A happy go lucky young fun -loving lad of fifteen (my Dad in his younger avatar) had to relocate to Bhagalpur, situated on the southern bank of Ganges in Bihar. When my Dadu got transferred from Jalpaiguri to Bhagalpur, my father and all his siblings had to shift to this historical city. Baba missed his life in the beautiful lap of nature, but he slowly realised that the river Ganges was as beautiful as the river Teesta was in North Bengal. And so, he slowly started liking the place. He started swimming in the river as he used to swim in the waters of the Teesta. During summer months he started to have prepare meals on the dry sand-patches of the river (chara) after fishing and hunting birds. Cycling trips during weekends to the nearby Mandar Hills,Vikramshila and few temple compounds around the city also became common with his newly found friends. He also gained popularity among his friends but with that he also became mischievous. So that was Arun Mukherjee my father and this is one of many stories we heard from him.
Although Bhagalpur was a place in Bihar, the Bengali population was quite high. Bengalis like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (Bengali classic writer), Bonophool (Balai chand Mukherjee – another writer), Ashok kumar the veteran actor were amongst the notable people who had their origin and ancestral home in Bhagalpur. My father studied in Durga charan Boy’s school which had Bengali as a subject.Thus, he got the exposure of both Bengali and Bihari culture and had both Bengali and Bihari friends. He spent the better part of his senior student life in this place and he fondly narrated those stories to us.
It was a once during those days when he was around sixteen years of age that a friend informed him that he had seen some cormorants on the bank of River Ganges. Dad just picked up Dadu’s gun and grabbed a handful of pellets and left the house. He was in full school uniform and Thamma (grand mom) was out for shopping, so it was not difficult for him to escape notice and proceed to the river side carrying his gun. He, of course, bunked school and accompanied by his dear friend, set out on his hunting expedition.
Dad’s friend was carrying a fishing rod and dad was with his gun, so they fancied themselves feasting on fishes and bird’s meat! It was a pleasant day and the last leg of winter was yet to dissipate, so they chose a cosy spot to settle down.
“Oh my God! I just saw Jatin uncle passing by on his bicycle and he saw me with my gun when I was about to shoot the bird, now he will go home and complain to Baba!”, my dad said in a disgusting tone.
” If he has seen me, he will visit my home as well “, said his friend.
” Never mind! we will cross that bridge when we come to it no point worrying too much”, dad uttered. On that day he shot two birds and his friend also had a good catch of fishes. They had a great meal at another friend’s house who was elder to them and was also a good cook.
Later in life, Dad repented about killing innocent birds and gave up shooting. But during those days of his youth, killing birds was not illegal and he was not too aware and conscious about wildlife conservation. The awareness came later and he resorted to capturing animals on film with his camera.
Coming back to the story, Mr Jatin Mishra, Dadu’s neighbour indeed came home in the evening. My father expected him to come home with the intention of complaining and he was correct in that surmise.
After complaining to his heart’s content, Mr Mishra went out to return home.
“Arrey both the cycle tyres are flat! how has this happened??! “, he exclaimed and started grumbling and complaining.
“What happened Uncle? anything wrong?” my dad asked him with a serious innocent look as if he too was concerned for him.
“Arrey both the tyres are flat? those were just fine when I came, somebody must have intentionally released the air!, now I need to mend it , see even the valves are missing, I need to take it to the shop! , where do I have the time! What harassment! “
” Uncleji, you have all the time to come home and complain to my dad about seeing me in school uniform shooting birds but no time to repair your flat bicycle tyres – you are now paid back in your own coin, see!” dad uttered to himself smiling silently within himself!
The naughty lad in my dad offered to help his Jatin Uncle but angry Mr Mishra unable to catch the culprit. refused to accept his help and went home dragging his bicycle to the next lane where he lived.
Dad got an earful after Mr Mishra left and Dadu decided to keep the gun under lock and key from then onwards, thus his shooting and fishing episodes ended from that day onwards.
On that night dad and all my uncles had a good laugh at Mr Mishra’s discomfiture. The next morning the maid of the house handed over two tyre valves to my grandmother which were found while sweeping the courtyard which then found its place in the tool box of my kaku (dad’s younger brother). The entire family could thus surmise the chain of events leading to the cyle tyre punctures of Mr Mishra and the mischief maker in chief who had surely orchestrated the act of releasing the air from the tyres of Mr Mishra’s bicycle. Fortunately, my Dad escaped without any major punishment for this misadventure.
Cover image is a painting by Aparna Mondal