The East India Abode

India is full of places of pilgrimages. Each state and each district can boast of thousands of places of pilgrimage, each associated with a puranic legend or some form of divinity. After all, according to Hindu belief, even though the ultimate reality is only one, it manifests in 3.3 bn different divine forms.

But, the four main places of pilgrimages, known as char dham,  are located in the four corners of the country. Badrinath in North, Puri in East, Rameswaram in South and Dwaraka in West. These four divine abodes were established by Adi Shankaracharya who is credited with reviving the Hindu religion and culture that was in a dying state due to the influence of Budhism.

Some say Lord Vishnu takes morning ablution in Badrinath, breakfast in Dwaraka, lunch in Puri, and retires to Rameswaram for rest. Some versions start with Vishnu taking morning ablution at Rameswaram. There seems to be some confusion among the pundits as to the association of the places with lord Vishnu’s daily rituals. However, there is no confusion with regard to one thing which is  with regard to the fact He comes to Puri for his lunch.

Why not? Anyone, who has tasted the Mahaprasad which is cooked in one fo the biggest kitchens of the world using age old recipes and techniques, will vouchsafe for this.

There also seems to be a lot of misconception and ignorance about the strange looking deities and the strange rituals associated with them. Of course, for any information these days, the internet opens the flood gates.  Out of thousands of videos available on youtube,  I found the three following videos very interesting and informative.

The central theme of every documentary is different. While the first one gives an overall idea about Lord Jagannath Dham and other prominent places of pilgrimage and tourism in Odisha, the other two are associated with different aspects of the grand annual spectacle known as  Rath Yatra and the event of Nabakalebara . 

  1.  Yatra Mahaprabhu Shri Jagannath Dham Darshan with prominent temples of Odisha.  This documentary gives an overall idea about Jaganath Dham, temples  and legend associated with the History of the idols, and other tourist attractions in the Golden Triangle which consists of Puri, Konark and Bhubaneswar. The stunning visuals are accompanied by the mesmerising narration by Sami Narang of Doordarshan fame.

 

 

2.  The Legend of Jagannath.  Originally aired on the National Geographic at the time of Navakalebara in 2015, actor Rajiv Khandelwal takes the viewer on a journey through the preparation for the grand car festival , sprinkling it with glimpses into the history of the temple and the deities from time to time. The documentary is also available on Netfilx with better video quality.

 

 

3.  God’s own people | Jagannath Yatra. This too was produced during the time of Navakalebara in 2015. However, it focuses on the aspect of the selection of the trees with specific divine manifestations. The wood from these four neem trees were used to carve out new idols of the four deities – Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan.

There are two parallel narratives in this documentary. One is about how the descendants of the Tribal King Biswabasu now known as daitapatis  go on an arduous journey to locate the trees and  the detailed rituals associated with bringing the wood to the temple. The second one which provides emotional depth to the narrative is that of a simple woman of the village where the tree for the idol of  Lord jagannath was located. Hailing from a remote village in Odisha, I had many nostalgic moments while watching it.

The documentary has been made by the famous director Nila Madhab Panda. (Remember I am Kalam, Kadvi Hawa …? ). Amitabh Bachan has lent his voice for narration – a grand actor for the documentary about a place where everything is grand.

Please watch the videos to go through an enlightening journey.

Jai Jagannath.

The Big Lord Descends Among Us

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nava jauvana darshana of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra (R to L)

This is the time for the Annual Car Festival in Puri – the Rathyatra of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. The rituals connected with the Jagannath temple has many roots and layers – some alaukik and some laukik i.e. some of divine origin and some by treating the idols as normal living human beings.

On the of the last full moon – known as Devasnana Purnima –  the idols were given the divine bath. Maybe, it was a little too much to handle even for the divine during their human leela on earth. So they fell sick, like they fall sick every year during this time.

According to western philosophy, time is linear. But the eastern concept of time is that it is cyclic. The rituals of the Lord gets repeated every year like the change of seasons. The rituals get repeated without fail, which is to say they repeat ad infinitum giving life a sense of immortality.

