THE UNFINISHED JOURNEY OF A CONSERVATOR
It was a winter afternoon in the month of December. A chilly overcast day. The captivating clouds were sliding over the bright blue sky. The brisk winds were blowing wild. The coconut and mango trees stood like ballet dancers poised to show their grace and strength to the world showing in how they remain still and unperturbed by the seasonal gusts. The battering gusts were awful. The river appeared calm awaiting for the touch of warm ray. Cold is good if we are warm inside just as we love ice in the summer for its soothing effect. As our bodies were relaxed in winter, I felt lazy and drowsy in the day time and took a nap under the straw thatched roof. A beam of sun was piercing through the roof hole but was deflected by the presence of dust particles visible in my living room. The walking shadows of passers-by, the pedestrians and cyclist fallen on the walls of the entrance room formed in different shapes and sizes with ghost like images intimating the activities of others awaking and engaging themselves at work while myself was sleeping after sleepless night’s preparation for the ensuing civil service examination. The familiar voice of the old bangle seller was heard from the next door, perhaps he had come with shining loads on his shoulder to make the maiden and women wear bangles in their wrist for the happiness and prosperity in their conjugal life. In the mean time my faint sleep was disturbed by the rhythmical loud call of confectioner trying to sell sweets and snacks among the old and young alike. I was almost awake when I listened a stopping sound of a motor cycle in front of my house making grinding and squeaking noises. Someone got down from the bike and entered into my room calling me by my name. I became a little bit surprised but happy after seeing Gokul Mamu after a long interval. Since we had left Bhubaneswar our meeting was not possible as he remained busy at his new job under forest department of Odisha. Though we had no contact with each other for a couple of years we could not deny the emotional connection that existed in our hearts from our college career up to the present moment. Seeing the books, magazines and newspapers falling random on the floor he became inquisitive to hear the story of my success and failure directly from my mouth. He wanted to know about the outcome of the competitive examinations I have taken in the past. He questioned ,
” What is the tesult of the civil service examination you last appeared. You said you fared well in the examination, how is it? ” He wanted to know from me. “I have been beating about the bush
without getting proper coaching from the experts. Somehow I have learned a lot from my failures which will be proved useful in my future endeavour. When things begin to click, I will become successful” After interacting with me he departed from my room to meet my elder brother who was his class mate and childhood friend.
Our relationship with Gokul Mamu’s family developed from the days of our father and grandfather. My father was most respected figure in his family. He was deeply loved and regarded by each member of his family. His elder brother Jugal Kishore was one of the disciple of my father during his school days. After completion of his post graduation degree in English in Banaras Hindu University he started his career as lecturer in different colleges of Odisha under the department of Higher Education. Later on he had been posted as administrative officers like Block Development Officer, Tahsildar and Sub Collecter after being qualified in the State Public Service Examination. But as a man of literature he had great fascination for drama. Whenever he wanted to see his favourite odia plays he invited my father to enact the play under his active direction. That was the kind of bond Jugal babu had with my father. He took him as his role model teacher and a phenomenally talented actor of his time.
The relation of my grandfather with Pandit Trilochan Satapathy Sharma, the father of Gokul Mamu was special one as it never blew off during their life time. My grandfather, Baidyaraj Gangadhar Dash had good rapport with him through every thick and thin. He was an ayurvedic physician of his time who knew how to manufacture effective medicines from different herbs and cure the diseases applying them at the time of sickness and physical disorder of the patients There were many profession in the society to work with the people and the profession of doctor is one of them in which a doctor gets opportunity to listen to the emotional trauma of the people during their ailment. So a doctor bears a God like image with him. At the same time he bears an enigmatic personality evoking fear in the heart of villagers. He was authoritative to the core who was capable of inspiring, influencing and motivating his village mates for the well-being of the community as a whole. He had the habit of roaming in every nook and corner of the village everyday in regular interval like a roaring lion to discipline and prevent the indisciplined and unruly adolescents from going off the rails by rendezvousing themselves with vicious companions. So the ruffians and vagrants used to take to their heels when they hear jangle sound of the bunch of keys knotted to and hung from his sacred thread while he was walking like a king in his own kingdom. In the same way Satapathy Sharma had name and fame in the village for his accuracy in predicting the fortune of the people facing social and financial problems in their life. An incident changed the fortune of fortune teller overnight. He came to limelight when he was able to solve the judicial issue of the villagers in which they had been put into, through his nightlong worship to Godess Kali. People started to recognise him far and wide as an eminent astrologer with great esteem. My grandfather shared every emotion with pandit sahib as a true friend. In return he was always at his beck and call at any time whenever he needed sagacious suggestions from him. One day while having a friendly discourse between them they settled on the plan of actions to see the shrine of the Lord Jagannath at Puri.
