Evening was tiptoeing its way towards the threshold of a dusky sky. And we were closing in on Debanandapur. We drove along a pleasant road lined with numerous trees which finally took us to our destination.
Board a Bandel Local or Bardhaman Local (main) from Howrah Station and get down at Bandel Station. From there a toto or an auto ride will take you to Debanandapur within 20 minutes.
Debanandapur is a Panchayat village in Hooghly district. In Mughal era, it was one of the legendary seven villages that came together to form Saptagram, the ancient capital of Bengal.
The village of Debanandapur retains its original beauty and atmosphere to some extent. Our visions were interrupted a few times by the sights of modern one or two storied houses and makeshift food or tea stalls. But overall, Debanandapur had a peaceful and verdant ambience.
Debanandapur is primarily popular as the birthplace of the prominent Bengali writer, Shri Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. He was born on 15th September, 1876 in Debanandapur. His prolific writings exhibit the hardships of poverty and village life and represent protagonists from the peasantry and the lower strata of society. He spent his adolescence playing around this village. He would join his friends for childhood adventures in the Garh jungle which is still here. But nowadays, it seems more like a handful of sparse patches of trees rather than a jungle.
One of the main attractions here is the library named after Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay beside a pond. It is a part of the memorial museum, Sarat Smriti Mandir. In 1946, Raibahadur Khagendranath Mitra, head of the department of Bengali language and literature at University of Calcutta, laid the foundation stone of the memorial. It is a two storied building with a well-maintained lawn in front. We crossed the wide lawn and a small staircase led us to a balcony with three rooms.
One of them exhibits clay models. A quaint corner of the room is dedicated to monochrome photographs showcasing Sarat Chandra’s life. Others displayed his manuscripts, his letters and some used items including an arm chair and a hookah among other things. Photography is, however, prohibited inside the building.
Just at the opposite side of the pond, we found the house where Sarat Chandra was born, the Baithak-Khana Griha. No one was around. The tranquility was a bit too overwhelming. We opened the gate ourselves and set foot inside the house.
Well-kept gardens were surrounding the place. The house was basically a bunch of one storied structures used for different domestic purposes. They were originally clay huts. For preservation, they were renovated and turned into terraced houses, painted and maintained. Some other attractions around the area include a Dolmancha, a puja mandap that once belonged to Kabi Bharatchandra Raigunakar, and a Bishalakshi temple.
We walked along the gravel roads passing banana orchards, mango and bamboo groves on either sides. Finally, we came face to face with river Saraswati, as moribund as ever. No one can gauge from its present state that it was once a major route for river trading. There were agricultural fields popping up everywhere we went. For a panoramic view, we climbed on top of a tump. There we found an ancient structure, presumably, a village watchpost from medieval times. It was moss-covered, moldy and hopelessly ruined by time.
Around the remotest parts of Debanandapur you wouldn’t find any place to dig in. But along the roads frequented by tourists, you will find some tea-stalls serving refreshments. Sarat Smriti Mandir opens at 11 a.m and remains open till 6 in the evening from Monday to Friday. It remains closed on Saturdays and Sundays, as we were told.
The sun was already setting over the horizon framed with silhouettes of darkened boughs. Some people were busy tending their cattle. Children were busy playing. Some of them were dutifully chasing after a bunch of chickens back to their enclosure. A mama mallard was just about to turn homewards with ducklings following her.
It soothed us somehow to know that somewhere, amidst the frantic attempts of urbanization, there are places like Debanandapur that still maintain a camaraderie with nature in its purest form. Meanwhile, home was calling us. And we happily obliged.