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.
Meanwhile 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.