Something fishy about Chitto
I have often been told by those who keep on renewing their pledge of loving me to death that I have a "deathless memory.” I too wonder at the treasure trove of memories that keep on flitting back and forth in the warm sunshine of the mind, rekindling long forgotten images and laughter. Often tears mingle with the rainbow of a smile and I am once again transported back to those days of my childhood with my grandmother where nothing mattered more than a thumping smack and a warm hug.
I remember living in a huge rambling house in my childhood. I must have been three years old then (this is the deathless memory I was talking about!) and I lived there with my two young college going uncles and grandmother. Baba would come once in every fifteen days, but those were pretty hazy memories. The ones which stand out are like the wild roses that climbed and clambered like naughty children over the trellis and onto the boundary wall.
We had a man-help - Chitto. He was a strapping young boy from Bankura, (famous for its terracotta handicrafts), and my best chum. I would not call him a chum - he was a friend, a punching bag and a security guard rolled in one! Chitto had one weakness - for fish!! Coming from a very poor family in the Bengal hinterlands, Chitto could not resist food. I would often dream of a brightly scaled frightened fish jumping into his open mouth. He was worse than a Cat, I called him Catman!
It was the month of April and we had a ceremony in our house. While Bengalis would eat elaborate meals, the fish dishes were the most discussed in all menus. That particular ceremony had prawn in coconut curry and fish kalia as the center of attraction. I had never seen so many severed heads of fishes in my life. They looked so ugly minus their bodies and I wondered whether those dead pouting lips would look good with a dash of lipstick!! Chitto was like a starved cat. He could not get enough of the fish and when his stomach protested - and only too loudly, he would then give a sheepish look and get up - regret on his face to have foregone another helping.
The ceremony lasted two days and so did the food and the festivities. My grandmother asked Chitto to lock up the kitchen door. It was quite a starry night and we all loved to sleep in the huge enclosed courtyard of our house. The smell of roses, jasmine created a heady and drowsy feeling and I was soon in the wonderful hazy world of dreams, next to my grandmother. Suddenly, there was a loud crash. It rang out like a bomb blast and everybody sprang up from their sleep.
My uncles rushed towards the sound and before I could make head or tail of what had happened, a squirming and guilty Chitto was standing in front of my grandmother along with my two uncles, who were trying their best to suppress their laughter. Words were not needed. Chitto's mouth was too full of fish to open, and curry was dripping from his tightly clenched fists.
But I remember one thing so clearly. Grandmother, not even for a second, was angry or shocked. I think she had anticipated that much. The next day, she gave an extra piece of fish to the young boy and the incident was forgotten. But somehow I am unable to forget Chitto and every time I think of the incident I am besieged by a flood of childhood memories.
Arpita Sutradhar, who works at NASSCOM Foundation in New Delhi, is a guest columnist with The Weekend Leader