On the Roads… 1

This year we had decided to spend the Durga Puja in Hyderabad and go to Delhi around Diwali only. This would mean leaving behind Rolf with our Housekeeper in Hyderabad for those days which was okay as long as there’s someone to walk him twice a day, morning and evening. We had engaged a person earlier named Ishwar for walking Rolf and he had diligently done the job but in the month of June when we went for a very short trip to Vizag, he simply ditched us even after confirming just a day before. Notwithstanding his previous strange behavior I tried to contact him over phone and WhatsApp but he did not respond. His attitude was puzzling as we had paid him whatever price he had quoted and walking Rolf is not such a tedious job as the boy is quite obedient and adjusting dog.

The non-availability of a dog walker made us change our plans and we decided to take the road once again to Delhi. This time, however, we arranged for our housekeeper to travel by train (Duronto Express) and asked my nephew to pick her up from Nizamuddin station and drop at our Delhi home. The idea was that she along with the other maid gets the apartment livable by the time we reach two days apart.

So, on 5th October, Deepika & I along with Rolf left for Delhi. As always we had planned to leave by 5:30 am but the clock in the car said 6:45 am as we hit the road. Last time Google Map had taken us through the city to NH44 and it was quite exhausting going through the narrow and often crowded roads and lanes, so we decided to take the Nehru ORR (Outer Ring Road) albeit it was longer by few kilometers but much cleaner route.

We were carrying Aloo Parantha and boiled eggs so as not to have a extended stoppage for breakfast. We stopped at a Mini Mart, a new concept by the Transport Ministry to have public convenience and eatery at all Toll Plazas, for tea and also allow Rolf to stretch his legs.

The NH44 of Telengana sector is really good, mostly 4 lanes with divider in place. However, the moment we crossed into Maharashtra, the road quality deteriorated with sudden potholes in the middle of the road, some of them big enough to breakdown a vehicle. The speed with which we started came down substantially to negotiate the stretch till Nagpur where the surface improved a bit and we could cruise at 100kmph.

We had planned to take a break at Go Flamingo Resort, Pench (Maharashtra) for lunch and also confirm my bookings for return. Deepika was using the map on her phone to navigate to Go Flamingo while I had kept mine locked for the hotel at Sagar, MP. As luck would have it, she missed the exit and by the time we realized the mistake, we had travelled around 70 km beyond, in fact, we had crossed into Madhya Pradesh. There was no point in turning back, so we looked for another alternative and Google suggested Kiplings Court. It was almost 10-12 km inside the Pench National Park, owned and managed by Madhya Pradesh Tourism. By the time we reached the place, their kitchen was closed and only sandwiches and pakodas were available. We settled for veg sandwiches and assorted pakodas. As Deepika was taking care of food ordering, I took Rolf for a walk and fed him two boiled eggs and Pedigree Gravy Chicken.

It was still another 400 km to our night halt at Sagar MP, so we revved up as soon as we hit the NH44 after negotiating the diversions for under construction highway. I calculated that if there’s no further slowing down, we will reach our destination by 9pm. Deepika had booked a small hotel called R-One Inn situated on Railway Station Road, Sagar. I was in the impression that it will be somewhere close to where we stayed last time, a mere 2km inside from the NH44 but we were taken through the often narrow winding streets of Sagar to the Railway Station and then inside a lane where we found the place. It was just like the mushrooming hotels of Paharganj or Karol Bagh but we were there just to sleepover the night and more importantly, Rolf was welcomed warmly.

Delhi was approx. 700km or 12 hours of drive away, so we decided to start our journey early. We checked on the availability of breakfast and were informed that the earliest it will be ready is 8:00 am. It was too late for us, so we left for Delhi at sharp 7:00 am. Unknown to us for next 200+ km that a great mishap has happened…

In the early morning, the hotel had served us the tea which we consumed with the Karachi Bakery Cookies that we were carrying. I fed Rolf the balance two boiled eggs and a pack of Pedigree Gravy Chicken. Then washed up his bowls and packed them in a polythene bag. Thereafter, I took the two bags that we had brought in the previous evening and loaded them in the car. Lastly, I took Rolf out for a walk hoping that he will do his job in the new environment (he is really very fussy in these matters) and at the same time asked Deepika to carry the packet of bowls with her and also settle the accounts with the hotel.

As expected, Rolf only sprayed at few places to put his mark but refused to do anything more, being distracted by few local strays which kept barking at him from a safe distance. I saw Deepika coming down to the Reception so I helped Rolf get inside the car and started the engine as also the Google Map for the final destination. We tanked up the car at the first gas station before hitting the NH44 and thereafter it was a smooth drive in the sparse traffic of early Sunday morning.

Around 9:45 am we crossed over to the state of UP (Bundelkhand) towards Jhansi. We were feeling hungry so Deepika started looking for a breakfast joint and we followed the Google Map into a town (forgot the name) and hunted for the elusive but famous shop. We couldn’t see any eatery where Google said it was but a few meters down the road was a shop selling Kachauri & Samosa. We checked with them if they have anything more filling which was not but one of the customers gave us the direction to Pathak Ji’s shop that serves lip smacking Puri-Sabzi. We kept the car parked there with the windows slightly down for airflow as Rolf was inside and walked down to the directed shop. But as luck would have it, Pathak Ji said it would take at least 30 minutes as the sabzi has just started cooking. We came back to the first shop and picked up the samosa and kachauri and retreated towards the highway.

The samosa & the kachauri were fresh and excellent in terms of taste. I found a patch where it was safe to let Rolf stretch his legs and have some water to keep him hydrated. Once he was ready to step back into the car, I thought of feeding him some water but to my utter dismay, the bowls were nowhere to be found. We searched every nook and corner of the car but those were not there. Deepika had forgotten them at the hotel reception. I was filled with rage and frustration… the first for her callousness and the second because there are no cities on the route where we can get bowls for the Pet. I kept quiet for some time and took a decision that we will now drive non-stop to Delhi, avoiding lunch or tea breaks and try to reach as early as possible. Deepika was feeling guilty and pleaded to stop at any of the Dhaba’s to check if they have any bowl or like utensil that can be bought. About another 100 km later we saw a Dhaba but had nothing that could be useful. I had taken out Rolf for stretching his legs and as usual he immediately attracted a handful of crowd who started taking his snaps. They, like many others have never seen such a dog breed. One young boy amongst the crowd took piety and rushed to his home and got us a small thermocole bowl. It wasn’t sufficient but worked at that moment and Rolf took few sips of water. It was clear that we have no option but to drive non-stop to Delhi now.

The roads till Jhansi were good and we covered the distance in good time. Last time the road from Jhansi to Gwalior was horrible, not only there were diversions every few 100 meters but the road was broken at most places. This time a major portion of the road was completed but still there were many diversions and narrow single file stretches that slowed us down considerably.

Google Map always recommends or rather insists that we take the Yamuna Expressway from Agra to Greater Noida to reach Delhi but I decided to take the NH19 via Agra Bypass as it was shorter though has more traffic. However, as we were approaching Mathura, suddenly the Google Map voice literally started screaming “Turn right… Turn right”. And I turned only to be taken through the lanes and roads of the Mathura outskirts to the Yamuna Expressway.

On reaching Delhi, my first stop was at the Pet Shop to buy the bowls for Rolf before going home. Rolf climbed the stairs a bit hesitatingly which was expected because of dehydration. And then he drank 2 litre of water before settling down at his favourite spot near the kitchen. Even with the stoppages we made it to home 5 minutes before 7 pm. Less than 12 hours beating Google Map’s initial prediction of 14:15 hours by over 2 hours….

… to be continued with return journey…

A Farm Vacation

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This was second year in a row that we thought we will spend the Christmas holidays in isolation at Hyderabad, especially when Ayush said he won’t be able to take any holidays as he had already planned a trip to Delhi for his roommate and close friend’s (of 4 years of college) sister’s wedding in the first week of January. However, Sangeeta Basu, our very dear and expert in organizing vacations had other ideas. She worked out a program for 3 nights 4 days at a place called Vanvasa Resort near Lansdowne. I checked the place and it happened to be in the midst of Corbett Jungles. We were elated to be in the lap of nature and possibility of meeting some wild friends.

Sadly, we had to cancel that keeping in mind the high voltage dramas enacted by the opposition parties across the country in the name of citizenship amendment bill which actually is simply to accommodate the persecuted minority population from the three neighboring (declared) Islamic Countries and does not affect any existing citizens of this country irrespective of their religious faith. The surprising part of this agitation was that it all happened in the BJP ruled states; the states where Congress is in power were absolutely calm!! Anyways, we decided to explore alternatives in the peaceful areas and Sangeeta came up with Prakriti Farms, an hour drive from Chandigarh in Ropar or Roop Nagar, Punjab.

Deepika and I left for Delhi on 25th morning. As we came out of the Indigo aircraft, the chilly air of Delhi gave us a warm welcome; we have been missing this winter air for last 2 years…

 Our home was quite clean and livable, courtesy Deepika’s friend Sumita, who had graciously agreed to get the place cleaned as often as she can and had it cleaned just a couple of days before we reached. There was a marked difference in the weather from 24 degrees of Hyderabad and around 8-10 degrees in Delhi. I was wearing my jacket after 2 years!!

In my last visit to Delhi in October, I had sold my car, Duster which was a diesel vehicle of 6 years old having only 4 years of life left as per the new motor vehicle laws. Therefore, I had booked a Hyundai Creta from Zoom Cars for our upcoming trip to Prakriti Farms, Roop Nagar and I went to fetch it from the pick-up point. This was the first time that I was using Zoom vehicle and was bit apprehensive about “no human interface pick-up”. But to my delight it was very smooth and took me less than 20 minutes to go through the formalities using their Mobile App and soon I was driving the Creta.

