Allan Solly has been located alive and well at the Anuradha Dress Shoppee (sic )at Dhanbad. To keep Allen Solly company , one can also locate Lee, flying Machine and Arrow shirts - which may not seem much to the much metrified but speaks miles where Dhanbad is concerned . It is a slice out of the coal belt - heart of the hinterland belt - cows and bullocks blocking traffic , the odd gowshala and innumerable cowpat , competeing furiously with mounds of rotting garbage , policemen in limp tired khaki with tricornered caps - a species one sees only in the mofussil areas ( there's no usage for this word now , is there ?) frantically blowing a whistle and trying to control the defiant traffic that splews out in all directions , cycles, vans, Qualis, small cars , the odd Tavera or Explorer with tinted windows and shades of the mafia within..

Travelling in a rickety non AC 800 (which has seen better days ), the temperature touching 38 , I reel in the dry heat that carries the smell of rotting vegetable refuse , other garbage, petroleum products, sweat and an overlying smell of methi leaves from the roadside dhabas .

And yet it was quaint ..memories of a childhood trip to Debu Kaka's house , somewhere in this region - memories of ropeways in which coal was trundled,against a bleak grey winter evening sky , an even more ancient memory of visiting a coal mine with my parents ( never got around to asking them why we were there ) , freezing to death in a l train at Asansol ; memories of Thakuma and her stories of houses in the paschim( Bangali der pashim er bari ) , Dhanbad , Deoghar - forgotten relatives in Ranigunje . Memories belonging to childhood and best kept there because the people who could fill in the missing gaps are all gone

There are glam new buildings all glass and concrete ( with pan stains albeit - theres no escaping that ) next to a lane that winds slowly uphill ; the lane is lined with tiled roof houses recessed within gardens with huge trees . There are boards on wicket gates that read "Vakil ji Shri Arun Kr Saini , Enquir Within " or "Daktaar Babu Shri Mohit Kumar Ghosh - Free dispensary only at 4 pm to 5 pm . Visiting Hours ..." Missed that part . Good to know there is a benevolent Bengali doctor in Dhanbad who looks beyond Medicine and Mammon.Oh and Rabindra Jayanti and the Tagore Society are big in this part of thte world - I saw scores of schoolgirls dressed up for shows at their school . On enquiry , it was clarified " aaj so hai Taygoar ji ka ."

The newew houses are painted either a pale turquoise wash or a lime green or daring shades of pink ; older houses are a dead faded ochre with moss trails down the side adding to the look of venerable antiquity or general decrepitude , depending on how one wants to look at it . People generally drift around , they walk like young Bidesi , the dhobi's son, trailing his feet , dejected expression on the face , generally down at heel - they squat at crossroads doing the following

  1. eating cucumber or kakri , pale delicate green vegetables with darker stripes down the sides
  2. beating a wad of khaini with chuna and tucking the wad under one's lip or in the crevices between gums and teeth (yup khaini eaters have the oddest configured mouths )
  3. drinking chhatu sharbat
  4. hawking and spitting long trajestories of phlegm
  5. peeing in public ( the great Indian sport of all hot blooded Indian males )
  6. generally letting their hair down in that great torpid heat of Dhanbad

The station was surprisingly clean with a horde of tiny bootblacks scurrying around . People like us normally use the Shatabdi as an elite daily local . Therefore , the same crowd that had left in the morning piled on in the evening with a few additions and deletions . Add one colleague from Durgapur who made the journey brighter after Durgapur , being a great mimic and a happy PNPC er like me - together we tore apart the entire eastern flank of our firm .

When I had got down in the morning the two occupants of seats 30 & 31 were snoring with their mouths open -when I got up in the evening , they were still asleep . There was a loud frisky sardar who become quiet by degrees after pouring out the contents of a newspaper wrapped bottle in several instalments , to wake just before Liluah and devour the greasy dinner , which the colleague from Durgapur and I had declined for separate reasons , he for the dinner at the Park , I because I wanted baarir bhaat .

All in all it was a most profitable day , the kids were happy because the parental authorities , were both out of town , one to Delhi , the other as described . The house and the aged occupants were taken care of by Srin and her friends and under remote surveillance by both of us ( how little telephone calls convey...........) , Ma had a day's outing into the heart of the coal belt and came back with both her feet puffed up like Abdul Mian's double roti

My work remained incomplete because the government official like most of his ilk , having given the appointment had done a bunk to the Centre without having the courtesy to inform me about the cancellation.. ah well ..


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Super post. I haven't been to Dhanbad in decades, but the little lanes, the torpid heat, the tiled houses and the Bidesis (the name, the name is a volume in itself!) are so similar to the back alleys of Asansol near the river. Wonderful eye.

"Aaj so hai Taygoar ji ka ... ". Priceless.

And I cringed at the government official who was inconsiderate "like most of his ilk".


Unknown said...

@JAP - You will not believe me but Bidesi has 2 brothers called Pardesi and Swadesi - they are my dhobi's sons - I need to find out the dhobi's name . No offence meant though re govt officials !!!