Another change of house
We lived in Haripad Lane for about three years. The house was becoming insufficient for the growing family. There were only two rooms. The rooms were to be shared between my parents, boodhi dadi and three of us. On top of that whenever a guest would come, everything would be out of place. Guests did come. My uncles would sometimes visit us. My fathers’ brothers were not the guests, as one uncle Prakash lived in Madras, another uncle Brijlal (Late) lived in our previous house at 8, Amartolla Lane and third and my favourite uncle Satyanand who had also migrated from Sherda for studies would be living in Gaddi. Gaddi was like the boarding facility for all members of our business establishment called- Bharat Textiles. Not just the staff but customers coming from other cities could stay here. There was a common kitchen. Hot and fresh food was served to everyone. Toilet facilities were common for entire market building on roof top, as per the practice in those days. There was a large area covered with a huge mattress on which all staff , visiting customers and our family members would sleep. ( I will write a separate para about Gaddi later). Our bachelor family visitors would also stay there.
96, Muktaram Babu Street
Coming back to my subject, about change of house, my father started looking for a larger flat.I remember a brokr with a skewed eye, would come in the mornings and will take Pitaji around to show some flats on rent. Finally he liked one big flat. Big means a real big flat. The flat had six rooms one kitchen, one drawing room and an attached terrace. One very interesting feature of this flat was that 4 larger rooms had an attached bath. Attached ‘bath’ means strictly bath! The attached bath just had a shower and a wash basin but no commodes. The 3 latrines were grouped together and were made in an extreme corner away from all rooms. In fact the thought process of those days did not allow a dirty activity like passing urine or stool anywhere close to living areas. When I compare this issue from my village days I could feel the changing trend. In Village the common toilet was outside the village at a great distance from houses, at Amartolla Street it was on same floor still far from our residence room, at Haripado it was a common toilet inside the flat and now in this new house, it was splitted from activity of taking bath and provided in a corner of the flat.
It was a big decision for Pitaji to hire this flat. The rent was increasing three fold from Rs. 250 to Rs.800 a month. There was a big sum of Rs. 30000 as Salami, which was to be paid as one time lump sum consideration. Payment of Salami meant the freezing of the rent forever. Hence the rent of Rs.800 would never be increased. This used to be a common practice in Calcutta in those days. The lump sum payment was a one time assessment of future inflation effect. Even today there are lot of properties which are on old rent fixed 50-60 years ago as there was a payment of Salami involved. In Mumbai this sum was called Pagdi.
Another Change of School
By this time a pattern was set in my life. Everytime my father would change the house, there would be a change of my school too. The reason was always the logistical. A school was always preferred near the residence. This time my new school was Shree Vishuddhanand Sarswati Vidyalaya. It was located at a distance of about 10 minutes walk from my house. The school had a very huge building along with a big playground in the centre. Though everything was huge and in place, the maintenance was very poor. The building always looked dirty. I was admitted in Class v as I had completed class iv in my previous school. Classes were noisy. Number of students in each class was much larger than previous school. Teachers were almost unconcerned.
One thing which did not change was for worst ! Here again one of my subjects was ‘Geeta’! The teacher was equally strict. He would male everyone cram the shlokas. He would carry a stick in his hand, which was enough for visualization about the possible punishment if the shlokas were not crammed. Perhaps this was the only effective way to make students learn this otherwise dislikeable subject. If I analyse myself I find that few slokas which I had crammed then are still in my mind-
Dharmkshetre Kurushetre samveta yuyutsav
Mamka pandvani kimkurvat sanjay
Another atrocious thing about the school was that the school used to run in two shifts. Morning shift started at 6.30 am and finished at 11.00 am. The day shift started at 11.30 am. Junior Classes from 1 to 6 were attending the morning session and 7 to 11 were in the day shift. Getting up early in the morning every day was a punishment. Though it was compensated with the early freedom from school! However on the whole it was not a great idea for me or for mother too. There was always a fear of getting late.
Chenges In Life Style
As there were so many rooms in the new flat, I insisted on having my own room. For name sake I was allotted one corner room, however it was scary to sleep alone in the room so at the bed time, I would go back to a common diwan and sleep with my siblings which was placed in the common hall. This big diwan was also the bed of my boodhi dadi, who used to tell us stories before bed time.
A big house brought many changes in our life style too. For the first time a sofa set and a six seater dining table was purchased. The dining table had a sky blue laminated top and looked very interesting. After some time we got one fridge and a Radiogram. Not that we had suddenly developed the fancy for such sophisticated stuff, in fact an opportunity came when a relative of ours was planning to migrate from Calcutta to another city.He wanted to get rid of some heavy things which would have got damaged in transportation otherwise. We got it all cheap. A radiogram was like a huge piece of furniture housing a giant radio and a gramophone in a big wooden cabinet. It stood on four legs. The speaker area was covered with a soft fabric which was for sound transmission. It was connected to electricity. The gramophone record player had a very interesting feature. There was a stainless steel rod in the middle of the circular disc. One could load 3-4 record at a time on the steel rod as there was a blocking step in between. The system was that when one record will be finished, the automatic arm fitted with a stylus will lift by itself go back to its resting position; at this point of time the step provided on steel rod will go back for just enough time to release one record from he top. The record will gently fall on top of the previous record and the arm with stylus would again go back the the first impressed line of the record. In this fashion one could enjoy all the loaded records without getting up to change the record. Such grampohone players were called autochanger. This gramophone was of my great interest. Right from my very childhood, I had a great affinity for good music. The relative who sold us the radiogram also gave us his collection of records- not less than 100. Record were very heavy initially; made of black havey material similar to Bakelite, but easily breakable on a fall. Each one would not weigh less than 50 gms. The speed of its running was 78 rpm. In later year new types and sizes of records were introduced. Smaller ones were called EP and larger ones were called LP. These were half the weight of the old ones and stronger too. Each EP could contain 4 songs- two on either side. LP had capacity to record 10 songs. With changing times the gramophone records changed their looks,packaging and the cover. The best gramophone record which I remember later in my life, perhaps in 1976, was of Amar Akbar Anthony. The record itself was coloured, I think bright yellow – a departure from traditional black. The fancy printed jacket for twin records was an added attraction. Much before that Raj Kapoor had introduced the twin jacket gramophone record for his film Bobby in 1973. But unfortunately this was almost getting towards the end of Gramophone records era. Tape recorders with cassette were fast replacing that market.
Whatever happened to music industry, music was my passion during not only my childhood but even now. I remember one small incident of my childhood, may be when I was 8 years old. In my family music was generally welcome but only in form of Bhajans. Film songs were strictly NO in our household. Whatever songs I could hear were from transistors when my father was away. But once a year there used to be a music feast for me. Feast- unrestricted, loud and current hits ! During the time of Durga Pooja, almost all the pandals (Makeshift temples on road made with tarpaulin and colourful fabrics) would play songs of latest movies. In fact all the popular numbers! The music was blared so loudly that I could enjoy my favourite hits at all times sitting in my house. This music was a great diversion for me especially during the tuition classes of Tej Bahadur.
The incident which I am sharing is of the era when film Sangam was a hit and the songs of the film were played during Pooja. One day my parents were not home. We children were having a ball. I was dancing and singing loudly – Bol radha bol …..and lo ! There entered Pitaji in the room. I was frozen with chill seeing him. He did not say a single word to me but gave me his look of disapproval. The message went inside me loud and clear. In fact Pitaji never shouted on us. His silence and his mood was the communicator of his liking or disliking something. I don’t remember even one instant when he could have slapped any one of us. Slapping kids was the most common thing in those days. Even mother never slapped us; though she would show her hand in the slapping mode but never hit us. She used to scold us for whatever was disapproved by her about our actions or non actions.
The barrier against the film music got broken in our family with the entry of Gramophone which I have already described earlier. Even that, I am sure, was not brought willingly. It was a package deal to take over the entire stuff of the relative who was leaving Calcutta hence the gramophone had to come.
Snacks and food stuff
The newly acquired used fridge was my another object of interest. Perhaps I had not seen a fridge prior to this. I loved the cold inside of the fridge. The freezer section on the top was quite interesting. The walls of the freezer were always cladded with flaked ice or we may call it snow. I loved to scrape that with my fingers and eat that. Gradually I developed another technique. I would use a katori ( small stainless steel bowl) to scrape the wall. The collection was fast and fine. The whole katori would get filled with that scrape. I tried out various options. I poured some rose sharbat ( syrup) on top of that and enjoyed my own creation. The fridge brought few more things in our life like Tomato sauce (ketchup), packed butter etc. Tomato sauce caught my fancy. I started eating sauce with everything like bread, chapatti, and biscuits and sometimes without anything too. I loved that different kind of tomato taste. Cheese came into our household by mistake. One day I was sent down to buy some Amul butter from a nearby store. The shopkeeper came out with a round box of Amul. He said I have this packet of Amul. I checked inside the box. There were eight packed slices in Amul wrapper. The wrapper was same as Amul Butter. I thought it is some new packing of Amul butter and bought that box. I put that in the fridge. I asked our servant Lakhan to make some toasts for me. After some time,Lakhan came to me and said- ‘ Babu, ye makhhan to bilkul kada hai, isko kaise lagayen ? ( Sir, this butter is very hard, how do I apply it on toast ?) I told him that let me apply the butter. When I tried to remove butter with a knife it would not come off like regular butter. Then I realized that it was not butter. I argued with shopkeeper, but he refused to take it back as the packet was opened. On getting into details, I understood that this was something different and was called cheese. In order to salvage the loss, we tried to eat the cheese with toast. Honestly, I did not like that at all. Perhaps the comparison was with my all time favorite butter.
