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.

ডিভোর্স

বিয়ের চার বছর হয়েছে এখনো মা হতে পারিনি।
পারিবারিক ভাবে বিয়ে হয়েছিলো আমাদের।প্রথম প্রথম আমি আর তুষার খুব সুখের সময় কাটিয়েছি। শশুড় শাশুড়ীও খুব আদর করতো আমাকে নিজের মেয়ের মতই ভালবাসে। দুই ননদের তো আমার সাথে খুব ভাব।

কিন্তু গত ছয় মাস ধরে শশুড় শাশুড়ী ননদেরা উঠে পরে লেগেছে কেন আমার বাচ্চা হয়না।তুষারও এতোদিন বাচ্চা না হওয়ায় তেমন কিছুই বলতো না, কিন্তু আজকাল তুষারও ওদের সাথে পাল্লা দিয়ে বলে চার বছর কেটে গেলো এখনো কেন বাচ্চা হয় না, ওর মা বাবা নাতির মুখ দেখতে চায়।

গতকাল রাতে শাশুড়ী এসে বললো আর কত দিন অপেক্ষা করবো, বাড়িতে একটা বাচ্চাও নেই, বাচ্চা টাচ্ছা ছাড়া কি বাড়ি ভাল লাগে, নাকি শান্তি লাগে, পাশের বাড়ির শেফালির ছেলেকে তুষারের এক বছর পরে বিয়ে দিয়েছে, ছয় মাস হয়েছে বাচ্চা হয়েছে আর আমার ছেলের বৌয়ের ঘরে এখনো কোন বাচ্চা হলো না, আমরা কি ঠাকুমা দাদু হবো না…?

আরো অনেক গুলো কথা শুনিয়ে গেলো, বাচ্চা না হলে আমি কি করবো, আমি ও তো চাই আমার একটা সন্তান হোক, যে আমাকে মা মা বলে ডাকবে।

ননদ রিমি এসে বলল, বৌদি এক কাজ করলে কেমন হয় তোমরা বরং ডাক্তারের কাছে যাও, গিয়ে দেখো কারো কোন সমস্যা আছে কিনা।

রাতে তুষারকে রিমি কথাটা বলতেই তুষার বলল ও কোন ডাক্তারের কাছে যাবে না, পারবে না যেতে, অফিসে কাজের অনেক চাপ। অনেক জোরাজুরি করে তুষারকে ডাক্তারের কাছে নিয়ে গেলাম, দুজনেই পরীক্ষা করালাম। যত রকমের টেষ্ট আছে সব গুলোই টেষ্টই করলাম। ডাক্তার বললেন রিপোর্ট আসতে দেরি হবে, দুজনেই অপেক্ষা করছি আর মনে মনে ঈশ্বরকে ডাকছি, যেনো কোন দুর্সংবাদ না শুনতে হয়। আধ ঘন্টা পরেই তুষারের মোবাইলে ফোন আসলো তাড়াতাড়ি অফিসে যাওয়া জন্য, আর্জেন্ট মিটিং আছে। তুষার আমাকে বলল, খুশি তুমি রিপোর্ট দেখে ডাক্তারের সাথে কথা বলে বাড়ি চলে যেও, আমাকে এক্ষুনি অফিসে যেতে হবে, বস ডাকছেন। আমি বাড়িতে এসে রিপোর্ট দেখবো, বলেই হনহন করে হসপিটাল থেকে বেড়িয়ে গেলো।

আমার হাতে ডাক্তারের দেওয়া রিপোর্ট আর সেই রিপোর্টে কিছু কঠিন সত্যি কথা লেখা আছে, যা মেনে নিতে বুকটা ফেটে যাচ্ছে। বাড়িতে আসবার পর থেকে শ্বশুর শাশুড়ী ননদেরা বার বার জিজ্ঞেস করছে রিপোর্টে কি আসছে ডাক্তার কি বলেছে। চোখের জলের জন্য কথা বলতে পারছি না, ওদেরকে কি উত্তর দেবো। শাশুড়ী কঠিন সুরে বলল কি ব্যাপার বলছো না কেন কি হয়েছে।

বললাম ডাক্তার বলেছে সমস্যা টা আমার আমি কোনদিন মা হতে পারবো না, সেই ক্ষমতা নাকি আমার নেই।

