Summer Vacation: The rustic but romantic village life of Bengal – Part – I

How did you spend your summer vacation?

I am sure most of us fondly remember our school assignments, even after so many years. The month May, usually signal one thing in the life of an Indian. It is time for the summer vacation in schools. A summer vacation is a fun and lot of exciting things. We, plan to go all over the world during this period, when schools are closed and would like to spend some beautiful moments of our life with our loved ones. During May, we’re ready for the next few months of scorching heat and perhaps heading for some places to cool us off.

Like most of you, we also eagerly wait for the month of May to come. For us, the charm of summer vacation lay in visiting our near & dear ones living far away in Bengal. We looked forward to spending few days having the time of our lives.

We planned our trip to home four months’ in advance, precisely on 17th January and booked our train tickets.

Note: Recently, Railway has changed booking window from 4 months to 2 months.

It’s the same old story once again, making last minute courtesy calls to the neighbours to request them to look after the home when we are away.  The train journey…

Reaching Home

Reaching Home

and we were almost going ecstatic, as soon as we spot her after one long year…the white necklace…the sight of Howrah Bridge also meant homecoming for us finally. We reached the place from where we belong…my home, our home…and our holiday has just started.

The white necklace - The iconic Howrah Bridge

The white necklace – The iconic Howrah Bridge

When I was a kid, we were living in Lakshmikantapur, a village in 24 Pgs (S), W.B. The place was 150 KM from our ancestors place. We had a big joint family.  As a kid, the only thing we looked forward to was going off to our ancestors’ place, to be with our grandparents and cousins. The only chance we got was during the month long summer & Durga Puja vacation.

Today, we keep on hearing that kids have many options which we didn’t have as a kid. I am not too old to initiate a debate about now & then. Personally, I do feel that we did have many options back then as well. It may not be as cosmetic & sophisticated as it is now.

We used to plan in advance about things we’d do there. We’d run in the fields, climb up the trees to pluck mango, jamon, falsa, and guava, sometimes try our hands in fishing as well in the pond or do everything possible. It was so much fun.

Did you ever have a chance to taste the natural mango directly from the tree? You cannot find that much sweetness in the carbide effect mangoes. We were ready with stones in our hands. We used to pluck mangoes from the tree and count who has how many…and the greater taste resides in the mangoes that are stolen from the tree, isn’t it!

It’s long time back. Today, after so many years whenever I think about those days, I feel very happy about my childhood. Now we are grown up but we all miss those days. The time we spent together and the bond which we developed over all these years, even if we are not able to meet each other quiet often.

For my son, we feel it’s always better for him to visit his home, to meet his extended family, whenever possible. He must do the things, which we did long time back. Am I expecting something unusual from him? I don’t know how he will see this journey some years down the line – but I just hope that he will also be waiting for the month of May to come, every year.

Tricks transferred - Poor boy's handmade flute (Banana leaf)

Tricks transferred – Poor boy’s handmade flute (Banana leaf)

This is going to be the first in a series of few about our summer vacation. I will try to take you through the rustic charm of  villages, including some beautiful places of West Bengal and obviously there will be more on ‘the City of Hope’….yeah Kolkata, “the City of Joy.’ Hope you will love to read these.

With due permission from all of you, I would like to introduce my village briefly, which may not be relevant in such travelogues.

Dasghara is a small village, 12 km north of Tarakeshwar in the Hooghly District of West Bengal. The history of Dasghara dates back to the 18th century. The Zamidari of the Biswash family was established by Kamal Kanta Biswash. The Zamidari extended over a wide region comprising the villages of Madhabpur, Jaragram, Aantpur, Champadanga. Kamala Kanta Biswash came from Chol Gango Prodesh of Orissa and was a Vaishnav.  He constructed the temple of Radha Gopinath Jiu. The marvelous terracotta works in the temple still attracts the attention of visitors. The Gopinath temple has the distinction of housing some of most preserved terracotta panels in whole of West Bengal.

