An Autobiography Of a Palanquin
“Lightly, O lightly we bear her along,
She sways like a flower in the wind of our song;
She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream.
She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream….”
Hello, my friends….You all have requested me so much to tell me about myself, about my past. But really, I don’t want to talk about my shabby present which has surpassed my so prestigious past…. I occupied an esteemed rank in the family where I belonged to…. Without me, the “Babu” and the “Bibi” of that family could not think even of going out…..I was their sole mode of transportation ……. Can you guess who am I? Well, I am giving you another hint…. I belonged to the middle 18th century…….Any wild guess??......Yes, who’s that little boy raising your hand to reply...Yes dear, speak out……..Fine, you are absolutely right…… I am none but the grand “palanquin” .
I was born and brought up in one of the Zamindars of Hooghly, West Bengal, India. It was the house of the royal zaminder Babu Krishna Narayan Roy in Chandan Nagar.. He had skilled woodcraftsmen who gave me birth and my gradual shape accordingly. I was made out of imported wood of Lebanon. I had beautiful inscriptions and images carved on me. The name of my master and his zaminder area was carved on my body with ivory tusk, platted with gold.. I had 4 handles, all of them were adorned nicely with decorations…I was kept in the front of the portico, in front of the main gate. My door was covered with silken curtains.
How can I forget the very 1st day when zaminder Babu sat on me for the first time and that too for a very religious reason? It was Maha Shiva Ratri of 1842. He took his wife, Parul Bala Devi, with him on the auspicious night to pour coconut water, Holy Ganges water, Ghee, honey, curd and milk on Lord Shiva… I was so overwhelmed with joy that you cannot imagine even… I had luxurious couch inside to lie down. I felt so proud and happy to take the royal couple inside me. They felt very comfortable and were praising about my structure and comforts. I was carried by two porters called “Boyees” in equal numbers in front and behind, using wooden rails that pass through brackets on the sides of the couch. I was used by the family for traveling both short and long distances. In a time where automobiles weren't there, I provided an efficient mode of transportation for the royal family and across rough terrain. For longer distance, another team of bearers accompanied, giving relief of the tired. Depending on the mood of the traveler readers’ singer, dancers or storytellers accompanied. So, the poetess has composed on their entertainment:-
Gaily, O gaily, we glide and we sing,
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.
Softly, O softly, we bear her along;
She hangs like a star in the dew of our song.
Transportation was hence extremely personalized and enjoyable. For such a comfortable journey no fuel, foreign exchange and good roads were needed. There was no room for pollution and no fear of accidents. I was often used for going to the court of Zamindari; sometimes belonged to the female members and some for moving leisurely in the open air. Many a time, I took the Zaminder –Ginni in the banks of Holy Ganges for her religious bath. I was very fortunate enough that amidst of all other palanquins, the family possessed, it was me who possessed the great honour of the bridal journey of their elder daughter, Saudamini to her in laws’ house. You can simply never imagine how glitteringly and wonderfully I was decorated with flowers, gold, silver and silken cloth during the marriage ceremony. I was speechless and kept my all ears and eyes broad opened to accumulate of all what was happening around me. I can never ever forget those days…..
During that period in Bengal, Palanquin was being used with much pride. From 1757 to 1909 the palanquin maintained its existence fighting with machine-giant tram driven by electricity. It is undeniable that the first vehicle of Bengal is palanquin.
With the passing phases of life, no one can ignore the grin truth of mutability and decaying. The end of this tradition too came to an end…. With the invention of wheels and motor driven cars, I had started becoming useless and obsolete. Sometimes I was used once in a month, then twice in six months and finally got the permanent settlement from portico to one of the useless store rooms.. Because of the difficult cramped nature of the storeroom, the carrying arms had already been cut off, and I had started deteriorating fast. It was quite clear that although I was badly broken, but was not beyond repair, as I had largely come apart along the joints. At the time, it was hard to know what to feel about the my sad end, as I felt powerless to be able to do anything about my restoration. No body comes to see me… no light, no air inside. I feel so suffocated….Nearly two decades before Saudamini came with her children in this store room to show me to her children.. But it was so filthy and dirty that they could not even stand for more than some minutes either. Now, crippled and armless, I am counting my days off when my body might be get chopped to get the great Lebanon wood for the manufacture of many other items……Who knows what’s there in my future? But do you know, that my “palanquin family” had a royal and aristocratic root in the history…. We appeared in Egyptian paintings and were used by the Persians; they are mentioned in the Book of Isaiah. One of the major prophetical writings of the Old Testament The great poetess Sarojini Naidu has appreciated me though the voice of the bearers:-
“She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide,
She falls like a tear from the eye of a bride.
Lightly, O lightly, we glide and we sing,
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.”