My Grandfather's Love For The Village And His Parents

Chaitanyamoi Chetia

© Copyright 2021 by 
Chaitanyamoi Chetia

Photo by Grandfather on horseback.
Photo by Grandfather on horseback.

My grandfather loved the people of his villages, his relatives and the people of the neighborhoods. Western cowboy movies were his favourites, and whilst he was the officer-in-charge at Chabua police station (Chabua is a small tea city of upper – Assam), he asked a cobbler to make a pair of stylish cowboy boots of leather having high shafts, no lace, but pointed toes at the front. My grandfather’s name was KC Chetia (1939– 2015); he was born at a village called Hahchara in Sivasagar district(Assam); the river Dikhow flows through the road towards Sivasagar and joins the mighty Brahmaputra at a place called Dikhowmukh. Besides, theroad leads tomany schoolson the way, and it has Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC)office as well as colony and other offices. This road with frequent curved slopes at regular intervals runs in a beautiful manner as in one side of the road can be seen the Dikhow river, and in the other side lay the railway line. The place is prosperous as a great many tea estates are scattered there, and also because of innumerable oil rigs in the paddy fields that are engaged in exploring hydrocarbons.

The Dikhow bridge was constructed over the river by the British in 1935 for shipping made tea and tea machineries from Sivasagar to Kolkata and vice versa; besides, one of the unique features of the bridge was that one section of the bridge could be lifted to allow the ships to cruise and pass along the river, and also the bridge has a beautiful architectural design. Now those things do not function, only pedestrians can walk along the bridge due to its dilapidated condition. The pillars of the bridge have been in ruins, and during the monsoon when there is water everywhere, there arises fear among the citizens that heavy river currents might wash away the shabby pillars of the age old bridge at any time.

My grandfather took his early education at Sivasagar and took his graduation from B Borooah College, Guwahati. He took his retirement from his profession in 2000 AD; and settled at Moranhat in Dibrugarh district. He passed away in 2015 and a souvenir on his life was printed out abruptly which was released after 11 days of his demise,and the copies of the souvenir were distributed among the people who were present during the shraddha ceremony. I took out a copy of the souvenir from the book shelf and turned over the pages and read out in curiosity. I learnt a few important things about my grandfather; some are touching to read and some are pleasing. He was a nominated APS (Assam Police Service), and he retired as Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). He had 5 sisters, and two of his sisters were school teachers. His youngest sister had been publishing short stories and poems from her earlier days, and she had been awarded the National Teacher Award in 2013; she received the award from the then President of India, late Pronob Mukherjee for her commitment towards teaching.

My grandfather’s sister wrote some interesting things about his life. After his graduation, he was in a clerical job at Guwahati Medical College. Once his eldest sister had suffered from an ailment for many months; in order to get proper treatment as well as for speedy recovery he admitted her at Guwahati Medical College which is around 380 kilometers from the nearest railway junction of his village. As ill luck would have it, even after continuous efforts by experienced doctors she could not be cured, and she breathed her last there. Her death was a bolt from the blue for him; in such agony he gave his resignation from that profession as he had lost his passion for the job and quit it. Whilst his sister was in the dormitory bed of the hospital, he used to visit her sister in the dormitory, he used to give a few rupees from his wallet to a nursing assistant present there daily with a view to looking after his sister with utmost care. Afterwards he resolved himself to come to the police department. He loved books and purchased some important books during his service years, and clang to the habit of purchasing books even after his retirement. He was a good football player in his youth, and he had netted many goals in unofficial matches. Many football teams hired him as the team members knew that with him in the team they would win some major football tournaments. Once four players of his squad and he entered at an inn to have their lunch in their empty stomachs. They all devoured rice so much that the cooked rice that was in the huge bowl was exhausted.

Bring rice,” they said to the waiter.

There is little rice, you have devoured the complete rice of the large bowl,” the waiter answered.

For many years, grandfather had said about the pathetic death of his sister on many occasions; he also used to say in laughter about the amusing incident that happened in the inn where his friends and he had voraciously eaten up the complete rice.

While grandfather was posted at Dergaon (Assam police training institutions are located at Dergaon), he attended his duty wearing polished brown shoes and iron pressed khaki uniform, and sometimes, he used to put on civil attires while attending office. While staying there for 4 years, he invited some good and aspiring recruits to come to his quarter after their regular courses of drill with a view to giving them special notes on the laws of the country, and human rights and behaviour. Some recruits used to come to his quarter in the afternoon with books and pens in their hands. While taking out the souvenir from the book shelf, I came across a few books like Prevention and Detection of Crime by T Ramanujan, IPS (Retd) with a forward by Shri FV Arul, Police Diaries, Statements, Reports, Investigation and Prosecution by V Mitter, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 by D Surya Rao, S N Bagga and Jagdish Lal.

