Through his eyes – 35

The annual “Charak fair” was not only a great attraction for small boys and girls but also for women of the village. Some people used to call the festival as “Gajan fair”. It lasted for a week. The fair was organized by those who were the original inhabitants of the village. In the middle of a vast open land a wooden pole of about 30 feet high was planted vertically. A rectangular shaped wooden device having a circular hole, through which a bamboo pole could pass was fixed on its top in such a way that the device could rotate freely on the wooden pole.  A bamboo pole, about ten feet long was passed horizontally through the hole of the wooden device and was tied with a rope near the center of gravity of the horizontal pole. Two ropes were tied at both ends of the horizontal pole. A young man, who performed every year, hanged from one of the ropes by tightly holding it and few others used to rotate him in a circle by holding the other rope and running in a circle while drummers remained busy beating drums.  While rotating in a circle he uttered few words praising Lord Shiva and released the rope and fell on the ground but was not hurt. The most breathtaking performance of the fair was jumping on daggers. An expert, who had been performing every year and had learnt the skill from his father and his father in turn had learnt from his father and so on, would climb on the pole. His upper body remained smeared with ash. Few large and sharp daggers each about few feet long were planted on the ground in parallel positions, each separated from the other by about 2 feet with their sharp edges facing up. After climbing on the top of the pole the performer would utter few lines from the top of his voice praising Lord Shiva in a language which sounded like Bengali and would jump. The event was so full of suspense that even the drummers stopped beating their drums for few brief seconds when he jumped. He would fall exactly between two daggers without being hurt. Even though it had a great attraction among the boys and girls but most of them would shut their eyes with both hands just before the jump and would open very slowly like a person coming out of a dark room and would open both the eyes completely only after being sure that there was no sign of injury. Some performers used to jump on fire instead of daggers. No one was ever known to have suffered from any kind of injury while jumping.
In the fair many handicrafts made of wood, bamboo canes and clay, made by local craftsmen were sold. Many useful household items like aluminum utensils, kitchen knives etc. were also sold by vendors who used to come from outside for the occasion and those items were of special attraction to women. Two items that were sold in highest numbers were mat, made from one kind of long leaves called ‘Hogla’ which grew in inundated lands and ‘Kulo’, made from finely cut bamboo slices woven in a flat shape. There were two varieties of it; the type of ‘Kulo’ which was used for removing husk from rice grain was of rectangular shape, about two feet by one-and-a-half feet in size with rounded corners. Its three sides were fenced, about an inch high, with a hard material made from thinly cut wood or bamboo woven with its flat base. To remove husk, rice was pushed into the flat surface through its unfenced side and the grains were jerk lifted by holding its two sides with both hands and pulling the rice slowly back into it using the same technique  used by a wicketkeeper in a game of cricket for catching a ball thrown by a bowler. While collecting the rice on its flat base it was pulled anterior at a slow rate so that rice grains, being heavier and taking shorter time to fall in presence of air collected at the rear end and husks being lighter and therefore taking longer time to fall collected at the front, resulting in the separation of the lighter husk from the heavier grain.
The second type of ‘Kulo’ which was generally seen in the shrine rooms of Hindu families was made in the same way as the first type but was having the shape of an ellipse and had a painting of either goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth or Lord Ganesha, the god with an elephant head or goddess Durga, having ten hands, each holding an weapon for close combat.

In the fair many local boys and girls also sold toys which they made in their homes. A toy which was popular among small boys and girls was a monkey which climbed down a vertical pole having the shape of a wooden pencil.
But over and above everything what attracted boys and girls the most was food, fried in oil. The most popular ones were eggplant fries, pumpkin flower fries, banana blossom fries &C. The other popular food was sweet.

It was the third or the fourth day of the fair. The sky was overcast with cloud since morning. A wet bridge was sending a reminder that it would rain. Proloy had spent few hours in the fair. In the afternoon he returned home to ask his mother if he could have some money with which he could taste some foods that were being sold in the fair ground.

As he approached near the vicinity of his house he sensed some strange calm everywhere, nobody was seen anywhere, roads were empty, nobody was playing on the playground. Before he could ask his mother about the money his mother informed that Dulal Pal, the young Naxal who had escaped death once, was murdered inside the house of a local tailor. As Proloy started walking towards that house he realized why every street was empty, the entire neighborhood was standing on a ground looking at the tailor’s house where his body was lying. Ironically that house was just few feet away from the spot where the police officer Shanti Baruri was murdered almost a year ago.

Email: mintughoshal@gmail.com

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