The village also has two main schools, one for Girls & one for Boys, including a very good Library. Dasghara High School was established in 1858. Both the schools, Girls & Boys are very renowned in the state. This year, two students ranked 10th & 11th respectively in the State Higher Secondary Education (XIIth) from these two schools.  

Dasghara High School - Established in 1858

Dasghara High School – Established in 1858

Library - Established in 1917

Library – Established in 1917

The Ratha Yatra is a very important festival in our village.  On this auspicious day of Ratha Yatra (July10), we wish you a very happy Ratha Yatra.

Ratha Yatra

Ratha Yatra

Every year in mid-summer, Lord Jagannath, with his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, goes on vacation, travelling on grand chariots, from his temple in Puri. This belief has given rise to one of the biggest religious festivals in our country, the Rath Yatra or the Chariot Festival.

The Ratha Yatra festival falls on the late of June or early July. It is celebrated in the honour of Lord Jagannath an avatar of Vishnu. The day is also considered very auspicious, marking as it does the start of the sowing season or the monsoon crop, throughout eastern India.

The fair is very popular and people from our adjacent neighbourhood locations congregate at the fair. People scramble around to get a chance to pull the holy rope of the huge chariot. An image of Vishnu in the form of Jagannath (Lord of Universe) is placed in a wooden chariot built in the shape of a temple on wheels, which is drawn by men of all castes to the Library, near Roy Bari.

Chariot pulling

People scramble around to get a chance to pull the holy rope of the huge chariot

Dasghara Roy Bari

Dasghara Roy Bari – The arched Gate & Ganta Ghar

This month long festival is one of the major entertainment arena for the locals and plays an important role to the local life in surrounding villages.

Stall - selling pineapples

Stall – selling pineapples

This fair is an integral part to the lives of people in surrounding areas. Makeshifts stalls like one in the picture sell toys and other stuff that attract the curiosity of the children and old alike! “Paapar Bhaja” (Fried Papad) and “Hot Jilipi” are synonymous in any fairs in West Bengal. There will be numerous stalls selling these items, including fruits, Jewellery, Household items, Cooking Utensils, Sports items, clay dolls, as well as many other things in this festival arena.

People who otherwise live without any entertainment, throng to the fair, which offer them the happiness and joy they yearn for in their struggled existence. Such fairs sell inexpensive stuff but bring back priceless smiles to the villagers and cannot be measured by mundane socio-economic theories. 

Some useful household things

Some useful household things

Stall, selling toys

Stall, selling toys

You can experience the hidden treasures of Bengal villages through such fairs and feel the rustic but romantic village life of Bengal. If anyone is staying in nearby area and reading this post, may plan to visit this event.

I had seen many fairs in rural Bengal.  Fairs like ‘Ghosto’ in South 24 parganas during the month Baishak or ‘Besher Mela’ in Joynagar Mazilpur are just to name a few. Starting from Paila Baishakh, the first day of Bengali calendar, every day the ‘Ghosto’ fair is scheduled to take place in different surrounding villages. The date is fixed for that village and we had full 30 days entertainment. You can imagine a time, when electricity was a distant dream at all the places and there was no TV set. Life was completely different for us. We used to go there together and come back with loads of clay dolls. You will not believe the price of those dolls, which are still there at our home…some of them are almost at my age. Ghosto and Besher Mela (fairs) are a part of 24 Parganas (S). I did miss such fairs of  rural Bengal, including month long Rather Mela or Jhulan Mela at our village in Dasghara. It’s much much different than going to any city fair, which are much organized but without any life. I am sure it is not only in rural bengal, but in most other parts of the country as well. If you have never attended any such fairs, it will be a treat for your eyes.

I will bring up all these in some of my posts later and just hope you will find them interesting. Till then and my next post, the following picture is for all of you who loves the vast green field of rural Bengal and want to drink the green colour and a guess of what’s is coming up next…

The attraction in my life!

The attraction in my life!

