The morning welcomes us in the same way, with the only exception that it being a Sunday does not necessarily imply lazing in the bed till late hours of the day. Post breakfast and bath we set out to explore the town and buy small mementos for people back home. This time we decide to walk the two kilometres instead of taking the rickshaw. Walking down the road by the canal, the breeze sings in our ears as colourful butterflies flutter past taking short breaks on the tall green grass by the roads. The sky is a strange spotless blue designed with stark shades of red, orange and yellow emanating from the flowers that bloom on the high up branches. Again we pass locals on our way and wonder if our presence in their usual settings upsets the ambience for them…
A trifle tired as we reach the Canal More, we decide to stop for a cup of tea in one of the stalls. Hot tea in earthen cups tastes fantastic, with the smell of fresh earth surrounding us throughout. Instead of taking the left turn we decide to turn right towards Goalpara and walk down a few steps to ‘Ipil’. Does the name sound weird? It might…it means a star in the local Santhali language. A lone man runs this small shop or boutique in the real sense of the term. He makes all the items on sale with meticulous care in his own little studio room in one corner of the small hut like structure. The room smells strongly of grass, as in ganja…while the items on display, mostly Dokra craft can leave one mesmerized. We wander in the shop for a while and end up buying a few stuff that can hardly be found in the Kolkata or for that matter in the town area itself.
Satisfying our aesthetic senses for the time being we start walking towards the University area. We cross Shyambati, University More and walk further down leaving Purbo palli on the left. As we get closer to the now deserted Bhubandanga ground, a surging memory fills the mind – that of the Poush Mela. Started by Tagore, this huge fair is another event of importance in this town. Held over the 22nd or 23rd, 24th and 25th December, marking the Foundation Day of the Vishwabharati University. The ‘Melar math’ as it is also known as turns into a literal Fair ground with shops selling locally made handicraft items, food, items of daily use and local jewellery. There are entertainment corners and the crowd essentially pools in from Kolkata and other places as well.
One of the main attractions remains the ‘Baul Akhra’ where bauls come together and present their songs in a somewhat similar version of a JAM Session. People sit there enamored by the simple yet philosophically charged lyrics of the baul songs – a speciality of rural Bengal, particularly this part of the state. the lyrics as well as the tunes accompanied by the Khamaks sound strangely rustic as they sing in unison…‘Chatoko pray ohornishi/ cheye ache kalo shoshi/ ar hobo bole choron dashi/O ta hoy na kopal gune…amar moner manusheri shone…O milon hobe kototdine…’ The sorrow and cries of the soul reverberate through the strains of the songs that equate love for the supreme being through the love for a lover. Though literally Poush Mela ends on the 25th December, what continues is the Bhanga Mela or the remnants of the fair with some shops still selling items, now at a cheaper rate.
As we move further, rows of shanties sell locally made artifacts and items. Teracotta being a speciality in this part of the state, items made in this form are plenty and at rates unimaginable anywhere else. The earthern artifacts, the batik clothes, the Dokra ornaments…it actually is a shoppers paradise for those with a taste for elegance and sophistication. As the day gradually moves towards noon, tired of the walking, we take a rickshaw and head back for home. A little rest and packing our belongings we head towards Prantik Station to take the train back to our usual lives once more. The Ganadevta Express comes at 6:30 and we board the train, a trifle sad that the trip has ended but ever ready to come back at the slightest pretext yet again…and again…As the trains gains speed taking us further and further away from Shanti Town, a faint melody rings in the ears…‘Jabar age jao go amay rangiye diye, rokte tomar chorondola lagiye diye…rangiye diye jao jao jao go ebar jabar age’