Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Those days and Nights –My jungle days- Part-3

 (For Part 1
Pls. click 
 (pls click for Part 2)
We all saw a wave type disturbance from the eastern most part. Anticipating some dangers ahead, my heart started beating heavily.
However, my colleagues showed no reaction but continued their stern watch not only on the grass stretch but also on the branches of trees.       
It appeared they as if were waiting for someone to arrive.  My apprehensions were true.
A big monkey family came up soon and it was a scene. It seemed that the survey team and members of the monkey family were great pals.
 The citrus fruits and guavas thrown at them were accepted and there were few exchanges of well wishes from both sides. I was unaware that I also joined in those “well wish” messages.  
Jumping and dancing, an Impala family arrived from the eastern most part of the grassland.  They were also old buddies of the monkey family and there were once again lots of energetic well wishes from both the sides.  The impalas also looked at us and one of us threw a big ripe guava to them.
A pair of Impalas responded by a duet dance and caught it in the sky. We joined in clapping along with the Monkey family.
Following this, there were many subsequent fruits throwing from us and receiving by the Monkey family and the Impalas.
 After a while, the two families left the stretch together, the monkeys by sky jumping from branches to branches of trees and the Impalas jumped and ran simultaneously along a twine racing line.
 Before moving through the grassy stretch, I looked at Murmu. Murmu wanted to avoid the topic and said
“Nair babu shall tell you why and what for we stopped here. We need to complete the survey of down the valley quickly.”
At the end of our job, we were about to pack up the Theodolite sets and start walking down the valley to meet Nairbabu for the lunch, but Murmu spotted something and signaled  us not to go down the slope.
I used my binocular and looking at Murmu’s direction, at first saw only a tremendous shaking in a big portion of grass and shrub cover. In a nearby place, along the slope the exposed hard rocks inhibited the growth of shrubs.
We saw there at first a Mongoose and then a never before seen, a big hooded King Cobra.
The Cobra was bigger than the Mongoose in all respects but fell short before the wits of the Mongoose. The Mongoose as if being highly afraid ran for his life and lay standstill on a big rock. Actually, it lured the cobra to grab   the fatal bait for him.   
The King Cobra spotted it quickly and ran there to catch the prey lying standstill on the rock
As the Snake’s big head came down to bite, the Mongoose slipped away from the rock surface at a lightning speed and before the snake could do anything, the Mongoose bit the snake’s head near the eyes badly. The big snake tried to run away but failed. Within a fraction of a  second, the Mongoose beheaded the Snake.
My lips and down below the throat were still dry although I emptied one full water bottle. Nair Babu looked at me and pulled me to a shade beside the watershed. It was a small abrupt flat land on the hill slope with plenty of shades of tall trees.
As I was searching for another water bottle, Nair babu signaled someone. A tall dark person brought me a drink in an earthenware glass.
Nair babu said, “Either you empty another water bottle or sip slowly this freshly picked juice and quench your thirst. Choice is yours.”
Sipping a portion of sweet juice, I really felt better and could recognize the tall person. Looking at another corner, I found another three persons.
Well, this was the gang of four on treetops collecting juice which I was sipping right then. Within minutes of gulping the juice down my esophagus, I felt fresh and the strong nagging headache had weakened.
 Nair babu broke the silence now “Are you O.K now?”
I nodded positive and raised my thumb. Nairbabu continued, “These four persons collected juices from the trees and brought lunches for the entire team, hot and fresh, ready to be served.”
I said in a low voice, “They also cooked for us.”   
Nair babu said, “No. they were busy climbing up and down on those tall trees and besides collecting juice for us, they also kept a vigil on any abnormal movement in the forest. The fishing group caught few fishes, cooked a simple lunch for us, rice, dal, fish curry, and resumed fishing. The juice group picked the lunch packets for us.”
I heard Nairbabu, apart from being a good drilling engineer, was an excellent organizer.
 I asked, “You were saying something about keeping a vigil what’s that?”
The fishing party arrived just then with a good catch of fishes.  Nair babu signaled them to serve lunch and soon they became busy in laying washed banana leaves just by the side of the watershed and under a big shade to serve lunch.
Replying to me, he said, “The people on the tree top while collecting juice can note abnormal movements of other animals whenever   a ferocious animal is on the prowl. On such incidents, they beat their small drums in coded rhythms.”
Few of us enjoyed like me a hot fresh lunch Rice, dal, fresh vegetable fry, and fish curry on Plantain leaves and sitting beside a flowing watershed of a mountain with music of ripples.
“We are already much behind the schedule. So instead of post-lunch field work let’s pack up and return to camp.”   
Looking at Murmu I felt annoyed.  This happened just for him and his team’s fun in the tall grassy stretch.  
Hiding my feeling, I said, “Nair babu in the grassy stretch….”
Before I could finish he said, “You were held up by the traffic signal, I  waited till you could hear the loud and continuous hoop, hoop sounds from Monkey family on the tree top. In the grassy stretches like this, you should better wait for clearance from our friends of the tree-tops. They are friends to all, starting from the human beings to impalas.”
I said, “I just don’t get you there.”
Nair babu said, “I told you just now about the Juice collectors, who simultaneously collect juices and watch the movements of animals. Monkeys do this job in a much better way as they sky jump from branches to branches of tall trees. Leopards who mostly hide in the bushes and in neck length grassy stretch are spotted by the Monkeys who alert others.”
The entire survey team was reasonably reluctant to cross the grassy stretch and better wait for the clearance from the monkeys’ mouth.
Not only their human friends, they extended their helping “shouts” to all other animals like the Impala family grazing on the grassy stretch.
The tired sunrays were gradually withdrawing from the eastern hills. This part of the slope was steep and difficult to climb down. However, from here, the valleys further down were very clearly visible.
Nairbabu spotted few moving objects and then rest of us could guess them.
They were the four persons who went down the valley to collect “Kham Aloo” and Mushrooms for us. Our group shouted at them and they responded by some code words. There was a big applause from us. They not only dug out   huge Khum Aloos but also picked good amount of mushrooms. However, that’s not all. They were also bringing two baskets of chickens. Nair babu said, “That is enough for even tomorrow’s lunch.”
 This morning, I thought these persons as unnecessary extras for survey work. However, they are the  persons who kept us going by providing refreshing juices, lunches and enough food for continuing next days work. I was still wrong. I did not count the monkey and the Impala families who keep us safe. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Those days and Nights –My jungle days Part-2