Of course it is not a monotonous repetition. How can it be? Everything connected with the temple is not only practically enermous, they are also named so. The temple is other wise known as Bada Deula – the big temple, the idol of Lord Jagannath is addressed as the Bada Thakura / Maha prabhu  – the big Lord, the road along which they make the annual journey in their huge chariots is known as the Bada Danda – the Grand Road, the sea nearby is  Mahodadhi – the great reservoir of water, the prasad is known as the mahaprasad, and so on. Everything is grand in scale and imagination scale and is named so.

After the Lords fall sick, the temple is closed for public darshan. These days are known as anavasara. At a practical level, this is the time for specific annual maintenance activities. The wooden idols are repainted and ‘many kinds of ‘secret rituals are undertaken so that the idols not only shine in their full glory when they emerge out of sickness, but also withstand the rough handling during the nine day rituals connected with the car festival.

So today, just a day before the Annual Car Festival, Jagannath – the lord of the Universe along with his big brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra emerge after recovering from the high fever.  The day is known as Nava jauvana darshana or netrotsav. The Lords are in their renewed vigour and splendour after being treated with powerful herbs and medicines.

During this period when the temple is closed to public, the hardcore devotees of the Lord  Jagannath have an alternate option not to miss the Darshan of the Lord even for a single day. They can go to Alarnath temple at Brahmagiri, located at about twenty five kms from Puri. According to the legend, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, during his stay in Puri,  was directed to go to Alarnath so as not to miss his daily darshan of the Lord during this anavasara period.  The boulder over which Sri Chaitanya used to do Sankirtan is still there.

Being the Lord of the Universe, He has the privilege to take a break. But not so for the devotee or, a seeker in the spiritual life. After getting this rare human life, not even a single day should be devoid of spiritual practices.

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Alarnath Temple, Brahmagiri

 

 

 

 

 

 

because they are so young …

dharmapada

There is a saying in Sanskrit:

“yuktiyuktam bacham grahayam baladapi shukadapi,

yuktihinam bacham tyajjyam balaldapi shukadapi”

It means – reasonable words or words of wisdom must be accepted even if those words come from a child or a parrot, Unreasonable talks or words devoid of wisdom must be shunned even if those words come from a child or a great sage like Shuka.

This is a great piece of wisdom. Usually we attach authenticity to authority. We take as gospel truth and accept the words spoken by an authority figure without any verification. An extreme example of this is what happened in the case of Hitler. During his time even the great intellectuals of Germany accepted his propaganda messages without verification and worked for him to further his evil designs.

On the other hand timely and helpful advice coming from a person without authority is ignored. This is quite common in organisational set ups. Sane and effective suggestions from junior employees are quite often sidelined. The seniors even go to the extent of deriding the hapless junior. They may say, “What are you in front of us? You are just a kid in the organsiation. Are you here to teach us who are like the headmaster of the school where you studied?”

Experience has its own advantages. But with experience comes the possibility of experience bias that clouds our ability to see things from a fresh and unbiased perspective.

I love to learn from young people. Children are quick learners and are not afraid to experiment. In understanding the working of a gazette or the latest technological upgrade, children can teach us better.

In certain areas they have distinct advantages. In matters of spoken English my children do correct me and I welcome that. My school and college teachers, though masters of written English, did not have exposure to proper spoken English.

Our history and mythology also have many instances of children coming to the rescue of adults. One such legend is associated with the construction of the sun temple at Konark.

Twelve years after the construction started, when the sun temple was nearing completion, the architects were faced with a crisis.  They were not able to figure out how to fix the kalasha at the top and mark the completion of the temple. The king became impatient with the inordinate delay at the final stage and gave an ultimatum to the architects that if they did not fix it before the next sunrise all their heads would be cut off.

Coincidentally, Dharamapada the twelve year old son of the Chief Architect Bishnu Maharana had come to meet his father. He came to know of the problem and went to examine it. He detected detect a minor fault in the construction. He corrected it and fixed the kalasha.