My Pocket Money
I had no introduction with branded chocolates or drinks. For two reasons ! One- there were hardly any brands and two, I did not know what a pocket money was. Generally the beetle leave (paan) vendors used to keep cold drinks in their shops. The normal display used to be of two types of bottles- one with orange colour liquid and the other one yellowish called pineapple. There was no brand. Just called by their taste- orange or pineapple! I was given everything by my mother and I never realized the need to carry money in my pocket. Later on when I got an opportunity to taste stuff like Coca Cola, which came for 25 paise and Cadbury milk chocolate, which came for 50 paise, the urge to have some money as pocket money started.
When I raised this issue of having some pocket money at my house, the first reaction was as expected. Why do you need money ? You are too small to handle money ! You will be eating wrong kind of stuff outside! However my boodhi Dadi got me sanctioned a daily pocket money of Ten Paise. A rider was attached that every day I would be telling them how and where did I spend that coin. Everything was acceptable by me because for the fisrt time in my life, I was going to get a right to spend some money by myself !
In my school I had made a friend – Shivaji Singh. He was a lad from a poor family. His family lived nearby and they were having a tea stall. His father was always making tea on the stall. He advised me a snack during the recess in my morning school. There was a vendor near my school who used to sell small kachoris with aaloo bhaji ( a curry made with potato). Shivaji suggested that I buy that because that was available for a ten paise coin. So we started to enjoy that. But in a few days I got bored with that.
Some times I would find a begger family on my way. They were mobile. There was a wooden cart on which an old lady in dirtiest cloth would be sitting. A man, extremely shabby with beard would be pushing the cart. His hands used to be wrapped with cloths or bandages. He would keep on crying in an extremely pathetic voice for help. It was very disturbing for me. I always felt like helping them out. Many a times I would give my pocket money coin to them. Still felt bad that how would they feed themselves with such small money. After some time my pocket money was increased to Chavanni- a coin of 25 paise, as everyone realized that I was not spending the money unwisely.
There was a grain shop on my way to school which used to sell wheat, rice ,maize etc. The shopkeeper also sold special grains for pigeons’ feed. A big bunch of pigeon was always visible across the pavement picking the grains of their feed. The shopkeeper had made some special packaging of different values to sell. Many generous people used to buy some portion of the pigeon feed to feed the pigeons. Pigeons used to chant in their peculiar style especially when they were fed.
I, as a child, loved that activity. Henceforth, it became a part of my daily routine to spend my chavnni for pigeon-feed . The problem with me was that I used to stand there for long time to watch the pigeons enjoy their treat. In this process sometimes I reached school late. I was given warning at school several times. One day my school teacher called up my mother and complained about my routine delays. Mom was surprised as she always bade me good bye well in time. That day when I arrived home, I was sternly questioned by mom in presence of my grand mom. Initially I tried to evade telling them the fact, assuming that I would be reprimanded for my act of feeding the pigeons out of my pocket-money of chavanni ; but finally I had to confess my routine crime to them. I was waiting some kind of strong yelling from Mom about that but Lo! I was into a great surprise when Mom lovingly cuddled me with moist eyes. She planted few kisses on my face.
And the best part ! My boodhi dadi victoriously declared the doubling of my pocket money from that very day. That meant two chavannis in place of one; there was a rider attached - that second chavanni will not be spent for pigeons. I was overjoyed for the prize received for my innocent good deed.
Final Change Of School
As I have mentioned earlier my latest school was not proper. The atmosphere of the school was not good; even the timing did not suit. The final blow came when the senior students started a protest against the principal of the school. I could not understand the reason of the protest but what I recall is that one day they stopped all students from entering the premises. They made huge placards saying – Bina Pariksha Pass Karo!( Promote us without exams). The demand was outrageous. There must have been some fault of the school authorities as they had to bend against this absurd demand of the students. The entire students of the school were promoted to higher classes without any exam.
When Pitaji came to know about this happening at school, he was furious! He always valued education. Even if he was never directly involved in my selection of educational institutions, his objective was to get me the best education. This time he took advice and help of my elder mamaji ( mother’s brother) Bimal Bhushanji. He had got his two sons Naresh and Dinesh admitted in a school called Sri Daulatram Nopany Vidyalaya. He recommended the school for both of us. The next usual question was the location of the school ! This was an issue. The school was far from our house. In fact it was closer to our old residence at Haripad Lane. Mamaji could convince my parents as his house was much farther than ours and his children were almost of our age. The logic given was the facility of the bus. The school had two buses which operated in two different loops to pick children in the morning and drop them back in the evening. Though there was some reluctance about this arrangement, yet there was no choice hence my parents agreed. We were admitted in the new school.
Bus driver fixed my point of pick up and drop on the main road near my house. The walk from the house to pick up point was about ten minutes. By this time I was old enough to go of my own to this point. I used to carry a backpack which contained my books, school diary and a flat box containing my lunch. In the morning I would be the last student to be picked up by the bus as the bus would directly stop at the school after that. That was handy as I did not have to get ready early like those who were picked earlier than me by more than an hour. But this benefit of morning became a negative factor on my return journey. Bus will follow the same route and therefore I would be the last boy to be dropped. That meant that I would reach home at about 6 pm even though the school was over by 4.30 pm. This reduced my precious playing hours as in Calcutta it starts getting dark by 6 o’ clock. Gradually I got frustrated with this timing of the bus. I told mother that I was ready to walk up and down but was not ready to travel in bus. She too was not very happy with my getting so late in the evening. She agreed after six months of this bus torture. I got rid of the bus. I felt like a free person.
As I mentioned, I needed to play with my friends from the building every evening. We had become a group of about 6-7 boys who would play Cricket. The regular ones were Pawan and Ravi Jajodia from first floor, Suresh and Naresh Sharma from second floor and myself and Narendra from third floor. Fourth floor did not have any boys. The strange thing was that we used to play on the top of the building – the terrace over fourth floor. That too with a rubber ball! The game was customized to suit the limitation of being on a terrace. The batting was against the wall on which the wickets were drawn with a marker. Bowling had to be a direct gentle throw without over-arm action. The best part was the spin bowling which was mastered by twisting the ball between fingers. There was no running for runs. Locations of parapet was marked for one, two or four runs. Close in fielding was most important part. We all became expert catchers! There was no team business in our sport. Everyone batted for himself and all others would bowl and field. A high shot meant ball flying out of the terrace right on the road. This was a ‘run out’ ! Not just getting out, but also getting out of the building to find and fetch the ball back. While the culprit batsman will be on his way to get the ball, others on the terrace would shout from top and request the passers by to either throw the ball back on the terrace or to keep the same in a shop below the building. This was a process of keeping the ball in sight and with a claim of ownership until our person reached to it. Some times a ball would get lost! That meant either the end of the game for the day or chipping in of coins to buy another one for 10 paise.
Gradually our passion for the game went on increasing. We formed a real cricket team of 11 members. Apart from six from our building we gathered five more from neighborhood and school. I was the captain of the team. For two reasons ! First I was the best batsman and second I owned bat and wickets. Every Sunday we would go to Maidan right in front of Victoria memorial and play serious cricket with a dark red hard cricket ball called a ‘Deuse Ball’. This deuse ball was an expensive affair. The cheapest would come for a price of Rs. Five. That was a hell of a lot of money for us. Everyone would save his pocket money for the whole week to buy a ball on Saturdays. Those who did not contribute were last to bat in the batting order. We used to acquire one of the pitches out of dozens of pitches already carved out of grassy maidan by regular playing teams. Sometimes we found all pitches occupied. In such situations we would challenge a team to play which was already in possession of a pitch. The selection of a team to challenge was based on the heights and age group of the opponents. I along with Kishan Killa were the regular openers. Our regular wicket keeper was Brij Mohan Mall, a school friend. He was the wicket keeper not for any special keeping qualification but because he only had the wicket keeping gloves along with a pair of pads. If we did not allow him the wicket keeping, the alternate keeper would have to do that job without these gadgets. Our specialist fast bowler was Suresh Sharma. Though he was a frail looking lad but he copied west Indian bowler ‘Wes Hall’ in his run. He would take very long run up in his first few bowls, which would go on reducing after third bowl. I declared myself as the specialist fielder of the slips. As a Captain I had to decide the field positioning. My favorite Captain was Captain of Indian team -Ajit Wadekar was also the first slip fielder; that automatically decided my position. I was the second bowler after Suresh. I had the ability to bowl straight though not with a great speed. In fact that was a big quality as half the wickets of that level of cricket were always down on straight balls. In a crowd of so many cricket pitches full of players in white, it was difficult to understand who was fielding for whom. Even the boundary lines were arbitrary. Umpire, always appointed by batting side, would wait for a good shot to declare that a boundry with four runs. The fielding side had no basis to contradict.
My ultimate achievement was when I was selected to play in the House (Gandhi house) cricket team of my school. The best part was that my regular cricket team mate Kishan Killa was also selected in our house team. We used to open the batting together in our mohalla cricket team; here also our captain Anup Sharda gave us an opportunity to open the innings. We played two matches. I batted fairly well. Took few catches also in the slips! I think we lost in semi finals. The bad part was that this tournament started in the beginning of my new class that was Class ix.
