Sunday 26 May 2024

Memories of My Father - Part 5


Milestones along the roadside are rarely seen these days. In this era of Google Maps, those milestones have lost their importance. However, those of us who grew up listening to stories about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s childhood know the relationship between these milestones and Vidyasagar. My father, who regretted not being able to study in his own childhood, tried to make up for it through his children whenever he had the chance. When he no longer had the opportunity to become a Vidyasagar himself, he tried to become Vidyasagar’s father. This didn't particularly make his children happy. I used to get very annoyed when he talked about knowledge. But since expressing my annoyance might have resulted in our trip being cancelled, I kept my feelings to myself. We were allotted just one trip a year, which was to visit the city with my father after the annual exams. We had to leave very early in the morning, walk a long distance, and then take a rickshaw.

Vidyasagar’s father supposedly taught his son many things while walking with him. For instance, he taught him to count by showing him the milestones along the road: one, two, three, four. He even tested him on his math skills by hiding one of the milestones. My father once tried to do something similar with us very meticulously. However, there were only a few milestones along the main road from our village to the city. After crossing the small stream from our village and walking a bit north, we encountered a milestone that read "Chanpur 16 miles." Then, after several milestones were missing, there was another one in front of the Joldi CO office. Hence, it was impossible for him to directly test us on counting milestones. But it’s not a father’s job to cancel tests and give peace to his children. He found another way. He asked, "How many yards in a mile?"

I didn’t know the answer to this question. I had advanced to the third grade without learning much. My older brother, who was two grades ahead and good at math, answered – 1760 yards.

"How much distance is in one yard?" father asked again.

I couldn’t make any sense of it. I just enjoyed watching the red sky as the sun rose. But I saw my father draw a mark on the road with his foot and then, bending down, he measured a distance with his hands and made another mark. He said, “This distance is one yard. Now, you all walk normally and see how many 'kais' each of you take in one yard.” ‘Kai’ means steps. With enthusiasm, I measured that I took three steps to cover one yard. My older brother, in his excitement, tried to cover one yard with a long stride in one step, but father said, “You have to walk like that the whole way.” That deflated his enthusiasm. He took two steps to cover one yard.

After measuring our steps, the instruction was – we had to count our steps until the next milestone. By dividing my total steps by three, I could find out how many yards I had walked. Then, convert yards into miles.

I have walked on the roads of many countries for many years since then. Even now, I subconsciously count my steps. What we now call calibration is what my father taught us on the roads of our village. My father, who had only passed the fourth grade.

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