How the Teesta River in Sikkim Helped a Couple Cope With the Grief of Losing Their Only Child
Utpal and Samita embarked on a life-changing journey that took them across two states and a different country, in search of the river and their daughter
We have often come across literary works that chart the journey of rivers from its point of conception to its demise. For centuries, poets have mused over water bodies and often crafted beautiful analogies that link them to mankind.
And the Teesta Flows is a chronicle about the Teesta, a river that originates in Sikkim and flows across the state till it converges with the river Brahmaputra (in Bangladesh). The interesting part however is, the underlying story about the journey that closely resembles the many transitions a woman goes through her life.
A visual documentation by a couple from Kolkata, who spent almost eight years charting the river’s course, the book is in memorium to their daughter, whose untimely death left an abyss so vast that nothing seemed capable of filling it ever again.
Until they stumbled upon the banks of their daughter’s namesake, once again.
Utpal and Samita Chaudhuri, whose love for the river began much before the birth of their daughter, have many fond memories spent by the banks of the feisty river during the ’70s. The couple who met as classmates in the pharmacy department of Jadavpur University had decided their daughter’s name close to a decade before she was even born.
“We were part of the mountaineering club in our University and would often go for trekking to north Bengal and Sikkim. It was during one of those trips that we’d fallen in love and had decided that if we ever have a daughter, we would name her Teesta,” says Utpal, a retired government employee.
According to the local communities in Sikkim, the river never remains still and splashes around with gurgling noises, just like a naughty little child causing a ruckus at home. Samita and Utpal fondly remember their daughter’s naughty antics, right before leaving for school.
The river Teesta. Source: wikimedia
“Every morning, the house would resemble a battleground where everyone would be running behind her, trying to make her eat her breakfast while she ran across rooms, knocking things that came in her way” reminisces Samita, who teaches pharmacy at Kolkata’s Jnan Chandra Ghosh Polytechnic College.
Losing their only child to encephalitis in 2000, the couple were inconsolable; they finally found respite, if only a little, on the banks of Teesta. For years, Utpal would not touch his camera, the device he used to document their child’s growing years, apart from their travels.
The grief-stricken parents, in search of solace and tranquillity, decided to head back to the banks of Teesta, the river that seemingly had a link to everything in the life that they had built together. Here, they found what they had lost: their Teesta.
As the river gurgled past the boulders and the rocks, lashing out, the resemblance seemed too uncanny, for Utpal and Samita.
“When our daughter was about eight months old, we had thought of taking her to north Sikkim to show her the river’s birthplace but unfortunately, we could never get the permission. Somewhere in 2005, we felt that the urge to make that journey,” says Utpal.
It was during the summer of 2006, that Samita found peace on the banks of lake Tso Lhamo in Sikkim.
Utpal and Samita on the shores of Teesta
“This is the place where Teesta is born and I found my daughter, once again”, says Samita.
It was in that moment that an idea struck Utpal and he decided to chart the journey of the river with his camera, just the way he clicked photos of his daughter during her growing days.
“The river’s birth, its journey into adolescence and finally, the woman it becomes; we wanted to be part of that ” says Utpal.
Almost eight years later, the journey Utpal and Samita embarked upon that took them across two states and a different country altogether, resulted into a photo-book whose narrative is penned by Samita.
Though never overtly mentioned anywhere in the book, the work is a memoir in dedication to their daughter, who like the river Teesta, is forever etched in their hearts and minds.
By Lekshmi Priya S, The Better Indian