Currently I am reading stories about childhood. It's impossible not to go back to your childhood when you read well written stories about people's childhood. My childhood was spent in a sleepy little town which you may remember from your geography lessons. It's one of the few steel cities in India, the one with the strangest name: Bokaro Steel City.
This the third part of a blog on Bokaro. I have already introduced the subject in two of my earlier blogs (the links for those interested are at the end). This time I won’t be general, I would be specific in time and space. The time is Saraswati Pooja and the space is the area around my residential area: UCO Bank Colony.
Bokaro is a well planned town, planned by the Russians who helped establish the steel plant. They divided the town into sectors. They had the financial wellbeing of residents in mind and hence allotted residential space for the different banks of the country to come and root their employees. UCO Bank colony is the place for the people who worked in UCO Bank. It’s in sector 5 surrounded by colonies like State Bank of India colony, Bank of India Colony, Punjab National Bank colony etc.
Every colony had its Saraswati Pooja Pandal when I was a kid. As Bokaro was also an educational town (popular around for sending children to IITs), parents put their best efforts to woo goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. My parents were no less. In addition to worshipping the goddess in the pandal in our colony, we also celebrated Saraswati pooja at our homes. This story comes out of this necessity.
Anyone who has seen a Hindu Pooja knows it requires flowers. And the king of flowers is hibiscus, the blood red beast opening up like red lips laced with betel. There were only two hibiscus trees in our colony belonging to the garden owned by the manager. In Hindi there is an phrase that reads ‘Ek Aanar Sau Bimar’. The situation was very similar here. Too many flowers wanted and too little available. The winners were those who could wake up the earliest. I suppose every flower bloomed in the morning and before the sun was out during Pooja day, was ready to be put on the altar of Goddess Saraswati in one of the houses. The competition for getting the best blessings was tough.
Another solution had developed due to the scarcity of the flowers, something like a black market, only that it involved stealing. I and my younger brother, who could not beat the competition for waking up the earliest, were among those who took up the second option. We resorted to stealing the flowers from a nearby posh locality of residents who had big gardens, short gates and slept well till early morning. Just like any tradition, stealing flowers on Saraswati and Durga Pooja was widely followed.
Both of us woke up in the morning. We took a light green colored plastic bag each, opened the door with the slightest of noise lest it woke up our parents or our little sister. Then we slowly went down the stairs in the darkness taking our steps cautiously. The watchman uncle had the gates of the building open early in anticipation of the thieves strolling out. The gates of the colony were closed though and we climbed them. Nobody was in sight. The roads were empty with the street lights welcoming our move. We were going to have a good catch and a greater part of the goddesses blessing.
None of us felt like talking. We already talked whole day to each other. We walked parallel to a nullah and could see the cross roads on the other side of which lay the posh area. When we reached the crossroad, somebody got angry. We looked at each other. A shadow rose on the other side. And then another shadow was rising. Then the ‘guerrr’ sound reached our ears. Two dogs had decided to spoil the day for us. And we had awakened them, in their minds; there could not have been any doubts. We were potential thieves, they couldn’t have been more correct.
There was a brief moment of silence. I being the elder of the two was determined to get the flowers. In a moment of sheer courage or stupidity, I picked up the stone lying right at my feet. ‘Don’t do it’, whispered my brother. He was the more practical one, but the die had been cast. As soon as I had picked up the stone, they were sure. And they started running towards us.
My brother was the first to turn. And then me. They were loud and menacing, their barks reverberating through the stillness. I ran straight back, and he being the clever one, diverted and ran across the nullah. My heart was pounding like a hammer had been hitting it. My breath was that of an athlete who had just completed his race. Both the dogs were after me, I figured out. Nothing could be done, I had to keep running.
They stopped chasing us after making sure we were far away from the posh society. My brother joined me sometime later, smiling.
‘Baap re, Phat lis’, he said in a colloquial tone.
‘What to do of the flowers?’
‘Let’s go and study, that’s better.’
For Rendezvous de Bokaro II click here
For Rendezvous de Bokaro I click here