…to be continued

29 Comments

  • Your’s this posts remind me of the stories by Ravindranath Tagore. Village life of Bengal and there is always some river around. All these rivers make Bengal a very green and populated country.
    Once I took train from Siligudi to Sealdah and I was able to peek into lush green serene setting and villages and also a glimpse of Hoogly river once a while.
    I had a serious temptation to visit these villages and spend some days and walk around. Your post kindled that fire again.
    Thanks.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Praveen.
      True. A branch of the mightly river ‘Damodar’ flows just next to our house (less than half KM) and during this time it’s full of water. The main river ‘Damodar’ is within 5 KM from our home…and the district Hooghly and Burdwan are one of the most fertile land in the entire country. We grow three crops in a year…rice, potato, jute are the three main crops in that belt.

      My home is sorrounded by vast green fields from two sides..pristine and serene…and that green color, I just drink in those few weeks whenever I am there for next couple of months…

      …next to our home is a colony of Santhal tribe…they are rich in art & culture…you will be amazed to see their house, built in mud…they worship their home as a temple…their home are very clean and they coloured their walls with paintings. They just enjoy and love dance…and it’s wonderful for us to see them whenever we want to see their dance.

      A leisure walk in the village road is what you just need to relax to enjoy the nature. May your wish come true soon…if we were staying there, I could have invited you…but then you will have to wait for one more year.

  • Vipin says:

    A pretty nostalgic post, Amitava da! Yes, we have eaten fresh mangoes plucked from the trees…& not only that…got caught many a times while plucking & then beaten at times too…i remember an incident of this sort where we were plucking mangoes at a new place…a bit cautious of the gardener…there came a person with a stone in his hand…initially we thought he might be the gardener, but then when he started throwing stones on tree…we joined his company…but as soon as he saw us busy in throwing stones, he caught us red handed then & there & took all our mangoes & threatened us…he actually was the gardener and set a trap for us…:)

    I was reading a story ‘Feats of Clay’ in Outlook Traveller this morning during my 1 hour bus ride to office which mentioned about the 15 Heritage gems around Bengal & one of it was Dasghara…& then a story from a resident of Dasghara itself, what a coincidence! Loved the lively story of your hometown and it’s cultural aspects…photos too are pretty nice…

    Look forward to see some more gems from Bengal from you…thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you Vipin.

      So, how it feels now when you think about those days…don’t you miss them? Don’t tell me – I am aware of the same. I can just go on and on to narrate such incidents…those were beautiful days in life.

      I didn’t aware of Outlook Traveller’s recent edition and the story. I just saw it same in the net. It is really a coincidence and it also proves that you read very attentively.

      Dasghara has a long history believe me…I shared something with you this morning through mail…if you are visiting there next, you can tell the Chairman of the Trustee that you know someone from his family in Dasghara…

      Bengal has a rich culture and I just missed some places this time due to heavy rains throughout our stay in Bengal…all day…

      Hope to bring some good posts to all of you…

  • Nandan Jha says:

    And it finished too soon. :-)

    This made me remember the beautiful conversation we had, when we were celebrating you as ‘Featured Author’. I am leaving a link , incase any one wishes to read. It has some of the detail of the village life, Amitava mentions here.

    http://www.ghumakkar.com/2013/04/15/ghumakkar-featured-author-interview-with-hearty-amitava/

    Eagerly waiting for the treat of Bengal life

    • Hi Nandan…yeah, agreed. The initial post was very long…but, I just cut it short and reduced it to almost half…as I was expecting mixed reaction from a few about why anyone would be interested to know about a village life, where he/she may not even think to travel in lifetime and somewhere lost the at the last.

      Thank you for encouraging and gave me the freedom.

      On correction mode now…promise to do a justice in future posts…

  • Rakesh Bawa says:

    Amitava Ji, very nice post and really it smells of rich rural milieu of Bengal. I,ve also read stories of Byomkesh Bakshi by Sardindu Mukhopadhaya, translated version, of course and like it immensely. Overall I find culture of your state as great, now kindly tell me is it really great or some hype is also thereof all intelligentsia almost living in Bengal in the field of literature, art, theater etc.?

