Friday, April 3, 2015

Where Do We Go from Here

It was a very dull morning when Anirban Konar encountered the District Magistrate Sumanta Majumdar for the first time.
Late in the previous evening the Leftists Front Govt was dismissed by the ruling Party at the centre. Though the official decision was taken by the President, everybody knew that the President, who could be heckled in his very office by his own party-members for losing his dhoti, was but a puppet in that God-forsaken country. Years prior or after his Presidential tenure, all the decisions were actually made by the Party chief and now the President had to sign on the specified rubber-stamped space. So the arrests of all the social activists had been duly made, and Anirban was picked up early in the morning by the police and produced in front of the District Magistrate by mid-morning.
Sumanta was a young and relatively short man in his late thirties, dark but already balding on both sides of his forehead, and had piercing sharp eyes. He smiled, “Sorry for the trouble, but you know, I had to do it; well, I do understand that you guys are not of the same feather as the so-called Leftists, but I had my orders. By the way, Mr Konar, where can I find a copy of that book written by Martin Luther King which you used to keep on your book-shelf?”
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community’ – was the book’s title. Anirban was surprised, “You read King?” –“Oh, yes”, Sumanta answered politely, “I’m well versed in Das Kapital too.”
Eventually all the seven, including Anirban, SRC and Asit Poddar were released from the custody after a fortnight, which turned out to be a hassle-free release altogether and Anirban was too involved to remember to get himself a copy of the book by Martin Luther King.
Two years later they met again in an entirely different situation.
In a distant village in the district, a group of agricultural labourers were not paid due to a dispute between the members of a land-owners family and when the police intervened, they apprehended a few labourers for agitating against the landlords and demanding to be paid. For Anirban and his group it was a fit case to raise a hungama in the DM’s office. They assembled the families of the labourers, a horde numbering around one hundred and fifty persons inclusive of women and children, in the premises of the district administrative headquarters and blocked Sumanta Majumdar’s office door. Soon the smart DM came out for a dialogue and the crowd gheraoed him at the wide veranda of the old structure of the former British colonial building. Mr Majumdar was given a chair in the middle of the gathering and made to sit surrounded by the villagers. Apparently the siege continued quite peacefully for more than six hours till the reinforcements arrived with their batons and guns.
The DM, Mr Majumdar, who was sitting pretty until then, jumped up to stand upon the chair and shouted aloud at the top of his voice and ordered to stop the progress of the police advancement, as if he had taken the agitators’ side. The baton charging police force halted and DM took the opportunity to pacify the situation. It was another pleasant surprise for Anirban; the arrested labourers were freed without any charges filed against them.
* * *
It was a semi-dark humid autumn evening during the height of the extremists’ movement. Carefully avoiding the hassle, Anirban was passing through the busy and crowded Park Street pavement. He thought it safer in the up-market locality rather than the empty narrow lanes where he could be isolated more easily; he was absconding from his residence since the extremist outfit annihilated a corrupt politician in that locale. All of a sudden, a forty-something non-descriptive person emerged from nowhere to push Anirban aside into a corner of and asked if Anirban was using his hideout at Tarakeshwar, a suburb known for its religious connection.
Astonished by the spontaneity of the incident, Anirban asked for the identity of the person and questioned about what the relation was between his staying at Tarakeshwar and walking through Park Street. Sumanta Majumdar’s smile made Anirban recollect. “I’m at the New Secretariat now working in the department of information. Better you believe me; there’s talk about not arresting you any more – but ... I hope you know what I mean. Please leave that place, go somewhere else. The department is tracking every move you make there. Trust me, and make no mistake ... you never saw me, officially.” And then the former DM vanished into the darkness as suddenly as he had appeared.

They never saw each other again.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bittersour taste of tender mangoes

Winter is going through its last lap; a few more days, and then it will be gone. The mango trees will become inflorescent and buzzing flies will envelop them. Then millions of tiny fruits will appear and engulf the branches. Most of them will fall littering the ground, and eventually something resembling tender mangoes will appear.

There was a time when children would start pelting the trees with stones right at that stage. Now that particular period of childhood has disappeared along with the bittersour taste of tender mangoes, freshly shot down.

There are very few who can still remember how exciting it was to write something with a tender mango seed on a neighbour’s freshly whitewashed wall. It was like writing with an invisible ink; when you give the first stroke, it would be marked like water, and then evaporate. Only afterwards would the angry neighbour notice the brown letters emerge.

 Slowly and gradually the writing would become prominent and darker by the passing day. To the utter disappointment of the owner of the wall, there would remain no option for him other than a repaint, to be rid of this vandalism. Nor was he able to catch the culprit, who would have long disappeared right after writing the slogan. Perhaps the most hostile and the ugliest part of it was the kind of graffiti that would resurface from underneath in a few days even after a repaint.

 Well, it was not like the boys would ever want to be caught red-handed. So in most of the cases the slogans used were some iteration of “His-name + Her-name”.  A few excellent surfaces for such anonymous “Blog-Posts” were the buildings that still under construction. There was less chance of getting caught and building’s newly cemented walls were so much smoother than the old houses.

There was local youth, a rail-company draftsman, who was asked by a renowned property developer of a suburb to produce a grand plan for a new school building for the local girls’ school. He did it meticulously well, being his first professional assignment as a building planner. In his Rail Company he was never given such a big responsibility.

The old and abandoned zamindarbari was already was in use as a temporary set up for the school and was brought for a pittance by the promoter, but it was pulled down part by part, piece by piece and the school’s routine also rearranged in a similar fashion. It was a promoter’s first experience in both construction and as contractor and it took a fairly long time. Small children enjoyed these long holidays more than ever, but the middle school girls had to share the same classrooms for an amalgamation of subjects.

Two sisters, one smart of whitish complexion and the other, darker, shy were getting late returning home one evening, being from a different locality as they were. The forced holidays brought intercollege boys an unexpected opportunity to flirt with them. In a dusky forthcoming evening, two youths stood at both sides of the only road, stretching a skipping string to its ends, blocking the sisters’ way.  The girls in sarees, could neither jump the line nor was there left any room to bypass the boys. The younger and smarter one ducked and passed, smiling meaningfully to the boy on the right. But the shy, elder sister stood there confused, clutching her books tightly to her chest and with tears in her eyes. The boy on the left had to loosen his end and let her go without much to say.

In the course of the next three years, their father gave his younger daughter’s hand in marriage to that flirty bright young man who had become a graduate and joined a merchant firm by then. But the shy elder sister had a fiancĂ© who did not pass the exams and remained unemployed. Her marriage was then arranged with a suitable man in a different township, leaving him.

Eventually the school building was raised up to two storeys, but the doors and window shutters were still missing. One morning, the class-teacher of the junior section had found “Her-name + His-name” written with tender mango seeds all over the school’s bare walls; this was the fiancĂ©’s last attempt to stall the marriage.

But it did not work, the girl was gone. She had disappeared just as a shadow melts into the darkness when the light evaporates at the day’s end and the writing on the wall was whitewashed.