We had this essay by Robert Lynd on ‘Forgetting’ in our school days which tried to shade a humorous light on human’s mind and his weird ways of choosing to forget. Absent mindedness can truly be a virtue but unlike what Lynd quoted, all men possessing this blessing might not make the best of their life.
Trilachan da had a huge mole on his left cheek. Dark, round and raised, it became a landmark for his portrait. Even though mole on the left cheek is considered lucky, I doubt if it ever favoured our old electrician in any possible way.
Rather it came in between! Hardly anyone looked at his eyes while engaged in a conversation with this elderly man. It was the dark brown lump, sheepishly sitting on his tanned cheek, that flagged all the attention. I saw my uncle getting irritated within minutes in his chat with Trilachan da. I doubt, if at all the restlessness was because of his vintage ‘Usha’ fan which decided to rotate and oscillate at the very same time on one blazing hot summer afternoon, or more so, it was the ever omnipotent presence of the mole which bothered him most.
Trilachan da, as known to all in that old neighborhood of ours, had a jute bag, weathered and pale which stored all his magic tools, were very much like his mole, a part of his identity. Like the bag and the mole, he himself was equally benign and yet was hardly appreciated by many or any as such.
I am not even sure if I liked him at all, but I knew there were one or two strings in my naïve heart of seven, which played Vasantha Bhairavi, a raga of sadness and ‘karuna’ I saw his eyes when people fixed their stares squarely on his mole while in the conversation. He almost looked guilty, cocooning himself with every passing minute and failed again and again and again to make eye contact with those in front of him. Maybe that might have been the reason he couldn’t give a proper answer, stammered frequently and could not quote his price right.
It can be vaguely possible that this very burden of carrying his mole made him forgetful.
‘Trilachan daaaa!! You came without a screwdriver and plan to fix the fan!!’
He sat helpless with the old ceiling fan, which also looked lost after being floored down from her height. They both stared at each other squatting while my Mama (maternal uncle) kept on dancing the most animated rain dance that could roll any native Aussie’s eyes in awe. I sat right opposite along with them and yet far away, as a spectator. Once the performance was over, and clouds stopped roaring, I spilled the ask I was sitting on for so long.
‘তুমি সকালে খেয়েছো ত্রীলোচনদা? কি গো?’ (Had your breakfast? Did you?)
I tried my best not to look at his mole. It was one Herculean task but I was always rewarded. He used to look at my eyes and answer. Every time! Every damn time! He would never break the eye contact with the seven years old me.
He would nod his head confirming with a faint smile which I had noticed, never reached his eyes.
‘তুমি, মামনি?’ (What about you, my dear?)
He never asked right away. He took his time to look inside his jute bag, trying to find in vain the right tool and then would suddenly remember to ask.
I nodded as well and smiled which probably reached my eyes. The smile of a full stomach mostly never gets lost to figure out the way to the eyes.
He would sit for hours trying to fix, the fan, the Tulu pump, old iron, plug points and would oblige all by changing the bulbs on the dark stairways, fixing the ladders, changing the fuse for free. He would forget to ask for the money at the end and maybe that might be the reason he was called again and again to fix things which he could hardly mend. He used to even forget after sometime what he was fixing in the very first place.
One day, my grandpa after coming back from the court said to my ‘Dida’, that Trilachan acted weirdly at Braja’s paan store. Kolkata had many ‘Brajalal’s’ strip stores which catered the quick need of the passers-by with cigarettes and beetle nuts wrapped in green leaves. Dida was too busy to be curious, but I wasn’t.
‘Must be the heat!’ He muttered more to himself. That was not even quarter of an answer!
Then with time many pedestal fans broke. So did our portable radio. Tumpa’s house had a major set back with their electric holder on their verandah which fused two brand new bulbs within a week. Enough loss to be considered as a Great Depression for a middle class Bong family.
But Trilochan da didn’t show up, neither his mole nor his bag. I don’t remember how the neighborhood managed but he was quickly forgotten alright.
He came back in conversation just once. Dadu, my grandpa again. He met Trilochan da’s son, maybe at same Braja’s shop.
‘বাবাকে আর পাওয়াই যাচ্ছে না মেসোমশাই। ব্যাগ নিয়ে বেরোলে, ফিরলই না। সব ভুলে যাচ্ছিল তো, নাম পর্যন্ত।’ (We can’t find our father anywhere, Uncle. He went out with his bag and never came back. He was forgetting everything, even his name)
I was lost! How can he just forget his name and never come back one fine afternoon. How can one be so forgetful! Unlike my ‘Chhoto Mama’ (younger maternal uncle), Dadu was quite concerned at home.
I had no one but him to ask, ‘But Dadu, didn’t they try to find him? Must be easy to trace him! He has such a big mole on his left cheek. Right, Dadu?’
(Artwork: Piu Mahapatra)
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