Thanks to my mother, who ensured that the summer vacation was passed in her village. A long journey by the only bus to a nearby centre but the kids from the capital city Bhubaneswar didn’t took time to transform into typical village kids and start running on the narrow passage through the sown paddy fields till we reached village. With bridge of every kilometre, the houses, trees and the distant hill take shape. In another half an hour one could see gigantic swings as Raja, the greatest festival of the District was around and a huge gathering to welcome us.
Manipur, a hill-side small place of Keonjhar District, my maternal village has witnessed me growing to adolescent and taught the traits of bathing in the muddy pond, occasional bullock cart ride, running amidst thick dust behind a running vehicle, catching crab in the paddy field, putting back the little bird cubs into their nest high in the tree, venturing into the nearby hill along with elders and sometimes sneaking to the foothill with cousins, accompanying elders specially Grand Mother and Grand Father to the shops at nearby village to have chocolates but was never allowed to share the load of ration back home.
Quite few times I had the opportunity to spend the winter vacation at village. I savored hot sweet potato fried in the community camp fire, spending few nights at temporary shelter homes built above ground to guard the paddy field. Those off days made me and my siblings to forget few alphabets on resuming school. I hate tears and never tried to recapitulate the return journey through the paddy field grown to the height of drowning us.
During the June of 1991, into 3rd semester of engineering, my family visited to Manipur to attend the marriage ceremony of the youngest uncle, scheduled on 07th of June. The 1st week of June witnessed intermittent rain. On the D-day it rained cats and dogs. A total black out delayed the rituals.
Just before the groom was about to step out, on the journey to bring bride, the band party played at a very high pitch, like a parade drum beating. More to say the pattern used to deter the jungle animals at night, to protect crops. As if we were going to war front! Of course, my uncle was a serving soldier in Indian Army.
I ran out to witness one distant uncle named Muralidhara, wearing a oversize full sleeve Pyjama (Long Shirt), upper body swinging front and back followed by up and down movements of his wide open hands, seemed pulling his legs as if firmly affixed onto the ground. His swaying increased in tune to the rising pitch of the band but legs still. The first thing that came to me there was no dearth of alcohol, after all it was the marriage of defense personnel.
The guy suddenly came to an arrest, spreading his hands wide apart towards the sky yelled, "Ki band party??? ... mo pada b uthe’i parileni... Muin para ... Muralidhara…" (What Band Party??? ... Even could not move my feet ... Myself ... Muralidhara...). The one-eyed man smiling aloud "Ha...Ha...Ha..." walked away, with zigzag steps, from the Petromax lit area and disappeared in the darkness.
I must add here, my father was one of most loved groom of my mother's village. His every visit characterized donating benevolently for the common causes and more importantly gratitude to boozers. That evening the guy, drunk to throat, insisted for my father's Pyjama which was twice his size. While dancing, he resembled a fluttering bat, as if claws were entangled at the noose of a bird catcher.
The decorated groom’s car and the loaded bus, reached Aunt’s village in one and half hour, delayed by half due to numerous filled potholes. At entry point there was a small river. Don't overestimate with the giganticity and opulence of water at my mentioning river. After all I am a native of Keonjhar. Our ancestors are often laughed at when they gasped “Ye Bua ... Samudra ... (Oh Father ... Ocean ...)”, from the rolling bus, over bridge on The Mahanadi, the longest river of Odisha. And many are reported spellbound at the very sight of real ocean, on their once in life time visit to Puri in adulation of Lord Jagannath, but ended up purring "Bua ... Bua...".
I must add at this point, we, the inhabitants of Keonjhar believe in simple living so are our words. The word "Bua" is the synonym for Father. It’s a common word for expressing excitement, anger, happiness and agony but the pitching and frequency matters.
We people, proximity to Jungles and hills, are deprived of rivers and ocean water bodies. But that night I grossly misjudged the veracity of the river that we had to cross over, to start the procession from the edge across.
Driver of the well decorated Ambassador car of the groom hesitated to drive through the river. The rain made the gorge little dipper and wider with good amount of water flowing at the middle with its roaring audible where we were stranded. We were left with no choice than to shift the groom from the decorated car to a Mahindra Willy Jeep, with four-wheel gear, my father hired from Barbil, he was posted at, for attending marriage.
Descending the canyon few feet made the wheel cluttered with sticky mud that the vehicle started wobbling haphazardly and often sliding dip down few inches before settling down with a sudden jerk. The effort of the driver was explicable from the flashing of head light beams hovering from left to right and back for few times before hobbling at the center of its path, right at the middle of the opposite side of the gorge. Engine put to full throttle, subsided the sound of the flowing water. All the eyes were glued onto the head light beam of the roaring jeep that was moving inch by inch at Snail’s speed.
