January 26, 2019

Taru Bala Das and Mahesh Chandra Das

Two years ago, after her mother's death, my own mum, Korobi, told her childhood friends of how her parents' marriage came to be. I was fascinated, and have shared an extract here:

Taru Bala Das and Korobi Saikia
Taru Bala Das and Korobi Saikia, 1990s
"One has to delve into the family history a bit...

My paternal grandfather, Dr Praneshwar Das' entire family was wiped out by kala azar, black fever, and he was brought up by his maternal uncle where he grew up in an atmosphere of learning and scholarship amongst seven cousins. He trained to be a doctor, and worked in several places in Assam.

My father's schooling up to class 3 was in Nowgaon after which the family moved to Goalpara where my paternal grandfather was originally from. It was there that my father continued his schooling although, in his last year, he was imprisoned in Gauhati jail for his active participation in the Independence movement. He was released just two months before the matriculation exams and came out with flying colours. He then joined Cotton College where he became friends with Suni mama who was my mother's cousin, and with Mohan Dowerah, the son of Komol Dowerah — this was Komol Dowerah of Komol Dowerah College in Dergaon, Assam, who also happened to be my maternal grandfather's cousin. It was these cousins who were instrumental in bringing about the marriage between my parents.

My maternal grandfather was Sarbananda Dowerah of Golaghat. He was a tea planter, and was associated with various civic bodies in the town as well as with the chamber of commerce. He had eleven children, seven sons and four daughters. My mother was the sixth child; she studied in a school run by American missionaries and was closest in age to Nalin mama who later went on to become very well known in the Assamese film industry.

At the time when my parents' marriage was being arranged, my father was living in Sunbeam, a cottage in Lumaurie, Shillong, where he was working as a civil servant; before moving to Sunbeam, he'd lived in Chitrakoot, his sister's house in Laban, Shillong, where the room he occupied is still, close to half a century after his demise, referred to as 'mama's room' in recognition of the time he spent there.

Although by the standards of those days, Goalpara and Golaghat seemed far, by the time my parents married in 1949, marriage alliances had already been forged at distances as large if not farther.

After my parents married, they acquired a plot in Motinagar, Shillong. My father seems to have initially been quite laidback about the acquisition although plots were being allocated to servants of the state. Nonetheless, with a little prodding from some neighbours, he applied for and was granted a plot where he built the house we grew up in.

My father was particularly enthusiastic about fish; I still remember the bhags for various families nearby which he distributed along with huge khili paans which he bought from Bara Bazaar. In the afternoons, ladies from the neighbourhood would gather in a garden to prepare marinated robab tenga and oranges. My mouth begins to water as I write this...

The camaraderie that we shared as kids can't really be replicated, can it?"