You read about her childhood memories of trips to Diamond Harbour. You read about her trip back to Diamond Harbour as a mother of two sons. You have waited patiently for me to put up the third chapter of my mother’s story. So here you go….KK
Diamond Harbour-2012- Part –III
Year, 2012. The scene is set after twenty five years since my last visit to Diamond Harbour. A day after Durga puja., when I expressed my wish to revisit Diamond Harbour once again, my younger son Sid and his wife Soy who were at that time on holiday at Kolkata, hurriedly made arrangements for a car. The next day three of us set out for a trip to Diamond Harbour.
It took us nearly two hours to reach Diamond Harbour. At first, we decided to go to ‘Sagarika Lodge’ by the river, have breakfast and then think of our next course of action
‘Sagarika Lodge’ looked quite impressive from outside. We went upstairs and had breakfast with toasts and omelettes. It seemed like a foreign country as we sat there looking at the wide river.
We asked a waiter about the whereabouts of the house as I did not have any exact address except for the fact that it was near ‘lal pol’/ red bridge.
We set out in the car as per the waiter’s instruction and passed by the railway station. The main road was like any other road in a district town. The big trees, that flanked both sides of the road, did not shed dainty fragrant ‘bakul’ flowers, any more.
We passed a canal by crossing over a white cemented bridge. I was very confused as the bridge that we used to cross was red in colour. On my insistence, the driver said that there was a red bridge, nearby, over which no vehicle was allowed except for the pedestrians.
On reaching the red bridge, I could not recognize a thing and was dogged with a Hamlet-like dilemma, ‘Shall I be or shall I not be able to find my old house?’
I asked the driver to take us to Fakir Chand Diamond Harbour College so that I could back trace on foot and try to find out the house. On reaching the college, as we started walking back, I spotted a big house which look like the house of my grandma’s friend.
At that time, a young man came up to us and asked us what we were looking for. When we told him about the house, he said that he had not ever heard of ‘Kiran Kutir’ but volunteered to take us to a local shop from where I might get a clue.
As we walked along, I saw from far a corner house and my intuition told me, ‘That is it!’. Surprisingly, the shop was inside the compound of our house! The shopkeeper confirmed it being ‘Kiran Kutir’ though the name has been replaced by another name. It was boldly written ‘Chaar Bhai Bhavan’ (‘Four Brothers’ House’) as the property now belonged to four brothers.
I was besides myself to find out our house. The white ground floor houses were still there and so was the two storied red coloured house though in a dilapidated state. But where was my favourite little pond? The shopkeeper said that it had been filled up so that new buildings could be built.
It is true that I was glad to find the houses intact but the look of the country house disappointed me as it did not match with the house that I had guarded so securely and secretly in my imagination. It had a ‘lakkhichara’ / god-forsaken look. On one side, a few barrack-like rooms had come up, which were probably given on rent to the adjoining office in the next building.
Not only that, this new shop, with a Xerox machine, had come up abruptly in front of the two storied building making the whole area look very small.
The shopkeeper said that a few non-Bengali tenants still lived in the houses. A car in front of the white ground floor houses bore testimony to it. But I felt that nobody lived in the two storied building as a huge tree had been blocking the door of the house.
The mother of the shopkeeper, in the meanwhile, came up to meet us and took me to the back part of the house. I came to know from her that quite a lot of the back side area had been sold by the present owners.
I went round and round the plot, while the past memories kept coming back to me. There were some well-built houses nearby. In one of the houses I saw a cluster of most beautiful white ‘kash’ flowers, which enlivened my mood and took me back to my childhood days.
Later I felt that there was nothing to be so disappointed with as the houses were about a century old and not much care had been taken to renovate them. After all it was not a national heritage site! In all probability, these houses too would be soon demolished to make way for a new housing complex or a shopping centre.
I was, however, very much overwhelmed as I felt that the houses were waiting for me all these fifty years so that I could come back and have a last look at them before they got demolished. It was like home coming! I kept looking at the houses, the trees and the filled up land over the pond and tried to take in as much as I could.
After saying ‘goodbye’ to the shopkeeper and the friendly young man, we proceeded towards the canal. However, I felt very sad as I found that many shanties had come up by the side of the canal.
We walked up to the ‘lal pol’ and crossed it quite a few times. I gradually started recognizing the Registration Office and the road that I had trod so many times during my childhood.
As we walked further, we came across a Durga puja pandal, where there were quite a few exquisite models of ‘baul’ singers/ rustic singers. We were pretty surprised as we had not expected such craftsmanship at so remote a place.
After a while, we left the place in our car as our mission was achieved and I felt a kind of ‘catharsis’ in my mind.
Very soon we reached the river front. The cold wind soothed our nerves and we set out in search of the sixteenth century Portuguese Fort and the lighthouse. We went round and round but could not find any one of them. We discovered, later, by doing ‘Google search’ that the fort had been reduced to just a few rocks, may be as a result of the pilferage of the bricks by the local people.
For lunch, we went to Benfish, a West Bengal enterprise, where there is an eatery as well as rooms to stay. We ordered for two plates of basmati rice, dal fry, potato chips, cabbage curry, a huge pomfret fish in curry and a plate of very soft mutton. All this cost us less than Rs 500/- ! We relished the food very much and then went to the bank of the river.
The river front was very beautiful. Our side of the bank was guarded with high walls but we could not see the other bank of the river as it is very wide. We sat down on a bench and felt very relaxed. We took several pictures as the sun rays shimmered on the waves. We laughed, talked and roamed about forgetting all the worries of city life.
Suddenly, we saw a three feet long ‘gosap’/ Bengal monitor resembling a crocodile as well as a snake. We all shrieked exclaiming ‘ooh!’ , ‘ouch!’ and lastly resorting to Bengali, ‘ore baba re!/ OMG ! And put our feet up . Its snake-like tongue was jutting out and in. We were all very scared so we shifted to another place.
We moved around for a while and then left in our car feeling very happy and contented.
Sometimes I wonder why I go back repeatedly to Diamond Harbour. What is so special about that simple and sleepy town that I went back even after half a century? On deep introspection, I realized that the childhood period spent in Diamond Harbour was the most idyllic time of my life. Free from the shackles of school studies and basking in the indulgence of grandparents, Diamond Harbour was the ‘Byzantium’ of my life, the memory of which drew me even at a later age.
It was a pleasure writing this post as it deals with five generations of our family (counting reversely – my sons, myself, my father, my grandfather and my grandfather’s father) encompassing about one hundred and fifty years.
I wish I had written this post when my father was here, as it would have pleased him immensely. Since I could not do so, I am dedicating this post to my late father, who was always a constant source of support and inspiration for me and my sons. May his soul rest in peace!