Bhishma Pratap Pradhan
My Reminiscences in Tribute
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Since both my mothers are from the illustrious Taksari Family of Rhenock I feel blessed to be a descendant and owe to the Taksari Chandrabir Pradhan without whom we would not have been here in Sikkim what it is or we are today. It was Dr. Paras Mani Pradhan who reckoned him as one amongst 12 greatest sons of the Himalayas to include in his textbooks approved by the government for the people to know. I lost my mother early barely eight years old in 1954. Comparing my two mothers to Devaki and Yashoda and also to Sikkim and India to have given me birth and to rear me up I wrote a poem to offer along with my magnum opus ‘Sikkim : Three Decades towards Democracy’ to the then President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam in his visit to Sikkim. My mothers had two brothers and me two Mamas – Thulo Mama the elder Bhishma Pratap Pradhan and Sanu Mama the younger Mohan Pratap Pradhan to become the first Nepali Chief Secretary to the Government of Sikkim way back in 1980 - both showered me love and affection more so after I lost my mother when just eight years old in 1954. It was Thulo Mama as the elder son who had to bear the family burden after the sudden demise of their father Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan that facilitated higher education and better future of his brother. This is in fond memory of the elder who passed away this day twenty two years ago.
My earliest memory of Thulo Mama (14 November 1924 - 25 July 1992), dates back to one evening when I find myself along with my Buba, Muma, Thulo Mama and Thulo Maiju with present Muma in Darjeeling to see the movie Mahal all the way from Rhenock. Thulo Mama and Maiju were both movie buffs and he fond of Ashok Kumar that made them to enjoy the classic then a hit movie with Madhubala and more popularly known for the haunting melody Ayega … Ayega … Ayega Aaanewala … Ayega and the mother of all murder mystery films in Hindi. That trip is more remembered by me for spoiling their evening when after the movie we were going towards Chowrasta that I suddenly refused walking any further as I was after the toy I saw in a shop displayed. My Buba just refused it to discipline me that everything seen cannot be had and me to get good lesson- first and last ever. From that day onward I made it a point that I never hanker after things that could not be mine and my Buba never to say me anything even if he found me in the worst in my adolescent days. To put it right in simple words we have a Nepali adage that Lekhekole hunch Dekhekole hundain meaning you get what is written in the fate not what you find to see.
Next my memory goes back to the days when my parents were in Kalimpong looking after the branch office of our family concern Harishankerlall Ramshankerslall Nepali established in 1887 in the Kodamul Building at 10th Mile and more popular as Nepali Kothi in Chaukhambha Banaras. One evening we were just chatting in the drawing room of the beautiful cottage the family owned at 8th Mile (now where Cluny’s Women’s College exists) when suddenly someone knocked at the window with Darwaja Kholo. It was much in the style of what we read in one of the books later in the school – a character from the Nepali story by M. M. Gurung (?) - my Thulo Mama back from the town with fake things for his make-up. There we saw a mustachioed man in dark glasses with body and head covered in a blanket peeping in from the window that frightened us but him to laugh out loud at our plight. It was just to teach us - the children to be careful and close the doors and windows at night fall as when elders were away or ladies were with other domestic chores or in the kitchen busy for the dinner.
He was a jolly good fellow and used to keep a watch on us always as a protective hand so that we were not into some mischief or quarrel that we never. We were a big group there in winter of mid-1950s and all his nephews and nieces i.e. Bhanja’s and Bhanji’s were there sheltered besides son Bijoy and daughter Kala. Younger one Kavita was born much later. Two sisters Deepa and Sushila were there since they lost their mother early to help Thulo Maiju in domestic chores while going to school. Deepadi was lucky as a student to have been selected for a Bharat Darshan along with Bishnu Mama in 1959, if I remember correctly and now spending her golden days with Keshavdai and three daughters happy married life. Right from Beenadi, boys Bigyan, Anup and Bijoy we all used to enjoy a lot in all sort of manners those juvenile days. Getting up early in the morning to collect Lapsi from the ground around the tree, collecting dry twigs for firewood and Ningro from the jungle below the Kothi Shanti Kutir was some of our pastime. Looking for wild fruits like Amaro, Bhadraksh, and collecting coffee fruits in the garden for drying them up and roasting and grinding the beans in the imam-jasta i.e. mortar and pastel to enjoy with them together the freshly brewed coffee was my favourite thing to do there.
