In the twelve weeks that I have been in Maheshpur, I have tried to glean every bit of information on the history of this place. Sadly, not much could be learnt except that parts of the Sundarbans had been parceled off by leases since the time of the British Raj. Environment, Population, and Human Settlements of Sundarban Delta a book by Anuradha Banerjee deals with and records, that after the East India Company took over, leases were granted between 1770 -1773 in order to reclaim land and supply timber. Thereafter one Mr. Princep (1822-23) designed the area into blocks and numbered them into lots or Lats and hence the name 24 Parganas originated. The area was mapped by Morrison (1814) and was the basis of Lt. Hodges (1829) land surveys and the task was completed in 1831 and is known as Hodges Map of Sundarban. Mr. Dampier the then Commissioner along with Lt. Hodges defined the line of forests that came to be known as the Dampier Hodges Line. Since 1830 almost 3800 sq. kms south of the Dampier Hodges Line had been cleared for cultivation and settlement. Land records from 1839 reveals that Zamindars were given 99 year leases. They were known as Latdars who could sublet to Chakdars, who could sublet to Raiyats and so on. Outright sales were allowed from 1865.
I gather from hearsay that Mahesh Company was the Latdar of the lot south of Basanti Bajar and hence our little village is named – Maheshpur. This bit is of course sheer conjecture, but, I like to risk it. After all, much of history is based on informed conjecture.
I do not know whether the Late Rakhal Chandra Pandit had bought his land directly from Mahesh Company or there were other owners in between, but, the fact remains that he had come before India’s independence and settled here is true without a doubt. It is also true that he established the first school in 1959 and named it after his wife – Jashoda, and to that end gave away 60 bighas (about 20 acres) of land.
Elections at Maheshpur Jashoda Bidyapith
The school is run by an elected committee. The committee members belong to different political parties and the electors are the parents of the students. All very well, but what do I see? Having stayed and studied in big cities I have never seen this excitement around a school election. Obviously they are all in the fray for big stakes. This election reached a crescendo last week. The contestants held meetings addressed by important political bigwigs, they campaigned door to door in the scorching sun and the rhetoric was acrimonious. For six seats in the school committee there are eighteen contestants. Some of them even cast aspersions on the reasons for the late Rakhal Chandra Pandit’s benevolence.
I asked around to understand this and was told that with the money drying up in the Gram Panchayats (village administration), the focus has shifted to the schools, as they are now considered milch cows. The list of candidates reveals much else.
The arrival of a contingent of policemen raised the ante in this otherwise sleepy hamlet. While writing this post I have been informed that the elections have passed off without incident.
Scratch Your B@!!$
Also in the last twelve weeks I have had few visitors from the city. Smriti my partner of thirty three years and the ebullient Laurent Fournier have been the only exceptions. Piyali and Soumik came over for a day to discuss their projects for the proposed artists’ workshop. Chhatrapati too came with them and planned to stay a night. Just about when he had just dug in his heels and started to enjoy the photo - ops that Maheshpur presented him, the scare of a Tsunami tumbling over to Maheshpur sent panic waves through Kolkata and his family and friends made frantic calls for him to return. But, the person who sent some of the locals into a tizzy was Kaushik – Khoj Kolkata’s manager. Kaushik was born with physical disabilities which however has not deterred him from riding a motorcycle or climbing trees or excelling in the area of multi-media applications. In fact he has never tried to apply for anything under any handicapped quota. He does not consider himself to be incomplete or challenged. His ever smiling face and his willingness to extend himself is worthy of respect.
|Kaushik posing in my "Canning Hat".|
So, Kaushik arrives at the site on Saturday and is immediately surrounded by schoolboys and adults alike. They shamelessly stare at him and short of touching him they inspect his impediments. This was irksome to say the least. I refrained from saying and held my peace. Then one of my workers gathered up enough gall to ask him, “What kind of accident were you in?”
“I was born this way,” Kaushik replied without the minutest change in his smile.
“Please don’t mind my saying so. But, I think you had done a lot of bad things in your past life,” the smart ass opined.
This got my blood boiling. I gave the smart ass a piece of my mind, but stopped short of telling him what I had heard only two weeks ago from a passing acquaintance in Maheshpur. This gentleman seemed to be well read and he had nothing but contempt for the locals. Allow me to narrate what he said.
“People here are all handicapped,” he suddenly started off.
“Mentally and psychologically handicapped,” he clarified seeing my questioning gaze.
Before I could react and question him, he continued his tirade. “Most of them have one hand, because the other is busy scratching their b@!!$. If they could they would have applied for jobs and other opportunities under the handicapped quota! There are some who have no hands at all…both are occupied in like wise manner!” he signed off. I was bemused by all this as I had heard similar things being said many years ago about the Babus in Writers’ Building. That joke said that one could qualify for the job only if one does not have a condition known as monorchism. Full pay only if you can spend half a day scratching each b@!!
Yes, I am angry.
Olive Ridley Update
The construction is complete. I cannot show you a picture of the shelter without the bamboo scaffolding – Binoy has done the vanishing trick once again and the expert masons arrived two days late, necessitating an extended stay in the humid heat after the unsettling Nor’westers. Work on the clay interior has started and should be completed by mid-week. It now boils down to when all of this will dry off to allow for a coat of white wash inside. Dates for the artists’ workshop and the opening is therefore still in limbo.
|Ulu grass lining and preparation of clay.|
Until next week friends!
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