The neem tree with sweet leaves

Narayan ­Chandra Naskar is 85 now and for decades he had just one prayer on his lips — to meet his ­relatives whose ­whereabouts he did not know.

After 70 years his prayers were finally answered when he united with his family members who had thought that he was not alive. He could hardly believe his luck when he returned home in October last year.

Naskar was the youngest of ten children. “My father had a small piece of land which was not enough to feed us. We didn’t get proper education and my brothers started to work from an early age. I then decided to join them,” he says. When he was 15, he left for Kolkata to work in his brother’s garage. “I took a ­narrow gauge train to ­Kolkata paying 50 paise for the journey. ­Nowadays, it costs around ₹10 for the same trip. Soon I got a good offer from a garage in Nepal and I left ­Kolkata without informing my brother. Since then I lost touch with my family.”

Narayan Naskar (second from L) and his wife Manati with family.
Narayan Naskar (second from L) and his wife Manati with family.

He worked as a mechanic in Nepal for few months and then shifted to various other places before landing in Renusagar in 1984 where he got employed as first grade auto mechanic in an aluminium ­manufacturing company. By now he had lost all touch with his family. He got married to Minati of Nadia district in West Bengal.

At Renusagar he met Dilip Das who also hailed from Howrah district and requested him to trace his roots. Naskar didn’t remember anything about his house except that the railway station was ­Pantihal and the courtyard of his house had a neem tree which had sweet leaves. He remembers his parents fight over ­planting the sapling of the tree and how his mother had claimed that the leaves would be sweet. Her words turned prophetic.

Dilip Das says that this neem tree played a crucial role in tracing his family.  “I came here and asked people about the tree, but no one had any ­knowledge about it. In fact, they thought I was insane looking for sweet leaves in a neem tree. Finally, an old man alerted me to such a tree in Ichapur Sial Danga village. I ­immediately rushed there and met ­Somnath Naskar, one of Narayan’s relative,” he says.

Somnath (55) broke down into tears hearing about his uncle whom he had heard from his father. “I was not even born when he had left the house though my father had told me about an uncle who disappeared and never returned. I was overjoyed when I heard that he was alive,” he says.

Narayan Naskar only ­remembered that the railway station was ­Pantihal and the courtyard of his house had a neem tree with sweet leaves.

Narayan Naskar embraced the neem tree and wept for hours soon after his return as it not only played an important role in bringing him back but also revived memories of his parents.

He now spends most of his time near the pond where he used to swim along with his friends during childhood and also sits in the verandah of a local political party office that was once the Kachari (tax collector’s office) during the British Raj. “Our country was then under the British rule. The wave of patriotism had also swept our village. Freedom fighters marched from one village to another raising slogans against the British. We would follow them, shouting slogans, though we hardly knew the wider meaning of freedom in those days. I remember the elders reading newspapers and discussions circled over Mahatma Gandhi and the impending partition,” he says, taking a trip down memory lane.

“I always had a deep desire to be cremated in the village where my ­grandparents lived and died. I wanted my body to ­mingle with the earth of my village where I was born and had played. Finally, God has been kind to me and have answered my prayers. I do not want anything more,” he says, even as the black clouds open up to drench the earth.

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