In an auspicious moment of a summer morning they set out for pilgrimage to the holy city of Puri. Odisha. Both of them progressed to the abode of the Lord Jagannath by a bullock cart loaded with the food materials and utensils. It was an eco-friendly and hassle-free travel of discovering the different people and different villages from their starting point to the ultimate destination.They enjoyed the trip as if they were going on a picnic. Everyday they halted at new places sometimes at temple site and other time at river bank or near any water source for sake of cooking, freshening and for their bullock grazing. But when they approached the town the unexpected things began to happen one after another. When they reached puri they directly went to sea shore to catch a glimpse of the rising sun emerging from the vast ocean to touch the blue sky. After parking the cart on the beach unleashing the bullock from the chain attached to yokes and keeping their leather shoes and umbrellas in the wooden carriage they proceeded towards sea. They lifted a handful of water in right palm and sprinkled over their heads for purification of minds. After washing their feet in the water flowing in front of temple they paid a obeisance to Garuda Stambha and entered the temple through the main gate known as Singha Dwar (Lion Door) The Jagannath temple has four doors including this. There are many intriguing and unexplained mysteries behind the history of Jagannath Temple defying scientific logic. My grandfather and his friend could hear the sound of waves from the beach to the temple main door throughout the way like a foundered horse. But when they passed through the main gate and entered inside the temple the sound of waves was suddenly unheard to their ears. All of a sudden the uproar became silent and the environment turned sublime and serene. After passing through the entrance gate they proceeded towards the holy steps of the temple to climb over them to see the Lord. The steps welcomed them to tread upon. The 22 pious steps eliminate 22 types of sins if one takes speck of dust from the surface of the..step and put them on his or her forehead. My grandfather and his friend trustingly did this job to please the Almighty. While standing upright after crossing the steps their eyes fell upon the flag flying atop. It was flying opposite to the direction of the wind. It was a mystery. The mystery was intriguing and ambiguous Before having the final darsan of the main idol they wanted to go round seeing the different Gods and Goddesses consecrated around the main temple precinct. Sweet smell from fruits, flowers and leaves were spreading through the surroundings . As Lord Jagannath has a stern sweet tooth He has craving and fondness for sweets. Smell of sweets was wafting through the breeze. Aroma of lovage seeds was floating from the kitchen satisfying the smelling sense organs of the visitors. The entire environment was divine, sacred, spiritual and mythical. But suddenly a noise came from somewhere polluting the sanctity of the shrine. Might be in a corner a satan was sitting and still reigning to seduce humans into sins. They went towards the place where the big shouts were coming from. At last they traced out the epicentre where the disturbances originated. A big-bellied, half clad priest was trying to snatch forcefully the purse from the hands of a middle-aged woman. The so called Godman was rebuking her in filthy language using profane and obscene words. The point of contention was that he was demanding more fees in return for the spiritual service he rendered to her. But the lady was not in a position to afford the fees he imposed on her. In an undone and embarrassing situation the lady was shouting and weeping seeking the help from others. My grandfather came into her defense to save her from the undesirable and insulting circumstance. He went nearer to the brazen priest and said to him in a bold and commanding voice. “Why are you humiliating the lady for money? Free her hand from your clutch. This type of inhuman behaviour is not expected from a spiritual person like you.” The priest became insulted by the unwanted and unwarranted advices of my grandfather and got infuriated with him. Then he retorted. “What do you think of yourself, you southerner? Are you king Gajapati, you finger millet porridge eater? How dare you to meddle with my professional affairs you thick-skinned rogue? Go out of my sight. Or else….. ”
After hearing malicious words from the priest my grandfather lost his temper. Never had he heard such rancorous remarks from anybody in his life. So he decided to pay the priest back in his own coin. He began to demoralise him by saying like this. “Yes I am not a king, I am an ordinary human being with love for others. You have learned nothing good from God though you are closely associated with him. You haven’t got any copy right to beg in the name of God. It is better to starve than to beg. You are committing sins every moment and paying for them in the form of elephantiasis you are suffering from. ” The priest lost his self-possession hearing the words of the unpleasant truth from the mouth of my grandfather and advanced ferociously like a maddened dog to punish him with his clenched fist. Showing his tongue pressing between the teeth my grandfather was also ready to retaliate against any possible assault. Soon after the gangsters took part in the brawl to support the priest. They surrounded him like bees and punched his face with lethal blows. Pandit ji tried to pacify the situation but couldn’t succeed. In the mean time an unidentified miscreant from the local gang struck his head with metalic instrument causing blood to come out incessantly from the injured place. He had fallen on the floor and gone unconscious. Some social workers rescued him and admitted him into the hospital for necessary
immediate treatment. After being discharged from the hospital still my grandfather’s head bandaged with gauge they directly went to the palace gate to see the king. The Gajapati Maharaja. But their attempt of meeting the king was foiled as the Royal security personnel didn’t allow them to enter into the palace. Finding no other way out to get the proper justice they decided to go on for fasting unto indefinite period till their prayer is heard and justice imparted. The subject became the talk of the town. The matter reached the ears of the king. He has sent for the accused to appear before the court. The king uttered his judgement in favour of the pilgrims. The priests were suspended from entering the temple for the next couple of months. They were ordered to beg apology before the visitors. The journey began with devotion but ended in revulsion.
