Someone has rightly said “Memories are timeless treasures of the heart”. In this heart-touching memoir, the author Adhiraj Kashyap reminiscences about his bonding with his neighbour, Ratul da, whose untimely death triggers some buried childhood memories of the author. The first part of the emotional series gives us some glimpses of the 80s-90s days and discloses the author’s special attachment with his friendly neighbour during his childhood.
Illustration by Sid Ghosh
I was in a state of absolute shock when my mother broke the news of Ratul Da passing away. It was 10 in the morning- quite early by my usual “getting out of the bed” standards- and it needed something as harsh a news as that to knock my sleep off. I could not help but remain unusually still as it took me a moment to even react. My mother repeated herself just to make sure that I heard her and all I did was nod my head, not being able to utter a single word.
As I started heading towards the cremation ground which was on top of the hill, older memories started taking over the mind bit by bit. I had not been very intimately in touch with Ratul Da of late. Apart from a few sporadic dreary meetings in the past 4-5 years whenever I visited home, there wasn’t any other form of interaction between us. But surprisingly, the news of his death got to me in a way I never thought it could. Strangely, I never knew his full name- I still don’t- I, along with all the other kids in our neighbourhood, had always known him as “Ratul Da”. He was that elder brother all of us felt sheltered around.
Ratul Da primarily handled the local Cable TV operation in the area, though he simultaneously kept trying his luck at other business ventures over the years, majorly failing at most of them. He started a Movie VCD rental shop in the early stages. He used to charge 10 Rupees per film and the price would go up by 5 bucks each day. Ratul Da would be ready with a pirated version of every film, without fail, the very next day of its release. He would copy the films into the VCDs and write the name of the film meticulously on top of both the discs with a marker, trying to display the best version of his handwriting. He would write “Disc-1” on the first disc and “Disc-2” on the other. But he wouldn’t put them inside the case before cross checking twice whether he had written it correctly. Whenever people went to his shop to get movies, he would first open the cases and get the discs out as diligently as possible- then he would have a close look at them to check whether there were any scratches- he would blow the back sides with his breath once and then rub it gently with a clean cloth- and then only he would hand it over. It was sort of a ritual he performed each time he rented out a movie.
I always enjoyed the privilege of keeping a VCD for as long as I wanted that too without paying. Ratul Da himself would let me know whenever a new film arrived, particularly the action thrillers. He knew of my fondness for those. Ratul Da had known me since the very day I was born. He was quite close to my parents. My parents had seen him grow up in front of them the same way he saw me grow up in turn, in that same neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, he was very familiar with everybody in our locale- as if he was an integral part of everyone’s family.
Be it the Saanda collection for Durga Puja or the Protima Bixorjon on the day of Doxomi-be it the annual cricket tournaments or the Mobile Theatre festivals- Ratul da, owning an amicable personality, had always been the guy the entire community relied upon. He was the go-to guy in the hours of need. Every year during Puja, the temple would be completely packed with people. Ratul Da would always tag along four to five guys to help him out and he would keep assigning different chores to different guys so that everything ran smoothly- similar to how the captain of a cricket team keeps setting up the field differently as the match progresses.
The queue for Aarti always stretched out to the main road. The motor-bikes would be parked in a straight line near the footpaths on both the sides and the four-wheelers would be parked near the ground. Ratul Da, with the help of his “squad”, always looked over the traffic and made sure that the road didn’t get block. He would keep rearranging the plastic chairs in the Pandal, time to time, so that the maximum number of people got to sit, especially the elders. He saw to it that the table fans were in the right positions and the water containers were filled. Whenever I would arrive for the Aarti, he would take me inside the temple through the back door so that I didn’t have to stand in the endless queue. He would wink at me cheekily and both of us would quietly walk towards the back-entry, behaving like two secret agents on the most important mission of their lives. When the Pujari chanted the prayers, everyone usually sat on the floor of the temple holding flowers in their hands and the others waited for their respective turns outside the temple. The people sitting inside the temple had to throw flowers towards the idol as an offering each time the Pujari finished his chants. The Pujari would recite the same chant thrice; and accordingly the flowers would be offered to the idol thrice. That always used to be my favourite part of the event.
