It was a long time back. The details appear blurred at times. Nonetheless, it was the best summer I have had and has made an indelible impression in my mind. It was the summer of 1995-96 when I was in the second standard. My father got posted in Bolpur, Shantiniketan returning to our home in Kolkata only on weekends.
During summer vacation, my mother and I joined him for a month or so in that little quarter in Bolpur amid the quaint natural setting wrapped around by mother nature far, far away from the din and bustle of daily life.
It was no luxury holiday, or an opulent foreign trip, but the simplicity of it accentuated by the close proximity of nature and the cultural exposure which we felt still brings bouts of joy in my mind whenever I reminisce about it.
I had the fortune of spending two summers and one winter in that idyllic place in Kolkata and during that period, I witnessed the famous Shantiniketan Dol Utsav, the coveted Poush Mela, and a proper Santhal village. Although the intrinsic details may be a little obscured I will try to give a fastidious account of my experience.
My father’s township was situated in the outskirts in the heart of the fields and luckily our quarter was the farthest one from the entrance, almost in the lap of the open horizon. Our balcony overlooked the vast expanse of undulating fields lined by the faint silhouette of trees meeting congruously with the horizon.
Once when a thunderstorm raged through the fields, the winds moving with great gusto amid the equally raging trees and the booming noise of thunder seemed to proliferate our township, shaking it by their unparalleled strength, I was captivated by the raw unadulterated beauty of mother nature, by the impeccable color-combination of the sky casting a halo in the backyard illuminating the treetops with an eerie glow and when the torrential rain followed the thunder, it rejuvenated the thirsty fields and garnered them with a new equally scintillating look.
Never have I ever felt so awestruck by watching rains. Though I couldn’t take a picture of that unusual beauty it is still secured in the folds of my memory as vivid as yesterday’s phenomenon.
There I made some friends, more so companions with whom I shared many a laugh or tear. But with the passage of time, they all dispersed leaving behind a sweet memory to cherish. Hence on this cold winter evening, I thought to travel the memory lane to relive those happy times once more.
I have often heard of the artistic grandeur associated with Kolkata’s Shantiniketan Dol Utsav but to witness it with my own eyes was an altogether different experience. This traditional spring festival was started by Rabindranath Tagore at Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan and the legacy is carried forth even today. On that morning we went to the Visva-Bharati university along with a few other colleagues of my father and their families.
I watched amazed at the visually vibrant surroundings where girls wearing yellow-colored sarees and flower-ornaments were performing dances on Rabindra Sangeet. After the singing and dancing, started the famous “abeerkhela” where almost everyone was greeting everyone with colored powders. In no time the entire campus got embellished by a multitude of effervescent colors, rendering a bridal glow to the entire landscape and all of us were entranced by the sheer beauty of it.
Another experience worthy of mentioning is the Poush Mela, a cultural fair, a reason to celebrate in the chilly months of winter. Some 1000 stalls were erected in an enormous ground displaying fabrics, embroidered shawls, woolen garments, and also other artistic and traditional materials of heritage value. There, for the first time, I heard traditional Baul music.
The Baul music has roots in Vaishnavism, Buddhism and evokes mysticism. A couple was performing with impeccable finesse, the lady was playing the instrument while her partner was singing the Bengali folklore in a pellucid voice. Later when I studied the details of Baul music and the history attached to it, I realized that India is such a treasure-trove of culture, of artistic refinement, of talent pool but due to lack of due recognition and conservation, they are withering away day by day, advancing towards the fate of a dying art.
Lastly, I will talk about the Santhal village which I visited on a rickshaw along with my parents. Though a little vague in my memory, I remember going through a winding earthen road lined by the double storey and single-storey earthen huts. I was bewildered by seeing such gigantic earthen huts and the technology with which they were built.
Ponds were located here and there and an unmistakable smile was perennially present in the faces of the people despite the plethora of hardships they endure every day. It was an entirely different world, set in tranquility, camouflaged from the complexities of our outside world.
Now in the clamor of the modern world, such distant memories seem to be a portal to a happier time, a simpler time recalling which can temporarily suspend our daily anxiety and provide some modicum of peace.
Even the memory of a small quarrel with a friend, or a headlong collision with a swing-set while playing in the field or watching Dunston Checks In on Christmas Eve with parents in that little quarter has its own relevance. Those magical summers, far away from the din and bustle of Kolkata, in the nature-shrouded landscape of Bolpur, will always hold a special place, a safe place in my mind where I will always feel protected, catered, happy.
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