কথা টা বলার সাথে সবাই কেমন করে জেনো আমার দিকে তাকাচ্ছিলো। শাশুড়ীতো রীতিমতো কান্নাকাটি শুরু করে দিলো, আমার ছেলে এই জন্মে কি আর সন্তানের মুখ দেখবে না, আমাদের বংশ কি এখানে শেষ হয়ে যাবে, কি কুলাঙ্গার অপয়া মেয়ে এনে সংসারে ঢুকিয়েছে মা হতে পারবে না, শাশুড়ীর সাথে শ্বশুরও সুর মিলিয়ে বকে যাচ্ছে। ননদেরাও যা তা বলছে একটা বন্ধ্যা মেয়ে আমার ভাইয়ের কপালে জুটেছে।
রাতে তুষার বাড়িতে এলে সবাই মিলে ওকে বোঝালো যাতে আমাকে ডিভোর্স দিয়ে দেয়।আমাকে দিয়ে আর সংসার করা হবেনা।

ফল বিহীন গাছ রেখে লাভ কি, উপরে ফেলে দিয়ে সেখানে নতুন গাছ লাগাতে চাই, আরো অনেক কথাই বলে যাচ্ছে। আমি শুধু দেখছি তুষার কি বলে, কিছুক্ষণ পর নীরবতা ভেঙ্গে তুষার বলল তোমরা যা ইচ্ছে তাই করো আমার আর এইসব ভাল লাগে না।

রাতে তুষার আমার সাথে একটা কথাও বলেনি, সারাটা রাত কেঁদে বুক ভাসিয়েছি আর ভাবছি চেনা মানুষগুলো এতো তাড়াতাড়িই অচেনা হয়ে গেলো, আমি এখন ওদের কাছে হয়ে গেলাম অপয়া বন্ধ্যা।

সকালে আমাকে ডাকা হলো শ্বশুরের ঘরে, ডেকে নিয়ে বলল তুষারকে যেন ছেড়ে দি, ওরা তুষারকে আবার বিয়ে দিবে, ওদের বংশের প্রদীপ চাই , আর সেটা দেওয়া আমার পক্ষে সম্ভব না, তাই আমি যেনো ডিভোর্সের ব্যপারটা মেনে নিয়ে তুষারকে চিরদিনের জন্য মুক্ত করে দিই।তুষারের ও নাকি তাইই মত।

তুষারের দিকে তাকাতেই ও বলল মা বাবা যা বলবে তাই হবে, তুমি এটা নিয়ে আর বাড়াবাড়ি কোরো না খুশি প্লিজ, আর কোন টেনশন আমি আর নিতে পারছি না

ভাবতেই কষ্টে বুকটা ফেটে যাচ্ছে কি করে মানুষ এতোটা বদলে যায়। আজ আমি সন্তান দিতে পারবো না বলে আমাকে ওরা তাড়িয়ে দিচ্ছে, কতোটা স্বার্থপর মানুষ।

দুই দিন হয়ে গেলো কেউ আমার সাথে তেমন একটা কথা বলে না, সবাই এড়িয়ে এড়িয়ে চলে।খাবারের সময়ও কেউ ডাকে না। সন্ধ্যার পর শ্বশুর শাশুড়ী এসে বলল তুমি কবে আমার ছেলেকে মুক্তি দিচ্ছো বলো, আমি তুষারের জন্য অন্য মেয়ে পছন্দ করেছি।

মেয়ে পছন্দ করেছেন মানে?

হ্যা করেছি তো আমার ছোট বোনের মেয়ে রেশমির সাথে আমি তুষারের বিয়ে দেবো। এখন তুমি বলো তুমি কখন চলে যাচ্ছো। আর আমি তুষারের সাথে এ ব্যাপারে কথা বলেছি ওর কোন আপত্তি নেই, তোমার কাছে আমি আমার ছেলের একটা সুন্দর স্বাভাবিক জীবন চাইছি, আশা করি তুমি এটা নিয়ে কোন রকম ঝামেলা করবে না।তুষারের দিকে তাকায়ে দেখি ও ওর মায়ের কথায় সায় দিচ্ছে, আমার সাথে সংসার করতে চাইছে না।

