The Lost Tribe
I was pestering my father persistently to take me to the market but he was not inclined to accede to my importunate demand. For that would only mean taking me along on his lap or shoulder which he had to avoid on the doctor’s advice. But I was too small to understand and be consoled and as I burst out into loud and bitter weeping a sturdily built tall middle aged man scantily dressed and with almost an oblong face emerged suddenly and carried me swiftly on his broad shoulder assuring in broken Bengali admixed with Hindi “ No problem. I shall take you to the shops, son”. We were perplexed to find this unknown rustic person volunteering to help out. “All right you may go but you will be paid for your service.” My father had to acquiesce as no vehicle was in sight.
We called him endearingly Moni Bhai who was soon inducted into our family to help us in our daily chores. My father, a teacher, would always be engaged in academic and administrative matters in a local college in Jalpaiguri, a northern district town of West Bengal- So much so that he had no time to look after the household affairs, otherwise left to my mother who also needed assistance and we three brothers were mere kids engaged in studies and often getting into mischief. Finding this man everyone was relieved as he slipped into our daily routine much to our relief and he began to extend his services for a good measure.
Moni Bhai came from Bihar in search of a living. He had left behind his family in his native village and would remit his savings to help them somehow eke out a subsistence. He was illiterate and belonged to a tribe which gave extreme importance to humane values and unlike the present age helping hands only monetary considerations were never their priority. My father who could read other’s eyes had found in him a dependable,trustworthy and honest person who could be entrusted with the responsibility of any job. So he was safely ensconced in our family like any other member.
He was allotted a separate room near our kitchen. His day would start much before dawn and after some prayers in his own ways he would make a coal fire and soon keep ready our tea. Tea over he would help my mother prepare breakfast and lunch. He was very punctual to escort us to our school and fetch us with aplomb. Most of the journey would involve taking us on his shoulder by rotation which we heartily enjoyed. Although he never had any watch we wondered how he could manage time schedule without any assistance! He would wash our clothes so well that it could beat any laundry! Although he was a strict vegetarian how he could prepare savoury dishes of meat curry is still a mystery! He had no vices and his only addiction was Khaini which he took often claiming it to be invigorating.
One interesting incident involving him a few months after his engagement is still etched on my memory. Once he had accompanied my elder brother by rickshaw to the market. My parents were very upset when they did not return home after even usual delay. Thinking of a sinister possibility my mother was bursting with impatience to drive my father even to the police station to lodge a diary. But at long last when they eventually returned we could learn much to our embarrassment that Moni Bhai had rushed to the nearest physician for urgent treatment of my brother after they had met with an accident. As my mother was relieved of the anxiety we watched how Mani Bhai’ s legs were still oozing blood! Our faith in him grew all the more and we could thereafter leave the job of looking after our house safely in his hands when we travelled to distant places during vacations.
But after living with us for long ten years he felt the urge for returning to his native land permanently. He had so long gone there once in a year returning with such mouth watering delicacies as laddoo and halwas. As we became grown up before him he also thought of giving his own children more care and attention. So one day he left us for good receiving his dues gladly.
Although Moni Bhai died nearly half a century ago and his fraternity has now been long extinct, his memories still linger in our lives and in these days of dishonesty and hypocrisy seeing a good benign person seems to bring back the fun filled happy and peaceful days with our beloved Moni Bhai.
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