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Those were the days

The tragedy in Allahabad on Mauni Amavasya during Kumbh mela this year has brought a host of childhood memories back to me.
In the Kumbh of 1954, the first one to be organized by Independent India, 3rd February was Mauni Amavasya ,and just like this time many VIPs visited Allahabad to wash their sins and attain unfulfilled desires by merely taking a dip at the Sangam. That’s when the same kind of tragedy happened. In 1954, only two pontoon bridges (today 18) were made because only that much was needed, one for the pilgrims to go and another for their return. When the VIPs descended, suddenly one got reserved for them .The one left, (the narrow bridge was not enough for two way traffic) for the aam aadmi (mango people) couldn’t bear the weight. Some people fell into the river Ganga and it resulted in utter chaos. The nanga sadhus decided to take priority. People got crushed to death in the stampede and drowned in the ice cold water, not knee deep, as it is today.
My father then, used to work for Amrita Bazaar Patrika. He was constantly shuttling between his office and the site, to give feedback to govt and rescue all relatives ,known, unknown people from his ancestral village of Malda who had arrived to wash their sins and ensure a place in heaven. Most of them were elderly ladies, widowed in childhood. For the young boys escorting them this was an opportunity to visit Allahabad at the poor lady’s expense.
Our home looked like a dharmashala. When all cots were occupied by senior citizens, and when there were no cots left, the younger visitors slept on their “hold all”, (a piece of luggage unknown to the present generation) spread on the floor.
Another thing I remember today is my mother, the dutiful “bouma”, who was busy feeding all those who came, for the pilgrimage, with the help of her woman Friday “Bohu”.
I remember Bohu, perhaps a little younger than my mother, but because she came to work at our house soon after her wedding, Ma would treat her and also call her bohu meaning daughter in law. And bohu would call my mother Bohuji. We, children called her the same. She was as dark as ebony. Her name tattooed on the forearm was hardly visible. She loved red color and every year during Durga puja my mother would gift her a red sari.
With our house full of guests, she arrived soon after dawn and stayed late, till all the guests were fed. My mother had never asked her to. She would say that she knew Ma slept last and woke up first. Why couldn’t she do a little to help Ma? After all guests would leave soon and then she would have no work. I cannot imagine this attitude today.
As soon as bohu arrived, Ma would hand over a brass tumbler of hot tea. She would sit next to the chulha, wrap the tumbler with her pallu and then hold it in both her palms to feel the warmth. The coal “chulha” was always kept hot, even through the night, with the help of ‘gulla’, round balls made from the coal dust and cow dung. In between sips she would narrate everything that happened in her home during the short period she was away.
I remember Bohu would sometimes narrate ghost stories of her village Shahdol to us, and I would be the one sitting on her lap, being the youngest at home.
My teenage brothers were given the task of taking visitors for sightseeing and enjoyed themselves every bit. They had been spared from attending to studies and Ma’s nagging. I had the privilege of sitting on the railing of the bicycle during these umpteen visits to the same places. But they were enjoyable, then and even now when I reminisce about them, “and then my heart with pleasure fills”.


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Vandana Bagchi

Home Maker/Housewife

Madhya Pradesh ,  INDIA

Born and brought up in Allahabad. Educated in Allahabad and Delhi. Taught in various reputed schools in Delhi, Mumbai and Shillong. Now enjoying retired life in Bhopal

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