Green  Gate, Punya Maali and Gautam Ghose

I returned home from office around seven in the evening. I saw my daughter and son were glued to the small t.v.set. Those days we had a black and white one,  and one of them shouted “Dad join us, this is a good tele-film, about a village doctor.. its by Gautam Ghose” . I just glanced and said appreciatively “oh it is by Gautam… my personal friend !” To this both of them gazed at me for a while and then together they burst into a loud laughter ! “Dad, what is a ‘personal friend’….”. I lost my words trying to utter something “ well… it is like…. I mean”. At this juncture my wife came to my rescue and said “why not come to the dining room …. I will get you a hot cup of tea “. I simply followed her and almost ran out from the spot.

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We were studying at a missionary school in south Calcutta. It was quite an old school run by the Anglican Missionary, located on a main street complete with quite a big church. We had two entrance gates…. Green ornamentaly iron-cast. The one leading to the cathedral 3church portico was the main entrance. This was managed by Punya Mali. As the name suggests, Punya was basically a gardener… the school  indeed had some scattered garden….. but he also doubled as the gate-keeper. We also had another identically designed large gate at another side of the school, behind the church, beside the small grave-yard. Yes, this too was coloured green. This gate was always kept locked… and it was at a secluded place.

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That day four of us assembled behind the church. Ataul explained that he will stand just at the corner end of the church, I am to stand a bit far on the passage… my job was to warn if anyone is seen coming this way. The mission was to arrange a safe passage to Niloo and Gautam, so that they can scale the tall green gate .. jump and escape…. . As

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Thanks to Facebook ! I found the exact spot, after so many decades ! I was behind the bush !

planned both Niloo and Gautam reached near the gate. Niloo first climbed the gate. Half-way through he threw the leather sandals onto the road outside. And then he jumped on the road with ease . It was then the turn of Gautam.  Gautam always wore black heavy shoes-  he was almost on top of the gate. And then the inevitable happened ! I saw Punya Mali coming to this side. I got nervous and signaled  “Ata… Punya !” On his turn Ata warned the duo about ensuing Punya’s arrival on the site !. But, Punya suddenly halted and made an about turn . And vanished  into some class room somewhere !

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There was a popular cinema hall in Colootola named Moonlight. It was popular among student film-lovers because of its convenient show timings…. it had a noon show…. From 12 noon to 2.30 p.m. Which meant that students could attend school , mark their attendance around 10, and , even  go through an entire 45 minutes first period. And could still watch a movie and return home, at times even return back to the school to attend the last period !

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cathedral 2 (2)We were about 7 or 8 of us, most of us studying  in the eighth standard. It was tiffin break and we would all assemble at the dark class room near the stair case. Niloo and Gautam would tell us about the film they watched the previous day. It was normally a narration on rotation. Both of them were good story tellers. It was in one of those sessions we heard the entire story of of Devdas – complete with Gautam’s role play of Dilip Kumar’s last scene…. I can still remember him showing how to tremble the lips.. and almost whisper “Paro” .

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It was on a session like this that we heard the story of  Hum Dono – complete with  the song  “Mai Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhataa Chala Gaya” rendered by Gautam. Gautam had a deep voice with good resonance. He was a perfectionist who would get upset if you pronounced “Zindagi” as “Jindagi”…. And often he would reprimand Niloo about his awful  hindi or urdu pronunciation, on narrating a film dialogue !

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When we reached at the crossing of Rustamjee Street it was evening . The occasion was a cultural show.  A stage was built, even if it was an open air show. Chairs were laid on all three sides of the narrow street junction. (It is the lane next to Mukti World now, near Ballygunge Phari) . Soon the play “Thana Theke Aschi” started. As usual Gautam and Niloo were in the lead roles. Niloo looked awful  wearing an over sized attire of a polce inspector. It was a good show, both of them acted well, full house… and the audience often applauded with clap.  So, this can be termed as Gautam’s first public directorial venture !

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I was intently watching the meat seller so that he should not  fool me on the correctness of the weight of the meat when there was a heavy pounding on my shoulder “Hi, I did not know you come to this Park Circus meat market too”! It was Niloo. Both of us were now with changed looks.  After we hugged for a while Niloo said “Guess who was at my home last week ?  Ha, ha.. it was Gautam” ! What he explained was like this. Niloo has married a Christian girl. He has two daughters. They are quite grown up…. college goers.  As usual Niloo used to tell his children about the good old school days. And somehow  had mentioned to them that Gautam was his close friend. His daughters never believed him .And then suddenly one Sunday Gautam appeared in flesh at their home and spent the whole day- including having a family lunch ! .

