Baba tried to visit us at Himaitpur from Jessore as often as he could. He normally came by an over-night train reaching the village early in the morning. Some times he stayed just for one day or two. At other times he stretched his visit to three or four days. We got used to these sudden arrivals and departures of Baba. However, we always knew in advance when he would arrive. There used to be a sweet anticipation; getting up early and waiting for his arrival. Therefore, on one sultry afternoon of mid 1943 when I saw Baba getting off a Tomtom laden with a lot of luggage, I was quite surprised. I ran into the house broadcasting the news at the top of my voice and all of us – barring Thakuma – rushed to the front of the house to greet him in. Ma seemed somewhat anxious; perhaps an unannounced visit by Baba was causing her some concern. By the time we gathered at the gate Baba had got off the carriage and was trying to count the pieces of luggage off loaded. He looked up at us with a big smile and declared somewhat melodramatically “I have chucked up my job!”
Puzzled looks were exchanged between us the kids. Ma kept quiet. We carried the luggage in. Unlike other times however, this time there was no physical interactions between Baba and us. After Baba sat on the bed we were asked to go out and play. The bedroom door was locked. Baba and Ma spent a very long time in a conversation. The whole process looked unusual. After a couple of hours, my Moni Didi (aka Hashi, the younger of my two elder sisters) took me into confidence and let out the secret. Baba is not going back to Jessore, she said. He is now going to stay here. I was thrilled and jumped with joy, but somehow I felt that I was rejoicing alone.
For the first few days, Baba seemed to be busy only with the elders. For hours on end Baba and Ma had closed door discussions. Even when he was not behind closed doors, he was busy talking to the visitors who talked of thing with which I could not connect with. The main theme of all the discussion seemed to be what Baba will do now! That seemed to me to be a silly concern. If Baba just resumed what we used to do at Jessore won’t every thing be just fine? Play number line with me and read the news paper, perhaps he could get hold of a car and go out driving? What was so great about not doing the things we were familiar with? Little did I realize that for my parents the whole world had been turned upside down?
Ever so slowly things settled down. My parents had apparently taken some decision about the future. Over the next month Baba bought many pieces of agricultural land. The grammar of the talks at home became entirely new. People talked about crops with terms I had never heard of. Aus and Aaman and Boro, Kharif and Ravi, Jute and sugar-cane. They also discussed about the types of land. River-side char land was generally sandy – fit only for Boro and Aus and perhaps jute. The higher land behind Chhatna village was highly rated and highly priced. It had loamy soil and lots of water underground, one could grow anything one wanted over there; Fine varieties of rice, pulses and oilseeds or whatever. Every once in a while someone would come over with an offer of a piece of land and there would be a discussion about the type of soil and availability of water, of the nature of cops in the adjoining field and the suitability of the sharecropper. Sometimes an attractive piece of land will be rejected because of location or price or the type of neighbourhood. At some other times the broker would haggle and pester Baba for a long time citing the same factors as a plus point for the piece of land he wanted sold. Day by day, our land holdings grew. One day a bundle of forms and registers arrived along with a set of rubber stamps. The forms and the stamp had Ma’s name printed on: Jyotirmoyee Sen – ‘Bhumyadhikarinee’. I was a bit puzzled about the appellation after the name till it was explained to me that it was only an expression written in Sanskrit meaning ‘The owner of the Land’. That made me quite happy and also a bit proud.
Ownership of land brought a new world into our household with its own language and actions. New terminology came in to use. Cess and taxes, Mouza, Khatian, Daag, Bigha, Katha, Kharif, Ravi, names for various types of rice paddy, various terminology for preparing the land like ploughing, weeding, levelling or furrowing, seed selection, application of fertilizer, harvesting threshing, winnowing, de-husking, drying, bagging, sharing the produce, transporting and selling the marketable produce – it was in deed a new world that gradually unfolded once the process was set in motion. Of course all these did not happen all at once, and some how Baba managed to keep him self aloof from all these day to day activity regarding the land.
Once the purchasing of the land was over, Baba grew a bit restless. However, as we all know, work expands to fill available time. Three of Baba’s younger siblings were unmarried. It became important for some one senior in the family to take active interest in the subject. Mejo Kaka, Baba’s immediate junior, had declared himself as a confirmed bachelor. In his younger days he had set his heart on some one who did not fit into the acceptable social norms for the family. Rather that bring in chaos into the family, both of them had decided to remain single and pursue their own professional careers. That was a long time ago and neither of them was really young any more. Thakuma was now willing to relent. But Mejo Kaka and the lady involved both felt that it was now too late. They were set in their own lives. Thank you but no thanks. The focus therefore shifted to the next two. Unfortunately, even the next brother, my Sejo Kaka, had also come close to his 40th birthday while the unmarried sister, my Mejo Pishi, was almost in her thirties. It was not easy to find suitable matrimonial candidates who would satisfy family caste education physical presence financial stability emotional maturity and intellectual levels desired all at once. The search was long and arduous. All modes of communication were brought into play for the task. News paper advertisements in the matrimonial columns brought in huge responses. However, most of the responses were not worthy of a return response. Of those who passed the first barriers of minimal requirements were also quickly rejected on one ground or the other. And then, with surprising ease, two proposals came about that had the approval of every one concerned. Two marriages took place one after the other. Sejo Kaka got married first. His new bride came into our new house at Himaitpur and instantly became my best friend. By this time, my kid brother had also grown to be about five years of age. There was an unspoken competition between us as to who would capture more of an attention of the new member of the family. We never did find out who had won that competition.
