Memories of Itachuna

After the guided walking tour of both Andarmahal and Bahirmahal at Itachuna Rajbari Resort in Pandua of Hooghly District, we headed towards its garden café built much in the Santiniketan mode, dim-lit and surrounded by trees of rare species. By then the cicada song was in the air along with a strange honking of an unknown bird. As we were about to place an order of jhalmuri, fish fries and masala tea, the deep mellifluous sound of a flute took us by very pleasant surprise.

From where we sat, I half-turned my face and found him a few meters across from us perched on a small elevated flat-topped cement structure. Suddenly the motley group of visitors in the act of taking a bite fell under its hypnotic spell. The flutist wove one mesmerizing tune after another till we got done with our hot drinks. He then sat quietly as we left one by one to explore the sprawling premises, the melody vibrating in the depths of our soul.

We visited a few more rooms, not covered by the walking tour. They are all high-ceilinged, spacious, sparsely furnished with antique furniture. Although there were very few visitors around, and all was quiet except the occasional sound of a striker hitting the carrom coins at the recreation room, we all spoke in undertones as if not to rouse the spirits whose presence was very much perceptible.

After dinner, we went back to the huge courtyard fronting Thakur Dalan where we had attended the evening arati, and sat soaking in the silence before retiring to bed rather late. But sleep proved elusive. Here you could hear a leaf fall on the ground before being slowly swept away by a gentle breeze. I also heard at the dead of night some muffled footsteps.

The stairway to the roof with a magnificent view of the horizon was on our floor. I was wondering if the door leading to the rooftop was open before I fell asleep.

When morning broke, I was perhaps going through a state of hypnopompic hallucinations. Then I thought I heard a piper. One moment the sound came riding on the wind’s raft, and next moment it ebbed away. I stretched and sat on the bed thinking of the distant day at Coochbehar when, at the crack of dawn, strains of shehnai played from Nahabatkhana at Madan Mohan temple woke me up. Before long I could recognize it was the flute player we heard the evening before who was playing on his flute hauntingly beautiful music for us all to wake up.

Pack up time was 10 am. I hurried to the exotic-looking back garden with a pond at its centre of the Zamindar palace. From the opposite bank of the pond I could see the shuttered windows of this old heritage building, much of which remains empty throughout the year. The only sound, apart from wind’s sough, and birdcall, was the plop of a school of fish breaking the surface now and then. Sitting in the midst of the shrubbery, the words of poet Dorianne Laux came to mind: “I want to sleep and dream the life of trees, beings from the muted world who care nothing for Money, Politics, Power, Will or Right…”

First published in The Statesman

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