One senior officer (the Commandant of the institution)liked him and adored him, because the Commandant’s wife used to come to grandfather’s quarter in an ambassador car and alight from the rear door and gossip outside with my grandmother in the summer days sitting in chairs with bamboo fans in their hands; and the chauffeur in khaki uniform and a cap in his head would stand at a distance away from the car.Whenever grandfather met someone he would shake hands with them with a smile and converse. All the writers in the souvenir wrote a common thing that grandfather laughed with “a great heart.” He loved taking photos with his friends wherever he was posted. He had had a few photo albums in a wooden almirah having innumerable photos: his father’s ( my great- grandfather) photo was also clicked when the latter was in a coma at a hospital at Jorhat, and as I turned over the pages of the album I saw a few black and white photos of his in the album from his bachelor years till his retirement. Amidst the photos, I came across a photo of Mahatma Gandhi; below this photo was written Charlie Andrews, Gandhi, and William Pearson, 1914.

How the photo came here?” I wondered, as the group photo was of 1914, whereas my grandfather was born in 1939. Later I learnt it was a xeroxed photo taken from the biography, Life and Death of MK Gandhi by Robert Payne (Robert Payne was popularly known for writing biographies of notable people of the world). I kept the photo in the page of the album where it was, and gave a glance at the remaining photos. Some photos were clicked while he was the officer-in-charge (OC) at Chabua police station; a few photos were clicked while he was the circle inspector (CI) at Bilasipara ( the place is about 40 kilometers from Dhubri). He got a few photos clicked before his retirement as Assistant Commandant from 1st Assam Police Battalion, Ligiripukhuri.

Shillong used to be his much sought after leisure destination; Shillong was also the place where John Shepherd – Barron, the revolutionary inventor of the automated teller machine (ATM) was born when Assam province in India was under the British rule. Besides, there were three ‘sunset’ photos of Shillong taken at different intervals and these photos were in the album. Looking at the pictures one can feel that enjoying sunset at Shillong could be so eye-catching! Shillong used to be the capital of Assam province till 1972 of the last century, after that the capital of Assam was shifted to Dispur. Shillong is also known as the “Scotland of the East” for its rolling hills, soaring landscapes, rippling flow of the waterfalls, and some of the buildings were of English cottage-style design by pattern and furnishing; some houses have irregularly shaped rooms with extensive gardens. Never ending eucalyptus trees are planted on both sides of the road on the way to Shillong, and there has always been the bone – chilly breeze in the air during the winter season. Before his death, grandfather took my uncle’s family to Shillong and they stayed there at Circuit House. He got many photos clicked with my uncle’s three-year-old daughter, picking her in his arms and they both got clicked, and I love to see those photos.

The year 2015was very sad for all of us: grandfather had been taking a few medicines according to the advice of a family doctor for two years. Suddenly his health deteriorated, and in the month of August, my uncle took him to Sir Ganga Ram hospital at New Delhi so that his health could be improved. After a few medical experiments at the hospital, and staying there for a few days, grandfather and uncle returned quickly to Assam. Knowing about his hasty return, a family doctor of our society said to grandfather, “ Why have you returned home in this bad health condition, you ought to have stayed in New Delhi for a few more days!” With a weak and feeble body he arrived home and lay in his bed spreading his legs; he spoke very little while he was taking rest only to be taken to Dibrugarh Medical College and Hospital on the same day in the evening. After a few days’ treatment at intensive critical care unit at the hospital as no improvement in his health could be seen, all the family members decided that he should be taken to Apollo hospital, Chennai ( Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu) with a notion that he would get better health treatment there. This time, my father and my uncle accompanied my grandfather to Chennai. Before leaving, some family members of my grandfather arrived at the hospital to see him. Some genuflected with their knees on the floor touching his feet as he was sitting on a wheel chair outside the verandah of the hospital; my grandmother clad in a cotton saree rushed to the hospital and touched his feet in deep respect with both her hands. Many people loved my grandfather and all the close family friends of my grandfather and my uncle’s friends helped him in many ways for getting better health treatment. Alas! In the first week of September, he breathed his last in Chennai.

He worked for the betterment of the society in many ways like working for the upliftment of the society and for the senior citizens in order to enable them opportunities to lead a healthy life.