Shortly after Sejo Kaka got married, preparations began for the marriage of Mejo Pishi. She had come to stay permanently under Baba’s care as soon as she had completed her college education. I must have been about two or three years old at that time. I had therefore grown up with the idea that she was a permanent feature of our house. The idea that she would get married and would move away with an unknown man to an unknown place seemed strange. However, that is what all the elders told me and I had to accept what I was told. The ceremony was to be held at home. The house was large enough to accommodate all the relatives from our own family, but for the entourage expected from the bridegroom’s side we needed additional space. Sejo Kaka had taken some time off from work for the double event. Now that his own marriage was over, he became the de-facto executive head for all arrangements regarding the second event. There was no space available within the village for us to hire. Finally one room could be rented quite far away from the house. The marriage function passed with the usual mix of merriment chaos and rituals. I was disappointed with the elderly look of the groom and was a bit sad that Mejo Pishi went away with ‘that man’ apparently quite happily!
After a round of intense activity, like two marriages in a row, the household tended to drift into a lull. The guests departed and quiet descended at home. Alas, I did not know that this apparent calm was only illusory. Baba was restless. With the siblings’ marriages out of his way, and with time hanging heavily on his hands, he plunged in to a new round of activity that concerned us – the children. He reminded the girls that 1944 was to be a year of examinations for both of them. The elder one, Chitra, was to sit for her Intermediate Arts with the university and the second one, Hashi, was to sit for her Matriculation. Both girls had to attempt these examinations as private candidates; there were no schools or colleges that they could go to. Syllabi were procured and books were purchased. From October 43 to March 44 was a time span of six months. Baba was confident that if the girls put their minds to it they would breeze through the exams with these six months for preparation! He was not worried at all, though the same could not be said about the girls. An arduous regime of study was set in motion. In about a week the girls put their hands up. They needed help and tuition in ample measure, something that was not really available at home. Help arrived in the form of Sri Dhurjhati Prasad Niyogi, our ‘Master-moshai’. He was an epitome of a dedicated teacher. Though his own study was in the ‘science’ stream, he was willing to coach the two girls in economics, history, and languages – English, Bengali and even Sanskrit. The task was not easy. Syllabi designed for two years each had to be covered in about six months. Baba volunteered to take on the task of teaching mathematics for the younger one. I was about to turn ten that July. Baba felt that since he had to teach Algebra and geometry to the younger girl abinitio, it will be possible for him to add me on and save some future effort! I thus had the privilege of being introduced to (a+b)2 at the ripe age of nine and a half!
From mid 1943 to mid 1944 time ran rather fast. Both the girls sat for their tests and both passed with reasonable grades. The War in Europe and Asia ground on. Mussolini was ousted from power. Italy had changed sides. The landings at Salerno, the beach-head at Anzio, the slugfest at Monte Casino, such murderous battles in distant Italy made no mark on my young mind. Actually, when I read about these battles later in my life I was quite surprised at how insulated we were in those days in our village home. More to the point, the capture of Kohima by the INA alongside the Japanese Army was kept away from our ears and attention. Sure, there were rumours about the INA; some brave hearts even tried to intercept the INA’s radio broadcasts emanating from Singapore and Rangoon. However, the Government succeeded in hiding the achievements of the INA from the general public.
Back in the sleepy village of Himaitpur, Baba felt restless again. He was not one to sit idle for long, and he had no immediate task at hand. He decided that time was right for him to start a new chapter in his life. He decided to start practicing medicine. It was a bold decision. He was then 46 years old and he had never been a medical practitioner. His specialisation on public health and preventive medicine was not of much help for a general medical practitioner. There was no scope for him at Himaitpur. He therefore decided to go back to Jessore and set up a practice. With all his investments in landed property in Pabna, it was not convenient for Ma to shift base back to Jessore with him. So, once again it was a story of separation for the parents. It must have been very hard for them to take the decisions that they did take, but what about me? Ever since we came from Jessore to Himaitpur I had been emotionally lonely. With Baba returning to stay with us, that sheer loneliness had disappeared. His constant attention bestowed on me, and his ability to keep me fused and enthused in running at full speed to grow up quickly had changed me to a different high spirited boy. I loved the challenges of Algebra and Geometry that he threw at me. I also loved the evenings with him when he recited the Bhagawat Geeta chapter by chapter and made me listen and understand whatever my ten-year old mind could manage. I loved the starlit nights when we would lie face up on a mat on the open plinth of the unfinished rooms and he would teach me about the stars and the planets and teach me how to recognize the constellations. With Baba around all of us were happy. The mere thought of his going back to Jessore leaving us back at Himaitpur frightened me. At last, one day I gathered enough courage to go up to him and ask him ‘what shall I do when you are gone?’ It must have been a difficult question for him. He sat quietly for a few moments clasping me to his bosom, then held me by my shoulders at his arms length and told me, ‘from this July you will start going to the Tapovan’.
Baba went back to Jesssre to ‘work’; I became a part of the Tapovan experiment.