THE GANG FORMATIONS IN SANTINIKETAN
THE GANG FORMATIONS IN SANTINIKETAN
No, do not get perturbed at the topic heading, here we are dealing with Kid Gangs of Patha Bhavana days around 1970s! In those days, for enterprising boys, it was a necessity to form groups to carry out exciting adventures. The nature of adventures were many, prominent one being stealing of fruits from household gardens around the University campus and from within. Then there was a strong desire to form formidable sporting teams in football and cricket ,as winning games were considered to be the ultimate prestige status. Then there were forays in rainy days to catch fishes, roam around uncharted territories mostly within the huge ‘khoai’ around Santiniketan, jumping into streams, climbing difficult trees just for the heck of it, creating odd problems for people we did not like, so on and so forth. A huge amount of kid politics used to be active then to entice promising players and adventurers from other groups to defect and at times fairly unethical means were applied. In short, for enterprising boys in those days, it was mandatory to form a group, as survival was near impossible for an individual kid in a defined territory however intelligent he may be. Naturally all groups aspired to be the best in the vicinity. As in those days, kids hardly believed in solving issues between different groups through democratic parleys, matters were mostly solved with rather brute forces, group formations were a necessity for physical protection as well. Kids were invariably at awe with powerful groups, and the powerful ones enjoyed the privilege of bullying the weaker ones. In fact, we spent quite a lot of our energy and intelligence to bully others- that was a typical kid horizon we all enjoyed. Ofcourse the conventional good boys, ever obedient to their parents, were methodically avoided by all groups, as they invariably created a huge problem by involving their parents in contentious matters relating to exclusive kid gangs! None of the kid groups really liked elders to get involved into the exclusive kid zone. It was an amazing world in itself, full of excitement, adventure, entertainment and yes guile and deceit.
Around class IV or V, when we had enough sprinting power to dodge the stick wielding elders and acquired the skill to hide in no time almost anywhere even in front of the eyes of an angry senior citizen (the actual phrase should be ‘vanish in thin air’ in no time like P C Sircar’s magic shows) a few boys like Bhup Narayan Singh, Falguni Chatterjee, Dipak Choudhury, myself along with few immediate juniors became tactically eligible to form a group. The need of the hour was we needed a group to step into the lucrative ‘fruit stealing’ venture in and around campus area, specially to make Wednesday, the weekly holiday, more enterprising for us. By the time we were in class IV or V, we got bored of holidays having nothing interesting to do! The apparently simplistic venture of ‘fruit stealing’ was not really that simple. First of all one had to go for a exhaustive field study, mostly peeking into house hold gardens, but often by entering the house on the pretext of searching a ball dropped in or some other thing. It had to be an elaborate data collection effort, spreading all seasons, we used to look for Guavas, Mangoes, Lichis, even Bel, Jamun, Phalsa, Batabi Lebu, Jamrul, Kul and what not. In those days smart households were quite aware of such blitzkrieg kid attacks into their gardens; and were generally very suspicious of finding a few boys hanging around however small they appeared! Then we had to collect data, on which household had ominous looking pet dogs, where the caretaker/gardener is young and can run fast, whether the household belonged to one of our seniors in Patha Bhavana (extremely dangerous proposition then!), what can be the suitable time for invasion so on and so forth. On few occasions few of us kept the owner or the caretaker busy with nonsense talk on some cooked up serious issue at the front yard to facilitate others to enter from the back yard to half empty a lichhi tree in no time. By the time the others finished the operation and signalled us, we would politely take leave from that elderly gentleman or ‘masima’ with exchanging good wishes! Most of our operations remained smooth, with occasional scary contingencies! We even planned for those contingencies, and most of the times we had a plan ‘B’ chalked out.
So, achieving sufficient level of confidence by the time we were in class IV and V, aided by quite a few field experiences as apprentices to other ‘fruit stealing’ groups, we decided to get into the business on our own. The only problem was we needed a group captain, someone to give us physical protection from other groups. In this exciting game, treading into the territory of other groups, for example if a Ratan Pally group treaded into Seva Pally area to ‘steal fruits’ it would invariably lead to a conflict of interest, often resulting in skirmishes. However deft we were in planning, sprinting, climbing and stealing, at class IV or V we hardly had enough muscle power to fire if needed. So, we decided to rope in Ranjan Pattnaik 3-4 years senior to us (later a high ranked Indian Army Officer!) as our captain, and approached him with our offer! Ranjan-da was a clever guy (then a boy) and after carefully assesing the credentials of his juniors, he accepted the post, immediately enforcing a condition that he will have the ‘First Choice’ option for all the fruits stolen! It was a very unfavourable proposition for us, as we would do all the hard work, and the captain will get hold of all the best fruits! But then, we had no other options, and the notorious Ratan Pally Junior Gang was formed just around 1969/1970. The Ratan Pally Senior Gang by that time moved into other areas from rather mundane ‘fruit stealing’ – like stealing hens and goats, participating in University sport teams, and yes ofcourse, allotting fair amount of their time to keep their girlfriends amused. In reality, all kid gangs started to dismantle naturally when the boys started to become seriously curious about the girls around! Same fate eventually happened to our gang too, but that’s a different story altogether.
