I had almost dragged my kids into the cinema Hall to see this. Why do you think we need to see this? It is not a children’s movie like FROZEN orAVENGERS.” My son said loudly. “It is about our country’s history! We must know about it.” I said vehemently. “Oh..just our country’s history! We are already reading it in our books. I do not want to study any more about it. I do not like History at all.” My daughter said in disgust. “You read very little of our country’s courageous History in your books.” I said.
The world of Tanhaji Balusare captivated us completely. We were transported to the times of magnificent forts and dense forests, and royal elephants and horses.
There were towering rock mountains which were only beaten by the valour of humans. Next came in the perpetrators of deceit and treachery and traitors and their accomplices. The latter destroy the fabric of the country and bring untold suffering on innocent masses for generations to come. This brought me back to the present. Man has made such strides in Science; that his lifestyle is such that Kings of yester-years would envy. He is even able to fly to the Moon. His moral fabric, has become increasingly tattered over a similar time period.
Have parents failed their children?
I do not know why the vociferous denunciation of the country, by its citizens in CAA protests, unsettled me deeply. Protests need not entail such derogatory comments and destruction of government property. It made me turn deep within. Why has LOYALTY become as rare as a DODO bird?
I hoped I would be able to inculcate such values in my children, that their deeds would never harm their own motherland. They should be proud of their country. Their existence should add and nurture the good in the world. It is my paramount duty as a mother.
Alas, the history that they read in their text-books falls woefully short of instilling pride in them. It does manage to inculcate a sense of worthlessness and self-pity.
Nowadays, all information is just a click away. Parents can fill in the void created by History books and instill a sense of pride for the country, in their children.
They need to remember and remind them, that we all, are guests in this world. For we are not invaders who have come to plunder and plough and to loot and kill. We all should do, whatever possible, to leave this country and the world a better place to live in.
I was returning home when I remembered I needed to buy some groceries. I did come across Malls on the way but preferred to buy them from small shops along the roadside. They had families to feed too. I am indispensable to them. Mall Owners do not need me.
A few people were already standing in one of the shops I frequented. I waited patiently for my turn. The shop keeper too had loads of it…patience I mean. He chatted, smiled, laughed and chewed a betel leaf, while giving each customer whatever he asked for, while I waited. A labourer waited beside me. His back was bent with sacks of rice and he was still waiting for more to be piled on him. My waiting was painless but his was not. ” Please give him whatever more he needs to carry on him.” I told the shopkeeper. He was exchanging long pleasantries with one of the customers. He stopped and gave the labourer a disdainful look. ” He is used to waiting. I have more important things to do.” He told me dismissively. ” Your more important things can wait. He is standing already bent with all that weight. Don’t you see that?” I told him. He called out to the helper inside and barked some orders, looking angry. Another big sack was put on the labourers back and he went away shuffling. While the shop keeper returned to his work; I quietly moved away. How can humans be so inhuman?
I had no wish to buy anything from that shop anymore. He could stack things in his shop because of that labourer. He could sell things in bulk because of him too. How was he not sensitive to his discomfort? Does just paying a few bucks in return suffice for all that hard labour?
We buy so many things for our daily subsistence everyday. Perhaps we should remember and thank all those faceless people, who with their tireless efforts, ensure a hot nourishing meal three times a day for us.
I crossed that shop everyday afer that incident, but refused to go and buy anything from there any more. Almost six months later, I was just passing by when my eyes fell on the Shop keeper. The moment our eyes met; he looked down with guilt on his face. I know not why I felt guilty too. I moved towards the Shop smiling. I had a long list in my hands.
A nice, old and sleepy centre stood among the hills, almost hidden by the tall green trees. It had taken almost three hours to reach here. Approximately, half of the journey was along roads; which were being broadened. Thick trunks of trees lay along the road on either side, cut and left there to dry. It pained me no end. They must have stood for fifty years or more perhaps, providing shade and oxygen. Will we able to grow such trees again? All were being sacrificed at the altar of mindless development.
