28 December 2021

A funny incident from way back when…

You probably remember from last week that to celebrate my mom’s life, I went and visited every single house she had ever lived in. Three of them were in Durgapur.

You probably saw them as very big houses with colorful walls. Which is what they are now. When we lived there, they all looked the same. They were the living quarters given by the steel factory that my dad worked in. Eventually, they let the residents buy out their quarters and then add their own improvements.

Growing up, they all looked the same. And the walls would come in only one of two colors – yellow or red. Now, for us, who lived in Durgapur, finding a house was very easy. All we needed was the address. It being a planned town, the roads usually ran in the cardinal directions and intersected in roundabouts.

The very first house we lived in was 6/2 North Avenue. All you needed to figure out was where was North Avenue. Once you found that, it was very systematic. The streets came off the road like a fish bone. Odd streets sequentially from 1 on the left and even streets sequentially from 2 on the right. Once you were in the street, similarly, houses in the left would be odd numbered and on the right, even numbered. So, once you got to North Avenue, the third street on the right would be our street (6th) and the first house on the right would be our house (6/2). In case you had any doubt, there were helpful markers at the beginning of every street and every house.

By the way – and this is relevant for the story – where our road started from, about a hundred yards offset from that were the only two cemeteries in Durgapur. One for the Muslims and one for the Christians.

You would think that would make finding a house to be a breeze, right? Yes, if you were from Durgapur. No, if you were not. Our relatives who would visit us from the big city of Kolkata or the small village of Debipur were more used to instructions like “oi saamner do-tola bareer paas diye je gali taa jachche – oi galitey – laal baaritar porer baaarita”. (“That two story house you see? Take the lane next to it and you are looking for the house next to the red house in that lane”).

This would lead to some hilarious situations. Like the one in 1974 or so. My grandmother and my great aunt were visiting us to attend a wedding (my dad’s mentor’s – Sen jethu – daughter – Kasturidi – was getting married). Both of them wore white sarees like you see in the picture. My grandmother of course wore it due to prevailing social customs (she was a widow). Not sure why but I had never seen my great aunt in any other color but white.

One of those evenings, they had gone out for a walk together and managed to get themselves completely lost. It was getting dark and a sense of helplessness was drawing upon them. It did not help that every house looked exactly like the next one. They were truly lost.

My grandmother apparently asked a couple of passers by if they knew the house of “Damu”. Now Damu is my dad’s pet name at home. Nobody calls him by that name other than in the village. But in that intense moment of being lost, my grandmother completely lost sight of the fact that she had to give his real name.

According to my great aunt, my grandmother was on the verge of crying. Which my grandmother completely denied. My great aunt had a brain wave. The one anchoring point she knew was a the cemetery. From there she knew how to get to our house.

Both of them approached a bunch of young kids who were still playing in that last bit of dusk – “Babara, amaader ektu kabarkhanay pnouchhe debey?” They pleaded the kids to accompany them to the cemetery.

You have to imagine the situation. It was getting dark. One small street light thirty yards away was offering some respite from total darkness. And there are these two characters completely dressed in white asking to go to the cemetery…

It took only one kid to ask the question that was at everyone’s tip of the tongue “Bhoot naki re?” (“Are these ghosts?”). And before you could cry Uncle (or great aunt for that matter), each had high tailed like their life depended on breaking the then Olympic sprint records. I understand the kids waited till daybreak to come back and retrieve their danda-guli (play paraphernila) that had been unceremoniously dumped the previous evening.

Eventually, the two old ladies entered a nearby house and asked if they knew the house of a school teacher called Manju. They were escorted dutifully and reached home in a matter of minutes.

That evening, as they narrated the story to us, the peals of laughter that roared from our house could be heard from a long distance. Even from the cemetery, I am sure.

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26 December 2021

From the bartender’s corner – Sazerac

Yesterday, Sharmila and I had gone to one of the very few bars open on Christmas day (Taffer’s Tavern). I had asked for a Sazerac. The cocktail was served without any ice on it. Which I found to be strange. This evening I made one the traditional way – with the ice and all that.

I have to admit I liked the non-ice version!! This might go against the traditionalist in mixology but the consistency stayed much better without the ice and I preferred that. I will have to try one with a King ice to see if slower melting helps in keeping the drink cold while maintaining the consistency…

26 December 2021

Disco Deewane … aha… aha…

The year was 1981. I was in 9th grade. Our house was on 9th street of Ranapratap Road. On the other side of the road was 16th street. The very first house on that street had a Malayali family. There were two kids – Jacob and Thomas – who went to my school (juniors). They always kept to themselves. Their dad used to do a lot of gardening and I used to say “Hi” to him on my numerous trips down that street to meet my best friend Avijit. Well, I did not say “Hi” so much as “Kaku, kemon aachhen?“.

