Crossed his forties, still a pair of age-related spectacles was missing, for what reason he knew better. His front baldness, some would say added to his personality. When he would ride his scooter sporting a Gandhi cap, he would compel others to envy him. His pair of white trousers would always speak volumes on his gentle nature. His manner of talking was also distinct. He would greet all with small bouts of smiles. Besides all these, he was a gift of gab. He would cause rise and fall in his tone in such a manner that, his talking would flow like the ripples of a serene sea. He was also associated with the All India Radio as a part time feature writer. He would also join Kirtan (Singing, dancing, music and devotion all in one package) as he was a singer. With his long experience and education he knew how to tackle and manage common men. With all these coruscating qualities undoubtedly, Satyabrata Tripathy was a respected gentleman with an enviable and adorable personality. He was the head master of Darbhanga Ashram School, being managed and funded by the Ministry of Tribal Welfare. The inhabitants of the locality were also happy finding such a jewel as the head master of the local school.
Students were given education up to the seventh class in the school. It was a boarding school and for this reason students from far and near would come to the school for study. As per government guidelines the students were provided with free books, dress materials, lodging and boarding, apart from a monthly stipend. Keeping aside affection towards their wards, poor parents would admit their sons in this school. They would feel satisfied that one day their sons would be men of respect in the society. They would leave their wards inside the lovely and green environment of the school and would return consoling their sobbing hearts. It was really difficult for the students at such tender ages to stay away from their parental umbrage. Again at this far away place, where there were no acquaintances of anyone, it was very hard for them to stay in the hostel. There were no mothers to serve love-laced tea, spicy fried rice. No one was there to give a caring hand to massage a dose of balm on the forehead in case of cold or headache. Parents would leave them only giving a small amount of money with their wards. Managing money though happens to be difficult for the matured minds but those students were asked to manage. In other words, they were matured men in their teens. But their management was rather smooth thanks to the presence of Satyabrata as a fatherly heart was palpitating inside his ribs.
Royal cookers were appointed to cook and to assist them, there were some peons. One would think that there would be no problems for the boarding boys. But the reality was not so rosy. Leaving their works, the peons and cooks would rather teach the boys the gospel of great people like Gandhi, Nehru, Gopabandhu and others of bygone era. They would teach them about the austere life style of freedom fighters. They would always harp on the Gandhian saying, “Do one’s own work.” And the boys would get good lessons on culinary art.
The curriculum of the school was more or less based on the Gandhian system of Education. Gandhi used to say that the present system of modern education extolled the culture of head and downplayed that of the hands. It was for this reason the boys were given extensive trainings on various works like Carpentry, tailoring etc.
The night of serenity would break to the crowing of the punctual crow and instead of basking in the golden sunray the boys would start doing a long list of morning activities. First the unwashed silver utensils, buckets and other utensils would stare them for cleaning. Then the scattered filth of rice, pulses and curries of the kitchen would wait the boarding boys to wipe. In order to ensure equality and avoid discrimination all the boys would do such works in turn. This writer was searching the beautiful lady Democracy in other parts of India, but how could he have found, when she was swinging and giggling in the serene atmosphere and the lush greenery of the school. Some would fill the empty pitchers, buckets of the class rooms, teachers’ room and the kitchen, drawing water from the well. The veranda like a human being would take a bath as grains of rice; yellow specks of pulses would attract stray flies if left unwashed. Like the herdsman who bathes his cows everyday the boys would also bath the veranda every morning. Some boys would break big pieces of coal into small pieces. Some would take these small pieces to the coal ovens and burn them to red hot. When the ovens are prepared some would start cooking. The official cookers no doubt would be with them, but would supervise their works. The boys would cut the vegetables, grind spices and do all kinds of culinary activities. It was a training to make them culinary experts, hoping that someday in future, this art might fetch works for them.