In one place, a JCB was being used to cut a tall Euclyptus tree. It had raised its claws almost vertically and was cutting onto the higher part of the tree. The cuts looked greenish and sap was running out of it. I felt as if it was bleeding with these superficial cuts. Few cuts with the axe and it would not be so painful perhaps. They too deserve some respect in their last moments. To top it all, people had crowded around the JCB and were laughing. I missed out completely on the mirth. I had become one with the tree.
The centre was crowded with patients. But there was no dearth of sitting places. Thick roundrels of tree trunks of different colours, about one foot high each, were placed everywhere, neatly arranged along the walls. ” I just told my staff to go and collect a few tree trunks from those lying on the road and got them cut. They look nice, isn’t it?” The Incharge of that Centre asked me. “Yes, they do. It’s a pity so many trees are being cut like this.” I told him. ” The roads have to be made broad. How long will we travel on these narrow roads?” He said. ” Hmmm. We did not meet many vehicles on the way.” I told him. ” Have you seen the road which is made already? A four lane road for us to zoom away.” He said, happily. “Ya, a four lane modern road leading to a village like small town.” I said quietly. He stared at me, shrugged his shoulders and moved off.
We rapped up our work in another five hours or so. My staff had become very deft in their work. Such was the dedication that, one of them held a urine sample of a patient in his left hand while grabbing cookies with another during tea break. I ticked him off. ” Do not come near me with that kind of a spectacle in your hands next time.” I told him. “I will have to test this for sugar.” He answerwd, smiling broadly.
In the midst of all work, ten minutes time can be solely dedicated to nourishing this temple of a body, isn’t it?
When we started back, the sky was still bright. Along the way, the sky turned a dark orange and then started fading. Lots of JCB’s remained suspended in the hills, hanging precariously, clawing at the brown soil repeatedly. I thought they looked like the extinct Dinosaurs of yester years; ferocious and monstrous. I craned my neck outside the window to have a better look at them. They seemed to defy gravity, hanging miles above us like that… A particular red coloured huge one, loomed above us at a distance, atop a hill. The moment our vehicle reached near it, it suddenly made a one hundred and eighty degree turn and lurched downwards towards us at a great speed! We all yelled in fright together. The huge claws had almost picked us up along with the vehicle by then. It then suddenly came to a stop. After releasing us gently, it turned upwards, back to work. ” Sorry….it was the Handyman driving.” Someone yelled from the hills. It was turning dark. We were more than relieved and happy to be on the road again. Even though we reached home safely in another two hours; my heart kept jumping wildly within. What a day it was! The next day; I was narrating that incident most solemnly to my colleagues in the Doctor’s room, near the operation theatre. General, Orthopaedic surgeons and Ophthalmic ones came for a tea break in between operations. These guys laughed their hearts out. ” Really you provide us the much needed break. You go for an eye camp and on the way back, the JCB comes down and scoops you all up and puts you on a hilltop. Can you imagine how ridiculous that is?” One of them laughed helplessly as he said this. ” I did not go and sit on a hilltop inside a car. Do not exaggerate.”I retorted. “News paper headlines. Dr Sapna left atop a tree on a hill. Coutsey: JCB.” Said another. The scene came alive and vibrant in front of my mind’s eye this time, and all of us broke into a collective laighter. Finally with that, my heart beat became normal again and remained so for a long time.
The road shone black and winding up and down. The Gypsy sped along it. It was autumn. Leaves had turned red and orange with yellow tinge. The Sun shone bright reflected in the shining stars from the stream that ran along the road, almost parallel. Black rocks jutted out of it at intervals. Some were more inviting than the others, on account of being flat topped.
I imagined myself sitting on one of them; my feet dipped in the waters. I almost jumped up in my seat. The water felt so cold. ..
Imagination works wonders. Try it once. Imagine such a place where you can put your feet into the water, close your eyes, and feel the flowing water draw out your tensions, dissolve them in it and take it away for ever. One then becomes one with the silence within. Only the river gurgles away; outside and inside us…
Presently the Gypsy had climbed down the hills and was racing in the plains. Acres and acres of rice fields, ripe with the grain stood proudly, showing off the fruitful labour of the farmers and the mother earth.
