Hey, the wayward soul, where do you belong? Do you belong to the skies, or to the water, or to the soil with that typical smell in the air? Do you belong to your times, music and thoughts? Do you belong in the hearts of your girl friends, in the soul of your friends, in the memory of your teachers? Do you belong in the playing fields of the football or cricket matches or for that matter in the playing field of life?
I really do not know. I reckon I always belonged to the people.
I do not exactly remember when I got interested in watching people around me. But on lazy Santiniketan afternoons in our kid days, I was terribly fond of watching the few people moving around. Even in the peak of summer a small part of window beside me was always kept thinly open to have a glimpse at the open field in front of my home. Even the dogs, cows and crows came under my deep scrutiny- almost like the ‘Amol in Dakghar’. Perhaps the belonging started right from then.
The bizarre guys were invariably a big hit with boys like us. So, even when grown up, well considerably grown up actually, I had to persuade this snake charmer rather emphatically to allow me to photograph him. He was quite petrified about any kind of publicity! These days playing with snakes are illegal, and hence these snake charmers are not to be found in town areas. They now prefer to move around in villages and practice their unusual craft. Interestingly I have a collection of an old photograph (when Rabindranath was alive) where snake charmers were allowed to perform their tricks with songs at the main stage for the cultural shows held during Poush Mela.
By the way do you remember the monkey man (at times also with a black bear)? They always had a rather dramatic hip hopping monkey act at the end of the show dedicated to Dharmendra and Hema Malini, ot at times Rekha. I always wondered why, even when being Bengali’s themselves, they never performed any monkey act on Uttam Kumar and Suchitra- the doyens of Bengali cinema. I asked one of them, and I was rather startled at the perfectly rational answer- that Suchitra never wore a knee height Ghaghra Choli!
We all realize that times have changed. The ‘change in the wind’ professed by Bob Dylan remained the motto for many of us in our generation. Actually though we have changed rather dramatically I would say, same is for Santiniketan; many aspects of life have remained frozen in time. These glimpses of people around me swiftly take me back to my kid days, as if nothing has actually transpired in all these years! These are the constant factors of life, which keeps me (along with surely quite a few others) rooted to these people. I do not exactly recall when I saw these fish catchers first; only thing I can remember is that I inevitably felt an irresistible urge to move along with them- when possible, those were fascinating explorations of life.
The first stop at this nostalgia these days is invariably the Ratanpally Kalordokan area. On every holiday, at around 11PM two ‘cold Kochuris’ with a dish of relatively warmer ‘Alur Torkari’ is a must for me to rekindle the past. But I cannot forget to have the sip of tea at Nabadwip after swallowing the ‘cold Kochuris’ from there at near mid day, because the tea from that very stall is the only digestive that saves me from severe after effects!
The sewing machines invariably reminded me of the great Dhulu-da, beside Ghosh-er Dokan. Imagine a guy being named ‘Dhulu’ just for his drooping eyes! Dhulu-da was a big hit with the girls and ladies of Santiniketan, so much so that many boys of Vidya Bhavana hostel nearby were quite envious (and perhaps a bit suspicious too!) of Dhulu-da! But kudos to the girl (I presume- as Santiniketan girls are fairly notorious on this account) who named the drooping eyed tailor master ‘Dhulu-da’, what an innovation! There can ofcourse be plenty of interpretations why the eyes of Dhulu-da turned drooping- a favourite subject of discussion among us, the boys!
These days this huge Buddha has surfaced courtesy the Ambedkar Foundation of Santiniketan. Just beside a Santhal village it is a rather improbable concoction, specially the height. Rabindranath Tagore, even after being such a versatile genius, never projected such hugely larger than life concepts to anybody; everything related to him was down to Earth in its very essence. This large scale idolization is a change of concept I would like to note here while discussing about people-scape around Santiniketan.
Anyway, I intend to remain less intrigued by static structures, and would rather like to focus on this Tangewallah. From a near about village, this guy aspired to make a living by ferrying passengers around the Santiniketan Sriniketan tourist area few years back. But lack of business made him pull out. Personally, I would have liked this guy to stay around; a mini horse driven chariot appeared quite an interesting prospect to me. Unfortunately he disappeared very soon.
