and a lantern for emergency during strong wind and rain. The other two quacks—one is a young man of thirty. His room is pucca and has essential medicines and the basic apparatuses. The room is furnished with cheap curtains and a bench for the patients. This doctor’s arrival is also a cause of worry for Mr Kalipada. The third doctor, a man of fifty, well-built, fife feet ten, with a rustic look is chewing paan and talking with a man of his age, both sitting on newly bought red plastic chairs with legs pressed to their chests. He has no concern for patients and is only interested in selling third rated syrups with labels or no labels to the poor peasants and labourers at maximum retail price.
There are two grocery shops, five tea shops, two clothes stores, one fruit shop in this haat. Between the rows of tin shops the vegetable sellers sit on polythene sheets with the produce. On the eastern side there are sheds for meat and dry fish sellers. Milk men with plastic bottles of milk crowd at one extreme corner, and are sitting on their haunches barefoot and smoking biris. At the opposite corner adivasi women are selling haria (local liquor made from rice and herbs). One can see the women with tumblers of haria on their heads queuing to the haat prior to sun set. Men throng there to drink and to be refreshed. One pot of haria weighing 500 ml costs Rs. 20 maximum. The poor tribals with worn out and patched clothes and plastic slippers, and often barefooted, sit and drink till it is dark. Here also beauty conquers. The woman with robust body get more customers than her emaciated and pale counterpart. And one Rukhmini Subbah is a queen for her beauty among haria drinkers. They not only drink from her, also love to surround her, her body odour and broad smile of ease, and her joy of living attract men more to her. She is a tall woman with huge breasts and bust. She wears saree in a fashion so that her mid riff with deep navel remains half-hidden. Men eye her with lust and their eyes glow with desire. Other women haria sellers are poor pallor and attract less customers.
Pigs are slaughtered at a fallow land by the side of the haat. People are watching the skinning of the pig with fixed gazes. The pot bellied butcher with snub nose and gruff voice is cutting the beast to pieces. The offal is thrown into a nearby doba (a small pond) where water is shallow and pitched yellow. He has a hectic day and the customers groan for waiting to be delivered.
In another fringe of the haat some hawkers with fatalistic expressions and unshaven faces and bald and thin-hair heads sit on cross-legged on polythene sacks with worn out, faded sarees, pants, coats, shirts, t-shirts, petticoats, panties, bras, barmudas, blouses, bought once cheap from the relatively rich houses from the Bengali babus of Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, Alipurduar. Some clothes are hung from the rusted hangers stuck to bamboo poles and fences, and some are spread on the sack with immaculate horizontal and vertical rows, as if shy to be touched. And when the sudden gust of wind from nowhere blows, the clothes flutter in the fashion of proud flags of important days. The customers are generally poor tribal men and women of adjacent neighborhood. Their eyes are black and hair thick. The bodies are pitch-dark. The mothers with their seven months or a year childs fastened with a napkin to their backs, throng before old clothes sellers and diagnose the beauty of their desired articles. The child has a snoring nose and the flies feast on it, and when the child flings out his small juicy tongue out of his mouth to taste the puss the flies make a temporary flight with a buzz. They choose their favourites with wistful eyes, but leave the articles often where they were, hearing the exorbitant cost with an expression of emotional turpitude and sadness, as if they have just encroached into an illegal territory. A sudden spasm comes to nerves and they restore again to their lot of poverty, and pain of daily living. Some buy, however, with a month’s earning all an elegant and costly saree now faded, that once was wrapped to an elite lady’s all fat body and attracted flood of accolades from her known and unknown friends, ‘wow, how beautiful you look, awesome, woo’ and the lady seemed to have been exasperated with their queries for its wherewithal. The desired saree is bought at its one-third cost after much hair-splitting and unbearable bargain that makes the seller mad and he succumbs to the buyer’s insistent pestering at last. That rich faded saree now is draped to a poor and slack, dry tiny breasted tribal mother with sunken eyes and emaciated limbs. She wears it and it hangs like a heap of clothes stuck to her. And when she wears it in the evening after day’s labour, and parries her relatives’ huts with a gait of glow and now she with her new look becomes a topic of hush-hush gossip of the evening among the haria drinker males who eye her with a lust in their black darkening eyes and a twitch on their moustaches , as if they have never come across her before and beat their heads for fail to praise her beauty before.