Soon after their middles from Sir Tashi Namgyal High School in Gangtok both brothers went to Darjeeling Government High School stayed at Carmichael Hostel there for matriculation followed by Intermediate in SUMI Kalimpong. During their time in the school here formed amalgamating the Bhutia School and Nepali School had C. E. Dudley as head master and Rashmi Prasad Aaley, Kashi Raj Pradhan, U. Narayan Pradhan, B. N. Singh alias M. A. Sir, Shiv Narayan Mishra alias Pandit Sir, Pingyuk, M. N. Pradhan besides others. An interesting anecdote Thulo Mama used to tell us when we were kids – U. Narayan Sir used to teach them Nepali and fond of chewing pan he used to make fun of his students in the class asking one of them to come near him and say Aama (mother) and he would say Phuphu(aunty) the plight of this student could be imagined with bits of pan and all chewing coming to him! In Darjeeling they had Surya Bikram Gyawali, Pandit Dharnidhar Koirala and Paras Mani Pradhan as their teachers.
Thulo Mama inherited the trait and the manner he offered hospitality not only the family members but also whosoever visited to see what the Woodland Nursery turned out of the fabled Chandra Nursery after the bitter partition and the goodwill of the family business went to his uncle Babu Durga Shamsher Pradhan. He enjoyed the way the Development Commissioner W. M. Duncan once gulped the fried egg in one go whole – not very difficult either but it should be eaten scooped out or mixed with yolk with a spoon !
His entrepreneurship is something to admire since my childhood as I recollect from my fading memory that he used to narrate about his experiences owning the first vehicle for the family perhaps in late 1940s. It was an initiative in effort to tide on the difficult days. The jeep used to ply between Rhenock and Rangpo with Teju Pradhan as its driver. Following a mishap near Kumrek the venture met a premature end only to be revived years later in 1960s with veteran Subba and Krishna Pradhan* as the driver. Paras Mani Pradhan in the bazar was his partner as it facilitated supervision in collecting the Bazar Sayar as he had bid highest to collect revenue for the Government at Rhenock Bazar from petty shopkeepers and villagers coming to the bazar for the weekly farmer’s market on Fridays the then haat days.
His was the first to run the Rice Mill for paddy husking around the same time early 1960s that continues till this day with Tarkeshwar Prasad managing the show all these years when the person whose sweat and toil smells there is no more. I remember how he had to go to the capital often to secure the licence those old days.
Thulo Mama kept busy with visitors if not working with the Mali’s a dozen of them in the garden. He had constructed a new Glass House with Government Plan grant for the orchids he reared and raised while the main glass house was for ferns, cacti and succulents. Evenings were for the real work of the nursery – packing seeds, bulbs and plants in bamboo baskets wrapped in jute/gunny into parcels (that Parsale Bajey helped) with names and addresses written in ink. This followed typing out bills and making correspondence. He used to send for advertisement in the Statesman in Calcutta and other newspapers in the country. An English Aladin incandescent kerosene lamp besides Petromax lamps made evenings brighter to work as the electricity reached there pretty late in 1979 while with The Chandra Nursery came post and telegraph services there long time ago. Thulo Mama was amongst the earliest subscribers of telephone service at Rhenock with the number 30. People even from far flung villages used to come to his residence to take its benefit whenever needed. He even made a window arrangement to reach the telephone set near the door itself for the people in hurry.
