“Auto-Man”

THIS INDIA, ONE INDIA

Despite our varied cultural plurality and many known – unknown sectarian identity, at the core of us we ARE ONE, JUST ONE INDIA. No amount of difference, be it religion, region or language can break our tolerance.  I have planned to pen down a series on this very bondage that makes us  One … ONE INDIA.

This is the second in the series….. “Auto-Man” !


I was still standing at the Reception Counter of Vellore Hospital and trying to explain things. But somehow could not make the person follow of what I was wanting! To my rescue came an elderly gentleman and asked me about my queries. I was those days working in Bangalore. There was a Community Health Training programme organised jointly by CMC and a voluntary organisation. My wife is involved in an NGO, in Calcutta, and they had sent 4 participants for this event. She told me to meet them and greet them. I explained all these to this gentleman. He apparently was aware of this event and vellore temple2directed me to go to the Rural Campus of CMC. He said any auto-rickshaw driver would know the place and take me there.

I came to the auto-rickshaw stand and got hold of one who readily agreed to take me there. He was more enthused when I told him that I would go there for about ten minutes and then return again, which would mean he would have an assured return fare.

With the word ‘go’ my ordeal started. After about five minutes journey our man stopped the Auto-rickshaw, digged in his hands into the dash board, collected some stuff andvelore mosque vanished into oblivion. In about 4 minutes he returned, singing happily, he started driving again. He explained that the Rural Campus is the place where CMC has training premise, and, he assured me that I would like the place for its scenic beauty. I was indeed enjoying the outskirt area. But lo, behold. My amusement was short lived. Our man again stopped his auto-rickshaw, digged his hand into the dashboard again and vanished somewhere. This time he returned after a little more time than his last trip. I, on my  part, did a wrong thing this time. I peeped into his hand and could catch the glimpse of a matchbox! Now I knew what was happening. This man must be a hard core drug addict, could not even stop for more than 15 minutes before he goes for a next puff ! I decided to give him a full lecture on this bad habit once we return to Vellore, no matter even if I am late in returning to Bangalore.

As  promised I could finish my visitation within ten minutes. Those colleagues of my wife were  visibly happy as they were invited to visit Bangalore on their return journey to Calcutta once they complete this training.

vellore churchOn our way back, only once our Auto-rickshaw stopped for a while, this time at a semi urban spot. Once he returned, placed back the matchbox into the dashboard and started his vehicle….. I barged in with my first question, “Since how long are you taking this” ? To this our man wore a very perplexed look and shot back “Sorry, Sir, I could not get you”.  “Okay, okay…. Let me be straight. Taking  drugs can be fun, but you know it would soon ruin you, more over I am sure you must be wasting much of your hard earned money on it. And do not try to cover up…. I saw you taking the matchbox, and, also some packet in your hand”.

Our man got the auto-rickshaw halt to a standstill. Came very near to me and said “No one has told me the things that you are telling. Of course my ways of doing things must have made you to think this way “ ! He quietly walked near the dashboard, took out the things. He handed over me those stuff –  a small pack of agarbattis, a small pack of vermillion, a matchbox.  Then he narrated. “ Sir, I have a small but nice family. My sole earning is from this auto-rickshaw. As you come out of CMC Hospital and take this small road to Rural Campus there is a Mosque. Every evening , without fail, I make a short prayer there. Then further up, there is a temple where I say a small prayer for the happiness of my family. And finally near the CMC there is a very old church. I never fail to pray here at least once in the evening. Believe me Sir it gives me happiness for my entire family. Just think Sir, my family gets happiness showered from all ! Balaji, Allah & Jesus … what else do I need!”

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Around night I took a bus to Bangalore. I had a very guilt feeling. Our man must have returned home, happily eating his night meal and must be telling his wife “You know, today I met a gentleman ….. a good man – but with a very narrow mind !”

 

 

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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…….

Journey Recharged !

The seat looked dusty. I looked around myself. There were hardly any co-passengers around. The train had arrived at the platform an hour earlier than scheduled and I guess people were yet to find their respective coaches. There was only a young girl in the opposite seat – a young woman rather. With jeans and a loose T-shirt and a silver colored nose-ring she looked weird. Her eyes were glued to her mobile phone.

Huh! Another of those gadget geeks!

I put my hands in my pocket searching for a piece of paper or even my handkerchief. No way would I sit on the dusty train seat.

