Chhordi

If the year 2020 was ominous, we all shall remember 2021 as the year of catastrophe. The Covid-19 in its original form did not scare us as much as its mutated form Delta did… The continuous blaring sirens of the ambulances day-n-night all through mid-March to end-May of 2021 and to top it all, there were news of a people succumbing to the virus every other day. They were old, young, unwell and completely healthy people who suddenly took ill and never recovered. All of us who experienced the loss of our near and dear ones will never forget the circa 2021.

Amidst these chaotic times, one Saturday (3 April) evening, we got a call from my sister’s daughter-in-law that she is admitted in hospital and in critical condition. Without giving much thought to the environment we immediately left for the hospital situated in Dwarka. We knew she wasn’t keeping too well but never realized that she had reached the point of criticality. I cursed her family for not telling us earlier about her health status as we sped towards the hospital. As we entered the Dwarka, there was another call from her daughter-in-law, Smita, telling us that she was no more… she has left this world and all her pains behind.

She was my third sister, my Chhordi as I used call her… most affectionate and life of the family. A simple soul without an iota of diplomacy which she inherited from our mother; she would speak from her heart at times not realizing that her words may sound rude or hurt the other person even if they were truth. I have so much memory of her that it will take forever to be told, therefore, I decided to put a few that had an impact on me as a person and remained etched in my memory for a long time…

I was probably 9 or 10 years old when she eloped with my Jijaji… I did not understand then but it hurt me a lot then… for me, she went missing and it happened within months of my other sister’s (Mezdi) marriage… Somehow none of the elders at home did nothing to look for her… I asked mother many a times but she always answered in tears… I did not had the courage to ask Dad!

Anyways, after a few days, Mezdi visited us and told me that Chhordi had got married to my Jijaji… again, I did not understand, “Why couldn’t she get married like you?” I asked. It took some time for her to answer, “Once you grow up, you will understand” she told me and promised to take me to meet Chhordi.

I did not have to wait long. It was summer months and the season for kite flying which was my favorite recreation back then and courtesy my brothers had developed certain expertise. Chhordi knew it and one evening when I was playing outside, she simply appeared in front of me holding a bunch of kites with a Charkhari full of Maanja along with couple of Cadbury Chocolates. We hugged each other for long time and cried. I requested her to come home but she refused saying “Some other time” and promised to meet me as often as she could. She informed that she now lived near my school in Gole Market area… She lived up to her promise and would meet me at the school, every time bringing some goodies for me.

It took couple of years and the intervention of my maternal uncle (Badhe Mamaji) to thaw and normalize the relations between the two families. I was happy because we could meet at home instead of on the roads or at school.

Over the years she became my friend, philosopher and guide. She also became very close to my mother… at the time when there was no phones, she would make it a point to visit us practically every week. Later, she would speak to mom every day and keep her cheered through her age related ailments.

When I joined Dabur, I desperately needed a motorcycle to commute from GK-1 to Connaught Place as  the public transport (bus service) used to be pathetic but I was short on funds without any hope of generating the required funds. My brother though worked for bike manufacturing company was dead against my driving a motorcycle, so any funding from him was ruled out. I spoke to her and all she said was, “Come over in the evening and take the money”. She didn’t ask when or how I am going to return the money… she knew that I will repay her. I did repay her with interest though it took me 3 years to do so… Her timely help went a long way to boost my confidence and advance in my career.

When I decided to get married outside my community, I confided in her and she turn told my parents which helped in easing the process. Besides, she got wholly involved in the preparation and ensured the ceremonies are without any hiccups.

One of her great initiatives was to ensure all the siblings meet at our home on the Bhaiduj, after the passing away of our father so that Mom gets to meet them all at least once a year. She would also take the lead and arrange for the Diwali Card Parties irrespective of the fact that she never won handsomely.

With my sisters at happier times…

We relocated to Hyderabad at the end of 2017 and we would meet only when we came to Delhi around Durga Puja for a month. The last I met her was on the Bhaiduj day of 2019… When we decided to move back to Delhi just before Diwali of 2020, she was very excited at the prospect of everyone meeting on the Bhaiduj day. However, I wasn’t very sure of it because the Covid-19 was looming on our heads, besides I was driving back and had an overnight stay at a hotel which was risky at that time. Moreover, with her age and co-morbidity, it was not advisable that she gets exposed to a large enough gathering. She was disappointed, we all were disappointed at missing party but thought we will make up the following year…

However, the Almighty had other plans and took her away from all of us on the evening of 3rd April 2021. I shall always have the regret of not heeding to her request for a family gettogether on the Bhaiduj (2020).

I am sure, she is blessing us all from the lap of the Almighty. May her divine soul attain Moksha…

Om Shanti. Om Shanti.  

