During my college days in 1980-81, when I first read Samaresh Majumdar’s ‘Uttoradhikar’ (the first book of Animesh series – Uttoradhikar, Kalbela, Kalpurush and Moushalkal) – I was immediately connected with my Dadubhai (Grandfather) with whom I spent the first part of my childhood. Saritsekhar (Animesh’s grandfather) of Uttoradhikar novel used to remind me of my Dadubhai with whom I spent almost four years (from 1.5 to 5.5 years of my age). My Dadubhai was a very tall and sturdy man, and I used to feel protected under his shade of love and affection.
Dadubhai made a palace like house at Barasat with Puja mondap, a pond surrounded with coconut trees and others like Neem, Jackfruit, Water fruit (jamrul), Guava, etc. We had five types of Guava trees, Strawberry tree (lichi), Jamun tree, may be 10 types of Mango trees. There was a huge Lemon tree at the backside of our house, and my Thamma (grandmother) used to feed a bastushaap (pet snake) after lunch everyday which was living in that lemon tree and never harmed anyone. We also had a grapefruit tree at the backside of our Puja mondap. At entrance gate, there was a baeltree at one side where Bodhon for Durga puja was being held, and on the other side was a jasmine tree. There were lot of flower trees in our garden, namely Crepe jasmine (Tagar), Night-flowering jasmine (shiuli), Hibiscus (jaba), Champa, etc. We also had one Jujube (Kul) tree bending over our pond, and used to put mats on water in the pond and then shake the tree to get the ripen Kuls to fall on the mat. This house with pond and puja mondop surrounded with all these fruit & flower trees was so meticulously planned by Dadubhai with a foresight that his next generations can spend their holidays here like living in a todays’ called farmhouse, and can meet each other at least once in a year during Durga Puja.
Dadubhai was a very kind hearted man. He made the pond alongwith stairs & sitting place with an intention that all the neighbors can take bath in this pond. Even today, the immersion of our DurgaMaa is being done in this pond. I learnt swimming at our pond. Dadubhai taught me fishing with a rod, how to hold a net and to spread on the water. Even at that age I learnt from him how to knit a fishing net.
I was overjoyed, when Dadubhai used to call our fishermen to put net in our pond for fishing. The fishermen used to put the nets in the previous night, and next day early morning started drawing the nets from one side of the pond across the water. On reaching the other side of pond; a bunch of fishes – Rui, Katla, Koi, Tilapia, Magur, Shol, Puti, Mourala, etc were caught in the net & started jumping. We used to have 3 / 4 types of fish preparation in our menu that day. Thamma used to make a machertak (light fish curry with raw mango or turmeric) with small fishes (puti or mourala), the taste was so delicious still it lingers on my tongue. We also had a turmeric tree on the backyard, and a chalta (elephant apple) tree. Thamma also used to make various pickles with raw mangoes, Jujube (Kul), turmeric and used to keep them in big glass jars. These were enjoyed deliciously by our cousins where they were visiting Barasat during summer or Durga puja.
Taking bath in our pond was an excitement. Since early morning to noon, all our neighbours (office going / school going persons, children, wives) were taking bath in our pond, may be around 60 / 70 peoples (as far as I can remember now) were taking bath in our pond daily.
In the afternoon, sometimes I used to try to catch fish in our pond through fishing rod, and Dadubhai taught me when is the right time & how to pull the rod to get the fish caught in the hook. When I was successful to get a fish nailed in the hook, I used to look at my Dadubhai with a winning smile. We generally used bread balls (not too soften or too hard), rice as fishing baits.
There were around 4 to 5 date trees, and in winter time I loved to take chilled Date sap (Khejurras) from the earthen pot alongwith my uncles, aunties.
On northside of our pond, there was a huge land where there was a mango orchard alongwithjamun, dates and other trees. On west side of mango orchard, there was a cowshed and we used to get our daily milk from there. However, this was demolished and subsequently after few years, few mango trees were uprooted and 2 flats were constructed (this all happened after I shifted to Durgapur).
We had a huge paddyland on the backside of our building, in which generally rice and sometimes wheat were sowed and cultivated and was leased out to the farmers by Dadubhai. Just after the paddyland, my PishimonI (father’s 1st sister) was staying alongwith Pisho, Dadabhai (1st son), Didibhai (1st daughter), Buludi (2nd daughter), Dulu (3rd daughter). Afterwards Sajol (2nd son) and Itu (4th daughter) were born. There was a road separating the two huge paddy fields from the backside of our building, through which we used to visit Pishimoni’s place. There was also a pond, a guava tree, coconut trees, various flower trees, mango trees, etc at Pishimoni’s house. I used to visit Pishimoni’s house almost everyday, and sometimes I used to take bath in their pond and having food there.
