Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Maheshpur Again …

May is a punishing month. The heat and humidity has started taking its toll in more ways than one. I have been avoiding overnight stays in Maheshpur, choosing instead to make day trips in the comfort of air-conditioned cars. Thanks to friends who are ever willing to accompany me and get a first hand feel of bucolic Bengal. The workers still on site seem to be infected with a quiet kind of ennui that seems to say, “This is our lot!”

Arriving at the point in the road from where the Olive Ridley shelter reveals itself behind a row of coconut and betel nut trees, one is usually impressed by the sight that looks somewhat unreal.  The white dome stands out amid the greens and the general drabness of local homes is suddenly banished from ones mind. I get off the car at the point where the fencing ends at the front of the Pandit’s paternal homestead and a bare mud embankment dividing two ponds leads the way to a narrow space between the pond on the left and a crumbling mud wall on the right, where a lone red hibiscus tree stands. One has to stoop a bit to avoid brushing against drooping branches of this tree laden with flowers. Despite having walked this path for a bit over three months, I cannot but feel a sense of elation every time I see the house revealing itself, bit by bit, as the screen of sickle-shaped shonajhuri leaves disappear overhead as one advances.

I get on the bamboo bridge and walk purposefully down to the ground floor only to forget my immediate mission and sit down on a bench and light up a cigarette. Despite the drops of sweat that starts appearing, the balmy breeze is a welcome change from the chill inside the car. I am greeted by Proshanto and all those who are there, including the usual gawkers, with whom by now, I have more than a passing acquaintance. My somewhat rehearsed greetings elicit an equally unenthusiastic murmured response.

In Search of Footprints…

I sit there casually surveying the site. The telltale signs that say work-is-still-in-progress remains scattered about. When will all this be cleared? I ask myself, a little annoyed. As a consolation I remind myself of Laurent’s comment that this house leaves behind no environmental or ecological footprint – except of course the numerous cigarette butts that I have strewn all over the place. On an impulse I suddenly get up to search for them. I find none except a few weathered empty packets of Gold Flake. I gingerly pick them up intending to deposit them in the bin meant for fuel at the Ashram. Amal Babu had told me once, “Don’t throw away anything! Everything here is of value – even your empty cigarette packets. They help in lighting the fires in our kitchen.” This reminded me of the aftermath of the cyclone “Aila”. With no dry fuel to cook with, school books were used for kitchen fires. Much of the bits and pieces and innards of the bamboos had therefore been carted off to the Ashram. I have kept some of the better pieces as material for the proposed artists’ workshop. These too will then become fuel for the kitchen fires at the Ashram. No footprints? I wonder!

Preparing to End it…

I climb the stairs to the upper floor and am instantly disappointed. Binoy has installed incomplete windows, the paint work has just started and the clay walls are yet to dry – despite the heat. The breeze inside is cool and the pivoted windows are helping deflect the breeze into the corners as well! That is something that I had not thought off. Small mercies!

As a culmination of the construction of the Olive Ridley shelter, this week six of us will be living here for a few days to participate in an artists’ workshop titled “Designs on a Delta: exploring the making of myths” and it perturbs me to think that the house is still not habitable. Proshanto assures me “You must not worry; things will fall into place before you arrive”. I talk about hiring a generator and decorators supplying us rudimentary sleeping mats and mosquito nets. “That too shouldn’t be a problem”, he adds.

At the Ashram I meet the children who greet me like I have been gone for years. They have much to tell me and I pass out sheets of paper for them to draw, as well as, to keep them quiet. I am not my garrulous self today. The drawings keep coming at a fast pace and I am soon out of paper. I promise to give them more paper next time around. Their eyes convey the epithet “spoilsport”.

After lunch I decide to leave for Kolkata right away. There was not much that I could achieve by hanging around. I resolve to complete the house with the help of my artist friends during the workshop. As, I say good bye to Amal Babu, he points in the direction of my erstwhile room and says “Have you decided not to enter it again?” I go in and see the all too familiar bed and the same arrangement, the bench with stacks of assorted things on it. The battery in the corner, the black plastic bags filled with I know not what and the locally procured phone charger with its red and black caterpillar clips…I feel a strange sense of attachment, but retreat fast as the heat under the asbestos roof hits me hard.

My room at the Ashram with the blank canvases

The Met Office says that there is no sign of rain in the coming week and the temperature will rise. In a way good news, because rain results in slippery mud and slush here in the Sundarbans and bad because it will be unbearably hot if the breeze stops. A generator might therefore give us some relief, but almost everyone always thought I am a bit daft, but now they are saying I am bonkers – why else would one schedule a workshop in mid-May, that too in a place with no creature comfort within miles?

This post got delayed due to my pre-occupation with organising  the workshop and much else in between. The next post will also be delayed as I will be back late on Sunday next with much to share with you.

Thank you all for staying with me!


Sutirtha said...

I wish I cud visit this place Abhi da.


amu said...

I so look forward to reading your posts. You must start a personal blog now. Please!