These days Kala Bhavana guys are mulling the idea of rearing a few Peacocks in the Ahrama area in free-state. It is just an idea floated with no concrete shape till now. That can be interesting too -Peacocks with their long hanging tails adorning the trees of Ashrama complex. But the real issue is, this time the faculty members of Kala Bhavana do not want to keep the peacocks in captivity; so the idea will be a difficult one to conceive.
The best part of Santiniketan that I can still feel very acutely is the ability to synergize with the kids. While taking this photograph I was as excited as the posing kids! Now, kids are always at the excited mode, while usually we, the elders, like to remain grooved to our own co-ordinates. But in Santiniketan it is still fairly easy for us to get into a workable rapport with the kids. That is a sense of equality nicely bred in Santiniketan. This is also the basic spirit which keeps me at the equilibrium with the people around Santiniketan, there is nothing larger than life here, and at some point of realization each is equal, with the ‘nature’ being the ultimate equalizer of all. This is in fact a very sublime, but essential, intellectual guidance professed by Rabindranath himself in Santiniketan. This trait, now I realize, helps me to be perfectly at ease with the children in the snap above, or with the Rickshaw wallas of Santiniketan, or the faculty members of Visva Bharati or for that matter with the Vice Chancellor as well.
Some experiences of human existence are so basic that I really do not know whether to accept it without even noticing! But my photographic intuition made me click this one, a rather un-intentional one really. I never knew what to do with this snap, but just could not discard it. After all this is a part of life for everyone in India. Here, in my wayward journey into people-scape I get a chance to record this.
These tea stalls do survive at the outskirts of Santiniketan, now fairly infested by innovative fast food joints. Now at Ratan Pally we have a mobile Maruti van cum fast food assembly, dishing out everything from fish fingers to chicken chowmein to lassi. We have our biriyani or dhosa joints, supplemented by innovative soft drinks. I found a fruit juice vendor selling guava juice! I was fairly tempted to try, but instead settled for pineapple juice; after all, ripe round yellow guavas were never a favourite with me.
Among this milieu a nice old tea stall at the banks of Kopai is actually pretty refreshing, a good place to delete some disturbing chunks of time!
I hope this people-scape is not boring you! Actually this is a kind of a social record of life around Santiniketan. This is an attempt, probably never undertaken anywhere else in such a fashion, except in this web site. We intend to record these aspects of life from time to time.
Generally the lady carrying fuel wood should be someone living at the fringe of existence, as per scholastic evaluation. But in reality these people are statistically a huge majority; actually the elected members of parliament and the Legislative Assemblies get effectively chosen by them only. So, technically this cannot be termed as ‘life at the fringe’; rather this is the real living in India. Hmmm, this is for the guys who every now and then harps on ‘change’ or the ‘changing face of India’! India is yet to change as per my observation, and it would need quite some decades to actually ‘change’.
I had to get off my motor bike and choose several angles to photograph this phenomenon! The passer byes were fairly intrigued by my photographic curiosity. To be true, my free roaming motor bike ventures into the country side remains my most cherished past time. There is quite a few dedicated motor bike explorers among the faculty members of Visva Bharati, but they could not be persuaded by me to write something about their forays into country side. That could have been an excellent study of rural India to record.
I have always been at loss to define tranquility. Often, a large space of quiet nature is projected as an example of perfect tranquility. Somehow, to me, tranquility remains essentially a human expression. For example, when she was alive, I found my grandmother to be consistently tranquil, except when her grand children spoilt her mood decisively. I recall, when me and Kukul (my famous cousin brother) pestered my grandmother wanting to know how she interacted with our grandfather (Lt Kalimohan Ghosh), she initially would become dreamy eyed even at that age(80+). But when she would realize that we were actually playing a prank with her, she would get extremely cross and become visibly non tranquil! But never the less, every time she will fall prey to this particular temptation sugested by us, and each time the end result will be similar!
The snaps above were just a record of human-tranquility; the tranquility of existence. Somewhere deep down I invariably find plenty of peace all over.
We would someday invariably cross the bridge. Being ordinary folks, we would most probably leave no meaningful trace on planet Earth, except perhaps a very rare few. Neither we shall be able to give or take anything worthwhile with us. In the meanwhile I glean some comfort with the presence of my fellow passengers along with me all this time. After all they remain the true companions of life.