Ananda Santra, our neighbour of many years

[Alal o Dulal]

Our neighbour of many years, Ananda Santra, died yesterday. Anandda kaku lived in our apartment complex in the Chetla locality of Kolkata (Ward Number 82 of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation). Theirs was Flat Number W-1/3. We lived in W-1/5. He formed a part of my father’s new ‘para’ (neighbourhood) circle since 1989, after he had moved out of his ancestral para. They became fast friends. Some of the apartment complex inhabitants tended to look down to Ananda kaku for being formally less educated than the middle-class pen pushers who were in the majority in this apartment complex. His work made him sweaty, not out of heat, but also exertion – this was not the case for the pen pushers. Perhaps, my father, who worked for many years in a wagon-manufacturing factory, also understood this pen pushing versus sweat divide. Ananda-kaku often was the man to go to, when in crisis, like getting emergency transport for an ill person at 1 am. At these times the pen pushers kept their contempt aside and sought favours.

A few days ago, my father while strolling on the para road, heard from youths that Ananda-kaku had just passed away. In a broken voice, my father called my ma. My father and mother rushed to his house, soon after hearing this news. In the grief-stricken house of Ananda kaku, my mother looked after the cooking responsibilities. Perhaps many will see regressive things in this – why did my mother, a woman, take over this responsibility (which she thinks is her duty as a conscientious member of society, with human and neighbourly values). It is easy to ascribe ‘false consciousness’ to others (not only on gender issues but many others) – it comes quite handy to put others down and avoid accountability. Those who reject social value systems at will after having extracted enough social privilege to get ‘escape velocity’. Post escape, there are invariable claims of being self-made, of rising ‘above’ the ‘narrow’ bounds of societal mores, celebrations of individualism, ascent to cosmopolitanism and other fashionable appendages of celebratory rootlessness.

Today, Sunday morning, the newspaper recycling man came. He buys old newspapers and used bottles in bulk from the homes of our neighbourhood. He has been doing this for years. When he heard the news from my mother, he started crying a lot. Your ‘independent’, ‘free’, ‘radical’ individualistic life in Noida, Gurgaon, Rajarhat and Delhi can have many ‘cool’ aspects, 4-letter English swear words may flow as ‘naturally’ as water, can ‘break free’ in long drives along highways, can have a thousand ‘parties’ and ‘hangouts’; you have the money power to order 500 Rupees worth pizza late at night after getting high, everyone can ‘sample’ everyone else in your small, rootless, incestuous circles, your gadget filled life can be very rich in ‘selfies’ and ‘whatap’. But the walls of your homes have no pictures of gods or ancestors. If you die, no newspaper recycler will cry inconsolably. Your maid will probably cry if she has not been paid for the month. But the word going around is that your species will win the coming days, you are the future. But the children of the poor newspaper recycler have also grown up. Their next generation may or may not be newspaper recyclers. They are also young, just like you, minus your 4-letter swear-ability. Their ‘self-made’-ness has a different truth-value to it. Their teenage rebelliousness is not your door slamming, hair-experimenting, food-throwing, head-banging, body-piercing, ‘no one understands me’ kind of privileged joke but something you fear and despise at the same time. They will not give you a walk-over. Your win over the rooted may not be as easy as you think. Modi or no Modi. Even Modi cannot save you if the rooted rise.

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