ONECE UPON A TIME IN AGARTALA
Early 80s. I am yet to touch the threshold of delightful teenage. Having journeyed through fun-filled childhood mostly in Shillong, Kailasahar and Dharmanagar, I dejectedly reached Agartala, courtesy my father’s long pending posting to the capital city. Agartala never appealed me during my childhood days. But as luck would have it, I had to ultimately struggle to cope with the academic pursuits in a relatively renowned school in Agartala from where I appeared in the Board exam. Well, I did not do too badly but till that time, Agartala was a sort of alien zone for me. I could not entirely relate myself with the spirit of this town at initial stage. Then again… a hiatus of almost 6 years….. I was dispatched to the Nizam’s city, now in the vortex of national turbulence, for my higher studies. I distinctly remember --- after my successful attempt in the written test of management studies for Institute of Rural Management, Anand ----- when I ushered before the interview board, I categorically denied returning to Agartala if I was assigned to serve there in future! I was advised by the august Board to be more prudent in my observation and was summarily disqualified!
However, subsequent developments pushed me to return to the original nest in early nineties. Again…. in a thoroughly dejected mood. But, somehow from then onwards, I started moving in the nook and corner of the town with my newly acquired scooter. I used to move without any specific direction and I gingerly started reminiscing yesteryears which I subsequently found was not all that bad.
During my school days, I frequently stopped my bicycle near Colonel Chowmuhani and kept on gazing at the ‘island house’ once located there. It was really an amazing sight for me. It attracted me immensely. As a matter of fact, that house was virtually a traffic point. Vehicles used to ply around that house and even one way routes were charted out with the house as a strategic installation. It is no longer there. Eventually, I was introduced to an evening ‘adda’ at Post office Chowmuhani. Today’s palatial HPO was in the womb of distant future. Only two huge Post boxes were there with enough darkish space on the background where we, 10-15 regular visitors, continued to gossip till night round duty from the West PS emerged. They were courteous enough. They never said a word. But, the very way they intentionally crossed the road glaring at our group was indication enough that it was time to disperse. Bygone days!
And we lived in the Quarters exactly where today’s Agartala City Centre stands tall. Old fashioned Quarters but very spacious and large court yard. Sufficient to play Cricket under blazing sun. Wild shots often landed near the traffic post (was it there ?) at Paradise Chowmuhani. But among all the Choumahanis, I liked -- still like -- the Paradise Chowmuhani most. No cogent reason as such. Most probably, it’s very name only ---- paradise…that charmed me. Almost 12 long years, we lived there. And the stretch between Melarmath and Sarkar Nursing Home just before Post office Chowmuhani was out uninhibited kingdom! Rabindra pally, Gandhighat, Office Lane were our greener pastures. In fact, who’s who of Civil and Police Administration used to live in those old fashioned quarters in Melarmath and Rabindrapally. Senior officers like Rathindra Rakshit (IPS), A B Bose(IPS), A K Ghose(IFS),Amal Roy(IAS) and luminaries in the field of education, culture, health and law like Shri Ananta Krishna Dhar, Sukumar Das, Dr. Bikash Bhattacharjee, Dr. Ashoke Baidya, Justice S.M. Ali were all inhabitants of that locality. Many of them are no more. And so graceful were they! They all indulged us, pampered us and sometimes spoilt us with handful of toffees ! We were really scared of Late Ananta Krishna Dhar, who was the President of the Tripura Board of Secondary Education. Every morning, I never failed to spot the very straight forward person with firm steps proceeding to Battala market. And how can I forget Late Hemanta Krishna Debbarman (Heman Karta), father of Shri B.K. Debbarman, IPS (Retd) who often used to sit on the balcony of his three storied building (very rare on these days) and indulgingly smiled at us when we used to sneak through the alleys behind Galaxy (one of the very few TV/Fridge selling outlet in those days) to fetch the mishit cricket ball. It was also my eternal query what exactly those 3/4 cemented squares inside the Gandhighat meant for! And retail shop of Kundu Brothers on the edge of the main road just opposite to Melarmath south lane. Any thing and everything which fascinated us were instantly popped up by the elderly gentleman whom I called ‘Kaku’. And…of course…. my first crush ! In between old MLA Hostel and Quarters of Senior Journalist late Anil Bhattacharjee adjacent to PTI office. This road still opens the floodgate of nostalgia! Garden fresh… till date. Still remember --- no holds barred ---- Debu, Pranab and myself --- three tired souls literally slept on that road with bricks as makeshift pillows in a tremendously chilling night on 22nd January --- just to have a glimpse of the ‘princess’ going to school in the wee hours of the next morning which was customary for these who studied in Netaji School. Days un parallel !
Frequently I visited Siddhartha’s house where today’s sprawling Nagerjala transport terminus is located. Marshy lands on both sides but still a patch of greenery where we, 4/5 friends, sat beneath a krishnachura tree and chatted endlessly. Even on 10th March 1985, when India won Benson and Hedges Cup in Melbourne under the leadership of Sunil Gavaskar, we did not miss to congregate just to discuss how gorgeous that ‘Audy’ was which Man of the Match Ravi Shastri won in the finals ! The ground of Umakanta School, today’s mini stadium, was by far our home ground. My father who was very conscious and proud of his health dragged me in the early morning, much to my unspelt annoyance, to undergo physical exercise on the concrete galleries of “Umakanta Maath”. He never uttered a word about my studies but my feeble health disturbed his composure.
In the midst of all these, I endeared the town of Agartala (till that time, not a city) gradually. And what a metamorphosis Agartala has undergone in last two decades! But the greens of Agartala still undulates the mind of its citizens. The simplistic innocence of a small city has not yet forsaken Agartala totally. With Multiplex, City Centre, Big Bazar, Inter State Bus terminus,Medical Colleges, NIT ----- all basking in glory & pride --- Agartala retains certain amount of old age charm. It is not a mere realization. Only a couple of days ago, I was hurriedly crossing Post office Chowmuhani on my way to RMS Chowmuhani. I was walking at a brisk pace. All on a sudden, I heard somebody yelling in my nick name. I turned around and found that a few long lost faces sitting on a bench near the tea shop of Kartik (adjacent to Head Posting office) so spontaneously and gleefully urging me to join them. It was mind-boggling as they still hold the tradition high for more than 25 years. I almost rushed towards them. They embraced me unbound. It was unmixed, indefinable joy. Lal Cha of Kartik, otherwise insipid, tasted like nectar. I felt elevated.