The nearest railway station from my ancestral house in Calcutta was Brace Bridge.
While I was studying M. Sc., I used to travel little more than two kilometers in my bicycle to the rail station from my house and take a train to Ballygunge, where the university campus was.
In late afternoon, almost every day, there used to be some show near the station on a vacant land owned by the rail company. The most common was the monkey show. The trainer used to give verbal instructions to the monkey and the monkey used to follow those instructions, like dancing with drum beats, acting &C. Sometimes the trainer used to lie on the ground, pretending to be dead and the monkey used to pretend as if crying by rubbing eyes with hands but there used to be no tears in its eyes. And sometimes the monkey used to pretend as if it had died and the trainer used to cry, again no tears.
The next common thing was magic show. One interesting item in the magic show was floating mattress in which a small boy used to sit on a small mattress, when the magician had started to spell magic words, the mattress started rising up from the ground, very slowly, it used to rise up to about two to three feet high and then stopped. However the ground below the mattress could never be seen because it remained covered with long black cloth.
Another common show was tightrope walk. A boy, or a girl, or sometimes both used to perform gymnastics on a rope with its one end tied to a lamp post and the other end to a wooden pole.
At the end of the show people used to clap and many people used to give some money.
One day, while I was walking out of the station I saw something which I had never seen before; there was something very long hanging from the upper most end of the lamp post, which was commonly used for tying rope during tightrope walk. When I approached closer I found that few long chains of plastic pouches were tied to the top of the lamp post, the height of the lamp post was not less than 25 feet. I wondered who took all the pain to climb so high and hang those chains from there. Each single pouch contained about 10 to 12 small tablets, which looked herbal.
When I reached at the spot it was already crowded, I had to stand behind many people. I realized that a salesman was selling a product, which he claimed to be the most effective and safe medicine for worm infestation, which was very common among small boys and girls in India during those days.
A large drawing of human digestive system was hanging beside him, with the help of a long stick, like the one commonly used by a teacher in anatomy class, he began the approximately 25 feet long journey starting from the esophagus. He started explaining how food gets digested in human body, how and where it is absorbed, and how the worms could affect the health of its victims by eating the digested food and thus depriving the host of essential nutritional ingredients. His choice of words, power of articulation, appropriate gesture of hands, and loud but clear voice was so perfect that whoever listened to him for a minute got attracted by his speech and could not leave. While explaining the several symptoms of worm infestation he mentioned that victims developed several symptoms like becoming weak, losing weight, not performing well in sports and other physical activities, feeling tired even after rest, and even failing in exams because victims would develop such conditions which would appear like malnutrition and which in turn would create a condition called attention deficiency syndrome and would make it difficult for a victim to memorize what they have studied which eventually would result into failure in exams.
Worm infestation and failing in exam could be distantly related but due to his power of speech it seemed that they were intimately associated as if two sides of the same coin.
At the end of his long discourse, people, mostly those who were returning home from work, started buying the product. I did not count but I was sure he sold not less than 100 pouches, which was a very good number.
During the entire episode, a middle aged man, about five feet tall, having pale look was standing next to me and was listening with undivided attention.
When the crowd thinned out, he walked closer to the salesman and asked “Will my son pass his exam if he takes these tablets”.
“Absolutely” the salesman replied.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal
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