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I hurriedly returned from the market and narrated the whole story of meeting Niloo to my Children. Both of them smiled and started pulling my leg “So the moral of the story is ‘mera number kab ayega’ !

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“Gautam, izzat bacha le yaar, kabhi toh mera bhi ghar aya kar …..”

 

 

 

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Tagore : Yesterday – Today

As usual  little Deep was given this important duty to look after the stage area. The stage was a nicely cleaned space on the bare ground, a thin layer of clay pasted neatly. Come Tagore Birth Anniversary – Rabindra Jayanti as it is popularly called in Bengal, there will be a cultural show organized by Deep’s family ! While Deep’s three elder sisters will take part in all the performances – group dance, recitation, songs, drama – all written by Tagore, Deep’s role will be to look after the stage made under the “Foroz”  Flower tree.  This is a kind of paper-like white flower bloom abundantly… it has no fragrance.. but they look nice.

IMG1176It is customary to make a nice design on the floor of the stage… normally with chalk powder or lime powder… or  rice powder. It is Deep’s elder sister who has the enthusiastic single handed work every year to draw this nice floral design  (kollam or alpana). This year she could not get her hands on any of the powders…. So it was her innovative idea to work out an alternative and she did the design using Wheat Flower.  It was done in the morning and till afternoon it did not dry up yet. So, Deep had the additional duty to see that no one comes near it and spoil it.

It is now after noon, already two old aunts have come. The ground rule is that the audience should carry their own sitting stool or a small mat. Deep made a small trip nearby to call some more aunts and grandmas and soon returned to his duty spot, and, lo behold….. the floral design had now become just half ! The other half just vanished ! Deep was perplexed as to what had happened. He soon felt a sharp pull in his right ear….. it was his elder sister, already with a heavy make up for her dance performance !

“Where were you ? Look what has happened”. At this point Deep noticed Booli, the pet hen of the house, gulping her last bit of Maida Flower …. She must have had a stomach-full of early dinner with the readily available floral design made with wet-maida –flower.

Soon the cultural function started. There was a good crowd, consist of mostly aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas. This event ground is in fact a common entrance passage for the houses inside this campus, and, the programmes were often interrupted  by inmates walking through !

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IMG1190Today is the Tagore Birth Anniversary. Rianna and Ruhani, our grand daughters were draped in Sarees. Some one got hold of a tagore picture, and a make-shift picture frame was made with hard board (in the olden days every household had at least one large glass-framed Tagore photo !). Foroz flowers were gathered and they were placed near the picture.

We had a short dance programme performed by little Rianna and Ruhani… under the same Foroz tree. The tree is still there and gives a lot of flowers….. perhaps to proclaim that some things never change… Thank God !

 

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Grandmas and Aunts still attend the function as audience !

A Wristwatch Named Sona !

Today is a very special day for Deep. The School Final Board Exam starts today. The exam centre is a bit far away, and, he has to catch a public bus which is normally crowded. Hence he has to set out a bit early, so that he can afford to avoid boarding on a crowded one, and try the next one. It is at that moment someone asked “do you have a  wristwatch to carry ?”  Deep did not have one, and everyone agreed that he needed to carry one. There are two exam-papers to appear today. Each of two  hours  duration. One has to calculate judiciously time allocation for attempting each of the six long questions on every session ! Those days the fashion was to write long exam papers, especially on the literature subjects.  Deep’s dad said “ My elder sister had an old watch, let me check if it still works”. Soon he took out the same from a tin trunk. He wound the spring key till the end, and after a bit shaking it started rolling. It was a square dialled wrist watch…. she was a health nurse and Deep did not have any hesitation to wear it. After all the exams were over, about a week later, Deep returned the watch to his father…. after all it is a memory item for his father, and, it was placed back to the tin trunk.