He was quite a popular figure and people addressed him as Thulo Hazur and his residence as Wallo Kothi out of respect. He served as the head of the Aritar village panchayat and prominent contemporaries Kesang Wangdi, Chhyagu Tsering Bhutia and many others to work with. Once he obtained the agency even for distributing kerosene for Sikkim National Oil Distributors along with my Buba, when he had plans of quitting Government service. Buba had joined the school to serve the people at Rhenock only and posting outside meant remaining away from them he loved to be amidst. As a friend of mine Dhan Bahadur Shrestha was sharing with me once his experience while working as an Excise Inspector posted at Reshi border that brought him closer to the people there. He once visited the Nursery and on meeting Thulo Mama found him to be quite a nice person to know and had no superficialities whatsoever that people usually see with the person belonging to such a well-placed family since some generations there. He came back to tell them look you tell and talk a lot of Kothiwalas but I found nothing offending of or from him in his behaviour and attitude to me then how could I believe he could be unfair to you - his own people as village folks with whom day and night through all weathers around the year and on. It would not be very difficult either to find out who were the distractors over there in the bazar but as someone wrote me it better not to take any account of them. Even my Muma does not wish me to spill out the beans even if she reveals many a things unsavoury to them after enough of my prodding. Such eventuality arises only when I care to be beside her to know the sea of knowledge she still recollects from her memory unusual in her age. It is the habit and good too as it helps us keep sane in the advancing age. This is what that makes me into this writing spree honing my skill as I spend more and more time in recollecting and writing them to contribute to the news-dailies and periodicals to share with the readers as memoirs.
Thulo Mama was also fond of hunting and his cousins Manohar Chandra, Pushpa Kumar and Hukum Chand Pradhan besides Bhakta Mijar used to be in his team. He had a picture where a big Himalayan bear shot down by Shikari Dahal those old days, when a ban was yet to be imposed on the game that used to be for deer. He also liked going for picnics and thus bring together all his relatives for such an outing quite often. If this was at Reshi or Rorathang, he along with my Buba and his cousin Manohar Chandra and brother-in-law Shanti Lall* enjoyed swimming and tried fishing as well. Early 1960s when N. K. Pradhan* alias Khambu OC was posted there and Mani Kumar Pradhan* along with some others working in CPWD constructing the Reshi-Rongli Road those days were the best part they all enjoyed together as far as my memory goes.
It was around the same time Thulo Mama had the opportunity to go for the Government sponsored Bharat Darshan with interesting stories of the group to tell us back home. Later in 1980s I had the opportunity to accompany Thulo Mama and Maiju with my parents on pilgrimage to Banaras and Gaya for Pitri Paush Shraddha. Both my Mamas with Maijus and children had graced the occasion of my wedding at Birgunj in 1975.
As a movie buff he had all his favourites available during the Sri Krishna Cinema Hall days were screened for enjoying himself with his family members and have the people there have a taste of good choice he made. Thus the generation could get the benefit of enjoying good movies in Hindi and Nepali as well. When here once he had taken us earlier for Dosti with his favourite song Raahi manuwa dukh ki chinta kyon sataati hain Dukh to apna saathi hain and this too was there besides many others. If the movie stretched for another week, it was a hit but rare was such an occasion giving people the opportunity to see good movies more frequently that included his favourite star Ashok Kumar’s Rakhi with that famous wedding song Babul ki duwa leti jaa, jaa tujhko khushi sansar miley.
It was only in him we found a taste of music with knack of playing the musical instruments. Thulo Maiju was herself a good singer as my Sanu Maiju told me recently to recollect me my Nini Girija Devi in Birgunj used to tell me of Thulo Maiju singing as child when visiting our Banaras family from Calcutta. Thulo Maiju narrated me recently that Dr. Ratna Kamal Dewan whenever in Rhenock, Thulo Mama used to get his harmonium for him and he himself accompanying in dukhi-tabla. Thulo Mama was good in flute and played violin well besides harmonium and madal. None of us could imbibe or inherit some of his streaks in the family though we used to see him play all these musical instruments since our childhood. Of these only one or two madals we see there hanging reminding of the good old days. I do not know where they all vanished all these years but what still rings in my ears are his songs Zindagi Denewale Sun, Chhota sa ghar hoga… Badalon ke chhaon mein , Sur na saje kya gaaun main… sur ke bina jiwan soona, Laga Chunari mein Dag, Naache re man mora tik dha tiki dhiki… , Puchho na maine kaise rain bitayee, Chanda jaare jaa, Jaanewalon jara.