The legends goes on to state that subsequently he jumped to the sea to his death so as to remain anonymous in order to save the architects from beign disgraced for not being able to fix the problem themselves.

The acts of Abhimanyu of Mahabharat are also humbling. There is no way to underestimate the power of innocence.

(In response to Indispire #223)

(‘teach me to dream’ – my anthology of poems – will be available for free download from 01.06.2018 to 03.06.2018.)

ghosts of paharpur

(3rd and concluding part of Story 2 : Tales From Paharpur.  BlogchatterA2Z challenge Day 7)

Read Part-1 of Story 2

durga dash blog paharpur

“What is there to explain? You ……..”,  I could hardly contain my anger and my tongue was ready with a hundred expletives. But I controlled myself.

“Well anyway, I cannot share this with anybody as it will ruin the future of a girl from our village. But, now I am in no mood to listen or say anything.” I banged the door and left.

Next day I heard that Jaya had fallen into the well in their backyard. Everybody wondered how she had fallen accidentally, because the well had a very high protective wall around. I wanted to talk to her and assure her that I was not going to tell anybody regarding what I saw. But how was I going to do it? In our village, it was near impossible for a young man to talk a young woman in private. Being a sensitive issue, I couldn’t eve risk sending a message through someone.

Of course, Prakash was the exception. For him everything was possible. I went to him. He was alone in his consultancy room

“I don’t know how you get this message across. But, assure her that I am not going to tell anybody about what I saw. You also assure her that this will remain a secret among the three of us. Let her get married and go to her in laws’ house without any trouble.”

She must have got the message and the assurance. No such accident happened afterwards.

All four of us – Prakash, Tirky, Ranka and I joined other villagers and her relatives to help in the marriage arrangements. Kewda flowers adorned the pandal where she was to get married. It was Prakash’s idea. He was the director of the pandal decorations. One could see kewda flowers everywhere in and around the pandal. Even the entrance of her house.

 

 It was the summer of the year I completed my graduation.  Two years had passed since Jaya’s marriage and one year back she was blessed with a daughter. Prakash had once again become my friend as usual. Meanwhile my house too had electricity. Still, during the hot summer nights we slept on our open verandas or sometimes on the roof top of Prakash’s house.

Theft was a common problem during summer as the house doors were left open for the sake of the ladies who could not make use of the open verandas.  Coolers and air-conditioners were still a distant luxury and fans did not provide any relief in closed rooms.

But, that summer it was not the sighting of thieves, but the encounter with ghosts that became the prime concern of the villagers. Some people reported that they had seen the ghost of Sarman near the kewda bushes of Kalindi river. Sarman was dead five years back. He used to be a drunkard.

After some days, the apparition of a young girl was reported to be seen by some people on the back side by lane of Prakahs’s house. It resembled a girl who had committed suicide two months back. She was from the neighbouring village and she had some mental problems. Her parents came to Prakash for consultations. Sometimes she also came along with her parents. He assured them that everything would be alright. He proposed to conduct a special puja. The family agreed. The elaborate puja rituals were conducted in the presence of the girl in a room where no one else was allowed for five hours.

After that the girl seemed to have recovered to some extent. But when the situation became worse after a few months, Prakash advised them to go to the government hospital in Bhubaneswar.  The day before they were to go to Bhubaneswar, the girl was found hanging from her neck from the ceiling of their house. There were rumours that the girl was in her initial stage of pregnancy.

One day Prakash’s father spotted the apparition on their rooftop. At that time there was no one else other than Prakash and his father in their house. His mother and two sisters had gone to attend a marriage in a distant place. His father was recovering from a knee injury.

His father called and begged me, “Look son. I advised him not to dabble in these weird practices. Now this dead girl’s soul is coming to haunt us. I am afraid one day it will kill him. Both of us can’t move fast. You are his best friend. Will you, for some days, till my wife and the daughters return, sleep in our veranda?”

For me, whether I slept on our veranda or theirs did not make any difference. Moreover, I was myself curious about this ghost. Coincidentally, after I started sleeping on their veranda the apparition was not seen around.

