Back to Jessore

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Newspapers were intimately integrated with my childhood.  I learnt my alphabets from it.     I learnt most of my geography and all politics from it.   I even learnt the rudiments of football hockey and cricket from it.    Above all, this constant interaction with newspapers generated in me a thirst for remaining current with ‘current affairs’ that has remained with me for ever.   Subconsciously therefore I use newspaper headlines to hang chronology in my memory.   Thus the second half of 1945 would remains prominent in my childhood memory as a long list of headlines.  ‘War Ends In Europe’ was one that sticks in my mind.   ‘Atomic Bomb Dropped over Hirosima’ was another.   That one must have been on 9th August, the day after Hirosima.   ‘V J Day Celebrated’ followed a week later.  The Second World War officially ended on 15th August of 1945.   Banner headlines became the norm for news papers; as if, people had become deaf and every bit of news had to be shouted out loud for it to be heard.   ‘Congress Leaders Released’ followed soon.   India, pitched into the World War unwillingly in 1939, was finding it difficult to move back to peace time.    The economy of the country was on a rough ride.  Inflation was running high.   The political climate was in turmoil.   The social order was on the breaking point.    It was certainly an interesting time.

Headlines of news from home were unfortunately more tragic than exciting.   In September Ma lost her third sister Annapurna – Anu as she was known to all in the family.    She and her immediate elder sibling Beena aka Minu had contracted TB in their student days.    In those days, TB was a disease that had no real treatment.   After a long battle Anu gave up.  Minu followed a month later.   The loss of two children one after the other hit my grand parents hard.    Dadu was then posted in Rajshahi. He did not take this loss well and died in February 1946.    As he died in harness, the administrative load imposed on the family was immense.   All his paper work had to be done, the house had to be vacated, and Grand Ma Dida had to be sheltered somewhere and so on. Each of these tasks had their own subset of problems.   For instance, Dadu’s own house in Calcutta was occupied by a tenant who refused to move out.   None of Dadu’s sons were established.   Ma, as his eldest child automatically felt obliged to rush in and help.   Baba at that time was busy re-establishing himself as a practicing physician.   He had specialized in preventive medicine immediately after his graduation as a medical doctor in 1926 and had never attempted to practice general medicine.   For eighteen years he had served various District Board authorities in Bengal and Bihar as a specialist in public health.   However, with the advent of militant communal political parties like the Muslim League capturing public governance at provincial and district levels, he found himself unable to get along with the new administration.   He resigned from his job in 1944.   After taking a year off to tidy up all outstanding jobs at home, he was now trying very hard to become a GP.   He was however already 47 years old; the going was tough.    His new work environment prevented his frequent short visits to Himaitpur that we had got so used to.   Dadu had been evacuated to Calcutta from Rajshahi for medical treatment before he had died.  Ma therefore decided that after we attend Dadu’s shradh ceremony in Calcutta, we would go to Jessore for a short while and stay with Baba.   Both the girls were due for their college level examinations.  The elder one, Chitra, was due for her graduation.  The second one, Hashi, was due for her Intermediate Arts examination from Calcutta University.    Both of them were private students planning to attempt these tests on their own; both were seriously under prepared.   In the heart of their hearts, both of them were unsure about their readiness for these tests, but they did not have the guts to admit these fears to Baba.    We therefore planned our trip to Jessore with many uncertainties about the immediate future.

The small house that Baba was using in Jessore looked cramped dilapidated and unwelcome.   It was full of remnant stuff from our home after that was requisitioned by the Government in 1942.  There was not enough space to put all that stuff in order.   It was impossible to clean up or dust out those rooms where the stuff was kept.   It seemed to me that we had for some obscure reason chosen to stay in an unkempt warehouse!   I secretly pined to get back to Himaitpur, but I kept my mouth shut.  Then one fine morning Jethamoshai (Mr. K N Ghosh) walked in with a beaming smile and announced that orders for the release of our house from Government occupation had been issued!.    The announcement changed every thing.   All thoughts of returning to Himaitpur in a hurry disappeared instantly.   The Government contractor engaged in the task of de-hiring the house was required to restore the house to its original state before it was given back to us.   That meant that the fellow would rip out all the electric wiring that the government had installed in the house and sell that stuff as junk!   The contractor was contacted and was persuaded to leave the electric lines undisturbed for a sum of (I think) three hundred rupees.   It was of course a big sum of money then.   The house was re-painted and we moved in to it as fast as possible.

