2014/03/14

Memory files - the old gent and his violin

The bearded old gent normally came on  winter nights  . Wore a pair of dusty black pants ending at the ankles and an even dustier black coat . I first heard the strains of Fur Elise , though back then, I only identified it as an evocative melody that made me sit still at the window of our 1st floor house at 68 G Purna Das Road . And when it ended I moved the curtain and there he was - playing yet another melody . We were all hanging on to the grill at various windows around the house and my father was hyperventilating about his size 12 feet which meant his old shoes wouldn't fit the gent nor would his old shirts because he was over 6 feet and the old gent was tiny  and spare  . He surfaced every winter for three years and the memory of  his violin playing still gives me goose flesh.

Years later , much grown up, my bosom friend at that time , AG ( before he became my husband - he was my sounding board , my security blankie , my go to for all problems ) brought up the topic of the violin playing old gent and I was not surprised that he had heard him too as had Sumon who immortalised him in his song O Gaanwala .

Anyway some time later and  soon to be married , I was in my aunt's house on Jatin Bagchi road when like a ghostly memory came the sound of the violin and the gent strolled in down the cul de sac , absolutely bowed with age over his ancient violin which yielded such ethereal music .

 I needed no second bidding to empty out my purse and run downstairs . He took the money with a courtly bow and gestured for me to wait while he played Lara's Theme . Just for me . Memories rushed , mostly good - but still with the power to sadden me  . And then he bowed and left , never to surface again .


2014/03/10

Memory files - Of sattuwallahs and rickshaw pullers

At the corner  of Purna Das Road and Lake View Road , a man used to set up camp every morning at around 11 am . He would set down his woven basket , crammed with bell metal thalis and lotas , all highly polished with a sheen that would make my mother sigh , under the tree at the corner , near the tubewell . Next , he set up his dusty  black umbrella mounted on a tall stick ,that served as a sunshade in winter and a cover from the rains during the monsoons . A jar of pickle, salt , a horlicks jar of a powdered masala, chillies , onion  and a stainless steel container of chutney followed . Last he would bring out a  rectangular aluminium tin which contained chhatu or sattu , the mainstay of Bihari bhaiyyas for lunch .

He would pour out the chhatu , mix the salt and masalas and knead it to a fine golden paste which he would cover with a clean rag . Around noon the first csutomers would land up . Parking their hand drawn rickshaws , these rustic men from the interiors of Bihar , raw  boned , muscled and yet scrawny , with unshaven faces and gamchhas wound around their heads , would wash their hands, feet and faces at the tubewell and then with a sigh , settle down on their haunches while the chhatuwalla doled out the food on the pristine thalis - a mound of chhatu , an onion , a couple of green chillies and the chutney which was a peculiar translucent green - possibly made with garlic, chillies and coriander . Each man would get a lota of water .

Oh   the relish with which the rickshawallahs and thelawallahs wolfed down their meal - there was something so soul satisfying and the belch after the water was gulped down summed it all up . There was a peculiar discipline too - people arriving late would squat patiently , nearby , no jostling , pushing , shoving or asking the eaters to hurry up even when they were all so evidently hungry- so symbolic of the great Indian watch and wait for their turn

Mealtime over , the chhatuwallh would then wash up with great care , accept a gob of tobacco or khaini from one of his customers , load up and waddle off .

Now of course , the chhatuwallh at the corner is gone . Instead there is a bhelpuri walla who sells his wares to the schoolchildren down the road , which leaves me wondering where the rickshawallahs go for lunch .

2014/03/08

Neither here nor there ....

My sister commented that it makes her uneasy - this neither summer nor winter phase .

The sun is hot during the day but with a dry cool crisp underlay , the evenings are cool and breezy and at night I need a blanket , oh yes and the fan on - adds to the fun . Its still too early for the ac , not that I haven't toyed with the idea .

But the afternoons are something else - the hot smell of the mango trees , elusive but sharp and the long wavering yearning call of the koel right through the afternoon , the nap unhampered by a sweaty body , the cool breeze as the sun sets in blazing fury .

I wish Nature would stop right here at Spring and not go forward .

2014/02/28

BENEDICTE

At dawn  , there is a gentle Northerly breeze which blows in as I open the windows in the dining room . The sun is barely there - a pale golden wash in the dawn sky .

Two houses down the gardener is at work , collecting the twigs , branches and fallen leaves , making a bonfire in the vacant lot behind the house . Soon the air is filled with the smell of fragrant smoke - like that rising from a sacrificial fire , so much so that I am confused that someone is doing a puja , but I dismiss the thought - it is evidently  fragrant wood .

A conch shell blows and the sun bursts forth and I can smell incense mingling with the woodsmoke creating an impossibly aching feeling of benediction which leaves me feel truly blessed .

2013/08/15

.. the memory of loss...

Dusk is insidious - it gently eases the hot stifling day into darkness .

 In the small university town where I am headed , it is the most beautiful time of the day . The terrace of my house is a vantage point . I watch out for them each evening , from the distance  and then hear  the tinny tinkle of cowbells as the cows come closer  , raising clouds of red dust with their hooves - theirs  is a slow  steady rhythmic  tinkle , in keeping with their gait , followed by the hurried quick patter of tinkles as the goats follow and sometimes overtake the sturdy bovine crew .

If you go to the Laal Bandh down Shyambati way , in winter, you can see the migratory birds and as the sky grows darker  , they lift themselves up in a huge canopy, showering you with a patter of water drops as they shake their wings and fly towards the sanctuary to rest for the night .

The sky at dusk , Tota, is an amazing work of art , like the palette of a mad artist - swirls of  purple, violet,mauve shot through with crimson and pink and long streaks of faint gold . The last quavering calls of birds flying to their nests, the harsh cawing of a murder of crows as they hoot and catcall their way to their homes calling out to straysas they pass , to gather together as night falls - truly like a bunch of frantic ,young roistering men .

As I walk home , smoke curls up from the chulaas in the  Bihari settlement . Someone blows a conch shell and then suddenly the air is full of the sound of reverberating conch shells .

A bullock cart passes me and a melody rises from within ,from a flute being played by a Santhal boy perched on the rear of the cart . I stop and watch till they go round the bend of the road and the long drawn melody fades away .

It is close to dark now , the sky gathering close and the sliver of moon is faint  in the sky. I gather my sari around me and swing my cramped legs off the hard wooden seat .The memory of the long drawn quaver of the flute merges into the long whistle of the train engine as we hurtle over the bridge towards my station .

Come Tota , I say , we are nearly home....