Life and happiness

Every morning I walk my daughter to the bus stop from where she gets on to her school bus. Most days after her bus leaves I walk a few steps to a small makeshift shop to buy the daily supply of milk and bread. This shop is manned by a man who has crossed his prime, I call him ‘uncle’. Apart from being on the later side of life, he is also partially blind. He wears this jacket with multiple pockets, each for a different denomination of the currency. One pocket for Re 1 coins, one pocket for Re.2 coins, one for 10 Rupees, one for 20, a different one for Rs. 100 and so on.

Small school going kids would stop to buy a cream cracker on their way to school, senior citizens on their early morning walk would stop by his shop for a bread and lots of chit chat, the always on a hurry office goer would hurriedly pick his brand of bread/butter or biscuits ( he lets you pick your stuff) and “Uncle” would always greet every one with a smile and a funny line or two, his imparity never a hindrance in his smile.

On quite a few times I noticed that some of the customers would come with bigger currency denomination like a Rs.500 or a Rs.2000 note. Uncle would do a quick mental calculation, rack his multiple pockets, feel the currency with his fingers and tender the exact change to the customer. But sometimes, being early mornings, he would be short of the change to return to the customer. He would then smile at the customer and say, “ take what you need and pay me tomorrow when you come”.

I have seen him saying this to customers quite a few times and each such time would leave me a little anxious, what if they don’t come back tomorrow? I would think.

Distressed by my anxiety and unable to hold my curiosity, finally I asked him one day, “Uncle, how do you remember who owes you what ? I have never seen you note it down anywhere. Do they really come back next day to pay you. Most shopkeepers would keep the money and tell the customer to adjust the change next time but you do the opposite, you will not be able to recognize them again.”

He gave me his usual smile and said, “ No I don’t remember who owes me what. Sometimes they come back and sometimes they may not even come back. I don’t keep a track.”

“But that means you are losing money to unscrupulous people.”, I said.

He smiled again and said, “ Nobody gets anything before his time and no one can get anything more than what is destined to them. I have lived my life honestly and have tried to be happy with whatever I have. So if they don’t come back , I don’t feel bothered. I have done my bit. I have tried to educate my children the best way I would, they are both in college now.” He say quite proudly and continues, “How they use their education and their life is their destiny. I have done my bit. Those who don’t pay me will have their destiny to live, why should I bother about them. He has his karma, I have my karma to live.” He smiled again and handed my change back to me.

As I made my way back to my home, I mulled over what he had just said to me and realized that sometimes life can be so…………simple !!!

Why am I writing about this in my travel blog…probably because this was also a journey to simple, unadulterated happiness.

And such stories are floating all around us, do you have a similar story ? I would love to hear it , if you do J .

Do share your story with me.

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Tale of two cities and some Bengal Tigers – Lost in the pages of history.

On the eve of the 70th Independence day of India, I try to bring about stories of two places and some lesser known Bengal Tigers from the early Indian Freedom Struggle.

Chandannagar is a city located around 37 kms from Kolkata. Being a former French settlement , it holds a distinct and unique flavor distinguishing it from the other cities in Bengal. Originally Chandannagar was known as Chander Nagor or ‘Moon City’ possibly because of the crescent shaped Hooghly (river).

Chandannager was established as a French colony in 1673 and became the main trading port in Bengal till the British made Kolkata their capital.

Unlike the other French colony of Pondicherry or Mahe,  Chandannagar is lessor known. The Strand Road along the riverfront is a favorite amongst the local and the tourist alike. The French connection is evident from the Chandannager Gate which has the French slogan “ Liberate, Egalite, Fraternite” etched on it.

The Patal Bari or the “Underground House” is an example of the architectural excellence of those days. The lower floors of the building are submerged in water in the Hoogly or the Ganga river. Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore was a frequent visitor to Patal Bari.

Apart from the various architectural splendors, Chandannager is also known for its electrical displays. The beautiful creative lights can showcase everything from famous personalities to Titanic to space satelites. The latest news items are displayed through these decorative lights during Durga and Jagadharti Pujas.

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The Strand Road, Chandannagar (PC Wikipedea)

Chandannager is also the birthplace of Kanailal Dutta, one of the lessor known revolutionary who fought for the freedom of India. Kanailal Dutta was a part of the Jugantar revolutionary group in Bengal which had Barin Ghosh, Bagha Jatin, Khudiram Bose and many others as its members.

Inspired by his professor, Charu Chandra Roy, KanaiLal joined the freedom struggle early, during his graduation days. During 1905, Kanailal Dutta was in the forefront of a movement against the partition of Bengal.

