This is the Ninth Episode of Season Two of 'Spots of Time'
It may be a long road from the Low to the High. But it surely is a short step from letter ‘C’ to letter ‘O’ in the imagination. And this is despite the little delay involved, as the tongue trips from the letter near at hand to the one that is distant. Rabinana pulled off the transition admirably, performing both the mental and the physical gymnastics with aplomb. Having transited with lightning speed from the low to the high in his mind, he glided smoothly across the alphabetic chasm.
Rabinana was Subrat’s first cousin on his mother’s side. Though slightly older than he–hence the suffix of ‘nana’ to his name–they were the best of friends through their teen years. They scoured the town together, having their small adventures and misadventures.
Subrat also owed his life to Rabinana. He had ducked under water on seeing Subrat lose his foothold on the stone step while bathing in Bad Pokhari and begin to drown. Skirting around Subrat, he had given him a mighty shove. Had it not been for that shove, Subrat would not be sitting down now to write this tale of an unforgettable afternoon outing half a century ago, an outing where the apotheosis from low to high happened.
That was a day in the middle of the ten-day long Rath Jatra. It was drizzly and sultry, with the sky overcast and the heat from the muffled rays of the sun sweltering. The three chariots had been drawn along the Bada Danda, taking the deities to their aunt’s abode at the other end of the wide and long corridor.
After two days of being in hectic motion–which is the duration of the chariot pull in Baripada as distinct from Puri–the Jatra had settled down for the six-day haul, taking the form of a buzzing village hut. Only there was no huddle, as in the village hut, but a horizontal sprawl, with shops and shows dotting the Bada Danda on either side.
An odd stall stood out among this glittering array of heaps of balloons, water balls, horn pipes, masks, shows of light and sound, and various types of sweetmeats. It was a covered enclosure with openings for entry and exit. The writing on the front of it advertised itself as an outlet of the Department of Family Planning. That sultry afternoon Rabinana led Subrat towards this stall, holding him by hand.
“What are we to find here?”
“An education one rarely gets.”
“Gupt Gyan. Sex education.”
Subrat was mystified. He thought family planning was about cutting one’s coat according to one’s cloth, like the thrifty womenfolk in their houses did, the men being low-salaried government employees.
“Will they show us something like Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani?” Subrat asked.
This was a movie that hit the theatres of Baripada a month ago. It was about the son of an officer, their age, who took it upon himself to navigate the family’s limited finances so as not to make the expenditure outrun the income. The movie was a big hit. They had both seen it with their families.
“Yes, a sort of Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani, but one where the ‘Kahani’ unfolds under the dark of the night and behind closed doors.” Rabinana said, flashing a smile.
On Subrat being clueless still, Rabinana spelt it out.
“Arre, they’ll show us how not to make babies despite rampant cohabitation.”
He had learned this new English word and would use it at the drop of a hat. It did its job of darkly hinting at what married couples do rather well.
Subrat was all ears now. But how to enter the stall? There was a man at the entrance. He seemed to allow adults only and stare children and boys out of countenance.
Rabinana walked up to the man smartly.
“I’m looking for one Nayak Babu of the Family Planning Department of Baripada. I’ve a letter to give him. My father has sent it.”
“Who’s your father? What does he do?”
“He’s the Family Planning Office of Betnoti block.”
The man stepped aside to let Rabinana slip in. Taking advantage of the moment, Subrat sneaked himself in too.
On this apotheosis from ‘C’lerk to ‘O’fficer that Subrat just saw enacted before him, he couldn’t help but compliment its author and be his apprentice.
Rabinana was quick on the uptake, like Vera in the Saki story, very inventive. Only he invented stratagems, not romances.
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