Family gardien:  Naba Kumar Bissas, 70
Subadra Bissas – 65
Manic Bissas – 40
Nayan Bissas, 35
Palab, 13
Papaye, 10

Mucto Bissas 37
Phulan, 30
Rakesh, 10

2 cows
2 young bulls
3 ducks

3 acres of fields.

Kanthal Beria, The 12th of February, 2016

“Get out of the way,” says the train whistle

5:00 This is not the first train but the morning express between Katwa and Kalyna wants to say it loud and clear: ” Get out of the way, I will not stop at your station Agradeep.” It is in a hurry to bring workers who will travel nearly six hours to and from their daily job in Kolkata, the state capital. Some say, this is better then trying to live in the city where you cannot afford a decent apartment. In the Biswas family, no one has moved. For generations, no one has gone anywhere; they have been farmers here as long as they remember.

A few more trains travelling north – south will pass before the cue for Manic to put the key into the big lock on the metal railing that protects them through the night. With daylight,comes more safety and trust. 


The children’s tutor will be there at six

On the village road the motor cycle, and scooters are on their way to work in the nearby small towns. In Manic and Mucto’s brick house the daily routine begins in each of the two rooms the brothers share with their family. The children’s tutor will be there at six and Manic’s room has to be ready. The floor mats on which the sons have slept on the floor beside their parent’s bed are picked up, the blankets are piled in the corner against one wall and the clothes hanged on the ropes between the vertical beams of the bed. Nayan cleans the floor and lays blankets before the teacher’s arrival. In West Bengal nearly 80% of the students need tuition to complete their education. (26% in India)

Manic and Mucto have spicy, puffed rice before they head for work. They have just finished planting the rice and mustard seed that will be harvested a little bit each day in the next week. This morning, Manic is employed at the brick factory and Mucto on another farmer’s land where he is needed to cut some wood. The three acres they own are not enough to provide financially for the three families sharing the courtyard.

A solution that requires unity and harmony

The two Biswas brother have not divided their father’s land. To share land between brothers is a solution that requires unity and harmony. Many say that most of the time, it creates conflicts in the families. For the Biswas having to leave as legacy ,the few acres to their three sons is what worries them the most. If they are left with with one acre each, it will mean assured poverty. What they all agree to, is that the boys will not have that has the only choice in the future. They will be educated.

Their wives, Nayan and Phelan, have both finished their Grade 10 and are more educated then their husbands. They are the ones guiding the boys in their education. Morning and night, Nayan’s room is a place of study. They all share the desire for a better future and it is with this energy that they all begin their daily tasks. The students gather their schoolbooks, are joined by girl friend and neighbor and are ready when their teacher arrived.


Old Naba has cleaned the stable and is now sitting, cutting the rice paddy to feed the livestock. Naba is focused. His move is repetitive and the sound of the grass sliding on the curved knife is the yard’s morning mantra. His legs are stretched, his hurting knees relaxed, Naba reflects contentment.

Near the yard’s latrine and water pump, Subadra piles dry rice paddy and starts a fire, and pours water in the rectangular pan that sits over a small mud stove. When the water boils, Nayan joins her mother-in-law with the dirty clothes. Phulan boils the clothes before placing them near the water pump where the women, with strong and regular arm movements, will take turn at beating each piece on the cement floor of the washing area.


A friend comes in the yard, her young son on her left hip and brushing her teeth with her right hand. She talks a little and goes back to her home. Papaye is somewhere with friends in the village and Rakesh is copying a homework he needs to finish while Palab makes an errand for Phulan at the station, as the village of Agradeep is called. He is still the only one with a bike, is always willing and happy of the two-kilometer ride. He likes to be a part in the life of the busy crowd that gathers here from all the neighboring villages.

9:30 Phalan finishes preparing morning breakfast. “Every one eats better when it is Nayan who is at the stove” says her sister-in-law. Nayan is there to help in preparing the vegetables and doing the other tasks.