In 1908, Kanailal, all of 20 years of age was arrested in connection with the failed assassination attempt on then District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur, Bihar,  Kingsford.

While in jail Kanailal Dutta and Satyendranath Basu, were told to execute Narain Goswami, who though initially a revolutionary but had later turned approver.

On August 30, 1908, Narain Goswami was shot dead inside the Jail premises. On October 21, 1908, The High Court pronounced death sentence for Kanailal Dutta and he was subsequently hanged on the morning on November 10,1908 at a tender age of 20.

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Midnapore  city, situated on the banks of River Kangsabati, is part of a district by the same name in West Bengal. The entire of the West Midnapore district is known for the ancient archaeological excavations. The biggest excavation is in the city of Tamluk or the ancient city of Tamralipta. The Tamralipta port is believed to be the exit point of the Mauryan (between 322 BCE – 185 BCE) trade route. The travelogues of Faxian and Xuanzang, Chinese Buddhist monks, also carry notings about a Buddhist settlement near Tamluk.

Tamluk is one of the major attractions for tourist when in Midnapore. Chandrakona is another such town near Midnapore which has beautiful ancient architecture dating back to the Chauhan Dynasty . The Forts of Ramgargh and Lalgarh are the major attractions of this town.

Sarasanka Dighi Lake,  Samoleswar Mahadev temple, Bidyadhar Puskarini Lake are some of the places if interest in Dantan near the main town.

Apart from the ancient historical excavations, Midnapore is also known for being the birth place of Khudiram Bose, a fighter of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Khudiram Bose was all of eighteen years of age when he was sentenced to death and hanged for his involvement in the failed attempt to kill the then District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur, Bihar,  Kingsford.

Kingsford was known for the corporal punishments he meted out to the young political activists. His harsh and often cruel sentences had made him very unpopular amongst these activists. Due to the atrocities committed by him, the revolutionary group decided to do away with him once and for all.

Born in the Midnapore district in 1889, Khudiram was deeply influenced by Shri Aurobindo, who was then a revolutionary freedom fighter. He joined the group of revolutionaries at the tender age of 16.

Khudiram( all of eighteen years of age), along with his colleague, Prafulla Chaki who was also about the same age as Khudiram, were chosen to assassinate DM Kingsford. With 2 revolvers, a bomb and a little money, the two set off on their mission. They spent a few days in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, spending time to observe the daily routine and activities of their target, Kingsford.

On the night of April 30, 1908, Khudiram and Chaki, waited near the European Club in Muzaffarpur, for Kingsford’s carriage to arrive.

As the  carriage arrived, Khudiram aimed and threw the bomb at the carriage, which burst into flames.

However, unfortunately for him, the carriage was carrying the wife and daughter of a lawyer by the name of Kennedy, instead of Kingsford on that day.

Khudiram and Chaki did not wait to find out the result of their daring attempt, but instead ran the whole night in different directions. After walking around 25 miles, Khudiram reached a place called Vaini Raliway station (known as Khudiram Bose Pusa Station today). It was from here that he was caught by the police, who became suspicious on seeing his exhausted appearance.

On the other side Prafulla Chaki was also similarly intercepted by the police. When he realized he had no room to get away, Prafulla killed himself with his pistol.

Khudiram Bose was hanged on August 11, 1908. He was one of the youngest and probably second person to be hanged during the Indian Freedom Struggle.

Khudiram Bose, Prafulla Chaki and Kanailal Dutta offered themselves to the cause of the India’s Freedom much before the Nehru’s and the Gandhi’s came on the scene. However, the names of these Bengal Tigers is lost and forgotten somewhere in the pages of history.

 

Journey to Bomdila

We left our home in the early hours of the morning to catch the first flight out to Guwahati. This was the beginning of our week long travel, for the first time to the beautiful and alluring northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh. A colleague, who lived in Guwahati, had tied up with a local cab service to help us reach Tawang from Guwahati.

So when we landed in Guwahati, our cab was already waiting for us. Without wasting much time, we headed of towards Tezpur, which was to be our first stop.

The 185 km stretch took around 4 hours as we stopped a number of times on the way. The ride to Tezpur was quite smooth, as we rode through fields and forests, with different shades of green adorning the landscape at different places. The high point of the ride to Tezpur was crossing the Brahmaputra River.  One of the longest trans Asian rivers, Brahmaputra flows through China, India and Bangladesh to finally meet the Bay of Bengal.

