The second part of Adhiraj Kashyap’s captivating series is elegantly interwoven with the writer’s special bonding with his neighbour Ratul Da along with the memories relating to Ratul Da which automatically takes the writer back to his childhood days. Such a likeable person like Ratul Da who was loved by the young and the old alike had a somewhat disturbing family life. But what was the reason for that? To know more lets trawl through the second part……
Illustration by Sid Ghosh
“Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us”
Back in the day, we used to climb up that hill through whatever narrow passage we could find between the trees. One would go up bending slightly, holding on to the branches of the trees and other plants; and then help the others climb up by pulling them by their arms. We would bend so much that it would seem as if we were glued to the ground- like spiders crawling up a wall. Even though there were easier routes to reach the top of the hill, we would still opt for the path where trees were dense, to spice up our thrilling adventure. We even used to place bets on who was going to reach the top first. Those narrow passages somewhere got lost amidst the newly built houses. The green of the trees was taken over by the brownish red of the bricks and the grey of the cemented walls. One didn’t have to find the route through the trees anymore- the concrete road perfectly led the way.
Ratul Da always waited for the latter half of the day as the neighbourhood kids used to return from school and the afternoon cricket sessions used to start. Ratul Da’s adulation for the game of cricket was quite well-known. Once, he went to the ground and gathered some of the kids who were playing football in one corner and started preaching to them about how cricket was a much superior game and how Sachin Tendulkar was the only god they should be worshipping.
“Do you know how lucky we are to have witnessed this genius play in the same era when we are alive!” he often used to tell me. The fact that Ratul Da himself excelled at playing cricket earned him the stature of a role-model amongst the local kids. All the kids (especially me), every afternoon, waited for his arrival and there was always a huge tussle over on whose side he was going to be in. It was an unsaid rule to toss the coin twice every day- first, to decide which team Ratul Da would play for- and then, the second time for the actual match.
It was an innate part of his diurnal routine to show up in the evening gatherings mostly led by the elders in the neighbourhood. What often baffled me was his amazing ability of engaging in conversations with elders as effortlessly as he could charm the kids. A bunch of teenagers also gathered near his shop daily at that time of the day to play Carom as the Carom Board was always kept inside his shop. Another prime reason for that was the fact that they could use the bulb outside his shop to play. They used to use water drums as a makeshift Carom stand- they often placed the board on top of the drum and then used a few pieces of paper so that the board would balance out. They would fold the papers to make it the suitable size and then put it into the gaps to make the Carom board stable.
Though not as proficient at Carom as he was at cricket, Ratul Da never missed an opportunity to play. But he, time and again, kept reminding his opponents about how he was out of form (always) and how brilliant a player he was when he was younger. He also complained about how the plastic Carrom coins had spoiled the game forever and how the wooden ones were much smoother. With all the people standing around it, the Carom Board would seem like the centre of concentric circles. Four people played at once, while the others waited for their turns. The losing team had to let go of their place and two new players would join each time. Many a times, people would be standing deliberately behind the weaker players so that they could grab their chances quicker.
As far as my memory can trace back, my last intimate exchange with Ratul Da was just before I moved out of the city. Whenever I visited home after that, during the recesses, I would mostly be devoting my limited time to the family and close friends. I could hardly snatch away time to do other things. I would occasionally chance upon Ratul Da once in a while. He would come to our house as soon as he would get to know about me being in town. Ratul Da always met me with the same degree of enthusiasm. His tight hugs always bore the same warmth and they used to last forever. I literally would have to tap him gently on the back each time so that he would let go.
Ratul Da always vehemently advised me to do my PhD from an IIT. “I don’t know much about these things, Babu. I’m not a very educated man. But you must do your PhD- that too, only from IIT- don’t even think about anything else,”he often said. He used to call me “Babu” affectionately. I don’t think he knew my actual name either. I was “Babu” to him the same way he was “Ratul Da” to me. In each of the meetings, he would tell me about the new business he was into at that point. Each time, he would add a few anecdotes about why and how the earlier one failed. He also mentioned to me once that he was intending to reconstruct the broken part of his shop- “I’ll first build the wall properly, and then paint the entire shop. It looks so dated now. Isn’t it, Babu?” He carried on without expecting any answer from me, “I’m also thinking about expanding it. I am planning something big. I’ll tell you later. I’ll first expand it, and then renovate it completely. It should look grand… Really grand…” he spoke with a child like zeal.