Ratul Da always gave me ample amount of flowers, that too of different kinds, so that I had enough for all the three turns. He would make me sit on his shoulders to give me the best spot inside the temple. Everyone would be praying fervently with their eyes closed during the chants. But I would always be waiting for it to get over, with my eyes wide open, so that I could aim my flowers perfectly. Each time, I would compete with myself and try throwing the flowers further with subsequent turns. I always saved the Marigolds for the last turn as I knew it travelled the furthest.
Ratul Da’s favouritism towards me used to transpire subliminally while playing cricket as he always gave me an added opportunity to bat even after I got out. He couldn’t see me get angry. At times, I would deliberately try filling my face with fury to earn his sympathy. The other kids always hated him for his partiality. Their collective unfeigned anger, every time, was much more than my fake display. But Ratul Da, in response, would brush off the “criticism” with a smile. He was the guy who gifted me the first cricket bat of my life. He also, when I insisted a lot, installed cable TV in our house despite my mother’s vehement protests. She thought it would take my attention away from studies. But somehow he convinced my mother that he would remove it the day she felt that it was hampering my studies. It did obviously hamper my studies. But the cable connection wasn’t cut as my mother got addicted to the daily soaps by then.
The major portion of Ratul Da’s day was spent in his shop. The shop was like a chameleon which kept changing its shape time to time over the years. It started as a rental Movie VCD shop with a flood of posters pasted outside. Ratul Da never shied away from even putting B-Grade movie posters, but only inside the shop. But he, when asked by Dilu Sarkar uncle once, did remove the posters from the shop as he himself later sensed that it was a bit indecent. He used to keep all the B-Grade movies on a separate rack, but never rented those films to the kids. He was extremely strict about that rule. He once got unusually enraged when Gopal rented one out to a kid without his knowledge. Gopal used to do that sometimes for an extra 10 bucks.
Gopal was Ratul Da’s right hand man. He was like the guy whom we often saw sacrificing his life for the leading Gangster in movies, but could never earn a place in the poster. A year or two after starting the Cable TV business, Ratul Da hired Gopal to help him with the job. Since then, Gopal had been with him in whatever he did. Gopal was almost half the height of Ratul Da. When they walked together, it seemed as if one was riding the motorcycle and the other was sitting on the sidecar. Ratul Da had a small TV in his shop, which he used for watching films and cricket matches- it was that sort of a TV whose remote would stop working after a point- but one would still keep using it, thumping its back whenever it stopped. The TV used to attract a huge crowd, especially during cricket matches. The same faces could be seen inside the shop being completely glued to the idiot box, on each of the match-days. The shorter kids would be near the TV, while the taller ones would stand at the back.
It wasn’t a huge shop; but somehow it could accommodate around 15-20 people whenever a match ran on the TV- as if the shop had suddenly expanded. Ratul Da would keep the TV on for everyone even when he needed to go out. The shop was as much everyone else’s as it was his own. There were people who used to fritter away more time in his shop than Ratul Da himself did. Once, during a rainy season, the backside of his shop collapsed majorly. His shop was just at the foot of the hill and it had to bear the brunt of nature that year. There was a calamitous landslide and it made the wall crumble. He temporarily put up a wall of cane, using thick bamboo sticks to hold the provisional tin roofs.
Just when I was about to reach the cremation ground, I met Sanju who informed me that Ratul Da’s body was still at home and had not been brought to the cremation ground yet. So I averted my route towards his house instead. I tried giving a hard push at my memory, but couldn’t recall the last time I visited his house. But somehow I did have a vague idea of the location, if not the exact house.
To be continued
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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.