“Joler Line”, the water queue ….”
Standing on the wavy lid of the big trunk and peeping out of the window was my favorite solitary leisure. I was just tall enough to have my head just above the curtain wire so that I didn’t need to slide down the flowery fabric, to look out. I would find myself there at every interval my daily routine provided me with. And on an average, I managed nearly four to five such breaks, ranging from ten to thirty minutes.
I was and am my parents only child. It was a nuclear family and hence, inside the house, there wasn’t much to watch and engage with. Hence, I enjoyed observing people outside in that narrow lane, that was hardly half a kilometre long.
The window faced a huge, red brick wall from one end to the other that happened to be the outer wall of a warehouse. Many a times, I tried following the towering mossy wall, that made it impossible to look beyond it, but after the lane, it went behind houses and I always lost track. But, though it obstructed my view, a roadside tap below it compensated the loss. The water booth was one of the most sought after place in that area and it offered me a theatrical seat to observe all the dramas that took place there.
At dawn, the first thing that worked as an alarm for early risers in that lane was the Shlokas chanted by “Gopal da”, a skinny God fearing religious person, as he sped towards the Ganges river scantily clad in a “Gamchcha”, a thin red and white checked traditional towel. Yes, I might have forgotten to tell you that my house was just one road away from the holy river and many people in our locality bathed there on a daily basis. Those were the times when the list of harmful effects of bathing in the Ganges hadn’t yet appeared in and on any social media platforms, for the simple reason that internet hadn’t yet invaded our peaceful lives. And hence, the “Ganges” was still considered clean and pure despite all the visible dirt and mud. I would drowsily open my eyes and from my bed look out of the window from the opening above the curtain. Only a part of the factory wall with the sill would be visible. Few sparrows would have already arrived, hopping and chirping to call others. I would then lazily turn around to get back to my dreams. Exactly after twenty-three minutes, Gopal Da would return chanting probably the same shlokas. Early school goers and people responsible for collecting water for their households would now take no risk and wake up to get ready. Within few minutes cranking of metal buckets and pots and pans in front of the tap mixed with the chattering of morning school students with Milton water bottles, would be heard. This would usually be my final call as I had a day school and waking up earlier than this was not necessary. Yawning, I would then pull myself out of the mosquito net and untie the corner ropes from the hooks. Though our locality was quite clean and free of mosquito hazards, my father had a peculiar habit of using “Mashari” or nets wherever he slept. He would even pack one whenever he left town for work or to meet relatives. Wrapping the net, daily, was my part of work and I really enjoyed doing this. More so because it had a certain amount of art in it. You can always wrap it up somehow in a bundle but there was a certain way of doing it properly. And once I had learnt it from my father I followed it religiously and it gave me a sense of achievement, once done neatly. And then, I would jump on the trunk and watch the “Joler Line”, as they call the queue for filling up water vessels in Bengali. The tap, held tightly to the source pipe with numerous layers of strands, ranging from cloth, plastic to metal wires, would gape dryly at a long snaky line up of thirsty containers of various shapes and sizes, lined up one after another. Not a single soul could be seen by their side till the water would start pouring down on the first lucky container at exactly 6:30 am.
The water would gurgle within the tap for few seconds before throwing off in a fit of rage and then, once all the air bubbles had escaped, it would flow smoothly against the warm iron sides of the bucket, heated up by the morning sun while it waited for its turn. The proud owner of the bucket would appear in no time with a pot tucked on her her belly-side. And the moment the water level of the bucket reached the brim, glancing a cautious look around she would quickly place the bronze pot under the tap.
“How dare you place your pot there? My bucket was next in the line?”, a man in blue check lungi and a yellowish vest trying to cover his swollen belly would run down shouting at the top of his voice.
“Oh its just a small pot. Will fill soon. After that you can then fill as many of yours you want”, the lady in a printed cotton saree would reply in a soft voice to calm the man’s rage, still holding the pot tight, squatting down.
“No, I can’t. There are other people waiting too, whom you fail to notice. Since you have somehow managed to place your bucket in the first place, doesn’t mean you own the tap. Remove the pot right now or else I will kick it away”, he would howl at her, glaring with bloodshot eyes.
