First published in Usawa Literary Review
How rapturous, this dance of light on leaves
The wild storm in the shal forest makes my heart quiver.
Following the trail of the red road, folks dart to the haat
A little girl sits by the dusty path and spreads out her toys
These scenes that I bear witness to strike the cords of my heart’s veena.
I listened to that song. As a child. As an adult. Somewhere along the line, I started singing it. To be inside a shalbon or Shorea Rubusta forest for real remained a distant dream for me. The opportunity to witness these forests finally materialized in 2007, when I began freelance work in Delhi and could pick my own holidays. Along with my mother, an alumni of the Visva-bharati University at Santiniketan, I headed to Bolpur, the city in West Bengal where the university — Rabindranath Tagore’s gift to learners of all stripes — is located. Vishwabharati Fast Passenger, the train we took from Kolkata’s Howrah station, sped past unending tracts of green towards Bolpur.
Read the rest in Usawa Literary Review
As we stepped down the station at Noon, a heavy downpour received us. “It’s been raining non-stop for the past two days, Didibhai,” Anwar, our rickshaw-wallah told me. I sighed. We had only three days to spend amidst this verdant, semi-rural landscape. Anwar promised to return to our lodge at 4 p.m. to take us on a rickshaw jaunt.
Shortly after we finished lunch—a filling platter of rice, lentils, jhuri aloo bhaja (finely julienned potato fries) and fish curry—the clock struck four. The rain had stopped. Anwar waited outside. “Come, Didibhai, I will show you a few things around here today. You have come such a long way, from Delhi. How can you miss gramchhara oi ranga matir poth, Khoai, or a Santhal village?”