The village folks used to organise many kinds of pujas and rituals for the overall wellbeing of families and to purify their houses. One such puja was dedicated to the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It was called Trinath mela. The offering during the puja included sweet beverages with generous doses of bhang.

As suggested by one of the village priests, his father organised Trinath mela in his house even though his wife and daughters were not back yet.  All of us eagerly waited for such a puja. There was no need to circulate formal invitation to attend the puja. Whoever got a hint of it, came.

It was a full moon night. Hundreds of people from our village and the surrounding ones had come. They were seated on the mattresses spread on the open street in front of his house. After the Sanskrit chanting part was over, the priest started to lead the bhajans to the accompaniment of mridangam and cymbals. Everyone joined the chorus. The otherwise sleepy and silent night atmosphere of Paharpur was abuzz with activities.  As the sounds of the bhajan spread around, more and more people joined in.

Tirky, Ranka and I were the volunteers to prepare and pass around the bhang beverage. We were told to be the last ones to drink. We followed it. After the first round of bhang, people became more and more involved in the bhajan. The sounds of mridangams and cymbals and the singing became louder.

Prakash’s father called me. When I went near, he asked, “Have you seen Prakash?”

I looked around and could not trace him. “I don’t see him here,” I said.

“All three of you go and search. Do it now.”

We knew that he was not inside their main house because we used to go inside frequently to the store at the back of the house to bring sweeteners and other items. He must be in the adjacent house, maybe, in his consultancy room.

The front room was locked from inside. We knocked and shouted, but there was no response. We wanted to see if we could enter from the back side of the house and surprisingly, the back door was open.

I saw a veiled figure moving at a distance among the bushes in the back alleys. I told them, “Both of you go inside and see. I have a ghost to catch.”

Tirky said, “Don’t go alone. Let me come with you.”

I said, “No. Don’t worry. There seems to be some serious problem inside. Why would this back door be open? Don’t waste time. Go fast.”

 As I started in the direction of the veiled figure, it started running. I too started running and increased my pace. The veiled figure tripped and fell down.

It was Jaya. Recovering herself she fell at my feet. She was crying.

She said, “Please save me. I came to kill him. But I did not kill him. When I went there he had already been dead.”

“But, why did you want to kill him?”

“I had no option…….”

I heard Tirky’s shout, “Babu, where are you? There is something seriously wrong with Prakash. He is not moving. He is not talking.”

I shouted back, “I am coming in a minute. Go and alert his father and others.”

I said to Jaya, ‘”I don’t have time to hear your story. But don’t worry. I believe you.”

I ran back. It was a strange sight. It was for the first time that I was entering this room at the back of his consultancy room. He never allowed anyone to come here. The room was full of weird objects like skulls, strange coloured liquids in different bottles, and old palm leaf manuscripts. The smell of mogra incense sticks mixed with kewda flowers filled the room. A big photo of Goddess Kali was adorned with kewda and red hibiscus flowers.

There sat Prakash, like a statue, leaning against a wall, his head hung to one side.

Prakash’s father came with a few others. Among them was a faith healer and a tantric from a nearby village. He checked his pulse, eyes and breathing and said, “He is dead.”

Praksash’s father gave out a weird shriek as he came and hugged his son. Some more people were spotted coming inside.

The tantric said, “One of you go and stop the puja. Tell people to go home. Tell them Prakash has suddenly fallen ill. Don’t spread the news of death right now.”

 One of Prakash’s uncles was present. He said, “Should we inform the police?”

The tantric said, “Have you gone mad? As far as I remember our area has never seen the involvement of police in any of our affairs. It will only bring more problem to your family. By the way do you all know the cause of his death?”

Everyone fell silent and looked at one another.

“I can clearly see the symptoms. He died due to ghost bites.”

Later on, after a couple of weeks I met Jaya at the Rajnagar Bus Stand. She was going back to Bhubaneswar after a prolonged stay at her parents’ house.