We had always heard or read about how mighty the Brahmaputra was, mythological stories woven around the river were a part of growing up.

From our flight, in the morning, we had seen the might of this river as we crossed over it. Even from our aerial vantage point, the river seemed to be never ending.

We stopped at the end of the Kalia Bhomora bridge, one is not allowed to stop on the bridge, for a few minutes, just to soak in the vastness of the mighty river called Brahmaputra.

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The mighty Brahmaputra

On reaching Tezpur, we took a short rest and helped ourselves to some delicious Assamese cuisines. In the evening we strolled through the local market, window shopping, I was mentally making a list of things and souvenirs I would be buying on our way back.

Next morning, we started on our journey towards Tawang. But unfortunately for us, the daughter woke up with a temperature. We decided to stop at the Government hospital in Bhalukpong, just for a Doctors view since the journey ahead was a long and arduous one.

With the Doctors go ahead, we head off again on our journey to Tawang.

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The road ahead from Bhalukpong

Bhalukpong is a border town between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. It was in Bhalukpong that we changed our sedan for a sturdy Mahindra 4 wheel drive and it didn’t take me long to figure out why . The road conditions from here on seemed to deteriorate and the weather didn’t help. There were times when we seemed to be driving only on a muddy slush without any road in site. The road conditions became worse as we drove on just as the landscape also changed from a lighter green of the fields to a dense dark green of the mountain forests. For a better part of the journey to Bomdila, our soul companion was the Kameng River.

Just a few kilometers from Bhalukpong is  Tipi, known for the Tipi Orchid Research Center. The Orchidarium houses around 7500 orchids of over 500 different species. The Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, around 25km from Bhalukpong is spread over a 100 Sq Km and visitors can walk across a laid out route admiring the various species of Orchids blooming in the sanctuary.

After a brief stopover at these two Orchidariums, we carried on with our journey to Bomdila.

Although the journey from Bhalukpong to Bomdila is around 3-4 hours but due to our stops in the Tipi and Sessa, the road condition and our penchant for unscheduled stops to take in the fresh air and the surroundings, it took us more than eight hours to reach our destination.

Somewhere on the way we felt our empty stomachs complaining, but we seemed to be in the midst of a wilderness without any human soul in sight.

We finally spotted a small dhaba ( roadside eatery) with a thatched roof and stopped. Inside, it had nicely laid out rows of wooden tables and benches some of which were occupied by locals. I wondered aloud as to where did so many people come from since there was not a single human habitat on the way. So the owner of the dhaba told us that there were small habitats around this place. And the labour ( for building roads etc) from Bhalukpong and other areas, come to eat here.

The husband being a vegetarian had to make do with rice, daal, and thinly sliced potato fries called jhuri bhaja in Bengali with some aachar and a delicious chutney, while I also had a steamy fish curry to go with the rice. After the sumptuous lunch, we decided to walk a bit before we got on to the car again and asked our driver to meet us after a few bends.

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For a walk in the clouds

By the time we reached Bomdila, the skies had become overcast with clouds and the air had become quite chilly. Bomdila is located in the northwestern part of Arunachal Pradesh. A small serene town, it is ideal for trekkers and hikers as it provides a number of trekking and hiking routes.

The bumpy ride on the mountains had left us quite exhausted. But we still wanted to see the Bomdila monastery before it became dark, so we headed straight to the Bomdila Monastery.

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Also known as the Gentse Gaden Rabgyel Lling Monastery, the Bomdila Monastery is supposed to be a replica of the Tsona Gonste Monastery in Tsona , Tibet and was set up by the Tsona Gonste Rinponche ( 12th reincarnate) in 1965. The Monastery houses a prayer hall, a Buddha temple and the residential quarters of the monks. It also runs a study center for young monks who want to pursue the monastic life.

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Just in front of the monastery is the Doe Gu Khil Guest house and without looking further we checked in for the night. The view from the room was amazing as the windows opened to the beautiful green mountains with the clouds just hovering over them.

We walked up to the craft center but it was already closed for the day and we decided to come again in the morning. We then walked around Bomdila and the monastery’s neighborhood before retiring to our rooms as the silence of the night settled in.

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The woods around the monastery

The next morning saw the sun hiding behind clouds but still spreading its rays as silver linings across the sky. We had our breakfast and checked out. On the way we stopped at the crafts center which had beautiful Thangkas , carpets and masks on display. I would have liked to know more about these crafts, unfortunately there was no on around who could tell us more. The quiet, sleepy town gives you a feel of  a laid back, unhurried life which most of us city dwellers miss.