Whatever it may be, as Sunday comes after Saturday, their lunch time would come. All would bring out their silver dishes and coteries. Soon mind travels to the scene of a jail where the jailbirds repeat similar kinds of activities. Who knows if the Ashram was preparing them to face any situation, be it to be jail inhabitants? What is there to feel shame as India’s national father was a prisoner? In order to habituate them to coarse rug, the Ashram also provided black rugs to them. Oh, sorry straying around. Yea, when after dealing out meal to all, they would begin eating; the boys would feel the presence of stale rice gruel in their pulse. It happens, but not very often really a matter of respite for them. But the menu items would seldom change; the same pulse and potato, no non-vegetarian items like egg, mutton or fish. Cruelty towards any living beings like hen, fish or goats are regarded as violence as said by the father of nation. Gandhi, don’t worry you’re honored here. Apart from meals, the government does not provide any breakfast and the hostel boys would arrange the same from out of their own money. Certainly, the Ashram was trying its best to inculcate the value of love in the minds of the boys. It is said and felt that India lags behind, only for the declining value and respect towards labor, among its citizen. But the Ashram was only trying its best to instill the value to its students.
Leaving all these there were many professional programs like training on cultivation like the art of tilling, weeding, sowing, fertilizer applying and doses and others farm related activities. It is said that Indians cannot live without this culture. Disregarding the mother is not good also. Certainly, their ideals were high. The Agriculture teacher would give every boy chances to learn to avoid any discrimination among them. But the produce like rice or vegetables would enter the houses of the teachers and their children would eat them without any due credit to the boys.
Then the turn of the Tailoring teacher would come. What happened, if there was no Charkha (Spinning Wheel) they have transformed the Charkha into a Sewing machine. Oh, father cannot you take this as Charkha, one of yours favorite emblems? Oh, come on, India has come as long way leaving aside the tearful memory of the bygone era. This transformed the Charkha with its “Kit, Kit, Kit” rhythm, sings the paeans of weavers, who were weaving the Khadi clothes. The teacher would show his sartorial skill on shirts, trousers of the teachers. The boys would stitch buttons, sews button eyes, mingle them. Oh, stop nonsense. This is not an instance of child labor.
Carpentry, oh, it was not running well thanks to a ban on cutting trees, imposed by the Ministry of Environment and Forest. There the boys lost a chance to handle adze, hornet, saw and others such tools. Anyway, they would help the teacher in making sofa sets, chairs, beds for the teachers and their relatives. Oh, come on, what if there was a ban, woods were available in black market. The staccatos of adze and saws made them fortunate as the little knowledge can help them adjust to any situation.
The Peace bell would ring at 4 PM. The boys would get a chance to sip the breeze of open space. They would come in platoons. Some drape in napkins, some would wear the khadi (Coarse cotton clothes) school uniform. Their uniform that was of khadi variety was conspicuous from a distance. Each boy would hang a key from their pant. This reminded of the pendant watch of Gandhi. They would play for sometime with a mended football and would return to the Ashram after answering the evening call of nature. Evening would deepen. After washing or refreshing themselves, they would attend a prayer class that reminded the prayers of Gandhi. The Ram Dhun(Psalm devoted to Lord Ram) would sooth the atmosphere of the school. Gandhi would have been happy, had he been alive. ‘Attention, Peace, here begins the prayer’ a boy would ask all to be attentive. “Come Oh, Lyre in hand, white clad, seated on swan’ the prayer would go seeing psalm of the goddess Saraswati, known to bestow education and knowledge to her devotees. Oh, their tone happened to be delicious and would compel a passer by to stop and listen.
Oh, I have completely forgotten. But let him relax on a sofa as he has already entered the scene. So, here I go to him right way. You would like to know more about Satyabrata Tripathy. How should I begin? Really, I am confused. If I would like to describe him this way, that way would be left behind. The same predicament of ‘The Road Not Taken.’ Anyway, it is upto you to figure out and make a complete picture of this gentleman.