We, (Deepika, I and Sumita) left for Prakriti Farms around 7:30 am on 26th December with trusted Google Maps as our guide and it predicted approx 5:30 hours to the destination. We met up with Basus & Dutts at our favourite meeting point at the Bharat Petroleum Station at Moolchand crossing. In all my previous road trips, notably 5 trips between Delhi-Hyderabad, I had comprehensively beaten Google Map by at least an hour, so I was confident it will be same this time too. What I had not considered are 2 things – (1) I was driving a commercial vehicle & (2) the new system of paying Toll through FasTag and resultant long queues at the “Cash Booths”. The Creta was registered in Punjab and I knew that I will have to pay “Entry Tax” to Haryana RTA. However, we couldn’t make out when and at what point we crossed into Haryana as there was no RTO Toll Collection Booths to be seen.

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We stopped over at Garam Dharam Dhaba at Murthal for breakfast. Apparently the great bollywood actor Dharmendra had inspired the owners so much that they have named it after him. The place was huge hall with counters for different kind of street foods both savory and sweet besides thirst quenchers like tea, coffee, sodas and lassi. The food was decent (at least my Amritsari Kulchas), the Paranthas looked appetizing. However, the tea wasn’t to the standard we are used to.

The first Toll Gate came after about 5 km and we experienced the first of many “toll gate jams”. The private vehicles with FasTags sailed through the gates smoothly while all the commercial vehicles including cars, autos and trucks jostled at the cash only gates numbering just 2 against 8 gates for the tagged vehicles. This I found a bit ridiculous because since the tagged vehicle doesn’t have to stop at the gate, the lesser number would have worked just as well. The commercial vehicles are not going to put the FasTag and shall continue to suffer, going forward.

Hardly a kilometer after the Toll Plaza, I was stopped by a posse of Police. A young constable came and asked for the papers which I promptly showed him. He flipped through the document file and asked for the Haryana Entry Tax receipt. I told him with full honesty that even though I looked for the tax collection booth but couldn’t find it. He said the fine is INR 10000 for illegal entry. I pleaded with him that it was the first time travel for us in a commercial car and we will pay the tax at the next available booth. After lot of haggling and negotiation, I settled it for INR500 for his Chai-Samosa in the December Chill. He was courteous enough to provide the details of the next RTO but it was not very clear. In the hunt for the RTO, a bus brushed passed the rear right door but luckily there was no dent. We found the RTO just before Panipat on a side street and paid the tax for 5 days. We lost an hour in the process while Basus & Dutts in their own vehicle plus FasTag had moved on and was at least 50-60km ahead of us. There was also a speed restriction on all Zoom Cars, my limit was 126kmph but I kept the speed at 100-112kmph and finally caught up with them on the Chandigarh By-pass road. Now, we were in Punjab, so no more state tax issue and all three vehicles cruised along together. We reached Prakriti Farms around 3:30pm, a clear 2 hours later than Google Map prediction.

Prakriti Farms is situated inside the village Rail Majra in the district Shahid Bhagat Singh, 7 km from Ropar city. It does provide a slice of Punjab (village) as you take the narrow patch of earthen road from the NH 205 and cross the village to get to the farm. It is nestled in the foothills of Shivalik and about 15 minutes drive away from the Ropar wetlands. The accommodation is basic but comfortable. We were housed in three cottages, 2 of which had 3 beds and the other double bed. The 3-bedded rooms were really big and needed 2 heaters to warm up with outside temperature plunging to almost 0 degrees at night. However, to our charging the moment we switched on the second heater in our room, the power went off but fortunately the bed lamps worked. There was no intercom phone in the room to call the housekeeping, so I went out with my phone torch to hunt for the MCB switch but couldn’t find one. It was around 10:30 pm but the place looked as if it was midnight. We were very tired and slept wearing the woolens.

I normally get up around 5:30 am in the morning after finishing my morning chores, looked through the window to the outside still in midnight mode, dark and silent. I returned to my bed and slept till I could hear voices outside. It was 7:30 am and both Deepika and Sumita still in deep slumber. I went out to find the bonfire has been lighted and tea is about to be served. Normally, in these kinds of places they serve readymade tea which is prepared in milk and lots of sugar. Since most of us are averse to taking sugar in our tea, we had asked for tea with separate serving of milk and sugar. Sunil, the Man Friday at the Farm was efficiently arranging the cups n saucer and got two thermoses full of tea and milk. Santanu was there with Princess Chewbacca (adorable Shih tzu) as was (Dutt) Uncle and soon the ladies joined us at the bonfire which was lighted up every day of our stay in the early morning and kept alive till we called it a day. Sipping the hot tea (must mention that the tea was excellently brewed with some special herbs as per Sunil), we discussed the course of the day and finalized on visiting Bhakra Dam and Anandpur Sahib Gurdwara which were roughly 2 hours drive from the farm, after breakfast.

The breakfast consisted of 2 kinds of Paranthas – Aloo and Gobi with farm made fresh curd and achaars besides toast and egg. The paranthas were out-of-this-world kind, at least ten notches above what we had at Garam Dharam, Murthal. Till about 15 days prior to our visit, the farm had over 50 chickens and the eggs used to come from there but due to age issue, those were sold off and the new batch was yet to come, so they relied on the commercial supplies when we visited. However, the food preparation was so good that foodies like Santanu and myself couldn’t find anything to crib!!! Santanu even conceded that the Coffee made with normal Nescafe was too good and he could never get the flavor even from the Nescafe Gold (superior version) coffee at home. We concluded that it was because of the unadulterated fresh milk that boosted the taste of the coffee.

 Post breakfast we quickly took our bath got ready for Bhakra via Anandpur Sahib. While on the road, we changed plans and decided to go to Bhakra first which needed permit to visit and that office closes around 3pm for public. Sangeeta went inside to get the permit while Santanu cleverly utilized the break to smoke and I tried the “Pocket Kulcha” from a street vendor. It is the same “Matar-Kulcha” with a different presentation but couldn’t match the taste with the Delhi variety.

Though we associate Bhakra-Nangal as one and with Punjab, the reality is they are 2 different dams; Bhakra is in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh while Nangal is in Punjab. The latter is inaccessible to tourists.

Bhakra Dam is a concrete gravity dam on the Sutlej River in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh in northern India and forms the Gobind Sagar reservoir.

The dam, located at a gorge near the (now submerged) upstream Bhakra village in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh of height 226 m. The length of the dam (measured from the road above) is 518.25 m and the width is 9.1 m. It’s reservoir known as “Gobind Sagar” stores up to 9.34 billion cubic metres of water. The 90 km long reservoir created by the Bhakra Dam is spread over an area of 168.35 km. In terms of quantity of water, it is the third largest reservoir in India, the first being Indira Sagar dam in Madhya Pradesh with capacity of 12.22 billion cu m and second Nagarjunasagar Dam in Telengana State.

Described as “New Temple of Resurgent India” by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, the dam attracts tourists from all over India. Bhakra dam is 15 km from Nangal city and 20 km from Naina Devi town.

Nangal Dam is another dam in Punjab downstream of Bhakra Dam. However, sometimes both the dams together are called Bhakra-Nangal Dam though they are two separate dams.

As we approached check-post, I asked the policeman where to pay the “entry tax” for Himachal Pradesh. He had a incredible look in his face and laughed at me saying not to bother about it as the permit itself is what is required. I was still apprehensive as the INR 10000 challan still rang on my head but I couldn’t see a single booth for toll collection. There was a checkpoint nearer to Bhakra manned by Indian Army but even they had cursory look inside the 2 vehicles and the permit and let us proceed.

Since our childhood right from the text books to other pictures, Bhakra dam had seemed to be a gigantic structure however, in reality it looked like a “wall of a fort” that spread across two hills. All along the route, signage said “No Photography” so we refrained from taking any but saw many others stopping and taking selfies at will. The Govind Sagar Lake was awesomely huge, one couldn’t see the other side even with Sun shining bright. The water was clear blue and I am sure if we were any closer, we could have seen the fishes swimming. There were steps to go down to the banks and Deepika, Sumita and Sangeeta went down to click some pictures. I calculated the steps to be at least 70-80 if not more; going down is not a problem but climbing up would have been a big challenge especially when one has to drive. We drove up further on the road to capture more panoramic view before making our return journey.

There were kiosks selling Fish Fries, Santanu and Sangeeta being Fish Lovers, decided to pick up some for evening snacks with the drinks. The supplies came from the Govind Sagar itself so the fishes are always fresh catch of the day.

As we approached Anandpur Sahib, it was already 4:30 pm and I told Deepika that she has only 15-20 minutes to complete her “darshan” as it would get dark by the time we are anywhere near to Prakriti Farms and it would be challenging to negotiate the narrow rough village roads in the darkness. We parked our vehicles and followed the sparse evening crowd to the Gurdwara. I and Shenjit stayed out on the courtyard guarding the footwear and purses while Santanu accompanied the ladies inside. I had expected them to come out in 20 minutes or so but they came out within 5 minutes. They were obviously disappointed by the size of the Gurdwara and lamented as to why it is so famous? Even the “kada Prasad” was neither good in quantity nor in taste (having been to many Gurdwaras, I can safely say that the helpings are large and tastes heavenly).

On our way out to the parking, we tried the “Stick Kulfi” from “Verka”, it tasted more of “desi ghee” than “malai”. Once upon a time, Verka used to be what Amul is to Gujarat but because of management failure or even political neglect has remained a local brand while Amul is now an international brand.

Santanu had parked at a place from where he could easily take the first exit from the parkinf lot but our car was parked a little ahead and we had to go some 300 meters ahead to take the u-turn. As I was negotiating the turn, I noticed a large structure on my left and casually asked Deepika to see it. Deepika immediately screamed “Oh shit, we went to the wrong Gurdwara. This is the real Anandpur Sahib”. By that time my turning back was complete and Santanu’s vehicle was at least half a kilometer ahead of us and more importantly, darkness was falling rapidly on the horizon. After a teleconferencing with Basu’s, it was decided to let go of real Anandpur Sahib as all homes of the Almighty are equal!!!

