Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dreams and other narratives

After the forced break due to the festivities of the previous week, as mentioned in my last post, things are back to normal.  Work on the Olive Ridley Shelter has resumed. The Canning Local has not thrown up any new surprises and I have thus invented a guessing game to keep myself amused. If one doesn’t know the station names in between Canning and Ballygunge and looks down at the platforms, which are singularly filthy; shops take up most of the space, passengers crowd too close to oncoming trains and the only difference is the number of people on the platform that informs us about the status of a station.  Somewhat empty platform? So, where am I? Too much green? So, where am I? The peanut seller by the lamp post? So where am I? The markers are endless.

Apiluddin has not been able to ferry me this week as he is on school duty taking students to examination centres. So, I am being treated to smoother rides on the new auto-rickshaw of Gautam Bera. I go on my routine walks through the village four times a day. The children greet me with their uninhibited smiles and pester me with questions on their favourite subject -ghosts. 

Gopinath's ghost catching fish
The early morning tuition held for the children by Haradhan Bera wakes me up and I feel a little irritated. But, the evening classes are something that I look forward to. Haradhan Babu sits on the floor with about ten of the youngest boys around him. The sound track is mesmerizing. Haradhan Babu’s multi-tasking skills are unbelievable, switching from one lesson to the next – dividing his attention equally amongst his wards. His patience however, is tested at times. He prepares lunch for them when the cook is absent, pays attention to the minutest of details and swings a fishing net with aplomb early every morning – making the simplest of meals come alive. In between all his chores at the Ashram, he cycles home a few times to look after his own affairs which includes farming. I quite often hear him singing old Bengali songs on lazy afternoons. Haradhan Babu is a veritable one-man army.

Haradhan Babu with his wards

The days are getting hotter and the trek back to the Ashram for lunch is becoming daunting.  My crocheted hat, made out of synthetic fishing net yarn bought from a touristy shop in Canning helps a bit. Amal Babu has connected a pedestal fan to the solar powered battery in my room and cautions me that the battery is old and I should not use the fan indiscriminately.  I use the fan for about an hour in the afternoon after lunch as the asbestos roof heats up the room.

My hat!
It became unbearably hot one evening. I waited for Haradhan Babu’s class to end in the adjoining room and the lights were switched off there. I took a bath and cooled myself sitting in front of the fan. I continued to use it till I went to bed.

As soon as I had switched off my lantern and tucked in my mosquito net, the heat hit me like a sledgehammer. I started sweating, but tried to sleep – believing that once sleep overcame me, this sense of discomfort would soon be gone. I tossed and turned in bed until I drifted off…

I am on the platform of Canning station telling the man not to put sauce in my egg-roll. The train compartment is unusually empty.

Almost empty compartment

 “Dui akkey dui. Dui dugunay? Dui dugunay ki? Dui dugunay chaar. Ball, dui dugunay chaar.”

Betberia Ghola…
A bunch of giggly school girls swarm in.

Sweat trickles down my neck. I wake up, switch on the fan and go back to bed.

Ghutiari Sharif…
Loud green on the walls…a young couple is pushed closer by the fourth person crowding a three-seater bench.
 “Hongsho boltey hnash bojhaye. Bongsho boltey bnash bojhaye. Hongsho ki? Hongsho holo hnash”.
 “Why don’t you tie every alternate joint? You are wasting my time. At this rate we will never finish this house”.
The boy sitting on his father’s lap throws up. Much of the vomit re-enters through another window down-wind. There are shouts of protest.
The young couple cozy up. She readjusts the position of her large bag on her lap to accommodate and conceal her boyfriend’s arm.

”a - oi, khuku nachey ta-thoi-thoi.”
The elbow re-emerges from behind the bag. People on the opposite seat unabashedly ogle the pair. The couple smile at each other. Her face registers a tacit consent.

The sound of a crashing branch awakens me and I am concerned about the battery running down. I get up, switch off the fan and go back to bed.