সবার দিকে কিছুক্ষণ তাকিয়ে থেকে বললাম ঠিক আছে, তাড়িয়ে দিতে চাইছেন চলে যাব, তবে এখন নয় যেদিন তুষারের বিয়ে হবে সেদিনই সবাইকে মুক্ত করে চলে যাব, আর ফিরবো না, কখনো জ্বালাতে আসবো না। তুষার আমার দিকে তাকিয়ে বলল সত্যি তো? হ্যা সত্যি চলে যাব।

আজ তুষারের বিয়ে, মহা ধুমধামে না হলেও বেশ আয়োজনই করেছে, একটু আগে তুষারকে দেখলাম শেরোয়ানি পড়ছে, আমিও বেশ সেজেছি, আমার স্বামীর বিয়ে বলে কথা সেই সাথে আজ যে ওর মুক্তির দিন আর নতুন খুশির দিন। তুষার বরযাত্রীসহ বের হবে আমিও ব্যাগ এ কাপড় গুছিয়ে চলে যাচ্ছি এমন সময় দেখি তুষার বর বেশে সেজেগুজে রেডি হয়ে আছে, খুব হাসিখুশি লাগছে, ওকে ছেড়ে যেতে মন টা মানছিলো না, তবুও যে যেতে হবে। যাবার আগে একবার দুচোখ ভরে তুষারকে দেখে নিলাম, তুষার আমার থেকে মুখটা ফিরিয়ে নিলো।তুষারের কাছে গিয়ে বললাম, তোমার নতুন জীবন অনেক সুখের হোক, বিয়েতে তোমাকে দেবার মত আমার কাছে কিছুই নেই, তবে এই ছোট্ট একটা উপহার তোমার জন্য, নাও। কাগজ টা তুষারের হাতে দিয়ে সবার সামনে দিয়ে বেড়িয়ে পড়লাম, কেউ আটকালো না। চোখ দুটো বাধ মানছে না অশ্রু অঝরে পড়েই যাচ্ছে।

খুশি চলে যাওয়ার পর তুষার ওর দেওয়া উপহারের কাগজটা খুলে যা দেখলো তাতে ওর সারা শরীর কাঁপছে, চোখ দিয়ে জল পড়ছে। ঘরের সবাই উৎসুক হয়ে তাকিয়ে আছে তুষারের মুখের দিকে, কি হয়েছে জানার জন্য। কাগজটা পড়ার পর তুষার দাঁড়ানো থেকে বসে পড়লো, শরীরটা যেনো অবশ নিথর দেহের মত লাগছে।কাগজটা অার কিছু নয়, এটা সেই রিপোর্ট যেটাতে লেখা আছে বন্ধ্যা খুশি নয় বন্ধ্যা তুষার, ওই দিন ডাক্তারের রিপোর্টে রেজাল্ট এসেছিলো তুষার কোন দিন বাবা হতে পারবে না, সেই ক্ষমতা তার নেই, আর খুশি সম্পূর্ণ সুস্থ ওর কোন শারীরিক অক্ষমতা নেই।

রিপোর্টের ভিতরে খুশির একটা চিঠি আছে তাতে লেখা আছেঃ

তুষার,
আমি চাইলেই প্রথম দিনই সত্যিটা বলতে পারতাম, আমি শুধু দেখতে চেয়েছিলাম রিপোর্টে আমার দোষ আছে জানলে তুমি কি বলো, তুমি যদি একবার আমাকে বুকে টেনে নিয়ে বলতে তুমি আমাকে ভালবাসো সন্তান না হওয়ায় তোমার কোন আক্ষেপ নেই, আমার কপাল ছুয়ে একটু শান্তনা দিতে তাহলে আমি সারা জীবন তোমার মুখের দিকে তাকিয়ে জীবনটা পার করে দিতাম, সন্তান সুখ বিসর্জন দিতাম, কিন্তু তুমি তা করো নি, তুমি আমাকে ত্যাগ করেছো, তোমার থেকে আলাদা করেছো, ছিঁড়ে ফেলেছো ভালবাসার বন্ধন। রিপোর্টের ব্যাপারে মিথ্যা কথা বলে তোমাকে পরীক্ষা করতে চাইনি শুধু দেখতে চেয়েছিলাম তুমি আমাকে কতটা ভালাবাসো।তুমি হেরে গেছো।
চলে যাচ্ছি পৃথিবীর যেখানেই থাকি প্রার্থনা করি তুমি ভাল থেকো, সুখী হও।