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Deep is now in college doing his university studies. He still did not manage to have a watch on his own….. and yes, bringing out the same-old watch during exam days continued during university exams too during next 3 Years. During this period Deep DSCN2682got interested to own a wrist watch….. an Indian brand called HMT. There was a small outlet of this brand on the Park Street in Calcutta, at a departmental store called Hall & Anderson. One has to stand in a queue early in the morning, and, the limited number of pieces was always got exhausted within an hour and a large number of people never got a chance to procure the watches…. they always came back the next day a bit earlier to try their luck again.

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Deep’s first job, right after his university education was  in Bangalore. His office was at a tall building called Unity Building, and, lo behold there was an outlet of HMT watches. Deep never missed to spend time peeping through the show-windows on the various watches. Kamat Restaurant was  on the same building…. so this is how the rest of the lunch break was spent! He was very encouraged to note that there was not much crowd, and, they had enough stock. On the first salary  day he decided to buy a watch.  The salary he got was 265/-. In fact the salary was 300/- ,but, 35/- was deducted as p.f. During that after noon very boldly he entered the show-room and  he was happy that the salesman in the counter very  sincerely showed him various models. Two models he liked, one named Janata…. it was the cheapest available… Rs. 99/-.  Then there was this model  called Sona  costing Rs. 125/-.Deep felt it was a bit costly one, but so what… after all it is his hard earned money any way !

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It is a regular jouney now, to and fro Bangalore. Deep always preferred to have a long bath at the Madras station  on his way from Bangalore to Calcutta. Madras was the change over station.  This trip was not an exception. By the time he came out of the washroom, it was already time to catch the connecting train to Calcutta. He was literally running on the platform…. it was at the time he had a feeling that some one was shouting and was trying to catch up with him behind…. he too was almost running. Deep stopped, and looked behind… and he realised that this gentle man was indeed waiving at him from behind. He came near Deep. He was a dhoti clad middle aged man and spoke good English “ I was at the next wash basin when you were washing your face…. I saw you placing your watch at one corner of your wash basin. And then you hurriedly turned back , started running towards the platform without taking your watch ! Since then I was chasing you…. but I was no match for you…. you were too fast !”  Deep profusely thanked the gentleman, and,  Sona was back to its rightful owner !

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It was a long flight from Bangalore. I was again working at this city after a gap of about 15 years. I always felt  very cold during  a flight and always carried a heavy sweater.  I always put the sweater on before boarding at the craft and seldom took it out.  The flight almost reached Calcutta when I took out the sweater, folded them neatly, stashed it in the carry bag before landing.  When I reached home it was already late night. I took out the coins, a few rupee notes  ( I do not carry a money purse !) from the trouser’s pocket…. it was at this point Pakhi, my wife,  noticed that I have the watch but only the disc ! All the golden dial needles…. even the glass cover vanished…. it is a good for nothing piece now !  Was it at the Bangaloe guest house, that it got broke.. that I must have dashed with the door or something ? No, it could not be…. I checked my watch several times when the  flight had a delayed departure.  “Don’t bother, it was any way an old one…. it is not a great issue to be upset about”- my wife was trying to console me.  Frankly, I felt sorry….. I was sure even if I wanted,  I could not get it renovated……HMT never made those models any more !

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It is winter again ! Time for the warm clothing to show their faces again. Since morning Pakhi  is busy washing sweaters of varied colours and sizes for all the family members. Suddenly she rushed to me in the front room and said “tell me if I give you something very dear to you, what prize would you give me !”  “Well, well may be a dinner in the nearby Chinese Restaurant for all ……. but tell me what it is “ ?  She opened her palm… lo behold…. here they are…..  the  needles of my Sona….. the second-needle…. the minute-needle…. the hour-needle. They look more glittery now with a gentle soap wash.  “They were all stuck in your sweater…… and next time you take out your sweater please remove your wrist watch first”.

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With the advent of mobile phones none of us use watches any more. Not even Sona makes any guest appearance any more, except for photo-shoot for a blog write-up like this !

 

The era of wrist watch is gone. Mobile phone  has replaced it. But Sona lives on…….

Storage !

Rijul is a high school student in his last year of schooling, and all busy these days preparing for his final exam. Computer is his favourite subject. He was very enthusiastically teaching his grandpa about storage.

“You see, first it was kb.  Then mb… that is megabyte,   then gb… and now it is tb…. you can virtually store anything….. for many many years …do you get anything ” ?