Satyabrata, was the only son of an affluent father. In other words speaking, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was adept in managing the Ashram affairs. First of all, taking the help of his affluence and acquaintances, he was able to increase the number of seats in the hostel. But by and by, school opened in every village or two or three villages. Further, as school came near, no parents wanted to send their wards to hostel. You might think that it was a problem for Satyabrata to fill the seats of the hostel. But in reality it was not a problem rather a way to the land of prosperity. What happened could not make out any thing? Don’t worry you cannot also. Let me make the things clear for you. The increase in seats meant increase in the amount of stipend, quantity of rice and pulse supply, contingency grant and clothes for uniform. To ensure others golden support, local boys not belonging to the earmarked class were permitted admission, flouting the norms of the school. Serving stale rice, gruel mixed pulse, tomatoes without any vegetables; the Head Master was able to appropriate a lot of money by selling the garrison in the market. If someone would remain absent, it was also an opportunity for him, as no one in paper was absent. Absence always happens to be a part and parcel of school life. Boys, who go to their houses, would never return, before the end of vacation or leaves. Truly, a boy of ten or eleven years old cannot forget his parental love. If someone would fall ill or contacts a contagious disease, as happen to be a regular feature of hostel life, the class teacher would always deliberately leave the square in the Attendance Register, blank for future manipulation. The government also earmarks funds for oil and soap, but these were never provided to the boys. Small boys cannot protest and their docile and simpleton nature was the cause of Satyabrata’s affluence.
The stipend, Satybrata would ensure, are not paid in full. The number of stipendiary students was more than the number of actual students paid. The balance amount would go to the coffer of the Head Master. What, you said alone? No, no, you made a mistake on your part. It is said that, it is very hard to swallow the traditional rice mill (Dhinki) without Narada’s knowledge. (Narada, a son of God Brahma would always travel the world, seating on a Dhinki) And he was also paid a part of the rapacity to keep shut his ears, mouth and eyes. Ah, like the three monkeys of Gandhi’s drawing room. When auditors would come to the school, they would be served with roasted hen, maintaining a ratio of one is to one. They would fell for this institution and would frequent the compound, solely to satisfy their salivating mouths and minds. Narada and Satyabrata would shuffle the draughts of chess board at their will. He would want docile and pliable colleagues in his Ashram to perpetuate his regime. Further, all would fear him, as he was a close friend of Narada. If he would like, he would send any teacher to count the pug marks of tigers in a remote tiger sanctuary.
Pabitra joined the Ashram as an agriculture teacher. He was himself a hostel boy in his school days. He knew very well about the rat excreta mixed pulses and gravelly double boiled rice. When he came to know about this kind of exploitation, his Ashram made blood boiled. In sheer anger, he warned Satyabrata to stop all these exploitation of poor students. Satyabrata would think, ‘Truly a freedom fighter has incarnated. I thought a malleable soil creature. Wait, my son wait.’ And true to his word, Pabitra got a transfer order to a high school, after two months of his stint here. It took no time for Pabitra to know the involvement of the corrupt Satyabrata. Pabitra joined in the new school, meekly.
Joining there, Pabitra could not sit idle and silently. ‘What to be done and how’ he would question his mind. There came an effective way. He informed the Central Bureau of Investigation office giving all details. In the greenery and clearly sky of the Ashram, a canopy of cumulus cloud was seen enveloping with off and on sparkling. Suspension after suspensions followed. First of all Krishna (A powerful incarnation of God of Hindu pantheon) clad Satyabrata was shown the way. All registers were seized and combed. Millions of rupee were found missing. Satyabrata was charged with malfeasance and embezzlement of government funds and sent to custody for further inquiry. But he was filling lonely and bored for the absence of Narada’s lyre and music. He would mumble, ‘Narada, Narada.’ God finally melted and to relieve him from further loneliness and boredom, God arranged to send Narada to Satyabrata. Narada draped in a prisoner’s apparel, with the traditional silver dish and bowl came to join him. The irony was that Satyabra lived in an environment that he enforced in the Ashram. One night they started dancing and singing psalms of God but no one took care of this twosome. And their sound just faded in the four walls of the prison.