Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | May 11, 2009

Sodepur function

Sodepur, a town in North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal is an integral part of my life. Though these days, I don’t like visiting the place mainly because it has become overcrowded and is very loud but undoubtedly, I have very fond memories of Sodepur where some of the best days of my life were spent.

In making Sodepur, such a memorable place for me, my elderly aunt and her late husband’s contribution is immense. My aunt is quite older than my father (both his sisters are older than my father but she is the eldest) and fondly I call her Pishimoni. The days when I used to accompany my father to Sodepur on a Bhaiphonta day are still etched in my memory.

For the benefit of readers who don’t belong to India, let me explain what Bhaiphonta is. India is known for its numerous customs, and Bhaiphonta is one such. On an auspicious day during the year (I am avoiding the nitty-gritty of how the day is determined), sisters pray for their brothers to have long and happy lives by performing the ceremony. The ceremony essentially consists of sisters putting a teeka (or a mark or phota) made of sandalwood extracts on the forehead of their brothers. The younger brothers touch their sister’s feet to seek blessings and if the brother is elder then the sister does the same. The festival is normally held either during middle of October or early November.

Early in the morning my father and I, dressed in good clothes would take the train from Sealdah railway station towards Sodepur. Pishimoni’s house, in those days had huge free spaces. So there was a big field, a pond and lot of fruit bearing trees around. In fact, the only bit of rural touch that we had when we got out of Kolkata those days came through our visits to Sodepur. There were many people living in that house too, like it used to be in joint families. As far as I recall there were nearly 20 people living at the same time. Imagine, how it must have been when on Bhaiphonta days at least six of Pishimoni’s brothers (three more were staying outside of Kolkata, so normally could not make it regularly), would turn up to add to those 20, making it quite a big gathering.

To be honest, I had nothing much to do there. On one hand, I was quite young and never quite relate to my elderly uncles who were present there and on the other I was never a food loving person who would go there for the sheer joy of eating. Yes, of course my cousin sisters wished for me and I was also graced with a phonta or two but for me the main attraction was surely to be amongst the crowd – just watching them.

I remember Pishimoni’s bedroom where the event took place was the place where everyone crowded. All my uncles jostled for a place to sit on that bed. My Pishemoshai was a very nice gentleman with an ever smiling face and he took the initiative to organise the annual event. It was not a grand event in terms of food or sweets being served but whatever was done was done with utmost joy and sincerity. If Pishemoshai radiated smile, then the heavy voice of my uncles (and father) discussing their childhood and sometimes serious issues like literature, politics etc created an environment of knowledge for me. It brought me closer to the family where I belonged. I was very young and as I said watching everything even sometimes without much comprehending. However, that was not the only thing that I did. My onetime best friend Abhi dada’s presence ensured I get to play too.

Abhi dada was two and half years elder to me and is the son of Pishemoshai’s youngest brother. He stayed there and well of course had much more knowledge of the place than I did. I remember Abhi dada being quite a mature person even when he was perhaps 6 or 7 year old that time. He used to wear very powerful glasses and was never a bully. We were very good friends and both of us generally hung around together on that day either playing cricket or playing hide and seek. That time, I literally idolised Abhi dada because I found him amazingly responsible ensuring that I don’t get hurt. Today I hear, he is indeed a very responsible man ensuring everyone in his family is well looked after.

It was not a grand celebratory function in materialistic terms that I remember but it was a celebration of togetherness at the highest level. I wonder whether Pishemoshai, whom I don’t remember to be earning millions ever budgeted for such events but the love he and Pishimoni showered on all of us were unforgettable. People may say, they were expected to do so but with whatever little experience that I have, I can safely say not always people do things as nicely as they did even if that is expected out of them. It was very touching and for me as a youngster provided ample opportunity to learn from their simplicity. I did not have any sibling but always felt I was witness to an event which defined the very essence of Bhaiphonta.