সংগৃহীত।

Vizag Vacation…

The shortest night and the longest day (June 21) happen to be our wedding anniversary. It is also the peak summer with temperatures hovering much above 40 degrees Celsius in most parts of the country. In the last 28 years, we have usually escaped to the cooler chimes during this time even for a short duration too. Last year it was Thailand but this year overseas vacation was ruled out as our passports needed renewal and we weren’t sure if it would happen quickly within time for visas, so we settled for Visakhapatnam or Vizag.

Why Vizag –

  1. It’s a new place by the sea
  2. From Hyderabad, it is just an hour’s flight time
  3. The movie Ghazi Attack had created some curiosity about the place
  4. It was the most convenient destination considering time constraints
  5. We would never even dream of going there from Delhi
  6. However, the most compelling reason was Srini, colleague of Deepika; let me elaborate…

Srini is from Vizag; his family is in Vizag while he works in Hyderabad and visits his family once in two months or more frequently based on the holidays he can club together. Since the time I met him for the first time, he had been urging us to visit Vizag. In the run up to our decision, he preempted our call with a detailed itinerary for our visit to Vizag. We had planned to stay at Novotel and had been negotiating with them for a good deal when Srini suggested that he will look into it as he was going there and moreover has friends in the hospitality sector. Sure enough, he checked out the Novotel and also the Taj Gateway and mailed the much negotiated deals of both the properties.

The Taj Gateway offer was way better than the Novotel considering both are beach front properties next to each other. We settled for Taj as suggested by Srini and he promised to pick us from the airport.

All of us were looking for a break from our daily uneventful life but for me the biggest worry was walking Rolf in my absence, even for just two days. The professional walker called Ishwar whom I had engaged earlier called to express his inability due to his sister’s engagement ceremony at their village. Thereafter, I spoke to the guy who washes the cars (including ours) in the housing complex and does walk some of the dogs in the evening. He was reluctant for the morning walks as he said there are over 40 cars that need washing up before they go out but eventually agreed to take out 30 minutes and walk Rolf. Just to be sure of his commitment I asked him to start a day before we are to leave. And as I had premonition, the guy did not turn up and his mobile was switched off!!! This reaffirmed my view that most of these local guys not trustworthy. These guys simply do not live up to their commitments and will invariably ditch you at the last moment. Luckily, our housekeeper stepped in and ended our misery saying that she will take Rolf out in our absence. In the morning of our departure, I took out Rolf for walk reducing her load a little.

Our flight from Hyderabad was at 11 am while Ayush’s flight from Bengaluru was scheduled around 12:30 pm. The flight was uneventful and we landed in Vizag on schedule at 12:30 pm. Srini along with his son was there to pick us up as promised. The drive from airport to the hotel took about 40 minutes not because of the distance but for the traffic congestions.

Taj Gateway and Novotel are adjacent properties separated by a road and owned by the same person but managed by two different hospitality chains. Novotel, comparatively is a newer property but Taj has a old world charm about it. We were checked into the Premier Room for the first night as the Suite was not available that night. There was a big surprise for us as we entered the room; it was all decked up with heart shaped balloons fit for a honeymooning couple. There was a complimentary Cake along with the fruit basket. This was all the handiwork of Srini and we were thankful to him for making our 28th anniversary memorable.

Ayush was expected to land around 2 pm and I had asked him to take Ola or Uber cabs to reach the hotel but again Srini insisted that he will send the car with driver to pick him up. He would simply not listen and said that the car will remain at the hotel and as per the itinerary we will see the Kursura Submarine Museum and the Kali Temple before going to his home to meet up with his family. Later, the car would take us to the Kailasagiri and finally to the Greenpark hotel for dinner.