While I was ruminating on the nature of our family relationship that existed before the period of my grandfather till now Gokul Mamu came once again to talk and share with me his unventilated emotions lying hidden in his heart. The winter season we were passing through was reminiscent of our past memories. Though Gokul Mamu was senior to me by five years we were both reading in same college. He was doing post graduation in chemistry whereas I was reading Intermediate in arts. We enjoyed our vacation time at our village with our friends rejoicing in religious and social festivals. Apart from them we organised annual winter picnic party at Badapathar (a huge rock) A rock mound pushed up from the earth under a fountain flowing from the Lankagarh to it’s point of confluence at river boda passing through the backyard of our village. The great rock had capacity to accommodate more than hundred people at a time to sit and eat together. The total expenses of the picnic were met through the equal contributions of the villagers from infant to old in terms of grains. A little amount of money was collected from each head to meet the other expenses of the party. The subscription was less but the enjoyment was more than it. The trend continued for many years. But for last few years the winter picnic was intermittently observed due to lack of leadership and cooperation. On that day Gokul Mamu came to revive the old custom. He proposed me to observe the picnic at Badapathar without seeking any help from anybody. He was prepared to bear all the expenses of picnic from his own purse. I cordially agreed to his proposal to respect him. We went for the inspection of the spot with spead. cutting instrument and bucket. We cleaned the stone with water taking from the spring. We uprooted the climbers and bushes spreading over the stone. Gokul Mamu prepared a klin made up of bricks and mud for the purpose of cooking food. I collected some dried wood and twigs from the trees for fuel. In the mean time Budhia reached the spot carrying utensil on his head. Boys came with vegetables and grocery items in the market. News was circulated among the villagers through Sankar not to cook their night meals on the occasion of the celebration of picnic. But we were beset by a problem. The problem of cooking. Who will cook the feast in the absence of Hari uncle? Hari uncle was the regular cook of such occasions in our village festivals. But we have forgotten to inform him. Let us see what happens. We started to lit fire in the klin with dried leaves. Wood began to burn with roaring blaze. Immediately smoke curled up straight in the air. At that time Hari uncle was loitering over the river Valley to take care of his raised crops in his field. Tracing out the smoke he came to the spot where we were sitting. He questioned us, “What are you doing here my boys? Are you planning for picnic programmes? But you haven’t informed me earlier.” Gokul mamu replied, We were looking for you but you were absent at your home. We returned giving message to aunt to inform you when you arrive at your house. But it doesn’t matter, it is better late than never. You have come in right moment.” Hari uncle gladly joined the picnic and started to execute his assigned duty. In course of time the participants by and large began to assemble on the spot. They spent their leisure time in cutting vegetable and grinding spices into paste. Some participants were making merry by playing cards and listening to the radio songs. The cooking was finished and the meals was ready. The invited guests from the town had already arrived the picnic spot to enjoy the feast. Before serving the menu all items of the feast were sacrificed before the Goddess for puja. All sat in row in crouching posture on the rock floor to eat al fresco supper. It was a grand success
Since we had organised the last picnic we hardly met with each other for a long time Time rolled on, he was busy at his official assignments and I was busy with my new job Occasionally we met each other at religious function of our village and marriage ceremonies of sons and daughters of our common friends and relatives But our relationship had deepened into greater degree after my superannuation from service. I tried and trialed my level best to develop my poetic ingenuity in writing poems and short stories in English during the period of pandemic. He was the regular reader of my creative writings that had been posted into different social media sites. Though he hailed from science background he was unusually adept in using proper vocabulary in its proper place. He was great reader and critic of my writings. I remembered one of his signature saying that if we could add meaning to the life of others then we could add to the meaning of our own life. The real journey starts when we get retired we can get ample of time to put ourselves into noble endeavour. He was the source of inspiration behind my every literary accomplishment. Moreover as a wise person he was well aware of the fact that long life and good health are associated with each other to lead a meaningful life on this Earth. For this reason he was health conscious to great extent. During infectious period when the deadly corona virus was spreading like a wildfire he was keeping the people at his arm’s length in order to avoid the infection. But I’ll luck would have it that he was infected by the virus from unknown and unidentified source. One afternoon he informed me about the infection over phone. I advised him not to become panick about infection and undergo medical treatment under home isolation. But his heath deteriorated from day by day so he had to admit himself in a big hospital. But the big hospital having sophisticated life-saving system and eminent doctors couldn’t save his life. He took his last breath while undergoing medical treatment. The news of the sad demise came as a bolt from the blue. The villagers lamented over the loss of their beloved son of who looked after everyone at the time of misfortune. As the conservator of forest he not only conserved the trees and wild life but also he tried to conserve the social values customs and traditions for the benevolence of the society as a whole. He was s great lover of tradition- a conformist who respected the conventions, customers and mores that had been transmitted from generation to generation through written and un-written code. Moreover he was the great protector of historical monuments who wanted to protect and preserve them for future generation. The man like this comes once in many centuries.
Written by Dr. Santanu Kumar Dash, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India