Rasgullas worth their tin

by Nachiket Kelkar


It is an immense pleasure when a visitor brings you sweets in the field. When the visitor is your research supervisor, the joy is even sweeter. Dr. JK, did just. He picked up a 1-kg tin of delicious Rasgullas from Kolkata when he visited me in Bhagalpur, Bihar where I was working for my research on river dolphins.

The next day, as we went out surveying dolphins on our boat, the tin was opened between our entire team. We had taken a break for lunch after surveying a long distance and most of us were longing for the Rasgullas.

Piece by piece we devoured the divine sweet. But finishing 1-kg of rasgullas and syrup between 8 of us seemed rather difficult. As was the unavoidable custom, our boatman and his crew ate at the end. Bihar is one of those places where people get upset if they feel they are getting the respect they think they do not deserve. Our skipper, after his meal, took to the rasgullas very passionately. After gobbling two from the bright-red tin, he sheepishly proclaimed, “Hum kha jaayenge!”; which from Hindi would literally translate to “I will eat them up!”I felt happy that the poor skipper, who I had never seen eat anything other than puffed rice, boiled rice, potatoes, dal and fish, actually had a tooth for the Bengali sweet.

All of us, happy and content, soon neared the end of the day’s work. The second day of the survey was an even more demanding one. We got up early and reached the pier where the boat stood in the river. Everything was set up for our start, except that there was no sign of the skipper.

While everyone was looking around and calling out for him, we spotted a man walking through the fields and coming towards the boat through the stands of weedy growth along the fringes of the floodplain. It was none other than our boatman, carrying a bright red tin. He had fixed a thin handle made of twisted metal wire to the tin, and happily taken it as a water container for his morning ablutions. As he climbed the boat, he had a silly grin on his face. He came and said to me, “This tin is excellent! Water does not leak even one bit.” As this man carefully tucked his proud discovery away, I realized why he had eaten up those rasgullas so hurriedly yesterday. His appetite was not for the sweet, but for that precious metal tin that would help him find a more distant, secure corner in the weed-overgrown field without having to worry about leaking water on the way. Perhaps his daily downloads and cleanups would be happier from now on. Then it dawned on me: we both had looked at the same package in different ways. What was important to me was completely different from what was precious to him.

This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 13 March 2013.

Photo credit: M. Subhash