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Though I always regretted for not being born in a great city, this is partly compensated by Providence as I was born in a house which is very close to a river – the Barak. The good fortune appeared to be part of my horoscope as I continued living near rivers continuously for last twenty years – the Ganges, the Bharatpuza, the Alua(Kerala), the Sangam (Pune) the Clyde and the Kelvin(Scotland), the Thames(London). I have also observed that I find a strange unease living in a city which does not have a river or is not by the sea. I always felt a strange kind of repulsion in cities – Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Durgapur. As a matter of fact, I could not ever consider working in Bangalore, Hyderabad when I was in my early twenties although I lived 500 km from both of them. This temperament has no logical explanation.
A river for me is a constant reminder of our mortality and also a faint echo of our reaching out to some unknown. As a private citizen of Calcutta, I have direct experience of the urban agony and the Ganges at many number of Ghats have always redeemed me. A decade ago, I was roaming on foot in the streets of Calcutta – unemployed and un-employable and this was the time, the river Ganges was kind of a sanctuary for me.
It is impossible for a non-lover to have any idea of the undercurrents of love and care Calcutta hides under the authentic “third-world-ish” chaos, crowd and noise. He/she will only observe a spectacle – a haunting one and will find consolation to consider that majority of our countrymen live in rural or semi-rural areas. I longed to return to my boyhood small town home. In summer days, I used to sit for hours in the Ghats and that amplified my longing – to escape this exile. I understood why the exiled Jews remembered their homeland in Babylon as they saw the water of the Euphrates. The Ganges helped me to keep my sanity.
Today, I woke up early, gathered two young assistants and went for a ferry ride over the river Barak. I used to be here – swimming in the river when I was of their age. A river is also like a vein – the blood of young or old flow – the flow is ever fresh, ever new. The greatest and the craftiest teaching of a river is to be aware of one’s mortality and also of its transcendence.
In one of the greatest works of fiction of this century – One Hundred years of Solitude, we suddenly encounter an abandoned Spanish galleon – visited by young boys. They speculated as how this came and we can also speculate – may be thousands or million years back when the mountain was under the primitive ocean. May be.
We just saw a retired ferry – very strange – on a raised land as if it either going to drop to the river or just threw up by the river over there. The rusty structure reminded me of the great work and I mentioned this to the young boys. They became interested. They even inquired of the work which they need so badly but are unaware. The ferry of imagination that can only redeem them.
There is a folk song in Sylheti which captures the sense of exile from home for a young bride and she sings softly with the invaluable melancholic sadness of a girl of Bengali origin
“কে যাও রে, ভাটি গাঙ্গ বাইয়া.. / আমার ভাইধনরে কইও নাইওর নিত আইয়া”
She remembers her father’s home – her home in her husband’s house and as she senses a boat passing, she sends her longing in the eternal text, her father perhaps no more and wishes her brothers takes her to her home.
We are all searching for our home. In a fundamental sense, we are all in exile.