My Bad Beginning in Science Stream
In Class ix there was a division of students on the basis of their selection of subjects. I selected Science’ the other choice would have been Commerce. New subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Maths entered my course. Maths too had many difficult divisions like trigonometry, Coordinate Geometry apart from very complex Geometry and Algebra. The cricket matches and some practice sessions kept me away from the class in the first two weeks of the new class. When I was back into the class everything was strange and unknown for me. The maths teacher Mr. B.P.Srivastava would talk in trigonometry with words like Sin, Cos,Tan etc. which went completely bouncer over my head. Physics teacher Mr. D.P.Bannerjee mentioned Specific Gravity and Acceleration due to gravity etc. which was completely foreign to my ears. The chemistry teacher, a very young and smart man, Mr. A.Roy spoke in very fast English and wrote chemical reactions on the board in a very bad hand writing. Everything was like foreign language for me.
My medium of hindi became a handicap for me. Almost all subjects of science were being taught in English. I had purchased even science books in hindi. Science in hindi language was double tough. The terminology of English when translated into hindi were not like hindi- they sounded more of sanskrit. For example Acceleration due to Gravity was ‘ Gurutva janya veg vriddhi’. A chemical reaction was ‘ Raasaynik pratikriya’ and an exothermic reaction would be called- ‘ ushma daayak raasaynik pratikriya’. I pressed the danger button at home. I informed my uncle about my problem and the root cause of my absence of two weeks. He spoke to his teacher friend Mr. D.K.Sharma who was kind enough to get me a science teacher at home. On the advice of my teacher I changed my medium of science from hindi to English. Within three months time I came at par with my class mates in all subjects. In fact I started enjoying physics and maths as they were brainy subject. I hated chemistry as that was like Sanskrit. One has to cram everything to memory.
My unwanted gain- Obesity !
My uncle Satyanand had got engaged to my aunt Pushpa who belonged to Cuttack. That brought a major change in my life. In fact almost an irreversible one ! The family of Pushpa Chachi would send different types of snacks and sweets on regular basis from Cuttack. The two main things which caught my fancy were- Kesariya Peda (Saffron mixed milk based cake) and Bhujiya ( A fried storable snack). My consumption of these items went on increasing. My liking for these items became public. That in fact increased the supply from Cuttack and so was my consumption. I who used to look like an undernourished child till then started putting on weight. And by the time my parents realized such changes in me seriously, I had joined the category of obese children. I am still carrying on that obesity inflicted on me by myself only.
I have never missed any exam in my life; except one. The year was 1968. My favourite uncle Satyanand’s wedding date was fixed as 28 April. The wedding was to take place at Cuttack ( A town in Orisaa) as my aunt Pushpa belonged to that town. It was planned that we all- the family members along with all relatives and friends will travel by train on the night of April 26 and will arrive at Cuttack on April 27. The accommodation for the barat ( The wedding group from Groom’s side) was to be accommodated in a dharmshala ( a public inn). The barat would return by the night train on April 29. The whole thing sounded quite exciting. The added attraction was of getting new cloths stitched for the wedding.
The whole excitement was punctured by a notice of school. The school declared the first terminal examination from April 30, 1968. The date of the first examination clashed with date of our arrival from the wedding. The train would reach in the morning at around 7 o.clock. The examination time was also in the morning as during summers the school changed the time from 7 am to 12 noon. Confusion got created. Pitaji was against my missing the exam. Mother was divided in her mind. I was adamant to attend the wedding. Finally my boodhi dadi intervened and used her veto power in my favour. My uncle also wanted me to attend his wedding so he consoled everyone that this being the first terminal exam was not very important. The real importance was of the final examination.
I attended the wedding. It was great fun. Perhaps this was the best party time of my life. I enjoyed those three days without anybody stopping me from anything. I had my age group friends in Jitendra, my cousin and Narendra. The partying started in the morning with delicious breakfast and ended with classy dinner at night followed with saffron flavoured hot milk. During day time there used be wedding rituals or some sessions of singing bhajan etc. As per prevailing practice the ladies or girls of the house did not go in the barat.The wedding procession through the lanes of Cuttack was very impressive. Uncle Satyanand looked very smart in his wedding oufit consisting of silk kurta and a dhoti. On the next day of the wedding, dadaji had organized a get together involving both sides – the groom as well as bride side people together in a large room. In that function Dadaji emphasized that a wedding should not end at a sad note with all members of bride’s side sobbing. The farewell to the bride known as ‘Vidaai’ is generally a sad affair as described by Dadaji. He said this is not the departure of your beloved daughter but the start of a new relationship. He said that all of us are benefitted as our relations have doubled. He renamed the Vidaai as ‘Preeti Sammelan’. He started a process of introduction of all members. This was followed by a session of bhajans. Dadaji always wrote bhajans and Geets (lyrics) for every occasion. For this wedding also he had written many songs dedicated to the different aspects. There was a specific song about his newly introduced ‘Preeti Sammelan’. Everyone enjoyed the function.
Life in Shri Daulatram Nopany Vidyalaya
As expected I missed my first test in the new school of the subject-English language. Fortunately, in spite of so much diversion just at the eve of my first terminal exams, I did not do bad in other subjects. The worst part was that now I had two difficult languages to learn- Sanskrit and Bengali. I do not know why but perhaps all the teachers who teach Sanskrit were scary. In this new school the teacher for Sanskrit was Mr. H.N.Singh. The whole school was scared of him. He did not look scary but his actions were always unexpected with quick reflexes. If a student did not perform his home work, he would call him to his table. Ask him the reasons and if not satisfied he would pull a tight slap across the face of the student. Sometime he used the wooden scale to punish students on their palms and knuckles. I was extremely sincere in Sanskrit as I had no heart to face such treatment. The only difference is that I could never like Sanskrit in those days as I learnt it as an alternative of punishment. I wish it was not so as Now I feel like learning Sanskrit, as I feel the urge to read our old scriptures like Vedas which are in Sanskrit.
Bengali was rather easier to learn. The teacher ( I think his name was Bimal Bose) was soft spoken like the language itself and it was similar to learning hindi once I was familiar with the alphabets and grammar. I was always good in my natural languages- Hindi & English. My teachers were always happy with me.
There was a peculiar arrangement in my new school. The school was in both medium- English as well as hindi. Every class had one section in English medium and 3 to 4 sections in hindi medium. I joined hindi medium. My cousin Naresh was in English medium. I had access to his books, hence I knew the difference. Subjects like geography, science, social studies, history and mathematics were in English for him. At that stage I found that very difficult. I was content being in hindi medium.
This school was different than all my previous schools. There was an order and system for every activity. Prayer in the morning was not just standing up in the class and pray ! All classes on different floors would form ques right out their class. Hence there would be at least 7 to 8 ques on each floor. The prefects, selected out of senior students, would start releasing the ques starting from first floor. All ques would go down silently in a line to the big hall on the ground floor. The younger students of class three ( Our school started from class 3) would go to the hall first and stand in the first row in front facing the stage. After class 3, will go class 4 and so on in increasing order! Class 11 would be the last to reach the hall. All the teachers would be standing on the sides. Once all the students were made to stand in the hall in rows, the music teacher of the school Mr. Sanyal would start playing his harmonium on the stage. A chorus of three students would be singing the prayers. The entire hall would join the chorus. The effect was magnificent. The prayer was not same for every day. Seven days of the week had seven different prayers. Prayers were mainly devoted to hindu Gods and Goddesses like Sarswati, Rama, Durga etc. All the prayers were printed in the school diary. Few prayers were the poetry written by famous poets, which were composed into a prayer by Mr. Sanyal. On every Saturday, prayer would be followed by National Anthem. Every day after the prayer important information and notices were read out by some teacher. Sometimes condolence messages were read out which were followed by silence of a minute. Sometimes the condolence messages were followed by happy news, especially when some big leader of the government would die, that the school would be suspended for the day and students may go home.
Lunch session was after four periods of 45 minutes each. The lunch break was for one hour. The reason was that the lunch session, like the prayer session, was an elaborate event. Ques would move to the main hall on ground floor in the same fashion. The difference was that they would be sitting on the long mats spread on the floor longitudinally and parallel to each other. Two mats would be put together so that students can sit back to back. That meant in all the rows students would be seeing the faces of the students in the row in front of him. While going to the hall there used to be stacks of stainless steel plates placed on the sides. Every student would pick one plate in his hand. Helpers would serve water in stainless steel glasses to each and every student. Lunch would not start until a whistle to start was blown.
Once all students were seated in the hall and served with glass of water, the whistle would be blown. That whistle marked opening of may be 800 or more metal Tiffin boxes simultaneously. It was an interesting cacophony of different seconds. I enjoyed this sound. Once the lunch started, there would be an announcement from the stage behind the curtain-
Doston, ye hai radio D N V! Ab ham pesh karenge aap ke saamne kuch dilchasp karykram ! Sabse pahle ek geet……… ki aavaj me……..( Friends! This is Radio DNV. Now we are going to present some entertaining programs for you.)
The program included songs, jokes, audio skits and mimicry by students. Initially when I was new I was under impression that this program is being broadcasted on radio. But gradually I realized that some of the students only presented it. It was a good way to enjoy lunch. I think it was banned to bring non vegetarian food in the tiffins as I never came across anyone eating anything non veg. After lunch all students would wrap up their tiffins and go back to their classes row by row. They had to pick up their plates and glasses and put those back into the tubs provided for collecting soiled plates.
