Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 in Miscellaneous Jottings, Uncategorized | 0 comments

The thin, broken pathway lead to a wicker gate. Beyond it was a still narrower concrete path that went up to the door. To the left of that wicker gate was a strong. iron door from which a huge rusty lock would hang. That was the entrance to the garden. The door screeched loudly in disapproval whenever an attempt would be made to open it. The path was reasonably long so as to shut out the noise of the street. If you faced the street and stood on the path, you would see the shining white tomb of a mausoleum. The lane was always noisy with pedestrians, bamboo-carts and huge trucks jostling with one another in an attempt to move. The trucks would enter the lane to weigh their loads in a weigh-bridge. Except that facility which increased the importance of the lane, it was a typical alley in the north of Calcutta: bleak, dirty and noisy.

Even in that densely populated corner of an old city, the garden knew how to hold the sunlight in summer and winter in its one huge banyan tree. In those thick and dense green banyan leaves with very thin red borders as well as in the numerous little creepers that couldn’t stifle their exuberance, the boy would discover the garden’s celebration. The creepers, with their newly found enthusiasm in the rainy season, would scale the walls and spill over, flooding the boy’s eyes with a varied shade of green and his nostrils with the scent of flowers still unknown to him. In those early days the sounds and smells around him were as fresh as his mind. He took as much interest in a carriage van his mother bought for him as in the leaves of a creeper that would behave so shyly and close its leaves and go almost crooked to his touch. They used to call it Lajjabati lata, the “shy creeper” — later when the boy grew up and went to school, he came to know that it was the Mimosa, a sensitive plant.

They lived in the cool and dark ground-floor rooms of a three-storied building. Perhaps it was darkness that always held the rooms in thrall since sunlight was too shy to enter a ground-floor flat. But the thin rays that escaped the walls and came to settle on the floor would give the boy a world of images that was renewed every day. For he would lie on the cot on lazy afternoons and watch the play of light and shade on the floor creating an unending collage. In the floor of his room he would find his Hansjarus gradually changing shape and transforming into Ramgarurs, his Arjun fighting on Krishna’s chariot, his Bhim with his mace and his knights and kings and princesses. Then as the day waned and sleep touched the boy’s eyes, the sunrays on the floor would seek the window sill. The birds would begin their frenzied chatter out his window and soon he would see nothing except the silent presence of an old gray wall that had lost some of its plaster. No one knew that in the dark floor of the room polished roughly with cement, the boy watched in amazement a fascinating slide show.

As the evening settled in, moonlight would have a greenish cast as it filtered through the windows. Its paleness would shed a flattering ambience to the whole room. Then the boy would watch his grandmother’s face as the silvery light would touch off phosphorescent sparks on her white hair. Moonlight would fall on grandma’s prominent nose and her amiable face, on her white sari that came down in ripples cascading from the shoulder to the floor, and she would either sit on the cot moving her legs back and forth or she would lapse into a long silence, her hands joined near her breast and her head bowed. Then the boy would wonder if she had fallen asleep or if she got stuck to the cot, and in an attempt to wake her up the boy would come near and shake her. Grandma would then come back to her senses and holding the boy close to her she would say with a chuckle: “What’s the matter, did a mosquito peck you?”

The garden was never devoid of wonders. There was a huge framed cage that would be filled with bluejays, rabbits or guinea pigs following the fancy of the landlord’s son. For the rabbits there were small white hills and caves and they would merrily move in and out of the caves and the boy would fly after them and put his hand inside the holes to try and catch them. There was a small mound of concrete in that garden, and later the boy would see some men entering it on Fridays, their head covered with scarves. They would stand around the concrete slab and pray and then they would go down on their knees to offer flowers. When the boy’s mother explained to him what a grave was, he would wonder if the person is still there beneath the soil of the garden. Henceforth he would never feel alone in the garden.

On rainy days the boy would seek the cool and dark corners of the ground-floor room. From there he could smell the earth in the soil of the flower pots and wondered how quickly the small green leaves sprouted. Sometimes when the rain came in torrents and the lane resembled a flowing stream he couldn’t go to school. Then in the dim light of early noon he would hear the Bihari cart-pullers play the tom-tom, singing in unison and creating quite a noise. The boy wanted to emulate the Biharis who pulled the carts carrying enormous loads. He would stand on the windowsill and perching his neck he would look in amazement over the high walls to their den full of logs of trees and bamboo poles, and all around there was the aroma of wet wood, new wood, rotten wood. In the midst of that chaos and chant, the thelawallas would eat their midday meal of rice and dal. They would eat from enamelled plates and would make nice, little depressed plateaus between those mounds of rice where they would put the curry so that every item of food would be piled on the same plate and they could do away with bowls. Then one day the boy asked her maid if he could eat rice and dal in enamelled plates like those Biharis and if he could have, somewhere in that ‘mountain’ of rice, a pit where to hide the curry!

early remembrances-1When the boy grew up a little, he loved fried eggs. In an attempt to make him face the world, his mother used to make him go to the old and bleak Mudikhana — the grocer’s shop which resembled the shop Apu’s Prasanna Master owned in Bibhutibhusan’s Pather Panchali. In that small place just above the footpath, the wiry shop-owner, his skin as dark as charcoal, would show the boy all his teeth as he almost grimaced with a smile. The boy had a strange fascination for that shop since he was struck by the presence of a small hole on the floor of the shop. There the man would put everything before he weighed them in his scale that hung from the ceiling dark with soot. He used to wonder how the floor was dented there. Was it created deliberately? Or was it a symbol of time’s destruction? Perhaps the concrete floor had worn out with repeated use and endless scratches, from heavy loads brought upon the floor with a thud and gradually it took the shape of a funnel without the tube. It served as a vessel for keeping things when the shop-owner needed to weigh them. The grocer would ask the boy about his father and his studies before he would stand up on his pedestal, get hold of the eggs securely preserved in a basket made of black wires and then would do a strange thing. He would take each and every egg between his two fingers and holding them up to a dim bulb, and closing one of his eyes and in an awkward and simultaneous gesture of blinking and staring hard which made the boy giggle, the grocer would try to see something inside the egg. That single action charmed the boy so much that one day when he returned, he told his maid that on growing up, he would be a grocer!