While going to Bhakhra, we observed lots of vendors selling Kinnows also called Tangerine so we stopped by at one such vendor to have Kinnow juice to quench our thirst. We also picked up some “moomphalee” and “gajjak” from the vendor next to it.

As I had expected, it was completely dark when we reached the Prakriti Farms after missing a couple of turns and taking detours through harrowing roads of the villages. But we all agreed that it was overall a great experience that we shall remember for a long time.

In the evening, we devoured the fried fish from Bhakra along with farm fresh pakodas with our scotch and wine. The dinner was simple (as per our wish) consisting of yellow tadka dal, aloo-gobi sabji with chapatti and jeera rice.

Though we had planned for a few rounds of TwentyNine (card game invented by Bongs) but the main players including me were exhausted and we called it a day. The darkness was so deep that you will feel you are in the middle of nowhere, one could see the stars twinkling in between the light cloud and could hear the howls of dogs in the distance. We guessed the temperature to be near zero and quickly entered in the warmth of our room. Deepika & Sumita wanted play cards (Rummy without money) and invited which I politely declined and went inside the heavy razaai.

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Early in the morning, I woke with a feeling that it’s raining heavily probably a thunderstorm. I got up with an effort to look through the window but there was no rain, only a thick layer of fog. It was 5 am and still a long time for others to wake up, I decided to freshen first and then dive back under my razaai once more.

Mr. Kaushal, the owner of the farm, joined us at the morning tea around the bonfire and suggested we take a guided tour of the estate with Sunil which we promptly agreed. The estate included a hill in the distant along with a large spread of jungle. Sunil said that till about couple years ago, leopards were present in the jungle and would visit the farm for food. Now only some deer and wild boars are remaining other than birds. We did see the poop of both on our way to the Kinnow Orchard inside the jungle. We were warned by Sunil to avoid the thick shrubbery as pythons might be waiting there to strike the unsuspecting prey. There has been incidence of python slithering in the bird cage to devour the chicks during the monsoon.

On our way back we saw the guava orchard and the organic farming of vegetables besides the cattle shed from where the freshest milk comes for tea/coffee, desi ghee and curd.

This day, we had decided to visit another resort nearby (approx 50 km away) called Kikar Lodge for our lunch. Post breakfast we lazed around and played with Chewbacca and realized I do not have the stamina to match the one year old Shih tzu. I also missed Rolf who would have loved to roam around in the cool chimes of the farm. There were some 7 dogs of mixed breed, friendly with humans but Mr. Kaushal had put them in the kennel because of Chewbacca.

In the afternoon we left for Kikar Lodge and this time Uncle-Aunty and Chewbacca also joined us. We religiously followed Google Maps through the winding roads of interior Punjab till it took us to a point of nothing-ahead!! Luckily we found a local guy who guided us back to a more drivable road and Google Map too picked up the cue and guided us to the Kikar Lodge which was at the edge of village Kangar, Nurpur Bedi, Punjab spread over 1800 acres of forest and luscious green splendor. It offered activities like swimming, horse-riding, outdoor games and quad-bike rides for the residents. We had booked for lunch and proceeded straight to the poolside where tables were set for guest dining. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon which prompted us to discard the jackets and scarves and order for chilled beer. The food was quite good but restaurant quality unlike the homely food at Prakriti Farms. We took some snaps with the quad bikes as prop before leaving for the farm.

We checked with Kikar Lodge people if there is any better route and they guided us to the highway that would take us to our destination. We switched on the Google Map once we hit the highway and this time it showed us the right directions. Closer to the Prakriti Farms, about 5-6 km away we stopped at the roadside vendor selling Kinnow juice. As we were waiting for the juice, we noticed some commotion next to the piles of kinnow and realized one of the guy was pulling out something with the help of a bamboo stick that had a kind of blunt sickle at one end. When it came out in the open, we remained open mouthed looking at the huge, at least 8-10 ft long python. Fortunately for the poor thing, they did not kill it but pulled and dragged it to the other side of the road which had a marshland and forest where it slithered off. We were happy having met at least of the wild friends during the trip.

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It was our last evening at the farm; we decided to play Dumb Charade, our favorite evening activity whenever we go out in large group. We were joined by Mr. Balvinder Singh with his wife and two children besides their handsome Labrador called Bolt (named after Usain Bolt). Mr. Singh had checked-in during the afternoon when we had gone to the Kikar Lodge. Quite amiable person and soon we became friends and they were more than happy to join us in the game of Dumb Charade. It was a sweet coincidence that his daughter was in the same school that of Shenjit Basu aka Mingo. It turned out to be a memorable evening with lots fun and merriment around the bonfire which was kept alive with regular supply of wood and the expert handling by Sumita.

After dinner, Deepika, Sumita and I played few rounds of Rummy and needless to say I lost hands down.

We had decided to start early for our return journey to Delhi but the weather god had thought otherwise and we woke to a dense fog all around the place. I have driven on NH1 (now NH44) earlier under dense fog and know how nightmarish it can be!! We were having our tea when Mr. Kaushal came over and suggested that we should wait a while and leave around 10:30/11:00 am by which time the weather will clear up. We agreed but decided to get ready and load up the car so we don’t waste any time once the fog lifts.

We left Prakriti Farms around 11:30 am and all three vehicles were cruising in tandem till we reached the first toll plaza from where Basu’s and Dutt’s moved ahead courtesy the FasTag while we had to clear the long line of vehicles at the cash lane. Then came the inevitable twist in our journey, Deepika was navigating when we reached a fork where the right lane was taking curving flyover and the left going straight and she read the Google Map wrong and we took the left lane to enter the very crowded and potholed city road instead of the bypass. There was no option but to go forward and took the road to Mohali city and after lots of left-right turns finally hit the NH205 once again.

While going we had noticed makeshift shops on the highway selling fresh jaggery and had decided to pick up some on our way back. We stopped at one such shop where Sumita picked up 5kg and Deepika 2kg and I bought 500gm of freshly made peanut-jaggery gajjak.

Rest of the journey back was uneventful barring the fact that if Google Map decides to take you through a particular route, howsoever you may try to avoid, it will surely guide you to that route only. Upon entering Delhi, I wanted to take the eastern side of the Ring Road via Alipur-ISBT-Kashmere Gate-Rajghat while Google wanted us to take the western part of the road through Ashok Vihar-Wazirpur-Punjabi Bagh-Dhaulakuan and it smartly managed to do that eventually as in the darkness of wintery night I did not wanted to do any bravado and be lost in the foggy weather.

We reached home around 7:30pm and even after much cajoling Sumita didn’t stay back and left for her home in Gurugram. Deepika & I went to see her ailing uncle residing nearby who was delighted to see us and after spending an hour there we came back totally exhausted but happy holidaying with friends.

It was good that Sumita left for her home in the evening itself because the following morning fog descended with a vengeance!!!

Matangini Hazra – The Unsung Revolutionary

The first bullet hit her on the left arm making her whole body shiver in pain but she would not let the flag of her beloved motherland touch the ground. She dropped the bugle from her right hand to take hold of the flag and raised it as high as she could and shouted at the top of her voice, “Vande Mataram”. The next bullet hit her right arm… she sat down and hugged the flag post as if she was holding her child to her bosom. The coward police officer of British India Govt. Anil Bhattacharya aimed his gun at her temple and pulled the trigger. As the bullet hit her to take her life away from the body, her dying voice once again said “Vande Mataram” almost whispering. Then everything became dark… the red blood of Matangini Hazra, the revolutionary was soaked up by mother earth.

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She was the youngest daughter of Thakurdas Maity & Bhagawati Devi (they shared the name of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s parents!), born on 17th November 1869 (the date is disputed, though)in village Hogla near Tamluk town.

At the age of only 12 years, Thakurdas married her off to the wealthy farmer Trilochan Hazra of the neighboring village, Alinaan. At the time of marriage, Trilochan was 60 years old and this was his second marriage. Six years into the marriage, Trilochan passed away leaving a large family from his first marriage and a young widow of 18 years. The family of Trilochan threw her out of the house forcing her take shelter in a hut in the nearby field. She started working in the field as a laborer to make ends meet.

Matangini started living a life of ascetic in a Spartan surrounding. She was touched by the words of Swami Vivekananda… “From now to the next 50 years, the only God you should pray to is your Motherland… you should eat, drink and live for the Motherland and die for her as well”. Matangini Hazra started with social service living amidst the poorest of the poor and trying alleviating their pain and discomfort. While at this, she came in contact with the Congress Leader of Shiuri village, Gunadhar Bhowmick and he in turn introduced her to the senior Congress Leaders Ajoy Mukhopadhyay and Satish Samanta. They told her about the preaching of Mahatma Gandhi and the non-violent agitation that Congess under his leadership was carrying out. She was influenced by the teaching of Gandhiji and started spreading the words as she travelled from village to village for her social work. She was fondly called “Gandhi-Buri” or Old Woman Gandhi. Matangini Hazra realized that only a free nation can bring happiness and prosperity to its subjects.

From 1920 to 1942, she became a regular participant in the meetings and agitation that Congress campaigned against the British Govt of India. She was a Keynote Speaker at many of the Conventions. From Salt Satyagraha to Taxation Banning Agitation or raising the Indian Flag at the British Govt establishments like the courthouse or showing the black flag to the Governor-General, she was always at the forefront of the movement. And in the process she had to face the police brutality and torture many a times. Once after the Judge pronounced her guilty and served her a jail term she said, “There is no better glory than to be punished for loving your country and serving the downtrodden.” She spent 6 months in the jail of Behrampur (Murshidabad) and another 2 months in Hijli jail.