In the midst stood a small single hut like structure raised almost two metres high by thick bamboo stems. We stopped in front of one and made our way to it through a slender pathway in the fields. We lifted ourselves into the hut like structure, using the bamboo rails made into steps. I sincerely hoped my weight would not leave signs of devastation on those rickety steps. There sitting on the hay floor and watching the air create wave like ripples in the fields; we had some snacks and tea. Half an hour sped away. Cleaning up carefully, behind us; we now embarked on the difficult part of our journey. It another fifteen minutes, we turned a sharp left and entered a brown path. These paths made by walking men, always made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. The forest lined with tall trees and almost turning the day dark, coupled with such elusive paths made me scared. I. Of course, made a brave face, at the face of it. ” You know these paths well. Isn’t it?” I asked the driver. ” Of course Madam. If we do get lost; we can always find someone and ask the way.” He said, nonchalantly. ” Actually there is not enough time to get lost and found again. If we are too late, all patients will run away. It is already 12p.m. So be careful and see that I reach where I am supposed to, at the earliest.” I told him. He shook his head. I too shook mine. Here I am so worried and here he is, with absolutely no qualms of going the wrong way. “We better go the other way. It is faster.” One of my staff said from behind.
The driver looked at me. “Will it be OK for you Madam?” I nodded. If it was ok for everyone else; it should be for me too. We soon neared a clearing and the wheels ran over fields. “Well, where is the path?”
They all kept quiet. ” Actually there is no road.” The driver said sheepishly. There was a large river…right in front of us.
On the opposite bank, seemed to be a path in the jungle. Tall trees stood in close association… Where are we heading to? Where is the road? In answer, the Gypsy put up more speed and before I could gasp, the Gypsy along with us had plunged into the river! I almost screamed out aloud. ” Close your eyes Madam.” The driver said reassuringly. I could hear laughter behind me. I closed my eyes. But, panic striken, opened them again. We were right in the river. Water was flowing away steadily. The Gypsy was not moving. ” We are stuck, right in here. Isnt it?” I asked him. “No Madam, I am actually driving.” I looked at his hands on the steering wheel and then at my staff behind. “He actually is driving. The river bed is full of pebbles. It makes a nice road.”One of them informed. “There is nothing to worry at all Madam.” Another staff assured me. I felt more anxious at that. Probably they all knew how to swim. I did not. But the mirth in their faces, did make me relax a bit. Then when I looked outside, it felt beautiful. I seemed to be a Swan, gliding silently amd slowly in a sea of calm waters. The Sun rays made the water glisten and I wished I could just open the door and dip my feet in it. When the vehicle gave a nose up and we ascended on to the stony ground, I felt a tinge of disappointment. It was all over, a little too fast.
From there on, the road became bumpier. What a great relief it was; when the camp area came to sight! Strangely, contrary to my own expectation, I felt cool and relaxed. Did that water ride have something to do with it?
Many years back, I was working in a primary health centre. I had just finished my internship then. The PHC catered to a large population and I being the lone Allopathy doctor; my hands were quite full always. I was also sent for training to do tubectomy operations and once my hands became deft; I literally was instructed to travel far and wide twice every week. This was done after completion of my routine out patient duties at my posting place first. Many times I returned in the wee hours of the morning. Needless to say that; I wished for some respite every day.
Under such circumstances, when a letter arrived with orders to do a health camp every month or so at a place, almost seven hours away, my face fell. We set off early morning at about 6.30 a.m. After a long arduous journey, we reached a village in the midst of a jungle. Rows of thatched houses stood one after the other on either side of the roads. It was a small colony with almost all residents growing some vegetables and flowers.
I saw a huge well surrounded with dry trees there. Since it was summer season then; the land was parched and seemed panting with tiredness and thirst. A few ladies were drawing water from the well. The examination room overlooked it. Soon patients started flowing in and my team set to work earnestly. One thing constantly intrigued me. There were no children and adults. The village seemed to be only having many old people. I, in my life, had never seen such a village. Once we finished and the medicines and other paraphrenelia had been packed, I inquired about it. My staff knew not the answer.