When he was posted in Majuli (Majuli is a river island on the river Brahmaputra which was declared a district in 2016), he was instrumental in organising Medam-me-phi for the first time in that place in 1991. This is an ancient ceremony prevalent among the Ahom dynasty; it is celebrated to commemorate the ancestors and is performed in Assam on the 31stof January every year. Though Medam-me-phi is organised by the Ahoms, other communities of Assam also take part in it. After an interval of 30 years, at the initiative of both my grandmother and my uncle as well as the people of Majuli, this festival was again held for the second time in 2021. On this auspicious occasion, my grandmother gave a speech in the huge platform in front of the audience. She said, “I am happy that this solemn ritual has taken place in Majuli after a gap of 30 years,” she continued, “Late KC Chetia took a great initiative to observe Medam-me-phi publicly in Majuli for the first time in 1991, and I praise you all that it is taking place for the second time in 2021.”

My grandfather preferred taking duck meat. Once, after returning home from his office duty, when he found that grandmother was not confined to home, and instead, went to her relative’s home for a few days’ stay, he became irritated. He said to a cook in the house, “Bring one duck from the house where they are kept, do all the necessary things and prepare the meat.” That day he devoured the whole duck meat in irritation and anguish in mind. Grandfather took my parents and me to New Delhi in March, 2015; sadly I never knew that making merriment with him and visiting places and getting photos clicked with smiles will be my last journey with my grandfather, as after six months, he passed away. There we stayed at Assam Bhawan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. Our stay at Chanakyapuri was a beautiful experience because this serene place was the diplomatic enclave of all the foreign embassies. While staying at Assam Bhawan (Chanakyapuri), grandfather took me to Raj Ghat – Raj Ghat is the place where Gandhiji was cremated. Both Indian and foreign tourists visit the memorial to pay homage to the departed soul of Gandhiji. An eternal flame burns there ceaselessly. My grandfather and I got a photo clicked there, and I shall always preserve this photo for my lifetime.

A few of his belongings like his books, the dictionaries, and a radio which he loved the most are kept safely. He purchased a Philips radio (Skipper 15 RL 517) while at Dhubri in 1972. The radio has MW, SW3, SW2, and SW1; and it is still functioning. He liked listening to the morning news of Dibrugarh radio centre broadcasting at 529 .1 metres in the Medium Wave ( MW). While he was at Dergaon, in the morning, he used a hoe to clear the soil and harvest plants like red beet, carrot, and spinach. Sometimes, he uses the hoe to keep the weeds down in the vegetable garden. He switches on the radio and dig narrow furrows in the garden keeping the windows open so that he could listen to the radio news distinctly. When the news is broadcast he would pause his work and come nearer to the window to listen to the morning news bulletin. Till the news continues, he would stand still and motionless, clasping the handle of the hoe with one hand and the other hand in his waist and goes on listening.

He loved to eat rice prepared in steam which in our traditional language is called “sewa diya bhat” (it is a steamed sticky rice, rice is soaked for an hour in water, afterwards rice is steamed in a vessel having innumerable holes in it; and the steam itself cooks the rice). Haal fish (channa marulius), and hol fish (channa straita), and borali fish ( a kind of fish found in the rivers of Assam), and Ari fish (sperata aor)are his favorites fishes. He used to bring it home for he believed that eating these fishes give strength to the body. “Eat these fishes, they give energy,” he used to say to his sons ( my father and my uncles) in the dinner table. During the summer vacation, he purchases a few varieties of mangoes and bring them home; but, he preferred ‘langra’ mango the most.

Crossing the railway line that runs across Sivasagar to Hahchara and further (standing at the railway line at Hahchara, if one walks along the line on the left, one will reach Sivasagar railway station, and on the right one will reach Simaluguri Junction railway station), people walk along the village alley to reach their homes, and it is one and a half kilometres distance to my grandfather’s native village. Farmers, school teachers and people of the villages on the way reach their respective homes crossing the paddy fields and ponds by riding bicycles or on feet. In the month of June, 2015, he came to his village and walked along the small path of the paddy fields to arrive at the cremation ground of his father ( my great- grandfather). An epitaph in white marble plate was engraved the name of his father ( Late Mohan Ch Chetia, 1902 – 1981) and was cemented at the cremation ground. The marble plate was not seen then – it was washed away by the flood during the monsoon season. He had cleaned the area, burnt incense sticks and knelt down with his folded hands and paid his last respect to his father. Spending a few minutes silently at the cremation ground, he left the place and entered into two houses of his relative brothers, spared a little time there and returned home. Electrical posts were not installed in the village roads when his father was alive; they were installed after his father’s demise. As soon as electrical posts were installed and electricity was made available to the consumers, my grandfather immediately got his home connected with electricity. He became joyful and said, “Now my mother need not have to burn kerosene lamps in the dark.”

