Sunday, 17 June 2012

How Baba saved the evening with some help from Tagore

"There is no you, me or us. We are all a part of one soul," my mother who is deep into the Upanishads these days was telling her visiting friends while I was standing in the kitchen filling a small army of empty plastic water bottles to go into the fridge.

Filling bottles in the summer is one of the most dreaded tasks. It is pure drudgery and as a child, I used to return almost-empty bottles back into the fridge pretending not to notice that there wasn't any water in them. If Ma asked, I'd fall back on absentmindedness which often worked because I am an established scatterbrain. Often after coming back from school I'd head for the kitchen for a bath or open the fridge to get a change of clothes! Once I was caught in the act of pouring a glass of milk in the rosebush pot and tried to get out by saying I thought I was watering it but, that one did not cut ice.

Those were the days of glass bottles (a few of which I'd break every summer and would even step on the broken fragments sometimes in sheer panic, embedding the sharp shards into my heels squirting dark red blood almost immediately) and of fresh tap water. One just had to carry the bulky bottle to the kitchen tap and fill it with sweet water and bring it back to the small white Kelvinator fridge with smart brown trim and carefully put it in the rack inside. The only trick required was to hold the bottle with both the hands and avoid holding it by the cap which was most often than not loose and would slip shattering the bulky bottle. The bottles would slip and break otherwise also if say one was skipping to the refrigerator with it and forgot to step over the doormat or a forgotten toy!

These days it is much safer with the (non-biodegradable) plastic bottles. The tap water too has been banned having been declared unsafe for direct consumption by private companies who invaded our kitchen with chlorine pills, water filters, then Aqua-Guards and now the ubiquitous RO water purifier.

My parents who have always stuck to latest gadgets when it comes to safe drinking water, are these days fully into RO and it was standing next to the pot bellied aqua sterilizer that the pearls of wisdom reached my ears.

The discussion was going to the deep end. It was a recipe for an evening of disaster. As if filling six bottles of water was not dreary enough the discussion on beyond God was like the last nail in the coffin.

A change of topic was the call of the hour as such discussions often turn pretty grim as they have a habit of meandering into the topic of imminent death and Maya or illusion of this world etc. The idea of mortality is something best avoided in evening discussions over plates of Marie biscuits and green tea. Specially by the middle-aged and above. As youngsters we seldom even bother to comment on such topics thus, keeping us in the safe, happy zone.

So, taking a deep breath I snapped the tap on the RO shut and tip-toed my way to peep into the drawing room where the ladies were deep in spiritual discussion on one side while my dad, who was sitting on the other corner facing the TV and also the ladies was into a deep and happy slumber.

My dad who does not believe too much in in-depth discussions over the macabre is usually happier to discuss movies, cricket and even politics if there was a hint of scandal to it. He now suddenly opened his eyes and looked straight into mine. Naturally embarrassed at having been caught red-handed he rose grandly to the occasion to save his pride. He often pretends to be awake while he is sleeping by rubbing his heels against each other even when dead to the world and then suddenly opens his eyes to say, "I was awake and listening all the time" - I have seen him doing that since I was a child riding on his shoulders. These days he is into power naps. If he does not like a discussion, television news, our telling him he should not eat sweets or wander around late without the cell-phone, he just closes his eyes pretending to listen. This lulls the speaker into feeling as if he is agreeing to everything while baba quickly makes a trip to Dozeville.

Today was no different and when he realized I had seen him snoozing, he suddenly joined the discussion saying, "all souls are released upon death and only the bad ones keep moving around as ghosts while the rest go to heaven."
Baba and I
The pin drop silence was followed by babble. The ladies jumped into attack mode, all speaking at once to contradict his "regressive statement". They were obviously appalled at his plebeian comment since they had by this time already established that everything was a part of one big soul and no one was any less special etc. He was of course there but only pretending to listen since he was actually asleep. This was something the ladies had no idea of and they were mortally affronted by his contradiction.

At once a huge free-for-all cacophony ensued that made my dear daddy see red. Any single man can be rendered defenseless left on his own against a gaggle of determined, shrill-toned ladies. My dad had on top of that just woken up from a 'power' nap!
Baba & Ma
So, he was unable to understand the fuss and  looked at me probably for help but, suddenly as if inspired by my flustered face, he started reciting to me a Bengali poem by Tagore that he used to sing to me as a child and still does off and on. Unable to help smiling at the words, I joined him. He completed one paragraph and then suddenly faltered. This brought erstwhile warring ladies promptly to his rescue and filling in the missing lines they too joined in the chorus thus safely diffusing the situation and bringing the conversation back to happy topics of chotobela (childhood), gram (village), and general fun that they had as youngsters, of stealing mangoes, comical school teachers, bathing in the river and playing under and on the branches of the huge jamun and mango trees.

Soon, the discussion turned into a full-blown adda ( I tiptoed back to the kitchen to finish boring the task of filling water in the bottles. But, before that I handed to dad a chilled bottle from the fridge as a reward along with a meaningful smile that he returned with a highly mischievous one while  handing me an empty bottle sitting near his feet that he had cleaned out earlier.

This was the classic children's poem by Rabindranath Tagore that brought us back to Utopia:

"amader chhoto nodi chole anke bnake
boishakh maashe tay hnatu jol thake.
paar hoe jay goru, paar hoy gaari -
dui dhaar unchu taar, dhalu taar paari.

chik chik kore baali, kotha nai kada;
ekdhare kaash bon - fule fule saada.
kichi michi kore setha shaliker jhaak
raate othe theke theke sheyal-er hnaak.

aar paare aam bon, taal bon chole-
gnaaer bamun para tari chaaya tole.
teere teere chele meye nahibaar kaale
gamchai jol bhori, gaye tara dhale."

VERY roughly translated it goes:

"Our small river meanders in zig-zags
In the month of Boishakh (actually starting from tomorrow or is it today already?!) it has knee deep water
that cows and carts can easily cross over
Kaash flowers
Both its muddy banks are high, sloping down into the water

The sand on the banks shimmers in the sunlight and there are no swamps
On one of its banks is a wilderness full of tall reeds of white kaash (see picture on the right)
It is swarmed by chattering swallows during the day
and in the nights, it fills up with the howling of wolves

On the other bank, there are mango orchards and forests of tall palm trees
The village's Brahmin (the priest caste) para (locality) is right under these shady trees
The banks are full of boys and girls during the  bathing hour
Dunking their towels in the river and wringing the cloth over themselves"


  1. :) Teaching "Amader chhoto nondi" to my boys these days :)

  2. Indira, he's the most chilled out guy I know. Not anything like a father, more like a comrade-in-arms if you are in mood for mischief. :-)


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