The haat boasts of its dried fishes and live chickens. It also harbours fresh fishes from nearby many streams and rivulets. It sells dried tobacco leaves and vagga paans and rotten beetle nuts. The farmers sit on their haunches with their field’s produce—potatoes, cabbages, cauliflowers, onions, garlics, brinjals , parbols , skoash, pumpkins, bananas, spinach. Here and there you can see an elderly poor woman sit with fern leaves and tender juicy tendrils of pumpkins. In some corners a lottery seller sizing his tickets. He has a tarpaulin hut with broken plastic chair and a wooden rotten table. He is short and bald, and has a 3 days beard with sunken cheeks and his eyelids are constantly flipping up and down. People gossip of Amrul’s winning a lottery of Rs. 2 lakh yesterday, and with that hope the van pullers and paan sellers check the serials of the tickets with a big dream in their eyes. Zameer plans to buy a ticket and he thinks if he wins a lottery his poverty will go forever. He will reamake his home and live with her wife Abida happy for life. But Kallo intervens, ‘ O, Bhai. Don’t waste hard earned money. Bhavi at home will berate you.’ Zameer after the days labour at a refugee house at Falakata as a mason has not gone home. He will take a cup of tea, a vaaga paan, and buy some vegetables and a syrup for his 3 year child Lebu’s ill health. Zameer leaves the tickets and becomes furious at Kallo, and silent he goes home and thrashes his wife and shouts at her at the top of his voice bringing entire neighbourhood to his home, ‘Kallo, tor vatar ache na ki’, Mui ke na koiya tui Kallo re kos ghorer kotha, magi. Tore ami talak devar naage’.
The haat is heavily crowdwd. You cannot walk without touching somebody. The tribal and peasant school girls with their Sunday dress parry for puchka, chowmin, pakoras and rolls. The young boys working at Jaiga, Phuntschilling (Bhutan) grill or cloth factories, gathered a little far from the girls, smoke cigarettes and chew shekhar and gutkha, and eye the girls for picking a talk with them. A boy and a girl come out of their respective circle and make a deal to pass the coming Sunday at Kunjnagar Park together, sitting by the side of the meandering river running between Jaldapara Forest and Kunjnagr Park and shutting their ears to the songs of the birds and murmurings of the rivulet but drinking beverages and alcohol and munching chips mechanically.

Morning Walk

I, in general, get up at 5.30 a. m and by 6.00 unlock the door with a screech sound and go for a morning walk. I take three miles, from Subhaspalley, Falakata to Chuakhola Choupathi as my usual stroll. The street is a straight smoothed and pitched dark with no pot holes at all with one railway level crossing lies on it; the rail line connects North-East India with the rest of India. You have to cross it to visit Seven Sisters or darlings of North-East, the beauty pageants of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura. The street turns four times and many mores to reach sleepy villages of Kungnagar, Lachmandabri, Gala Kata, Variob Haat and ended at Noi Mile Choupathi. Nature varied in summer, winter and rainy season. And the group of morning walkers took different look at different phases of the year. Sometimes one or two members were added to the eternal walkers. It gave a new enthusiasm and exuberance to the team spirit. Then the group talked a lot and walked with measured paces with pomp. And when a group lost its one important member, who went Chennai, Bangalore or Delhi for whole body check-up, team lost its exhilaration and the talk became mundane with paraphrase of daily living chores.