Me, the grandfather was not sure was able to grasp all that he was telling…

dadu1My  mind went far far away. Yes, we too had a storage-system….. a brown all leather briefcase ! This was the all important Storage System for us.  My father was very meticulously keeping things here….. a large variety of things…. our house ownership documents,  school and university certificates of all his four children, their exam marksheets, bank pass books (hand written!), a small red plastic case for smaller but vvip items like a few gold bangles of my mother .. my passport, pension nomination papers… Wow !And any other things which he thought should be stored safely.

dadu2Those were before the xerox age. Thus often we asked him for school certificates or marksheets and we would neatly copy-write them with blue ink pen on plain paper and get it attested by a Govt. Officer, for all our practical purposes. He would several time give us reminder to get the original returned. Once he got them back he will again store them in the Storage Box.

Well, listening up to this point, our Rijul was all perplexed and amused !

dadu4After a  little while I called him again and handed over to him the Real Storage.  He was indeed baffled to find some items still lying safe in the Storage  …. a bank pass book – hand calcuted ,  the “red box” … it had a few blades which he did not believe were used for actual shaving,  a cloth-made money purse with a few 10paise coins (he never knew that such coins existed !)

Sindoor

Pakhi, my wife was from a small town near our city of Calcutta. It was just a few days after our marriage, and, we were setting out to a relative’s house. It was a part of the usual invitation which normally follows the marriage ceremony. She took a quick

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Mother’s Sindoor Pot. Sandal Wood work from Bangalore

bath, wore a saree and it was then that we realised that there was no Sindoor-Pot! ( Every married Bengali woman prefers to apply a streak of vermillion or sindoor to the parting of her hair. This vermillion or sindoor is kept in a special pot). Very shyly she asked whether my mother would have any sindoor-pot ! It was a legitimate query as on those days, putting on sindoor for Christian women were not very common. But my mother used to always put on sindoor, every day after bath. I assured her that my mother had one and I brought the sindoor-pot for Pakhi for that day.

 

It was then I realised that for Pakhi putting on sindoor was very important, and, that she does not have any sindoor-pot. I assured her that I would buy her a sindur-pot.

I was on touring job then ( and even now, of course the number of tours is less now for obvious reason) and on return from a trip I brought for her a nice sindoor-pot. I picked

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Hyderabad near charminar,

it up from Hyderabad near Charminar.

 

During the next tour I asked her what I should bring for her ! She just smiled and said “You bring whatever you think best”. When I returned from this trip I opened a small packet and asked her “Guess what gift I brought for you?”

She said “ You show me what it is”. Lo behold…. it was a sindoor pot ! We both burst into a loud laughter !

Thereafter for several years, it almost became a ritual to bring a sindoor-pot from various parts of the land of varied designs, until our children were big enoughto do a bit of leg-pulling for this blunt gift idea !

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Soft Stone work from Khurdah, Odhisa

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Designed on real konch-shell . Puri Sea Beach, Odhisa

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Nicely crafted with sea-shells. Kanya Kumari , Tamil Nadu

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Mirron crafts from Jaipur, Rajasthan

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Brass work of Uttar Pradesh. Lucknow

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Wood work. Chennai, Tamil Nadu

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White Stone-Carving : Agra, Uttar Pradesh

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Coloured Stone. Cuttack, Odhisa

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Pix: Srichandra V

 

 

Pre-Christmas in Kolkata : Then & Now !

dsc_0022In our teen age days the pre-Christmas outing was a visit to the New Market. We are located at an extreme end locality in South Calcutta and this visit to the central Calcutta was some thing great for us. I always eagerly awaited for the day. My grandpa would come around noon, a few days before Christmas, and we will set out for this journey to the wonder-land ! I always narrated about this dream outing to my grand children – they are 3 in number. The elder one Rijul, who is at his final class of schooling, always had many interesting queries about  this… my olden days New Market trip !

This Christmas I promised Rijul to take him on a similar pre-Christmas trip to New dsc_0016Market. More than him, I was the one who was keen on re-living history !

dsc_0014When we reached near the main entrance the area was too crowded and there was a near stampede situation. Ah.. that was the Light House Cinema…. this is the spot where there were some head-loaders… they will come running with a large bamboo basket…. go along nmwith you to collect whatever you buy from the New Market… carry the load on their head and at the end of your shopping, come to the taxi stand and put all the packets inside the taxi neatly…. and finally be happy with whatever bakhsis (tips) you offer… after all its the festive time ! I was feeling sorry that none of them were found here, they must have found much lucrative alternative vocations !

