[This semi-autobiographical post was written at the insistence of Mr. Sushobhan Mukherjee. ]
In September 1992, I left my home in South Assam, then a boy of 18 years,bound for a meet with Vasco-Da-Gamma’s landing beaches in Calicut, Kerala. It is exactly 500 years after the intrepid Portuguese sailor went in search of spices in the southern tip of India. My journey was to prepare myself to be an engineer in electronics and telecom. The journey was some 4000+ kilometer long and train (and sleeper class) was the only option. The journey used to take some 4 days and I still remember the first journey while I was eighteen years old and I was sitting in a train and my whole muffsil past was trailing behind.
I felt a deep lump in my throat and the train started to cross the North Cachar Hills and towards further West. It was like Pip of the Great Expectations who was leaving his country home in Kentish marshes for the city of London as expectations were to be attended. For the Pip in me, there was no great expectations but it eventually came.
As the train below slowly progressed, I was leaving my adolescent, my boyish innocence and was coming of age. The track was some 80 years old, a meter-gauze line, now extinct and was built by British Colonial Government to transport one of the products of my district that went to the cups of Boston to Brazil. I am taking of Cachar/Assam tea. I was alone and in those days of no mobile, sms, internet – I felt a tremendous sense of freedom as well. I was thinking that soon I shall be back during holidays, having little idea that a great shift has already begun.
Then, the process of a nomadic life ensued. In terms of taking bath in the Arabian waters in Calicut beaches and having a dalliance with an Iyer beauty, I was coming of age. I was also creating a world within and that world sometimes re-called, while looking at the blue expanse of Arabian waters, the same waters where Vasco met God’s own land some 500 years back, the taste of our own river Barak. My skin knew its taste since I was ten years old. It was the time when boys like me learnt swimming in ponds and rivers and not in swimming pools.
The river Barak is the second largest river in North East India and is some 5 minutes walk from my home (heritage house). When we were young, the river used to flood the banks and those stories – of fishing, swimming and smelling the smell of decaying vegetation. It was the days of magical boyhood or the juncture when I used to be in rapture while reading Shelley or Tagore and in the next instant was dying to have a peep at the housemaid undressing. It was an age of boundless joy and it was also an age of excruciating pain.
After a decade, in 2002, after many rivers and women, colleagues and friends and oceans and journeys, I came back to Calcutta, to settle. Calcutta was, for me what was London for Pip. I fell in love with the great city while a boy and I still remember vividly while a boy of ten, mesmerized by the folio volume of Decline and Fall of Roman Empire in one of the dimly-lit stalls of College Street and then telebhaja in Kalika, one of the very few Calcutta institutions which remains as it is when I was a boy. I always used to come to my country home (heritage house) in May to escape Calcutta summer. This habit and further exposure to Calcutta made me realize that I am actually emulating the previous resident aliens of Calcutta – the British officers who served the Empire and in the summer retired to cooler climes, a few to Britain itself. This habit of escape to country home in summer and also to remain a private citizen of Calcutta (by that time, I had left my Federal Government turned private company job ) and like Voltaire, made the city, my city, by adoption. The process of double home-sickness that ensued in 1992 culminated into the strange but only possible option of myself looking at Calcutta, the great city and the activities of its natives. I remained, in accordance with the convention of residency and domicile – a resident alien of Calcutta.
In 2001, the car below – now immobile became a heritage car, became the first car of my life. It was a maruti 800, already 10 years old and was procured from Kalmassery, Cochin and then me and my colleague Pradeep went to Kanya-kumari (the souther tip of Indian peninsula which translates – Virgin Girl)
and then we started driving this car towards North for nine days and after 4000 kilometer travel and crossing all the major rivers of Indian except the Sindh and the Narmada also averting many accidents, reached the Heritage Home. A bachelor then, I thought of keeping the car in the moss-covered garage for the next generation. The next generation (my sons 11 and 5 years old took passing interest and did not get much impressed). So much for keeping memory for the next generation.
The Heritage house, by that time became old and it was decided to have a new house, Around 1999, the new house, called Purbasha (Hope of the East) was built and heritage house, in hundred years or so became un-inhabited by a Bhattacharyya.
The fund for the relatively larger house came from two means, I mean the contribution of mine : Vasco da Gama like travels in all the seas of the world in terms of laying optical fibre cable for telecom networks (which eventually caused the telecom meltdown) and also from the proliferation of IP networks which eventually caused voice minutes becoming
cheaper and eventually ‘skyped’.
The time-span of 23 years loosely told above is also the journey of a muffsil man. I remember another muffsil man who came to Calcutta, the Delhi and then passed his life in exile in Oxford. After some 70 years of living outside muffsil and even Bengal, Mr. Nirad C Chaudhuri writes : I think, after all these years, I have remained a boy of East Bengal.
I think, in all these years, I have also remained a muffsil boy, a small town boy and in each May, for a month, I come back to have an appointment with my boyhood – an age which becomes larger as we grow older in age and experience.
Then, objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are !