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THE TRAVELLING FAMILY OF DOLLS

THE TRAVELLING FAMILY OF DOLLS.                                                                         (A STORY BY DR. ABHIJIT RABHA)

প্ৰকাশিত তাৰিখঃ ২৬ জুন, ২০২৩

অভিজিৎ ৰাভা –

That was the retreating winter of the Gregorian year 1988. I often found myself wondering about how the toys of the toddlers were animated in the worlds of the grown-ups. They carried riders, passengers, goods. In addition to these, the made din and noise while the air breathing internal combustion engines revved up some specific Horse Powers. When I grew up, I too, became a beneficiary of this phenomenon. Barely into my mid-twenties, I was proudly riding a motorbike model, the beast that was the craze of the time. It was a 350 cc Royal Enfield Bullet. While riding on the snaking roads of Nagaon township, its deep thudding caused harassing heart-throbs amongst the lassies of the local residential areas. Maybe it teased them quite a bit.

One day, I was returning from the locality of Tezpur named Dolabari. The time was just prior to the sundown. The multihued western skies to the right of my southbound route were, by moments, transforming into the darkness of the night. Soon, a nascent evening would be born. By the time I arrived at my head quarter township of Nagaon the evening would morph into a teenager of the night. It was quite cold by then and the bank of fog slowly settled on the road. The Brahmaputra was not far away. Having made past the Panbari Reserve Forest, I was on that three kilometres and some odd hundred meters affair: the second bridge over the only male river in the world. The fog blotted out the beam of the motorbike. The easterly gusts of wind made crazy whispering sounds all over my ‘Studds’ full-face helmet. Reaching the Amoni tri-junction, I turned to the west executing a decent right-hand turn. There were no more fogs to roll in now. (THE TRAVELLING FAMILY OF DOLLS)

Far ahead, lay the valley of river Dejoo river. For the Forestry brotherhood of Assam, the fronts defined by the Jamuguri Reserve Forest, the South and North Dejoo Reserve Forests and the Hojai Reserve Forests defined the easternmost limit of the timber tree named the Sal or Shorea robusta.

Bang near the bank of this river, at that time, stood a stilted house with green corrugated iron roofing. A couple of Royal Enfield Bullets used be were parked on its spacious verandah. The occupants were few sturdy Pashto speaking Pathans. And they were my friends. And none of them were wiser of my dirty sneaky trick when on every arms arm wrestling bouts, they lost to me. It was a regular watering place for me or when I longed for some well-cooked exotic food. The interior had a largish large sitting room where on an expensive and thick carpet, they consumed quite a quantity of good tea. The tea would be of the Orange Pekoe grade brought from the nearby tea gardens to the south of their location; mostly the Salonah or the Amluckie.

Upon reaching, I parked my bike and found the Pathans standing with torch-lights in their hands: a sign we used to denote ‘something wrong’. Any way the they welcomed me in. In the verandah, there were scores of strange people, of the central European countries, maybe so, I thought. They were singing songs along with couple of concertinas joining it. 

“Brother, we have some queer probs. These guys, who do not utter a word of ours or anyone nearby, appeared this morning from nowhere and refuse to eat or drink. Neither they would indicate why they are here or when they would make a move.” The eldest Pathan told me. I was thirty and cold. Soon, I made myself comfortable with almost one litre of well brewed orthodox tea down the gullet. And with some fistful of Kishmeesh, I perked up. I wanted to investigate the their odd arrival in this at my friend’s place. of my friends. We went to the front verandah and confronted the singing group of distant travellers. We motioned them to stop and calm down. The music and the full-throated song abruptly ended. “Who are you guys? From where have you landed up here? Yes? Are you in need of help?” there was a gravid silence. There were some ladies with patchwork clothes fit for the old time European gypsies. There were the clothes on the gentlemen which showed they belonged to some antique store houses. We tried to use all the smatterings of languages that we knew between ourselves. The Pathans tried Hindostani, Pashto, Persian…! I tried Assamaese, Bengali, Hindi……….. I knew it was useless and futile. Suddenly, I tried the last one…. Some phrases from Russian languages. 

“Da! Nyemnogo govoryo pa Russki”nnnnn

“Oh, Pa Russki?”

A small girl, maybe around eleven, stood up and came towards us and gave us a torrent of English that we found difficult to understand. It was thick with east European accent. What we made out was from her sobs that ensued from deep within her. “Can you fix my doll, please?” A member of occupants of the stilted house took up the challenge. It was the time of the analogue world and our time keeping wrist watches in vogue were still that way; including our thundering bikes. The Pathan had a way of doing things in an intelligent manner. He took a loupe to his eyes and disassembled the doll. It was a hand wounded toy. The inside was full of toothed wheels, large and small, some bellows, gears and so on…

After an eternity of waiting patiently, the girl got back her doll, all in one piece. She moved her doll from side to side and let it go on the top of the nearest table top. The doll opened her eyes, raised her hands and two wings sprouted out from the shoulders. Then, it started singing and prancing around little mechanically. The song was incomprehensible but that of a Soprano singer’s voice. “There she is, thanking you all for getting it back to form.”

Then the group members opened up. They stood up came up to us walking little stiffly and started shaking hands with us. The handshakes were firm but little bit cold like steel exposed to overnight cold weather. There was the leader Anton, the chubby cheeked Verona and so on.. totalling ten of them.

There was a pile of food in front of them by now. But they showed no inclination towards the same.

What? Not hungry? Why not have some “Shorba”. Still a no go.

“Gentlemen, we are on our way to the conclave to Yunan.” Last time we went through this place many decades ago. There were a lot of dolls that flew up in the skies and came down to rest in the nearby field of this place.” There were dolls called ‘trucks’ that carried a lot of soldiers to the east. We took the road from Ledo to Kunming via Hukawng Valley…”

“These guys are crazy, would not talk in any good English, would refuse our sumptuous food and talks about some nonsensical time period.” One of the brothers said. 

I hushed him off. ‘You are speaking of the World War II and of the making of the Stilwell road. Wow! But the bad news is that mountain road is gone. 

“Oh, how could that be? After all, the humans built it by cutting earth into the hillsides, building bridges. We took only ten days to reach Yunan for the Convention at that time.”

“If the humans built the road, who the hell are you?

There was a long silence. Then one stood and said, “We, had detected a source of our favourite, our life blood. The smell comes from the nearby fuel pump of yours that powers the moving dolls of yours to ride around.. in the last place, when we got into trouble, a venerable lady with yellow wrap around clothing, lubed us with Castor oil. You people, um…call it lubricant. Will you please give us enough lubricants that is good for your dolls? When we move, we wind ourselves up. But need good lubricant to get going.

Cans and cans of good lubes arrived from the nearby petrol depot. Through various inlets, they all, gratefully took the lube in. At the end, they all expressed satisfaction. They were ready to go. But, one tall ‘lady’ came up and told me… “I am the one who or which is capable of calculating the planetary positions. Give me your date of birth, time and the year….! After a while she told me… “of course we are older to you by five hundred years and soon comes a time you will leave your friends for a new place of work.”

They all left, in a tearing speed. I stood marvelled by side of the guy who repaired the doll of the dolls. Also felt a bit sorry for these mechanical robots made by some brilliant scientist from the Middle Ages. I never knew what happened to them.

As for myself I found an order saying that my transfer to a new place has materialised. Bless that family of dolls. Travel you all may through the time and continents…

শিৰোনামৰ ফটোঃ চানডুবি নিউজ

Title Pix: Chandubi News

(Dr. Abhijit Rabha, Indian Forest Service (Retired)

Rajgarh Road, Guwahati, Assam.

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