Sometimes, he asked me about Delhi and how I was coping up with the new lifestyle. Each time he met me, he promised me that he would pay me a visit in Delhi, even though it never happened. On a few other occasions, he talked to me about the immaturity of the new Indian team and how cricket was slowly losing its glorious charm. But apart from a very few such random wonted chatters, there wasn’t much that was left between us. With time, even the conversations reduced; and so did our casual daily meetings at his shop. The vibe grew very formal after a point and neither of us knew how to communicate anymore.
Ratul Da tied the knot six years back, around the same time when he opened a restaurant. I somehow could never form a picture of Ratul Da as a married man. I wasn’t home on the day of the wedding. I remember him calling me up to share the news. I teased him by saying that he was jumping into a massive debacle. “Well, I am used todebacles,” he simply laughed- “You have to settle down at some point, Babu. That’s the rule… Everyone has to…” He once dragged me along to meet his wife when I was in town. I could figure out, from the way she greeted me that he must have heaped praises on me in front of her, with immense pride. He often did that, even in front of others.
Ratul Da’s mother and his younger brother also lived with him, but he didn’t share the best of bonds with them. In fact, after his father’s untimely demise, he had grown quite aloof from the family. His relation with his wife also fell prey to a similar fate and dried up soon after marriage. They tried to have kids several times, but to no avail. He was well aware of her affair with his distant cousin. At first it used to be a source of vexation for him; but he couldn’t care less after a point. He had no emotional investment in the relationship whatsoever, and neither did she. She mostly wouldn’t be awake by the time Ratul Da came home. He himself came late intentionally to avoid any conversation.
The only people Ratul Da shared a cosy affable relationship with were two of his childhood friends who had been his bosom buddies ever since he could remember. They were the only ones in front of whom he could pour his heart out uninhibitedly. Their alcohol sessions near the Geeta-Mandir temple were regular features of their weekends. Ratul Da loved idling his time away in the compound of the temple- not because he firmly believed in God or something- but because he thoroughly relished the tranquillity on top of the hill. All three of them would sit under a Bokul tree, holding their respective drinks in their hands, in the backyard of the temple from where the railway tracks on the other side of the hill could be seen vividly.
Ratul Da’s personal life was always a topic of gossip in the neighbourhood and several versions of all the incidents from different people would strike my ears, whenever I visited home- be it the affair of his wife- his strained relations with his family- or his mildly growing alcoholism. Everything related to him would circle around quickly making its way to every household. That’s probably the price he had to pay for being the “famous” one. The stories never grabbed my attention. It didn’t matter to me much, to be honest. But I would be lying if I say that I didn’t find them to be amusing. I guess, these stories must have been as much a source of entertainment for others too as it was for me.
He fell in love with a girl two years back. The girl came from Nalbari to work in the beauty parlour right next to his shop. Though she stayed there for just a brief period, still it remained quite a riveting event in his life. But he never let his feelings find a mode of expression, not even in front of his buddies. Somehow the girl inspired him to take up poetry again, which he used to practice earlier, even though it never travelled further than his personal diary. He also engrossed himself in reading during that period, especially Sourav Kumar Chaliha’s short stories, which captivated his attention immensely when he was in school. But this habit of reading also faded away in no time. He used to write too, during his school days. His stories used to be frequent features in the school magazines. He exerted himself to go back to writing at different points of his life, but could never really get satisfied with his literary skills after he had grown up. The only thing that didn’t fade away was his habit of seeking solace in music. His love for music, especially Bollywood melodies of the nineties never diminished, not even the slightest. He listened to them almost every day whenever he was alone.
Also Read: That Broken Part – Part 1
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Adhiraj Kashyap is professionally a filmmaker, currently studying Film Direction and Screenplay Writing at FTII. A few of his short stories have been published in a bunch of national and international magazines, such as “In Parentheses” , “Indian Ruminations”, “The Universal Journal”, “East India Story” etc.