There was one more thing I remember of that house – they had a record player (turntable). There were two particular records – whenever they played them – we used to stop playing whatever it was that we were playing (really the choices were between soccer or cricket depending on whether it was sweater worthy weather or not) and gather around their house to listen to the songs.

One of them was Disco Deewane. It used to sound very strange and very catchy to us. The strange part was because before that, our ears were brought up on a staple diet of Rabindrasangeet/Nazrulgeeti or Hindi Bollywood (soundtrack) songs.

And catchy because… well it was Disco. It took me five more years to even know what Disco meant.

Much later I found out this was the first non-movie-soundtrack (Bollywood) in India to take off and paved the way for later non-movie albums and singers. What I did not know – and found out from Wikipedia today – is that this topped the charts in a country like Brazil too!!

As a funny aside…
I believe the words go “Disco Deewane… aha aha”. That “aha aha” bit is interesting. In Bengali, we say “aha” when we appreciate something. Almost like saying “Bravo” or colloquially “Awesome”.

Those days, as much as I liked the album, I had never quite figured out why was Nazia singing the song and then commending herself by saying “aha aha”.

Yes, the memories of this album goes back to those tender years.

One more vinyl record I picked up from Free School Street in Kolkata last week.

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25 December 2021

Eulogy to my parents – from a student of my mom

This one is written by Antara – my mom’s student from elementary school …
Incidentally, Antara and her parents moved into the same house when my parents moved to aa different one in 2005.
Also, Antara now lives close to our house in Atlanta!

Written on: Dec 23, 2021
Antara Choudhury

শ্রদ্ধেয় মন্জুমিস ও জেঠুর স্মৃতিচারনায় কিছু কথা

মন্জুমিস কে প্রথমবার দেখি ক্লাস ওয়ানের প্রথমদিন। আমাদের ক্লাসে তিনটে সেকশন ছিল, A আর B বাংলা মিডিয়াম, আর C ছিল হিন্দি মিডিয়াম। তিনটে লাইনে দাঁড়িয়েছিলাম আমরা ৬০/৭০ জন ছাত্রছাত্রী। উচ্চতায় ছোট ছিলাম বলে একদম সামনেই ছিলাম আমি। একটা লাল পাড়, সাদা জমির বুটি দেওয়া তাঁতের শাড়ি, কাঁধে ব্যাগ আর হাতে ছড়ি। ছড়িটার কারনে প্রথমদিন একটু ভয়ই পেয়েছিলাম, কিন্তু আস্তে আস্তে পরিচয় বাড়লে সেই ভয়টা কেটে যায়। আমি ছিলাম B সেকশনে আর মন্জুমিস ছিলেন A সেকশনের ক্লাস টিচার। আমাদের অঙ্ক পড়াতেন উনি। হাতে সবসময় ছড়ি থাকলেও, টেবিলে আওয়াজ করে ক্লাসে চুপ করানো ছাড়া আর কোনো ব্যাবহার করতে দেখিনি। গভীর মমতায় আগলে রেখে পড়াতেন আমাদের। শুধু বিষয় নয়, কচি কাঁচাদের emotional growth এর ওপরেও সব সময় নজর রাখতেন। পাঁচ বছর ওনার কাছে পড়েছি, হাতে ধরে অঙ্ক শিখিয়েছেন, ভুল শুধরে দিয়েছেন, এমন কি খেলাধুলায় উৎসাহ দিয়েছেন।

১৯৯৬ তে আমি আর বাবা যখন ৯/৪ বাড়িটা দেখতে যাই, খুব খুশি হয়েছিলেন। আমি তখন ক্লাস টেনে পড়ি। ঘুরে দেখিয়েছিলেন বাগানের গোলাপ গাছ, ছোট্ট হলুদ চেরীগোল্ড ফুলের গাছ, উঠোনের নারকেল গাছ সব। আমিও খুব খুশি এত সুন্দর বাড়ি আমাদের হবে সেই আশায়। জেঠুর সাথে প্রথম আলাপ সেদিনই। জেঠু আমাকে দেখে বললেন, “ক্লাস টেন খুব গুরুত্বপূর্ণ সময়। এ বাড়ির পড়াশোনার একটা ঐতিহ্য আছে।” রাজীবদা তখন এলাকায় মোটামুটি বিখ্যাত.. জয়েন্ট, আই আই টি তে টপ rank, পিনানদা ও বোধহয় তখন এলাহাবাদ আরইসি থেকে পাশ করে গেছে। আমি একটু ভয়ই পেয়ে গেছিলাম জেঠুর প্রশ্নে “কী, ঠিক করে পড়াশোনা করবে তো? ঐতিহ্যটা তো বজায় রাখতে হবে, নাকি?” মন্জুমিস আমার কম্পমান অবস্থা আন্দাজ করে আঁচলের আড়ালে নিয়ে বলেছিলেন “করবে, করবে। অন্তরাও পড়াশোনায় ভালো, ও ভালোই করবে।”