For Part-1

I stayed in the Hilltop drilling camp for more than two and half years.
A new chapter in my life, filled with thrill, fun, and hard work, started along with my new friends of the forest.
Those friends were Nairbabu and his associates, Acharayaji of “Jungle Nibas” ashram, impalas and spotted deers, Jackals,  Hyenas,  a Monkey family and last but not the least those souls who long left their physical appearances( I hate the word Ghosts). 
P. P. Nair, a calm and cool person, popularly known as Nair Babu, was drilling engineer and in-charge of hilltop drilling camp. In this part, I referred him often.
In a later part, I shall tell you about the role Acharayaji, my non-human friends, and my invisible “soul” friends played in my life.  
During this stay, I faced many spine chiller incidents, a few of them are
·       Saved, from  a python hanging from a tree, by  the timely alert from a group of monkey friends
·       Meeting with a soul in an abandoned forest rest house who unveiled a tragic happening.
·       A miraculous escape from a man-eater Leopard, just for the presence of mind of my associate.   
I shall share all these incidents with you one by one.
In my first day, at early morning I joined Nair babu and his big team of about twenty persons.  I was quite unaware that a full day is waiting for me with never before felt   thrills of viewing the live wild inmates but also a live savage fight between two animals.
I doubted at the crowd of associates but Nair babu said
“At the end of the day, you shall be convinced of the team strength and stop worrying now.”
However, I was worried. With my fresher level knowledge, I knew that I needed only a surveyor with three associates. Nairbabu for his work might require a crew of four persons.
I could not guess why instead of eight associates, there were twenty in the team, which might spoil the work actually.
In this prospecting area of 23 sq km, there are two series of Hills, the western and the eastern hills, densely populated by tall trees.
Bestowed with two big waterfalls, fog and smoke covered evergreen western hill has a picturesque presence. 
The drilling camp was in the valley between these two hills.
From this valley, Nairbabu showed me the local physiography  in general and said, “Over to your survey team and Surveyor Murmu.”
He along with his four associates left for East hills in quick steps.
At the beginning of the survey, I saw, through the telescope of Theodolite, four people were climbing trees.
Pointing my finger to that direction, I asked “Murmu, did you ask these people to climb trees?”
Murmu replied “No sir.”
Using my binocular, I saw them peeling off the surface layers of the top part of the trunk and fixing hanging earthen pitchers just at the bottom of the peeled part to collect juice from these trees.  
While climbing the eastern hills at one flat ground, we stopped for a rest and checking our position from already marked survey stations near camp.
From there, down the valley, the meandering river appeared like a silver chain. Through my binocular, I could spot few people digging around a big ant’s hill.
I asked “Murmu, what for these people of our camp are digging? They are supposed to be with us, right here.”
Murmu said, “They are digging for ant’s eggs and some herb roots.”
I said, “For what?”
“Ant’s eggs when mixed with those herb roots and flour paste make excellent bait for fishing.”
I said, “Do you mean that they are going for fishing from that hill river and won’t be with us for the rest of the day.”
Murmu said “Most likely Sir.”
I said, “Four people are busy for juice collection and now the rest eight people are out for fishing in river.”
Monglu sordar, an associate of Murmu said, “Sir, only four shall go for fishing and another four to further down the valley for mushroom picking and Kham Aloo digging.”
Later on, I learnt about Kham Aloos, which are giant shaped potato type vegetables.
I heard all these but on a second thought preferred to hide my reactions.
I never climbed so high a hill before. Gasping for breath, I stopped at few places and instead of drinking water, sucked the juicy sweet and sour citruses, freshly picked from the valley by my associates.

