[I am posting this story for the second time for the sake of continuity in the Fragmensts of a broken mirror. If you have already read it, please wait for the next post which should arrive in a day or two.]
24th December: As soon as the train started moving, my sister and I stood up on a seat by the window. There were two rows of seats along the sides of the compartment. And there was another long seat in the middle with a backrest along its centre. On that, people sat back to back. We clutched the window rods and looked out. Rail stations, trees, houses, men, and women rushed past even as they stood still. It was amazing. It was as astonishing as hearing mother’s voice through a radio for the first time. Ma was telling the story of the War of Troy. I was sure that somehow, she had become very small and got into the radio, just as the Greek soldiers had got into the wooden horse. I looked through the grille behind the radio set, but didn’t see her. Ma has given “talks” over radio a few times after that, and each time, I have found it amazing. I am no longer small, but even now, I don’t understand how it happens. I asked baba about it, but what he said didn’t make sense.
We kept standing like that, with our back to other passengers, but we had to come down every now and then when bits of coal got into our eyes. Ma removed them by rolling a corner of her sari into a soft twig.
We got off at a place called Krishnanagar. Then we got onto a blue Bedford bus. (I know because my school has a green Bedford bus.) It was crowded. Many things were written inside in Bangla: “Don’t put your hand outside”; “Don’t spit inside”; “Beware of pickpockets”; “Company is not responsible for your goods” (Who is Company?); “Put children on your laps”; “No change for five- and ten-rupee notes”. There were many people on the bus, and a goat.
After some time, the conductor came and told ma that we could go to the “First Class” section if we wanted to. So we got off and boarded the bus again through the front door and sat behind the driver. A wire mesh behind us separated the first class from the rest of the bus.
Our journey ended at a marketplace, Haat Chapra. Babul-da and Mithu-da were waiting. I am calling them dadas, but actually, I hadn’t met them before. Babul-da is much bigger, he studies in class eight. He put our bags on the carrier of his cycle and pushed it along. Mithu-da is not much older than I. He said he goes to the market often, to see buses. (Both of them can ride bicycles. Will they teach me?)
Mashima, meshomoshai, their daughter, Alo-di, and a brown dog named Tiger welcomed us. Tiger is big, but very friendly. Uncle said all the thieves of the village are scared of Tiger; they never visit his house. Auntie gave us cold water in brass tumblers. They were so fat that we had to hold them with both hands.
Their house is not like the other houses. It is made of bricks. Behind the house is a big orchard with hundreds of tall leafy trees and a beehive. (Bees are dangerous.) The place is a little dark even during the day. Auntie cooks in a thatched hut beside the main building. We ate there, sitting on floor. The rice looked different from the rice we eat at home. It was reddish and the grains were much fatter; it tasted good. The pickle made of kul was great. A rack in auntie’s kitchen has a row of jars containing many different pickles. She offered us only one of them today.
25th December: In the morning, we heard the sound of a gong every five minutes. Then we all went to the church. Babul-da, Mithu-da and Alo-di were in new clothes. If you go inside a church, you will find that it is actually a big hall, with a stage at the far end. A priest in a long white robe stands there. Behind him are a big cross, a statue of Jesus’ mother, and many candles on large shining brass candle stands. On one side is a platform. It is for the church musicians. There are many desks and wooden benches in the church. Do they also hold classes there?
The prayers and the songs were in Bangla. The best part of Christmas was the roasted chicken that mashima prepared in the evening.
26th December: A fair has begun on the field behind King Edward Boys’ School (Established in 1852). There are many shops selling fried snacks, sweets, utensils, agricultural tools, clothes, and knick-knacks for decorating homes. There are merry-go-rounds and a Ferris wheel.
31st December: I love the Ferris wheel most, although it is scary and I get a funny feeling in the head when the basket tumbles down. My next favourite is shooting air guns. One day, I had spent all my cash recklessly and had no money for the Ferris wheel. As I stood before the Ferris wheel and watched it, a gentleman gave me a two-anna coin. I took it and took a ride. When I told ma about this, she became angry, unnecessarily. After all, I didn’t ask the gentleman to give me two annas!
Every afternoon during the last few days, there were contests where farmers placed their flowers, vegetables, cows and goats before judges. Auntie got a prize for a potted dahlia plant, and uncle got the prize for the biggest pumpkin in the show. There were also huge ash gourds and aubergines.
In the evenings, the fair ground came alive with magicians, jugglers and talking dolls under Petromax lights. (I forgot to say: there is no electricity in Chapra.) The magic show was not good. Babul-da could figure out most of the tricks. But how did the doll talk? How did it understand the questions asked by the audience?
We went to the fair all by ourselves. In a village, things are different. Children go round without an adult watching over them all the time.
I didn’t cry when we left.