The world around me continued to be topsy-turvy.   Too many things were happening around me.   It was a strange and bewildering world.    The Crips Mission had failed.   The Communist Party had launched its ‘Tebhaga Agitation’.    Elections for Provincial Legislative Assemblies were declared.    Groups of Muslim League boys went around the town shouting ‘Ladke Leynge Pakistan’.   A Constituent Assembly had come into being in Delhi consequent to the proposals contained in the Cabinet Mission recommendations, but no one seemed to know where this assembly will draw their powers from and how far that power will extend.  The Muslim League refused to join the Constituent Assembly.   Many of the princely sates stayed away too.   The Leaders of the INA were to be tried by a court for desertion and for waging war against the crown.     Huge rallies were held all over the country in their support.  Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhula Bhai Desai volunteered to defend them as advocates.  The Naval Mutiny took place in Bombay.  A small Air Force Mutiny took place in Tambaram.   The country seemed to be rushing to a precipice.    These were however bothersome mainly for the grown-ups; they were for ever discussing these things.

At home matters of more immediate urgency claimed every one’s attention.   The two girls started their preparation for tests in right earnest.   They had just a month or two to prepare.   Jessore now had a functional college offering education for graduation in arts subjects under the University of Calcutta.    The girls could choose that college as their centre for the examination.   The house needed a lot of maintenance.   We found that the electrical wiring left behind by the military occupants was in a state of disrepair.   It had to be completely re-done.   Similarly, the running water system for the bathrooms had been dismantled.   These needed to be re-laid.  All this needed money and suddenly that seemed to be in short supply.   Baba’s medical practice had not taken off.   He had a chamber in the market near the public library that he attended every morning and evening, but the pickings were low.   We also discovered that collecting revenue from landed property was not easy if one was not physically present near the land.   At Himaitpur,   rice, pulses, mangoes etc came home and were sold to traders.    Vegetables for the kitchen grew on the homestead ground.     Once we moved to Jessore, all these stopped happening.   Rice and pulses, fruits and vegetables, every thing had to be purchased.    For the first time we found cash flow in the house to be inadequate for our needs.   This was strange and the adjustment to this situation was painful.         

I cannot say that I really understood of what was happening all around me.   Perhaps I was bewildered?  In fact I do not think the elders had much time to spare some attention for me.   I was left quite alone at home.   The world however never stops.   It moves on and impacts a child not caring for the child’s non comprehension or bewilderment.   As I look back over the years and try to remember what I felt, even now I am amazed at the fragmentary nature of those recollections and the difficulty I had to make any sense of what was happening around me.   How did I know that the financial condition had become tight?   Did any one tell me abut it?   No. I do not remember any discussion.   But I do remember that over a period of time rickshaw pullers becoming reluctant to come and take Daktaar Babu from home to the chamber.  Why was it so? I wondered in my mind.   Only a few months ago they would rush out of the stand and vie for his fare, so, why this change?   I asked one rickshaw puller one day.   His reply was straight forward.   Daktaar Babu does not pay more than ten paise for the trip and going up to his chamber for less than three annas was not remunerative for us with all prices rising.    I remember remonstrating with him one day about the payments to the rickshaw pullers;  I hated the idea of any one talking about him with anything other than adoration or adulation.   He had given me a patient hearing and had managed a fix perhaps typically in his own style; he started using a cycle once a week.   A saving of five annas that day could be spread at two paise per trips for five round trips during the rest of the week!   Inflation was a constant worry for every one.   I got to know because by then I had become the official errand boy for the family.   When the price of mustard oil jumped from eight annas a measure to ten there was a huge commotion.  Didi Chitra took up a job as a teacher in her old school as soon as her exams were over without even waiting for her results.           