“Tissues?”

The voice startled me. I looked up. A smiling face looked at me in return. Her left hand held out a muddled bundle of fresh tissues. That same weird girl!

How on earth did she know that I was actually looking for a piece of paper?

“Take some. I cleaned mine with these”, she laughed. As she laughed I noticed the twinkle in her eyes.

scf1224Normally I refuse help from strangers – that too such a strange looking stranger – but right then I had no option.

But before I could even give her a formal thanks, she got up from her seat with a spring and began cleaning my dusty seat.

“Aha..ha…why….”

“Ha, it’s all right uncle. I would have done the same for my Dad”, she smiled the same way, having cleaned the seat in a jiffy.

“Tadaaa…here you are”, she pointed to my nearly clean seat.

“Thanks”, I thanked her softly.

A few of the co-passengers had begun arriving. Porters, noisy children, worried mothers, see-off relatives….

I looked outside. There was no one for me. Geeta had to pick up her son from school, Sekhar had his office to attend. It was more than enough that they had bothered to drop me at the station atleast.

“Sorry Appa. Please….I have to pick up Rohan in another hour, the school is pretty far away from here, if I don’t leave now I would never reach and you know how Rohan is….he would just keep crying!”, she had sounded apologetic.

“No problem.  Anyway, I just have to carry a single bag. It’s no big deal”, I had tried to comfort her in my own way. Afterall  she was my daughter. And it wasn’t wrong either. How much would the bag of a sixty five year old weigh anyway? The heart weighed heavier!

I adjusted my sole bag near my feet. The other passengers had mostly arrived.

Someone somewhere had perhaps opened a tiffin can of freshly fried Vade. The smell of crisply fried fritters wafted through the air. If Sudha had been around she would have certainly packed in a dozen….idlis…puliyothare….she always ensured she carried meals during her journey….she hated meals from pantry.

I closed my eyes, trying not to think about the past or even food for that matter. Without Sudha, life had become a burden. Staying with married daughter is not an easy option but with a son in the IT sector in Kolkata, with an erratic work schedule, staying with him wasn’t an option either. Thought of Ravi gave me a sudden jerk – a jolt rather. That conversation two weeks back had knocked off my sleep. Geeta hasn’t stopped crying since then.

It was just a three line monologue from Ravi.

“Ummm….Appa, I have found a girl for myself….Bengali, Christian…RebecaaBiswas. I know you will never agree to the match. But please, please, please come and meet her. She would be coming from Bangalore after her training in another two weeks.”

No way would I agree to the match! A vegetarian, Tamil boy from a Brahmin family marrying a non-vegetarian, Bengali, Christian girl!  I would go and try to reason with him. If he doesn’t agree I will sever all my ties with him –forever! I shook my head unknowingly! I opened my eyes.

The train had begun with a jerk. Loud good-byes,sobs , laughter filled the coach! A few of them began to call their relatives informing them of the train’s departure.

I too took out my mobile phone from my pocket. I know it wouldn’t really matter but as a courtesy I wanted to call Geeta.  Just as I began to press the numbers I suddenly realised there wasn’t a single rupee balance left in my mobile. I had been asking Geeta, requesting Sekhar but they had either forgotten or not bothered. I had even gone out to recharge the phone myself but the nearest shop was closed for over a week.

I stared helplessly at the screen.

“Here, use mine!”, a hand with pink nail colour held out a mobile phone.

That weird girl again! Her face was still smiley with that strange twinkle.

“I…I..no..thanks”

“It’s alright. Use mine.”

“Okay then…no need to call. Just send an sms to my daughter: Train started-Appa”, I felt weird and ashamed at the same time.

img913With deft fingers she typed out the message and the number as I dictated.

Beep!

“Here, it’s done!”, she smiled.

“I..I..actually I forgot to recharge my phone…and I can’t blame my daughter either…she has her hands full”, I sounded apologetic yet again.

“ It happens….with most of us. Why don’t you try one of  those re-charge systems ? They are quite useful.  It is actually  easy and user-friendly.”

“Ha ha ha….those are for young people like you! Not for oldies like us!”, for a change I tried to sound informal.

“But online dealings are never safe. Frankly, I don’t trust these online facilities. Every other day you hear of an online scam. But in any case it sounds interesting….actually I keep forgetting about these things like recharge and bill payment. And when I remember it is either too late or too difficult. And by then I am already into trouble…like I was, just a few minutes ago.”, I laughed.

