Summer vacations begin from May, and my 7 year old daughter Pihu is already excited about the travel we are planning for her. I planted the travel bug in her ever since she was 1 month old. I wanted her to grow up with curiosity for exploring new places and people. I traveled with her in peak winters to Guwahati when she was just a new born. Genes come into play as well. I am a true travel enthusiast and I wish to travel as much as I can with my daughter.
While I am a travel junkie, I began travelling for pleasure only when I started earning better and could afford a trip. I have memories of me as a child craving to pack my bags for summer or winter vacations and that never happened. For me, going for vacations was a luxury that my mother could not afford. However, I never regretted this. I was made to believe by my mother, that books could fill this vacuum and make my dull vacations from school a tad bit interesting. She said it could open a whole new world of learning with fun. So, she opened her library to us. Her little library housed the works of famous Bengali writers – including Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, whom we grew up addressing as Robi Thakur.
Since there was no summer vacation, I happily spent those hot July afternoons with my maternal uncle who lived with us. We lovingly called him ‘Dhula mama’, though his real name was Dhiman Ghosh. Every afternoon, after lunch, he’d tell us stories and narrate poetry by Rabindranath Tagore. I vividly remember how he’d emerge from the small 4 feet by 5 feet ‘ paakghor’ (kitchen) after his lunch, wiping his hands and mouth with a pink colored ‘gaamchha’ (cloth towel) saying, “Ki re? Robithakur’er kobita shunbi?” (Will you listen to Tagore’s poetry?) I would be waiting to hear him say this and quickly replied in affirmative. And our poetry session would begin and last the whole afternoon.
We’d both sit on a huge bed that my granny brought as a part of her wedding gifts. Made of ‘simul kaath’ or shesham, it was robust and had intricate wood carving. The window by the bed had a translucent blue curtain fluttering each time the warm summer wind blew. He’d pick ‘Sanchayita’ from the old wooden book shelf and begin to narrate. This book was gifted to my mother by her paternal uncle after she passed her 10th board examination. At times Dhula mama would spend hours explaining the meaning of a few poems to me and the story behind the composition. I clearly remember the day when he spent an hour or so explaining to me the meaning of a beautiful poem – “Praan”. Another day, it was the famous – ‘Where the mind is without fear’. I simply loved the poem and somehow feel that it stayed with me ever since. While my uncle narrated these iconic poems in his animated voice, I listened to him with rapt attention. My mother recalls how I’d sit for hours, at times skipping lunch and making do with barely ‘mudi” (puffed rice). What I needed was poetry and more poetry to fill my soul. Stomach could go empty!
One such afternoon during summer vacations, I was feeling very low. I distinctly remember the feeling of being deprived. Deprived of a family vacation. My carefree mind was getting sucked into an abyss of hopelessness. I wondered in pain, “Will I ever know how the land of the Dravidians look? Will I ever get to meet newer friends in the north? Will I ever take a train and travel with my family to the Nilgiris?” As part of the routine activity I sat down to listen to my uncle. He began narrating another beautiful poem from the collection called ‘Give me strength’. The poem goes like this – “This is my prayer to thee, my lord. Strike at the root of penury in my heart….”
Each word of the poem resonated within me and it felt like it was written for me. I realized that I had no choice but to believe in myself and derive strength from the power that governs our life. And face every situation with the head held high, believe that dreams do come true.
Years later, when I began my college, Dhula mama was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and the disease took away the story teller from my life. May be he chose the time to fall ill. At the time when I could read Tagore on my own. But I always yearned to hear from him and hear him narrate more. Eventually he passed away. Every time I visit my maternal home, I do pick ‘Sanchayita’ and flip through the dusty pages and run my finger through the book. It still smells the same – a very strong odour of dust mixed with naphthalene. It still remains my favorite book on the book shelf. Every time I hold it in my hands, I feel the warmth and care of a true friend. It feels like I am being transported back in time.
I am so glad my mother introduced me to Tagore and Dhula mama gave voice to his poetry, helping me make memories of a life time. Tagore’s poetry is a mixed bag of myriad emotions – love, pain, amusement, happiness and a lot more. I marvel at the manner in which he presented these emotions to his readers in the most simple and yet very powerful language. I still remember vividly that while reading ‘Nodi’r ghater kaachhe’ (By the bank of the river), I saw myself in the child depicted in the poem. The child whose desire for traveling to newer places and meeting new people remains unfulfilled; he is curious to know how would be the world and the people on the other side of the river.
Looking back, I realize how Tagore’s work helped me meet so many people through the characters he created and I connected with all their emotions. He wrote for me an endless travelogue that covered not just geography, but also life.
Perhaps the poet understood me and my longings way before I was born.