He was the barber in our village named Rabindranagar.
Technically speaking Rabindranagar was not a village until one walked another one third of a kilometer towards the Behala Flying Club and crossed a canal.
My father used to call him Bipin and we used to call him Bipinda. On rarest of rare occasion if he ever had to address my mother, he addressed her by “Didimoni” but my mother never called him by any name ever.
We used to sit on a brick while he used to cut hair. If we ever wanted to use any wooden stool for sitting, then it had to be washed before taking inside the house again. Brick in Bengali language is called “it” so we used to call it “Italian Saloon”. The outcome of his hair cut could be described by a single word of computer science “non-deterministic”. So if someone worked at an important position in an office and his look was important, probably the best advice for him would be to apply for seven days leave before the haircut and if the outcome turned out to be good cancel the leave else enjoy the leave. He always used to tell stories while cutting hair, and if the story was long he would cut too much of hair and the scalp would become visible. My father always liked him and I also liked him for another reason. I liked him for the stories he used to tell.
Rabindranagar village had four wards, 1 to 4. We lived in ward number 4. Almost all the lands of these four wards belonged to a person called Bhoda Goyla (which means milkman Bhoda, ‘Bhoda’ in Bengali means someone who is not intelligent), born as Bhadra Ghosh. Selling milk and rearing cows was his family business and he also used to cultivate the huge amount of inherited land during monsoon. After Bhoda Goyla’s mother died, Bipinda told me this story one day while he was cutting hair he went for a pilgrimage for the benefit of his late mother’s departed spirit. He had kept all the papers of his land record in a wooden box, locked it and left for the pilgrimage with his family which comprised of his young wife and a son. Upon return, he discovered that the papers in the wooden box were converted into powder by mice. He was illiterate, so he approached one educated gentleman, Manoranjan Mukherjee, who was also the postmaster of the New Alipore Post Office. This man took few thumb impressions of Bhoda Goyla on white paper and eventually Manoranjan Mukherjee became the owner of his vast amount of land. Bhoda Goyla lived in a smallest possible hut for the rest of his life, few years later he lost his wife and then his son. Eventually he committed suicide by hanging himself, being unable to withstand the burden of life.
Manoranjan Mukherjee’s house was at stone’s throw away from ours. He lived till very old age. He had a lunatic wife, who needed 24 hours attention, he had no children; he allowed few of his distant relatives to stay in his house probably to avoid loneliness.
Bipinda had unlimited stock of stories but none of them were “they lived happily ever after” kind of stories.
Bipinda became vegetarian. He explained to me why vegetarian food is good. He explained to me that foods like rice grain, wheat grain, fruits etc. are actually food for the plants. Milk is the food for the calf. So if someone eats them they are actually eating food. But meat is the body of an animal and the lust, greed, hate, anger of the animal stays with the meat so anyone who eats them is bound to inherit those animal qualities. If the words “lust”, “greed” etc. are replaced by “metabolic waste product” then what he told was right.
As we started growing young few barber shops started coming up in our area. The first person in our family who could escape the clutch of Bipinda was my eldest brother.
A family works like a Bohr’s atomic model with only exception that no pairing takes place. Each orbit is occupied by one child; the youngest one occupies the lowest and the oldest one the highest and all the intermediate children occupy the intermediate orbits. Every time a new member is born, every older child is pushed one orbit outwards. The parent’s fate is sealed at the nucleus, of course. Higher the orbit, lower is the influence of the nucleus on that orbit.
Hence my eldest brother was the first who started going to a barber shop. He did not look any better I knew for sure but probably he did not feel that way.
Till my graduation Bipinda used to cut my hair. At some point in time I realized that his stories lost their charms.
Eventually my father had to start going to barber shop because Bipinda became very old and he stopped working.
Many years later when my father died due to old age, on the 13th day after his death we needed a barber as a part of the Hindu ritual. Bipinda suddenly appeared at the spot. He looked very fragile, very weak, and almost unable to stand. His eyes were full of tears. “Please do not stop me from performing this last rite of my Babu.” He used to call my father as ‘Babu’ which also means father, but probably he was almost of the same age or could be older than my father. He performed all the rituals with utmost reverence and left.
Many years have passed since then. Probably he could not be seen anywhere now.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal.
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