At the New Market entrance, in olden days, we used to make short stop over at the greetings-card shops…. there were about 10 such shops. dsc_0012Only one we found still surviving, but with no takers. In the internet era none is interested in those greetings cards. Once inside the market, the scenario did not change much. Many of the old charming clothing shops were still there, though they did not have much buyers. Most of the families go for online shopping for their readymade clothes, and, even the sarees are procured by the same method.

The mistletoes and other decorative selling shops are still there. They are doing some what better business than others. The cake shops are doing brisk business. I was indeed upset as dsc_0009I did not find the same old charming New Market hopping experience. But for Rijul, he was enjoying the visit… I was showing him some of the old shops still in the business. I bought him a heart-cake and a hot patties ! I tasted a bit. Ummm…. some what nearer the olden-day –taste, except less buttery ! Well… at least some good things still survived the test of the time.

Those days our return trip was by a tram ride. Then the trams had less riders and it was a pleasant smooth journey. I did not propose the repeat mode for our return journey. It was a very difficult time to get hold of the taxi to take us.

Finally we managed to get one taxi after putting half and hour effort, and, reached home. It was indeed an enjoyable trip…. a good start for Christmas 2016 !

A Bengal Christmas @ Christian Para Kolkata

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24th December, 2016 the day before Christmas Day started early for the young ones. They got themselves engrossed in making a Manger and placing images of the Nativity. Some of them were running around with a huge wooden ladder and climbing to tie out the colourful paper strips in the locality. Soon the area, our small Christian Para (Christian Dwelling) wore a real festive look ! Their hectic work schedule were often punctuated by the shoutings from grandpas and grandmas “time for lunch… please come home….” But their routine answers were “just  ten minutes more, and we would be through !” My daughter- in- law made a huge Snow Man which was placed next to a Santa outside our home. It was very nicely made . By the time we could gather for the lunch it was already well paste noon !

 

dsc_0151After the Lunch, it was the continuation of the same routine for the boys, and, this time the girls took the charge of decora-ting the church… with lots of mistletoes and flowers of varied colours.

25th December, 2016

We woke up with the boom of the sound box playing “jingle bells”. Around 7.30 in the morning we all gathered at our church of the locality. Ours is a small

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Church being decorated with flowers and leaves

church with a sitting capacity of about 40 . On occasion like this we arrange for close-circuit-television transmission on the first floor room of the church so that those who could not make it inside the church can still go upstairs and join the worship. It was an hour-long service. Less of sermon and more of carols ! Along with traditional English tune carols, we also sing a few Bengali Christian songs set on old folk tunes. After the service we gathered outside the church for cake and coffee. There after we had Christmas Tree and all at the congregation got some useful prizes by picking up lucky numbers. The  prizes were house hold items like comb, tea-stainer, mug, soap case, small kitchen cans and so on ! There after we gathered to pose for a family

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Tea after the church service

photograph…… a very old tradition very religiously followed every year…. of course the photographer changes with changing times. In olden days it was one of my uncles who was a passionate photographer who did the job. Thereafter my elder brother-in-law, followed by me for some years. Presently my son is doing the photography for the past several Christmas !

Thereafter, there was the gathering of friends and  relatives inside and outside our house…. with hot coffee,  home made cakes and my daughter made a lot of chocolates to share for this occasion.

dsc_0064dsc_0068Around noon relatives from far flung places started arriving for the Christmas Lunch. This is a participatory event where every one shares the expenses for the food. I have some long tables which  are taken out of our store-room for this occasion ! The lunch menu was very much a Bengali fare… Rice, Dal, mixed vegetable curry, chicken curry, sweet chutney, papad and sandesh (milk sweets). There were about 50 persons joining the meal.dsc_0009

In the evening I was sitting on a chair in front of the decorated Manger… playing Santa, by presenting each visiting child a small Santa replica and a toffee ! Till late evening there
were a good number of children who visited this festive arena. dsc_0025Around  9.45  in the night we had our night meal …. the loud speaker outside still playing  “Man will live for ever more because of Christmas Day”!