It’s a pity that in our school history books, there is only a passing mention of Matangini Hazra and other freedom fighters. She was a member of the Indian National Congress but was not part of any revolutionary or social reformist group; her motto was to fight against the British rule and make the country independent. She was one of the fearless fighters up against the mighty British Empire. Although she was a follower of Gandhi and his non-violent movement, she never shied from participating in armed conflict with the authorities. Therefore, there was no melodrama in her death but the final culmination of love for the country and the fellow countrymen. She led the mob of freedom fighters to take control of the Tamluk Police Station and the when the police opened fire to disperse the crowd, she said, “March forward… the police station is up ahead and not behind… don’t retreat my friends… I will move forward only and that means the death waits for me, so be it… Vande Mataram.”

A popper and uneducated village woman had shown us that with WILL and DETERMINATION one can do wonders. Her martyrdom on 29th September 1942 had an impact on the fight for independence that finally paved way for the Independent India on 15th August 1947, almost five years after Matangini Hazra laid down her life for Mother India.

Image Courtesy: Google Images

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar

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Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, a name every Bong child knows from the heart. Because of him, I am able to read, write and speak in Bengali as did my parents and their parents. The Bornoporichoy Part 1 & 2 (Introduction to Alphabets) is an essential book that’s every Bengali child’s first book, penned by Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar.

There are many stories about him that floats around including how he studied under the lamppost during the night or he learnt counting seeing the milestones etc. I am not going to repeat them here but tell you about his last days.

The sunset years of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar wasn’t a very happy one. He was visibly upset with the behavior of his eldest and only son Narayanchandra and in 1872, disowned him severing all relations with him. A few days later his wife too passed away and he was all alone. He wanted to have solitude and moved back to his village from Kolkata. However, peace eluded him even in the village and he became restless.

He travelled to the west and reached a small non-descriptive sleepy town called Kamartand in now Jharkhand state. There he bought a villa with garden spread over 5.6 acres at a (then) princely sum of Rs.500/- from a recently widowed British lady. After renovating the building, he named it Nandankanan. It had a large hall for the night school and a bedroom and a study besides kitchen etc. He planted saplings of Kishanbhog Mango right at the entrance of the gated villa and another sapling of Bhagalpuri Mango at another corner. He kept a gardener called Kali Mandal to look after the garden. He checked the proof of Bornoporichoy Part 3 as well as of Sita’r Bonobas while living there.

According to legendary Bengali author Shri Sunil Gangopadhyay, the Bongs pronounced the name as Kormata but actually it is KORMATAND which means raised land (tand) of a certain Santhal Boatman named Korma, that does not get flooded ever. Karmatand happens to be in Jamtara District of Jharkhand in the border of West Bengal, a Santhal dominated area popularly known as Santhal Pargana and Vidyasagar was very happy and enjoyed the company of the locals. He used say that the Santhals are very innocent people and always speak the truth. He had decided to spend the rest of his life at Kamartand but that did not happen. He had to travel to Kolkata quite a few times on work or for health reasons and ultimately died in Kolkata.

Ishwarchandra became friends with the simple and innocent Santhals within a short time of his setting up of residence in Kormatand. Large number of Santhals would come to him in the morning to sell him corns from their field and he would buy them in lots. In the evening while returning from the days labour at the field, the Santhals would come to him ask to be fed and Vidyasagar would bring out the corns that he bought from them in the morning. All would enjoy the roasted corns as the Sun would hide behind the distant hills.

Ishwarchandra would provide homeopathic treatment to the poor Santhals and became their life savior in a short period of time. He would spend time with the cholera patient and treat them to health again. He was very impressed with the Santhals, the people of the soil who were without any cunning and complexities. He would buy new clothes for them around the festival time like Durga Puja and provide blankets and warm clothing to them during the winters.

His brother, Shambhucharan, once said, “Ishwarchandra would treat the patients through Homeopathic medicine and also provide basic food like fruits, sabudana, sugar-crystals etc starting early morning till about 10 am. Then in the afternoon, he would go to their huts to see their progress. The Santhal’s would be delighted to see him and share their food with him.”

According to Shambhucharan, Vidyasagar loved the simple and frugal food offered by the Santhal’s than the elaborate banquette presented by the rich landlords of Bengal in his honor. He wanted to spend the rest of his life in the bountiful natural greens of Kormatand among the simple hearted Santhals. He was overwhelmed by their simplicity and complex free life just like Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay.

Ishwarchandra spent almost 17 years in Kormatand but due to falling health had to return to Kolkata in 1890. There are lot of memories attached to the Karmatand Railway Station as well. Once a traveler upon disembarking at the station started shouting for a porter to carry his luggage. The small station did not have any porter at that time, so Vidyasagar acted as porter and carried the luggage of the harried traveler. When the person got to know the real identity of Vidyasagar, he was profusely apologetic and asked for his mercy. Vidyasagar assured him that he has not taken any offence rather was pleased to be of his help.

Kamartand Railway Station along with the town has been named as Vidyasagar in honor of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and has helped in the development in keeping with stature of the person that he was. The railway authorities, recently painted the entire station with the life story of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar to commemorate his stay in Komartand.

After the death of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, his estranged son, Narayanchandra sold the Nandankanan to a businessman of Kolkata named Mr. Mullick who never bothered to either visit the place or keep it in good stead. As a result, the house started crumbling down in the face of non-maintenance. Then in 1938, a group of Bengali influential gentry formed Bengal Association of Bihar (Bihar Bangali Samiti) and repurchased Nandankanan from the Mullicks for Rs.24000/- and restored the place back to its old glory. They started a school for the girls in the name Vidyasagar’s mother Bhagawati Devi.

In 2001, when Jharkhand state was curved out of Bihar, the association was renamed as Jharkhand Bengali Association and they formed a 11 member committee for Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar Memorial. Though the old dispensary of Vidyasagar does not exist anymore, there is now a well equipped full fledged hospital called Vidyasagar Homeo Chikitsalaya. Every year, the association celebrate 3 events in the life of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, 29th March as Gurudakshina Divas, 29th July his Mahaprayan Divas and 26th September, his birth anniversary. The celebrations are very simple without any fanfare, away from the hustle bustle of the city in the midst of the nature and amongst the simple hearted innocent Santhals, just what Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar would have loved.

Content courtesy: ABP (Bengali) Net Version

Naming of Kolkata Streets & Places

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I have very thin line of linkage with the so-called city of joy – Kolkata with few connected relations and friends. My parents moved to the north long before the partition and were happily settled in Delhi where I was born and raised. Therefore, when I got this piece in a messaging app, it intrigued me and I decided to spread it further to my non-Bengali friends…

There is always some intriguing story behind the old names of the streets or localities across the world based on some anecdotes and Kolkata is no different in this regard…

Bagbazaar

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The name probably derives from the bend (or BAANK in Bengali) that river Ganges takes at that point. The vast unoccupied land used to have Haat or Bazaar which was popularly called Baankbazaar later became Bagbazaar.

Shyambazaar

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Long ago there used to be a famous market in what is currently known as Shyambazaar. John Jefania Hallwell renamed it as Charles Bazaar sometime in the 19th century. The Seths and Basaks were the original settlers of Sutanuti (one of three villages that form Kolkata) and Shobharam Basak used to be a rich landlord of the area in the 18th century Bengal. He was a devout of Shyamray (Shri Krishna) and named the area after his Lord as Shyambazaar.

Hatibagan

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When Nawab Shiraj Ud Dawla attacked the British forces in Kolkata, his Elephant Brigade had their tents in the area which was named as Hatibagan.

However, there’s another story as well… Raja Nabakrishna Deb’s land holding was spread beyond the Shobhabazaar (his seat of power and residence) and his herd of elephants used live in the area that’s now called Hatibagan.

Chitpur

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There is a temple called Aadi Chitteshwari Durga Mandir in Chitpur area of the Kashipur. The Chitpur Road is one of the prime streets of modern day Kolkata. It was the early days of Kolkata, the city was taking shape slowly, the river Ganges (or Hoogly) used to flow through the area that is now Stand Road. It is said that a bandit called Chitte Dakat made the idol of the Durga using a Neem Log that came floating on the river Hoogly from some unknown place. Later, Manohar Ghosh, a rich person of the area built the Aadi Chitteshwari Durga Temple which is how the area came to be known as Chitpur.

Sonagachhi

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The area that come alive after Sun down with the whiff of Rajanigandha or Tuberose flowers mingled with aroma of the different kinds of cutlets from the street shops and the queens of the night come out in their best livery to scout for the clients was named after the Pir (or Fakir) called Sona Ullah Ghazi.

However, another narrative suggests that the area was famous for the nightly adventures of the well to do gentlemen and there was another location nearby where the proletariat crowd used to frequent after sun down. The former was called Sonagachhi and the latter came to be known as Rupogachhi to differentiate between the clientele.

Kumortuli

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When the tradition of Durga Puja was started by Shobhabazaar Rajbari (or the Zamindar of Shobhabazaar), the sculpters or the Kumor’s were brought in and settled near the zamindari which came to be known as Kumortuli.

Thanthania

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It is said that in the bygone years, many ironsmiths used to live and work there and the constant sound of “Thanthan” as they would work on the iron pieces made the place famous as Thanthania. Alternative narration suggests that to warn of the impending attacks by the dacoits, the temple bell would be rung and the “Thanthan” sound would echo in the area. Whatever it is, the name of the place is due to the sound of metal meeting metal.

Baithakkhana

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The map made by Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wood refers to the area east of Lalbazaar, then called Maratha Khat, later renamed as Circular Road and now called Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road, as Boytaconnah Street. It derives basically from the term Baithakkhana. There used to be a very old Banyan tree under which the traders from different places would assemble and do business or simply exchange ideas. It is said that even Job Charnock used to frequent this place when he made Calcutta (Kolkata) his trading headquarters. In 1794, Aron Upjohn created a map of the region which describes the Banyan Tree and refers the place as Baithakkhana.

Even today, the street between Boubazaar to Mahatma Gandhi Road is referred as Baithakkhana Road and the market thereof is called Baithakkhana Bazaar.

