Grasshopper Chronicle Part II
Khai kè Paan Benares Walla
In the high school we had classes from class five to class ten. And there were three major festivals in the school- Republic Day, followed by Saraswati Puja and after a long while, followed by the Independence Day. Republic Day in those January days always used to be too foggy and cold in the morning and on the Independence Day, when the actual programme was supposed to begin, almost every time, there would be rain. But our biggest ambition was to stand as NCC or Boy Scout cadets on those two days. It was exceptionally attractive, a moment of ultimate glory. But then NCC and Boy Scout were open for the boys belonging to class six onwards. So in the lower classes the quarrel began as to which was better NCC or Boy Scout. It was almost an unending debate.
Soon the biggest day arrived. Saraswati Puja. Before the puja, a very important meeting was held presided over by our Head Master. It was decided that the students from Class V to VII would pay three rupees and the higher classes would pay five rupees each for the puja. At that Rohit da, Rohit Chetry, from Class IX and Gafur da, our AASU leader, from the same class stood up. We could not believe that they would have so much guts to stand in front of all the teachers and even to speak out. Rohit da said, ‘Sir, last year we had paid, but many of us could not eat the khichdi, it must be ensured there is no such disaster this time.’
The teachers began to speak among themselves. Head Sir had assured that no such things would occur. Gafur da said, ‘Last year there was no proper decoration. This time since we are paying such great amount, there must be proper decoration and also there should be toony lights so that visitors at night can also come and see our pandal.’
One of the teachers quipped, ‘At night who will be around to receive the visitors? Hardly any student will be there, so what’s the point?’
Rohit da intervened, ‘There should be mikes also Sir, so that we can play some devotional and spiritual songs like Saraswati vandana, that way we can turn the entire environment so divine and holy.’
Everybody supported them. Ambu Sir started redoing the budget. Then he had asked who would be there to volunteer in the evening. Gafur da was the first one to raise his hands; it was followed by many other.
We thought here in the high school the Saraswati Puja was a very big thing. They even hold meetings, make budgets and also decide whether there would be lights and mikes during the puja. No such thing was ever there in our LP school. We hardly knew how it all happened. We were only told to bring rupee one as donation which most of us paid only on the puja day, before eating the khichdi. Throughout our life we never had khichdi as tasty as in our LP school.
When the puja was being arranged in our high school we began to miss our old school. In that school we were so important during the Sarswati Puja. We would decorate the place where the idol was to be placed. Invariably the decoration would be the mountain with jungles and animals. First we would randomly and precariously place the bricks one above the other, then would cover the bricks with the grass chapras, square grass patches, which we would dig out from behind the school building. The brick mountain covered with grass would be given further effect with red brick dusts generously sprinkled on the crevices of the hill. Then we would collect branches of various trees like mango, jackfruit, kadamb, patbahars and all to wedge them between the bricks. The hill would look so wild and so real! The most difficult decoration items were the two long pinnate branches from the date palm trees in front of the Land Customs Office. Sambhu and Babla from the junior classes were expert climbers of trees, especially the most difficult kinds- beetle nut trees, coconut trees and the palm trees. They were the ones who would climb the date palm trees like monkeys climbing electric posts. They would then cut several pinnate branches from the top of the palm trees out of which only two would be used to place in front like an arch. The girls would be then busy to stick flowers on the sharp ends of the long palm leaves. But the Sirs would keep insisting on interring a pair of banana stems in front, which were the compulsory things to put there. The background of the puja mandap would be covered with a coulurful bed sheet hung with jute strings. In the main decoration around the idol there would be a stream too flowing down the hill through split bamboo reeds. Frequently some of us would go behind the bed sheet and pour water on the bamboo stream which would flow down to collect in a big bowl. Once the bowl was full, it would be emptied and the water would be recycled for the next spell. In the mountain and along the bamboo stream several plastic animals like deer, tiger, elephants, giraffe, zebra and even crows would be placed, as if all of them were so thirsty to drink the water from the stream. The process was exceptionally exciting. Everybody would be more concerned about the hill, the jungle, the animals and the live waterfall rather than the actual puja.
