Soon after my intermediate exams. I got a job in a coal mining office in Raniganj. I was young and had just arrived from Bangladesh after the partition of Bengal. Being the eldest son of the family I had the added responsibility of looking after my younger siblings. The nation was going through a tumultuous period. I needed to find means for a living in order to settle myself along with my family in foreign pastures. My maternal uncle who was working for the same office informed my mother about the vacancy they had there. In my heart, I yearned to pursue my education which was only possible if I stayed at Calcutta. I consoled myself with the hope that as soon as I obtained a decent opening there, I would immediately switch gear.
Raniganj is a famous coal mining belt. The proper town was around the railway station; stretching a few miles along one side of the Grand Trunk Road. The Bengal Paper Mills factory was situated near the station. A myriad of small time ‘bidi’ manufacturing units scattered the entire belt. There were a few porcelain production companies functioning in the township. Majority of the business class population consisted of Marwaris. The Bengalis primarily formed the working class population while some Biharis, the Shauntals and other tribal mainly worked in the numerous coal fields as laborers.
My office was in the ground floor of the Rajbari. They were very rich and influential Zamindars(landlords) of the region owned many coalfields in that area. The eldest son of the Rajbari(mansion) had the temperament of a traditional landlord. He governed the coalfields with a strict hand like a despot maintaining his regal status. They were many bonded labors working in his fields and those who failed to pay taxes or attend daily duties were corporally punished by him. His younger brother who was undergoing higher studies was of an entirely different nature. Whenever his elder brother turned violent towards the workers he would show his disapproval by leaving the mansion in a flurry. The mansion had a palatial library with a fascinating collection of books from fiction, poetry, encyclopedias, periodicals and other rare historical documents. I would spend most of my evenings engrossed in these books.
I was introduced to a teacher of the local High School. He was popularly known as the fifth teacher. After every second sentence he used to declare proudly that he taught Kazi Nazul Islam.
My uncle and I used to stay in a rented house .We had three rooms; two of which we converted into separate bedrooms for ourselves and the other functioned as our kitchen. Since coal was readily available in aplenty and easily affordable our kitchen pyre never stopped burning.
Hari Barui was a laborer of one of the coal mines in Raniganj. Every day after work on his way back home he strolled down the streets in an inebriated state mouthing profanities against the establishment and the bourgeois. He stopped to purchase a pint of country liquor from a nondescript shanty. Taking a gulp from the bottle he babbled more incoherently than before and continued on his journey. His dramatics increased with each step. Before crossing the local police station, he stopped abruptly, made a gulping sound and putting a finger on his mouth said, “Shut up Hari, you are encroaching the Thana (police station).” He then silently loitered pass the police station. Crossing its boundaries he once again continued slandering in his drunken stupor. On reaching home he often flared up and start bashing his wife on the simplest of pretext. This had become a daily routine; an integral part of his life.
I noticed that Hari was tipsy long before he bought his bottle of local booze. I wondered why he behaved so strangely. One day, I summoned him and asked, “Hari , I have been noticing you for a long time . Can you tell me why you start behaving like a drunkard from the moment you leave the premises of the coal mines and much before you purchase your bottle of alcohol?”
Hari replied back in a tremulous voice, “Saheb, that small pint of liquor isn’t enough to make me feel drunk. So, I try to warm up much before to get me into the drunken mood.”