Our taste for music whatever we could get from him in childhood now rests in hearing them more from a television set than in other source that the technology has advanced and us to keep pace with the time. Our proud possessions once are now lying neglected went obsolete due to better and easier products at our convenience. The heirloom had old gramophone record player with big horn attached we saw in His Master’s Voice records that used to come made on cardboard later improvised with lac. I used to make wall hanging from the card board ones and bowl or flower vase out of these records made of lac moulded in hot water without realizing much the significance of such antiques those childhood days. Thulo Mama’s old Murphy radio set that brought us nearer it every Wednesday night at 8’oclock sharp for Ameen Sayani’s Binaca Geetmala to have songs like Teri Pyari Pyari Surat ko Kisi ki nazar na lage Chasme baddur at our home later had the breaking news of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s sad demise on 27th May 1964 when he announced us - me visiting the place. When Sanu Mama reached him the Ahuja Gramophone-Radio set, his choice of LP records was devotional by Hari Om Sharan Man bhaja le Govinda Prabhu ka pyara naam re. While studying in Darjeeling I and Bijoy bought for our homes original Holland-made Philips portable transistor radio from Jiwan, who got them for us from Malaya where his father served the army. One with them can still be seen there but ours was lost along with many rare and old things when our house was broke upon some years back.
Thulo Mama was a nursery-man well-adjusted with the farm life there. I remember he helped me identify many plants and tree varieties with their botanical names. He showed me how to bud, graft and layer for the propagation of plants, collect seeds from gerbera flowers dried, store dahlia and gladioli bulbs during winter days and plant them back with dahlia sprouts as cuttings and from grown up plants. He was fond of his lotus/nymphia in several small tubs in the garden. It was not in my blood perhaps to be green handed like him though I had the opportunity to spent some six winters with him that age from eight and later visiting him more frequently almost daily out of habit. Not only me but for my parents and little sisters as well almost every evening to be there with the family. I remember carrying them climbing up back home and afterwards once our son Raman as a kid told his aunts how good of him that he does not ask thus being carried – Babu kati gyani, Aaangi buiyya pani bhandain on reaching an easier stretch later.
Besides the sprawling garden with an overstretching lawn the family inherited him taking care the best with a number of helps, Thulo Mama had cattle, local fowls, goats and dogs and even the fish in the pond. He also had few bee-hives too that gave honey for his home use. His kitchen garden had plenty of vegetables and fruits grown and introduced many new varieties as well. Earlier Bhakta Mijar of Aritar used to help in getting the water line fixed but later it was Khemraj Sharma as a young boy used to be with him in the job. He quickly picked up the tricks and techniques of the trade to be a popular plumber to get water lines done to many of the buildings constructed there these days.
When visiting Gangtok, after doing with his business he used to be with Dr. R. K. Dewan invariably in his chamber at the Denzong Hotel often accompanied by chummy cousin Krishna Chandra Pradhan* and Kancha for him to address. There they would spend time playing game of cards together joined by some others like former PC Sonam Dadul or ex-footballer Tempo Rapgyal. He used to join us youngsters in the game when enjoying our Dashain or Tihar there.