Boubazaar

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The road stretching from Binoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh (earlier Dalhousie Square) to Shealdah is called Boubazaar Street. There are two opinions around the naming of the place popularly known as Boubazaar. According to one, the Marwari businessman Bishwanath Motilal bequeathed a Bazaar to his daughter-in-law (in Hindi Bahu means Son’s Wife or daughter-in-law) and that Bazaar became “Bahubazaar” and later colloquially came to be known as BOUBAZAAR. However, historians could not establish any linkage or whereabout of this particular businessman.

The other and perhaps more likely reason is that there were many bazaars scattered in that area selling a variety (Bohu or many) of items which prompted people to refer this place as BOHUBAZAAR.

Much later, sometime in the 70’s the Boubazaar Street was rechristened as Bipin Bihari Ganguly Street after the freedom fighter who spent a long 24 years in the British jail and later joined Indian National Congress after independence.

Ultodanga

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In the bygone days, the area had a big Canal probably called Vidyadhari on whose banks the boats would kept upturned to clean the hull and apply tar to prevent decay. In Bengali the boat is called “Dingi Nouka” therefore the place was called Ultodingi and later came to be known as Ultodanga.

Now, the canal does not exist but once upon a time people used take the boat ride to cross the canal. There is also a story of bamboo & wood trading associated with the place but that’s not relevant to the current topic.

Laldeeghi

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Long before Job Charnock set his foot in Kolkata, Laldeeghi existed in the village of Kolikata. The court and the Mandir of Roy Choudhuri’s were in close vicinity of Laldeeghi (Red Lake). It is said that while playing with colors during HOLI (festival of Colors), the lake would turn Red and that’s how the name Laldeeghi came about. However, historian Prankrishna Dutt gives the name of Mukundran Seth and family for creating this lake and having his office-cum-residences on the bank of the lake. The family used play the festival of colors in the lake and the lake would turn red for few days afterwards which prompted the locals to call it Laldeeghi.

Some others say that the image of the adjacent Red Old Mission Church created an illusion of red water from which popularized it as Laldeeghi. Yet, some others say that certain Lal Chand Basak created the lake and therefore it was named after him.

Malanga Lane

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Once upon a time there used to be a salt making plant in this area. The Salt Traders were called “Malangi” in Bengali from which came the name Malanga Lane.

Santosh Mitra Square

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Earlier it was Nebutalar Math and even before that it was known as St. James Square. But at the very beginning this was called Hazurimal Tank, after the Punjabi Businessman who arranged to dug up 22 acres of land to create a lake. Later, the lake was filled up and Muchipara Police Station and residential quarters of Portugese Clerks of British Empire was established which was called Keranibagan (Clerk’s Garden). Later, the name was changed to Nebutala (because of huge number of lemon trees in the area, Lemon=Nebu or Lebu in Bengali) and it is known as Santosh Mitra Square after the freedom Shaheed Santosh Mitra.

Tallygaunge

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In 1775-76, Major William Tally started the digging and dredging of a canal that would link Assam with Bengal. East India Company gave permission to Major Tally to charge Toll from the boats that would use the canal and through the area. They also permitted him to create a market place around the area which was duly completed in 1776 and came to be known as Tallygaunge and canal was called Tally Canal. Today, it is one the most popular area of South Kolkata.

I have put across some of the more popular localities but surely there are many more stories floating around for many other places, after all, Kolkata is a very old city and still has many untold stories hidden somewhere. I appreciate if anyone would like to contribute with their stories about places that hasn’t been included here. Thank you.

All Images Are Taken From The Internet…

Rishi … the other one

The Operation Theatre of the swanky hospital in Gurgaon was reverberating with the cries of just born infant. Outside the OT, the anxious father, Sudhir Roy paced the short corridor, clearly stressed out for this was his first baby. The nurses came out with bundle from which the cries still emanated. Sudhir rushed to the nurses and looked at them enquiringly. The nurses looked at each other and the senior matron announced, “Sorry, Mr. Roy, your wife has delivered a transgender.”

Sudhir looked at the infant and face crinkled with hatred. The parents of Sudhir and Swapna were all present but none ventured to have a look at the baby. In fact both sets of parents excused themselves and left the hospital immediately. The little life was discarded within minutes of its birth.

Swapna has been moved to a single bed room. Sudhir quietly entered and stood by the bed. Swapna was looking at the sky through the room but could sense Sudhir’s presence. She turned towards him and said, “The kid must be feeling hungry, why aren’t they bringing him to me?” Sudhir pressed Swapna’s hand and said, “You will have to forget him. We can’t give the kid our name and that’s final.”

“But what’s his fault? He is still our child.” Swapna persisted.

“May be but we don’t want the child anywhere near us. We shall wait and by God’s grace we will be proud parents to a healthy child.” Sudhir replied with straight face and left to meet Dr. Anjali Bhatnagar, the head of Gynecology in her chamber.

“You are unnecessarily accusing us Mr. Roy. This is a genetic disorder” said Dr. Anjali Bhatnagar as Sudhir sat down.

“So many Ultra Sounds were done and none of the technicians or the doctors could make out?” Sudhir blurted out in frustration.

“I am sorry but it really did not show up.” Dr. Bhatnagar defended.

“Do you realize doctor how humiliated the whole family is feeling? How will we say that we are blessed with a eunuch, sorry transgender?” asked an aggrieved Sudhir.

 “I can understand your discomfort Mr. Roy but we are helpless in the matter.” Dr. Bhatnagar replied.

“No, doctor, you don’t understand. Please don’t get the child anywhere near my wife and as soon as possible send child to its community.” Sudhir stormed out the chamber.

The infant did not realize that it’s birth has created such a discord and confusion but the nurse could sense and in the short duration her motherly instinct had developed a special bond with the baby. She knew what needs to be done. She called up her husband Aabir Chatterjee, professor at prestigious business school in the city.

“Hi, are you free to talk now? I have something important to ask you.” Ankita spoke on the phone.

“I was just getting into the class but tell me what it is” Aabir said from the other end.

“Okay, tell me, do you hate transgender kids?”

“No, why should I hate them? In fact I love all children irrespective of their color, race, and religion.”

“Well, if one such kid calls you Dad, how will you feel?

“Can you elaborate please, Ankita?”

Nurse Ankita Chatterjee briefly explained to her husband. Prof. Aabir Chatterjee said “This is a very bold step, Ankita. I am very much with you. Let’s figure out the legal formalities quickly.”

Prof. Aabir Chatterjee was known as a liberal and forward looking teacher and his students simply adored him. Ankita and Aabir had been trying for long time to have a baby on their own but the tests have proved conclusively that they cannot. Ankita’s love for her husband just went up by few notches as she became the proud mother of the little infant. Within days the legal formalities were completed and little Rishi came home to make Ankita and Aabir’s family complete.

Aabir’s mom from Siliguri called up agitatingly “Babu, what have you guys done? You didn’t think of our status even for once?”

“Ma, I don’t think we have done anything wrong.” Aabir had replied calmly.

Ankita’s parents had come down from Kolkata to put sense in their daughter and son-in-law but the proud parents of Rishi had been adamant. “You could have adopted a healthy child from any of the orphanages. What will you do with it?” exasperated mother of Ankita had reasoned with them.

“Will nurture him and make him a good human being. And who told you that Rishi is not a healthy baby?” retorted an irritated Ankita.

Naturally, both set of parents decided to keep their distance to maintain their dignity in society.

The maid working at their house was excited to take care of the infant but the moment she tried to change the nappy she couldn’t help yelling out “Oh my god, what is this?” And that was enough for Ankita to sack her then and there.

Ankita had seen few transgender at the traffic signal begging, she decided to approach the friendly one. She explained the situation and requested her to find one among them to take care of Rishi. She warned that if other transgender(s) get to know, they will take away Rishi as per the prevailing custom. She promised to look around and within days brought another middle aged transgender named Shanti to Anika who appointed her immediately to look after Rishi. Shanti not only took extreme good care of Rishi while the parents were away at work but protected him from all possible threat from the transgender community.

With time Rishi grew up to be a cute boy with curly hair and bright eyes and spoke in a melodious voice. Ankita took him to the local kindergarten school for admission and was surprised to note that there is no “other” option under the Sex column. After much hassle and threat of legal action, the school admitted Rishi. Thus began the journey of Rishi. In time, he joined the regular school, it wasn’t easy but Ankita was adamant and ensured that the authorities are convinced with her logical arguments. Many a times in her struggle to provide Rishi a loving and secured life, Aabir could not be with her because of academic commitments but Ankita had been relentless in her endeavor. She would never back out from her responsibility towards her son, Rishi. With passage of time Rishi had shown his brilliance in both studies and sports. He is now in the seventh grade.

I am Rishi…

I am now in class ten of a all boys school. I understand that I am different from my classmates, even from other students in the school as well. My father is the Dean of a prestigious business school and my mother is the Chief of Nursing Staff in a big multi specialty hospital. I am very sincere in my studies because I have realized that that’s my only option. Still, I do not have any friends in the class or in the school. In every exam I am always second with difference of just 1 or 2 numbers from the first boy. I don’t understand where and how I lost those numbers. My mother always tell me that it doesn’t matter if you are first or second but one should learn the core of the subject with complete sincereity.

I love playing football. MY performance as a striker in the school team is very impressive but still I am not the captain of the team. I don’t know why but I have been consistently scoring goals to win matches and championship for school.

There is a girl’s school across the road and many of my classmates regularly ‘date’ some of the girls. I too liked one of the girl and told my mother so. My parents looked at each other then my mom said, “Rishi, this is not the time for such frivolous things. You must concentrate on your studies and grow up to be man loved and respected by all, not just one girl.”

I was moved by mom’s words and felt the urge to make her happy… make her proud. In the high school board exams, I did very well. My result was fantastic… I ranked first in the school and third in the NCR region. The first boy of the school was much behind me for a change. Mom was thrilled and so was Dad.