As soon as it became clear that our visit to Jessore was turning in to a permanent move, Ma had to make a quick trip to Himaitpur to close the house down and make permanent administrative arrangement for the landed property.   Baba had to go down to Calcutta at the same time for some reason that I cannot recollect.   The four children were left alone for a week.   We were quite happy to manage the house on our own until a thief visited us and made away with a whole lot of clothes from Baba’s bedroom that was now empty.   I was excited about the event though I was more bothered about the loss of a stack of chocolate slabs stashed away in Ma’s cupboard along with the clothes than any other loss that was caused!   

Days rolled by.   Results for the girls were announced; both of them had secured passing grades.   Chitra wanted to train to be a teacher and the most convenient school was the David Hare Training College in Calcutta.   Baba had to go to Calcutta in early August to attend to Dadu’s half-yearly Shradh.   He decided to inquire about an admission for Chitra into a B Ed program.   He was in Calcutta on 16th August 1946 when the Great Calcutta Killing began.  I remember a bewildered numb fear that enveloped the house for the next three days.   All trains to Jessore from Calcutta started from Sealdah.   Unfortunately, the eastern suburbia from Razabazar to Sealdah to Moulali, Entally and on to Park Circus had become a No Go zone for Hindus.  Baba was stuck right in the fringes of this hot zone, in Manicktala, where he had put up with his sister.   We had no telephone connection to talk to them.    We were worried and helpless, and I did not understand why such a sudden flare-up had taken place.    Any way, after a couple of days Baba managed to return to Jessore though it took many more days (and a fast by the Mahatma) for Calcutta to return to normal.

The transition from a war-economy to a proper peace time life was proving to be difficult.   Inflation ran high.   During the war, liquidity of the Rupee was high because of the high outlays for defence.   With the end of the war, flow of all that money became volatile.   Numerous commercial banks were born and most of them died prematurely.   Inflation was high.   As a corrective measure the thousand rupee note was demonetized.    Baba found it difficult to make the two ends meet.   Very soon he was forced to take in a tenant to ensure a little cash flow.   Fortunately space was not a constraint.   The outhouse that was built in 1940 was now mainly disused.   One part of this block along with the two-truck garage that was built by the government was let out to a demobilized Sikh soldier who was setting up a transport company.   In the remaining portion of the out house, Baba set up a clinic for the patients who came home.   Soon the clinic became quite popular.   It was enlarged to include a waiting room, a pharmacy and a pathological laboratory.   A gentleman named Osman Ali was appointed as a compounder.   I became his unpaid assistant.   Baba was quite happy to find that I was taking an interest in running the pharmacy and the lab.   He decided to teach me how to detect sugar and albumen in urine by strip test.   He also taught me how to prepare cough mixtures and digestive mixtures.   In those days it was quite common for doctors to develop their own formulations and get those formulations prepared under their own care in their own pharmacies.

The closing months of 1946 rolled on with amazing rapidity.    The Great Calcutta Killing of August was followed by a communal frenzy in Noakhali and that in turn triggered the riots in Bihar.    The Durga Puja celebrations were somewhat subdued.   In October Didi Chitra left for Calcutta to join David Hare Training College for a BT Diploma.   I cannot recollect clearly what had kept us busy during the months of October and November.    I do remember however that we had bought a basketful of terracotta diyas for the Deepavali and I had painstakingly laid them out along the front balcony and the ledge of our roof, but on the actual day we could light up only a small fraction of the diyas that I had laid out;  we ran out of oil.   Our tenant gave me a tin-full of burnt engine oil as an alternative, but the diyas would not burn with that oil!   That failure to light up the house properly had made me very sad.  The political environment remained as smokey and spluttering as our Deepavali lamps.   Amidst high political drama the partition of the country was agreed upon and the date of transfer of power was brought forward from March 48 to August 47.   However, from the point of view of a thirteen year old, the world looked very confusing.   We continued our struggle to settle down at Jessore once again.  From February to December of 1946 we had remained in a continuous state of uncertainty.  Baba realized that my education was now being neglected.   He enrolled me into Jessore Sammilani High School in class ten with effect from January 1947.  It seemed as if he was making a statement to himself: we are here at Jessore and we mean to stay here!  We did not know even then that we would become rootless in a matter of months.

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