Black Hill Joys - 3
Back to the Past
To a Golden Era
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
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Earlier that Saturday we were at Pradhan Gaon of Aritar to pay condolences to the bereaved family of Hukum Chand Pradhan on the Antyeshti day. Bejoy and Buhari Sunira were also there and had accompanied us to see us enter the house before we went to see Thulo Maiju at the Kothi. They did not like our idea of staying there without cleaning the rooms properly though Ranjana and Anita had done it worth occupying when they were here last time some months ago - before our departure to the US. They wanted us to stay with them for a few nights and move in after cleaning not only the house but outside as well since the entrance and lawn all were covered by grass and bushes overgrown with the return of the rainy season. Some seepage here and there damaged kitchen cabinets and wall paint badly and something had also to be done to save them from further damage. So, we were at the calm and peaceful place aptly named Shanti Kutir once again in the same house that I had known since my childhood days spent under the love and care of Thulo Maiju and Thulo Mama Bhishma Pratap of the Woodland Nursery with the premises also known as Kothi commonly - that grand old house of Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan descendant of Taksari Chandrabir Newar who started now-fabled The Chandra Nursery of Rhenock in 1910. Following his demise in 1946 and family partition thereafter, its name / goodwill was retained by his brother Babu Durga Shamsher Pradhan, who had constructed in 1932 his house Nirvana with sprawling lawn and a water fountain in front. Their workplace Office building was located couple of yards before reaching this majestic house - equidistant from the main place. It was another beautiful double storey bunglow of the British Era that was built out of the earnings from a single order obtained by The Chandra Nursery. This was told by my Buba once to give me as a child an idea how well and successful was their business those days worldwide. Incidentally, it was here that the well-known leader Ganesh Man Singh worked as the Krishna Bahadur Typist when in self-imposed exile during the Rana regime in Nepal. As time and space here do not permit me to elaborate further details, readers may kindly go through the article The Chandra Nursery Centenary (1910-2010) - A Tribute in my recent book and you know its name by now; if not see at the end of this article.
A regular supply of milk had always been a problem in the past but this time Beekee Bhanij found out and arranged one for us soon but would come around eight at night. It was really surprising to get it such an odd hour when we all have been accustomed of getting the supply in the morning or in the evening. Weather was no problem and even in the rains, the milkman assured of regular supply even with an umbrella and a torchlight besides a shining steel can of milk with a measuring mug. He revealed that the can was from someone lucky enough to get it under some government scheme and he to get it but at a price that was not that bad. He saves himself a lot with this investment as no complains of milk turning sour/cuddled had to be heard like when carrying in a plastic can previously. Back in Gangtok, milkman Bhim Chettri brings it in pet mineral water bottles of a litre or small can if more to each home poured from his bigger poly-can as he comes all the way from Luing in a taxi arranged by other milkmen from the village. Bhim has a clientele of some 60 houses in Development Area. He had taken the place of Dal Bahadur Chettri of the same place, who supplied us for past thirty years regularly ever since we were in the Eight Unit Quarter near the Happy Valley of my TNA days. Before him, Passang Sherpa from the Government Agriculture Farm at Tadong used to deliver us the milk every morning. He stopped coming once he became a driver himself and/or the Farm was closed down thereafter. It gave place for the Central Referral Hospital /Sikkim Manipal Insitute of Medical Sciences which at present giving birth to many a promising doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, etc. not only from Sikkim but from all over the country and even outside perhaps. Besides, it is also provides re-employment opportunity to many of our qualified/experienced doctors retiring from the government service recently in the past much to the convenience of the public and local people known to them. With the Central Government announcement of extending the services of government doctors to the age of 65 years throughout the country, many in the profession are immensely benefited. Many of them are into private practice concurrently to the benefit of those patients who cannot see them in the government hospitals. Coming back again to the Tadong Farm, we were few of the lucky government employees to have the quality milk from there. Eldest of my cousins in Rhenock, Ramesh Kumar Pradhan was the first B.Sc. Agriculture Graduate from Naini near Allahabad who used to work there along with J. K. Thapa, the maize specialist having undergone some training in Australia and who was my predecessor as the first Director of Census Operations, Sikkim for the Census of India 1981 whereas this writer was there for 1991 in that capacity a decade later. When I had approached him about the possibility of getting some employment after my M.Sc.with Entomology as special paper, he had flatly turned it down saying I was much ahead of time for Sikkim. That was the year 1969 when I was found by the then Education Director overqualified even for the post of a teacher It was a rare opportunity to work in the Census and be at service of the Government of India staying at home town to fulfil the mandatory one tenure outside the state for All India Services Officers that many of my colleagues perhaps never could dream of, rather avoided such a posting at all cost as they could rather meddle with petty office politics back home.