I was really impressed with this girl. Not like the usual ones, and what I liked about her is that she was very sincere in her approach. Who on earth would waste time on explaining all those things.

“Would you care for some Vade?”

I saw the girl holding out a tiffin box of freshly Vade and Chutney.

This time I didn’t mind. I helped myself to one. I suddenly felt recharged.

“Did you make these?”

“Oh no! Not exactly ! One of my neighbours made all the preparations, I only fried them ……. of course upon strict instructions from that neighbourhood aunty !  I am originally travelling from Bangalore. I didn’t get a direct ticket to Kolkata. So I had to take a stop-over at Chennai.”

She bowed her head a little – perhaps in a short prayer- before she touched her piece. That is when I noticed the little golden cross adorning her neck! Sudha would do just the same. She would close her eyes and mutter “Sarveswara”, before she would touch her food.

Before I could ask further she spoke again – this time with her mouthful, “Mmm…but you know I can almost make these as tasty but that little hole in the middle just wouldn’t come. I have to practice some more. I need to impress my father-in-law …to be that is!”, she giggled.

I loved the innocence in her. Irrespective of what she was, how she was, her dress, her mannerisms and even her religion, I loved her. How I wish I had someone like her as my daughter in law.

“What is your name  Maa ?”, I asked her.

“Rebecca Biswas.  And what’s yours, uncle?”

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Literacy Jatha:March at a Tribal Village for Literacy Promotion

Literacy “Jatha”- a “Jatha” is a March in which certain action is also accomplished along the way. Some times ago we, an NGO group organised a Literacy Jatha in a tribal village

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picture-326called “Majhidih”. The basic objective of the March was to spread awareness on the need to have a minimum literacy for all, and, also to teach women of the village ‘how to sign their names’. Since this was organised by an NGO working for women’s empowerment, the stress was to cover women in the village. Most of the women did know how to sign their names even. We were stressing on this because these days, they need to put their signatures for various reasons i.e. to open a Bank Account, to get govt. benefit schemes to become an effective member of Self Help Group and so on.

picture-319Majhidih literary means a Santhal Village i.e.” Majhi” means Santhal tribe, and, “dih” means a village.  This village is located amidst East Singbhum region of Jharkhand state in India. Jharkhand meaning “The Forest Land”, is a new state. There was a long time demand from the local Tribals – the Adivasis that they be given a separate state.  We are working in villages here on women and children development programmes since inception of this state.

Spending the night before at our camp office at Bondih we set out for the Majhidih village early morning in two bikes and a few bicycles. We also asked our village volunteers from neighbouring villages to assemble at the Majhidih village. It took about half an hour to reach the village for our bikes.  The cyclists also made it within that time limit, since they took short cut passage through forest. It was summer, the area is chronically drought prone, there was scorching heat emanating from the stony road, even though it was still early in the morning.

After reaching the village we made two teams. The men in the team were given the task of writing awareness slogans on the walls. The Santhal houses have mud walls, but, they are kept very clean and neat by pasting coloured mud regularly.There is particiularly a red soil available in the hills here which look very beautiful on walls.

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Writing on Wall: “I Want Education”

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“Must Learn How to Sign My Name”

The women in our team, joined by other village volunteers, took the charge of teaching signature writing to the village women.

Our March or the Jatha began.  While we took charge of the wall writing, the women, in small teams entered a few huts on both sides of the village road. The villagers were too enthusiastic to participate in this learning process. It was nice to see that while the women were busy trying to write their signatures on the paper, the menfolk in the house took care of the children. ( a rare scenario in Indian village context where bringing up a child is solely vested on women)

Once a cluster of 4 to 5 huts covered, the Jatha marched forward. At times we, the graffiti team were lagging behind to complete the our paint-brush task.

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The only reason I was treated differently was my tummy !

Around 3 p.m. we reached at the end of village. Here we had out lunch…. piping hot rice, lentil curry and a potato-brinjal curry…. served on Sal Leaves plates. It was tasty, and, in any case we were really hungry… we did not have a chance to break our fast (skipped the break fast !)

Our end of the Jatha was a cultural show, organised open-air. We have cultural team, which presented  a number of Awareness song and dance, composed by us on various social issues like cutting of trees, need for literacy for all, torture on women and so on.  At the end there was  a Magic Show which was thoroughly enjoyed by all !

