Thinking of death, there are two people, whom I just can not forget. One was my maternal grandfather and the other my Music teacher(Mr. Anshuman Banerjee) in Purnea.
My grandfather died around 15 days after Raksha Bandhan. In that year Raksha-Bandhan was during a weekend; and hence I had come to home from Navodaya. So, accompanied my mother in her trip to his place. After living a fairly healthy life of over 80 years, he was ill for last few months and some strange illness it was. Not any internal body-part going dysfunctional, but just that his food would never get beyond his throat!! Details are unnecessary, just that it was a puzzling illness and nobody was able to identify what the problem was. He was surviving on saline water, but that made him extremely weak. While we were coming back, he asked me in Maithili whether we would meet again. Because of his weakness, his voice was not clear and also he had spoken in Maithili, with which I was not very comfortable then – so I could not clearly decipher what he was saying and stood wondering. My mother chipped is saying that he is asking whether or not you would meet him again – say ‘yes’! Obviously I repeated ‘yes’, but he replied that I did not say it on my own accord. So, now we won’t meet again. I did not take it so seriously, but guess what! Around 15 days later he passed away and I did not even get to see his dead body since I was at the hostel.
The other incident is even more intriguing. The time period of events are spanned over several years. I used to learn music from this old couple. They were Bengalis and most of their family members were in Calcutta (except for some who had relocated to Delhi etc.). We used to call them Chacha and Chachi. Very early in their lives they had somehow come to Purnea. While Chachi was still pretty sentimental about Calcutta, Chacha would not hear of leaving Purnea. “I just do not feel at home anywhere except at Purnea. Not even in Calcutta. When I go out, I always feel anxious and relax only after I come back here. I can not leave this place.” When Chachi would jokingly insist that she would leave and go away, he would retort quickly saying he can take care of himself and then his students would take care of his food and all. Even if everyone takes care of one meal a week, it would be more than enough for him. “Till I am alive, I am not leaving Purnea”, he would say.
But that was story of good, old days when he was healthy. When I was in class 12th in Ranchi, I heard that his health is deteriorating fast. When I went to meet him after my JEE results were out, it was a shock to see that the person who would not show any sign of fatigue doing all sort of work for the whole day was unable to get up and open the door. Chachi had gone for some shopping. Some of the occasions, when life teach you how momentary things are indeed. They were talking of leaving for Calcutta as in his bad health Chachi found it dificult to manage the household. She, herself, was fairly old. Chahcha remained silent through out that discussion. It was painful – as if he has suddenly realized how helpless he is. He can no longer claim to have a control over his own life. I somehow could not help but recall “Till I am alive, I am not leaving Purnea.” Will he leave Purnea? It was decided that they would leave around 6 months later. Meanwhile, the house needed to be sold, suitable person needed to be found for transferring the ownership of Music School etc. It was so painful for me to imagine that the house will be sold to someone else. I had seen it since I was 7 years old. So, many occasions of eating “Moodhi-Ghughni”, which Chachi would specially prepare for me because I would not eat many other things. Or that “maachher-jhol bhaat”. Those two-three days of exams – how all the students would be around for the whole day, eat there, arrange everything for the exam and examiner, supervise the exam-room, the instruments, the seating arrangement and the food! No more of all that! No more of the Saraswati Pooja. No more waiting till late evening because my father could not pick me up before that. No more scloding for saying “aate hain”, while leaving and not “jaate hain”. It would be just another house – not any more my “Music School”, not any more the home of “Chacha-Chachi”. Even today, I feel tears coming to my eyes. How would it have felt to him?
“Till I am alive, I am not leaving Purnea.” He didn’t say so this time.
This was in summer of 2000. Went to meet them again in the mid-sem break (during Dushehra) of that year. For the first time I saw an obvious eagerness in Chacha to meet me (not that it was not there earlier, but he was not the kind of person to show it. I remember, at one point of time, he was telling me how Chachi should not go around worrying about everybody. “Even I feel for people, but you can not involve youself too much with anyone. Everyone will go on his/her own path someday. Look at how she fuzzes over everyone.”). But this time there was an expression like “good you came” from him. While I was leaving he asked me when shall I visit again. When I said most likely in December he said, “You must come to meet me.” They were to leave in the last week of December. Unfortunately, in that vacation, I decided to stay back at IITK. Around 12th of December (I do not remember the exact date), I received a call from home that he had passed away… Could do nothing really. Called up Chachi. Now, it was even more important for her to move to Calcutta.
“Till I am alive, I am not leaving Purnea.” He kept his word!
Did they know?