 We were on our way to the highest peak of the Eastern hills. The flat area around the peak was just half of a football ground provided an excellent bird’s eye view of the entire prospecting area.  
Apart from this, it appeared that as if at a short distance a giant is smashing the air columns with roars.
However, Murmu and the survey team showed me the actual roaring giant. It was a giant indeed, a gigantic waterfall at the Northeast corner   of mist covered Western hills.
As it was quite after the mid day, most reluctantly we left the eastern hill top and started climbing down for the survey of the Northeastern part of the slope and back to camp.
Murmu reminded me that we should speed up to reach the spot for Lunch break. Nair babu would be anxiously waiting for us.
While going down, a flat stretch came covered with tall neck length dense grasses but intercepted frequently by tall trees.
Murmu and his team stopped just before this stretch. With their tense face, they were whispering among themselves and constantly scanning the branches of trees and the tall grasses.
Although they tried to hide, it appeared to me that they were reluctant to cross the tall grass stretch and decided, “Wait and see”
Were they suspecting the presence of some thing dangerous hiding in the neck length jungle of tall grasses? Using my binocular, I began scanning the neck length jungle.( part 3- the survival fight between a King cobra and Mongoose tomorrow 24.04.2014)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Those days –my Jungle days

 With the King of Jungle, my first meet was on the way from base camp to a drilling camp on a hilltop. This meet metamorphosed the mind of a timid person so much that he decided to seek a transfer from the desk job  to field camps inside the deep forest  and never looked back. I am beginning “ Those days-my Jungle days” with this  real life story. In order to remain out of controversy, I am changing the names of the places, persons and also the situations a little. Similarity to any persons, Places, incidents etc are purely coincidental only.

