Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bangal goes to hills (Part II)

Buried deep in every Bengali's mind is a desire to do something out of the ordinary, have a daring adventure even if it means arguing with a Jath ticket collector on Kalka-Shatabdi Express.

This is why they scrounge for the entire year and travel to far-flung places on company LTA.

A Bengali outside home is cautiously inquisitive, sniffing every dish and looking out for the multitude of cheats who dupe unwary travellers such as him of hard earned cash.

He wants his money's worth in everything since he knows he might never have the resources to come back to the same spot twice in his lifetime.

While men from other communities are busy investing in property, building and saving bit by bit for daughters' marriages or the latest luxury car, a Bangal laughs away worries about his EMIs for 10 days and hits the road with 31 pieces of luggage - including his paaner bata (betel leaf case), snuff box, lota and "wrapper" (a scratchy woolen shawl).

In no other community have I seen this compulsive urge to experience the unknown, savour nature, break into impromptu off-key Rabindra Sangeet if the situation calls for it, and yell at their wives and children at the top of their lungs in public.

(Ei Picklu! kokhon theke bolchhi amar haath dhorey thak, kotha shonar naam nei! Marbo ek thappor bodmaish kothakar.)

As I mounted my sturdy horse on way to Kuffri I couldn't help but wonder how the animal will scale the almost vertical road under my significant weight.

The mountainous road paved in slippery round boulders and loose dirt twisted and turned as it took wary tourists for a breathtaking view of the Masu peak.

I had company in my worrying.

A huge woman in her late 40s with the standard unease of one who is wearing a salwar kameez for the first time in her life, loomed ahead in the horizon, blocking the sun filtering through the serene conifers.

"Orey baba ami ghoray chortey parbo na, jodi kamre dey?" (I cant ride this horse, what if it bites me?)

The husband, half her size and only an inch taller, reasoned in a voice trembling with barely-controlled impatience that horses have never been heard of biting anyone.

"Jodi amay fele dey?" (What if he throws me off his back?)

I could almost see his eyes lighting up with a hopeful light as he mulled this possibility.

The pahari horse keeper, his cheeks red and wrinkled in the sun and cold, stood grinning at the exchange. Finally Chowdhury ginni mounted her horse shakha-pola-fitey (ribbon) and all.

It must be the healthy mountain grass that makes these beasts the sturdy animals they are, for if that woman rode my back, I would look for the first ravine on the way to toss her off.

Rolls of fat rippling on her belly through the tight-fit synthetic kameez, the woman almost layed down horizontal on the animal's back, hugging its neck. "Amar jeebon tomar haathey baba, ektu dekhe," she tells the horse keeper.

The sour looking husband (obviously disliking the intimacy his wife has suddenly struck up with the stable hand) trots close behind, torn between a desire to appear bravely nonchalant and throwing up his lunch in the precipices.

As I passed by, the woman stuttered out a greeting, her speech jostled by the horses canter. "ko-ho-th-theke?" (where from?) Delhi, I said.
"Manush-e chorey ei jinish? Ga hath pa batha kore dilo go" (Do human beings ride these 'things'? they (horses) make my body ache).

They might be stuck in a blizzard or forced to ride a mountain horse in a rocky twisting road. But a Bangal never forgets his business sense.

"Ghora gulo koto niley?" (how much did the horses cost?) My riding buddy asked me as we tried our best to hold on to the animal's back.
I mutter "Rs 200 for an hour."

"Oma sheki!" The parrots fly off the trees as her cry pierced the late afternoon calm on the hills. "Amader toh 250 nilo. Ki shoitan!!!" (Oh my god! Ours cost 250! The devil!)

I later caught up with her at the Shimla mall as she bargained for a set of wooden bowls. "Same bati set at Gariahat I get for 25 Rs. Not so costly like here. Hago tai na? (to husband who shrinks into the depths of a display of pashmina coats)



Cerebrations said...

really made good reading!!

clueless comrades said...

An almost puurrfect rendition!

You couldve thrown in an extra coupla "Eeeeeeesh"'s..

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