তারপর মিসরা চলে গেলেন সেন্ট পলস রোডের বাংলোয়, আর আমরা এলাম ৯/৪ এ। অনেক গুলো বছর এভাবেই। কলকাতা থেকে বাড়ি এলে, বিজয়ায়, নববর্ষে মিসের সাথে দেখা করতে যেতাম সেন্ট পলস রোডের বাংলোয়। রসগোল্লা খাওয়াতেন প্রতিবার। “না খেলে চলবেনা, বড় হচ্ছিস না? ওটুকু খেতে হবে” বলতেন। জেঠু খোঁজ নিতেন পড়াশোনার, চাকরির। কলেজ শেষ করে কগনিজেন্ট জয়েন করার আগে দেখা করতে গিয়েছিলাম। খুব খুশি হয়েছিলেন। জেঠু ও বলেছিলেন, “বাহ্ ভালো চাকরি, খুব ভালো মাইনে দেয় ওরা।” চাকরি পাওয়ার পর ঘনঘন দুর্গাপুর যাওয়া কিছুটা কমে গেলেও, মাঝেমধ্যে যেতাম – বিশেষত বিজয়ায়। জেঠুর বাজার যেতে বেশ অসুবিধে হতো, আস্তে আস্তে হাঁটতেন। একদিন বললেন ছেলে মেয়ে চাইছে কল্যানি তে গিয়ে থাকতে, বাংলো টা বিক্রি করে কল্যানি তে ফ্ল্যাট কেনার কথা চলছে।

শেষবার দেখা হয়েছিল কল্যানি চলে যাওয়ার আগে। দুর্গাপুর ছেড়ে যেতে একটু বিষন্ন ছিলেন। বলেছিলেন ছেলে মেয়ে মিলে সব ব্যবস্থা করে দিয়েছে। সোমাদির বিল্ডিং এই ফ্ল্যাট।

মন্জু মিস আর জেঠুর স্নেহভরা প্রশ্রয়, আর অনুপ্রেরনা চিরদিন উৎসাহ যোগাবে। ওনাদের প্রনাম জানাই ও আত্মার শান্তি কামনা করি।

24 December 2021

“Yaara teri yaari ko… maine to khuda maana”

While in Kolkata, went to Free School Street and got a few more vinyl records. This time, I focused on some of the Hindi movie songs that we used to hum during our school days.

Yaarana – a favorite of Sharmila’s and mine – was the first one I brought out tonight and listened to with her.

I remember how much I used to love the tune of those words…

“Yaara teri yaari ko
Maine toh khuda maana
Yaad karegi duniya
Tera mera afsaana
Tere jaisa yaar kahan
Kahan aisa yaarana”

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24 December 2021

An eulogy for my mom – from an ex-student

Keya was my mom’s student in elementary school and also lived in the same neighborhood as us. In fact, her two brothers and I played soccer and cricket together pretty much every evening from 1980 thru mid 1983.

Loved her sense of poetry…
By: Keya Mukherjee
Date: Dec 22, 2021

বড় চোখের দিদিমণি
কড়া হাতের শাসন,
বেঞ্চের ওপর দাঁড় করিয়ে
পড়ায় যখন তখন ।

স্কুল মানে যে বিভীষিকা
এমন সময় দেখা —-
গল্প বলা দিদিমণির
পড়া পড়া খেলা ।

ভয় নেই আর স্কুলে যেতে
নেই যে বিভীষিকা ।
মনের মতো দিদিমণি
এবার পেলো দেখা ।

আমাদের শান্ত হাসিমুখের প্রিয় রায় কাকিমার প্রতি জানাই অন্তরের শ্রদ্ধা, ভক্তি ও ভালোবাসা ।আমার প্রণাম জানিয়ে বলি কাকিমা তুমি যেখানেই থাকো শান্তিতে থেকো