She said, “Yes, I wanted to kill him. I had no option. After my child was born I received a letter from him along with samples of the letters I had written to him. In fact it was he who made me write those love letters. I was a fool in those days. Before I realised, my sympathy for him had turned into love. It was not actually love. Well, I don’t know. He made me write those letters. I also have some of his letters. But what use are those for me?

Even what happened that day, when you caught us by surprise, was part of his black mail.  He threatened to prevent my marriage. I went to him to plead to spare me and destroy those letters. He said that he would return the letters on one condition. He did not want intercourse with me. That would spoil my virginity. Scoundrel. As if he was doing me a great favour. But he wanted that somehow I helped him release his urge.

After my suicide attempt, he sent me a message that he was destroying my letters and was not going to harm me in anyway in future. I thought he had reformed and the storm in my life was over.

But it was not to be. He had not destroyed my letters. Now he did not want sex from me. He wanted that I offer him my child. He wanted to use her to be used as a human sacrifice in the ritual to cure his legs.”

I handed over a bundle of papers sealed in an envelope. “Here are the letters. I found these when I was helping his father clean out his trunks filled with strange ancient books and palm leaf manuscripts.”

I could sense the thankfulness and gratitude in the whole of her being even though she did not say anything.

I asked, “Do you also believe that he died due to ghost bytes?

“I don’t know. All I can think of is that God has been kind enough to save me from trouble.”

Many people of Paharpur continued to believe that he died due to ghost bites. There were other theories. Some said there were serious procedural lapses in the conduct of Puja. Someone seems of have noticed and pointed out to the priest that the photos of Brahma Vishnu and Mahesh was upside down. But the priest did not take any notice of it being under the influence of bhang even before the puja stared. Some said that the devotees who gathered were not satisfied with the quality of the bhang served that night.

There were also rumours that whenever the ghosts were sighted that summer, Jaya’s bother Vikram was invariably seen somewhere nearby.

find her vulnerability

(Tales From Paharpur : Story 2, Part 2.  BlogchatterA2Z challenge Day 6)

tales from paharpur2

Continued from the previous post

After High School, the few who wanted to continue studies had to pedal ten miles to the college in our nearby small town Rajnagar. Coincidentally, my father who was a driver in the state transport services, got allotted with official quarters in Rajnagar by the time I finished High School. My family shifted to Rajnagar. I lost touch with the gang and subsequently the gang dismantled. Whenever I spent time in the village during long vacations, I used to see Prakash. But it was only a courtesy call.

But after my Intermediate, we were back in the village. My father had retired. Of course I continued my studies, cycling the ten miles, sometimes alone, sometimes with the other few.  Once again I became close to Prakash. On holidays, on his request, I got him seated on my cycle back seat and took him around the village, near the pond, to the mango groves at the foot of the hills and to the village across the river to a tantric. By this time he was barely able to walk.

Prakash discontinued his studies after High School. But, he had become a kind of a village physician and a soothsayer. His father was a retrenched employee of a Public Sector Employee. He went to court and subsequently won the case. As a result he got huge amounts in compensation. That was how his house became the first pucca house with a cemented roof in our village.

One day I asked Prakash, “Why can’t you do something for your own legs. You claim that so many people have been benefited by your prescriptions”

“I know the remedy. That book has prescriptions even for bringing the dead to life. It is only about perfect execution and fulfilling all conditions.”

“So, those conditions must be as impossible as bringing back the dead”,  I said sarcastically.

But he was cool and he said, “Do you want to know the prescription for my legs. It needs human sacrifice. Human… yes …. human.”

“Is it not unfair? A whole human being for a pair of legs?”

“You are no one to judge the prescriptions of that sacred book. Look, it is like this. There are certain types of high quality human souls.  One hundred ordinary lives are worth sacrificing for one such human being.”

It was very difficult to win an argument with a person like Prakash. His premises were entirely different. I was only wondering where in that scale of the quality of superhuman beings did Prakash stand at that point of time.

I asked him, “Tell me one thing. People say your tantric friend in our neighboring village sacrificed his own daughter to have his hold over ghosts and goblins.  Is it true?”