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Back to the village and the milkman - our respect to this kind soul to reach door to door our much needed milk-supply even at night. He has four cows and could gather the information that his wife delivers milk in the morning in the locality. Labour is not available these days and people do not come to work for you unless you too go and help them - a system commonly known as Parma. He loves to talk a lot and last evening he was mentioning that there are only two other places (Kothi i.e. two building of The Chandra Nursery circa 1932 and his Binod Dhaba's) where the house is built with Baghey Dhunga (tiger stone) like ours. I showed him to look at the steps that has some samples of long single pieces from the days of yore. It reminds me of the Chapleti Dhunga just in front of the place where Sri Krishna Cinema (now abandoned and waiting demolition) is located. When I met our childhood day pal Gotame Kancha or Harka Bahadur Gautam he told it was they who broke the stone while broadening the cobbled road there in 1970s. Wish we could stop them then and kept as the heritage piece where many pedestrians used to rest before a climb uphill while going to Aritar after hectic Friday Hat shopping. For me it was often many night climbing up after spending time with friends at Kutcheri where newly started Nav Jiwan Sandhya Club was housed. Later, I had started a medicine store there as only one shop then kept medicines also. Sundar Kumar Pradhan Mama was more popular as a practising physician than as a Maila Babu of Badi Dokan till this day as theirs was the biggest shop those days. He used to reach far off villages even at night without any hesitation when people needed medical aid. He used to go there on foot with pulto accompanying the person coming from far off places all the way to his door steps. It was purely with a sense of service and dedication that we find lacking in the present time as home visit is flatly refused/denied even on payment of fees unless you are well-placed or known to the physician. There were no modern day conveniences like road, car or even electricity those days. Continued ...
Once we thought we missed the milk that night but no he was at the door as I was about to retire for the day at my usual bed time 9.30 p.m. and the reason was some funeral in the village he had to attend. He requested to bear with him such delays too as he also had to meet social obligations. He could not, however, miss the daily supply well realizing the need of babies/children (and elderly like us) who needed milk much. Bharati Bhauju was found it comfortable with 200ml tetrapack of Amul Milk to cope with the needs of Ramesh Daju and family located at other end of the hill. Whosoever needs it, can have a pack and enjoy it for cereal/oats for breakfast or simple gulp it down direct. Doodh pita hai India, in true sense! We too have kept some for such an eventuality to cope with the daily need to the convenience of modern times. I saw poly-pouch packets of Amul Milk being sold along with Himul and other brands when in Siliguri last. I recollect our visit to Amul plants at Anand as IA&AS Probationer in winter of 1971 as part of the Bharat Darshan that the All India Services Probationers were fortunate enough to get. It was not only the rare opportunity to see the functioning of the Kheda District Milk Co-operatives in its early avatar as also later beautifully captured and shown in the movie Manthan by Shyam Benegal but even to meet the legenday Dr. Verghese Kurien* and witness white revolution in action since the day break in the collecting centre from nearby villages till the products came out in the manufacturing unit there beside enjoying the warm hospitality in the comforts of their guest house where we all stayed. From small packs of the Amul butter on our breakfast table then to the tetrapack in our village now, it was a long journey, indeed!
One late evening Shyam, who does farming in our land just next where we stay, was seen like lurking with a bag in hand looking towards our home oft and on as if to hide himself and something in the bag. He works for us to clear the bokshi-jhar (Lantana) infested garden and overgrown weeds all around. When asked next day where was he going last evening and whether it was for shopping. No, he was carrying some milk in the bag for a regular supply to a house nearby. This simple man was perhaps finding it uneasy as had no milk for us till his cow gives birth next time soon.