“Arrey dada, my husband will leave early for some urgent work today and hence, I thought may be let me fill two together and save time”, the lady continued talking buying time.
“Oh yes! We are all jobless. I do understand all your conjuring tricks. I very well know you and your family since ages “
“Don’t you bring my family in between. Oh my God! So much for a small pot of water. Here I take my pot away if it bothers you so much. You be rich” , she would reply angrily pulling the almost full pot and walking away picking up the iron bucket too.
“Disgusting”, the lungi clad man would curse and place his handle-less deep blue plastic pail under the tap.
By now most of the owners of the water containers would have arrived to ensure that nobody takes advantage of their absence. The lungi clad uncle still feeling disturbed by the lady’s triumph stands with his filled bucket for some more time, cursing the lady, but requests the last person in the queue in a soft tone before leaving saying,
“Please keep the place after you for me, while I bring one more bucket from home.”
By now my mom would be calling me for breakfast and I would jump down to brush my teeth, with the new gel paste. My next window break was expected prior to leaving for school as I awaited my friend’s arrival to pick me up. This would be the last leg of the morning tap hour and again the crowd gathers.
“Where’s Aanandi? Didn’t see her since morning? I hope she is fine”
“She wont come to fetch water anymore. She says her husband doesn’t like it. As if we are untouchables. She has arranged a boy to do this job for her. But I know the real reason”, she said coming closer to her as if she was just going to reveal a big secret.
“They have become ‘bodo lok’”, rich people now. Yesterday only I saw her husband returning home with a big TV carton”, she said rolling her big eyes, loud enough for people around to hear.
“Oh, that’s great! Now I won’t have to oil my landlady for watching weekend movies. Aanandi is a good friend. I am sure she won’t mind my kids.”
“God knows. Do check out and tell me. Money changes all”, she replied tucking her sari’s end on her waist, with an experienced tone.
“Boudi, it’s your turn, please be alert, we are all waiting under the merciless Sun.”, somebody from the queue would shout irritatingly.
Jaya Boudi will then quickly place her bucket and turn around to continue her gossip.
“God knows where they get so much money from. Many a times her husband comes late and sometimes he doesn’t even return. “
“Arrey no, he has got clients far off and for business sometimes he visits other cities too.”
Jaya Boudi animatedly made a gesture of “whatever”, looking visibly offended by the fondness Radha was expressing for Aanandi, quickly picked the water vessel and went on her way without even bidding a goodbye.
A clattering knock on our door would announce my friend’s arrival and we would leave for school in navy blue skirt, white top and a striped blue tie. After school, my mother made sure that I finished my homework before leaving for play.
We played in a park few blocks away from my house. It was a muddy stretch with few trees and dried patches of grass, a swing and a slip. Our favorite games being “Kumir Danga”, “Openty Biscope” and “Kanamachi”. But I hated “lock and key” as running wasn’t quite my forte. After sunset, we would return for the second round of studies. Before that I would always wait for the man in white kurta who would then switch on the street lights with a long stick he carried, imparting a yellowish bright tone to the dark lane. Post studies I would again position myself at my favorite window. But this time there would be no gurgling of water or banging of buckets. This hour saw people stopping by to talk to people they crossed paths with.
“How are you, Kaku? longtime! where have you been?”
“I went to my native place. I need to check on my heritage properties. How are you doing son?”
“I am fine Kaku. By your blessings, I just got selected for a nice job”
“Oh Great! Where is my sweet box?”
“Will surely come with it tomorrow.”
They leave in opposite direction and the street is quiet again except the signature rhythm of “Doordarshan News” coming from my neighbor’s drawing room. Two women suddenly come in vicinity whispering to each other.
“Who are you two plotting against?”, a boy passing known to the two women would tease them, while they smile back coyly.
Lights from other windows pour on the road making rectangle shapes. Aromatic smell of spices floats to my nostrils making me hungry as I await dinner. And thus my day’s tryst with my window ends.
But apart from this regular viewing, some special screenings took place during festivals and holidays
Will pen them in my upcoming posts. Keep watching…. 🙂