One more interesting feature of the lunch was the mobile canteen service. The authorized vendor would put up his stall outside the dining hall on the tables provided to him. The items sold included Samosa, Dahi Kachoris, Dahi Vada and Pedas. My favourite was kachoris and peda. Those students who wanted to buy any stuff from the vendor could go out to buy after they had taken their position in the hall. The transaction was against the coupons sold by the school to students. One booklet was for Two rupees containing 10 coupons each being worth twenty paise. All items of the vendor were worth one coupon each. It was not compulsory for students to buy one booklet at a time. Students like me whose pocket money was small could buy one or two coupons also.
I remember many of my friends in class vi. Initially I was not in good company. I was the back bencher. My companion on my two seater bench was Vimal Sharma. Vimal Sharma was an extremely tall fellow. He was stylish. Extremely fun loving ! Always brought comics in the class ! I envied him as he was allowed to see films by himself. He would watch new movies first day and first show missing the class. Next day he would tell me the story of the movie. Sometimes he talked on forbidden subjects like sex. I was confused about him. Though I enjoyed his company, but somehow I felt I was drifting from studies. One day he brought a lens with him. Kind of lens having a circular frame and a handle! He showed me the magic of lens. Being the last bench, the sun was coming direct on our bench. He focused the sun rays on the wooden bench at a point. The heat was so intense that the wood started burning slowly. A streak of smoke arose from that point. I and few other students were watching that with our jaws dropped. At that very moment, entered our English teacher Mr. K.N.Singh. We all were so much engrossed in the magic of Vimal that we did not even notice his entry. He slowly walked to our desk. He confiscated the lens from Vimal. He sent him out of the class as punishment for the whole period. After the class he spoke to me in private. He said – Mahendra, you are a good boy and good student. This Vimal is thoroughly spoiled brat. I will prefer if you change your seat towards the front side. My confusion was solved at that very moment. Next day I shifted to the second row on the side. My new companion on desk was Subhash Bajla. Subhash was not a very bright boy, but a disciplined hard working student. We got along very well. We became close buddies in a short time.
We had another story teller in our class- Subhash Mishra. He was fond of reading hindi suspense thrillers of Omprakash Sharma and Ved Prakash Kamboj. He had an art of storytelling. In the idle periods when the teachers were absent, he would stand in the front middle and tell stories of these books with great action and style. He had the ability to create the same drama effect as was written in the book. He would make us emote the way he wanted- fear, surprise, shock, sad and on top of all thrilled. Because of his this ability, he was the most popular student amongst other students. He was good at studies too hence he was made the class monitor. He had good leadership quality.
My First Hindi Novel
Novel reading was considered taboo in our house. Pitaji was against all kinds of novels as he thought they are unnecessary for anyone; for students more so! For that reason no one would bring any novels I our house. When my aunt Pushpa came to live with us after her marriage with my uncle Satyanand she brough few novels along with her. She had no knowledge about family restriction on reading novels. No one wanted to dishearten her by informing so. I looked at one novel with a title- ‘Sitaron se aage’, which was authored by Gulshan Nanda. I was so much engrossed in reading that book that it could not leave that for a moment and finished reading in a day. I found nothing wrong with the book as it was about a child. In the evening when Pitaji returned back from his work and he came to know how I finished reading the novel in a day.
He did not angry with me. He talked to me coolly and explained to me how the mind gets drifted to such habits and how my studies will be affected. He also explained that he was not averse to reading; but the reading should be well defined. He said what is considered as literature is fine to read even if it is a fiction, because that will sharpen my language skill. That meeting gave me a complete direction about my reading habits for future. I got motivated to read literature. I must have read all quality authors of our times. I developed a special liking for good poetry. From my school text book I could read hindi poetry by Mahadevi, Nirala, Pant and Prasad. My reading habit inculcated the habit of writing poetry, articles and stories. My first small poem was published in a children’s magazine called- Rajabhaiyya sometime in late sixties. I still have the cutting of that poem. By now, I must have written at least 1000 poems in my life.
My Regular Holiday Destination – Kurseong
Kurseong is a small town in hills enroute Darjeeling. My buaji Snehlata was living there after her marriage. Once Buaji asked me to join her while she was going back to Kurseong from Kolkata. The routine journey was in two parts- flight journey from Dumdum airport at Kolkata to Bagdogra Airport at Siliguri; road journey throughout hills from Siliguri to Kurseong. I enjoyed both legs of the journey. Journey by air was a dream by now (the fiasco of the first air journey in early childhood was forgotten). Flying over clouds, toffees distributed by pretty looking air hostess, service of tea and snacks in the middle of the journey – everything was like a part of a picnic. Barring a small stretch from Bagdogra airport through the town of Siliguri, the rest of journey used to start through tea gardens and moved up the hills parallel to the famous toy train lines of Drajeeling. Sometimes the journey used to be through dense fog. Slow speed movement used to be little scary but adventurous. Waterfalls, deep downwards slopes and small villages used to be the highlight of the journey.
Buaji lived in a joint family of 7 brothers and their parents. They had an old building having about ten rooms. The common bath and toilet was on ground floor and the common kitchen with dining was on terrace. It was fun to eat on terrace. The view from the terrace was magnificent. Hills on one side, town on the other was fun to watch. They had a further smaller terrace over the staircase which was the highest level. They had put few bee hive shelves for collecting honey. I used to spend lot of time watching the movement of honey bees.
The family was full of action. Family members included singers, guitarists, painters and sportsmen. I related my hobbies with all of them. I loved spending time with each of the brothers in different way. Their family business included a departmental store which was fun to inside and watch customers of different types and natures looking for different stuff. There another shop was of music, selling gramophone records and players etc. Another favorite place of mine!
Kurseong was a small town. No one used any vehicle for moving around in the town. The farthest place of visit was the Cinema hall, which was about 2 kilometers from the main market area. I almost fell in love with the place. My trip included one day visit to Darjelling, one morning trekking to the famous downhill with my uncle and several evening visits to the Durbeen Dahda which was also called the Suicide Point because of such incidents in past.
After my first visit, Kurseong became my favorite holiday place because of the great life and great company for me there. I must have been there at least 5-6 times for different reasons.
My Unfulfilled Dream Excursion- Kashmir
The school had two long vacations – Summer Vacation and Puja Vacation. Each one was of one month each ! Sometimes the school planned an excursion for students ! Such excursions were managed by two teachers sent by the school with students. Students had to contribute the calculated amount in advance. When I was In class vi , the school planned a summer vacation trip to Kashmir. I knew Kashmir was a very beautiful place as my uncle Satyanand had gone for his honeymoon trip there. He had come with lot of nice pictures of Kashmir. My benchmate Subhsah Bajla and I decided to make this trip. But the final decision depended on permission from the parents. We decided to talk to our parents. The cost of the ten days trip was Rs. 500. I put up the subject at my home. The first reaction was a straight – NO! Reason was that I was too small and Kashmir was too far. I persisted on my demand. The subject went to my Dadaji, who was with us in Kolkata at that time. When he realized that I was not ready to buzz, he asked my favorite uncle Satyanand to visit my school and enquire about all arrangements. He also advised him to carry money with him so that if he approves the trip he could pay there. I was beside myself. There was no doubt that my trip was on. I went to school next day and told my friend Subhash that my uncle would be coming to school to make the payment. He said that if my program was final then he will convince his parents too.
I came home in the evening. First thing I checked with my mother whether uncle had paid the money for my excursion. Mother had no heart to tell the truth. She said that she was not aware though she confirmed that he had gone to the school. I asked Dadaji whether money was paid at the school. Dadaji made me sit close to him and then started explaining. He said that uncle had gone to the school but was not satisfied with the arrangements; hence he did not make the payment. I was furious – ‘ What arrangements ? What did he check ?’
I encountered my uncle - whom did he meet and what was the issue ! He said that he met his friend – a teacher Mr. S.K.Shukla in the school. Shukla did not recommend the tour as he did not like the teacher who was accompanying the group. I understood the matter. Initially Shukla sir was selected to take the tour with him but later on for whatever reason he was replaced by another teacher Mr. Talukdaar whom he detested. I almost shouted at everyone at home. I cried for hours. I felt shattered. I was sure that the whole thing was a farce to stop me from going to Kashmir trip. I was hurt that my favorite uncle had let me down so badly. And that too on the basis of advice of a teacher who was not even the part of the tour! It took me many days to overcome that loss. I could not forgive him for this massive let down for a long time!
Irony is that Kashmir was always my dream destination. I could not go there ever till 2012. The political situation worsened since 70s and it became difficult for people to go there for tourism.
My Interest in Music
I was always interested in music. Music of all kinds ! Whether it was in the form of bhajans sung by dadaji or the film songs heard by me on radio or the hit music played during Durga Pooja. In school we had one compulsory period of music- once a week. Our music teacher was Mr. Sanyal. Sanyal sir used to pick up students who were seriously interested in learning music and invited them to attend special music class every day during lunch. I was also selected by him for this special training. In this class I made two good friends- Shashi Mimani and Anup Sharda. Being music class students we got exemption from standing in the que to go for lunch. We used to have our lunch on the mezzanine floor where the music room was situated. The lunch also became a special fun for us. All of us would open our Tiffin boxes and empty the contents on steel plates. We all tasted each others home food. The change was a welcome treat for taste buds. We would finish the lunch in 15 minutes as against one hour taken by the rest of the school and would go to music class for training. Though singing ragas was the primary focus; yet I got a chance to learn flute and Eshraj ( A traditional Indian string instrument generally quite used in old hindi film music also). My basic foundation in music started from here.