Thrice I was very near to Tiger, the King of Jungle.  Twice, the King was visible and only once invisible to me and I narrowly escaped a fatal danger.
Our first meet was on the way to drilling camp from the Base camp. That was  an orientation programme for myself before beginning my first assignment.
The year crossed  just Mid of November. Due to many unforeseen series of delays, instead of broad day light of noon, we could depart from the Base camp almost at the Sunset.  
Senior geologist asked me to meet  Nair babu, the drilling camp- in- charge of Hilltop who came down from drilling camp at hilltop to Base camp  for weekly meetings.
  The meetings, briefings, and issue of materials from stores each pushed the scheduled departure one by one from noon to afternoon.  But  at the end, Nair babu's driver, and two other juniors added further delays.
Seeing the delay he was fuming and the reasons for his fuming were unfurled within an hour one by one. (I shall talk about Nair Babu, my guru for all round development of mine, later on).
Keeping us waiting for more than half an hour, Nair babu’s juniors  came back in irregular steps. To avoid Nairbabu's glaring eyes and flows of   volcano from the vents of his throat, they preferred  to hide in the back seats. 
He said nothing and but started the Jeep. That was an old model willy’s  jeep of Mahindra (Willy’s), open on all  sides except the tarpaulin top. Just after crossing the Main gate of base camp, Nair babu, an ace driver  deliberately overlooked the speed breaker to shake the intoxicated back seat passengers with a rough jerk.
Just after the bridge on the hilly river, the twenty-one Km long hilly road   piercing the foothill forests on both side   with several hairpin bends dew my attention.  That was the only motor-able and excellent access to the hill top drilling camp.
 Joseph, the regular driver of this jeep then seating just behind him told something to Nair babu but he shook his head and replied something.
Fortunately, both spoke in their mother tongue Malayalam, otherwise I would have made my trousers wet.
I could only understand few English words spoken by both in between their Malayalam, like evening and cat. I learnt later on, that although  they preferred to call a spade a spade but “cat” was a code word for Tiger.  
However, only minutes later, the apprehension of his driver proved true.
At the end of first hairpin bend of the hilly road, there was a long flat stretch and darkness began to appear.  Nair babu switched on the headlights and was about to shift the gear from second to third.
Except me, all the other occupants spotted something simultaneously and the jeep screeched to halt.
A man with frowned forehead just at my back suddenly used his hand to press hard on my lips and whispered, “Buddy, if you do not want any trouble for yourself and us, then just watch the shaking   bushes just by your side but without any screams.”
 My immediate reaction was something else. This guy, Mathias, from the very first meet, disliked me possibly because a newcomer suddenly became officially his senior. The side he was pointing was valley side. Was this drunken man planning to throw me down the valley? 
 I immediately looked at Nair babu but  he too was also pointing  to the valley side.  However, following his signals, I first saw a big striped protruding head and glistening pair of eyes marked by red circular outlines.
Within seconds, the King of the Jungle came out from the bush and stepped in the hilly road. The width of the road was not sufficient for this fearsome animal but he decided to lie there.
 I was a timid man but it seemed that my fear evaporated within seconds.
In the following years of my stay in the Forest, I learnt through my experiences the truth of a popular jungle saying, “When the object of fear appears before your eyes, the sense of fear disappears”.
Nair Babu looked at me   and signaled Mathias to remove his smelly hand from my mouth.  Nair babu and other occupants of the jeep did not loose their nerves.  He kept both his feet engaged on the clutch and brake pedals keeping the vehicle ready to leap at any moment.
Nair Babu in a hushed voice asked Joseph, the regular driver of the jeep, “Did the base camp garage crew changed the fan Belt and replaced the dynamo?”
Joseph replied, “Yes sir”
“I told you to get it done with all  your serious attention but surely you were busy elsewhere. The dynamo is not charging the battery.”
 Another person said “Sir, the head beams are becoming yellowish, in another few min…”
Nair babu looked at me and snarled at the man even in whispering, “Mind your business now; check the weapons under the seat.”
“ Ji (Yes sir)”
“Get four-five of them ready and before diesel soaking check the tightness of jute packs on each of them. It should not be like the last time.”
I felt secured then. Whether illegal or legal, they were getting the self-defense ready. The smell of diesel from the backseat compelled me to have a look at those “weapons” which were getting ready after a diesel bath.
All I could see in the darkness were few one and half-meter bamboo sticks with thick thread like things at the end. Actually these were “Massals”( torches) and then I had no idea about their use.
At that time, I thought these sticks might be good for driving away street dogs and naughty boys could use them for coaxing or patting a lazy tiger  dozing inside the cage of the  zoo. 
However, a   wild tiger, which was lying just fifty meters ahead of tasty soft human flesh and blocking the road, this kind of patting might be an invitation to roar and jump at us.
Right then, the King from his lying position looked at the Jeep and possibly disliked  yellowish timid  headlights of the Jeep. He yawned at us exposing the rows of deadly glistening canine teeth on his jaw but soon  turned his head away from us. 
The engine did not dare to continue further, coughed and stopped. However, the weak battery stood by us keeping the dim headlights on for few minutes. Except the sound of falling waters from nearby small hilly waterfalls, there was absolute silence.   
Nair babu shoved me and signaled to pick up one of the sticks “This is   torch and here is lighter. Keep both of them handy and remain alert. The moment we sense anything wrong I shall pat on your shoulder.”
“What happens then?” I whispered that too with  a very feeble timid voice possibly avoiding the tiger to overhear.
With a deep furrow in his forehead, he stared at me but said dryly “We all jump out from the jeep and like all of us within seconds you must strike the lighter to light your torch. But do not do anything on your own, that type of thing shall invite danger only.”
The Headlights became feeble and switched off. Even in feeble moonlights, then partly covered by floating cloud, I could see the outline of the tiger.
 Nair babu said, “Nobody moves. Wait”
 I tried to remember the faces of my nearest and dearest ones. In the following second we all heard a roar.
However, this roar was from another tiger possibly from the deep foothill forest down the valley. Shouting and screaming was prohibited but I could not control the shivers along with a chill flow from my foot to head through the spine. It reminded me of the recent attack of Malaria.
 I needed water badly to moisten my dry tongue but soon the saliva and boldness in me appeared. This was the successful result of self-scolding by seeing the fearless reactions of other companions in the Jeep.
They also heard the same roar but rather seemed to be relieved. There was a big “Aha” from everybody.
Nair Babu told me,” Possibly in few moments there is a chance of road clearance”
I could not suppress anymore and quipped  “By clearing us?”. I meant it seriously but Nair babu took as if a joke of the week, and whispered, “That’s the spirit. Keep on smiling, your worst troubles get greased and pass on smoothly.”
 As soon as he finished, the king of the forest got up, raised his neck to the sky and either from the sky or from his throat, I heard a thunder and nothing else.
 A jerk helped me to regain my sense and this jerk was due to restart of jeep by pushing by my fearless companions. Nair babu had no chance to know that I was possibly senseless for a minute or so. At that time, he concentrated straight to the movement of the Tiger.
 We were on our way up to the Drilling camp of Hilltop. Nair babu was driving the jeep even with dim headlights and smartly negotiating the curves smoothly. The people seating at the backseats were still discussing about the counter roar from down the valley.
Joseph said , “Biswas Sir, this is the mating season of the Tigers and that roar from down the valley was the last call from his fiance. When we heard the roar from another tiger  down the valley, we knew that this tiger cannot ignore and soon the road would be cleared.”
Joseph was sure that this roar was soft and it must be from the tigress.    
Nair babu laughed and said, “So our tiger could not ignore this call.”
“our tiger!” Well! I learnt that brave people like Nair babu might have a friendly tiger to be received by diesel soaked torches if so required. 
Later on Nair babu told me if you could see a tiger  there remained a bright chance that the tiger was not a Man-eater and might spare you.
Just before reaching the camp, Nair babu looked at my face and said , “Our camp is well protected with trenches and tall barbed wire fencing. You may pitch your tent anywhere inside the camp. Valley side is cool and well ventilated.”
Joseph said” Biswas sir, in valley side, wolfs, Hyenas and jackals shout loudly after midnight and disturb your sleep.”
I said dryly, “I am not bothered.” Who else is bothered after the wolf’s call where you might hear the roar of tigers?
 (The Pic. of the tiger is a real one and was taken by me)