1The courtyard is quiet, the clothes hanged to dry and Nayan has assured that after her housework and every free minute she is down on her room’s floor, in front of her special loom, to progress in her work. For 50 rupees apiece paid by a nearby weaver, she cuts the threads on newly colorful hand made 6-meter saris. One a day,is her goal and each determined snip of scissors is her own mantra for better days.

3:00 The spirit is of celebrations and the children have come back early. Tomorrow is Vasant Panchami, the fifth day of spring. It is the special festival to Sawaswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. There will be celebrations at school and in the village.

Lunch is ready when the children return. Not long after ,Mucto falls asleep in his chair as he watched television through the metal fence. He does not sit much and never for long. Everyone calls on him for job and his friends say that he is always there for those who need help. Not long after, he is off again to harvest the mustard plant and make one or two trips before dark. He piles it in the yard to let it dry and then collect the fallen seeds. Mustard seed is a basic element used in preparing food. The rest in the plant will go to feed the animals.

Paying jobs is what he and his brother want so they can finish the house they are building brick by brick. There will be two more rooms, two at the house entry that will be for the boys when they grow up and one near the barn to store more grains. The flat room is used to dry harvests.

As her role demands it’s only when everyone has been served that Phalan can now sit and eat her lunch. Then the courtyard empties to visit between sisters and friends. Today, they are particularly curious about how the preparation of tomorrow’s feast is going. There will be a Puja at the school in the morning and another one in the afternoon in the center of the village.

Nayan has a sister married in the village and her family is preparing a Puja. This means they will feed the entire village. The women are in the yard peeling and cutting food. Nayan sits and helps cleaning vegetables, joining in the chatter.   A young men helps to stir the large (pot) of dal while the others are busy building a temple (name?) just outside the house gate. They want it ready when the idol is delivered. Two idols have been bought for the event. One for the small village temple, a small covered area is used for the different Pujas throughout the year. The other is for the family organizing the Puja.

Tomorrow a Brahman will come to conduct a ceremony in both places. (From cow dung to rice will be offered to the Goddess, prayers and request ( link to info). Everyone will worship together and share food. It will be an occasion to dress up, for young girls to show their beauty

Students are the ones who worship with the most intensity. They must ask for mercy as this is time of exam throughout India when Grades 10 and 12 students have much at stake. Papaye is happy. He will participate helping the Brahman with incense and smearing every one’s forehead with the sacred ash.

5:00 The boys are on the bed in Nayan’s room learning. All recite aloud their homework while her scissors are at work. When she sees that Papaye is having difficulties, she comes and sits beside him on the bed and helps him through it. Straining her weakening eyes, she bends down to see the words.

Then Subadra , Nayan and Phalan are back in the outdoor kitchen where they will stay until darkness has settled over the yard. Two neighbors come to use the traditional grinding stone with which they will beat the rice into flour to cook. Beside the fire, different cow dung pancakes are kept for Phalan to feed the fire. There are the cow dung pancakes that have dried on the walls or trees, the cow dung that has dried on the stem of the jute plant and the stem of jute plant alone. All these elements will give a different fire intensity demanded by the numerous dish cooked. (link to dishes of Bengal) When all the dishes are ready, Subadra and Nayan prepare the rotis that Phalan cooks quickly with hands that do not fear the heat.

It’s a busy moment in the yard, when the air is fresh and tasks must be accomplished before night. To his joy, Palab is sent again to the station to fetch a missing item in the kitchen. Manic goes to check the freshly planted rice fields. At this initial phase, the level of irrigation is important. Too much or too little can ruin the freshly planted crop. Mucto, brings his last mustard seed harvest of the day, washes and is off to the station to join the other men.

6:30 Monkeys appear on the trees looking into the courtyards. All food will be put away into one of Naba and Subadra’s rooms and doors will be locked before going to bed. There are human thieves, but those wild hooligans are the most fearless and daring of them all.

9:00 Manic shuts the light of the yard latrine, closes the metal railing, puts the lock on his entry door keeping the key away from hand’s reach.