DAYS - BLACK OR WHITE
Mrs. Abha Pradeep Kumar
This is the concluding part of the article that I had written in the last issue of SAM. This is about Jamalpur in the British period as seen by Bhola ji Shaw, the ninety-year-old bearer of the Jamalpur Officer's Club.
The British officers used to come to the club for playing tennis, cards, billiards and other games. They used the club for socializing over drinks, but dinner was never prepared in the club. On special festive occasions - hardly two or three times in a year, food items like bread-rolls, patties, sandwiches and cakes, procured from a baker, used to be served. The food items were invariably non-vegetarian.
The bearers had to be in proper white dress with shinning brass buttons and matching headgear. The bearers had to be alert all the time so as not to make any mistake in serving the drinks ordered by the 'sahibs'. They had to respond in one call itself. Any lapse could cost a bearer his honour - he could be asked to surrender his dress and leave. On seeing them whispering to each other the sahibs would shout, "apna muh band rakho ".
Leave was difficult to get. When Bhola ji’s father died, he could get leave only after he had arranged for a substitute. Since paying two rupees per day to the substitute was difficult for him, he had to be back in two days. When his sister died, he had to be back on duty immediately after attending the funeral. Even getting leave for one's own marriage was difficult.
Now-a-days in free India employees apparently are free to avail as much leave as they like and whenever they like. They also seem to have freedom to avail periodic 'rest' whenever they feel like. The class fourth staff pronounces it 'rust' that I think is more appropriate word for the series of rests they take.
Sometimes a few families of European officers got together and went for picnic and boating in the Ganges in Munger. They loaded lots of liquor bottle with them; the day was spent in eating, drinking and shooting birds and empty bottles. Servants did not eat anything, even their own food, out of fear, lest they be blamed for eating the sahib's food. After a whole day of merrymaking, they were still full of energy so that on returning, instead of going home, they went to the club for playing tennis.
The hills of Jamalpur covered with greenery used to look beautiful. Deep inside the jungle on the hills, the woodcutters occasionally came across wild animals. A small memorial built in 1864 records the death of a Locomotive Erecting Shop Foreman in an encounter with a tiger in the area where later the existing golf course was developed. The Foreman was a good hunter. He shot the tiger while it jumped on to him. The beast mauled the foreman to death before itself succumbing to the gunshot wound.
Fishing, besides hunting, was one of the popular hobbies of the Europeans in Jamalpur. They used to leisurely pass their time at the fishing ponds.
The games chargemen and apprentices used to play were football, horse riding, polo and tennis. Circus shows were held on the ground where Gymkhana was built later.
The indiscriminate cutting of the hills and jungle for stone and firewood is now gradually destroying the beauty of the hills. It seems that we Indians in our quest for small economic benefits are not concerned with the results it has on the nature's beauty.
In the British period Jamalpur Colony was safe and looked beautiful, with well-maintained houses and lawns. The Europeans officers carrying their pistols used to walk with their dogs. The entry road had a board that read – ‘Dogs and Indians are not allowed’. Outsiders were scared of entering the colony those days.
Bhola ji recalls that one night the overbridge near National Institute was blocked by a drunk army personnel, who had a pistol in his hand. He was not allowing anybody to cross the bridge. These days unemployed youth may at times not only stop you from crossing the bridge but may also rob you of your cash and valuables.
In the 1934 earthquake which struck Jamalpur & Munger at 2:10 in the night, most of the double storied buildings collapsed.
When Indian officers started joining Railways, they also became the members of the Officer's Club. But they were looked down upon by the Europeans. Consequently, the Indians mostly remained quiet and subdued in the club. After Independence when all the Europeans left Jamalpur, the Indian officers celebrated the event with great enthusiasm. A cultural program was presented and dinner was served. Gifts and clothes were given to the club employees. The Indian officers and their wives were polite and affectionate to the club workers. Bhola ji and other Indians realised the tremendous difference between slavery and freedom. Gradually the freedom gave a sense of equality to all and fearlessness.
After independence, the names of the roads in Jamalpur were changed, as was done in other cities too. King's road is now Golf Road, Prince's road is now Stadium Road, Queen's Road is Club Road and Victoria Road is now Workshop Road. We have changed the names of roads and buildings, but are we not following their footsteps even after so many years of independence?
In the British period one could not have imagined that Indians would one day be able to occupy the posts held by the Europeans. It is clear that political conditions of a country play an important role and affect the life of countrymen. We are enjoying the fruits of freedom. But have we been able to make India as dreamt of by our freedom fighters?