We were starving but waited for Ayush to come and then went down to the Coffee Shop and had a light lunch. By the time we finished our lunch it was almost 5 pm, so we rushed to finish our tour for the day. The first place was the Kali Mandir, next to Ramkrishna Ashram; since I do not visit any religious place of worship and Ayush too has taken that path, we stayed out while Deepika went inside. We took up the opportunity to pick up a bottle of whiskey from a shop about 100 meters away. The next stop was the Kursura Submarine Museum. It’s a Russian built vintage submarine commissioned in Indian Navy way back in 1969 and had seen actions in 1971 war. It was decommissioned in 2001 and thereafter it was converted into a museum and placed at R K Beach, Visakhapatnam. Looking at the space inside, I wondered, this being Russian make how those guys (being much bulkier than Indians) could move around!! However, it was an amazing experience being in submarine, albeit on the land and not under the water!!

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INS Kursura (S20) was a Kalvari-class diesel-electric submarine of the Indian Navy. She was India’s fifth submarine. Kursura was commissioned on 18 December 1969 and was decommissioned on 27 February 2001 after 31 years of service. She participated in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, where she played a key role in patrol missions. She later participated in naval exercises with other nations and made many goodwill visits to other countries.

After decommissioning, she was preserved as a museum for public access on RK beach in Visakhapatnam. Kursura has the distinction of being one of the very few submarine museums to retain originality and has been called a “must-visit destination” of Visakhapatnam. Despite being a decommissioned submarine, she still receives the navy’s “Dressing Ship” honour, which is usually awarded only to active ships.

Kursura has a length of 91.3 m (300 ft) overall, a beam of 7.5 m (25 ft) and a draught of 6 m (20 ft). She displaces 1,950 t (1,919 long tons) surfaced, 2,475 t (2,436 long tons) submerged and has a maximum diving depth of 985 ft (300 m). The complement is about 75, including 8 officers and 67 sailors.

The submarine has three shafts, each with a six-blade propeller. She is powered by three Kolomna 2D42M diesel engines, each with 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW). She also has three electric motors, two of them with 1,350 hp (1,010 kW) and one with 2,700 hp (2,000 kW). She can achieve a maximum speed of 16 knots (30 km/h) when on surface, 15 knots (28 km/h) when submerged and 9 knots (17 km/h) while snorkeling. She has a range of 20,000 mi (32,000 km) at 8 kn (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) when surfaced and 380 mi (610 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph) when submerged. There are 10 torpedo tubes to carry 22 Type 53 torpedoes. She could lay 44 mines instead of torpedoes. She also had a snoop tray and I-Band radar for surface search.

After decommissioning, the ship was towed to RK Beach in Visakhapatnam and was established as a museum ship, which is the first submarine museum in South Asia. The idea of the boat’s conversion to a museum is credited to Admiral V Pasricha. Towing the submarine 600 metres to its final location took 18 months and cost ₹ 55 million. It was inaugurated by the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu on 9 August 2002, and it was open to the public from 24 August 2002. Six retired naval personnel serve as guides and another one as the curator. Kursura has the distinction of being one of the very few submarine museums to retain originality. She has become a famous tourist attraction of the city and has become a “must-visit destination” of Visakhapatnam.Daily visitors usually range between 500 and 600 and shoot up to 1,500 during the tourist season.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Our next stop was Srini’s home close to the Kailasagiri Hills. His apartment was on the second floor, a decent sized property, sparsely but elegantly done up. It immediately reminded me of some of the households that I have visited in Kolkata and other places in Bengal, there is no pretence here and atmosphere is always very warm. We had met his son earlier and now met his mother and wife too. His mother was a teacher in school and her subject used to be Hindi. While his wife worked in the administrative section (head) in a big chain school and worked practically 7 days a week. The son had just completed CA Inter while doing his graduation in Commerce alongside. I also got to know that Srini is a certified Cost Accountant and Company Secretary. He had also completed his CA Inter and the father-son duo plans to become Chartered Accountants, together. Bravo and all the very best wishes for them.

We just had our lunch and were quite full but still had some home cooked snacks and coffee before leaving for Kailasagiri. Srini instructed the driver to take us to the Greenpark Hotel afterwards where he would join us for dinner.