    • Thank you Prof.

      Byomkesh Bakshi is one of the most successful detective characters in Bengali literature created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. He, along with Prodosh Chandra Mitra…sorry Feluda are the most lovable detective characters in Bengal, even today after so many years.

      Regarding your last question, a small reasearch about Bengal on any fields and you will definitely come to a conclusion, yourself.

      ‘Hype’ – I am not aware of any such thought…is there any such thoughts exists!

  • Saurabh Gupta says:

    Thanks Amitva Ji for showing us the village life of bengal.

    I always like to spend my free time in a village with fresh & cool air. Thanks for sharing this.

  • ashok sharma says:

    your post re freshened the old memory of my village i loved so much.very good post,nice photos,especially the green fields with coconut trees in line.

    • Thank you Sir for liking this post.

      That’s the main objective to bring such posts to all of you…to bring those bygone days in front of us and personally, I am a very homesick person…and may be just want to live my village life through such posts…it still puzzles me when I think how I am working and staying here for such a long time…only for bread & butter, that can easily be earned at home without much hardwork, I guess…

      Nice to know that you have liked the phosts and the last one.

  • Vibha says:

    Lovely piece of writing Amitava! My family lost these roots during independence and I don’t have a village I can call my own. Delhi is my village, my city, my whole identity. Your nostalgic account makes me remember Delhi of yesteryears. We had fairs here too and those quintessential “Maut ka kuan”, Magic shows, ventriloquist displays etc were the same every year but we made it a point not to miss any of them. One particular show I remember was where a Dog had been trained to say “Ram Ram”. It was surreal, almost magical!

    I will look forward to the next post Amitava. You have a great writing style…and your pictures don’t overshadow your writing…they complement it very well!

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Vibha, long time. How are you doing.
      I am so glad to receive this message in the morning, but just manage to reply now.
      ‘Maut ka Kuan’, Magic Show, Puppet Show, Yatra Pala (it is an industry in Bengal) all these are still very much part of any fairs in Bengal…and a lot more…though it is a new thing to me to learn about talking ‘Dog’…so interesting. The trainer must be very good. We also never missed any chance to attend with our parents.

      If by any chance you come across any such village fairs nearby, do let me know.

      Next post is scheduled on 13th…not started yet…it’s still in my mind. Thank you for the compliment. Hope you will love the series as well.

  • Thanks Amitava for refreshing the childhood memories of Village. As I have spent my childhood in a village, I loved it much. There was no mango tree in our Village but we have plucked even stole many Pomegranate, BlackBerry (Jamun) and Guavas direct from trees and enjoyed eating them but we were never caught.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Naresh.
      We all love to talk about our past, aren’t we.
      It’s not living in the past, but remembering those days will always have a great impact on relationships. While writing this post, I was continuously remembering my grandparents, who are no longer with us…but we can still feel their love and I am not alone here. It happens with all of us.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    @ Amitava – Nauchandi Fair at Meerut and Numaish at Moradabad. Both are a day drive distance away from Delhi. Pretty big fairs. Best time to go is in the evening so you would need to plan accordingly for the return. I have been to both and have mixed feedback. I guess while on one hand they reminded me of era gone by, at the same time the poor administration, hygiene, traffic management, crowd rush management does sometime get to a bothering point. But in any case , a visit is must.

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Thank you Nandan for sharing this info.
    So, the second Sunday after Holi at Meerut (~100 KM) and sometime in September at Moradabad (~150 KM)…will definitely plan someday.
    The distance is very much manageable, since both the roads are in good condition.

  • Saurabh Gupta says:

    Amitva Ji,

    You may also visit Muzaffarnagar (120 Km from Delhi) for Numaish but you need to visit in summer for Nauchandi & Numaish.

