I bought AG Lila Majumdar's autobiographical "Pakdwandi" for his birthday . While reading it he has been regaling me with her accounts of her periodic visits to Santiniketan sometime in the late 80's which brought back to me the dark days when we landed in Santinektan . two months after Baba died . It was like shifting into a nightmare , so surreal were the circumstances , so very different from the time and space we had occupied even six months ago .
The floors of the new house were caked with dirt . Having lain vacant for over a year, there was an air of desolation and dereliction that only empty houses can project .This had my mother , even then strong and resourceful in the face of tremendous adversity , in tears
The black cupboard , stood in the middle of all this , unpacked, with its jute and cardboard wrappings strewn all over the floor . Most of the furniture and our belongings in large packing cases stood around . There were no people to unpack unlike other times when a posse of labour would descend and have everything in order . This , more than anything else brought our situation into even sharper focus because we related moving to other happier times when such shifts would bring with it the infinite strong and heady taste of something new to be explored and conquered .
Salvation however , came in the shape of Panu, our Santhal maid and her family . And a little old lady with silvery hair , steely bright eyes which crinkled up when she smiled and a very very dry wit who lived in the house across the tree shaded lane - a grey red roofed house set in the middle of a large garden filled with huge shady trees .
She arrived in the middle of the unpacking with a little retinue of her courtiers - gallant elderly men . Wednesday evenings , she informed us was "at home " and we had to come . There was no such thing as "no"in her vocabulary .
My mother's attempts to demur were quickly smoothed over. The "at home"was in her garden , under the canopy of two large trees . We sat in a circle on rickety legged chairs .She served snacks from the local mishtiwallah(sweet seller) who peddled his homemade wares in a small glassed in case mounted behind a cycle . The sweets were delicious . The gardener and the cook were both called Lochan .I suspect she employed different intonations when she called out "Lochan" because they responded correctly.
She wrote much the way she spoke . Witty , terse , and elegant prose written in simple language . I read her books much much after I knew her . She didn't like my mother wearing white sarees and harangued her into wearing other shades - of course Ma could be cussed and only wore pastels .
That she was an acclaimed litterateur is beyond doubt . What endeared her to me was the remarkable effort she took in cheering us up and the attempt she made to bring about a semblance of normalcy in our disrupted lives - I cannot imagine anyone going out of their way today , to the extent she did, to play a part in acclimatising my mother to her new surroundings - this, despite the fact that she need not have bothered at all .
I like to think it was her sensitivity and a very rare and receptive intuition which allowed her to absorb a great deal of what we were going through at that moment and infuse her brand of sunshine and wit into the uncertainty , despair and desolation .
Of impeccable literary lineage she worked her own brand of humour and her wonderful insights into human behaviour coupled with a flair for telling the zaniest of stories and building the most highly fantastical themes into her work which has enthralled at least 2 generations now .Most appealing was her ability to address children from the same platform without condescension.
Sometimes I wonder why those dry academics who formulate text books for children and incorporate heavy and sometimes unfathomable pieces in the syllabus, do not think of including her work and lightening the load to some extent. Conjuring up questions from "Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho" or "Goopy's Gupto Katha ' or "Bak Baddhh Paala " all the time keeping a grim face would take some doing , I guess .