The Khowai Reminisce

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Come summer and it was journey time! The much awaited sojourn chugging to a land which we know as Birbhum, tucked away in one corner of West Bengal. My hometown, a place far removed from the crazy pandemonium of Howrah; my beloved Santiniketan. That’s how it had always been; to spend two months in a row, delightfully pampered by grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Last week’s celebration of Earth Day reminded me of that miniscule piece of haven. Dadu, (my paternal grandfather), Late Sri Dhiren Krishna Dev Burman came to reside here as a young student of Ranindranath Tagore and then to Nandalal Bose in the mid forties and joined the Bengal School of Art at Santiniketan.

Thus, this became my placental bond with a province which eternally made an irreplaceable impact on me over the years. Here concepts like environment, nature et all were/are not taught. They get self infused or imbibed in a persons’ persona I believe.

During early years of Ashram life one grew up here in “khadi” –“gerua bastra”; the clothes from the local loom were provided to masters and students from Sriniketan and to those interested. Bare foot one would walk down to the classes held under the canopy of old spread-eagled trees, which hugged the sky and the ground beneath alike! Open amphitheatre hosted the dance dramas, plays and events.

Ma would lie beside me at bedtime repeating for the nth time how as children they would sit on the mats on ‘Kakod’ ( pebbles) poking their bums, driving the passerby black ants or the centipedes away from them, listening to the bird calls. At times unmindfully listen to their masters teaching, squinting up at how the sunlight would play through the gaps, as the leaves would flail about with the breeze. Then with the sudden squall, all would gleefully run for cover calling it a day!

The children grew up singing Rabindra Sangeet written by Rabi Thakur.  ‘Akash Bhora surjo taara”, singing praises about the vastness of nature and at times talking about Harsingar in “amar noyono bhulano ele”…

Ma’s soulful singing from the kitchen, representing all hues and moods of passing seasons while cooking still lingers on my memory.  As children, they grew one with their surroundings. The then mud houses would be checked for leaks on the tin roofs laid with the red clay tiles before each monsoon.  She would point out to us while on a morning walk, how the tall palm trees were devoid of their crowns! The lightning strikes do away with the heads mostly, she would say with a smile.

When I rummage through my memory basket, the fondest is when as kids we would run along the sandy pebbled dirt roads all the way to “Khoai”, in search of “velvet poka” or the ladybirds. Fill up our tiny mugs and bring the crawlies back home to our elder’s dismay!

We all knew as kids that we were not to harm the snakes which crossed our paths or hung from the roof tops, but asked to shoo them away! Our bird watching lessons were simple. Our breakfast routine was heralded each day with an impromptu game. We had to spot and copy the birdcalls as best and were handsomely rewarded with a 25 p to buy anything we desired from the local bakery!

Sometimes when the canal water would run low, we would dare to slide down and try catching the tiny fishes caught in the puddles. Older ones would show us how to dig the sand and wait for the fresh water to emerge in tiny pools for washing our hands. It was magic!

It wasn’t the science class which taught me nomenclature; it was the early morning walks with grandparents or elders which led us to  botanical names of the gulmohar, amaltas, harsingar, bokul, shonajhuri, naagkeshor, nagalingam, magnolia…. The list was endless! Some of the local names were given by Rabindranath Tagore, we were told.  With much reverence Dadu would say, “There isn’t an emotion or an aspect of nature which mastermoshai hasn’t spoken or written about.”

Lying on the roof tops on full moon nights, uncle would point out to the constellations; the stories would then follow of their childhood bringing us upright in rapt attention! The petrichor (musky earthy fragrance after the first monsoon drizzle on the dry land) still brings back so many memories of that land of khowai…

Poets, artists, musicians, writers, scientists, economists, mathematicians blossomed on this land, which I believe was due to the freedom to dream, sing, imagine and Be one with Mother Nature…

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Devika Raghave

The writer is a painter and a photographer and is based in Ghana In her own words "I am a nomad at heart; a complete dreamer. Given to traveling and meeting people, experiencing their cuisine and exchange notes about life's journey across this gorgeous blue planet"

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