Sunday, February 10, 2013

A man and his umbrella

If there is one aspect of living in a small town that I miss, it is the habit of people doing things for each other naturally, without someone thinking that there would be a motive behind it.

We were posted in a township called Tinsukia, in Assam, when I was still in high school. Those were turbulent times in Assam, with most people scared with militant activity which affected many of our daily lives, no matter how much our parents tried to keep us away from it.

My father was one of those people who would never compromise on his principles and much later in life I came to know that there were many threats that had come his way, working in an environment that had to be tread with lot of care. 

Like is prevalent in Assam, we had a person staying in our outhouse, much like a man Friday, rolled into the grandfather we never had the luxury of playing with. He belonged to the Coolie race, who comprise a major section of the tea garden workers in Assam. Sturdy as an Ox, faithful to the last blood and generally an extremely funny man who had his own idiosyncrasies. He taught me gardening, chased me with a broom when I trampled his flower beds by mistake, climbed trees to bring me flowers, scolded my father, bossed us around and was ready to jump into any kind of action, all at the age of 60. 

We would call him Nana( also an Indian equivalent of grandfather). During those days, I had to go for Maths tuition, which was about 3 kms from our house. Contrary to other kids who would always take the car, my father asked me to walk often. In those days of limited independence, it was a great opportunity I thought, but I found myself being followed by Nana at a respectful distance. 

Every time I turned around and asked him why he was following me, he refused to answer and looked at the sky or the market in general in total ignorance. To make matters worse, he would carry a huge blade( usually used to chop trees ) with him, while a stray Indian mongrel who had made himself a member of the family also sauntered along. With this rather odd retinue following me around everywhere, I was the butt of many jokes with my friends. Much as I would rant and rave I could not shake off Nana, who would eat chana while I studied, or talk to Brownie the Indian Mongrel, while people on the road looked at him oddly.

Much later I came to know that he had had to suffer much in the name of being a guard. Nana suddenly decided to leave us, after staying with us for about 7-8 years, during which he was more than a part of the family, but would still not give up on his bohemian ways. He would not take money while going away, nor anything else, when he was asked if he wanted anything, he scratched his head and looked at the sun. 

And then he turned and looked at me and said, I have guarded her in many sun s, I want an umbrella. The shade that such people provide us in their simple ways of giving are perhaps irreplaceable..I still miss the joys of people doing things for each other on a lark.

( Image courtesy Google)


Meenakshi Malhotra said...

very touching post,Umbrella is an apt allegory for such straight from the heart sentiments. In those times people were answerable to their principles, principles that acted as soul-keepers. Loyalty, sense of responsibility and asking nothing as reward came naturally.

When I think of it everything boild down to simplicity; of conduct as well as expectations. people lived contended life which is an alien concept in present Dil-mange-more generation.

Fayaz Pasha said...

He was truly a guardian angel. We may find one in a million like him. Very interesting write.

subhorup dasgupta said...

Enjoyed reading this on Facebook, and thought I would leave a comment here. This piece conveys the values of simplicity and belonging in a way that is becoming more and more alien to our times. We are so caught up in our own selfish pursuits that the sense of being a part of a larger family is lost in the clutter. My family has been city dwellers for the last four generations, but till two generations back, there was a lot of bonding with the places our families came from. I still have a friend from my grandmother's village who comes every harvest season with a selection of grains, fruits and vegetables, like his father did before him, and his father before that. It is without any expectation or conditions, just an act of sharing the bounties of earth. Each time I see him, I am reminded of how disconnected with the true nature of phenomenon we are all becoming. Lovely read, Maitreyee.

Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury said...

Meenakshi, thanks so much..because you understood why the Umbrella was relevant here. Fayaz, yes we really need more like him, thanks fore reading and your encouraging words. Subhorup, yours is an opinion I cherish thanks for taking the time to some ways I guess some of us are blessed to even have fond memories of such people who teach us even in their life is/was meant to be.

Adithya Shetty said...


reshma M said...

Hi Maitreyee,

I enjoyed this stuff while reading, not only this post, The stories from Railway station it was good.

Thank you,
Reshma Chowdhary M,
Bus Ticket|Online Bus Booking

Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury said...

Thank you so much Reshma & Adthya too :) glad you liked it.