Our Head Sir would perform the puja wearing dhoti and gamocha but he would get extremely irritated and angry when someone would go behind the bed sheet screen and pour water in the stream when the puja was still on. As the Sir would announce the pushpanjali time, there would be real rush, as if not being able to offer the anjali in the first batch itself would mean a big disaster in the exams. As Sir would recite the mantra, just guessing what he said, we would repeat the lines as loudly as we could, lest Saraswati Devi did not notice that we were actually around. Most of us would keep one of our books near the Saraswati idol. The main attempt was how to place the books closest to the Saraswati Devi. It was very crucial, because we would keep the books which were the most difficult for us. I would always keep my mathematics book. After the anjali the Sirs would make us sit on the playground class-wise to have the prasad. The students were supposed to bring their own plates and glass. The junior classes were the first ones to squat in a circle. The girls from kā maan and khā maan would find this part of the day to be the most difficult, for they would be absolutely clueless about how to handle their sarees, borrowed from their elder sisters and mothers, and eat at the same time.
On the Sarswati puja day in the High School, our first puja in the new school, we felt that we were not at all as important as we used to be in our old school. We were not even asked to decorate the pandal with brick-mountains, square grass patches, tree branches and plastic animals. Here the decoration part was done by the senior ones. Our teacher in-charge would mostly consult the Cultural Secretary of the school who had the responsibility to do most of the things. Puja started quite late as so many things were still left to be done. The whole arrangements were supposed to be over by 9.30 am, as was decided in the meeting, but they started the arrangements at around 9.30 am and the puja was to be over and completed by 11 am and the Puja had actually begun at around 11 am. The arrangements carried out by the senior students were going on forever. Finally, Lalit Sir, the in-charge Sir, had to stop them from adding any new thing as part of the decoration. Since there were so many students, the anjali was taking a lot of time and we felt so hungry. Shankar, Manoj and Mahendra proposed, – ‘There is no point waiting for the khichdi here. It will take ages, and by that time we will die like logs.’
-‘What should we do then?’ I asked.
-‘Let’s go to our old school. There our Sirs would definitely give us some khichdi.’
Mahendra led us to our old school. As we reached the compound we felt little hesitant. Will they serve us khichdi? The students were already taking their prasad sitting on the playground in a circle. As we stood there in the middle of the ground, looking around with a bit of trepidation, Shyam Sunadar Sir had noticed us and waved at us to come to the verandah. He had made us sit on the verandah on the benches. Since we did not carry our own plates, he had arranged for us and served hot khichdi and labra. We never had the Saraswati puja prasad sitting on the verandah, it was always reserved for the teachers and the big guests. We never felt so respected. Shankar said, ‘See how tasty the khichdi is, I don’t think it would be as tasty in our new school.’
Head Sir came towards us and instructed the boy serving khichdi from a big silver bucket to serve more on our plates. Sir then asked us, ‘How is the khichdi?’
We all replied together, ‘It is the tastiest Sir, even tastier than the last time.’
As we returned to our new school, puja was over by that time and the students were served khichdi in the big class rooms. Instead of the ground, they sat on the benches and the banana leaves were placed on the high desks. They did not have to bring plates and glasses from home. There were a number of long Ahuja horn speakers fitted on the bamboo poles all over the school playground which were blaring hit Hindi songs one after another. They were repeatedly playing Khai kè paan Benares walla/ Khuli jay band aql ka taala and Aap jaisa koi mere zindagime aye/ to baat ban jaye…
Rohit da told us, ‘See it is because of my influence I could manage 10 records from Bishu da, all super duper hit songs, otherwise do you think he would give so many records just like that? He would at best, after so much pleading, give only five odd numbers to any other ordinary guy. His shop has the real demand during the occasions like this. His shop, the Super Sound Mike Supply, the best in town, has all the latest collections, you see.’
He had shown us the small EP discs – Don, Qurbani, Trishul…
At that Satish Sir came and asked Rohit da, ‘Rohit, you said there would be only devotional songs, but not a single sensible song we could hear since morning. One after another you are playing all this stupid songs, as if it is not Saraswati puja, the school is on a picnic.’
Rohit da replied, ‘Sir, we’ve got it from the Super Sound Mike Supply of Bishu da. I had insisted to give us only the bhajans and devotional songs, but the goddamn shop has only the records of all this Hindi songs.’
This time Sir chuckled sarcastically and said, ‘So in the whole of Golakganj you have the records of only this paan walla song, and no better stuff eh?’
Rohit da got busy and said, ‘Sir, I have told Bishu da to give only the good songs. He had given this record too.’ He had shown a Long Playing disc of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.
This HMV record saved Rohit da for that day.