Experiences in west bengal
West Bengal is another state of India, different from the state of Kerala which i lived all along. the articles deals with the experiences and diifferences in life between the two states under the union of India
Life in West bengal
During the year 1973, a team of 6 persons from our office was deputed to work in West Bengal, for one year. The journey from Trivandrum to Farakka was very tiresome and filled with many difficulties. Thus after a tedious journey of about 4 days we reached our final destination, the Farakka Barrage Project, in the district of Moorshidabad of West Bengal. On reaching the office premises, somebody directed us to the Dormitory where employees of the Project were accommodated. Then the Officer in charge of that place, allotted rooms for each of us. It was a three storied building. A large building with many rooms. I preferred the ground floor. Other friends got theirs in different floors. The room was similar in area and convenience. Bathroom was common for each floor. And there was nothing much to say about the room. One window was there in the backside, through which can be seen the road and the residential family quarters at the opposite side. I always liked open air and fresh atmosphere without pollution of fumes and sounds. Luckily my room was such a one. Even though there was a road outside, there was not much vehicles passing through, as it was a kind of Township and only employees of the Project were residing there. After occupying the room, we just freshened ourselves and went to the office by walking.
Again the problem was of food. No food of our taste was available there. So we had to be content with whatever we got from there. Only some small shops and restaurants which prepared food of the Bengal taste only. After a few days some friend arranged a cook for the six of us, and a room was allotted for our cooking. One boy from outside the place was brought in as cook and his monthly payments, etc; were agreed. Then we had to teach him how the food of our taste was to be prepared. It went on for some days. Although none of us was satisfied with his preparation, we had to cope up with whatever was made and served to us. Anyhow, that arrangement did not last long. And one fine morning, the boy left us, leaving us high and dry. Then each of us took a decision to prepare food ourselves in our own rooms. So, we purchased the minimum necessities for cooking, like vessels, stove, and groceries from the market. And we started cooking. Life went on on a mechanical turn. Nothing was giving us joy or enjoyments. Simply working in the office, cooking food and spending leisure time without doing anything.
Nearby my room, another employee of the Project was living with his wife and one small son. We became friends, gradually, and he was a great help in that place so that we could communicate some ways. He was a Bengali and somewhat an old man and his wife was a youngster. He was sort of a crack and behaved like that and other persons were having not much contact with him. He was a man without friends, living with his wife and son only. And at times they were quarreling over something, the subject we could not follow, as all the exchange of words was in Bengali language.
After understanding my difficulties about cooking and washing, etc; he had arranged for a maid servant, who would come in the mornings, prepare food for breakfast and lunch and leave in the morning itself. Also she came in the evening time to prepare dinner. She was a widow having two little children in her hut. Rest of the time, she worked in other houses and whatever menial job she could find. Her life story was a pathetic one.
It was in the year 1971 that India and Pakistan had a war. Consequent on the war, many people eloped from East Pakistan (Subsequently named Bengladesh) and came to settle in India, although they were not welcome at this place. So a large number of refugee families, most of which having no old male members were occupying whatever places they could find out and constructed little huts and lived there, doing jobs, whatever they could find for their living. My maid servant was one among them. and at times she brought some of her relatives with her to my room, mainly as a helping hand to her, for which I had no objection. They were doing their duties sincerely, and I was paying them decently, and all of them were happy with me. Also I used to give them some extra money and food articles, though not specifically asked by them. That arrangement continued for some time.
Slowly, we began to make friends with the people around us. Most of them were from Bengal, working in our office. They used their own language, but we managed with English and Hindi. All educated people have to study both English and Hindi in school. Thus the language barrier was breaking gradually, and our friend’s circle got larger and larger. With the insistence of some friends we started learning Bengali also. Hindi and Bengali were somewhat similar and we could catch up Bengali without much difficulty. Also from my maid servant, Saraswathy, I had already learnt more Bengali words, used in the food area. Onion was Piaj, Potato was Aalu, oil was thel, and cooked wheat flour was roti or chappathi. Like that, I could learn more and more Bengali words. Also she insisted me to talk Bengali with her as she was not comfortable with Hindi, as she had not got education in their place. An utterly illiterate person teaching me Bengali. It was really a thrilling experience.
The days were moving on smoothly. We did not feel the difference in climate in Bengal and Kerala till the time of Durga Pooja, in the month of October.
Atmosphere was becoming cooler and cooler each day. Suddenly the night temperature began to slow down and I felt chilling at night, as I was using ordinary clothing only. Also in office, other people began to wear woolen clothes, sweaters, shawls, overcoats, etc. But we were not having such things with us. As the situation became unbearable, we had to purchase woolen clothes and change our usual dressing style. And the evenings became more miserable, as there were no people outside to talk to or move with, as most of them were confined in their own rooms and quarters. Also we could meet some persons from Kerala, working in the Project with whom we became real close friends, and they guided us how to move about in such situations.
In one of such evenings, one friend took me and another friend to a somewhat secret place where alcoholic drink was being sold. It was called arrack and was cheap. There we took some small quantity, like a peg or two. But it was really nice, and we felt wonderful about it. Once the thing was inside, we felt no cold and were more refreshing and a feeling of lightness in our bodies and mind. That intoxication gave me perfect pleasure and the nights were so comfortable, even in the midst of chilling cold. We intermittently spent our evenings at that place. Many local people without any education and culture were also present there almost every time. Even though we could not like them, we had to manage with the atmosphere in that shop. But gradually we could understand that, they were also working and earning money and spending a portion of it for their personal pleasure, after looking after their household welfare. But even then, the drinkers were looked upon as bad people among the community. As we had no much relationship with them, we did not mind about the society or what they were thinking about us.
In one of those chilling days, early in the morning, I heard a knock at the door. I could not imagine who the person was such an early morning when everybody else was sleeping comfortably in their rooms. When I opened the door, I was somewhat surprised to see Saraswathy outside. She was in her usual attire and shivering with cold. Immediately I let her in, and asked, why such an early appearance at that unexpected time. She suddenly started her daily duties of cooking and told that she had found another job and had to go early and report there at the appropriate time, and she did not want to leave me and was very considerate about my well being. I really felt the true love she was having at that moment. She could have left me and gone, when she found another more lucrative job. At that point of time only, I could feel the real human relationship with a person who had nothing to do with a master and a servant. Of course that moment was the one I felt so much in my heart. Till that time, I had not thought of her other than a servant who does her duties and getting paid for the services.
And one year went on smoothly and some of us returned to Kerala, and others remained there for some more period. And it was my first experience of living in another state, which had many differences from our own state of Kerala.