One day, when I was in 12th, while returning from the tuition class, alone, as I never had any friends for company, I suddenly saw the girl I had a crush. She waived at me and I stood still. She came over and said “Aren’t you Rishi? I am Neera.”

“Yes. Do you know me?” I blurted out.

“Yes, how can I not know the brilliant boy that you are?”

“What do you know about me?”

Neera was stumped. She stammered “I don’t know much but have heard few rumors.”

I crossed my hand across my chest and said “All those rumors are actually true. Are you doing the right thing by talking to me in public space?”

“Why are you saying that?” Neera asked in all innocence.

“Neera, in the last 12 years, I have not made a single friend in the school. Every year, I miss out the first position by 1 or 2 numbers. I score goals consistently for my school football team but still I am not the captain. There must be something wrong with me. Isn’t it so?”

“But you are brilliant. And that’s the truth.” Neera persisted.

“May be, but the bigger truth is incomprehensible and unacceptable to the masses. My mom and dad had adopted me. My biological parents had rejected me within minutes of my birth and I don’t know them and have no desire to know as well. I don’t know my grandparents from either side. They have never bothered to see their only grandchild. In fact my parents have been disowned by their parents for the crime of adopting me. Now tell me.. is there any bigger truth that you know of me?”

“But look wise you are no different from other boys.”

“Goodbye Neera. I know the truth. And this truth is irreversible. No one can change it. Yes, I like you but I am not inclined to pursue the matter which is not possible. Still, you talked to me… I will always remember this evening. Take care.”

I had hastily come back home and locked myself in my room. I was choking with emotions. My teenaged heart was aching. I had to strangle my love for Neera forever.

Every day on my way to the hospital, I see couple of transgender at the traffic signal. They are just like with the difference that they were not lucky enough to find Ankita-Aabir in their life. I took out a hundred rupees currency note and gave it the one and she blessed me saying “God bless you son.” Just like my mom.

Today, I have a surgery to perform. I am neither a man nor a woman but I help give birth to children of man and woman. I am a gynecologist of repute now but today’s surgery is different. The patient is middle-aged woman with a tumor in her uterus. It has been there for some time and now when it has become unbearable, she has come for the surgery. The uterus has to be removed. She doesn’t have any children.

I entered the OT… anesthesia has been administered… I asked for the forceps.

Surgery has been successful. The patient will move to the room for recuperation. The husband of the patient came to my chamber to discuss and understand the post-surgery precautions. As he was leaving, he suddenly stopped and said “You know doctor, when Swapna and I became parent for the first time, I could not accept the little one and forced Swapna to accept my decision. I had thought we will again become parents but look at the nature’s justice… we are childless now.”

“Why couldn’t you accept your first born?”

“I thought the next one will be a healthy baby.”

“What was the problem with your first born?”

“Actually… I mean… he… it was a transgender child. It was born in this hospital only. I don’t know if it is now in some shelter home or may be one of the beggar at the traffic signals.”

“Or perhaps, he has conquered the life’s struggle and reached the pinnacle of his career. That too is possible, isn’t it?”

“How’s that possible?”

“How can I say, Mr.Roy? I am just talking about the possibility. Anyways, it is time for my visiting the patient wards. You can visit your wife once she is shifted to the room but please do not talk much, she needs to take rest. Take care.”

Walking down the corridor of the hospital wearing the doctor’s white apron and stethoscope hanging from my neck… I am Dr. Rishi Chatterjee, the only son of my proud parents – Ankita and Aabir Chatterjee. My life could have been just like what Mr. Sudhir Roy expected but no, I have or rather the life did not allow me to succumb but conquer the adversity and be successful…

Note: I don’t know the author of the Bengali version that I received in WhatsApp Group but it touched a chord in my heart. I hope I have been able to do justice to the nuances of the original story telling.

The Summer of ’83

It was summer of 1983, having given the final exams of college, waiting for the graduation day, not too eagerly though. Those days, there was no pressure from anyone to chalk-out one’s career plan. The four of us, Babua, Gora, Chhoton and me more or less knew what we wanted to do, but could wait till the results are declared. Since we all lived close-by, it was a ritual to meet up after breakfast at Babua’s home and then decide the day’s course of action; it usually meant playing some indoor games if the heat was too much, see a cinema (usually English) at Chanakya or Archana, both involving a whole day affair as it was quite far from Karol Bagh. Evenings were usually spent playing cricket in the driveway of Babua’s home (there was no car for parking) and everyone was expert batter and bowler with Babua being the best. And some evenings we would venture out to the lanes of Gaffar Market for Mutton-Tikka-Tandoori Roti dinner!!

In one such day, sometime in May (I guess), we were playing a card game called Twenty-Nine (29), it is a pure Bong version of Bridge, played with 8 cards per player between 2 teams of 2 players each (total 4 persons). The sum total of the 32 cards (not all bears point) comes to 28 with Joker being 3, #9 being 2, Ace being 1 and #10 being 1 as well, the other 4 cards are King, Queen, #8 & #7. The Sixes are used as pointer. One has to call points between 16 & 28 that he/she is confident of achieving based on the first 4 sets of card in hand. It is simply too engrossing and once you start playing, time simply flies away. Once we started playing around noon and continued till about 11pm when my brother came to fetch me!!!

Anyways, that day while playing Chhoton said “Let’s go somewhere outside Delhi before the results are out because after that we won’t be able to show our faces.” We instantly agreed but Babua said, he can’t go as he needs to apply for MSc in as many colleges. Rest of us had no such illusions of doing Masters (honestly speaking, we would not have got admission). So, we decided to go to Benaras because Chhoton said his father can make arrangements for stay through his sources there in the shape of Chaukhamba Publishers. Gora also mentioned that his sister & Jijaji calling him to Patna as well. We decided that if time permit, we will go to Patna for couple of days too.

We booked our train tickets in 3-Tier sleeper (the cheapest) and embarked on our journey to Benaras or Varanasi. We reached in the early morning and courtesy Chhoton’s father, the Ambassador car from Chaukhamba Publishers was there to take us to our destination which turned out to be the office cum residence of the publisher. After we freshened up, we were served breakfast of Puri-Sabji in the office itself. Then, we were told the car will take us to Sarnath to see the Buddhist Stupa and other relics.

Dhamek Stupa (also spelled Dhamekh and Dhamekha, traced to Sanskrit version Dharmarajika Stupa, which can be translated as the Stupa of the reign of Dharma) is a massive stupa located at Sarnath, 13 km away from Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India.

Stupas originated as pre-Buddhist tumuli, in which ascetics were buried in a seated position, called chaitya. After the parinirvana of the Buddha, his remains were cremated and the ashes divided and buried under eight mounds with two further mounds encasing the urn and the embers. Little is known about these early stupas, particularly since it has not been possible to identify the original ten monuments. However, some later stupas such as at Sarnath and Sanchi, seem to be embellishments of earlier mounds. The Dhamek Stupa was built in 500 CE to replace an earlier structure commissioned by the great Mauryan King Ashoka in 249 BCE, along with several other monuments, to commemorate the Buddha’s activities in this location. Stupas originated as circular mounds encircled by large stones. King Ashoka built stupas to enshrine small pieces of calcinated bone and other relics of the Buddha and his disciples. An Ashoka pillar with an edict engraved on it stands near the site.

The Dhamek Stupa is said to mark the spot (Rishipattana which can be translated as (“where the Rishi arrived”) where the Buddha gave the first sermon to his first five brahmin disciples after attaining enlightenment, “revealing his Eightfold Path leading to nirvana”. In several of the ancient sources the site of the first sermon is mentioned to have been at a ″Mriga-dayaa-vanam″ or a sanctuary for animals. (In Sanskrit mriga is used in the sense of game animals, deer being the most common). The last royal endowment at the site is dated to about 12th c. CE, after which the location of the Mrigadayavanam seems to have been lost even to the devout. The stupa was enlarged on six occasions but the upper part is still unfinished. While visiting Sarnath in 640 CE, Xuanzang recorded that the colony had over 1,500 priests and the main stupa was nearly 300 feet (91 m) high.

In its current shape, the stupa is a solid cylinder of bricks and stone reaching a height of 43.6 meters and having a diameter of 28 meters. It is the most massive structure in Sarnath. The basement seems to have survived from Ashoka’s structure: the stone facing is chiseled and displays delicate floral carvings of Gupta origin. The wall is covered with exquisitely carved figures of humans and birds, as well as inscriptions in the Brāhmī script. (Wikipedia)

We had a good time visiting Sarnath (some 10-12 km away from the city) where we saw the Buddhist Stupas and temples, the Buddha idol is said to be gold plated courtesy Japanese grants. We also visited the Jain Tirthankar temple a little distance away from Sarnath. Unfortunately, none of us carried a camera and smart phones were not even dreamt of back then. When we returned, the sun was setting in the distant horizon. We asked the driver to drop us at the Dashashwamedh Ghat to witness the evening prayers.

Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses, during Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

As we were walking towards the ghat, someone called out Chhoton’s name from the milling crowd at the back. We stopped to look for the source and was soon greeted by a plumpish dark guy about our age. He promptly hugged Chhoton and they way Chhoton reacted it was clear that two old pals are meeting after a long gap. Chhoton introduced him to us as Bechu, his old school friend. Bechu immediately became our friend, philosopher and guide and remained so till our stay in Benaras. The Sandhya Arati or the Evening Prayer at the Ghat is a magnificent affair with hundreds of Pradeep or Diyas lighting up the space and chanting of the mantras. It’s a surreal feeling.

Later, as we were walking back, Chhoton and Bechu narrated their numerous escapades in Benaras and the distance/ time passed away in a flurry. We were feeling hungry and Bechu suggested we try the famed Kachori of Benaras along with the Rabri. We readily agreed. While devouring the kachoris, we decided to visit Kashi Vishwanath Temple the following day with Bechu being our guide as he knew one of the Pandit who would take us inside bypassing the long queue. Bechu dropped us at the Chaukhmba place promising to meet us in the morning around 9:30 am.

