Naresh Chandra Burman, 38
Cooch Behar, West Bengal
Moved from former India enclave in Rangpur, Bangladesh
For Naresh Chandra Burman, Rangpur was always home. It was at an Indian enclave in the north Bangladeshi town where Burman was born, educated, and made a living as a doctor. But in November, the 38-year-old gave it all up and became an Indian citizen under the Land Boundary Agreement ratified earlier this year. The historic deal resulted in an exchange of Indian enclaves in Bangladesh with Bangladesh enclaves in India, and a transfer of populations.
As Burman prepared for the uncertain journey from Bangladesh to Dinhata in Cooch Behar, West Bengal, he hastily packed his belongings into cartons provided by the government. He had to leave behind many things, but these, he says, he simply couldn’t do without:
Burman sold much of his furniture to get enough cash for his new home. But he couldn’t sell the bench. “I installed this four-feet-long plank outside my chambers and it has been a part of my existence as a doctor. My new identity is not that of a doctor, but a migrant. At least I can keep the bench,” he says.
Being a doctor had elevated Burman’s social standing in the enclave he lived in in Bangladesh. “We didn’t have access to hospitals or doctors in the enclave. Most didn’t have money. So I worked a lot and everyone knew me and loved me. When I was leaving, many of my patients followed my bus to the border,” he says.
There are no patients at his tin house now. But the bench is far from abandoned. Placed outside his house, it is now used for a new ritual every evening — conversations amongst those in the camp trying to figure out their new lives.
Travel cum identity pass
A piece of white paper, laminated and bearing a golden emblem of the Indian republic, is easily the most important belonging in the Burman household. Labelled ‘Temporary Travel Cum Identity Pass’, the papers are the only proof of his transitory identity.
“Even my identity papers describe me as asthayi (temporal). It’s very unsettling. The house I am living in, I’ve been told, will be home for only two years and then I’ll move again and after that, I don’t know,” he says.
The ducks don’t have names. Or so, Burman thinks. His daughter Monica disagrees. “Shuti” and “Bhuti”, she says with fondness. The seven-year-old has been tasked with taking care of the ducks and ensuring they are fed water and food on time.
“We brought the ducks with us. We were told that we could bring animals, but we don’t have a cow or goat. The ducks are good, they give us eggs. I really like eggs and I am glad because we have only had sabzi here till now,” says Monica.
Monica’s mother Padma is glad that the ducks “give her something to do and the eggs are always welcome”. “Ducks can take care of themselves and feeding them is easy,” she adds.
Pestle and mortar
Life without gua paan — paan made with raw, fermented betel nuts — is unimaginable in north Bengal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and southern Assam. So it’s no surprise that the Burman household fills with the putrid odour of the fermented gua every evening as Naresh sits down to prepare his daily gua paan — a dull, rhythmic thud emerging from the wooden mortar as the solid iron pestle strikes it.
“As a doctor, I know it’s addictive and harmful. But it’s got some advantages. It allows me to concentrate and work for long without feeling hungry. But most importantly, this pestle and mortar belonged to my father and his father before him. It’s an heirloom,” he says.
The wedding sari
“We got married when we were very young and at that time it was difficult to get a Benarasi silk in the enclave. The first thing I packed was this red one,” says Padma, showing her wedding sari .
At the time the two got married, Naresh was still studying and his sister — who chose to remain behind in Bangladesh — ensured that his young bride wore a Benarasi sari. “Her husband was working in Uttar Pradesh. He somehow managed to get the sari sent across. We never knew how and she’s never told us. Each time I ask her, she only smiles,” says the doctor.