The thing I remember very clearly was jitteriness and the excitement about going just somewhere, ANYWHERE after the incessant boredom for two months during winter. My favourite season, and I cannot even enjoy it courtesy to the annual university exams. Well, I wasn’t sticking around anymore; the day the torture ended, I began planning.
“How about Taki? It’s a good place for a day trip, no?” Dad piped up. Maybe…..I was out of ideas.”If you do plan to go there, don’t be late returning home. Isn’t safe in the evening.”
Of course he would say so. He’s a father. But only the one way journey takes about 3 hours from Sealdah to the riverbank in Taki, so he isn’t that wrong about returning home early. I conferred with my friends, and it came down to five of us.
Aboard the Hasnabad local from Sealdah Railway Station, we talked about many such things which would create a scandal if I said here! Suman kept fidgeting with his camera, it was on its opening ceremony after all. Rajib told us about how he has seen and memorized the map of Taki from Google the day before, as was his habit. As long as he was around, we couldn’t get lost. Dipro was his quiet self, but was listening in on any gossip he found interesting. Tathagoto was the one who moderated our so-called mobile conference, I think. It was so much fun before we even reached the place!
Finally we reached the riverside at Taki after hiring a van from the station. River Ichhamati greeted our eyes as we sprinted onto the platform overlooking the Ghat. A number of resorts lined the road, vans and rickshaws were plying with occassional motorbikes. I saw a children’s park where a loud music box was playing, to which a family group, that has come for picnic, was dancing in glee. A boy swayed and yelled loudly on the see saw, another ran around with his mother scurrying behind him.
The sight reminded me slightly of Prinsep Ghat except somehow everything was lighter. The sky, the water, the wind in our faces. Everything was free of that blackish hue which usually stuck around and polluted every molecule in Calcutta. Like something has lifted the dark veil and is showing nature around us in sunlight-bathed technicolor.
It wasn’t like this all the time, though. Dad told me that during the Bangladesh Freedom War of 1971, the opposition dropped bomb shells and military attacked near their home quite often. (His house is in a town three stations away north, called Basirhat.) Pakistan was fighting to keep its premises in the east, whereas India was supporting East Pakistan for its freedom. Thankfully East Pakistan-India won that war, and Bangladesh was born.
We took long walks along the beautified bank and pointing towards the opposite side, thinking, wow it’s so near, yet so far. We need a passport and a visa for going across. The boats are clearly marked which country they belong to, with national flags. We could only see the Indian ones, the river was so wide that things on Bangladesh side looked miniscule. The border was maintained by a long wire through the middle of the river, attached to buoys at regular intervals. Those manning the boats must also think from time to time: we float by Bangladesh everyday yet have never set foot on that foreign land.
While walking along the embankment, it hardly felt like there was a war brewing on this exact spot more than 40 years ago. The realization was breath-taking. Then I recalled: somewhere out there is my ancestral home. Both my grandfathers were from the other side of the river and to my knowledge, some of my relatives still live there. They have a different dialect than ours, but strangely enough, nothing about that land seemed foreign to me. It’s the same, divided by man-made political agreements and compromises.
Someone among us, I don’t remember who, called me back from my reverie. “The boat’s leaving in 15 minutes. Let’s go!”
The boat ride for 45 minutes was an experience on its own. The fare isn’t much, only Rs. 30. We hopped on, but made a mistake in choosing the places to sit, so didn’t get much photographs worth showing. (At that time, I wasn’t planning on starting a blog, you see.) Dipro, Suman and Rajib took out their cameras and began clicking as best as they could. The boat started with the familiar rhythmic hum of a motor and we started to sail against the flow.
At first I noticed the river wasn’t clean at all. Indiscriminate throwing of garbage, food and paper plates made me wonder, isn’t this a tourist place? The least they could do is install more garbage bins. All of those critical thoughts swept away when the boat left follwing the Indian side and reached a tri-way of sorts. On two sides of us, the Indian delta gleamed in its magnificence, dotted by several brick factories. Mud huts and old construction ruins were spread haphazardly, bearing testimony to the passing time along with the flow of Ichhamati.
The third side was….how do I put it…..most natural than the other two. And it didn’t belong to India. The thick green foliage beckoned us from the wooden boat, promising to reveal all its secrets it was closely guarding from Indian citizens. A Bangladeshi boat was passing quite a distance away, I could hardly make out their flag from the lens of an SLR. Compared to our side, there were only forests and straw huts on the opposite bank. No beautified embankments, no street lamps, not even a pucca road, I think. Deep to some barren trees, we could make out a village of sorts, consisting of five or six houses, though we couldn’t be sure. I’m afraid the cameras we owned was nothing compared to the lenses in our eyes, so there weren’t any productive photos of the Bangladeshi side.
The boat now did an about turn and returned all the way along the wire separating the two sister countries. While laughing and describing the ride amongst us, at the back of my mind, I was constantly thinking, how can such a thin wire do what we, living breathing persons, cannot? Or maybe we did, many decades ago, fighting for our freedom and our right to be recognized. Radicalized but clever politicians saw it as an opportunity to separate the lands and people along with it. People who had lost their homes and had to bear the brunt of riots. A handful of people sitting in an office, taking the decision of the population of hundreds of millions, isn’t that how power prevails in this world?
But anyway, back to Taki. The boat ride was over. For me, getting on a boat was very easy, but getting off? I always recall another friend of mine slipping on a wet patch and landing on the butt. Holding on others’ shoulders for my dear life, I quickly bounced up the steps of the Ghat. More photo sessions ensued, and at the end of the day, I was very pleased with this out-of-the-blue trip. The Sun wasn’t setting yet, but it was time for us to go home.
A stunning revelation now.
The banks change, even the people, the shops, the pitched roads. The rulers, the dividers and the conquerers aren’t exempt from this. But the river flows continuously for hundreds of years, carrying secret and known tales, sad and joyous alike. Bowing down to the one constant Ichhamati in our minds, we turned back from the brink of India and returned.
Picture courtesies: Dipro Saha, Suman Ganguly, Rajib Sardar and Tathagoto Rana
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