Kailasagiri is a hilltop park in the city of Visakhapatnam in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The park was developed by the Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority (VMRDA) and comprises 380 acres of land covered with flora and tropical trees. The hill, at 173 metres (568 ft), overlooks the city of Visakhapatnam.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh awarded Kailasagiri as its “Best Tourist Spot” in 2003. On average, around three hundred thousand Indian and foreign tourists visit the park every year. To protect the environment, VMRDA has declared the hill a plastic-free zone. A cable car connects to the top of the hill, the first of its kind in Andhra Pradesh.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Though there was a rope-way to reach the top of the hill, we went up by road as it was getting dark. There was a huge statue of Shiva-Parvati which is a great tourist attraction even at night and with lights focused on the statue making it surreal. There is a walkway around the park but not well lit for a night walk and there were real possibilities of encountering few slithering varieties in this rainy season. We took some pictures of the city bellow from the viewing gallery which provided panoramic view and looked around the place which had a cafeteria serving snacks and beverages. What surprised me is number of Bong tourist there speaking loudly and creating a ruckus.

When we reached Greenpark hotel there was no sign of Srini and when Deepika called him up, he said that it will take them about half hour to reach and meanwhile we should go to the restaurant and have the starters as he had already made the reservation.

We went to the Indian Speciality Restaurant called R & G and sure enough there was a table reserved for us. R & G serves buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. The service concept is quite similar to BBQ Nation with the exception that they don’t have live grill on the table for the starters but serve them piping hot from the kitchen that’s separated by a glass enclosure. We ordered our drinks and the snacks started ‘flying’ in to our table literally and we had to tell them to slow down as other members are yet join us. In terms of variety it was standard fare of chicken and lamb kebabs, grilled and steamed fish, tandoori prawns and for vegetarians there were Harabhara kebab, tandoori cauliflower, paneer tikka and chilli-potato. However, the taste was lip smacking and beyond our expectations. We were so full with the starters that there was no space for the main course but just to give company to Srini and his family, we got some of the items from the buffet counter to taste which was decent but not as exceptional as the Starters. The dessert counter had gulab jamun, jalebi with rabri and ice cream besides different flavors of Kulfi.

Later, Srini dropped us at the hotel and reconfirmed the details of the cab and of the driver who would take us to the Borra Caves, the next day.

As usual, I was awake around 5 am well before the alarm would buzz. I freshened up and made tea for Deepika and myself. Later, Deepika & I went for a stroll on the beach. I have seen that all beaches just like the mountains look similar from the distance but changes in look and feel as we get closer. The R K Beach was quite different from the beaches of Puri (Odisha) although both are on the eastern coast kissed by the same sea – Bay of Bengal. In Puri, the waves are strong and high even during low tide but here the Bay of Bengal was quiet very unlike its character.

In India, rarely I have seen a clean beach unless it is maintained by a private property (example being Taj Exotica in South Goa). Looking at the littering makes me sad and angry. Why can’t people be sensitive to their surrounding? No amount of Govt Program like Swatchh Bharat will work unless the citizen become sensitive and stop littering. And to think about it, the Vizag municipality has installed litter bins every 100 meters and still the tourists and even locals have thrown empty packs of chips, beverage bottles here and there.

We walked for about half hour and then came back to get ready for breakfast. Ayush had woken up and to our surprise bathed and ready to move. We quickly bathed and went down to the Coffee Shop for breakfast. We also packed up our bags as the hotel was upgrading us to a suite. The driver of our cab called up to inform that he was waiting at the hotel parking. For a change he spoke in Hindi with clear diction. Yesterday, we had a tough time communicating with Srini’s driver who could hardly speak or understand any other language other than Telugu.

After a sumptuous buffet breakfast (the best part of staying in a starred hotel), we left for Borra Caves and if time and weather permitted, the Araku Valley Coffee Plantation as well. The driver informed that the distance was about 100 km and would take approx 3 hours to reach.

The Borra Caves, also called Borra Guhalu, are located on the East Coast of India, in the Ananthagiri hills of the Araku Valley (with hill ranges’ elevation varying from 800 to 1,300 m (2,600 to 4,300 ft)) of the Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh. The caves, one of the largest in the country, at an elevation of about 705 m (2,313 ft), distinctly exhibit a variety of speleothems ranging in size and irregularly shaped stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are basically karstic limestone structures extending to a depth of 80 m (260 ft), and are considered the deepest caves in India. The native name for the caves is Borra Guhalu. Borra means hole in Odia language and guhalu means caves in Telugu language). The caves were discovered in 1807, by William King George of the Geological Survey of India.