Our neighbour Bir Singh Rai lost his Holstein breed cow with a new-born calf recently with some unknown disease overnight when he was back from his two-day trip to Namchi. It could not be saved in spite of best attention and medical aid provided by the veteranian of the government farm here. It was a big loss to him as he used to spend much time looking after it but also being deprived of the much needed milk to his family and neighbours like us since the days of our late fathers. He found the nerves near neck of the cow swollen unusually. Similarly, Gopi staying in the Kothi land too lost his cow overnight though best care and medical aid given. The death could presumably be due to some insect swallowed along with the grass usual during this season. When I told about it to Bir Singh, he mentioned of two more such death of cow at Chalise nearby that gives us some impression of more care needed to be taken while feeding the green fodder around this season, else it would take the form of an epidemic. Shyam showed me the larva of the insect from inside the stem of the Ghorling grass with its tips drying up and best was to avoid using them or only the green leaves be given with enough care. Sarkari Ghans or Napier grass was best to use around this season with frequent showers it has luxuriant growth in very short time. I am thinking of planting some to have bushes in front to provide some cover needed. This time the azalea bushes in front have been heavily pruned as they had grown high. As a result our house is just on full view from the road with people seen and heard as if outside. Hope these grow back soon with its greenery bringing back its pink and white flowers in a year or two as it used to give before - unless we may come up with the idea of much awaited wall constructed high up there to match with the half stretch already constructed some years ago. This reminds me of the much ambitiously started but no more seen Azalea Park above the NH10 near the 5,550' post we used to have and see it since our TNA days until some years ago. It was as good as a heritage piece but some unmindful BRO official thought it best to do away with like many things associated with the Chogyal days, perhaps. One even near the residence of Keshab Mama seen till a few years back is also lost similarly, if I correctly checked it last while passing through the area. This might also be bringing in the mind of many the SNT bus being camouflaged to the greenery Sikkim is famous for as also its environment-conscious people. The elevation of our residence Rachna too showed it correctly to be 5,500' when my friend Punya Prasad Poudyal* got it along with latitude and longitude checked with his handy GPS on his first visit to our place on his return to Gangtok as a Bamboo Expert staying abroad for long.
There is luxuriant growth of some tree that bears beautiful pink flowers (might be some variant of Buhari jhar, Mimosa sp., not seen around this time here so far) but thorns abundant along with small leaves like that of Siris that has grown all over like a weed with seed pods dispersed by the wind. Some fifty ago, I had planted some Bokshi-jhar cuttings along the footpath leading to Kazi Kothi to demarcate our boundary with the Rhenock Government School from a few bushes growing near the old Forest Bunglow here having seen beautifully maintained hedges around 9th Mile in Kalimpong. These have grown into thick bushes all over my place and beyond getting almost out of control unless you uproot and burn them. Otherwise, many might have noticed beautifully grown little bushes along with that of purple flowering Ilame Jhar decorating parks and gardens in cities outside Sikkim. Dr. Anil Joshi and his HESCO of Dehradun had done wonderful works - furniture, essence, anti-mosquito liquid, etc. making wealth out of this waste for which he has been recognized and honoured with Padma award. We had invited him to Sikkim to share his vast knowledge when I was serving the Department of Science and Technology. ENVIS Sikkim then launched by the Governor Kedar Nath Sawhney* in presence of high ranking officials from the Ministry of Environment and Forests in New Delhi in a National level function held in the rented house owned by Bijoy in Development Area on the World Tourism Day in the year 2001. Much disputed problem of owning a land next to Forest Secretariat was then ressolved during my tenure to find the Vigyan Bhavan in its present place near the Gurudwara. For some years we were at the private building where Fab India and WWF-India are housed. ENVIS Sikkim bagged the much coveted award to be the best ENVIS-Centre at the national level this year. I do not know if it is still with DST or Forest has taken it away as there was some enthusiastic man who tried to snatch it away and impress the authority when I was asked to come over to the residence atop and the then chief secretary pleaded for them but me resisted and refused it. Anyway, I best remember my tenure there for my Vikasko Goreto - Grameen Proudyogiki : Kam Dam Dher Gyanka Satheek Sujhauharu launched on that very Daythe ENVIS-Sikkim Centre was launched.
Shyam has kept some of the trees like Newaro, Khasre, Kutmero, etc. that give fodder grass and I have asked him to save some Titepati that has grown high along with fruit trees. Arvind tells me that my Muma and his Muma Uttama* too used to tell him never to cut the Parijat branches even on some religious belief. People love collecting its flowers that fall on the ground in the morning to offer in their Puja. Thick growth of bushes in the backyard had given shelter not only to birds but also to visitors like deer. Tips from overgrown tea bushes made wonderful brew of drink that could be no less than what we have tasted from the Kothi for ages or Temi Tea Garden for some years now. Some coffee plants that were sown carefully retrieving from the past were no more - may be due to shady portion behind the outhouse proved unsuitable for their growth. Otherwise, it was from the coffee bushes The Chandra Nursery planted in the days of yore and as a child we used to collect ripe dark red fruits and dry, pound/grind in imam-jasta made of iron we have till this day and use after sieving into powder that made a hot cheerful cup of drink during winter holidays in the Kothi. Shyam cleared bush and thick carpet of weeds covered water reservoir, a remnant of the days when we had plenty water from the first ever rural water supply scheme sanctioned for the area in late 1970s that even encouraged us to have a fish pond but soon to turn into a kitchen garden. In 1950s it used to be fishery official Borah from Assam to share the government quarter with Sanu Mama at Development Area now near the Munshi Colony. Later, Karma Peda* and his team gave much boost to the fishery efforts in the State what the Forest had done so far. Many such water supply schemes thereafter have not improved the fate due to ever increasing population around the school when our house is located at the extreme end of Aritar Block. In spite of all these, the abandoned tank was cleaned and repaired five years back found to be in a condition good enough to benefit out of. May be the rain water harvesting in polytanks with us could be a boon with some simple water pump installed to mitigate the situation, hopefully!
