Varzaneh, however, is not just about the Desert. Nor is it about the uncanny Salt Lake alone. Villages for me hold a deep attraction, no less fascinating for being tedious. I find it difficult to put my finger on the exact pulse, but villages seem to have an intrinsic rhythm of life that can be intoxicating for the Musafir. After I left behind the magical reality of Panchmura somewhere beyond the horizon of credible memory, I have never been an insider in any village. Instead, I’ve often been a Musafir in many villages in India. Every time I am in a village I can feel in my system the palpitating peace that many of my friends tell me is a stupid romantic unreality. Perhaps. But for me, life in a village doesn’t live on excuses. A village doesn’t live because it will die unless it can watch this evening’s got-up cricket match, unless it can snatch a 5-star air-conditioner at an unbelievable price out of the online discount dhamaka valid till tomorrow midnight, unless it can resell the hatchback for a sedan. No.
In my system, a village lives for the intrinsic value of life, like the beloved’s lub-dub.
When I happen to be in my millennium old country-town Bishnupur, unlike many of my friends, I routinely head out for my hide-out even in the oppressive blast of summer afternoons, when very few people care to stir out of their homes. It’s a small ramshackle highway eatery, all of which are euphemistically called dhaba in India, on the border of a small forest-village. It offers cheap liquour, illegally of course, in my case cheap gin, unfiltered water, a quartered lemon, so that the juice can be squeezed out, and not the useless cosmetic slices flaunted on cocktails in up-market bars, a few green chilies slashed in the middle, so that when dipped in the gin its flavour mingles with the liquor, and fried scrambled eggs, as many as I need in the course of the endless Bankura summer-afternoon, with chopped onions and a dash of chili : the adored anda-bhujiya of all drinking hearts in India.
And it offers the canopy of a vast mango tree on the edge of fairly large pond, surrounded by many other trees big and small. The owner of this little eatery has known me for donkey’s years. He knows that my only special demand is a table and a chair by the pond underneath the thick canopy of the mango tree. The pond is a hub of activities. Right through the afternoon people come in ones and twos to bathe, wash their clothes and take back water in buckets: men on this side of the bank and women on the other.
If you have read Rabindranath’s beguiling accounts of his childhood, you will quickly notice how bathing in ponds have remained unchanged over a century, perhaps many centuries. Women often come alone, and I quickly adjust my chair to ensure that my eyes can’t sabotage my gentlemanly intentions. I busy myself with the squirrels and the crows. I notice how crows ooze intelligence in their body-language. Watching a crow approach the discard-heap beside the eatery, the little hops forward and back, the quick glances all around, and the squirrels joining the mise en scene, is breathtaking, not to speak of the bands of Shaliks, the common myna, quarreling with each other. Finally my male-gaze mutters to me disappointed, that she has left, and I turn my chair facing the pond again.
When there’s no one, there are the ducks, scribbling designs on the dark water, vanishing underneath and emerging back with a gurgling sound and a flutter of wings to shake off the water. Then arrives the kingfisher, with its sharp colourful dives. One after another after another after yet another. It could be a dozen times before it emerges out of the water with a small fish stuck to its beaks and disappears.
Photo Credit : Nilanjan Hajra