My feet merely touched the street, my walking bay you may call it, a middle aged primary tribal school mistress, hair-thinned and already half-bald, in a faded nighty, bra-less, dangling her sagging breasts, made her daily dose of morning, with a lost look and timid posture. I made my way through the bay, two sides of which run long deep gutters of nauseating, pungent smell, as educated people used them as dustbins to throw condoms, plastic bags containing domestic scrubs, and bottles of liquor or syrup. First batch of elderly and middle aged morning walkers, all school masters, some retired, some performing hard duty of running village schools in the capacity of a headmaster or Assistant master still. All wore dirty shoes of cheap linen and faded t-shirts. And the topic of their talk ranged from Govt. Dearness Allowance, pension schemes, health, adulterated food, elopement and marriage of a rich lottery distributor, clothes merchant or fake gold sellers, and who bought a posh place by donating how much to local club dadas, durga pujo, GST etc. Next past me an elderly man of medium height, aged fifty eight, in plain pants and checked half-shirts. He wore a two days white beard on his slacked cheeks, his eye brows spread wide, and eyes with no fixed expression. He walked with no purpose. He walked, as everybody walked. You could not guess from his queer look whether he was walking for health or for the sake of walking itself. A small samsung mobile hid in his chest pocket, and tunes of sacred songs, ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Ramo; Ramo Ramo Hare Hare’, or ‘Joy Radhe Radhe, Krishna Krishna, Gobindo Gobindo bolo re, etc. ’ crooned while he past me. I now came to a landmark. A dwarf retired clerk in his white cotton pajamas wrapped in a napkin often stood erect from the verandah of his two storied white house. His belly was bulging out, his face squared and thick and shaven with little eyes with a look of bereavement. He was glum, and sullen with an air of very important person. When I passed by the side of his house he stared at me, as if I made an encroachment to his possessed terrain. The street was deserted. An elderly barefooted woman with a thin wrinkled face strived hard to pluck flowers from a stout china rose from a neighbouring fence for worship. By the side of level crossing a group five, toto walas, rickshaw walas, ordered tea. The shop had just opened and the bare bodied, lungi clad tea seller yawned with eyes half closed and began the days’ drudgery. Beside the side of the shop, a man barefoot, lungi hitched to waist, a few grey strands of hair uncombed, and aged face unshaven, sat on haunches, smoking a biri. The specialty of the man—he never failed me in rain or sun with his cheerless, sober presence. A dog slept by him, and smoke from a heap of garbage of plastic bags, dried leaves smouldered, and meandered upward to the blue streaked heaven. Now I passed railway crossing. Some mornings I was hindered to do so, as a goods train or an express was passing. I stopped and looked at the sky then, clear blue and cloudlets of myriad shapes sailing climbing and chasing with each other, sometime overcast, and a soft drizzle began falling. The crossing controlled with two thick iron rods on both side of the line by two railway workers from his tin shaped gumti, was now withdrawn. I crossed it and landed on a separate land. In other mornings the poles were lowered but the train had yet to come. I and other walkers and vegetable sellers bent our backs and made a quick underpass. And when there was no sign of train and the crossing was not barred, I looked standing on its slippers from left to right and saw in the early morning the deserted line decked with leafy trees and patched paddy fields. And two over bridges hung over the line, one on Falakata-Jaigaon route and the second Falakata-Alipurduar road were distant visible and specks of people were often seen to pass to attend day’s beginning. The first scene after crossing the line was a group of middle aged and elderly, some half naked with bare body and bare foot, a napkin on the loin, and some dressed with dirty dhoti and a napkin strapped round his neck, some in pants and shirts sitting on broken rusted plastic chairs or haunches on the side of the street. The shop just opened, and the men drank hot sipping tea from squat shaped plastic cups and the entire place was a dustbin littered with used cups. Men drank and threw cups in any direction, had not the occasion to have a second look at the disposal. Some sat idly for a long time and talked a lot, some after gulping the tea anyhow, went to their work. A toto driver waited for passenger smoking biri with a vacant look, the look I could not describe. A lottery man arranged the tickets, and the smoke from the burning incense, stuck to the one corner of his half-rotten table, gave his worn-out hut a funeral presence. Just opposite to the lottery shop, a fat woman of thirty or so, a mother of one or two sat on the gate of her pucca house. Whenever I passed it I saw her sitting on the gate, her huge breasts unfastened, two mounds. She wore a faded cheap nighty, and sat some time cross legged, and other, legs wide spread apart, and mouth full of brushing foam, and grassy entry side of the gate was all white, as if bubbles of hot milk just fell on it. Now I made a straight walk to my favourite place of jogging and morning dancing. But before reaching there I described a retired couple of master and mistress whom I met daily. They were my