I had felt another very disturbing thing too. There was a distinct animosity in the air. It was so palpable that it kind of unsettled me to the core. I had watched my other staff all along. “This is a different kind of a village, isnt it?” I had asked one of the nurses. “Ya, it is. They are not Maharashtrians.” She said, nonchalantly, shrugging her shoulders. That, of course, I had understood long back. They seemed Bengalees to me. I can recognise one of my clan, if I might say so. Besides their language was a mix of Bengali, Hindi and some spicy Marathi sprinkling. I was overcome many a time with the urge to break into my mother tongue; but the invisible wall had stopped me.
But now I wanted to go into the crux of the matter. We had brought ample medicines and calcium, vitamin tablets and iron tonics. We had served them to the best of our capacity. What exactly was wrong there?
I called an old lady and asked her gently.
” Why did no kid and adult attend this camp here today? This was meant for all.” I asked her, gently.
I had inadvertently opened a Pandora box.
She said angrily,” How can they come if they are not here in the first place? We came here way back in 1971; to escape the riots in our country, Bangladesh. From then onwards; you people have kept us here. You only give 12 kgs of rice and a few kgs of wheat and some lentils.( I have forgotten the exact figures here.) You think that is enough? Have you given jobs to our children? How can they survive here?The situation is back to normal now. They have all gone back to our own country. Why will they stay here? They have jobs, land everything there. What have you Indians done for us?” She asked angrily. I was at a complete loss of words. ” Now they have come here to please us with medicines! As if, we need those medicines of yours. You can take them back.” Another added in anger.
I started feeling angry within. Incidentally, we had a Senior Additional District Medical Health Officer with us. He quickly signalled me to move away from there. He took over.
” We are so sorry that we have not been able to live upto your expectations. I will definitely take up the matter with the concerned administration at the earliest. Please follow the advice regarding medicines. Thank you so much for the co_operation.” He said, smiling, his head down with folded hands. It was too much of a spectacle for me to witness. I made my way towards my own vehicle.
I saw a few of them smiling.
” We will come back again. Probably in the next month…” He informed them before leaving.
I sat quietly in the back seat of the Gypsy. The Director sat in front. Still seething with discontent; I maintained a stoic silence. My stomach was growling and the vehicle seemed to be burning at the 45 degree ambient temperature. My throat was parched and my bottle was empty. Those were the days, when waterbottles and chips and other foodstuff were not available everywhere. So all added up to my seething anger within.
” Young doctors need to grow a heart.” He spoke after some time.
” You need to understand them.They have no one.” He added.
“Ungrateful beings! We let them stay here, give them regular ration, hold camps for them..and God knows what…and what do they do? They address us as ‘YOU INDIANS’! They have been here for close to twenty five years and they know no loyalty , no respect for my country?’I thought all this but did not voice it.
“Why don’t they go back to their own country then? Why don’t they go back to their own children? Who needs them anyway?” I said, as calmly as I could. But it probably was not enough, for the Director turned towards me with shock on his face. I turned silent again. I remembered my own Grade 4 attendant back in the PHC. He was M.A. in two subjects. Such was his aura of dignity and knowledge; that I hated telling him to bring this and clean that kind of a thing. We were not able to give jobs to our own country men. There were lakhs and lakhs of educated people waiting for jobs and here were they, demanding them.
” You have a long way to go if you really want to be a competent government official. Learn to think wearing their shoes.” He said and departed when we reached his destination.
” I have no wish to be that. I will not bend over backwards to please prople. I will leave this job at the next opportunity.” I thought at this.
It was already 9.30 pm by then. I was another one and a half hour away from my destination. We stopped at a dhaba and had some snacks and water. It cleared the cobwebs out of my brains, a bit.
As the vehicle moved again; I was thinking that if one person from each such refugee family; had been given a job; they would have regained some dignity. Their children and kids would have been with them. It would have been a complete village; not like an old age home. But would they have been happy? Well, that was a debatable issue. The roots of their own motherland were so deep, that new ones could never replace them. When roots of big trees are cut off, most of them die.
But then, there are those trees who strive to grow new roots, spread out, thrive and prosper and give shade and solace too. I remembered many people like that, of my own family tree, with gratitude. I owe my life to them.
Old pleasant memories hold a pride of place in the heart. They are like foot prints in the sands of time.