On the discovery of the caves, there are several legends, which the tribals (Jatapu, Porja, Kondadora, Nookadora, valmiki etc.) who inhabit the villages around the caves narrate. The popular legend is that a cow, grazing on the top of the caves, dropped 60 m (200 ft) through a hole in the roof. The cowherd while searching for the cow came across the caves. He found a stone inside the cave that resembled a Lingam, which he interpreted as the Lord Shiva who protected the cow. The village folk who heard the story believed it and since then they have built a small temple for Lord Shiva outside the cave. People flock to the temple for worship and the cave to get a glimpse of the Lingam.

Another lyrical legend is that the Shiva Lingam representing the Hindu God Lord Shiva, is found deep in the caves and above which is a stone formation of a cow (Sanskrit: Kamadhenu). It is surmised that the udder of this cow is the source of the Gosthani (Sanskrit: Cow’s udder) River which originates from here, flows through Vizianagram and Visakhapatnam districts before emptying into the Bay of Bengal near Bheemunipatnam.

The Gosthani River, which originates from these caves and flows between the solidified stalactites and stalagmites in the karstic limestones formation, is the cause for the development of the odd shapes of structures. Water percolating from the roof of the caves dissolves limestone and trickle drop by drop to form stalactites at the roof of the cave and then dripping down to the ground form stalagmites. These deposits have developed into interesting forms and structures inside the caves such as Shiva–Parvati, Mother–Child, Rishi’s beard, human brain, mushrooms, crocodile, temple, church, etc. These shapes have captured the imagination of tourists, while some have been given religious interpretations.

The caves are deep and totally aphotic. There is an area in the caves with limited light penetration. The stalactites seen in the caves are about 0.1 to 3.5 m (0.3 to 11.5 ft) in length while the stalagmites are 1.2 m (3.9 ft) long and columns are 6 m (20 ft) in height and 0.75 m (2.5 ft) in width. The height of the cave is 12 m (39 ft) and the length is about 200 m (660 ft). The average temperature of the inner cave wall is reported to be about 16 °C (61 °F). Sulfur springs discharge into the cave passages causing corrosion of limestone. While the caves are basically limestone formations, the area surrounding these are of mica formations which are prospected for precious stones like rubies.

Archeological artifacts (Paleolithic implements) have been found in the caves. The excavations carried out in the caves by the archaeologists of the Andhra University, have unearthed stone tools of middle Paleolithic culture dating back 30,000 to 50,000 years, which confirm human habitation.

The fauna observed in the caves are predominantly bats, as well as the golden gecko. The type of bat reported is the fulvous fruit bat (Rousettus leschenaultii) – a species which roosts in large caves, old buildings, dungeons and dark areas of old forts. This species has short and slender musculature with large, well developed eyes. They feed on flowers and fruits, like jamun, guava, silk, cotton and mango.

[Source: Wikipedia]

The drive from Vizag to Borra Caves is mostly through hilly roads with nature creating the scenic beauty all around. Moreover, it being monsoon season, the greenery was abounded and the rain water created seasonal waterfalls all along the way. We took some photographs only to realize that what we can see through our naked eyes – the 3-D views, the camera lenses can’t see or differentiate and the ethereal beauty of the nature can only be seen and not captured.

We came across the AP Tourism resort called Jungle Bells and stopped to freshen up and stretch our legs. We also decided to have our lunch there on our return. As we started from Jungle Bells a light drizzle started and became our company all through our drive to Borra Caves.

The driver suggested that we should taste the famous Bamboo Chicken of Araku Valley and we readily agreed. We paid Rs.100/- as advance for half kilo of chicken (Rs.300/- for 500 gm is a bit steep). The process of cooking is innovative, there’s no oil involved; the chicken is marinated in spices and inserted in a bamboo tube adding little water before sealing it. The bamboo pipe is then put on an open charcoal fire which cooks the chicken slowly but surely. We had asked for medium spicy knowing the locals prefer fiery stuff. The final product was well cooked, flavorsome and delicious. I never had such succulent melt in-the-mouth chicken.

