Suddenly my train stops a little station named Eklakhi. All-day is raining here in North Dinajpur (West Bengal). Today is the fifth day of Durga puja. As every year, the next 4 days would be celebrated in a grand manner all over the Bengal. Around the platform, I can sense a lot of chaos. Tea sellers are roaming around with their big stainless steel tap jars, yelling to sale their teas, fruit sellers in cane baskets trying to sell bananas, apples, cucumbers. Few are selling red cotton towels, puffed rice prepared with oil, fried mixtures. Station manager announces the train would wait here for some time because of some technical problem.
Nostalgia while Exploring the Small Station
Eklakhhi is a small village. I find the station surrounded by the paddy fields and few huts. It is not at all crowded or polluted. It’s evening, I find near the station a little football ground surrounded by trees and a small arrangement of Durga puja. Inside the complete pandal there are some 40 wat or 60 wat bulbs wrapped in coloured translucent papers creating a dreamy atmosphere, but no Durga idol.
Some village kids are happily running towards the station. I can sense their happiness, the same adrenaline rush I used to feel at their age. Durga puja is much-waited celebration time. Kids are not asked questions or stopped from playing or monitored all the time. They taste freedom for the first time. That’s why Durga puja becomes famous among them. I look at my watch, it’s 6:25 pm and there is no sign of the train leaving the platform soon.
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Station area are wet and foggy for the rain. And that time I feel some good smell; hot tea. So I follow the smell and reach near the ticket counter. There I see them again; the same kid’s group with another set of new kids. Two men are seriously making the Durga idol there. They are doing the final job because tomorrow morning puja will start. And they have only the night to finish their work and the idol. Due to rain the process got delayed and tough for them.
Few villagers come there too to see the work progress. They start planning for tomorrow’s ritual. But I can sense the tension in them, and the gloom affects the kids as well. All are worried as the idol is not complete due to rain. And the weather not letting the idol dry. Few elders and decision-makers are sitting on a bench and smoking a beedi. I place myself on the same bench with them. 55 years old ask me about my destination. I just need a reason to start the conversation. Why Eklakkhi? What does it mean? I pour my bucket of questions on him. I do not know a strong history lesson is waiting for me.
History of Eklakhhi
And the history starts with the first native Muslim king of Bengal and the last Sultan of Bengal to rule from Pandua. Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah was a 15th-century Sultan of Bengal and an important figure in medieval Bengali history. Born a Hindu to his aristocratic father Raja Ganesha, the father of the Ganesha dynasty, he assumed the throne of Bengal after a coup which overthrew the Ilyas Shahi dynasty. He converted to Islam and ruled the Bengal Sultanate for 16 years. As a Muslim king, he brought Arakan under Bengali suzerainty and consolidated the kingdom’s domestic administrative centres. He also combined Bengali and Islamic architecture.
The Old man suddenly shouts to the kids because of the continuously creating toy gun sound. I remember my childhood days.
The old man says during Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah Pandua was the first capital city of the Bengal Sultanate. So Jalaudin ruled from Pandua. Post his death as a memorial the village has mausoleum on his name. The mausoleum was built in the early 15th century. It houses three tombs. One tomb is believed to be that of Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah, the other two of his wife and son Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah. According to history, the construction of the mausoleum cost one lakh rupees (₹100,000). The mausoleum received its name “Eklakhi” (One Lakh) from this amount.
Time to Go
I look at the idol maker, he is using the fire spray to dry the idol. The old man concludes that they gather every year some amount as a donation from every household to celebrate the festival. And the cost comes around 12 thousand not 1 lakh. I see in a cycle van few dhakis (Bengal dhak player) are approaching. The children start dancing in random rhythm. Meantime, my train whistles. I depart with a story and heartwarming goodbyes.