My old workplace, Tura Civil Hospital was nestled among the hills. Come November and the hospital was full of aromas of oranges. Patients footfall decreased probably in anticipation of the chimes of Christmas bells. I have always wondered at this. Probably gaiety in the heart drives sickness away. Have you noticed that happy people seldom fall sick?
In our free time, we sipped the orange segments with grounded chillies and salt combination. I used to almost double up on my chair in the chill of the mountain air. Once the chillies went in, imaginary vapours rushed out of my ears and I could sit quite upright for quite some time at a stretch. The sounds waves of carols being practiced for Christmas spread all around, lenting a unique festivity to the air. I loved it.
Then there was the Party to look forward to. All the doctors and staff would join together at the right earnest for it. There was a big frontyard in front of the AYUSH complex. Tall green hills on the opposite side gazed down at it. Temporary fireplaces were made wirh big stones arranged on three sides of a circle. Long slices of thick dry wood went into it. When the flames leapt out; I made myself scarce. Cooking in firewood had never been my cup of tea.
By the way, no one had any expectation from me. My countenance and disposition was such, that it inspired no confidence in others, as far as my cooking and cutting skills were concerned. I was fine cutting a few tomatoes here and a few chillies there and did not mind it at all. Rest of the time I spent drinking tea and watching others work. ..
The flames leapt in a way, that I thought the huge utensils would go up in flames. They didnt. The flames calmed down and the logs turned red. In came the male genre of the species. General and Orthopaedic surgeons and Ayurvedic physicians left their scalpels behind, tied a ‘gamocha’ over their clothes and middles, and took up the spatulas and ladles. Fish and chicken, mutton and paneer, vegetables and chillies went into the oil in different utensils, and the aromas were such that … they defy description.
The ladies for once, took a backseat and left all the gallantry to the gentlemen. I secretly thought they were loving it. In their own homes; their gallantry is on, the year around. So why not spread your feet out on the grass and sing some ooh..la la..and chew some betel nuts and leaves and speak to the dozen; while the Sun shone brightly above? So they did exactly that.
Once cooking was over, the prayers were said with utmost devotion. I almost felt that Jesus had come down to bless us all.
While the stomach growled louder in anticipation, the moment of the day arrived. The Sun had almost turned orange in the West by then.
The tastes still linger in my mouth. Firewood adds a distinct aroma to the food. If it is coupled by the company of friends, the gaity of talk, the chirping of birds and the bite of cool mountain air….it becomes an unbeatable experience. Isn”t it?
May Christ Bless Us All.
May his Divine light guide us all.
Merry Christmas in advance to all of you.
Please note:. I have lost the actual photographs. Images here sourced from Google.
Our ancestral village is in a Majdia, a small town in West Bengal. The last time I had been there was long ago, but it still stands out distinctly in my memory. An old house stood in the midst of a large unkempt garden. It almost looked as if it was a part of the wild. I loved it. One could go searching in the nooks and corners and find some eggs laid. Imagine the excitement of kids then! There was a huge lake, the waters of which came in little waves to our feet when we sat on the lower steps leading to the house. A boat or two could be seen far away. Some men waited with their nets hoisted in the water. We kids were excited beyond words. Imagine catching your own fish, frying and eating it too! But our excitement was short lived.
My mother’s paternal aunt who stayed there was a pure vegetarian. She could not imagine fishy things spoiling the sanctity of her kitchen. Kitchen was a revered place where everything was cooked with total devotion, after cleansing oneself with a bath and prayers to the divine. Foods fit to be offered to the Gods, was made to feed the part of him, which resides within us.
We had undertaken a long journey. My stomach particularly was growling. I stole a look at the store along side the kitchen. I saw only rice and dal stored in tall glass containers. My grandmother eyed me with a smile and said, “Do not worry. I will soon serve you hot and tasty food.” I smiled back, not very convinced. She lighted the logs and soon a gay fire was burning. While rice boiled in one big utensil and dal in another,she called me to accompany her. “Put on your chappals. No rushing about without them.” She said. We went with a little cane basket to the garden. We plucked some broad beans, brinjal, a small pumpkin and broke some tender shoots of it. We dug out a few raddish and carrots. She shredded some jackfruit seeds and went about cutting and mixing it all together before cooking it. Within an hour or so, we were all sitting crosslegged on thick cotton mats on the floor, savouring one of the tastiest meals ever made. Food fit for the God’s are really made with the simplest of things.