“Ha ha…. he is an ordinary tantric. A fraud. Had he done so, he would have been much more powerful by now.”

“Ok. At least you promise me one thing that you are never going to do such a horrible thing as going for human sacrifice. Do you now that it may land you up in jail? People who have committed murders have been hanged. Moreover, we don’t know what a person can become before his death. There is no such thing as some human beings housing superior souls. During ancient times people in power made out this theory to suppress others.”

But, I was not sure my words would have any effect on him. I had a feeling that Prakash would one day kill someone for his tantric practices even though till then he had never shown any violent tendencies. In fact I had rarely seen him become angry. Still then, who knows?

He assured me. “Babu, don’t worry. Do you think I can ever do such a thing? To tell you the truth I myself do not believe the strange prescriptions of the book. These are just psychological things. But, the harmless prescriptions sometimes help these poor village folks. That’s why I am continuing with the practices.”

 All my doubts were put to rest as he made himself more and more helpful to the village people. Whenever he encountered any serious health issues he advised the patient to go to the Hospital in Rajnagar. The front room of his house was made into a grocery shop manned by him and his father alternately. Their neighour’s house, which was vacant for a long time, was bought by his father. He used this house for medical consultancy. He had also learnt homeopathy. Now, he was focusing more on homeopathy than the tantric healing practices.

In the afternoon one day when I flung open the door of his consultancy room I was shocked. He and Jaya were in a compromising position. Usually, whenever I knocked, Prakash used to open the door after conforming that it was me.  That day just after knocking once, I pressed the door hard and  it flung open. Maybe, he had forgotten to latch it from inside.

It was such a shock. How could Jaya submit herself to the lustful wishes of Prakash while, she had ignored the advances of a handsome fellows like Tirky? What was more intriguing was that she was to marry after two months to a police constable who worked in Bhubaneswar.

Of course Jaya had her clothes on and maybe, I caught them, at the stage of the preliminaries. She got up and fled in an instant. Prakash was the cool scoundrel as usual.

“Sit down I will explain….,” he said.

(to be continued)

(My non-fiction book, IDLE HOURS: HOMOUR|LIFE HACKS|SOCIAL ISSUES|MEMOIRS, is now revised and enlarged. Get it from Aamzon Store. KindleUnlimited/Amazon Prime members  read it for free)

enter her heart

(Tales From Paharpur : Story 2, Part 1.  BlogchatterA2Z challenge Day 5) 

kewda flower durga dash blog.jpg

Prakash was my childhood friend. He was afflicted with polio and his limp grew worse with age. We grew up together in Paharpur. The name Paharpur might have come from the fact that the village was surrounded by a number of hillocks.  My house was in the middle of the village, just opposite his.

We were in High School and he was our undisputed leader. Besides Prakash and I, our gang of four consisted of Tirky and Ranka. The school was in another village called Kantakpur, three kilometers  away. The three of us took turns to carry Prakash in our bicycles.  Being village boys, we had all started our education late and we were quite over aged for high school.

The dusty road to Kantakpur started after we crossed the river near thick bushes of kewda  flowers. One day, when we had just crossed the river, Prakash told us to stop. Calling out to Tirky he said, “Do you see the black bird sitting there on the tallest kewda plant?”

We craned our necks and narrowed our eyes to locate the blackbird. “Yes… yes. I see it,” Ranka shouted.

“Tirky, today is your lucky day. We have found what we were searching for.”

While Tirky nodded to show his understanding, Ranka and I demanded an explanation.

Tirky wanted to say something, but, Prakash stopped him. “Let me explain, he said, our friend Tricky has a crush on Jaya, that idiot Vikram’s sister. But he does not know how to approach her. I consulted the ancient manuscript that one of our great great grand fathers has left for us. It is written there that to seduce someone and make him or her do whatever you want you need to get the twig of a black bird’s  nest found in the kewda flower bushes. First, all of you go, search for the nest and get the twig. Then I will tell you what to do.”