The first bunch of my co-passengers from village caught hold of their foot-wares in hand and stepped into the canyon bare-footed. A thin cloud blown over the moon made splashing of enough light in my picking few of them falling on their hips tumbling after sliding down few inches, within very few steps of journey. I was waiting for my turn to venture into the canyon, scantly lit with the overcast moon and the reflections of the head light of the roaring jeep that almost reached the middle of the gorge.
All these made no sense to a guy from Bhubaneswar, the capital city. I could not imagine myself walking bare-footed, holding leather slippers in hand. I put the first step into the mud with my slippers on. I was taking all precautions not to slide and tumble flat on my hips, I was wearing a white Punjabi (Long Shirt) with matching trousers for the special occasion.
Despite of my putting light, my foot got dip into the mud that I had to fold the white trousers up to my knee and dared my second step. I had to exert good effort in dragging my foot from the sticky mud for third step. With every step down the mud thickened and accumulated up to my knee that I had to fold back the trouser as if I was in my under wares.
Reaching middle of the canyon washed off in the flowing water, the piled-up mud upto my thigh. Was about to climb uphill that the roaring of jeep became deafening as it skid back a few feet from the edge of the canyon and more thundering was the cry of my co-passengers walking behind the jeep, "Mari galu ... re Bua ... ... Bua-Bua ... ... Bua-Bua ... ... Bua-Bua ... ... Bua-Bua ... (We will die for sure ... father ... …)”
Full application of break made the jeep not to slide further down but throttle made rear wheels spraying mud, as that of an over-head giant spinning fire-cracker sprays fire-balls, made recurrence of a chorus " Bua-Bua ... ... Bua-Bua ... ... Bua-Bua ... ... Bua-Bua ..." and suddenly the head light of the jeep, beaming deep up into the dark sky, jumped out of the edge of the gorge.
Subsiding of roaring jeep and chorus "Bua-Bua ... ... Bua-Bua..." made the giggling of the stream audible that was still taking away the mud, I amassed while descending the gorge. I was happy that I could pass half the hurdle with my determined, slippers on.
Every single step up that terrain was demanding mine little more strenuous effort in saving myself from sliding back and falling face down into the mud. With each step my legs got heavier with accumulation of another layer of mud. My hands also got mud stricken in using both my hands quite a few times to keep my balance.
With a last little effort I was out of the gorge with an artificial mud boot up to my knee embedding my slippers. I was taller by couple of inch and moved slowly, heavy footed to a near-by hand pump. With splashing of more and more water the mud layer thinned. Flashing of a torch by a fellow guy, I could not believe the sight before me. All my efforts and pain went in vain.
I was having slipper in one foot only.
I rushed back up to the edge of the gorge and looked deep down at the foot-marks, rather the mud holes, on the slanted wall. Rather than daring to plunge back in, I threw the other slipper aside and joined the marriage procession, bare-footed. A number of ladies with Petromax lamp over their head were cordoning for our dancing to one of the popular Hollywood song played by the best band of our area, hired that night.
Alas, Murali uncle were there!
Someone told, despite searching all round the village the man could not be traced in the darkness as there was a total black out after the heavy rain. I lost another opportunity to witness his unique dancing resembling fluttering of bat.
With progress of the marriage rituals, I managed to find a place, spreading myself comfortably on two plastic chairs, joined together, went to deep slumber till the wee hours of the morning. Despite smoke all around, emanating from the divine fire, blazing at the middle, could pick four adults from our side, including my father, snorting aloud, relaxing on their chairs, resting heads on the pillars of the marriage pavilion. The groom himself was blowing conch in tune with the divine mantra recital by the priest.
[ “All the World’s a stage … And all the men and women merely players … “
The immortal poem by William Shakespeare was a part of our curriculum in +2, Science. Before proceeding further, I must say, I am a 1988 batch matriculate.
I don’t recall how good our English teacher was or how effective was his accent and recital in BJB College, Bhubaneswar. But recall his starting every line with his head placed over left shoulder. With progress of the line the head sways to right smoothly and ends with a sudden jerk to right, making the long hairs, covering the top bald, flying onto the right shoulder, as the line ends.
Holding the book in left, glancing through the glasses, placed at the middle of the nose, plucks with right palm the long hairs, hanging around right ear, covers the top bald as the head gets back over the left shoulder. 2nd line starts. We used to put a vertical line on blank page at each jerk, to count.
I was at a training college at Mandavelli (neighboring Chennai) during probation and tried to mimic our English professor at applause from friends and faculties. But someone from my batch shouting the name of one faculty, who was in fashion of covering his top baldness with long grown side hairs, made me to shy away in looking into the eyes of the faculty during my remaining stay at the training center.
We are all players, enacting something or other every time. But some un-cut scenes are just unforgettable.]