Saturday, June 14, 2014


The crowd in the large waiting hall was trying to divert their agony for the unusual late arrivals on both up and down directions. 
Most people attached earplugs to their sets were either talking  or listening music, a group was playing “tinpatti” and a family occupying the center table was hogging critically.
The eldest of them with  a B-sharp female voice defeating the blare of announcements in the waiting hall told her accompanying mates  “This cannot certainly be Korma but only a well cooked mutton curry, Kiron what do you say?”  
Kiron “ Ji Mummy ji, they tried to make a white base from white seeds, coconut milk and saunf( fennel seeds). OH! It is so hot, too much chilies. The look and taste both are bad.” 
This   family occupying the center table could not finish their critic session as  the arrival of their train with platform No. was announced. Simultaneously, the loudspeaker blared the further delay of an hour for our train.
“Our train” means in the waiting hall I made new friends; Dr. Sharma, Prof of history and Nikhil kapoor executive chef in a restaurant of a Five star hotel  waiting for the same train in the same compartment.
 We were enjoying the session of the critics in the center table. As the group left, Nikhil who also ordered lunch from a friend’s restaurant went to wash room to freshen up and I was wondering about the criticisms on Korma.
I said in a low voice “Professor Saab, what is so great about Korma? Why people liking it are so orthodox about the culinary of Korma?”
In his baritone voice, he said, “Well I do not know why people are so orthodox,   the name Korma originated from the Turkish Kavurma, meaning cooked meat.”
I said “Then why they were so critical about it?”
Prof. replied “No comments but as far as I know, Korma a hot favorite of Mogul emperors underwent a fusion of Persian and Indian cooking. The interesting thing is that most likely the Rajput cooks who accompanied Empress Jodhabai were the architects of fusion. They modified the original Persian cooking by introducing braising. In Urdu, Korma means braising. Alternatively it is also said that Rajasthani cooks named it after a Rajasthani tribe Kurma.”
We heard a husky female voice “Professor Saab, very interesting. Pardon me for overhearing your discussions but I could not resist.”
This lady occupying a bench near the windows and covering her face with a big handkerchief was asleep but it appeared not so.
Meanwhile Nikhil came back from the washroom with a fresh appearance and at the same time people from his friend’s kitchen brought our lunch and placed  the hotpots on the center table.
It seems that the lady and Nikhil knew each other. He said, “Well mam! What a surprise and good luck to see you here.”
 He introduced her to us. She is Shyama, hosts Cuisine serials in no. of TV channels and also author of few culinary books.
Nikhil said,“It shall be our pleasure to share our lunch with you. Please do not say you just had lunch or do not wish to have food right now. This food is from Jolly’s kitchen, promoted by you and you know better than us he always gives plenty.”
Smilingly she said “Difficult to say no to you. I had a heavy breakfast. I shall give you company more on the discussions and less on food.”
 Previous train has swept away the waiting crowd; the big upper class waiting hall has few passengers now. We four occupied the center table, Nikhil already signaled a person from Jolly’s kitchen to serve.
“Except me, this is quite a panel of discussion on Korma. My first attempt to cook is very pitiable.”
Shyama said, “Let’s hear that, a good cue to resume.”
I said in a hesitated voice, “As a beginner, I thought it would be simple to cook Khichdi, but at the end of the hour long sweat-bath, the net result was even far away from hopeless. I tried but could eat a little and  dumped the entire handi outside before a waiting dog, but...”
I was about to gulp a little water, Prof Sharma said “ “What happened?”
“The dog was about to release his long tongue, but suspended the action, barked at the heap of Khitdi and went back to curling.”
There was a joint laughter but consoling me at the end Nikhil said “Sir, It could be due to turmeric.”
I said “Turmeric? Oh Yes! That was the only spice I was supposed to add.”
Shyama said “Perhaps, you added a little more, a reason you yourself tried but could take a little.”
Nikhil said “Dogs seldom like the smell of turmeric.”
Prof Sharma “The smell in the food counts a lot. Aroma excites the saliva.”
Shyama said “Exactly. In Korma, braising matures the marinated meat to blend with white saucy base made from the paste of Almond, Cashew, white seeds, Khuskhus, curd, cardamom and finally release an unique aroma and taste.”
I was gulping those words but stumbled badly at “braising”. Nikhil rescued me and said “to braise, cook the marinated meat at first with a high heat to the extent of light frying. Now turn the heat gradually to low flame, add the liquid paste of grinded Khus khus, cardamom, white seed, Kaju, Khowa with warm water and seal the pot with wet dough.  The rest of the cooking is done using the moist heat.”
Shyama said “Oh hoi! Stop here. You are disclosing the entire trade secret.”
Nikhil said, “Nothing remains secret in these days of you tube and TV cuisine coaching classes.”
Prof Sharma Said “Korma was warmly welcomed in all parts of India and in each state this recipe has its own variations as per popular taste.”
Nikhil said “Sir even in North India besides veg. and Non-veg. Korma, there are three major types, the Sahi, Mughlai and Kashmiri. However from North to south the braising is common. Only the ingredients of White sauce vary.  In Kashmiri korma the raw white sauce is made from thick milk, Almond, cashew, Pista, Akhrot and Saffron. South Indians make their white sauce from fresh coconut, coconut milk, white seeds, Chilies and Fennel seeds. But everywhere the flavor is unbeatable.”

