Home » Language and Politics

The Madman of Bagh Bazaar

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on February 9, 2009 2 Comments

On the occasion of India’s Republic Day (January 26), two weeks ago, I engaged my mother in a conversation about her memories of growing up in pre-independence war-time Kolkata (Calcutta), in West Bengal, India. Out of the many stories, my mother’s vivid recounting of the “madman” of Bagh Bazaar stands out for me.

My mother lived as a child in an area of Kolkata called “Bagh Bazaar” (literally “Garden Market). At night it was eerie. The muted voices of city traffic still wafted in through the grilled windows, and there was the occasional high-pitched laughter of night owls, prowling the streets and making merry at midnight. Sometimes fights would break out in the narrow alleys and her family could hear the timpani of fists meeting flesh.

An elderly man, who everyone in the neighborhood referred to simply as “Pagla” (mad), made frequent nighttime appearances in the children’s park nearby. Stringy, wizened hair cascaded down to his shoulders. He was lean in a sickly kind of way, with a pronounced limp, and old, almost “ancient”. Rumors abounded in my mother’s family about his origins, his state of mind, and the oddity of his appearance, but no one seemed to have any concrete facts.

His signature voice could often be heard yelling loudly; in a throaty voice he would propagate anti-British and anti-French rhetoric (the French and the British both “owned” India at the point, though the French had managed to colonize only a few cities). My grandmother would hurriedly shut the windows when Pagla’s voice pervaded their bedroom, and would rush to chant mantras, praying for Pagla’s immortal soul. Apparently the police were otherwise occupied, believed Pagla to be relatively harmless, or, most likely, were too fearful of his unpredictability to take any action. Maybe, they even secretly lauded his patriotism.

My mother and her little brother would peek from the gaps in the veranda railings and stare in awe and fear, Pagla’s reedy form heaving to and fro (from drink?), his body undulating as if propelled by some inner force. His diction was perfect, his speech erudite (at least that’s what my mother claims: she was six, with a very limited vocabulary). He exhorted his imaginary audience to rise up in arms against the European oppressors. She does not remember the words-naturally-but she remembers the passion in them.

While she witnessed a good share of rallies, protests, demonstrations, some peaceful and many not, one of her clearest memories of the Freedom Movement is of the lone “madman” riling at the top of his voice in the dimly lit park.

Gives me pause to think that it’s not always what we say, but the passion with which we give voice to our politics, that endures.

PS. Happy anniversary, ma!

Tags: , , , , , ,

Digg this!Add to del.icio.us!Stumble this!Add to Techorati!Share on Facebook!Seed Newsvine!Reddit!

2 Responses to “The Madman of Bagh Bazaar”

  1. Youki on: 9 February 2009 at 10:16 pm

    what a wonderful story to share, thank you Usree!

    (so is this going to be in your book?) 🙂

  2. Usree Bhattacharya on: 9 February 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Thank you, Youki, much appreciated! 🙂

    It most certainly will!

Leave a Reply:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  Copyright ©2009 Found in Translation, All rights reserved.| Powered by WordPress| WPElegance2Col theme by Techblissonline.com