( I love playing a Folk Drum, and, whenever there is a chance….. !!!)

 

Mask : For Folk Dance

“Tomorrow we shall go to Hesla” my wife announced. “This village is near Bandwan, in Bengal,  and there is a forest road from here which will lead us there” she added.

img_0205We have come to a village called Bondih in East Singbhum in Jharkhand. We are staying here  for the past several days. It is a nice place except there are frequent load shedding, so most of the nights are spent on kerosene lamps. But fresh air, fresh vegetables are all for a refreshing change from our city life. We have several working  villages here in which we are doing rural development programmes. It is surrounded by forest, and, placed amidst a hilly terrain. Though about 50 kilometres  away , from the nearest town  Jamshedpur, it is quite inaccessible, mainly due to very limited transport service. This meant we will have an inter-state  travel tomorrow !

Next morning we set out for the Bengal village. We had two bikes. I was driving a heavier one, with my wife in the pillion. Her colleague was in the other bike, a bit lighter one, as a pillion rider. It was pleasant to start with. One good thing about long bike ride is that there is always cool breeze to enjoy, especially in the mornings, and I always relish such  pleasant ride.  img_0201For about an hour we drove through several small villages, small huts, small ponds, forest trees on both sides. But like all good things, the smoothness of the journey ended.  We reached at the end of the forest road, and, here onwards we will have to tread through thin pedestrian route. This part is quite risky, especially to find out the correct track, but if one drives the bike at a steady speed one can always be able to see the thin white pedestrian track.  At one point we sped through a risky patch with deep dry water body on both sides.

Around   10 a.m. we reached the Hesla  village, of Purulia district. My wife and her colleague joined the women’s group which met at  a villager’s veranda. Their basic agenda of the meet was to work out a plan for a training programme for the village women group as a part of the women’s empowerment initiative.

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Myself and Pradip – the other bike rider, set out to have a go at the village. I was told by some of the local youth  that this village, like most of the village in Purulia, has  Chhow Dance troupe. For the past several  years now I serve as the liaison for these various dance troupes and the Kolkata Puja organisers, to get these people contracts for performance.  They always look forward to get a scope to show-case their talent in city situations.  Kolkata organisers on their part sincerely look for getting these groups to perform in their puja arena. Some of the village youth from these troupes requested me to arrange for some performance contracts from Kolkata. ( Later, after a few months, at least two such trips got actually materialised ! ).

By the time we walked back to the women’s meet venue it was already 12 noon.  My wife informed that they have agreed upon on the training programme – training on “Mask Making for Chhow Dance” ! This dance is a kind of marshal-art form, and, predominantly  performed by men – even on performing  women’s role.  The villagers arranged for our lunch – hot pooris and sweet  boondia, a very strange combination. But as the saying goes ‘hunger is the best sauce’ we thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

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By next month the training programme started, with the help of an expert mask-maker  brought down from the Bandwan town.

 

 

 

Visiting Baripada@Odisha

Baripada is a small town in Odisha. A nice tourist destination, if you are a forest and hill lover. As the

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Baripada Bus Stand

record says “Baripada railway station was one of the earliest railway stations in Odisha. The then ruler of Mayurbhanj, Maharaja Krushna Chandra Bhanjdeo, connected Baripada by a narrow-gauge rail network to the Howrah-Chennai railway corridor. The first ever airport during the British Raj in Odisha also stands onto this date at sites of Rajabasa (16 km from city) and Rasgovindpur (60 km from the city) with their 2 km-long runways which were constructed during World War II.”

 

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Gateway to the forest

Baripada is famous for the Similipal National Park, which is a vast evergreen forest having varied flora and fauna, served with a network of perennial streams. This is an ideal habitat for tropical birds and animals like elephant, tiger, leopard, sambar, and deer. The landscape comprises Sal forests, expansive grassy lands, soaring peaks and waterfalls.”

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Trekking the forest roads

We were a small team visiting Baripada. We took a car drive from a small town called Betnoti. This town is about 40 k.m. from the Balasore Railway Station on Kolkata-Chennai railway route. It was indeed a good tour, especially the children in the group enjoyed every bit of it.

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Inside deep forest – a govt. forest guest house

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Happy moments !

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Baripada has a very good Museum. There are many historical exhibits excavated around the district.

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Baripada Temple

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Road-side eatery serves hot lunch, in the open air.