During summer time, we used to have mangoes, jackfruit, litchi, jamrul, jamun from our trees only. I hardly can remember Dadubhai purchased any fruits from the market. Even the people from the villages used to send mangoes, jackfruit, etc from their garden – whom he had helped during his service time. I cannot forget the scene of bunch of ripe litchis tied together and covered with a cloth hanging from the tree. I used to pick up the jamun, litchi from under the trees and cannot forget the joy of having it from our own garden. I used to climb the jamrul tree to pluck the jamruls, in spite of getting the bites from red ants. Then I used to apply chun (lime) on the swollen biting places. During summer time, Dadubhai used to have Ekadashi lunch with mangoes, jackfruit and those Ekadashi lunches were my favourite & unforgettable one.
Sometimes, at afternoon I used to accompany Dadubhai to visit ‘ShivanandaDham’ – where Dadubhai used to sit in the worship hall to offer prayer. At the end of the prayer & chanting, sweets (nakuldana or batasa) were distributed and sometimes mohanbhog. ‘ShivanandaDham’ situated at the birthplace of Swami Shivananda (He was born at Barasat, 1854 – 1934, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and became the 2nd president of the Ramakrishna Mission), was started in 1961. Today its having a library, a charitable homeopathic-cum-allopathic dispensary, a mobile medical unit, worship hall, an auditorium, monks quarters, etc. It also observed the birthdays of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Shivananda and celebrates Durga Puja, Kali Puja, etc.
Apart from Durga puja, Dadubhai used to worship Saturn God at our puja mondap on each Saturday; and I used to eagerly wait for this day for the whole week.
Durga puja used to be a grand celebration at our house. The Lakshmi puja, Kali puja, Saraswati puja are also celebrated in the same puja mondap.
When we visited our Barasat house in 2017 with Neha (our daughter in-law) on DurgapujaAsthami, we were all siting at outside of our puja mondap. And on completion of Asthami puja &anjali, Kakumoni (elder uncle) told us that now we will do the Boron of another Maa in our house, and carried out a grand badhu boron celebration of Neha by our entire family (Kakumoni, Kakimoni, Phoolpishi, Kuttipishi, Didi, Rumi & others) on her entry at our Barasat house, as Neha is the 1stNath-bou (wife of 1st grandson). It had given me the remembrance of the starting year of 1954 of our Durga puja by Dadubhai, in which year my father got married and my mother entered our house as 1stbahu of our family.
I was told later that Dadubhai started the Durga puja at our house in 1954, on seeing MaaDurga being worshipped at our puja mondap in one of his morning dreams. Till now Durga puja is being celebrated at our house.
Artisians called Pals used to make the images at our own mondir only in the evening / night time. They used to take almost a month time to complete the same. I used to watch and observe eagerly that how straw is tied around the bamboo (we were having our own puja kathamo, which we used to collect every year after immersion) with jute cords to form Durga’s and other idols figures. Then a first layer of clay is applied to the figures, filling in the gaps left by the straw; Additional layers of clay is applied with great care & skill to give the statues’ final detailed form. Once the clays are dried, paints are applied. Their eyes are painted in on the day of Mahalaya in a ritual called Chakshu Dan. On Mahalaya according to Hindu mythology, the goddess Durga came to earth to kill Mahishasura.
Generally 3 / 4 days prior to start of Durga puja, Thammaalongwith others used to start making NarkelNaru (ladoo), Sandesh, Modak (a tall pyramid shape statue), Tiler Naru, Chirer and Murir Moa (Ball shape ladoos made from rice flakes / puffed rice with jaggery), etc. Every morning they used to take bath first, then wearing a new saree they used to start preparing these items for Durga puja in a separate stove & utensils meant for this purpose. We were not allowed that time to enter that room. One long Modak of around 1 ft height used to be made specifically for Asthami puja, from which a part was given to everyone as Prasad.
All our relatives from various places used to come at our house that time. Mejopishi&Rangapishi with their families, Sheetalkaku with his family, Chittokaku, Ganeshkaku, Samarkaku, Amarkaku, Meerapishi, Chinni-thamma, Ratankaku, Swapankaku, Putulkaka, Manikaka, Monupishi, and so many – I cannot recollect completely now.
On the day of Sasthi, the ritual of Kalparambha is performed in early hours of the morning. It deals with the Sankalpa to perform puja properly by abiding all the rituals and customs, by installing ghat (water filled copper pot) at a corner of our Durgamondir. Then Bodhon is performed at the evening under the bael tree at our entrance gate, followed with Adhivas and Amantran. DurgaMaa is welcomed with a Kulo decorated with Paan, Sindur, Alta, Sheela (stone), Dhaan, etc and amidst the beats of Dhaak and sound of Shaankh.
On 1stDurga puja in 1988 after my marriage with Rupali, She (as 1stbahu of our generation in our family) was honoured to carry this decorated Kulo on her head to our puja mondap to facilitate our pujari to carry out Adhivas and Amantran celebration of Maa Durga. This traditional legacy has been transferred from Thamma to my mother, then to Kakimoni and then to our generation wives.
