Friday, August 12, 2005
A day washed in drifting grey and ringed by the green of rice-fields. Roads that small into the distance between rows of tall hairy trees. A sunset that glints between cloud strata, through a windscreen starred in one corner.
In Cooch Behar, a high-ceilinged room with a huge fretworked mahogany bedstead. And memories spread over four decades now. Of the caretaker Ketu with his halo of unruly white hair like the painter Paritosh Sen, his cooking that wrung approbation from even my mother and his stories of the high and the mighty on their (infrequent) visits to this most distant of Bengal's "district towns".
Of sitting in the shadow of the verandah on a late summer day, trying to sketch the garden as glimpsed through one of the brick arches, and my increasing irritation with the way the shadows kept moving because I was too slow to keep up.
Of the matching mahogany bedstead in the other room, at the other end of the upstairs balcony, and how I sprained my back because I tried to pull it under the ceiling fan. While somebody was sitting on it.
Of a more recent evening in the wood-panelled gallery of the local Bungalow, with more rum than I had intended to consume and C** sprawling on the sofa in shorts (hot pants I called them, the beginning of a paunch visible above his long muscular high-jumper's legs that had stirred the lust of more than one woman at the Academy), alternately wagging his finger at me and chuckling, as we talked the night away.
The contrast of Siliguri in the evening. A detritus of shops and hotels and buses and wires, a large suite with no soul and the long evening alone, where a dinner from Kalpataru became something to look forward to, a peg to hang the evening on. (A word to the wise - the best Bangali food in this part of the world).
Moments in between. A beep from my cell phone as the Scorpio skims a bend on NH31; a message from Grameen Phone welcoming me to Bangladesh, their network closer at that point than any of the Indian providers. A row of iron posts across a far field, the barbed wire invisible at that distance: the border.
Place-names that are stories in themselves. Falakata ("cut to ribbons") and Mathabhanga (Head-breaker), from the skirmishes and squabbles of the 18th and 19th centuries. And most endearing among Bengal's place-names, Raja-bhaath-khaowa ("where kings ate rice together"), from the meeting that signalled a truce in the senseless warring.
And sudden in the gloaming, a signboard in a place called Harhbhanga (Bone-breaker) - Harhbhanga Chikitsha Kendro. Bone-breaker Medical Centre.