His mother glowed the rooms of the home with bulbs; one bulb was also installed near the rear pond with an extension chord on top of a long bamboo stick. The pond was large and it’s water was of prime importance to them as they used the water of this pond for cooking as well as for drinking purposes. When the rooms as well as the boundary of his home brighten with bulbs, it had been a delightful moment for my grandfather. Due to his strenuous duty in his office works as well as for looking after his family members it became difficult on his part to look after his mother and his native home; as after a year or so, the electricity line was blocked for non-payment of electricity-bills, and again his mother started burning kerosene lamps in the evening like the previous years. He got his father’s portrait painted by an artist while he was at Bilasipara; and that large portrait always remained hung on the wall in the house. When his mother became weak and lacked the physical strength to do the daily chores of the house, grandfather resolved to bring his mother to his department quarter; and afterwards he brought his mother to his newly built home at Moranhat: he disposed of the native land to a villager there.

When India was organising the 9th Asian games in 1982 in Delhi, for the first time live television broadcasting of Doordarshan ( Doordarshan is India’s public service television broadcaster) came to Assam. It was in that year that television was connected in other parts of Assamand at Dergaon. Grandfather enjoyed watching television programme at his office in the leisure hours as television set with antenna in residential houses had been very rare then. During that time, he also disposed a double barrelled shot gun which he had purchased while he was at Bengtol. He sold out the gun to a client at Dergaon; before selling, my grandfather and my father got two photos clicked at a photo studio at Dergaon. The first vehicle grandfather purchased was a used Willys Jeep having the registration number ASE 7472 which was purchased in 1984 – 85 while he was the OC at Chabua. This place is a beautiful tea city having large tea estates, besides, some of the premium Assam teas are made at Chabua; the tea produced here is strong and has a delicate flavour. Academy Award actress, Julia Christie was born at Chabua when India was under the British rule (Julia Christie acted in many Hollywood movies, and one of her popular movies was Dr Zhivago which was a novel by Boris Pasternak which was later rendered into a film which was released in the 1960s and 1970s of the last century).

My grandfather was loved by the acquainted men who came in touch with him. While he was posted at Bengtol (Pin code 783375), the father of a missionary school invited him to have an evening tea; grandfather was served palatial plates and sweet mangoes. While he had been staying at Bangtol, a tourist from Australia clicked 3 colour photos of my grandfather, grandmother, my father and my uncle (my father and my uncle were small children then, my father was reading in nursery); after a few months, the father of the school handed over the photos at my grandfather’s hand. Those were the first colour photos that my grandfather clicked; they were clicked in 1978 of the last century. When my grandfather had been transferred to Dergaon, the father of the missionary school of Bangtol posted a greeting card at my grandfather’s name. He received it and saw it was a Merry Christmas and New Year greeting card. During festivals and other events, he received diaries as well as gamochas (a towel woven by women) from his relatives for their love towards him. While he was transferred to a new place, while entering office he had a habit of replacing a few things there, viz., the cushion in the chair, a few new files, an oval shaped paper weight having colourful designs into it to keep the official circulars from blowing away in breeze; and a dictionary ( usually he keeps the dictionary in the drawer of the table).

Two clientele from Shillong came to Bilasipara to purchase the Willys Jeep from my grandfather; he disposed of the vehicle at ₹9000/- (rupees nine thousand only) in 1989. He gave all the documents of the vehicle in the open sky near the vehicle, and shook hands with them with a smile and handed over the keys.

The jeep is really nice and I sold it!” he said to himself with a sigh. After that he came to his office table and reclined in his chair. His colleagues and the senior officials as they moved on the way called at his residence to have a cup of tea with my grandfather. The Commandant of 2nd APBn of Makum with his wife came to my grandfather’s quarter at Chabua to have their lunch as they loved by grandfather. At Dergaon, when football matches were held between two institutions ( for instance, between 11th APBn and Police Training College), a few senior officials and my grandfather were invited to watch the match amidst the huge spectators in the football ground.

During his bachelor years, grandfather got some photos clicked on a horseback in uniform during his training time at Dergaon; and these photos in horseback were relatively larger in size than the other photos pasted in the album ( the photos were the size of my school copy books), and the name of that horse was ‘tiger’.

I feel his love for his sisters and his parents, his love for his native village, his eagerness to give notes to the aspiring recruits while he was the Law Instructor (LI) at Dergaon, and his love for listening to the radio news will influence the young readers for generations to come.

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