The head of the family at Chaukhamba (I have forgotten his name) was concerned about our welfare and insisted that we have ghar ka khana and not junk food outside. We were tired and wanted to hit the bed, so we listened to him respectfully knowing fully well that such advise will not be adhered. He told us that we can sleep in the Gaddi that we had seen in the morning. This was something that none of us had expected and was not acceptable either. But it was quite late and we needed a relatable story that could help us escape from the Chaukhambas without offending them. Chhoton asked if he could make a call to his childhood friend and was given access to the phone. He spoke to Bechu in confidence and narrated the scenario. Bechu said he would make the necessary arrangements and meet us early in the morning.

Next morning, the Chaukhamba household themselves ensured that we depart asap. At around, 5 am, one of the servants came and woke up us with morning tea. We were completely groggy and would have loved to sleep for at least another hour. The tea was accompanied by dry kachories and a bowl of mango achar. Who on earth ever eats “achar at 5 in the morning”? The tea was basically a mixture of milk and sugar with a hint of tea that too was overpowered by the cardamom flavor!! We decided then and there to leave the place and check in to a hotel. To our relief, Bechu brought the news that he has fixed up the hotel that’s run by his friend Kallu whom incidentally Chhoton also knew from his days in Benaras. Chhoton went to tell the senior Chaukhamba that we will be visiting the Vishwanath Temple and then take the train to Patna to visit Gora’s sister for couple of days. He made feeble attempt to make us stay for few more days but we politely refused.

We checked into Kallu’s hotel which provided basic amenities but was a clean place, moreover we got proper beds to sleep and good tasty food.

After freshening up, we had breakfast of puri-aloo sabji and lassi which would last us till evening. Bechu acting as our guide took us to the Vishwanath temple and as pre-arranged, the panda took us to the inner sanctum through a side entrance. It was noon and time for bathing of the Shiva Linga. I am least religious amongst my friends and does not believe in rituals but at the same time I have no objection to others following and being ritualistic. Therefore, it was quite ironic to witness and experience the age old tradition of milk-bathing of the famed Shiva Linga at Kashi Vishwanath Temple. There in the inner sanctum at that moment, only about 5-6 priests and four of us were present. I know of many who would pay anything to be in my place that day but I believe I was destined to be there, so I was there. Frankly, that point of time it did not struck me but now when I think about it, I feel sorry for the sheer wastage of milk that happens every day. I do not think the Almighty is really interested in such acts but would surely be very happy if such quantity of milk is fed to the hungry humanity just outside the temple and on the ghats of Benaras.

Kashi Vishvanath Temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. The temple stands on the western bank of the holy river Ganga, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest of Shiva temples. The main deity is known by the name Vishvanatha or Vishveshvara meaning Ruler of The Universe. Varanasi city is also called Kashi, and hence the temple is popularly called Kashi Vishvanath Temple. Its name originally was Vishveshvara (broken down Vishwa: Universe, Ish: Lord; Vara: Excellent) or Lord of the Universe.

The temple has been referred to in Hindu scriptures for a very long time as a central part of worship in the Shaiva philosophy. It has been destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in history. The last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. The current structure was built on an adjacent site by the Maratha ruler, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780.

Since 1983, the temple has been managed by the government of Uttar Pradesh. During the religious occasion of Shivratri, Kashi Naresh (King of Kashi) is the chief officiating priest.

Located on the banks of the holy Ganges, Varanasi is regarded among the holiest of the Hindu cities. The Kashi Vishwanath temple is widely recognized as one of the most important places of worship in the Hindu religion. Inside the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the Jyotirlinga of Shiva, Vishveshvara or Vishvanath. The Vishveshvara Jyotirlinga has a very special and unique significance in the spiritual history of India.

Many leading saints, including Adi Sankaracharya, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Bamakhyapa, Goswami Tulsidas, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sathya Sai Baba and Gurunanak have visited the site. A visit to the temple and a bath in the river Ganges is one of many methods believed to lead one on a path to Moksha (liberation). Thus, Hindus from all over the world try to visit the place at least once in their lifetime. There is also a tradition that one should give up at least one desire after a pilgrimage the temple, and the pilgrimage would also include a visit to the temple at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu in Southern India, where people take water samples of the Ganges to perform prayer at the temple and bring back sand from near that temple. Because of the immense popularity and holiness of Kashi Vishwanath temple, hundreds of temples across India have been built in the same architectural style. Many legends record that the true devotee achieves freedom from death and saṃsāra by the worship of Shiva, Shiva’s devotees on death being directly taken to his abode on Mount Kailash by his messengers and not to Yama. The superiority of Shiva and his victory over his own nature—Shiva is himself identified with death—is also stated. There is a popular belief that Shiva himself blows the mantra of salvation into the ears of people who die naturally at the Vishwanath temple. (Wikipedia)

We stayed in Benaras for two more days exploring the city and its ghats, devouring the street foods and saw Chhoton’s school and the residence where he grew up. Then we took the train to Patna.

Gora had informed Rangadi (his sister) about our impending visit and Dulal-da (his bro-in-law) was there at the station to receive us take us home. Their home was on the main road in Rajendra Nagar, Patna. The ground floor space was shared by the landlord and Dulal-da’s family of two and half members (Dulal-da, Rangadi & the little Bhuchai). The living cum dining room was spacious enough to accommodate us and the landlord provided two folding cots that solved sleeping issues with a divan already in place.

It was Saturday afternoon; we took baths and were ready for early lunch. Meanwhile, Bhuchai became my friend immediately (I have a knack of befriending the young ones) and throughout our stay he was always with me whenever we were at home. We had booked our return for the coming Tuesday on Vikramshila Express and informed our hosts accordingly. Dulal-da & Rangadi immediately protested saying that it was too short a period and we must stay for a week at least.

After a simple lunch we opted for a afternoon nap to recuperate from the train journey. Dulal-da said that he had booked some movie ticket for the evening and thereafter will take us to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Incidentally, we finally stayed there for 7 days and saw 8 movies!!! And today, I can’t recall the name of a single one except that one of them had Kamaal Hassan in double role.

After the movie which was a complete Masala Hindi cinema, we went to a swanky Chinese restaurant on Boring Road. Those days our Chinese cuisine was limited to street side egg chowmein and occasional chili-chicken, beyond that we had no clue of the culinary delight that’s Chinese. I remember having mixed-meat Talumein soup and shredded lamb in hot garlic sauce for the first time in my life. And I fell in love with Talumein soup from that day.

Unlike the North and South India, the Eastern India wakes up pretty early especially the food joints but ironically most of the offices whether govt or private usually opens only by 10 am. On that day, Chhoton woke me and Gora up and asked us to join him at the porch. He was very excited which transpired in us as well and we rushed to see his discovery. He pointed to the other side of the road that separated the two blocks of Rajendra Nagar. Initially we couldn’t make out what’s so interesting but caught on to his finger directing at a sweet shop whose sign board announced Bengali Sweets. We went over to the shop to find out what’s available. The shop keeper was a young Bengali guy but from Patna who’s family had been in the sweetmeat business for three generations. They had a shop elsewhere in Patna and had moved to this location recently. He asked us to wait for half hour for the fresh stuff to arrive from the kitchen. We ordered for six portions of Radha-Ballavi-Aloor-Dom and 12 pieces of Ksheerkadamba. Radha-Ballavi is similar to Bedmi Puri but made from Maida instead of Atta. The Ksheerkadamba is a delicious Bengali sweet made by thickening the milk till it becomes paste or Mawa, rolling it into balls filled with juicy tiny rasgulla and finally covering the mouth sized balls in shredded Mawa. The shopkeeper said he would deliver the stuff to us as soon as it comes from the kitchen and offered us Mishti Doi to sample.

Back home, we announced that we have arranged for the breakfast to which Rangadi showed her mock irritation but was relieved internally. We sat down for morning tea which even today is a ritual in most Bong homes. The tea is usually accompanied by Marie Biscuits which are dipped into the tea before devouring; the satisfaction that one derives is difficult to explain.

After a very satisfying and filling breakfast which Rangadi revealed that they had never tried before even though the shop was just across the road, the three of us accompanied Dulal-da to the market to buy veggies and other items. It was Sunday and a feast day in Bong households and our list included both mutton and fish besides the veggies.

We discussed where all we could visit and zeroed on the Golghar, built in 1786 by the British as a granary is unique styled monument with 150 steps (approx.) and a diameter of 125 meters, located on the banks of river Ganges near the Gandhi Maidan. The Golghar offered a panoramic view of the Ganges and the surrounding area from the top of its staircase landing. We also wanted to see the ruins of Nalanda University and Dulal-da suggested that we check out the travel counters near the Gandhi Maidan which operates guided tours.

We were disappointed when we found that the Nalanda tour happens only on Tuesday and Fridays as we were to leave on Tuesday evening there was no way of going to Nalanda. Dulal-da suggested we reschedule our tickets but we have been away from home for long time and those days communication was not easy, so we declined the suggestion. To lift our mood, Dulal-da took all us to watch a movie again, 2 in 2 days.

In the morning, Chhoton called Dilip (by now we knew the name of the sweetshop owner) and asked him send across KsheerKadamba which incidentally had become our daily mouth freshener post breakfast. Rangadi saw the box of sweet and suggested that we go to the Darbhanga Kali Mandir and offer the sweets for puja and take HER blessings for our upcoming results. We had no options but to agree with her as we hoped the last minute devotion to the goddess might change our fortune.