We engaged the services of a guide who I found to be reeking of alcohol smell and whose diction suggested that he was from the neighboring state of Odisha. I was proved correct. Getting into the cave involved going down a staircase which I estimated must have more than 100 steps and was a bit worried at the prospect of climbing up while returning. But the lure of getting into a cave was just too much so we followed the guide as he kept showing us the stalagmites and stalactites and narrating stories some of which, I am sure is just his imaginations. The guy had limited rote knowledge which he kept repeating. In the darkness of the cave, he showed us some formation using his torch which he claimed are husband-wife, mother-n-child, lion and eagle face. The one which he claimed to be Shiva-Parvati, was a huge attraction of the tourist and some enterprising guy had created a small enclosure near it with a Shiva-Lingam and pictures of gods where people willingly donated money, Deepika included.

The return, as expected was really grueling for middle aged people like us and it took some time to reach the top with couple of resting periods at the landings while Ayush could climb up with ease and waited for us smiling at our predicament. The intensity of the drizzle had increased by the time we finished our Bamboo Chicken making us abandon the idea of going further to Araku Valley of Coffee Plantation and we decided to return to Vizag.

We stopped at the Jungle Bells for lunch. When asked what’s fresh in the menu, the manager cum steward cum cashier said everything is fresh explaining that whatever we order will be cooked then n there accordingly (custom cooking). There was no chapatti/ roti available so we ordered for egg curry (safe option), karahi paneer, dal-tadka and one each of veg & egg fried-rice. The food was not only fresh but aromatic and tasty as well and it was consumed very quickly.

The driver estimated our ETA at the hotel to be 7pm and true to his estimate he dropped us at 6:45 pm but before that he took a detour to show us a coffee plantation near the Borra Caves where we had freshly brewed coffee and picked up some locally grown spices. On the way while we had stopped at the traffic signal in Vizag, we saw a bunch of houses which were painted in bright vibrant colors. The driver informed that the name of the colony is Hanuman Waka and every house in that colony is painted in bright vibrant colors just like some Spanish and Italian villages. I don’t know how it will feel in high summers but under an overcast sky, it was looking fabulous.

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The hotel had moved us to the suite which had living/ dining room with a balcony that provided 180 degree view of the sea and a spacious bedroom. There was a fruit basket and a platter of chocolates and the latter was consumed immediately.

We sat down in the living area for a couple of drinks before heading for dinner to Ming Garden, the Chinese & Oriental restaurant of Taj Gateway Hotels. The dinner was a treat from Ayush on our anniversary and we loved it. The television was showing India-Afghanistan cricket match (ICC-CWC 2019). India having decided to bat first was expected to score at least 350+ runs against the lowly ranked opponent but the Afghans had other plans and India ended up with a paltry score of 224 runs in 50 over’s. There was a real possibility that Afghans will create an upset when they started off well but the Indian bowlers kept taking wickets at regular interval and the poor Afghans folded up 12 runs short of the target.

On the final day (or rather morning) of our stay in Vizag, Srini came around 6:30 am to take us to explore the beaches of Vizag. The first stop was Yarada Beach which also famously called Sunrise Point as you can get a brilliant view of the sunrise on the distant horizon. We also had coffee from Araku valley and it was one the best south India filter coffee I have ever tasted. Thereafter, we drove down to Rishikonda beach which was perhaps the cleanest beach in Vizag.

We asked Srini to join us for breakfast but he politely declined saying that he had already promised his son to take him to his favorite restaurant for breakfast. He said or rather insisted that he will come around noon to drop us at the airport but as it unfolded later, the hotel had a complimentary drop to the airport and we readily took that option, saving him unnecessary driving and allowing him to spend some quality time with family in his short visit.

Vizag Airport is quite small but clean. We had reached quite early because Ayush’s flight was 30 minutes before ours. He was flying Indigo and got his boarding card immediately but we had to wait for another half hour for Spicejet counter to open. And then I realized that in order to keep our flight times close to each other, I had booked our flight in a smaller aircraft (ATR-Bombardier). I am very apprehensive about flying in small aircrafts having had some turbulent experience earlier. But to my great relief the Captain of the flight superbly maneuvered both the take off and touchdown later.

In many years, this was the first vacation which we took up alone otherwise mostly we have had the company of Basu’s (our dear friends) and we did miss them.