Malay Roy Choudhury, My Dad-----Anushree Prashant
It is almost as if I can see him growing up. Feel his desperation and his need for independence. His solitary soul forcing him to try to break away, repeatedly, unsuccessfully from all the ties that bound him. The responsibility and the love for his family, and his writing, like stretched elastic, playing a tug-o-war amongst themselves.
My grandfather was no mean storyteller, but the most enjoyment I got was from hearing about Bapi’s escapades. Thakuma, my grandmother, felt, understood and forgave his spirit, loved him and was always afraid for him. I could always sense it in her voice. And at the same time, I believe, she felt an inordinate amount of pride at his repeated jaunts; when she would be scared to death fearing the worst, and also, hoping that this time round his desire for freedom would have been satiated.
I remember the quiet pride in my grandfather’s voice, as he would reminisce about Bapi, on the quiet evenings and weekends when he would teach me the rudiments of photography in the darkroom, after school hours, interspersed with terse directions. And then in the bright light outside, he would talk angrily about how Bapi gave Thakuma a scare when he was seventeen. He had hitched a ride atop a truck to
I can see Bapi, ten year old, with his pockets full of pebbles and dead decaying frogs, rats and chicks, he might have collected for the pleasure of doing so, and then as soon forgot about them. I can still see the amusement in Thakuma’s eyes, as she recalled to me, about the discovery of the decaying remains. I never saw the disgust that might have been more natural on her part when she had to wash the smell out from those clothes.
Dadu, my grandfather, was proud that his younger son had the intellect to choose Rural Development and Agricultural Banking as his career, and had not joined him in the family business. I wonder if he ever felt the lack of not having either of his two sons join. But he never showed it. Seen through the hazy pupils of my grandparent’s eyes, Bapi assumed almost mammoth proportions. And he became the idol. I wished to emulate.
My story-time was in the afternoons after lunch or at night, when I would sit patiently for Dadu or Thakuma to slowly talk their eternal ‘paan’ (betel leaf). The stories were many and varied, from the ‘Panchatantra’ to the ‘Mahabharata’, from Sukumar Ray’s nonsense verse to those they created themselves as the story progressed. But my most favourite ones were about the antics and escapades of my father.
About the time, when as a small child Bapi had been befriended by a Muslim bangle maker, and would get home coloured bangle pieces of glass in his pockets for a week till he had hurt himself enough while unloading them on my unsuspecting Thakuma, or probably because he had tired of the pastime. Or about the time when, he was sent out to buy a bottle of mustard oil, he found the chore suddenly becoming fun, as the shop keeper fished out a dead rat from the can of oil before filling his bottle. He recounted it with such glee, I wonder the feelings that this news might have evoked in my grandparents at the time, whether they had already consumed the oil or it was awaiting consumption. Knowing Bapi, I am sure he would have told, after they had consumed it, just to see whether one felt any after-effects of consuming poisoned oil.
Bapi recalled the poverty of his childhood days with a fair amount of nostalgia, always with a far away look in his eyes, which never showed any sorrow, but instead a lot of joy at the incidents he remembered of those times and which he took a delight in sharing with us. He always recounted the ones when he had either evoked laughter or even when he had been able to enjoy himself, never the ones that might let us have a taste of the grim realities of those times. In his way, he could rouse within us a feeling of delight, as yet unsurpassed by any storyteller I have met since then.
I was very young, when once he said, in answer to a comment made by a relative, with complete disinterest, that no one has a right to claim as inheritance, that one has not worked hard and sweated for. Looking back, it seems to me that I grew up that day, in that single moment and learnt to hold my head that much higher. Today when I recollect those words, I do so with the knowledge and the pride that he sincerely followed what he preached even unconsciously.
But he nevertheless was hurt, when he learnt that our near-relative, took away everything. He never felt bad about the loss of the monetary value of the property. But that, even his inheritance of memories within those walls were broken down to accommodate the dowry from newest addition to the family. And he and his beloved parents, like just so much dust, were swept away and washed out even from the minds of the nephews and niece who he had cherished and loved as his own kin. I would like to claim that he recovered from this utter disillusionment, but in truth that would be a falsity.
As far back as I can, I remember the far away look in his eyes, when he would be lost to everything around him; when people around him assumed the form of furniture, when their conversation was like the transistor radio, blasting away ephemeral and vacuous messages; when he would look through the person opposite him with his unseeing eyes, all the while concentrating on capturing that elusive thought whirling around in his mind like a transitory snowflake.
I also remember the time when he would come to pick me up from school, standing in the shade of an accommodating tree, be completely lost in his own world. He would come to with a jerk, when I tugged at his shirt, and would sheepishly ask me how long I had been standing there. My brother and I always recollect those moments with great happiness, as I could chat with my friends for that extra bit of time, and my brother could play the fool to his heart’s content, and Bapi would not come to know, till we reminded him of our existence.
But our mother must have found this trait particularly wearying and hard to comprehend. Sometimes she would get irritated, and then my brother and I would gang up against her and have a lot of fun pulling her leg. And sometimes she would feel sad and lonely; at those times we would try to cheer her up and amuse her, and try to take her mind away from the thoughts within.
Our mother always came across as ambitious, never for herself, but for her husband and children. She could never understand the moods and vagaries, eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of Bapi, and always had to explain them to herself, giving improbable and plausible reasons for his maverick behavior. Mummy has taken a long time to understand Bapi, almost her entire married life. That too she only did so through trying to understand me. I am quite like Bapi.
He let me run free, as he himself wanted to be, away from all tries and trammels of civilization but never could be. I read his poems when still in the process of learning my Bengali alphabet. I formed words and images slowly in my mind, and read his much acclaimed poems of Medhar Batanukul Ghungoor, and felt the thrill of immediately being transported to higher echelons, among the clouds. I learnt all about visual and sound poetry from reading Bapi’s works. His metaphors and picturesque imagery still enthralls me. He could bring to life the most common phenomena, with so much zest. Each word pieced together with utmost care, placed carefully on the tracery of his work; almost like pointillism. And they would turn out to be unique masterpieces.
I grew up under his shade, but never under his shadow, as , with apt timely criticism he would immediately drive me to better my work, be it in academics or otherwise. One harsh word and I would try to supersede my own goals and surpass his expectations of me. I always looked at myself through Bapi’s eyes, trying as hard as I could to win his approval and be a person of merit. Always racing to run ahead of his ambitions for me, striving, but never quite succeeding. But it has made me stronger, built in me a spine of stainless steel, able to bear sorrows, and joy with equanimity.
I am thankful to him for being the way he always has been, and hope he continues to inspire me and be there always, for me.
(Reprinted from Malay Roychoudhury Compendium (2001) edited by Murshid A.M. and Arabinda Pradhan. Anushree Prashant lives in