neighbours. The gate of his house remained always shut. The master rose early and went bed early. After seven o’clock in the evening, they closeted themselves to their two storied house. His daughter and son lived in Kolkata, the desired destination of all Falakatans. The master had a past, it was rumoured, of adulteration with one of his girl students at his younger days, and had to be freed him from all sins and all by sacrificing a huge money. The master was tall, half bald and the mistress was of medium height, and coloured black shiny straight hair falling back to the edge of her flattened buttocks. Both were spectacled. They had an ambassador, checked once in a month by giving it a sudden jerk, so that the engine might not be dysfunctional. The car made monotonous ghrrar ghrrar sound for thirty minutes and black smoke covered the entire neighbourhood. His neighbours in secret then became impatient with his nuisance and cursed him with saala, banchot, motherchot, etc. But the couple took no offence. They lived all year with a distant air of Kolkata and, I heard from whom and where I could not remember now, most of the Falakatans thought of themselves as living Kolkatans. Master talked with me only when his rooms are to be rented, and made an inquiry of the recruitment of my college, so that if any of new arrivals asked for a house I could refer him/ her to his house. Mistress did not speak with me, but once asked for whereabouts of a deceased senior colleague who died heart attack, and his wife and lone nubile daughter bereaved. I never knew when they went to walk. I met them only on their homeward walk. Mistress was always ahead. Master followed her. They never walked side by side as husband and wife, perhaps to respect the age old Indian practice of nuptial shyness. They never spoke with anybody on the street acquaintances. They took a distinctive demeanour as salaried. And the mistress walked always keeping her nose wrapped with the end of her saree or a handkerchief. She could not inhale unfiltered air. She walked with a posture and gesture that she hated all around herself—the people, children, blooms, birds. Though retired, she was still chubby with huge white bulging belly and a deep navel button, always exposed. She thought herself the symbol of ageless beauty queen. They spoke always with air of urbanity. They were Rajbanshis elites. And they forgot all their grass root cultural affiliations, living a life of outward pomp and show but inner bankruptcy of spirit in a citadel of refugee. Now I almost came to my favourite part of the street. A student’s father, grocer by profession, in folded lungi, bare bodied, bare foot, thread with beads on his neck, brushed his dark maroon teeth with a danta manjan powder. And soon he saw me, stopped the movement of his finger and pulled them out quick from his watery mouth, asked about my well being. Then appeared the two white house I liked most. Built on a high land, the walled houses have an open yard with beautiful flowers. The gate was a few vertical iron rods bolted with another fat horizontal iron rod with an ambience of frank and free geniality and hospitality. I never saw the inhabitants. Sometime a tall lanky man smoked cigarette before the gate of one house. I envied the man for possessing such a beautiful plot of land surrounded with tall nut trees. The wind blew and the leaves rustled, and the birds chirped, and music resonated the house. Walking ahead a few paces, the street has a bumper and by it slept dogs, goats, lambs, unmindful of the people. And here a vegetable shop with dry vegetables, and rows of yellow bananas were on sale and before it there was an old bench and three aged men all in lungi and bare bodied, sunken eyes, bearded, slackened cheeks, and wrinkled necks talked and talked and talked, as if they were sharing with animation their golden past days and their lost dreams. In winter the street was strewn with white and red unknown wild flowers and dry yellow leaves and I felt extreme proud at Nature’s bounty and bliss. It seemed she was always ready to welcome her morning guest with a broad smile on her lips and a warmth embrace of her long beautiful hands. Now I stood at the most important turning of the street, a corner of exercise and exuberance. You could be amazed with the beauty of open field, tree tops shrouded with a lazy misty pallor, vast sky, marshy bogs and pools, birds sitting on the electric poles, flock of white herons pecking warms and insects from fields and made a sudden flight and whirled upward the sky, harmless snakes slithered in the wet grass lands, and charms of the uneven hills of Bhutan, visible on the distant horizon. In late September when the sun shined brilliant, one could eye the beauty of Kanchenjunga too, the crests are all milky white, and a pinkish whitish glow oozed and mellowed below. At these days I often went to Falakata station and sat on the over bridge hour after hour. And birds flapped their glistening wings in the clear blue sky. The streaks of white clouds sailed languidly against the sky. I forgot food and bath, and everything. The beauty of Kanchenjunga was too irresistible and I thought of suicide. By the side of my favourite corner of jogging and dancing, there was a tin roofed house cum stationary shop. An elderly woman, lean, pale, white, wrinkled, cleared the yard with a broom. Her body and breasts lost shape and colour, and the ravages of cruel age had turned her breasts into two small dried nuts. From another house on the opposite side sometimes