On my second ‘Blogiversary’ I thought of writing a post on something which is very close and personal. I would like to dedicate this post to my Jethu (paternal uncle). I always love listening to stories. One of my best childhood pass time was to listen to stories. Be it a fairy tale, stories from Panchatantra, Thakumar Jhuli, adventure stories, ghost stories or the most interesting stories of my ancestors narrated by my jethu.
My close relatives knew my love for stories. Every time either my parents, my aunts or my uncles and even my cousins had to meet my request for stories. I had no complaints against repetition. I was not lucky enough to see my grandparents as they had expired long before my parents’ marriage. So I used to bother my jethu the most with repeat request for certain stories. And among them were the stories of my ancestors too.
Now before going into further details, I shall give a brief introduction of my family name – Ghosh Dastidar. It is said that any Ghosh Dastidar in the world belongs to the same family and its root is in a village in Gava in Barisal district of Bangladesh. Our family house had their own school in that time and so our house was named as ‘Schoolbari’. The school was made by my great, great and a lot of great grandmother Late Bindubashini Ghosh Dastidar.
This was the short history of the Ghosh Dastidar family and their village. Now coming back to my jethu’s stories. My jethu, my father and all my paternal uncles and aunts were born in the Schoolbari in the Gava village. My grandparents left their house, soil and all the property for the partition related disturbance and settled in West Bengal long back. At that time my father was a toddler and he has little to no memory of his birthplace.
But my jethu had the picture in his mind. He often used to tell me the stories of his childhood. He used to give a vivid description of every part of the village and I used to visualise the picture. He used to say that all the Ghosh Dastidar stayed in the same village and every subfamily had their house named differently. As our house was Schoolbari the neighbouring house was Billobari, some were named as Sobuttarerbari, Uttarerbari, and so on.
My jethu had a wish to go to Bangladesh and visit his birthplace and see the house in its present state. He used to say that there was a ‘lohar pool’ (iron bridge) on a canal and crossing over the bridge, by the side of another canal was the Gava village, my ancestor’s land. Acres of land with trees and ponds intercepted by narrow canals. At the end of one such narrow canal which was the branch of the wider canal that runs below the Lohar pool, was the home of my ancestors – the Schoolbari.
The school of the Schoolbari was just beside. In the backyard, there was a pond generally used by the women for their bathing and other household works. There was another pond bigger in size on the other side of the house. In front of the house, there was the ‘Durgadalan’, a roofed platform in the courtyard where the Durga Puja used to be held every year. There was a Mansha mandir (a temple dedicated to the snake goddess Mansha).
Country boats were the fastest means of transportation. The canals throughout Barisal were interconnected so sailing through them one could reach their destination conveniently and fast. I heard stories of marriages of the daughters our family being held in a grand way. The Baratis (family and the invitees from the groom’s side) arrived in the boats and the bidai (farewell ceremony of the bride) too took place on boats. Boats were loaded with precious gifts and jewellery for the groom’s family. It went like a caravan of boats on the canal after a lavish wedding.
I heard stories how my granny used to perform rituals at the crossroad near the Lohar pool during Makar Sankranti and Poila Baisakh. I heard stories of wealth, property and harvest in abundance. I heard stories of how my ancestors lived the life of Zamindars. My childish brain fantasised these stories painted the scenes in even brighter colours. It all seemed like some fairy tale where my grandpa was the king and my granny the queen with their children the prince and the princess.
We belonged to the family tree of the Late Mrityunjay Ghosh Dastidar. The elders of my family take great pride to be the member of this family and so do I. My jethu had always wished to go to Bangladesh to revisit his birthplace and see his home in present condition. But in the early day due to various reason he could not and later his health condition did not permit.
I too had a wish for a long to step into my ancestral land and see my fairyland by myself and compare it with the picture in my mind. And at some corner of my mind had a deep-seated desire to give some relief to my jethu showing him the pictures of Gava village. But again due to a various reason, I could not visit during his lifetime. Even on his deathbed, he used to draw the layout his village.
Now when I finally made it to Gava my jethu was no more and I only had his layout drawn in his diary. I visited Bangladesh along with my parents with just the name of Gava village somewhere in Jhalokati in Barisal. The Google map did not show Gava neither did anyone in Dhaka had heard of Gava village. There were few blogs on Ghosh Dastidars of Gava written by some distant relative of mine, might be my Ghosh Dastidar brothers or uncles. But there was no proper direction.
I reached Barisal. Finding my ancestral village was like a treasure hunt for us. No one in Barisal too was able to say anything about Gava. Someone who was the resident of Jhalokati said that there was no such village in this subdivision. After all enquiry through every possible way and from every person we met in Barisal, we had the same thing to ask for. Finally, our rescuer came in the form of our hotel staff. He stays in the village beside Gava village in Banaripara. He also knows the Gava high school, which we supposed to be the same school of ours.
When we came to know that Gava still exists we were sure to find the Schoolbari. For all the Ghosh Dastidars who are in search of Gava I give the direction here. From any place in Barisal head towards Banaripara. After few kilometres take the left turn just after crossing the 42 no Eksarapara Government Primary School. Again after a few kilometres of drive take the right of the fork to the narrow dirt road. Then there is the twin V bridge over the canals. Take the one on the right and you are there in Gava. The other side of the other bridge is Jhalokati.
We reached our destination and the Gava high school was on the right. Here we met a gentleman who interrogated us, our intention of the visit and our whereabouts. After all the introduction episode we found that he is the member of the present generation of the sole Ghosh Dastidar family residing here. He was elated to have us here. He cordially brought us to his home. He stays there with his wife, brother, his brother’s wife and their adorable little daughter Adhara.
They belonged to another subfamily of Ghosh Dastidars and so they had a different house. When we asked about the Schoolbari they showed us the guard garden laden with fruit. They said that in course of time our deserted Schoolbari was in ruins and finally they demolished and cleared the ruins to convert it into farmland. We were disheartened to know this. They showed us the acres of property full of orchards and farms.
The ponds are still there. There are samadhis of many of our forefathers. The Durgadalan exits too and every year the Durga Puja is also held as per the rituals. The Mansha Temple is not there. Neither any other structure that my jethu narrated or had drawn in his layout exists. Only the canals and ponds remain the same way as it was before. The school has grown to the big Gava High School and lot more buildings are still under construction within the school premises with the intention of further growth. The Lohar pool has turned to concrete bridge and once a lively village of many houses of Ghosh Dastidars has turned into a vast green area with the sole existing Ghosh Dastidar family staying amidst and taking care of (presently) their huge property.
It was a strange feeling of discomfort even in this contentment. I was able to show my father his birthplace even though he does not remembers a bit of it, just the stories as heard from his parents and elders. I felt fortunate enough to step on the soil where my forefathers used to live and roam. I felt the pride and honour to see the creation of my ancestors, the Gava High School. My jethu from his heavenly abode must be happy to see us fulfilling his wish but sad at the same time to know that his Schoolbari is no more.