  • Stone says:

    Hi Amitava,

    I read and re-read this post couple of times, tried to comment but something inside stopped me.

    Ive never been to a real village, my dad shifted to Delhi in early 60s, and my mother is from Delhi itself. So dont know what it is to live in a village, but when I posts like this, photographs of houses/roads/fields/tube wells/livestock/village fairs/or schools all that trigger something within, make me restless.
    Still Im short of words to explain the feeling.

    Thanks for writing and sharing this wonderful post, hope one day Ill spend some time in real India.

    Regards,

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Sandip for appreciating the post.

      Few years back some of my cousin brother’s friends went to our village to attend his marraige from Delhi…and I took them around the village, as well as one day tour to Kolkata.
      They had never been to any village before and many things were new to all of them, seeing them closely, so real – it was one different kind of experience for all of them. I can relate your state of mind very well with this practical experience of mine.

      I do wish you to fulfil your dream someday…and you are most welcome to stay with us for few days, whenever we will be there and suits with your time schedule.

  • Puru says:

    “Such fairs sell inexpensive stuff but bring back priceless smiles to the villagers and cannot be measured by mundane socio-economic theories.”

    Kya Baata hai boss !!….chha gaye tussi..

    nice post..nics pics..nice description…asusual an excellent post by Amitava

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Amitava,

    I too have childhood memories of going to village in our summer or winter vacations. Our village is not too far from Delhi and now we are lucky to have the Yamuna Expressway going there. The darn thing was one of us would always fall sick. But it was always nice to get all the attention there and we would be decked in newly stitched clothes.

    Of course, stealing fruits brings whole different set of memories. We were blessed with jamun, khirni, shahtoot trees lining up the Lutyens streets. The gardners who had developed lawns on both sides of the roads were our biggest adversaries and the hunt would always end with a jump over the boundary walls and the nalla lining the road to safety.

    I have driven around some villages around Kolkata. They always look pretty as if set in a novel. The best thing is the pond you find every few kilometres. Ecologically they are good in the sense they capture rain water and also recharge the ground water.

    Thanks for bringing back the memories!

    • Hi Nirdesh…Thank you.

      Whenever I crossed India Gate & surronding areas during summer and saw jamun on the road, my eyes always search for at least one good piece. Sometimes I am lucky and most of the time they were not in good shape…and we land up paying Rs.120 to Rs.140/- per Kg at the moment. So, there are advantages and there are disadvantages of a city life…and we have to realistic. We all have some stories to share.

      Were you working in Kolkata? Then you would be very familiar with such places…water bodies play an important role in keeping ecological balance and we are missing such water bodies here…

  • Bidisha says:

    Hello Amitava, the blog is truly nostalgic. It immediately reminded me of my peaceful childhood association with the green steel township of Durgapur where I have been born and brought up. We used to have this brilliant Ratha Yatra festival and the primary attraction of the township residents was the Annual Fair of Rath Yatra. It used to the much awaited times for us and I have some unforgettable memories connected to this fair. It was also the time for shopping knick-knacks and even partial clothes shopping for the impending Durga Puja. Oh how I miss those days! Thanks again Amitava for unlocking some sweet memories :).

  • Thank you Bidisha…it’s the same story for me…you can very well understand. So, you are also my neighbour…good to know that.

    I really miss all these and while I am replying to you, my niece is on the other phone and telling me how they enjoyed today’s Ulto Rath Yatra…for me, it is only the recording which I run again and again from our last visit to witness the Rather Mela in Y-2006.

    May I also invite you to read the other two parts…you may love them as well.

  • Sugita Vani says:

    Thanks Amitava. Made me recall an overnight stay I had in a village called Falta in West Bengal somewhere near Kolkata some years ago.We had gone to attend a deity installation function there. . We were welcomed on arrival with garlands and sandalwood smeared on our faces. We had to bathe in the local pukur ( pond )

    Also Surabhi kunj in Nadia district is like this – quiet and peaceful.

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