DAYS –BLACK OR WHITE

Mrs. Abha Pradeep Kumar’68

It was a hot summer evening of June 1998. We were sitting in the Jamalpur Officers’ Club, where my son was learning billiards from Bhola ji Shaw, better known to Railway officers as Bhola ji.

After giving some tips to my son, Bhola ji brought in cold drinks, moving slowly, carrying the tray with unsteady hands. I admired his determination- that he had kept on working despite limb frail with age. While Bhola ji was pouring cold drinks in glasses, I inquired how long he had been with the club. He replied that he worked as a ‘marker’ and had joined the Club in 1930.

Bhola ji is an epitome of sincerity, devotion to duty and courtesy, and even today when he is almost ninety, wearing his white dress along with his headgear, welcomes you on your arrival in the porch of the club. Hardly anybody today understands better than he does the meaning of slavery and the taste of the fruit of freedom.

Hearing him talk of the British period, I start wondering how the club would have looked like in those days- regal or simple European décor, with sounds of laughter ringing in.

Bhola ji tells me that the General Manager of the East India Railway was then known as the ‘Agent’ sahib. Jamalpur Workshop was then headed by the Dy. CME.

The Club had about a dozen European Officers as its members. The Club had an important role in their daily routine. Some of them would come daily to the Club in their proper sports dress at 4.30 p.m. to play tennis and would leave by 6.30 p.m. After changing, they used to be back in the club at 7.30 p.m.

The club had three lawn tennis courts and one hard court for the rainy season, besides the badminton court and the swimming pool. It had two billiards tables, one of which was shifted to the Central Institute. The area currently used as dining space was the bridge room. Bar was in the main hall itself .In the centre of the hall there was a huge curtain, which always remained open. The walls of the hall were decorated with trophies and with photographs of various sizes, including that of Queen Victoria.

No grazing cattle were seen in the colony in those days. Even a single dog barking nearby during the club hours would make them shout- "kutta ka munh bandh karro", which had the club staff running around looking for the dog. Today you can see dogs roaming around with no one to disturb them. It appears strange to me that the Britishers, most of whom are fond of dogs and love to keep them as pets, could not tolerate even a single dog barking around, while most of the Indians hate them, but don’t bother about stray dogs barking around.

Discipline was an important part of their life. They would play billiards or bridge, read newspapers or magazines, but drinks were not served before the arrival of the Dy. CME. The boss would come, play or sit for sometime and read newspapers. After sometime he would utter only one word, "Drinks."

Bhola ji would run to take orders from everyone, but could not write who demanded what. Since he couldn’t ask again, fear gripped him, making his memory sharper. He used to lay the glasses in the tray in advance so that he could pour quickly, before forgetting the ordered drinks.

No children were allowed after 6.30 p.m. in the club. Most of the children stayed in the boarding schools (of India and London). No bearer was allowed to enter the bridge room unless he was called.

Recalling his marker days, Bhola ji’s face stiffens even today as he remembers one officer who, on failing to get an intended shot, used to menacingly push his cue pointing to Bhola ji’s eyes. "Bahut dar lagta tha." he says. The club staff would not utter a word out of fear of losing their job, even if they were to be beaten.

Most of the Britishers were fond of hunting and were highly concerned about the proper upkeep of the trophies of their hunts displayed on the walls. The club staff had to be extremely cautious while cleaning them or while removing cobwebs. Bhola ji remembers one incident when the officers found the left side whiskers of the stuffed head of a tiger turned upside down, all hell was let loose in the club. All the club staff was grilled to find out who had committed the serious misdemeanor. Nobody disclosed that out of fear, since the culprit would have been immediately removed from the job, and asked to surrender the club dress on the spot itself. In contrast, now a days, the staff, even if they completely damage a valuable item, would simply declare many a times without a feeling of remorse, that they did it unintentionally and so are not liable for any punitive action.

Well I think this is enough for this issue. A little more of it in the next issue.

 

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