An old man and a tree.
Narayan Chandra Naskar left home, Ichapur Sial Danga village in Howrah district located in West Bengal, in 1947. He was only 15 when he made the decision to go out and earn money for himself. Naskar’s father was a poor farmer who struggled to feed his children. Fed up with the poverty, he started working at his elder brother’s garage in Kolkata.
“I remember newspapers in those days were full of news items based on Mahatma Gandhi and MA Jinnah and the two-nation theory. Though I was too young to understand anything about freedom, the elders in the village raised slogans about independence. It made me so proud. We used to jump with joy.”
Naskar became a mechanic and learnt all the tricks of the trade before receiving a better job offer at a garage in Nepal. He decided earning more money was important and abruptly left Kolkata, without informing his brother. It wasn't long before he completely lost touch with his family. He kept changing jobs, moving from Nepal back to India and working in different states like Uttar Pradesh. “This was possibly one of the best paying jobs I got, as a first grade auto mechanic at a private aluminium manufacturing company. It’s the same year I met the love of my life, Minati, who also came from West Bengal. We got married in 1984.”
The unusual neem tree with sweet leaves
Naskar dreamed of returning home some day, he wanted to show off his new bride and make her meet his family. But he had forgotten his exact home address. All he remembered was the name of a train station, and the unusual taste of sweet, neem tree leaves. Through his work he met Dilip Das, who also belonged to Howrah district. “He never told me about his native place but suddenly last year, he began to cry. He said he was missing his house but like me, didn't know the exact address. He knew Pantihal, the closest station to his village.”
The starting point of the search
Bonded by the desire to find their families, they teamed up. Dilip decided to track the neem tree in the courtyard of his house that was sown by his mother and whose leaves were sweet. It became the biggest clue because the leaves of all other neem trees are usually bitter. “I began to ask people near the railway station about the presence of this tree, but two months went by and yielded no results. Finally, an old man told me about a tree in Ichapur Sial Danga village. We rushed there and ended up meeting Somnath, Narayan’s nephew. It was the neem tree that helped us find his home!” exclaimed Dilip.
In October 2017, he arranged a trip for Naskar and his wife to be reunited with his family. Now 85, Naskar stands before the neem tree, embracing it as he cries. “It reminds me of my mother and how she had fought with my father for planting the tree. It brings back so many memories. Everyday I relive my childhood days. The tree has played such a pivotal role in my comeback. It’s because of these sweet neem leaves that I have been able to find my family again.”
He takes me to the pond where he used to swim and catch fish with his friends, and the coconut trees that they climbed. Like a child he moves from one memorabilia to another, showing me an old building that was once a tax collection office but is now converted into a political party office. He also points out a club that came up on the land donated by his elder brother.
The tax collection office
Though most of his friends have passed away, a few who are younger than him recall participating in mythological dramas held in the village. “It was a great life, we spent a lot of time performing in plays and stealing mangoes together,” laughed Tushar Kanti Ghosal, a 77-year-old villager and childhood friend of Naskar.
Reunited with his grandchildren
Naskar has one wish. He wants his last rites to be held in the village around the neem tree, just like his ancestors who lived there for fourteen generations. He believes his land called him back only so he could return to the earth where he was born.
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By Gurvinder Singh
Photographs by Gurvinder Singh
Cover Photo Credit: flickriver.com