However the music in me got further help at home. Sister Savita wanted to learn music at home, so a music teacher – Pandit Ramreejhan Sharma was appointed to teach her singing.Panditji was an arya samaji bhajnopadeshak ( a preacher through bhajans). A nice harmoniyam ( traditional keyboard energized by bellow pumping) was purchased. Panditji would play harmoniyam and she would sing the bhajans taught by him. Panditji’s singing or teaching was no great treat for me. My interest was in the harmoniyam. I would start playing the harmoniyam after he left. Initially it was by looking at the notes written in the book by him, but later on I realized that I started playing keys by naturally searching for the right notes. For whatever reasons Panditji’s classes got discontinued. There was a lull in music training at home. However I did not stop my self learning process.
One day I asked my frined Shashi Mimani, whether he also was taking any training from someone. He said that he was being trained by a very good music teacher Shri Mohan Tripathi for many years. I requested him to send Mr. Tripathi to our home for training Savita. Tripathiji was an accomplished musician who played excellent table also. In fact he asked us to keep a pair of tablas also. Just by sitting along Savita and listening to his music training, my interest and knowledge was further enriched. This foundation of good Indian music has made music my favorite hobby at my current age of 57 years. I compose my own music , simply based on my indirect training in music.
Rani Sati Temple and Mela
Adjacent to our school building on the back side of the school, there was a temple of Rani Satiji. I think the temple was also built by the promoters of our school – the Nopanys. There were huge followers of that temple. Even from our school many students would visit the temple first before entering the school building. I had no interest in the temple as my upbringing did not support idol worshipping. Once a year, there was a mela (major religious fair) in the temple. Thousand of people would visit the temple on that day. As the passage to the temple was quite narrow, lot of discipline was required. On the day of the mela the school was kept closed. A special exit route was created through the school campus. While all the students would be enjoying the special holiday every year, I was one of those students in a group who would be asked to come for the whole day for volunteering to control the ques. The reason of my being part of the group was my being a scout member. The scouts were given instructions one day before about how to manage the lines. Though it was boring to be in school on a holiday, however it was fun to be in a power holding position and telling people what to do and what not to do.
The following day after the mela, students would not bring their food from home as the Prasad consisting of poori, aloo sabji, halwa and boondi ka laddu would be served to all students as Prasad. The information was circulated in advance. Everyone enjoyed this feast once a year.
My Unfulfilled Dream – English Play ‘Master of the house’
I had never acted in a play. In fact I had never even seen a serious play. On school stage I had seen small skits during our House meets. When I came to know that our school was going to stage an English play on the stage of Kala Mandir, the most reputed auditorium of Kolkata city, I was eager to take a part in the play. Fortunately I was selected also because of my clear diction of English. The director of the play was Mr. Parihast, an English teacher who used to teach the English medium sections. I was an unknown person for him. My colleagues from the actors were all from English Medium. Shashi Mimani, Aloke Gupta, Shashi Dhancholiya and Subhash Agarwal – all came from English medium. Apart from me the only other person from the hindi medium was Anup Kedia. Anup Kedia had to play the character of a dead man from first scene till last scene. Hence his main contribution would have been remaining silent and motionless throughout. My role was semi important. I was to play the role of Dr. Jelicoe. I had one scene in which I had to enter the house and greet people of the house and then check the patient who was a dead man but that was not known to the family members. I had to declare that he was dead. Hence the scene had lot of drama.
What I did not know in the beginning was that Shashi Dhancholiya was also selected for the same role as mine. During rehearsals both of us were asked to rehearse. All my colleagues assured me that I was doing much better than Shashi as his diction of English was very un-english like. Even my action and my personality was matching with the character very well. We must have practiced for 3 weeks, missing important classes. I was a naïve as I could not see through the designs of our director Mr. Parihast, whose objective was to showcase his own students from the English medium. He was using me for two purposes; one – to give the effect to the management that it was not limited to one section and second and the main reason- Shashi was not good in remembering his dialogues; hence I was informed at last moment that Shashi will play the role and I will be prompting his dialogues to help him. I felt completely let down and cheated. I had invited my family and friends to Kala Mandir to see me in action. They would be so disappointed. As a child I could feel the sense of embarrassment which I would face in explaining everybody why I was not the Dr. Jelicoe. It was extremely crude on part of Mr. Parihast to play such dirty trick on me. If he would told me half way down the rehearsals that I would not be selected for final show, I would have reconciled with the fact rather easily and would have continued to play the second fiddle as the prompter. I guess all children get such treatment in their lives from elders sometime or the other. I wanted to cry backstage but even that was not possible as I had to prompt for Shashi. I cried after the play.
The hero of the play- Shashi Mimani performed extremely well in the role of Fred Ovens. Aloke Gupta dressed like a woman played Fred’s mother. He looked very cute as a female. There was another lady character played by a boy who looked very beautiful. Subhash Agarwal played the lawyer and was good. Worse performance came from Shashi Dhancholiya as Dr. Jelicoe. All my friends told me that the fellow neither looked like a doctor nor spoke English properly. That did not reduce my grief; in fact that increased.
To perform in a play remained my second unfulfilled desire of life. First one was going to Kashmir as I mentioned earlier. Kashmir I could visit in 2012. But since 2008 I am writing plays for our group ‘Jeewant’. We perform our plays on important stages of Mumbai. I always play one important role in each play. Last play we did was on August 15, 2014 – Paying Guest. Previous ones are – Studio Six, Colonel’s Den, Floating Resort and Badi haveli. I am so proud with the fact that all my plays have been highly appreciated by all my audience.
Naxlite Movement in Bengal
There are some terrible memories of late sixties. A new terminology called Naxalite or Naxalvaadi came into light. The term Naxalites comes from Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal, where a section of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) led by Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal, and Jangal Santhal initiated a violent uprising in 1967.
On 18 May 1967, the Siliguri Kishan Sabha, of which Jangal was the president, declared their support for the movement initiated by Kanu Sanyal and readiness to adopt armed struggle to redistribute land to the landless. The following week, a sharecropper near Naxalbari village was attacked by the landlord's men over a land dispute. On 24 May, when a police team arrived to arrest the peasant leaders, it was ambushed by a group of tribals led by Jangal Santhal, and a police inspector was killed in a hail of arrows. This event encouraged many Santhal tribals and other poor people to join the movement and to start attacking local landlords.
These conflicts go back to the failure of implementing a limited form of tribal autonomy with regard to exploiting natural resources on their lands, e.g. pharmaceutical and mining, and 'land ceiling laws', limiting the land to be possessed by landlords and distribution of excess land to landless farmers and labourers. The caste system was another important social aspect of these conflicts.
Mao Zedong of China provided ideological leadership for the Naxalbari movement, advocating that Indian peasants and lower class tribals overthrow the government and upper classes by force. A large number of urban elites were also attracted to the ideology, which spread through Charu Majumdar's writings, particularly the 'Historic Eight Documents' which formed the basis of Naxalite ideology.
Violence in West Bengal
During 1971 the Naxalites gained a strong presence among the radical sections of the student movement in Calcutta. Students left school to join the Naxalites. Naxalite leader Majumdar, to entice more students into his organisation, declared that revolutionary warfare was to take place not only in the rural areas as before, but everywhere and spontaneously. Thus Majumdar declared an "annihilation line", a dictum that Naxalites should assassinate individual "class enemies" (such as landlords, businessmen, university teachers, police officers, politicians of the right and left) and others.
The chief minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray of the Congress Party, instituted strong counter-measures against the Naxalites. The West Bengal police fought back to stop the Naxalites. The house of Somen Mitra, the Congress MLA of Sealdah, was allegedly turned into a torture chamber where Naxals were incarcerated illegally by police and the Congress cadres. CPI-M cadres were also involved in the "state terror". After suffering losses and facing the public rejection of Majumdar's "annihilation line", the Naxalites alleged human rights violations by the West Bengal police, who responded that the state was effectively fighting a civil war and that democratic pleasantries had no place in a war, especially when the opponent did not fight within the norms of democracy and civility.
Large sections of the Naxal movement began to question Majumdar's leadership. In 1971 the CPI(ML) was split, as Satyanarayan Singh revolted against Majumdar's leadership. In 1972 Majumdar was arrested by the police and died in Alipore Jail. His death accelerated the fragmentation of the movement.
My Nightmarish Memories of Naxalite Movement
Everybody’s life was affected by this violent lawless instigated movement. Everyone in the society in Kolkata felt unsecured. I came to hear for the first time about this movement, when one fine morning I reached my school and was told by my colleagues that they were not allowed to visit Rani Sati temple that morning. The reason was terrifying. A businessman (Mr. Satyanarayan Jhunjhunwala , if I remember correctly) was shot by someone unknown in the narrow lane of entry to the temple in the early hours. When I looked down from my classroom window I that familiar lane, I found lot of policemen there. There was an area marked with chalks within which lot of blood was visible. The body must have been recently. I was scared. Everyone said this was the Naxalite linked murder case.