Continued to conclude with Part III
It was pretty long absence that invited such conjectures from all the corners possible. It was, as such but natural for a very stout well grown Dhupi tree along with a luxuriant fruiting Mango tree fell victim to the road expansion that was not necessary at all as they were well beyond what earth-cutting required as some find it now with stumps left far away above. Some even say that it was not in their plan but bulldozed in a sudden fit of rage by the JCB driver after being scolded by his officer for some reason in public. These trees were heritage not only to our family but for the whole community here as Buba had planted them obtaining saplings from our neighbour Dhambu Mandal Harka Bahadur Gurung soon we moved into our house 'Jaisri'. A similar Dhupi tree planted around same time by Buba as Head Sir there, can still be seen standing in the Rhenock Government Senior Secondary School premises. An ex-serviceman Gurung who had lost his hearing power due to sound of guns and tanks used during the war often shared with us the bravery of the Gorkhas from his war-time experiences in foreign land stretching as far as Egypt and Greece. He had moved out to some place probably Bahundangi/Jhiljhilay in Jhapa, Nepal selling his house and property to Karuman Rai alias Sadhu Bajey* from Dalapchand, father of Bir Singh Rai in 1970s. He soon returned and was seen in a different avatar with saffron garb leading an asetic life, very much like our SNT GM Tek Chand Verma* in Gangtok. His descendants continue staying in our neighbourhood well settled. His sister Abkarni Boju Hari Maya Gurung* was very much like our own family member whom we used to visit to get blessings during Dashain and Tihar. Her daughter Padmawati Gurung married to Squadron Leader L. G. Ganeshan lost her land owning rights as per the land laws in Sikkim. Their only surviving son Venu Gopal, now settled down in Bengaluru, having sought pre-mature retirement having served as Divisional Engineer in S.P.W.D. and has many friends here. She had sold much of the property in our neighbourhood that sprouted a thick human habitat often quarreling amongst themselves for one reason or the other, mostly perhaps for the water shortage they face. Trees falling in the road reserve deemed to be the property of Forest Department and many here do believe if these from our land too really went to add to the government coffers at all or to some private house/purse. People rue that the approach road to the Government Senior Secondary School should have been cared to as a social responsibility by the organization like the one they have done for a much longer stretch of road leading to a private-run school nearby. Even after all these years its fate is still deplorable and the people expect much from the present energetic MLA who also belongs to this area of Aritar and once a student himself here would do it a justice at last. Instead of all bigwigs and departmental officials visiting here, it has missed their kind attention so far even after four decades of the statehood with as many as nine elections. The school belongs to Rhenock while it actually falls in the Chujachen Constituency and a polling booth that bring in highest number of voters that count. That way it should have been owned by both and benefited twice as much but no, it is probably disowned by both together and cared by none perhaps as this ill-fated stretch of approach road leading to the school show to prove it. This little stretch of some metres of the approach road has otherwise been damaged by the frequent movement of heavy vehicles carrying loads of materials to the site through. The other day R. K. Pradhan of Rhenock Bazar Development Committee was mentioning about it and I told him that a formal request from my side in writing has been made to the Area MLA as well. With the school getting another new building Community Hall, where the original school existed, nearing completion that await its inauguration soon might otherwise provide the much needed black topping of the road as to the expectation of the people here. It would indeed be a big day to wait, watch and see, if God willing, that fateful day much to the joy of the people not only in the Black Hill but all who know and love this school in one way or the other.
Coming back, though our milkman made his name known to us to be Arun, it was only two days later that he revealed his identity himself. He had also met his Nini, our Muma that day when we were at Aritar to attend the Antyeshti Kriya of Hukum Chand Mama last month. His father Mandal Kalidas Pradhan and Thulo Mama, Sanu Mama and Muma with her five sisters were all first cousins as Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan was married to Krishna Devi of Tintalle, Aritar. He showed his shaved head as a proof that he was one of the close member from the family and I said him he was by relation my Bhai. Last night he was enquiring when was his Nini coming back here and he would be blessed to give the milk for his Nini with much respect complimentary. Thank you Bhai for our daily supply of milk and all the trouble taken even at odd hours of the night braving all the odds all alone.
A story on Aritar is not complete without mentioning Tintalle and never be over that would take many more pages from me. So long!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.