More bamboos are unloaded. Someone in my team says “This is better quality”. Green turning to a pale yellow. They hit the bamboos below with a ‘thwang’ like the sound of a loose cello string.

A cleaner platform that invites you to explore this little town.
The peanut seller sells me two slim packets for five rupees each and offers it to me with the tops cut off.
“Chhoto khoka boley aw – aa, shekheni tow kotha kowa. What now? This is the third time in half an hour that you want to pee!”
The fourth passenger gets up and leaves. No one takes his seat. The couple sits close to each other for just a while longer and then moves away disappointed with their loss of an alibi.
A man takes off his shirt with vomit on it. Selects a clean part and wipes himself. Fishing out a polythene bag from his shoulder bag, he stuffs the shirt in and treats it with utmost distaste. All the while cursing and muttering about fathers who are careless about their children.

My sweat by now had taken on the force of the Matla in spate. I wake up, switch on the fan and return to bed.

The boyfriend gets up and readies to leave. The girl lifts up her bag to hide a pout intended only for him to see - as in a stolen farewell kiss.
“Ram boney phul pare…”.
“Kaku bon ki?”
“Bon janish na? Sundarbaner chhele! Bon holo giye Jongol…onek gaach!”

I had a fitful night and was bleary-eyed when the morning classes began. But, instead of my usual irritability, I pricked up my ears to catch every word of Haradhan Babu’s lessons.

The morning was blissfully breezy as I walked down to the site. I met Haradhan Babu on the way. “North winds! The children will be ill. I must tell them to keep their shirts on,” he said pedaling away. Later on during lunch time I told him how much I appreciated the good work he was doing with the children. He gave me a shy smile.

Olive Ridley Update

The roof structure is taking inordinately long. But, the bridge and the stairs are done. So is the ramp down from the bridge to the ground floor. The bamboo railings are waiting to be fixed. I hope to complete the outer dome by next week, HORI willing!

For those of you who did not understand this lingo – my apologies. I am inept at translating these into English. And to those of you who wish to know more about the Canning Local– there are sixteen stations between Canning and Ballygunge (both included). They are: Canning, Taldi, Betberia Ghola, Gaurdaha, Piyali, Champahati, Kalikapur, Bidyadharpur, Sonarpur, Narendrapur, Garia, Bagha Jatin, Jadavpur, Dhakuria and Ballygunge. The train goes further – the next two stations are Park Circus and Sealdah. Try it sometime – you might find grist for your mill!


Laurent Fournier said...

Abhi da, have you decided to write "La prose du Canning Local"? Frankly, it's as good as "La Prose du Transsibérien" by Blaise Cendrars!

The staircase and small bridge are also great!

gitanjali said...

Abhida... Love your take on the ashram and the teaching...the comments are so familiar..especially the ones on going to the loo 3 times in half an hour!

amu said...

You write so well, Abhi da, i can visualise every scene! You should really think of publishing your relationship with the Canning Local, seriously.

ED said...

The description of heat reminded me of a small novel by a literary biggie (believe it or not) – and guess who/which novel I’m talking about here (here’s a clue: chances are this author won’t write another book)!

Loved the cinematic snippets (they teased the hell out of me, though)!


Jayati Bawari said...

I wait to see Haradhan babu, the children with their zeal for yet more sizzling stories. Can see the fading in and out of incidents in your daze. Great reading.
Enjoying the beautiful structure you are trying to build with Bamboos.....

manjari said...

YOU WRITE SO WELL! i can see this in the form of a book! the more i read, the more i want to read! :O

Abhisek Sarkar said...


The posts, in the very first place, are manifestations of your literary flair. Such beautiful language cannot lie fallow. Please bring it out in printed form. The world claims much more of you. Its poetic and I am sure so is the place. I am so very zealous to go with you. Please do not cut me off because of my non-participation. I have been having terrible time. But please please keep writing and give me the opportunity to visit the 'olive ridley shelter'.