Few days later, before I could forget the incident another terrible thing happened. This one happened in my building on ground floor. The owner of our building Mr. Shiv Bhagwan Jajodia used to live in a room on ground floor. His whole family was on the first floor. The incident happened around 11 o clock in the morning. I was listening to my favourite music on our radiogram when I heard two loud gun shots. I immediately went to the central part of the floor where one could see upto ground floor. I saw someone running out of the ground floor. In few minutes the watchman and others went inside the room of Mr. Jajodia. They brought out the bleeding body of Mr. Shiv Bhagwan Jajodia. This must have been the most cruel site of my life. I was looking at a person who was just shot by gun and was dying. He died. The killer was recognized by everyone. He was the son of a pujari (priest) of a Shiv temple nearby who had joined naxalism. I had seen him so many times. After this incident I never saw him.
One day our history teacher Mr. H.N.Singh (the most dreaded one) started talking about naxalism in our class. He was lamenting how young boys have picked up the gun and are out on a killing spree. He was wondering who all are giving guns so easily to everyone. One of the students in my class ( I recall his surname Jaiswal) said that no one was supplying them guns. They were supplied with ammunitions only. Everyone was surprised at his guts. He further explained the class that the gun used is a crude assembly of pipe and spring. The gun was known as a pipe gun. Our teacher Mr. Singh was completely shocked by his knowledge. He asked him could he explain the mechanism. He said yes as he knew the total structure. He went to the black board and drew a diagram of pipe gun giving details of its function. Mr. Singh asked him how did he know so much. He said that his father was a pipe retailer and now a days there were regular buyers of specific size of pipe of a particular diameter. He said one of the buyers was known to him and he had only explained him the purpose. I was terribly shaken. I got scared of that student also. His father’s shop was in the same lane – Muktaram Babu Street where my residence was!
Those were the worst time of fear and insecurity in Kolkata. Being out of house after 8 o clock was considered late and risky. Night life in Calcutta had become zero. Cinema halls stopped showing the last show. Restaurants were seen deserted at peak dinner hours.
Cricket at School
In my school there were four ‘houses’. Houses meant random distribution of all students into four groups. Each house was given a name – Gandhi, Tilak, Nehru and Vivekanand. I was in Gandhi house. There used to be an annual inter house cricket tournament. For the first time, I was selected as a member of the team just after the passing my class viii.
Class ix was important. The reason was that after class viii we had to select our stream out of two – Science and Commerce. I selected Science stream. Many of my class mates were new as they had come from different sections because they too selected Science stream.Many of my close friends till Class viii were not with me anymore as they had selected commerce stream.
My Trip As Scout To Kathmandu
I had joined scouts in school, though there were hardly much activities of scouts. The scouts trainers were our two teachers- Mr. B.K.Vohra, a rajasthani tough looking person and Mr. K.N.Jha, a bihari teacher comparatively an easy going person. When I was in Class x , a very surprising news came from scouts of the school; that the scouts are planning a camping visit to Nepal. I was not sure whether I would be allowed to join this trip by my parents as the previous failed effort of going to Kashmir was still bitter in my heart. I made an attempt. And to my utter surprise, I got the permission in first conversation. Perhaps there were two reasons- I had grown older as now I was in Class X in comparison to Class VIII at that time. And second reason I feel was that they wanted to amend my previous disappointment. Moreover in this trip Narendra was to join me hence there was little more sense of my not being alone. The money asked for a fifteen days trip was a mere Rs. 350 per person. And that included a one way plane journey between Patna to Kathmandu ! We were given a list of things which had to be carried in a small suitcase. The things included not more than three sets of cloths, some woolens, one plastic plate, one mug, one torch and one rope. Mother made a list of all our things and stuck that to the inside of top lid in our suitcases so that we don’t miss out things. And of curse every one was to bring his own hold-all as a sleeping arrangement. Hold-all , generally referred as bistarband, was a general thing for any journey in those days. Its use was that it could be opened and spread as a thin mattress on a wooden seat of a train. Its two pockets contained a blanket and a thin pillow.
The journey started by train from Howrah station in a third class bogey of Howrah Patna Express. The train started 4 hours late. Accordingly reached about 4 hours or more late. The worst part was that the gap between the arrival of the train and the departure of plane at Patna was about 3 hours. From Patna junction we, about 32 scouts, took taxis and went to Patna airport. A major disappointment cropped in when we came to know that we had missed the Royal Nepal flight to Kathmandu. The bigger reason of disappointment was that there was no provision of an additional flight ticket in our shoe string budget. We all came back to Patna city. Vohraji negotiated with a lodge to allow all of us to sleep on its terrace as we did not have budget for taking rooms. We spent the rest of the day knowing our colleagues on the trip. One of the common subject was whether we will be able to make our onward journey ?
Vohraji did another great job by visiting the office of Royal Nepal and explaining them the limitations of the group and the camping objective of scouts. Perhaps he could convince them that if alternate flight was not provided to the group, without charging further money, the group of students would have to return to Kolkata. With his convincing skills he could get the nod to fly next morning with all of us. At no extra payment! The night spent on the lodge terrace under sky became jubilant for all of us.
Kathmandu was a nice city in those days. For me as a non traveler, it was a major change. I liked the broad road in front of the palace called Darbar Marg. On both sides of the road were either hotels or shops. Our bus stopped inside a narrow lane in front of a old building. There was a board on the gate- Annpurna Marwadi Bhojnalaya. I thought we have been brought there for lunch; but I was shocked to understand that this was the place for our stay. There were 3-4 large rooms, which were given to us for sharing. That meant on an average about 8 students will sleep in each room. There was no bed available, hence the hold-all would serve as the bed. The bhojnalaya served vegetarian marwadi thali for lunch and dinner. All of us were aghast. This was not our idea of a camping or holiday. We all went to the room provided to our two teachers and asked Vohraji whether this was our place of stay for next two weeks. Vohraji said ‘no’ ! What he said further was terrifying; he said we cannot afford this place and food in our budget. I was wondering what worst is expected further !
On the second day, the dinner had some special food. All fried and sweets! Our teacher Mr. Jha ate too much, and started suffering from loose motion. The whole night the poor fellow had to rush to the common toilet frequently. Our spirits were getting low here.
Next morning, Vohraji called a meeting of all of us and announced that we were shifting from this place to a bunglow in Thamel Toll. He explained that the bunglow belonged to an army Captain of Indian army as he allowed the students to occupy the rooms on the lower floor and he would be living on the first floor.
The place was really very good. It had garden all sides. There were 5 rooms. We all could manage comfortably. The bed was of course our own hold all here too. Vohraji divided all of us into four groups calling each group a patrol. Each patrol was assigned a job for each day, which would rotate. The four jobs included- 1. Shopping of grains, vegetables, milk and spices etc. 2. Cooking food 3. Cleaning up the whole place and 4. Washing all cloths. The jobs were designed in such a way that every patrol had to do work for others too. No one could complain as the jobs were rotating everyday. Hence everyone had to do everything.
No one was expert at cooking, hence the group functioned under guidance of Vohraji. The normal menu was either rice and daal or khichdi with kadhi. Rotis were also tried sometimes but the quality was bad.
Best part was the post dinner session, as we would lit a camp fire and sit in a large circle all around it. Every one would perform something. Some were good singers, others good actors. Some spoke about their life’s incidents. Narendra was the youngest among the whole group. Some seniors taught him a pardoy and asked him to sing in the camp fire. The parody was based on the hit song of those days- Dum Maro Dum…… The parody was like this-
Poori aloo dum,
Kam khao kam
Leke lota subah sham
Jhaji, Vohraji, Jha ji, Vohraji………….
The parody was based on the loose motion incident of Mr. Jha. I was afraid that Narendra has invited his troubles; but both the teachers took it lightly hence no damage was done.
I had seen the hindi movie of Dev Anand – Hare Rama Hare Krishna, sometime before this trip. The movie was shot in Kathandu. This movie also generated lot of interest in my mind about Kathmandu. The theme of the movie was hippie culture as lots of hippies were present in Kathmandu. While moving around in the city in group, our guides would also tell which scene of the movie was shot where. Things which look so grand on the screen look so ordinary in reality!
In this trip, I had only one class fellow from my own section- Yogesh daga. Others were either from different classes or from different sections. Yogesh and I had many things in common. Both of us were fond of reading, movies, music, poetry etc. Kishore Kumar was our favourite singer. Dev Anand was our favourite hero. There was one main difference between us. Yogesh by nature was bold and rebel; whereas I was disciplined and calm. On this trip as I had no close friend, I went along with Yogesh’s plans few times, breaking the rules of the group.
One day Yogesh decided that we should go the hotel Soaltee Oberoi, which was almost in the outskirts of the city. Both of us knew about this hotel from the movie ‘Hare Ram Hare Krishna’ which was released recently in Kolkata. In the movie there was an important scene of the Casino of the hotel. I was worried that our absence will be noticed as it will take long time. Yogesh did not care about that. We hired two bicycles and wheeled toward Soaltee. We made it after taking some directions. The disappointment was that we were not allowed to enter the Casino being underage for that. We also came to know that local Nepalese did not have access to the casino and only foreigners ( including Indians) were allowed inside. We had a round of the hotel lobby and went back cycling to our base.