The announcer interrupted us with the arrival of our train. Getting to his feet Prof. Sharma said “Yes the aroma that remains the same.Because this is one India and my India is great.”

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Democrats and the Tea cups

                       Democrats and the Tea cups
Departure of Duronto from Howrah was postponed by two hours but I was not bored. Som Basu, an old friend of mine, co-passenger of Duronto in the same compartment nearly pulled me to a tea-shop within walking distance.
Initially I was reluctant to go but later on found this as a unique experience not to be missed.  This shop is unlike any other tea shop, more of a Tea parlor than a so-called tea-shop.
Basu visits here frequently and suggested to take seat in the two sitter small table just behind the big nine sitter big table. He said that we can nicely spend our time here by listening to others and by enjoying the wide variety of tea and snacks.
He assured “Sip your tea and eavesdrop on the debates from the adjoining tables. I bet, these  Chai-pe-Charchas   are much more interesting and decent than most of the TV news-traders shows.”
As soon as our order of a big pot of Darjeeling tea arrived, another waiter ushered a small group of three persons to the central nine-seater table and whispered something.
The eldest of the three nodded approvingly and ordered cutting tea and Pakoda.
My friend knew them briefly from his previous sessions of eavesdropping. He continued, “They are a small group, from various walks of life, profession, and age. But almost every evening they sit here for tea and chit chat.”
A waiter was pointing at the nine-sitter table to three young men and spotting them the elderly man said, “Here comes the ‘Ab ke bar’, ‘Mody’ ,‘Sarkar’
My friend whispered “The extreme left one is Akbar, but they call him ‘ab ke bar’ ; a lawyer, the middle one, ‘Mody’ owns a grocery shop; flanked by a freelance journalist, ‘Sarkar’.”
“We were stranded by the election campaign procession for the tomorrow’s Maidan rally.”
Sarkar said, “Once I asked about thousand such people at random. A little over twenty percent were party-loyals. The rest either came to see Kolkata with free train ride or were forced to join.”
Mody said, “These strength-showing big meetings deceive the common people to think that this party has huge supporters.”
The elderly said, “Many times we behave like the herd of sheep. We see where others are going and follow that. We do not ask even a single follower why to vote for the candidate or party he is voting for.”
Finishing his tea, Akbar (Aab ki Bar) said, “Tell me, why these election campaign meetings are necessary? If a Party’s community development work has benefited people then people know about it.”
 Sarkar said “Does it mean that despite the beneficiary actions made by the Party or the candidate, so many people were either ignorant or could not taste the benefits?”
A person by the side of the elderly man said, “Have all of you noticed the minimum requirements for a person to stand as M.P or MLA? The person should be of minimum 25 years of age without any criminal background or under trial cases.”
Mody said, “Election Commission never even asks the candidates to show any proven past or current record of  any social works.
The elderly man said, “Funnily enough, the eligibility rules do not debar a candidate who is not even in the Voter list of the area.”
Media man Sarkar said, “I have attended many such election meetings and rallies like the tomorrow’s one in Maidan. Two-third of their speech remains engaged with criticism of the opposition party or the candidate from that party, the rest is full of promises in future tense but nothing about what already they did.”
Elderly man said, “If election commission can debar a candidate with criminal record, then why not for a candidate without any experience in public service. How can we entrust such a person to represent us who is just a famous singer or actor or a dedicated to the Political party but has no track record of service to public.”
Mody said, “There are MPs or MLAs who do not even attend the sessions of Parliament or Assembly. They are seldom seen in their constituency after wining in the election.”
Sarkar Said, “Clearly, these persons have gone to Parliament not to serve the people but to satisfy their greed for money and power. EC should ban these candidates from re-contesting. Once this is done then only a person dedicated to the service of people would go to Parliament and the entire dirty scenario shall change.”
Elderly man signaled the waiter for one more round of tea and we overheard from another table “The wheel is now rolling. The heat of corruption is too much on common public and they wont tolerate this anymore.”
A baritone voice said, “The cleaning action by broom has just started. May be at present, persons leading such movements are green in politics and tact.”
His friend sipping tea at the opposite table said, “ This Jharu movement is a bright child with teething troubles. Moment the teeth come out properly then all these corrupt people are bound to bear the deep biting scars. Janta maaf nahi karegi inko.
With hurried steps we were about to reach Platform Nine of Howrah station. Small groups surrounding tea stalls were having sips of tea and suggesting each other the best time for poling. They were trying to optimize the two constraints “long queue” and “heat.”
Unlike yesteryear s, more and more people are determined to cast their vote and nobody can glare their eyes with false promises. Democracy is now close to “by the people, for the people and of the people.”   