The kewda plants were part of thick bushes consisting of various thorny plants and creepers. The possibility of snakes hiding in the thick undergrowth made the prospect of reaching that particular plant scary.

When Prakash saw that we were hesitating he came limping. He shouted and taunted calling us names. “Useless fellows, wait I will show you how to go inside.”  He used his stick to beat the undergrowth to make sure there was no snake. Then he crawled inside. In no time he was near the trunk of the plant that housed the nest. We followed him and were about to reach him when he signaled us to stop and be still.

I could see the tail end of a black snake dangling from the tree. The other portion seemed to be hidden in the nest.

He said, “Don’t be afraid. But be still. I know the snake mantra. It will not do us any harm.”

 He mumbled something and slowly touched the snake. We could see its head  emerging out of the nest. It went up the branch and slowly slid into another tree.

“Now your chances are double, Tirky. The scripture says if the nest is guarded by a snake you will enter her heart without any difficulty.”

When we came out with the twig, Prakash said, “Now we have to crush the twig to make powder out of it. Once the powder is ready I will empower it with a special mantra. You must find a way to mix it with the perfumed powder that she uses. Once she begins applying the powder, you will see the miracle happen.”

 Tirky bribed his sister to do it. His sister and Jaya were close friends.

But even after a week no miracle happened. Jaya continued to ignore Tirky. Rather the whole thing backfired. Someone leaked this conspiracy to Jaya’s elder brother.  One day when we had gone to the village pond for our morning ablutions, Tirky was badly thrashed by him and we, the co-conspirators, were let off after a stern warning to maintain respectable distance from Jaya.

Prakash was adamant. According to him the prescriptions of that rare ancient manuscript never failed. There must have been something wrong with our execution. Did Tirky’s sister really mix the twig powder with the powder that Jaya used?

We ourselves developed doubts about our execution. That prevented us from estimating Prakash no better than one of those village charlatans.

(to be continued)

Damodar Bridge

( #TalesFromPaharpur : 2nd and concluding part of story 1. Day 4 of #BlogchatterA2Z challenge) 

Continued from the previous post..

durga dash blog bridge

“What more can I say. If  I had time I would have told you the details about our training and our meeting with Subhash Chandra Bose. We were somewhere in Manipur. One day we were told to get ready for a great battle that  would be decisive.

But, before we were ready the British surrounded us. Damodar told us that our first task was to save Netaji. The battle lasted for five hours. We were able to repel the British. However, in  the process half of our troupe perished . Damodar was one of them. We did not have time to mourn or do the last rites properly as news arrived that British reinforcement could come at any time. Along with Netaji we escaped and were soon joined by a large number of our supporters.  Then we conducted a prayer meeting for the departed.

I have seen the dead body of Damodar with my own eyes. After coming back we did not know how to break the news to Chandra bhabi. But to our surprise, when the news of her husband’s death reached her, she laughed and said, ‘He cannot die before my death. He promised that he would never allow me to a live a widow’s life. My heart knows he is alive.’

She refused to follow the dictates ordained for a widow like going bangle-less,  wearing only white, or  going for a strict vegetarian diet. Initially we tried to convince her, but seeing her resistance we stopped. We also never brought up the issue of the death after that till this widow pension issue came up.”

Sahib asked my grandfather, “Do you believe that Netaji is dead?”

“No. It is a conspiracy. We got the news that he was killed in a plane crash. But we knew that it was a conspiracy by the British to demoralise us.”

Rain had stopped. Still grandpa ordered us to take our umbrellas and go with sahib till the fair road three miles away after the river. His office jeep waited for him there.

Next day we went to Chandra Dadi’s house. She was as usual at her cheerful best. We asked her if she still had some stock of Adisha. It is a sweet cake specialty which only a few can make properly. She was the best in our village.

She brought three pieces but we were six. We shared it.

We never got bored of teasing her for her patience in waiting for the useless old man or hearing her story about the short period she spent with her husband.

Budhia would be the first to start. “Dadi, once again I am telling you to forget your old man and marry me. He did not do anything to you then. Now also if he comes back, at this old age what pleasure will he give you?”