Generous he was in allowing the Kutchery for us to use and start the Nav Deep Sandhya Club in winter of 1964. This was the place he used to meet people on hat days like Rai saheb used to hold court to settle cases in earlier days here. To pull on difficult days when my Buba refused posting outside Rhenock he was dedicated to, he had even a liquor retail shop here with cousin Anup* employed before he joined the Indian Army along with classmate Garja Man Bhujel. UC Bashishtha recollects in Rinakma Bhanu Salig (Kahile Kahin Editor Subhash Deepak Nirman Prakashan 2006) his kind gesture donating a piece of land readily in the heart of bazar next to the Sri Dhaneshwar Shivalay Mahadev Mandir – an ancestral prime property. A committee was constituted to have a statue of Bhanubhakta installed to be the second in the state after the capital had it in 1981with Bashishtha as the President and R. K. Pradhan as the General Secretary along with P. B. Chhetri, Ganesh Kumar Pradhan and K. K. Pradhan. It was the month of June 1983 and the responsibility fell upon them to accomplish the task, he and R. K. Pradhan met him with the proposal and Thulo Mama agreed without a fuss thus making the way for a historic event to happen there that year for all to cherish till this date.
He used to enjoy his breakfast with fresh egg half boiled and was fond of Sagan for celebrating festivals together and on occasions that demanded it. Homemade palu was his favourite drinks. He once shared with us how in their young days they used to enjoy about a dozen of eggs that came with Sagan on Bhai Tika from their many sisters and digest them too as well. He was fond of preparing his own cigarettes with Capstain later Goldflake / Will’s Navy Cut tobacco rolled and wrapped up in papers to close with your tongue tip that Nirmal Mama also shared this habit with them. My Buba in his earlier days used to smoke it in a pipe but later switched over to this but gave up smoking altogether in later days.
After the news Thulo Mama was fond of reading before his sleep. He subscribed to the Reader’s Digest and some weekly newspapers. I found some of the early publications from Jaico Publishing House of Bombay like Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyats of Omar Khayyam in his collection but the best was to glance through the Visitor’s Book kept in the Woodland Nursery.
Simple was his life style and people loved him for this very nature. Well-adjusted with rural way of life he got his first television set Philips and refrigerator Godrej much later though I used to urge him to have these comforts that had become a necessity for most of us by that time. I remember him getting his blower from Siliguri for the kitchen those days to burn firewood easily as the cooking gas had not appeared yet. Kerosene stove was seldom used as it was needed for burning lamps as the electricity arrived here only around 1979-80. He used to go to Bazar every Friday and bring home Pyazi and Jilebis for snacks.
He was good in simple mechanics like getting his cyclostyle machine or old lawn-mower fixed while type-writer from good old days was no problem to work with. He had no problem welcoming visitors to the Nursery but did not like people making it a thoroughfare. So I had made some notices to display and him to encourage me with my hobby of painting during those free days waiting for school final results in 1962 – Yeh aam raasta nahin No thoroughfare.
On his way back attending Bhanu Jayanti celebrations he was a little uncomfortable and told his son Bijoy who took him to the hospital. Doctor got him admitted immediately in the ICU and another 12 days was the ordeal he faced in life to take him away from us on this fateful day of 25th July in 1992. It was so sad and sudden that we could not think of or get an opportunity to take him outside the state for some better treatment and him to lose the battle of life at last. Things were not the same thereafter and the later days saw the nursery and the cinema in the shape and condition it should be ultimately getting closed for ever.
It leaves me often astoundingly sad till this date to recollect the last days of all my three mentors my Thulo Mama, Sanu Mama and Buba who had a very similar painful end in the hospital here though Sanu mama was flown down to Siliguri as even a ventilator was not available during those days here. May their soul rest in eternal peace.
Once while walking along with my Thulo Mama on the lawn I found a Rudraksh on the ground which I showed to him but he (too had a one-headed that vanished with him) gave me back to keep telling that it was a seven-headed and auspicious which I carry around my neck close to the chest as his blessings till this day!
Disclaimer: This is just a personal account from my memories to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route. It is, as such, not a fiction or research work of a well-read scholar or a prolific writer in an attempt to document through a public domain but shared with the readers who may take it as such only. No offence is intended otherwise. This article is also available in Nepali. Help correct/supplement contact me by email to email@example.com or phone 9434022677 / 94340 202677 or in person at Rachna, opposite Manan Bhavan, Development Area, Gangtok 737 101 Sikkim India.