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jatra- the unforgotten pride of Bengal

               Jatra- the unforgotten pride of Bengal       
The tall fair man stepping down the stairs from his studio is Dilip Babu, the doyen of Jatra industry of Bengal. Through a mutual friend, he agreed to meet me at his residence.
The housekeeper ushered me to a sofa set at the corner and looked at the big grandfather clock, said, “He would come down in another few minutes for having tea with you.”  
I could hear clearly even from this sitting hall, his baritone voice reciting from famous scene of Jatra “Karna-Kunti sambad.”
 Age failed to erode   the resonating bass of the voice that still could mesmerize thousands of audience surrounding the podium open on all four sides.
Jatra   is the popular folk theater form of Bengali theater spread throughout the Bengali speaking areas of India and similar to Tamasha of Maharashtra.
These drama groups travel from one performing place to another.   
The musicians, playing the background music to heighten the overall dramatic effect of the performances, sit on two sides of the stage and perform jointly playing Dholok, pakhwaj, harmonium, tabla, flute, Violin etc.
In most of the Jatras there is a common character Vivek (conscience), who in between the play, comments on the action of actors and their consequences.

We became friends before the tea arrived and who said Dilip babu was full of ego? 
Dilip babu said, “I understand, you have some queries on Jatra for your upcoming novel. But let me tell you, my answers shall be on the basis of whatever I overheard and learned through my thirty years involvement in Jatra”
“That shall be great for me. Bookish knowledge is always less than practical knowledge. I want to know what made the Jatra so different from the popular form of Theater.”
“You see, Jatra has its roots in the deep core of rural Bengal. The villagers while ploughing, fishing, boat rowing etc. keep on singing in individual typical tune. It could be to inspire and or entertain the teammates.
These popular lyrical performances formed the very basis of Jatra. Unlike the Theater, although this is not dance-drama but dance and songs appear frequently and relevantly but never as a filler in between the play. In fact, most of the important parts of the drama the dialogues are lyrical and go up and down as per the required scale of the tune.  Good Jatra artists are   mostly born mediocre singers but still take lessons in classical singings besides learning basics of Jatra acting.”
I said “Dilip da, Jatra is now on the wane of popularity. Why So?”
I knew by asking this daring question, I might be thrown out. His eyes glared for a moment but instead of saying "OUT" asked me
“How do you say so?”
“The crowds of Nayeks on   Rathjatra day are gradually reducing. In rural areas, the Jatra arrangers even by push selling, expect to get at the best only two thirds responses that too for   the most hit Palas (dramas) of the year”
There was a Phone call. He looked at the call number and said, “Excuse me for few minutes. Have one more cup of tea.”
I avoided saying another rather rude point. That time was almost the peak of Jatra season. Even five years back, it would have been difficult for the top Jatra artist like him to chat with me even at the onsite green room of Jatra.
In 2001, there were more than 200 companies (now reduced to 58 only) in Chitpore of Kolkata employing about 20,000 people. The “Adhikaries (owner/director) in their “Gaddis” (office) were always busy talking with Nayeks (booking agents) and sorting out an optimized   date suitable for both. The opening day of bookings was Rathjatra (Chariot festival of Lord Jagannath in June) and by evening of that day, almost cent percent of the best time slots were booked by the Nayeks arriving from all corners of Bengali speaking areas of India.
This year although the active Jatra companies are only fifty-eight, even on the Rathjatra day the booking response was nowhere near the figure of even five years back.
Dilip babu returned with a tall glass of brown color liquid. The smell of the liquid was sufficient to guess that he was neither drinking black tea nor cold drink but Rum.
As he offered me one and as soon as I shook my head, he immediately poured from that glass to refill his glass.
He apparently looked disturbed. I overheard just then he was angry with someone on the last phone call for cancellation of a show.
“Yes, what the Nayeks told you for the present status of Jatra?”
I said, “I hear not only from them but also from the villages where I moved for the subsurface ground water exploration. People in general are saying that Jatra is limping before TV serials and just released pirated movies from the internet available at the comfort of home.”
His baritone voice barked, “That is half the truth. Few years back, in the name of modernization most of the new owners of Jatra brought the TV and/or Film actors with Xerox copies of the scripts of serials and films along with light and sound effects. There were few initial successes, but ultimately audience rejected them.
These people neglected the basic format of Jatra. The audience surrounds all four sides open podium at the centre. Acting requires voice throwing synchronized with the   body movement such that audience facing the actors from front, sideways and back gets equal opportunity to be connected with the actors. The scripts copied from cinema or TV serial based on another format of acting could not match. The actors from these industries failed to act in the style of Jatra.”
I said, “That’s what I heard. People told me that they came to see Jatra, not a TV serial or film. They can see that at the comfort of the home and why unnecessary pay money for ticket.”
He gulped his remaining rum and said, “Years before, there were sponsors like Tea garden owners, Miners, village chiefs for the Jatra shows and the entry was free. But now people have to pay a lot.  So surely they want to see Jatra but not a poor remake of Tv serial or cinema.” 
I bravely asked, “What do you think can make Jatra revive.”
He thought for a while and said, “Just get me one Script writer and lyricist like Brojen Dey or Vairav Gangly. This industry has still now veterans like us and young dedicated talents who can still make Jatra back to its Golden days.”
I said “Gate crash crowd of audience…”
Before I could complete he said, “ Not only that,  After our performance, the dialogues and the songs would move from lips to lips of common people. That is the success and our pleasure. A Jatra artist does not hanker for money like those migratory birds of TV and Cinema who ruined this industry.”