Our choice of Ranjan Pattnaik as our team leader was put into effect after a long deliberation, their were many candidates for the job like Urgen Chencho Lama (Ugenda), Pradip Tarafdar (Bablada) to name a few. But we zeroed on Ranjan Patnaik, because he was comparatively less bullying than others! But Ranjan-da turned out to be a smart customer by immediately enforcing the ‘First Choice’ clause. Our method of operation was, we would collect all the relevant data, plan the whole adventure, if there was some sign of danger- we would keep a plan ‘B’ ready, fix the timing and then inform Ranjan-da to lead us. All Ranjan-da used to do, was to stand at a distance rather majestically, after the operation was over he would chose the best fruits, divide the rest amongst us and disperse. On few tricky situations when we had to run fast to save our skins from a stick wielding caretaker or a nasty dog, Ranjan-da would be the first one to flee. On a few other occasions when we would get embroiled in territorial disputes he would wriggle us out of the situation by virtue of his senior contacts. So, that’s how things moved for about 2 years. In that period apart from our den in Ratan Pally, we successfully ventured into Seva Pally, Purva Pally, Sree Pally, Dakhin Pally (Guru Pally, Simanta Pally being almost nonexistent in those days). So, effectively the whole of Santiniketan were under our control. In fact the Ratan Pally Senior and Junior Gang were quite famous by then. Members of the Ratan Pally Senior Gang often provided us with moral encouragement, sometimes offering valuable tips!
Even in those days of glory, for some initial period of time, Bhutu, a Seva Pally lad (Chitrabhanu Giri-now a faculty member of Patha Bhavana), managed to fool us, leaving perhaps the only blot in our illustrious fruit stealing career! There were quite a few inviting coconut trees beside the Pearson Memorial Hospital area. In those days Santiniketan was never crazily earmarked with myriad of fences like now and many plots did not have the boundary demarcated. Whenever, led by Bhup Narayan Singh, we went for inspecting the coconut trees to plan a foray to drench our thirst with coconut water, Bhutu would emerge from no-where and proclaim that those plants belonged to his house hold and we should not venture into such an mis-adventure as he would call his father to thwart our plans. We believed in his words and moved away meekly. He kept our plan in abeyance for a considerable period of time. We would helplessly watch all the coconuts being felled by Bhutu and his family, while he never offered us even one as a friendly gesture to his classmates! Much later we realized that it was a pure bluff, the coconut trees actually were the properties of P M Hospital! In reality, though the Ratan Pally boys were invariably more robust, the Seva Pally boys were more intelligent- at times cunningly intelligent to even fool us!
When we grew up to about reaching class VIII, we realized that Ranjan-da was actually reaping a rich harvest at our expense, and felt that we do not need an outsourced captain. Bhup Narayan Singh was the natural choice-more about him in due course. By that time we had acquired a bit of muscle power by ourselves and learnt quite a few tricks of political manipulation and diplomacy while dealing with group rivalry. In the sporting field, bolstered by Bhup Narayan Singh the class VIII team was a formidable one in football creating problems for even the class XI-the senior most team of Patha Bhavana. In fact in local sporting arena, we the Ratan Pally boys were a real force to reckon with, and in our age group we were even quite popular in Bolpur town as well. In those day sports were the most favoured activity for all the boys around. Naturally, after acquiring such reputations we were legitimate to aspire for our own identity, discarding Ranjan-da as our out sourced captain. Accordingly, on one Wednesday afternoon we undertook a swift mango-operation at Purvapally, with Bhup Narayan Singh christened as our legitimate gang leader, without informing Ranjan-da . Somehow Ranjan-da got the inkling of the event, and threatened us with dire consequences, the most potent being a report to the Patha Bhavana principal Umadi (Uma Ghosh). Now, Umadi was a strict disciplinarian, though not exactly aggressive. She was a devout follower of Rishi Aurovindo; and was pretty fond of delivering nicely articulated long lectures on morality, which was a dreaded experience for all of us! It was easier to face a capital punishment from Biswanathda (the usual courtesy meted out to boys like us in those days!) than the elaborate intellectual punishment from Umadi! So, for us, the boys with rather confused sense of morality, facing Umadi was a much dreaded proposition. Invariably our little brains would get jammed and we would feel like deplorable creatures for next few days! So, Ranjan-da’s warning of reporting our stealth-missions to Umadi scared the nuts out of us. Few Wednesdays passed without action; but naturally we became more desperate soon and decided to re-initiate our mission, but in utmost secrecy. We decided to pre plan the venture, not to gather in a group before hand, only to assemble at the action spot, that also away from our home turf at Ratan Pally. Our next Wednesday venture were successful as usual (we had a remarkable success rate–should be above 95% at least!); but next Thursday at school we were absolutely pensive that a notice may come from Patha Bhavana Office to our class to instruct us to meet the Principal at a particular hour! We kept looking for the notice carrying peon going from one class to another in Bokulbithi; he duly came to my class but only to deliver a notice of different sort. So that Thursday passed without anything happening. Gradually we became bolder, and undertook several ventures on our own. I have a feeling that Ranjan-da after all did not execute his threats, after all he was fairly brotherly in nature, hence allowed us to move on our own. Besides, being a senior, he had many other interests to follow than to monitor ‘fruit stealing’ activities of his juniors and to execute the ‘First Choice’ clause! Life thus moved on smoothly!