This much liberty was allowed with our grandparents.

She would respond, “You boys will not understand. When you see a young girl, you immediately think of raping her. But he was not like that.

I got married at ten. He was twenty. At thirteen or fourteen my parents brought me here. I had heard so many stories of first nights. How the men almost raped the young girls who had barely matured.

He used to fight with her mother who used to be adamant that I slept with him.

 ‘She is only a kid mother,’  he would say, ‘let her sleep in your room for some days.’

He would ask me again and again if I was comfortable. Everyday evening he brought sweets and other savories from Bhallapur or from Bittinagar. He said that he was arranging to go to Burma along with others after a month. With the money he earned in Burma, he hoped to get back the land that their family had sold to marry off three of his sisters. His father had died when he was twelve and since then he had been the sole bread earner of the family.

He asked his mother again and again to take care of me properly during his absence. Before going he asked me to tell him what I wanted him to bring when he returned from Burma.

I had heard that many people who went to Burma did not return. Some settled there while some died either during the strenuous journey. Some even got killed by the locals there. I myself had grown up with a lot of widows in my joint family.

I had heard that only the pious and the luckiest ones depart for the other world before their husbands. So it came out from my mouth, ‘I don’t want to die as a widow.’

He shouted, ‘who taught you such things? Don’t believe in such stupid stuff. Anyway, one of the other reasons for my not consummating our marriage is that it will keep me motivated to come back. I also don’t want my children to grow up without seeing their father. This is a common thing in all our villages here. Children see their father for the first time only when they are eight or ten. I don’t want to happen this to our children.  I have asked mother to take care of you. Still, if there is any problem, tell Loka’s mother or go back to your village. You take care of yourself and get all those stupid ideas out of your head.’

He urged her mother with folded hands to take care of me till he returned.

After he lef, his mother took care of me like her own daughter. This was something rare. Even now you see how young brides are treated as slaves. I was lucky.”

She enjoyed telling this story again and again. We also loved hearing it. Her missing husband had become a hero in our minds.

 

The sahib’s next visit to our village was in December. The water level in Kalindi was below knee deep and his jeep could now come right inside our village.

“A jeep in our village. Bhroom… bhroom,” shouted the children as they came and gathered around the jeep. Men too came out of their houses to find out and celebrate the unique event of the presence of a mechanical vehicle in our village. Women peered out of their houses from behind the half open doors.

The Sahib got down from the jeep and asked us to call Chandra Dadi as he was walking to her house. Budhia ran and knocked on the door.

When she opened the door sahib said, “Dadi ji, we have corrected the birth date in your voter Id card. Now you don’t need to be declared a widow to get your pension immediately.”

He asked us to go through the papers and assure her that the papers were in line with what he said. Now she was sixty three and was eligible for the old age pension. She was also eligible to get the arrears for the past three years in one lump sum.

There was jubilation all around. Then and there Dadi announced that when the first pension came there would be grand puja at the temple of our village deity.

The jeep driver took us till the river so that in case the vehicle got stuck in the sand we could be of help. We got down before the jeep entered the river and followed it.  The sahib too got down and walked along with us.

“I enjoy so much walking bare foot on the river sand.” he said. The jeep crossed the river without getting stuck.

When we were turning back, the sahib called us to come close. “I forgot to tell you one thing. I have taken up the matter to construct a bridge across this river and extend the fair road till your village. It may take some time, maybe years. Let us see”

We wanted to jump with joy. Being village boys we did not know how to say thanks formally. Maybe he got it from our looks.

Budhia said, “Sahib. We will name the bridge as Damodar Bridge and put his statue here. He is perhaps the only reckonable hero that our village has produced.”

“No. Don’t do it. Not as long as Dadi is alive. I wish that she live a very very long life. From the way you villagers are taking care of her, I know she will. But after she dies erect statues for both of them. Her heroics too need to be preserved for the posterity.”

We were a little confused and remained silent.

Sahib broke the silence, “I forgot to tell you one more thing. My name too is Damodar.”

(Concluded)