Leaving his house, at a crowded traffic junction, some one’s car radio was playing the Famous “Sonai Dighi” of Brojen Dey. Even if the signals, turned amber, like me, many of the people at the wheels listening to the Jatra forgot to switch on the engine. Brojen babu can still make the Jatra to come back to it’s golden days. Jatra is yet the unforgotten drama pride of Bengal   

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


I used to think that we waste our time, energy  and debate so much to give a name to a newborn until I met a scholarly and philosopher person Sharma Ji, who compelled me to think otherwise.
He told me “Why we drop our letters only in the postbox? Does the addressee stay there? Because we believe that this is the beginning of the process of reaching the letter to the addressee. ”
I said “I do not get you. What that has got to do with the name of a person.”
With his usual calmness Sharma ji said, "The body is the casing of a soul. Every soul when born is assigned a trajectory path by the Almighty. The name is just like the convention one follows in naming a file; also it is the codified form of that assigned trajectory which the Almighty conveys deep in the subconscious minds of the persons who start thinking to assign a name. In a way, Naming is the beginning of the mission for which a soul assumes a physical shape.”
I still had doubts and asked him “I can show you here more than Five Yudhistirs who are known liars and if some day a light breeze may blow away my driver Hercules, I won’t be surprised.”
With smiles in his face he said “our bank is diametrically opposite to the main market.  Many times from our camp, instead of taking left turn towards market, we turn right towards bank. Because if we do not get money from the bank we cannot do our assigned task of Marketing. If you remember Ramayana, Ratanakar and Valmiki are the names of same person. So if the name appears to be a misnomer, wait and see.”
We had a day long discussion and debate and he told me that a name might be valid for the   literal meaning or it could be a combination of a (latent or active) supernatural vibration and the former. Also as the life advances, a person may get some other name or names. He said” If you do not get a direct bus to Raipur, You take some other means or bus to Jagdalpur and from there you board other bus to reach Raipur.”  
I was so much convinced that on return to my camp,  opened the brown pages of boyhood day’s diary about the names of our brothers and sisters.
My grandma gave the name to all of us along with a ceremony. All these names are in some way are also the names of things  for daily Puja of Devi Durga.
 Long before, we were known as a royal family. Devi Durga is our presiding deity at the ancestral Village home. My brothers and sisters are named by Grandma  as  Sonkho( Conch),  Alpana( Rongoli) and my name is Pradip; this is the main big Deepak consisting of many Deepaks attached to big brass stand. During Maha-arati when it is lighted all other lights except the Diyas near the goddess were put off.
I am quite baffled here. Although brought up in a very religious environment, I am never an orthodox Hindu. I believe very seriously that worshiping can be done by closing or opening your hands or by touching your heart or by any other way. I never think that my way of worshipping God is the best and others are to be put off.
In my profession,  to be a successful geologist you have to listen and give equal importance of other’s views besides your own view. 
I asked Sharmaji about my doubts and he smiled,"Just think of it for some more time, you will get the answer.” I could not get it from him, as one day he suddenly left us  forever.
 My team rediscovered some Iron ore deposits, and some small mine developed copper mineralization and finally a regional discovery of a big deposit of Nickel in Indonesia. I was awarded Ph.D for my research work for a method improvement and mathematical modeling of ore reserve estimation.
I do not know if all these could put some dim light like a small Diya. If so, then I am happy for my name and If Sharmaji was around, I could have told him so.
I was happy with my name till a  friend of my late father told me something, which I did not know before.
My father was a rational man and he disliked any religious bias. When I was born, he was in the Police training college as he got his long waited promotion. He knew that my naming would be made by his mother (Grandma) with a religious bias.
He was an ardent fan of Film star Pradip Kumar   and became very happy when I was named as Pradip.(Kumar, as per our family system is common to all boys but not Kumari to girls.) However our parents   never told any of us about this angle of my name.  
strangely, I was very much active in debates, speech competition and drama from school to college life and some part of my service life in Baildilla(in Chhatisgarh, near Dantewada) and Mossabani. I was more inclined in writing script and to another hobby; writing lyrics of songs.
Except few directors, I do not see films at all and I never saw any film of Pradip Kumar although I heard he was a great actor. Sadly, in my family nobody neither   discouraged nor encouraged my stage performances. One of my bosom friend,  a very successful actress, Film director and editor of a Magazine, requested me to write scripts for her TV serials but I could not make it.
I remember only faintly, once my father told me if I ever wanted to translate my dream into reality he would stand by it. I could not follow that he wanted me to be a Film actor. However he believed in personal freedom and I did what I wanted to do.
 I only disliked this part of my name just for this sake. This part of Namesake shall ever remain with me as a sad shake.
(This is an entry to 7 th edition of Indispire of