Stories…the word evokes a magic spell of a gossamer nostalgia…of precious childhood Sunday afternoons, hearing stories from my father, stories which were deliciously absurd mixed with a childish mirth….my favourite was the story of the talking skeleton, endearingly named Bipin babu by my father. Infact Bipin Babu was almost a part of the family since father had this skeleton from his Medical college days. Hung on a pole, my grandfather’s hat on his head, Bipin Babu grimaced at the ironies of life even after ‘death!’ ( I faintly recollect my innovative uncle lighting Bipin Babu's sockets with red bulbs) Father’s stories had an unreal appeal (surreal was not born in my dictionary then!), innocently forging the fantastic and fearful with a lot of fun!! Like when my thakuma (grandma), the perfect matriarch, caught Bipin Babu red handed stealing rosogollas from the fridge and then his skeletal frame being chased out of the house by my authoritarian grandma.. How Bipin Babu reentered our household was an even funnier story. There were also anecdotes about the hair raising adventures Baba and Bipin Babu had together….but oh!! invariably at the high point of the story the storyteller fell silent….The restless audience comprising of me and my cousins wailed and howled desperately…but Baba was already snoring then, mumbling inaudibly that the next part of the story was to be continued on the coming Sunday!!
Stories told by Ma were more organized! After returning from school, it was my ritual to listen to a story from her every afternoon. She would diligently read up ‘Kishore Bharati’ and ‘Suktara’ or ‘Anandamela’ and as I lay in bed on those warm afternoons, she reproduced the stories with perfect expressions and dialogues till I went to sleep. This was the contrast between the 2 primary storytellers of my life...the story teller going to sleep n another putting the listener to sleep!! I often wonder why Ma, who has always been into creative writing, did not imagine stories for me and why Baba, a hard core doctor, let his pent up imagination run amock in the lanes and bylanes of enjoyable absurdity!!
But the best storyteller of all was my maternal grandma, my Didima. She had a vast stock of real life jokes, involving our family, friends and relatives, and I believe she had an immense talent to spot the comic in mundane situations. When I watch Mirakkel sometimes on TV , I cant help remembering her. Her best ones were about the family Durga Puja in her ancestral village. In her childhood, during the Durga puja they had amateur Jatras in their ‘thakurdalan’. It was a family affair where mostly male members took part and since the whole thing was amateurish, there used to be a lot of comic confusion during make up. My Didima’s uncles and elder brothers, in wigs and saris suddenly forgot their dramatic roles and slipped into the role of the usual patriarch…so Sita was suddenly shouting hoarsely for a glass of water and Savitri ordering the old family servant for ‘her’ hookah!! When she told these stories to us, she giggled uncontrollably like a young girl, her grey hair shimmering in mirth and laughter!
My grandfather was a store house of stories of old Calcutta, the British times and how the city used to be then, the stories of the almost lost Armenians, Jews and Parsis who had thronged areas close to our locality. …how he had listened to speeches of Gandhiji and Netaji and how and what Sir Asutosh ate!! Why is the Bengali sweet called ‘ladycani’? well that’s because it was a favourite of Lady Canning, our very own ‘pantua’. Now we have so many erudite books on Colonial Calcutta, but sitting close to grandfather and sniffing his quaint talcum was experiencing old calcutta’s ‘chaekra gari’ at its utmost verbose speed!!
I end my story on ‘Stories’ with a slightly heavy heart. Some of my story tellers are no more, maybe they are telling their stories to the stars. Some are not keeping very well. Bipin Babu too is no more with us. (Thakuma was finally successful in driving him out of the house in one of her spring cleaning sprees!!) Infact just a few moments ago I asked Baba ‘do you remember Bipin Babu and the stories you told us?’ He looked up from his book and just smiled.
I miss those old days, the family get togethers and reunions when everybody just laughed and giggled and all family politics were laid to rest. And I am the only story teller now…waiting for the one who will listen, no not like the Ancient Mariner at all….My son who is in cls 8, was reminiscencing the other day…’Ma, do you remember the funny stories you told me when I was small? Of how you went T Rex hunting on a stegosaurus’ back?’ I remembered those hard times trying to feed him Cerelac and fruit juices. ‘ Yes I remember.’ I replied and added ‘ I forgot to tell you one thing in those stories….that I always had Bipin Babu with me during those hunts…I remembered just now...'