Another day, we decided to go for a movie of Dev Anand- Tere Mere Sapne. From the newspaper we gathered that the movie was running in a cinema hall called Jai-Nepal. We hired a cab – a Toyota; and asked the driver to take us to Jai Nepal. The driver reconfirmed whether we meant the theatre called Jai Nepal. The taxi meter was rising fast with a pitch of 20 paise every few seconds. We started getting worried for two reasons- if the cinema is too far than by the time we would come back to the base camp it will be dinner time and all hell will break there; and another immediate reasons was that the taxi meter had already covered a huge amount to pay. I asked the taxi driver- how far was the theatre. He said- half way. My heart almost sank for both the fears. I told Yogesh to cancel the plan and take a u-turn. Yogesh laughed it off. His theory was let us face what comes. The cinema hall was outside the city of Kathmandu in a nearby suburb. The condition of the hall was nightmarish. After reaching there I realized why the cabbie had to reconfirm our intentions.
As expected, we had to face the music from vohraji. His logic was right too. He said that while on this trip, he was responsible for the well being of all students and was answerable to their parents too; if everybody would behave like what we did, how would he managed the trip. He was genuinely concerned. So was I !
Kathmandu was a popular place for Indian tourists for shopping. Shop were filled with Chinese,Korean and Japanese products. India was not an open economy. All kinds consumer goods and durables were banned for import in India. Hence foreign brands like Seiko, Sony, Toyota, Mitsubishi etc. were big pull for Indians. I was given Rs.200 (And another Rs.200 to brother Narendra) for carefully spending. However Pitaji had given the name and phone number of his old friend , his namesake, Shri Gajanand Agarwal in Kathmandu for any type of help, including financial. I decided to tap the provision. I called up Gajanandji and introduced about ourselves. His response was very warm. He came to our camp and took both of us to his house for dinner with permission of our leaders. We could enjoy a nice home cooked meal after so many days ! After dinner he gave me the requested money of Rs.500.
With money in pocket I decided to do bit of shopping. I went to a watch shop. I asked him to show me a nice metal strap Seiko watch. He placed three identical watches in front of me. The prices were much different- Rs. 450, Rs. 300 and Rs.100. I was confused and asked the shopkeeper to explain the difference. He said that the cheapest one was a fake and was made in China, the medium priced was a Seiko product but made in Korea and the costliest one was the real Japanese watch. I thought for a moment. A thought came into my mind- what if all three were fake only. With this thought, my mind was prepared to drop the idea. Finally I bought a very beautiful Chinese mouth organ; a black metallic body, two sided mouth organ with a stylishly written brand- Hero on it. It came for Rs. 25 only. It was a steal for me at that price. I loved my shopping. Till few years back, it was in my possession.
There were lots of other stuff in the shops which I did not understand. For example many shops were selling packets of Sony audio cassettes, but I did not know what that was because Audio Cassette Tape recorders had not entered Indian market till then. In India we had the tape players with tapes wound on large spools. Finally I bought one Chinese towel, as it looked very fancy, two bottles of Chinese tiger balm for mother and some gift item for sister Savita. Pitaji never appeared in our shopping list as throughout the life I could never understand whether any worldly possession will make him happy. Even now the situation is same. Now when my children give any gift to him, he accepts that to make them happy and not for any personal satisfaction.
Overall Kathmandu trip was fun. A real camping and learning about team work ! More excitement was to come on our return journey. After our two weeks stint in Kathmandu, we started for journey back home. It was not planned by a smooth flight of Royal Nepal. We travelled by bus through bumpy hilly roads to reach upto an Indo-Nepal border town of Birganj. After a lunch session at Birganj at a cheap joint, we had to cross the border by cycle rickshaws. The Indian town across the border was Raxaul. The customs did not check much about us as we were scouts group. On Indian side, Vohraji arranged a bus for us. The bus took us around in the vicinity showing some historical sites. At night we had to sleep in an empty Industrial shed. There was no service available there. Dinner had to be skipped. Next day again the bus took us around in the area called Betiya. I did not understand why were we staying in that Goddamned area. The reason was clear later that we had to kill sometime as our reservation of train was at night from the nearest station called bhainsa-Lotan. After a tiring day when we reached the station, we came to know that the train was delayed by 6 hours. We all had a picnic at the railway platform, eating food from the stalls. After a long session of singing and fun, we spread our holdalls on the platform and slept; until we were woken up to board the train at some odd hour of night.
The only interesting part to be told about this journey happened after a week after reaching home. Vohraji called all travelers for a meeting. After doing customary thanksgiving etc. he handed us over an envelope containing Rs. 25 each. He announced that even from out tight budget we all saved that much money.
My Teen Years
The friendship always crystallizes in one’s teen years. Friends of earlier years are always changing. But with the change of interests in life teenagers become secretive. The real friends become those with whom they share their secrets, hence such friendship become long lasting. When I recall all my friends , I find that all my friends prior to Class ix have become blurred memories, whereas close friends made during last three years of school, are still me close friends. I can count such friends easily. Here is a small recall of my friends-
I have mentioned Shashi Mimani earlier also. Shashi was my friend in school only for one year. We came together in Class IX. During that period he performed that English play which I mentioned earlier. The play rehersals gave us lot of time together. What connected us were two things- Music and Onions. Both of us loved music. Shashi could play on his harmonium and sing along with that. He was a great company as we always spent time together on harmonium singing old songs of Mukesh. Even today whenever we meet, music remain our common interest of time sharing. The second bonding factor was Onions. Sounds funny ? The fact is that in his household onions were completely banned. They were not allowed to cook or eat onions at their house. I therefore used to carry onion based curry in my tiffin to school for him. Whenever he came to my house, his request would come in advance that he wants the aloo-onion sabji in dinner. Mother would make it for him with affection.
Unfortunately, Shashi had a very strict atmosphere in his house. He could not say much to his father as he was quite strict with him. His extracurricular activities were not much appreciated at home. But he had an ardent admirer in me. We attended each other’s birthday parties. He would get me gifts in the form of books, as those were handy for him to get from their house. I gave him good gifts. I remember on one of his birthday I presented him with a Chinese mouth organ not as good as my personal Hero. I knew he always wanted to have a pair of Bongo, because his fingers always played beats on table or whatever he had with him. On one of his birthday I wanted to present him with a bongo. I checked the price, it was Rs. 50 in a shop on Chitpore Road. The amount was beyond my means. I had about Rs. 20 in my savings. I requested my aunt Pushpa, that I needed Rs. 30 to but a gift for my friend. She liked me very much. She agreed to give me that money with a condition that I would not tell my mother that she gave me that much money for a gift. I agreed as that suited me equally. And I presented Shashi with his favourite Bongo. Shashi felt much obliged and expressed his gratitude for this thought. Few years later, Shashi offered me his harmonium which was lying for repairs. He said that he has bought a new harmonium which had a scale changer built in hence his first harmonium was not really much useful for him. He said that there was one problem though ! The harmonium was given to a music shop for tuning and minor repairs and I would have to collect that from the shop by paying the repair charges of Rs. 20. I agreed for the bargain. I loved this harmonium. It helped me sharpen my musical abilities.
Unfortunately Shashi failed in class ix and he left the school. His father was extremely angry with him and told him not to waste further money in school or college. Shashi decided to make his career in automobiles and joined an auto garage to learn motor repairs in park circus. When he informed me about his new activity, I went to see him at his Park Circus garage. He was wearing the blue apron normally worn by the mechanics of such units. Initially I felt sad for him but after meeting him I realized that he enjoyed his job. Since then He has changed his line of activities so many times. However he continues to be a good friend even now.
Another friend I made in Class IX was Aloke Gupta. He too became close to me during our play stint. With Aloke I shared a very special relationship. We were in different sections as he was a commerce student nd I had opted for science in Class ix. Our friendship actually took off after the school was over for us. His house was not very far from my house. I used to go to his house at Vivekanand Road every early evening. We used to take an extremely long walk from his house to Victoria Memorial, which was almost 8-9 kilometers away. It took us nearly two hours of walk. We had so much to share that these two hours used to finish in a jiffy. We would then relax at the parapet wall of Victoria memorial enjoying our routine dose of masala mudi ( Spicy puffed rice) with a Double 7 Cola. Return journey used to be on a limited stoppage bus. Total outing used to be of 3 hours.
What we shared during our walks was the world. His family, my family, the books we read, the movies we saw, his neighbors and one most prohibited subject of our times- girls! We had no exposure to girls. Our school was only boys school. Our friends were only boys. Talking to girls was a taboo in our times. Our families were orthodox on such issues. But none of this could stop us from talking about girls during our special rendezvous. In fact I did not have much to offer in terms of this subject, but Aloke had lot of inputs from his neighbors. Later on he was in St. Xaviers college where he would gather lots of stories from his class fellows which he would share with me. I being in Science had taken admission in a Science college at Moira Street. Our colleges were nearby. Many a times we would fix up to meet at Jyoti Vihar, a very popular south Indian food joint for lunch. As no mobile phones were there in those days, we used to stick to our given time and directly meet at Jyoti Vihar. This happened many a times during one year when I was in that college, later on I shifted to Ranchi to study engineering in Birla Institute Of Technology.Till date Aloke is my best friend. We live in different cities but we do share some time whenever we visit each other’s city.