The Kali Mandir at Darbhanga House is a historic temple dedicated to Hindu Goddess Kali. It is located in Darbhanga House, Patna University. It is very famous old temple. According to ancient folktale the statue of Goddess Kali is not handmade but has come out from the earth. It is also known as Sati. It is believed that this temple was constructed by Darbhanga Maharaj some 150 years ago. The temple is on the banks of river Ganges and at that point the river is at its widest. One could hardly see the other side from the temple. One interesting fact is that Patna has seen many floods, some very devastating but the temple and its immediate surroundings never got inundated.

From there we went to see the Patna Museum situated in Buddha Marg. Patna museum is one of the oldest museums of India. Set up in the center of the city, this splendid museum was created by Sir Edmund Gair, the Lt. Governor of Bihar and Odisha whose bust is exhibited near the entrance gate. It is locally known as Jadughar it is in the style of Mughal and Rajput architecture. The main items displayed here are archaeological objects, coins, arts, paintings, textiles etc. of different periods. A fossil of a tree which is more than 200 million years old is also a must see item here.

We rushed back home in time to pick up Bhuchai from his school bus stop and lunch. Post lunch we went to see a movie (Amitabh Bacchan starer) in the matinee show little knowing that Dulal-da had plans of watching another one at night. The fourth one in 3 days and this was followed by another the following day afternoon before packing up to leave for Delhi.

Rangadi & Dulal-da started nagging us to stay on for few more days’ right from the morning of our departure day but we were quite adamant to carry on with our plans. At the back of our mind there was regret of not visiting Nalanda University about which we have read extensively in our history classes. I could sense that both Gora and Chhoton won’t mind the change of plans and even I was kind of inclined to the idea but kept silent. We reached the station around 7:30 pm and waited for the train to arrive. Dulal-da & Rangadi once again made their point more forcefully almost to the point of emotional blackmail.

Those days, Indian Railways had started to cover the wooden benches of sleeper class with coir mattresses but still many of the coaches continued with wooden surface which were not very comfortable in case you carry your own bed rolls, which were not. As we saw the train approaching the platform, I said to Dulal-da that in case our coach doesn’t have coir covering, we will not go. As the train came to the platform, we could see the sleeper coaches rolling by with coir covering. Then we saw our coach and as would fate have it, our coach was the only one with wooden surface. We simply stood there watching other passengers get into their coaches and the train leaving for New Delhi.

Dulal-da and Chhoton went to the ticket counter to cancel the ticket and book fresh ones for following Saturday on Maghad Express, a better train to travel taking lesser time. At the counter the clerk said that if the tickets were cancelled a bit earlier then few waitlisted passengers could have been accommodated. To that Dulal-da said, “What can I say, I have three mental cases on hand.”

Chhoton went with Dulal-da to drop the luggage at home while Gora, me and Rangadi with Bhuchai went to our dinner packed from Pintu’s Hotel.

My parents and elder siblings have lived in Patna for 10 years from early 40’s to early 50’s before moving to Delhi. I have heard lots of stories from them about Patna and had developed a kind of connect with the city. During the course of their stay, they have had food from Pintu’s Hotel many a times so I wanted to have it too. The owners had prefixed the name with “New” and on enquiry said nothing has really changed except that they renovated the place and while putting the signboard just added NEW to announce reopening after a period of inaction.

We booked our Nalanda tour the following day. It was a day long guided tour of the ruined institution that has given many scholars and invited pundits across the world. We spent the next two days roaming around the city during the day, saw four more movies and in the evening played the Twenty-Nine with Dulal-da as my partner.

The three of us left for Nalanda early on Friday morning. Though the bus carrying us was relatively new, the roads were quite bad with many potholes and narrow. Luckily we had managed to occupy the seats at the front part of the bus so the jerks and bumps were still tolerable. The bus stopped at a midway dhaba for the passengers to freshen up and have their breakfast. We settled for the safe option of buttered toast and boiled eggs with tea.

We reached Nalanda around 10 am and were told to come back to the parking bay by 2pm for Rajgir part of the tour. There was guide and he assembled the 30+ passengers and spoke in broken English but we asked him to speak in Hindi as all the assembled people could well understand the language.

Nalanda was an ancient Mahavihara, a large and revered Buddhist monastery, in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) in India. The site is located about 80 kilometres southeast of Patna near the city of Bihar Sharif, and was an important centre of learning from the 5th century CE to c. 1200 CE. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The highly formalized methods of Hindu Vedic scholarship and its disciplines such as linguistics and astronomy helped bring about the establishment of large teaching institutions such as Taxila, Nalanda, and Vikramashila, which are often referred as India’s early universities. Nalanda flourished under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries, and later under Harsha, the emperor of Kannauj. At its peak the school attracted scholars and students from near and far, with some travelling from Tibet, China, Korea, and Central Asia. Archaeological evidence also notes contact with the Shailendra dynasty of Indonesia, one of whose kings built a monastery in the complex.

Much of our knowledge of Nalanda comes from the writings of pilgrim monks from Asia, such as Xuanzang and Yijing, who travelled to the Mahavihara in the 7th century CE. Many of the names listed by Xuanzang in his travelogue as alumni of Nalanda are the names of those who developed the overall philosophy of Mahayana. All students at Nalanda studied Mahayana, as well as the texts of the eighteen (Hinayana) sects of Buddhism. Their curriculum also included other subjects, such as the Vedas, logic, Sanskrit grammar, medicine, and Samkhya.

Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by the army of Bakhtiyar Khilji in c. 1200 CE. It was abandoned and forgotten until the 19th century, when the site was surveyed and preliminary excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India. In 1915 eleven monasteries and six brick temples were discovered. A trove of sculptures, coins, seals, and inscriptions were also found in the ruins, many of which are on display in the Nalanda Archaeological Museum, situated nearby. Nalanda is now a notable tourist destination, and a part of the Buddhist tourism circuit. (Wikipedia)

On 25 November 2010 the Indian government, through an Act of Parliament, resurrected the ancient university through the Nalanda University Bill, and subsequently a new Nalanda University was established. It has been designated as an “international university of national importance.”

The ruins of Nalanda university was awe inspiring… the architecture planning and construction that would have still be standing in grandeur had it not been destroyed by the external forces. We believed then and now that it was a good decision to postpone our departure and visit Nalanda.

We had our lunch at a restaurant that served only vegetarian food but looked very clean and hygienic and was at the bus parking bay well before the deadline of 2 pm. However, there are always some co-passenger who thinks he/she is owns the bus and would come back at leisurely pace much after the scheduled time and have no shame for keeping others waiting. We left for Rajgir around 3 pm, a good one hour later than the scheduled departure.

The most prominent memory that I have of Rajgir is the Ropeway ride to the top of the hill to see the Peace Pagoda. The Ropeway was like the one at some ski resorts of Europe, single chair for each person and open with only a token hood at the top. I do not know if it is still like that or the system has changed to full cabin now. To think about it now, it was quite dangerous and am sure I would refrain from using it now but those were the carefree days and we had a devil may care attitude.

Rajgir (originally known as Girivraj) is an ancient city and a notified area in Nalanda district in the Indian state of Bihar. The city of Rajgir was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha, a state that would eventually evolve into the Mauryan Empire. Its date of origin is unknown, although ceramics dating to about 1000 BC have been found in the city. This area is also notable in Jainism and Buddhism. It was the birthplace of 20th Jain Tirthankar Munisuvrata, and closely associated with the arihant Mahavira and Gautama Buddha. Both Lord Mahavira and Lord Buddha taught their beliefs in Rajgir during the 5th and 6th century BC.

Historically, Rajgir has been a very important place in Jainism, as capital to many empires. The main tourist attractions include the ancient city walls from Ajatshatru’s period, the Bimbisar’s Jail, Jarasandh’s Akhara, Gridhra-kuta, (‘Hill of the Vultures’), Son Bhandar Caves and the Jain temples on the five peaks.

Rajgir is famous for its hot water springs, locally known as Brahmakund, a sacred place for Hindus where water from seven different springs (Saptarshi) merge and is notable for its healing effects. Another major attraction is the peace pagoda, Vishwa Shanti Stupa, built in 1969, one of the 80 peace pagodas in the world, to spread the message of peace and non-violence. It is the oldest peace pagoda in India. The rope-way that leads to it is another attraction, which was gifted by Japanese spiritual leader Fuji Guruji in the 1960s. The Japanese temple is beside the Venu Vana. It is an artificial forest, where one can enjoy Eternal peace and was used by Budhha for meditation, and famous Makhdoom Kund. (Wikipedia)

We reached back to Patna in the late evening, exhausted from the bus ride and hungry like a lion. Rangadi had made chicken curry as well as prawn malai curry and the aroma that emanated from the dining table simply increased our appetite by few X’s. Post dinner, though we were feeling tired but played Twenty-Nine till very late and also narrated our day’s experience.

Following day we went to see a movie (our Eighth one) in the Noon Show. All these days, whenever the three of us had traveled in the city we had used a single cycle rickshaw and never faced any objections from the law enforcement guys but that day one of them was over enthusiastic about his job and stopped our rickshaw. Even before we could say anything, he slapped the rickshaw puller and abused him with choicest expletives. The barbaric act of the policeman enraged us and when we confronted him he had no choice but apologize to the poor rickshaw puller. We paid some extra to rickshaw puller and walked rest of the destination.

In the evening, Dulal-da, Rangadi and Bhuchai came to see us off at the station. The moving moment was when Bhuchai started crying. We had to pacify him saying that we will be back the following week after our results are announced. Perhaps, he knew it was mere words… perhaps in his little innocent heart he believed us.

I have been to Patna a few times later on work but each of those visits have been very hectic and short one. Today, I regret not taking out time on such occasions to visit Rangadi-Dulal-da even for a short while. As I was writing this, lots of memories came flooding to me… very joyous… very precious ones that will remain etched till the end.

The Summer of ’83 is dedicated to the memory of Rangadi who left us last year after bravely fighting the treacherous disease called cancer. I am sure that her loving and noble soul is now united with The Paramatma in eternal peace. Om Shanti.