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Early in the morning, standing on the meadow across his house he used to watch people going to buy fish from the local market; however there were some who were going to work.
The first one to be seen, going to office was a gentleman named Mr. Govinda Banerjee. His walking was so peculiar that it could draw anyone’s attention. He had an unusual white complexion which was attributed to his severe anemia and used to walk with an unusual slow speed and that would take him more than an hour to walk up to the town, a distance not more than two kilometers; he would take a bus from there to travel to the city where he worked as a clerk. He had three daughters, two of them were out of school for many years and two sons, the elder one, who should have been in college but was still in school because in almost every class he had failed once and sometimes twice; his younger son was epileptic but was not provided any medical care.
Most of the people who would go to work very early in the morning were daily wage earners, vendors who sold fish and green vegetable in the local market and farmers who worked in the fields; a farmers’ day started before others could even get up from bed.
Every house whether big or small, made of brick or mud had one thing in common – there was a pancake shaped dried cow dung with an impression of five fingers, slapped beside the main entrance door into which five pure white cowry shells, a form of small sea snail whose flesh was taken out, were slightly pushed inside before the dung dried. It was considered to be auspicious for the family. Some ancient people in the village claimed that cowry shell was used as currency when they were young and they further claimed that during their grandparents’ time cowries were even good for buying gold. Above the main entrance door there was a ‘swastika’ which was believed to bring peace in the family.
Small children who attended morning school had already left for their school. Boys and girls who attended day school were busy in their studies sitting on the veranda, with books open in front of them and reading with top of their voices while swinging back and forth creating an undulating sound. Women were busy with their household chores like sprinkling cow dung and water on the courtyard and smearing with a broom, taking their domestic animals like goats and cows into the field. The animal was tied with a rope around its neck, the other end of the rope was knotted to a wooden stick of about one foot long to be pushed into the ground which would restrict the movement of the animal in a circle. Ducks were released from their coops as the feathered animals had been proclaiming their impatience by quacking from inside their cage since dawn. As soon as the door of the cage was opened they started running on their webbed feet while their backs were swinging a little on both sides till they reached the pond. They would be swimming there all day long eating snails, small fishes and soft stems of water lilies. They would be called back by someone in the family using a special sound ‘choi choi’ [‘ch’ sounds like ‘ch’ as in a chair] in the evening before lighting an oil lamp near the “Tulasi plant” (Ocimum tenuiflorum) in the courtyard and blowing the conch shell; sometimes, especially during the monsoon when there would be no demarcation between a pond and an inundated land, few ducks would not return as they had swam out of the territory of the pond without even realizing and someone from the family would be trying to bring them back by searching at all the nearby ponds and lands while calling them by creating the sound “ai choi choi”.
There also were boys in each family who were school dropouts, primarily because they failed multiple times in examination and eventually felt uncomfortable to sit in a class with much younger boys. There were few who had passed the high school examination with very poor grade and were looking for jobs without having any hope to find one. For girls, who were either dropouts or had passed the board examination would be waiting to get married which in some cases would take many years; sometimes they would grow old and would not look good any more.
Whenever Proloy’s mother would get angry, especially on her eldest son, for not paying attention to his studies, she used to site examples from every single family in the neighborhood where the number of earning member was only one and number of grown up boys and girls were many, sitting idle at home, having no hope of either getting a job or doing anything useful in the future. Even though her primary target was her eldest son but on a timesharing basis she would stare at her other sons as well.
[To be continued]
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