Another friend from school is Santosh Saraf. Santosh had a completely different personality than my two previous friends. A simple person with a trading background! He used to go to his alloy steel retail shop at Clive Row after the school. Many a times I also went to his shop with him. Santosh was our source of news about Calcutta. He was always aware of what is happening in the city at political levels. He had full knowledge about different employee unions. Apart from that he used to share lots of spicy stories about others. How somebody ran away with his girl friend, how the family did not accept someone’s inter-cast marriage and lots of similar stuff. He was a great observer of girls’ behavior. While walking together on road he would pass a remark about some girl on road; not loudly but as a whisper within ourselves which used to be his forecast about that girl. Santosh has a great sense of humor. He has seen many ups and downs in his family and has become a very wise and matured person but has not lost his sense of humor.
The Bobby Era
In 1973 December I had my sent up exams of Class xi. Class xi meant end of school education. A sent-up exam was a pre-board exam to clear Class xi. The board exam was held by state education authorities independent from school. The papers were set by authorities, the exam venues were different then school and the management of exam halls was under state authorities. The sent up exam was held by school as a test of students before board exam. The importance of the sent up exam was vital too. Those who did not clear the sent up exam were not allowed by the school to participate in the board exam. I was generally a good student ; moreover I had to study always very hard for exams as the levels for hard work were set by my sister Savita. Anything lesser then her efforts meant I was not trying enough to get good marks. During her board exams Savita used to study at least 16 hours a day. That was too much for me. I did not have that kind of patience. Moreover I always felt that such study was meant for naturally weak students who can not grasp the subject well. Problem was that Savita was the brightest student of her class yet she studied so foolishly. I remember, once she had fixed up a morning alarm at 5 am, due to some mistake that went off at 3 am; without any double checking on that error she got engaged in her early morning session of studies which got extended naturally.
A major problem occurred just before my exams. The film Bobby hit the screens in Calcutta. The entire youth of Calcutta were watching the film repeatedly. Some of my friends who had seen the film kept on singing the praise of the movie. They talked about the new heroine Dimple as if there was no other such girl on the earth. The songs were all over radio. My friend Anup Sharda had bought the two fold album of Bobby LPs which had lot of dialogues and songs. He gave me the set for a day to play on my radiogram.
In the midst of such craze about the movie, I was planning to see the movie when came the ordinance from Pitaji – ‘ No one in the family would watch this movie called Bobby’. Pitaji was never involved in such subjects. This was for the first time that such a ban was imposed by him. Mother explained to me that he had heard many stories from his friends how the movie was making the youth rebel against their parents! How some young couple had run away from their houses after being inspired from the movie ! That is why he was thinking that such a movie can be a big distraction for you at such crucial time of sent up exams. There was no reason for me to be convinced; however I had no other option but to live with such atrocity.
Finally I cleared my exams. This was one exam which did not allow any relief from hard studies. End of sent up exam meant preparation for the real one – the board exams. I too knew the importance of this exam. My admission in good engineering college depended upon my marks. I studied very hard. My centre for exams was at college street in Sanskrit college. Other than me my friend Santosh Saraf also got that centre. We would meet after our first paper. We used to walk down to a nearby tea stall in the neighboring lane. There was a garden with a swimming pool in between. We would sit in the garden for sometime to discuss the performance in the exam. After that we used to go to tea stall to enjoy a ‘bhaand’ (an earthen clay cup) along with a plate of singhada ( hot pattice stuffed with spicy potato mash) for our lunch and then walk back for the second exam.
One day something very dreadful happened. As usual Santosh and I were crossing the garden and pool area after our first paper; when three tough looking boys stood in our way. They spoke to us in Bengali teasing us as two Marwari boys. In those days, being marwaris meant being very rich. They asked us how much money we were carrying. We said we did not have any as we had come there only for our exams. One of them took out his knife and threatened us. I had twenty rupees in my pocket which I had brough to buy a book after the exam to prepare for next days paper of Mechanics. I gave away my money, so did Santosh ! We were terribly shaken and scared. We were not left with any money for tea and singhara that day. We turned back towards the exam hall. I am sure I did not perform well in the second paper that day.
After the exams were over, I along with four other friends- Yogesh Daga, Ashok Agarwal, Krishna Kumar Daruka and Anup Kedia decided to have a nice holiday at Darjeeling. I got the permission without any difficulty. At Darjeeling we stayed at the same hotel where I had stayed 10-12 years ago with my parents. The only difference was that the name of the hotel had changed from Radha Hotel to Ambassador hotel. It was the location of the hotel that enthralled all of us. Being at the middle of the mall Road was a great fun. From the windows of the hotel we could see the snow cladded range of mountains. The tourists used to hand around near Mall road, so that served a special purpose of watching the girls from the windows. As usual Yogesh and me made a naughty pair.
The best part about Darjeeling this time was that the film Bobby was running in the only theatre of Darjeeling. We must have seen the film 4 times during those 7-8 days. I was so much impressed with the hero Rishi Kapoor of the film that I purchased a very long orange and black striped muffler from a road side vendor; a similar muffler was worn by Rishi in the song – Hum tum ek kamre me band ho………. I felt like rishi Kapoor when I wore that muffler around my neck.
One day we all took a long horse ride upto the very famous school St. Pauls. The school was also a place of interest for us as in Bobby, Rishi was shown to be a student of that school. The school had a lovely campus. Bobby had become a part of our lives during this trip.
We came to know from the hotel manager that Nepal was very close to Darjeeling. We checked with a jeep driver about going there. He said that there was a small town called Pashpati, which could be reached in two hours by jeep. He said that there was nothing to see there except few shops which sold Chinese goods. We all decided to go there. We hired the jeep and went to Pashupati. There was an Indian customs border on the way. Pashupati was a disappointment in general. The very few shops there had either textiles or electronics. Moreover the jeep driver told us that on return journey the custom officer will stop us and ask questions. Initially I did not want to buy anything; however we all decided that as we have come so far, let us buy a Chinese shirt length which can be stitched in Calcutta. The shopkeeper suggested that we can wrap the cloth inside our shirts so that there will not be anything visible for inspection. Suggestion was scary, but like a stupid I also agreed along with all my friends. All five of us came back to the jeep wrapped with the shirt lengths below our shirt. As expected the jeep was stopped by the custom officer. He called all of us in his small office. He asked us politely- what are we carrying. Yogesh said- ‘nothing’. He again asked- ‘ don’t tell me lies !’ Now Yogesh also was silent. The officer said –‘ I am asking for the last time. We just kept looking at the floor.
He got up and said- ‘ Remove your shirts.’ Our worst fear was true. We all got caught red handed. He collected our shirt pieces from us. The officer spoke- ‘ You should be ashamed of yourself. You are doing something illegal by smuggling such things in such a way.’ That sent a chill into my spine.
After a pause he said- ‘ If I want, I can sent you all behind the bars and you all will face a stiff case without defense; however as you are young and students, I am letting you off with a warning only. Never do such thing in your life. This is like cheating your own country. You may go now.’
We all felt a sigh of relief. We were about to leave his office when he yelled- ‘ Stop !’ The fear again started churning in our stomachs. He said- ‘ Take the receipt of your goods. If you want , you may collect these after 3 weeks from Calcutta Custom office on Strand Road after paying the duty and other taxes.”
We all hurriedly went back into our jeep. We were feeling extremely guilty. The officer taught us a great lesson for the rest of our lives.
The Higher Secondary Exam Results
Few days after our return from Darjeeling, we got the information that the mark sheets of our board exams will be given at the school. I was excited as well as nervous. We were 18 students in the science section. We went to our classroom. Our class teacher appeared with a packet in his hand. He said in general he was satisfied with the performance of the class. He started announcing the names of the students along with their percentage. Most of my colleagues had achieved first division, that meant sixty percent or plus, few got second division two. He did not call out my name till last. When he was done with the distribution, I asked him where was my mark sheet. He said that it was there in his packet; he advised me to goto Principal’s room. I was terribly scared. Lots of bad thoughts came into my mind- ‘ Did I fail?’ Is there any negative remark about me? ………………..many bad feelings. And to make it worst, the principal was Mr. H.N.Singh – my history teacher of class vi to viii. The most dreaded person of the school. I did not know how to face him with such unclear situation. I had no choice.
I knocked at his door- ‘ May I come in Sir ?’
His cold voice sent the chill up my spine- ‘ Who is that? Mahendra Arya ?’
I said- ‘Yes Sir.’
He said- ‘ Arya, I have a bad news for you.’
My heart missed the beat. I stood there with a question mark all over my face.
Principal said- ‘ Do you know that to get a first division, you need to secure 600 marks out of 1000.’
My heart started thumping. The question mark on my face got enlarged.
He continued- ‘Unfortunately you got 599.’
My heart gave away. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I was about to start crying when he said- ‘ Hold on ! ‘
Now what ! That was the expression on my face.
He said- ‘ You are fortunate that you did not get 598, because then I would not have been able to help you out.’
A complete confusion now ! What kind of game was he playing with me! My expression was – Dammit, tell me the whole stuff at once !
He smiled – ‘ You are lucky because as per State Education Board, I have power to add one mark to make it a first division. So you have passed with a first division. Congratulations!’
Now I could not stop my crying. I started crying. I thanked him and collected my mark sheet from his hand, which showed a total of 599 and then a + 1 to make it 600. That was the climax of my last exam of my school. Getting 60% was considered a great deal in those days. The commerce student hardly used to get any first division and good science students could only secure the first divisions. This one mark would have made a great difference to my life.