Coming back to Bhutu, Chitrabhanu Giri, now a faculty member of Patha Bhavana, after realizing that he cunningly fooled us for long by proclaiming the coconut trees beside P M Hospital as his family property; our subsequent actions on those coconut trees used to be severe. Bhutu used to watch helplessly, and often pleaded with us to spare a few coconuts for him. Well, we did spare a few, as our gang leader Bhup Narayan Singh was magnanimous by nature. He also allowed us to keep our individual kitty, often gifting a few from his stock. He was the best in the business, and unlike Ranjan-da, he always led from the front. Till this date, after so many climbing sprees atop trees and atop roofs, being some sort of an expert myself, I have never seen anyone except Bhup Narayan Singh to literally ‘run into a tree’. We used to reach the trunk of a tree stealthily, often one previously uncharted and hence tricky, calculated the best angle of climb and then get into action. Bhup Narayan Singh could just sprint in from a distance and in same swift and speedy motion get at the top branch of a tree within a blink of an eye- a feat I could never even dream of! In dangerous missions, where the caretaker was awake but at a distance in a largish plot in Purva Pally, Bhup would take up the mission all on his own. He would sprint atop a tree, pluck fruits and throw them to us generally outside the fence. By the time the caretaker would get an inkling about an invasion, a quarter of the fruits will vanish. The caretaker would then come shouting and running, but Bhup would not budge, because by the time the caretaker would climb anywhere near him, Bhup would pluck 20 more and then jump off the tree from an improbable angle and sprint off in a jiffy. And within a minute or two we would all vanish. By the time Bhup reached class X he was the 100M & 200M University sports champion, so it was impossible to catch a sprinting Bhup for anyone in Santiniketan. I sometimes feel, the seeds of the eventual University champion in sprints were sown in Bhup’s kid days when he had to outrun quite a few Santhal caretakers and gardeners, sometimes even dogs! Leading from the front had other ominous problems for Bhup. He was more conspicuous than us, and soon people from all over Santiniketan started complaining against “Muktinath dar Byata” Bhup Narayan Singh. Inundated by complaints from all over,my mother alerted me several times against my proximity to Bhup Narayan Singh, but with little result! The thrills of such adventures were too attractive to ignore! Bhup and myself, in the meanwhile became partners in football and cricket for school team and eventually the University team. He was an versatile sportsman, excelling in may fields. I have lost count of how many catches I have taken as a wicket keeper while the batsmen failed to read his lovely out swingers and nicked- maybe more than 100! Quite a few field goals in football had a trade mark pattern, passed from half-line by Shubhashis and blasted into the net by Bhup. It was a huge treat to have Bhup as our kid gang leader and a sporting friend; and that period remains a most cherished one in my life.
In due course of time, led into different and diverse trajectories by our girl friends, the kid gang eventually dispersed, yet the sports arena kept us glued together right through our college days. Only yesterday, Bhup phoned me, reminding me of those times, and asking me to jot down a few lines for publication in Muktodahra. Streams of past events caught up with me, and I finished this piece in one go, and that also within my working hours at my office at State Bank, usually a busy place! I never felt so happy after jotting down an article. A huge lot of thanks, Bhup.
The experiences shared will be near and dear to many of you in different frames of time. Patha Bhavana remained a very interesting experience for all of us, with kid life of several dimensions unfolding rapidly. For sure, we never had any time to get bored!