Celebration to remember The Sun arose in the east as usual today morning but the heart was not the same. It seemed more alive today with pleasant expectations. Saying a quick prayer, I grabbed the phone. I could not wait to start reading the birthday wishes. How nice it felt reading and rereading those wondrous words. I felt like a balloon being inflated deliciously slowly. Then it just plopped off all of a sudden. This was by the prick of sudden remembrance of the ‘To Do’ list of today morning. I rushed through the usual chores of making breakfast and lunch, pushing the kids in the bathrooms for a reluctant bath and then coerced them to come out of it so that the piping hot breakfast did not become frozen. Meanwhile the clock continued to race. As I gulped down some breakfast and made my way to the hospital, I prayed that I would not be given too many serious and dying patients to be dealt with today. Even after being for years in this medical field; any patient in distress still sends my heart racing. In spite of all our efforts, some patients will just not survive. We can never conquer death. My prayers were heard. We got a string of accident victims, medico legal assault cases, alcoholics and drug addicts but none were really serious. Retracing my steps back home, I felt spent. I just craved for some rest. My enthusiasm has dwindled over the years. I came back to an empty nest. Children were away for classes. As I put on the lights, the whole house seemed to be twinkling. My kids had used whatever material they could lay their hands on to dress up the house. Long circuit banners made with different coloured papers of their scrap book, cut painstakingly in triangles, hung stuck to thick cotton strings of garments from the ceilings. Interspersed were different hued balloons placed strategically. A small placard hung, held down properly with a set of dividers from the ‘geometry’ box! ‘Let’s Party.’ I had had no wish for it earlier, but I felt differently now. A little later, they bursted in overflowing with enthusiasm, along with a couple of neighbouring kids. “We will get a cake for you!” They ejaculated. I did not have the heart to restrain them. Coming back with loads of bags they restricted my entry to their room until called upon. I heard the loads of laughter and hushed whispers emanating and could not help smiling. Soon I was called in, the lights went on, balloons burst sprinkling tit bits of papers, songs were sung and I was led to the table to cut the cake. But the cake looked like a big ‘DHOKLA’! “It is alright Mamma. The cake shops were closed on account of it being Sunday evening. So we brought this instead.” Among the sounds of ‘Happy Birthday’, I cut the Dhokla and while we shared it, I must admit that I did not miss the cake in any way. The kids are now dancing. Chips, Momos, Rossogollas and soft drinks are doing the rounds. My son in his enthusiasm has dipped a potato chip in red spicy momo chutney by mistake. His elder sister is stuffing sugar in his mouth. The others are roaring with laughter at this faux pas. I just let them be. Life is after all a celebration. Celebration in little things. How seldom we forget it.
The month long festive period has come to an end. It all started with the run up to Durga Puja. All that saree shopping and matching accessories search, non withstanding the extended buying for kids and relatives ended when Durga Ma came home. A whirlwind week of enthusiasm and gaiety, pushpanjali and pandal hopping followed. Steaming ‘Khichudi’ and Labra with little side dishes left us wanting for more. For once we did not mind waiting in long queues to partake of this.
Nothing can beat the beats of a ‘Dhaak’. It seems the beats enter into our system, and sets each cell reverberating in unision with it. The whole universe seems to be dancing to it. I seem to be going into a ‘trance” then.
Then comes Laxmi Puja, Kali puja and Bhaiphota. Diwali is ‘Kali Puja’ for the Bengalees. Ma Durga’s another appearence in that form before bidding us good bye.
Now she too has left. The beautifully done Pandals are being dismantled. The little roadside shops selling snacks, crackers, flowers etc. have disappeared. The dhakis who play the ‘Dhak’ are no longer seen or heard. The visible joyousness has disappeared. The brothers have gone back after the visit to their sister’s homes with a promise to ‘ protect’ them.
Women were frail before, needing protection of brothers and husbands. Now they wish to
stand up on their own and ‘protect’ instead. Why not? When the essence of Ma Durga and Ma Kali reside in them, who can stand against them?
The celebrations are long since over but the bliss persists like a soft fragnance that lingers….