When I picture those days now, I miss Pishemoshai who is no more with us, many people who resided in that house have expired too, Pishimoni has grown very old, my father and his brothers are old too. Over time the bond between the siblings became stronger too despite the younger generation becoming more and more aloof with each other. We the younger ones did not consider taking forward the legacy while moving ahead. We never bothered enough to ensure that despite our older generation getting much older we take up the responsibility to provide the environment so that they can enjoy. Yes, we became too busy, our costs of living have increased and we got entangled with too many to handle on our own. For good or bad things changed.

Lot of transition has taken place in our lives from the time that I recall. While on one hand, we hardly find these kinds of functions being organised on the other hand, some of us criticise such events as sheer waste of time and resources. However, one thing is for sure despite not having too much of affluence in those days, people looked for occasions to exchange love and affection. Cynics may still question those bonds as being superficial but in most occasions they weren’t probably. At least, I am proud to have seen bonding between siblings which were hardly superficial or even governed by sheer duties.

The house at Sodepur has changed too. Yes, Pishimoni still lives there and technology enables me to talk to her occasionally but she is not the same old self. How could she be? The house where she spent most of her life does not look the same any more. There are hardly any open spaces now because other houses have come up (on the land which we used as our cricket field) there and she has new neighbours. The pond which was so attractive has not been maintained by anyone after the old patriarchs expired and the trees have been cut down. These changes I am sure none could gauge when I attended the last Bhaiphonta event some twenty five years back.

Change is constant I know and we have no option but to accept it but people like me who take time to get out of the transition phase take a lot of time to move forward. I don’t regret my habit all the time because when I ride the brilliant time machine to go back in time, most times I return enriched.


PS: Whenever I remember Pishemoshai, I read this post written by my father, last year.

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On another note, I liked this article by Vir Sanghvi and wish at least educated people understand what he is trying to convey here.

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Responses

  1. This post reminds me of the stories my father and grandfather used to share. Bhaiponta is Raksha Bandhan isn’t it? That practice is not prevalent here in Tamil Nadu but I wish it was. Your blog is a mine of sorts, am constantly digging up interesting stuff about people and places that I had no idea of 🙂 I attempted this Ramayana thing on my blog, check it out if you have the time 🙂

  2. I read your father’s post and few more posts on his blog. I didn’t connect with his name on the blog roll till you mentioned it in your recent post. It’s very nice 🙂 His writing style is very similar to yours 🙂

  3. I really liked this post, Tanmoy. It gives me a real sense of what India and its people are like. You conveyed a very nice authenticity.

  4. Dear Tanmoy

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog.

    I too have some fond memories of Sodepur and Didi’s house including Bhaiphonta(brothers day, ncidentally there is no equivalence here although there are Mothers day and Fathers day ).

    I used to look forward to visiting her house on that occasion although I was not able to share many of these with my other brothers subsequently having left India for Britain in 1966. I remember the first occassion after her marriage when Didi had given us a dhoti each as a present and a sumptuous food. That was quite a treat and expenditure for them considering that all my brothers, nine in total, visited her house.

    In the school holidays we (me and my younger brother Dwiju) visited Sodepur frequently, Dwiju went more often than I did. I used to spend agreat deal of time fishing in the pond and often swimming there. I must admit that I have never managed to catch any fish.

    Sodepur in the fifties was an idyllic place vaguely reminding me of the villages in Bangladesh where I was born and hardly could remember. One of the interesting experiences of visiting Sodepur was walking along the main road, nearly a mile long, from the railway station to Didi’s house. Along that route there were hardly any houses, mostly farmlands and the Pijrapol (the dormitory for the cattle). One would hardly meet anybody on the way. We often felt lonely and scared. When I visited Sodepur subsequently I was totally dismayed by its transformation. It was not the Sodepur I knew in my childhood days, all built up and hustle bustle everywhere just like Kolkata and the attraction was not there

    Monijethu (Sibdas Chakrabarti)


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