That time Durgapuja was being performed by our family pujari Sri Haradhan Chakraborthy.
Sri Ganesh is placed at left hand side of Maa Durga, which is just opposite to other traditional Durga idols. On curiosity, Dadubhai explained me that it was instructed by our family pujari Sri Haradhan Chakraborthy, for two reasons. Puja or Worship is to be started first with Sri Ganesha and to be started from right side only, and the 2nd reason – Maa Durga always takes Ganesh in her lap, and rarely Sri Kartikeyan and the Mother generally takes her child in her left lap.
On Maha Saptami day, the kalashs are placed in front of Maa Durga with a green coconut and mango leaves. This is surrounded on all sides by a red thread & tied, and is called Kalash Staphan. The puja starts with Sri Ganesh, after Kola bou (a banana plantation with eight other plants tied together draped with lal par sari) is placed on right side of Sri Ganesh.
Though we had enough flowers (Shiuli, Tagar, Jaba, etc) at ours &Pishimoni’s houses to meet the puja requirement, but it was an excitement for us to steal flowers from others gardens. I used to accompany my Didi, Ratna-di (1st daughter of Mejopishi), and sometimes Dadabhai, Didibhai to pluck flowers stealthily from other gardens at early dawn. Once when we (myself with Didi and Ratna-di) were on the mission in someone’s garden, someone shouted with a torch – we got scared and immediately ran to our nearby Saroj kaku’s (cousin uncle) house where a servant was sleeping on the outside verandah. Didi and Ratna-di immediately hide themselves behind the mosquito curtain and I slid inside the net to lie down with the servant.
On every evening, We used to celebrate Dhunuchi dance and all our family members, including Thamma, used to take part in it. Chotokaku and Kuttipishi were great dancers and we were fascinated in watching their performances.
From Navami day, our faces used to become sadden as we started realising that puja is going to be over in another one day and all relatives will start departing one by one.
On Dashami day afternoon, the sindur boron ceremony was celebrated , and after that the idols were taken out from the mondap. Then the women used to play Sindurkhela among themselves and our cousin uncles also used to participate in the game by applying colors on the married women’s faces.
At evening of Dashami, our cousin uncles (Chittokaku, Ganeshkaku mainly) used to prepare bhang and given to everybody to drink it. I also took a few sips at that age.
Chotokaku used to fire a wooden rod wrapped with cloth (mashal) in left hand with a kerosene bottle in right hand, and throwing kerosene from his mouth leading at front, followed by Dhunichi dances and procession for the immersion ; It was a show to watch at our age that time. All Maa Durga idols from our area used to be kept at pioneer field with a common lighting arrangement for the whole area and then one by one the idols were immersed down in the pond (Since 1986, we started the immersion of our idol at our pond only). Immediately, then we used to rush to our puja mondap, as we were told that time by our elders that we need to write down ‘Sri Sri Durgayenamo’ 108 times with a rice grain on platform where the Durga idol was kept. By that time my father used to take a dip in water to fill the water in the copper kalash and to bring at our puja mondap. The pujari after performing the shanti puja, used to sprinkle the holy water with the help of mango leaves on our heads for peace and happiness. We used to end our Durga puja with sadness by taking blessings from the elders after touching their feet, with tears rolling down our cheeks..
As I used to sleep with my Dadubhai, the habit of early rising grew in me from that time. He used to wake up very early morning and then used to take me along for a morning walk when the whole house was asleep. He used to teach me maths table, addition, subtraction, etc during that time. He always advised me to get up early and study for 1 hour which will be equivalent to 3 hours study in other day time, and I followed the same throughout my life. My Dadubhai was a retired police inspector, and during that morning time he used to visit various nearby villages and houses and I can remember the respect he used to get from these people , whom actually Dadubhai helped (financially) after 1947 partition to get settled.
I was growing under the one-sided love, affection of my Dadubhai and because of that I was getting adamant and started disobeying my Thamma, Uncles & Aunts – As I used to feel that Dadubhai is always there to protect me from others. When I was 5 years old, Dadubhai admitted me in a Pathsala (primary school) and I started going there, as I used to love it. One day, while I was ready to go to Pathsala and asked Thamma to give food (Dadubhai was out for some work) but Thamma gave food to my elder Uncle (who was ready to go to office) and asked me to wait, as the fish was under preparation on the oven. I got angry and went to Pathsala without taking any food. When Dadubhai learnt about this incident, he scolded my Thamma like anything and went to Pathsala to bring me back. That time Thamma realised that I am getting spoiled with my Dadubhai’s one-sided love and affection and realized it is high time for me to be taken back by my parents. Thamma immediately contacted my father through my elder Uncle to take me back to Durgapur (where my parents were staying at that time with my elder sister and younger brother). This was Thamma’s strong farsight that time which helped me to start my career in a proper way. So, that was the end of journey of my childhood golden days which I spent with my best favourite person, My Dadubhai.