Life is an amazing journey. We the ordinary travelers in this wonderful planet called earth, come across so many people. Some are our close ones like our kith and kin who are destined to spend time with us for a greater period of our life time. There are others who too make their appearance when our path cross. We usually do not care to remember them.
But once in a while some people for certain reasons creates an everlasting impact on us and live on in our memory.
This is one such story of an ordinary man whom me and my husband chanced to meet in another land.
My husband spent some years of his childhood in the United Kingdoms when my in-laws were pursuing their specialisation in Medicine. He developed a special bond with the country and has fond memories of his childhood.
My cousin Tublu also lives in the U.K. for the last ten years with his family. So we keep visiting the U.K. quite often. Tublu, on many occasions, has taken us to various places like the Land’s End, Robinhood’s Bay, Moor Lands near the North Sea and Knowsley Safari Park. Together we also visited the Fyling hall School where Arnob, my husband, once studied.
This was in the year 2015. We were travelling along the Devon coast by road. This time Tublu did not accompany us. We chose a package trip with a set schedule. We started off from London and once we reached a small town called Exeter, we were put up in a hotel. From there we used to travel every morning, to different places. We visited The Stone Henge, Dartmoor,Tavistock (a small English village), Bath and several other beautiful English villages. We also tasted the delicacies of those places in local restaurants and motels, enjoying the beauty of the English countryside. Some of these places are steeped with rich history.
On one of those days, we visited a town called Glastonbury. It is renowned for its medieval sites and rich mythology. This place is famous for its connection with King Arthur and his knights. There is an Abbey dating back to the 7th century. This is the Glastonbury Abbey which also houses the burial place of King Arthur. The Abbey is practically in ruins spreading over a vast area. Only the stone walls stand as silent witness to a bygone era. We roamed around and heard a bit about the history of the place and came to know that this town of Glastonbury also hosts a five day long festival of performing arts every year. In addition to contemporary music, the festival also hosts dance, comedy, theatre, circus, etc. This festival attracts people from all over the world and finds a place in most tourism maps of England.
There was an Abbey store right near the entrance to the Abbey. So while returning, we thought of buying some souvenirs of this interesting place. We entered the shop and picked up some curios, some homemade chocolates and fudge, and a few gift items for friends back home.
There was a tall lanky middle aged, bearded Britisher at the cash counter who nicely packed all the items with a lot of care so that we could carry everything safely back to India. While paying the bill I handed over my debit card to the gentleman. He took a good look at my card and asked me next, “Aparna Mondal, aapnara Bangali?(are you guys Bengali) in impeccable use of our vernacular mother-tongue. Both of us were gobsmacked at hearing a Britisher speak in fluent Bengali and that too in the remote village of Glastonbury where we least expected it. We were still in awe of him but asked him where he managed to learn such good Bengali.
He told us that he learnt the language when he was in Chattisgarh. Chattisgarh is not a Bengali speaking state. So I was still confused. “Chattisgarh! As in, Madhya Pradesh?” Pat came the reply, once again in chaste Bengali. “Madhya Pradesh was already Chattisgarh, when I lived there.” I further asked him how he learnt Bengali there. He told us how he came in contact with a group of Boisnob singers there and fell in love with the Boisnob Padabali, culture and the songs. He needed to learn Bengali to sing the songs. He did put in a lot of effort to learn the language and loved doing so. He also added that he intends to visit Bangladesh sometime to learn the folk songs of that country. Completely astonished, I asked him again whether he was part of Iskon at any point of time but he said no. He learnt the language solely from the group of bards but learnt it with a lot of dedication.
We would probably have loved to extend our conversation and know more about this interesting man but we reluctantly had to leave as it was time for us to return and join our group for the next destination.
We were thoroughly impressed and completely floored. We carried a feeling of pride that somebody from this faraway land fell in love with our mother tongue and learnt it so well. It touched us more to see that he could identify us as Bengalis from our surname and made it a point to strike up a conversation with me in my mother tongue. This clearly tells that he not only loved Bengali Boisnob songs but also harboured sweet memories and fondness for the Bengali people. He pronounced the word ‘boisnob ‘ in proper accent; not as ‘Vaisnav’, like our children would pronounce it as they are brought up outside Bengal.
We were so much in a trance that even though we had a camera with us, we forgot to click a photo with this man. I did not even ask him his name. But the signed cash memo of the goods indicates that his name is Anthony.
What a coincidence, this man too is sharing the same name with the famous Anthony Firingee of Bengal (Firingee means foreigner in Bengali) who was a folk poet of Portuguese origin. He too fell in love with Bengal, learnt Bengali language and devotional songs in the early part of 19th century. Anthony Firingee rose to fame for his own compositions (Palagaan) and he used to participate in Kobir Loraai (impromptu contest among poets) with Bhola Moira and other renowned poets of his time.
This Anthony from the town of Glastonbury will probably never make his name known in Bengal but we will surely remember him for his love for Boisnob Padaboli and Bengali people, although it is unlikely that we will ever see him again.
*** The cover image is a painting by Aparna Mondal