Rangapara is a small Town in Sonitpur district in the North Eastern State of Assam. Priyasha Bhattacharjee lets her thoughts engulf in those bygone years of sweet and innocent memories, which still light up her face with joy
A lazy afternoon with the sun on the top of our head, and the roads half-empty as the time is 3 PM. After the noisy classroom and hustle-bustle of the school bus, I and my brother just stepped out of the school bus and were ready to reach home. This was the regular routine of our summer days of the year 1993, which I very vividly remember.
Another clear image was the ripened tamarind mixed with red chilli and salt on my hand which was the yummiest snacks I used to get almost every day from the Army school bus drivers.
Here I am talking about my nostalgic days in Missamari, just 57 kms from Tezpur, Assam where my father got posted at a time when I had never stepped out of Guwahati.
The news brought shiver of excitement and happiness of seeing a different place and to be honest, I drew a picture in my mind that our house will be located near a spring with all greenery around, where we can enjoy regular picnics.
But the reality was very different to my heart’s dismay. Here, I was with a bulky bag on my shoulder returning from my new Missamari KV No 1 school.
My life was almost same, just the pressure of studies had increased as Hindi got included in my syllabus and I had no clue how to learn those difficult Varnamala. My parents were equally untutored in Hindi. So, we were literally struggling with the new subject.
Missamari is a very small town, the only attraction during those days were the beautiful tea gardens and a spacious railway station.
My father used to take me and my brother every Sunday to the station to show us the incoming and outgoing trains. This was a sort of recreation after every week’s tedious and mundane regular life and studies.
I had the habit of asking lots of questions to my father –why are the trains leaving so early, when will they reach, what is the name of the train and what is the destination. Wish I could also board one of them visiting Guwahati, and visit my grandma. Travelling by train was, for me, very exciting as I had no experience in train journeys before.
Another very prominent recreation was Ram-Ravan drama which was performed by the localites every Sunday where we could donate money as per our free-will. We used to finish our homework as fast as we could to see the magnificent drama.
When you are in Rangapara how can we ignore their special Jhal muri (Puffed rice mixed with spices and mixtures). Being a foodie, I never fail to notice the food offerings of a city. Those were the time when street food was very limited, particularly in small towns. But Jhaal muri was an exception.
Rangapara has a very hot and humid climate as compared to Guwahati. In winters, it is chilly and freezing. The place is proud of simple living; people are extremely friendly and helpful.
Predominantly, the place is inhabited by the Bengali community, most of whom are businessmen. They have a very special custom of welcoming guests with authentic Bengali dishes and there is a beautiful practice of inviting colleagues and friends, either for tea or lunch, for chit-chatting or relaxation.
All the guests, both young and old thoroughly enjoyed these gatherings and there was a feeling of oneness. The next weekend also used to be the same, with the hosts becoming the guests.
That was real fun and our behavior and decorum used to be judged by our parents. Once the guests left, our report card used to be published by our parents with sheer appreciation or criticism. I guess that’s a very usual practice when you step in any Bengali middle class household.
In Rangapara, there were two sections of people – one was the educated middle class salaried group with high prestige – their pride was their every day job and their children’s education. Another section was the rich business class, their kids were happy-go-lucky kind who didn’t have to study much and scoring just the passing marks, was enough for them.
I am talking about that period of time when Restaurants and Cafes were rare, unless you have some emergencies. In office, all work was done manually, piles of files to be checked and updated and counting in my father’s Bank, was done manually with the help of a calculator. Today’s kids are only aware of computers or mobiles to do the calculations.
In Rangapara, everyone knows you personally and they greet you with lots of respect and affection every time they meet you. Domestic helpers were more than family, making some authentic Bengali dishes and feeding us with utmost love and care. Usually, at this age, it is hard to find such dedicated and selfless service.
Rangapara is very close to our heart for it has given us the best memories for life long to cherish. The early morning tea garden visits were purely magical. During winters, clouds coming down touching the mountains, sometimes even entering our homes through the ventilators and windows, were really enchanting to us, as kids.
Tea gardeners are an absolute delight and a treat to one’s eyes – so disciplined, punctual and hardworking. They looked like beautiful paintings. Little appreciation and good behavior is what bring smiles to their face.
The mode of transport to Rangapara was bus or train and no air travel. Many picnic spots are close-by. During winters, every government officer, very enthusiastically, planned family picnics. A big luxury bus, scrumptious breakfast, lunch and snacks, accompanied by helpers, to do the cooking.
Meeting my father’s colleague’s kids, playing the whole day with them, knowing that from tomorrow, we will again be strangers, still we lived for that day and moment. Giggled and enjoyed like there is no tomorrow. The unlimited boiled eggs, bread-jam-butter and warm milk for breakfast was loved by each one of us, so, was our exhilaration. Lunch was incomplete without Steamed rice/pulao, chicken curry, fish fry and fresh salads.
In winter, the moist fog and dew drops were breathtaking and all used to be wrapped with two or three woolen clothes, sitting near the fire place at night and kids studying in front of the room heaters.
Another element which accompanied us throughout, was the frequent load-shedding, particularly when examinations were near. That was the time when neighbors were outside, roaming here and there, and their unmissable gossips were hard to ignore.
I have missed the uninvited guests too, the mosquitoes in huge numbers. All treatment in vain for those blood sucking creatures. But with the lush greenery all around, I think that was and still is inevitable.
I recollect from my memory box, life of Rangapara was a gorgeous picturesque and it used to be all the more exciting with my maternal uncle’s visit during Diwali followed by Bhai phota. The chaos, high-pitched screaming, the splendid food, late night chats, the real parties which used to linger for days and in the same way was the departing time, the sad faces and for me, it was despair for few weeks, which often extended to a month.
Rangapara town, for our kids today, can be very monotonous, boring, unexciting and seemingly dull. But for us, it taught us to be more confident, humble and modest. Each small town like Rangapara has folded stories, covered with drops of sweetness. Prolonged load-shedding never dumped our spirit. It just created reminiscence in volume and tittering days of distinctive peerless love and satisfaction.
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Priyasha is an astrologer by profession, a foodie to the core, a shutki maachh ‘proselytiser’ , a mother of two beautiful souls, and the lead chef in her house. Singing and writing her dearly held hobbies. She writes to us from Bangalore