a dull housewife with an expression of amazement and timidity eyed my morning dance. The other elderly women, dangling from their hands polythene black, pink, yellow, red, bags with flowers for morning prayer, some bare feet, some with plastic slippers, passed me. They all had left the life of sexuality behind and put a reluctant veil to it, some widowed, some lost attraction, and they devoted the rest of the days to the worship of gods and goddesses hence. The common rural proverb, ‘Hari din to gelo, sondhya holo paar koro amare’ (hey god, my days have gone, please call me to your heavenly abode) suited them most. But that was not all. Some rich old beauty tried hard to defeat the onslaughts of age somehow. They still strived best to keep their charm intact. They took morning walk, maintained strict diet, drank only green tea, took ayurvedic multinational health supplements, and messaged them from head to feet with exotic creams, gels, foams, all famous for their anti-ageing formula and prevention of skin cancer. After jogging I went ahead and met a couple always. They had a small tin hut. But of late they built a pucca house, incomplete, hiding the ghastly shabby look of the old hut. The new house was all brick, window panes of gamari wood, and front side of the house, divided square half, iron shuttered, perhaps one would be a grocery or stationary, and the other a beauty parlour of exotic name like, anjali, pushpa, manjil, jolly etc. Such beauty parlours with a tin hut and a wooden chair and a broken mirror with some third rated beauty lotions and potions abounded every mile or two in and around Dooars villages. I saw the man of the house, in white vest and checked lungi, and the colour combination of white vest and tar skin exuded the sheer magnanimity of a bizarre beautified persona. His wife dwarf, fat, clothes soiled and smelly, pulled goats and calves from home shed to the street side. She took the cattle assisted by her twelve year son, black but stout and tall. The electric poles on both side of the street were twirled with long juicy tendrils and green leaves. Two aged men, retired, dwarf and fat, bulging bellied, in half shirts and loose pyjamas, umbrella in hand, walked past me. They walked side by side, and chattered. They were happy-go-lucky fellows. They had no regret in life and took life as it was. They were very jovial , and to them life was extremely beautiful. Meanwhile I now reached the turn from which I would walk back home. Here old women with wrinkled faces sat on haunches and naked grandchildren, sucking fingers, sat on their laps, . Two or three dogs also sat by them. School children hurried past me to take tuition at Falakata and the enlightened masters began the day readying their private tolls with incense and all, like a shop keeper. Here a grocer, black, dwarf, pot bellied with dark thick hair, just opened his shop. I had never seen him in any clothes. Like Gandhi he favoured a loin cloth, a printed soiled napkin and on rare occasion another napkin he wrapped around his neck. He worked hard and his wife suited him most. It was a manic jour, made for each other in physic and work competence of grocery management, rice, daal, atta, oil, soap, surf, shampoo, sugar, salt, potato etc. Of late they had added a tin roof to the roof. They hardly could write, and their school going daughter sang ragas, and Rabindra sangeet with nasal sound. Every morning I heard it and became chastened at the extremity of the trajectories of poor life. On the way back I saw more walkers on the street. More shops opened, and people drank tea and bought lottery tickets. Mothers with their sons and daughters all CBSE Board, from relatively richer homes of school masters and businessmen of dubious repute, mafias and pilferers of famed Dooars tea and timber, fake gold coins and notes, waited with water bottles and heavy bags for the school bus or pool car. The children were all fat and in school uniform, talked in English and Hindi, and half educated youthful mothers in sleeveless twisted nighty with bangal dialect hard tried to talk with them, but snubbed often by children who made a mockery of their mother’s illiteracy and lack of information. Mothers, however, took no notice. Rather they felt pride and made a fuss among friends and relatives at the skill and knowledge of their children. And they also dreamt to send their children to America for higher education. I either made a quick pass, or run back home. People here and there sat on rusted benches or broken plastic chairs in tea shops and verandahs and read a popular Bengali daily Uttar Banga. And they made a lesson plan for the day, and gyrated the same news of poverty, puja bonus, women trafficking, netas and mantris, liquor deaths, temples, mosques, babas etc. until they went bed. Women queued before taps to collect drinking water in plastic bottles and buckets, of different shapes and hues . They looked all desolate. And just before reaching home I always met a former L I C man who talked tall and lived in a rented corrugated tin hut in a garage, smoke and squalor all. Straight I reached home, changed dress, took bazaar bag and my pillion and went to village haats to collect fresh vegetables, and deshi chicken, and eggs from the poor. I also took tea in each and every haat and studied the people and be merrier. And when I contented myself with the beauty and pain of the people and the land of Dooars, I came back home, usually, by 8.50 am. My cook then came and cooked food. And I began prepare for the Day.