Mother

Mothers are the best thing that the Almighty has provided to us. All mothers are best to their kids but my mom is the bestest… yeah, all humans feel that way (must confess that I dunno about the animal’s feelings in this matter).

Today, 22.02.2022, Tuesday, is both a palindrome and an ambigram… also it happens to be my Mom’s 100th birthday. Therefore, the idea of penning down my thoughts living with her is my tribute to her. Being the youngest, I had the privilege of spending maximum time with her… right from my birth till her last breath; she remained with me and even today in my thoughts.

She was born in the muffassil town of Narail in Jessore (now in Bangladesh), the first born child to my grandparents. She did her basic schooling (till class 9 or 10) before being married of to my Dad (resident of Ujirpur village, Jessore) at the age of 17/18 years. My grandparental house was always full of people… besides the immediate family members, there were some distant relatives staying over all the time. It was the job (through unwritten writ) of women of the house to cook up 4 meals a day to satiate the hunger of all present at the premises on that particular day. My grandparents were wealthy with sizeable land holdings that provided most of the food requirement for the whole household and more. I am told that the only item that was bought from the market was Salt. The great Bengal Famine of 1943 did not affect them or the villagers of Ujirpur because the granary had enough to feed them all.

Both, my grandfather and father used to work in Kolkata (then Calcutta) and used go back to the village during the weekends. My grandfather passed away sometime in 1943 and the family decided to move to Kolkata leaving the village affairs to some relations (I am not sure how close or distant). Then in 1944-45, my Dad got transferred to Patna and the family moved along. Meanwhile, my 2 aunts (Bua/Pishi) got married and my youngest uncle (Chacha/ Kaka) went to live with my elder aunt because her husband was in police force with irregular work timings and a male at home was welcome those days. My elder uncle and grandma along with my two eldest siblings formed the family of my parents which in next 10 years saw addition of 3 more souls (my siblings) and departure of two… my elder uncle decided to move back to Kolkata and start his family and grandma attained moksha.

While, they were in Patna, India became independent but at the cost of breaking the country. The independence was painful for the affected ones… though my parents avoided the genocide in Bengal, being in the relative safety of Patna but lost everything (land holdings) in the partition of the country. The relative who was put in charge to manage the affairs in the village, traded off the huge tract of lands for a considerably small piece of land on this side of the border, in his own name.

My parents moved to Delhi sometime in 1954-55, initially residing in Minto Road (Thomson Road) before moving to Karol Bagh. My youngest sister arrived while my parents were living in Minto Road while I chose to be born in Karol Bagh. We joke that both of us are accidental child but probably had the best childhood amongst the siblings because there were so many hands to take care of us!!

By the time I had some sense of this world, things at our household had changed a lot… dad was no longer in the high income category rather in a significantly less glorious job with much less earnings, the eldest sister and brother were in college while the rest in school, so in the morning hours I had the undivided attention of my mom and she had mine. And that’s how our bond developed.

My mother was a humble uncomplicated and most of the times undiplomatic (I inherited the last trait) person… spoke her mind loud and clear which at times put her in a spot. She had tremendous sweet tooth and refused to cut down her sugar even when the doctors suggested. I remember one incident… I was with her at the clinic of Dr. Ashok K Ghosh (our family physician), he told my mother that unless she cuts down her sugar intake, medicines won’t work… to that she blurted out, “what is the point of taking such expensive medicine if I can’t have my daily Sondesh/Rosogolla?” To the last day of her life she insisted on 2 spoonful of sugar in her morning cup of tea… she was okay with less sugar in the evening cup but the morning must start sweet for her.

There’s a story about it…

When she got married, my maternal grandpa told my other grandpa that she being the first born is spoilt to the extent that she needs some sweet to open her eyes in the morning. My grandpa ensured that till he was alive, my mother got a plateful of Sondesh/ Rossogolla or some sweet early in the morning to start the day. My granny and aunts were distraught but couldn’t disobey grandpa. They started calling her Maharani!!!

My mother was an excellent cook and this is not just my word but there are many who have tasted her food will surely vouch for it. She could cook up a complete meal for half dozen of my friends within the hour when they landed up during meal time without announcement. The most favoured dish was Egg Curry aka Dimer Dalna with my friends which they devoured with gusto.

My mother being a hardcore Bengali, picked up the Bihari Hindi while in Patna and continued to speak the same language even after living in Delhi for 5 decades. However, she was able to communicate quite well with the Punjabi neighbors in Karol Bagh. There was a Sardarji Tandoor wala who used make the traditional Punjabi dishes viz. Daal Makhni and Punjabi Kadhi Pakaudi which we loved and would often buy from him. One day my mother landed up at his humble tandoori shop and demanded the recipes… the poor fellow reluctantly told her hoping that the Bong woman would make a mess of the dishes. He was so wrong… the following day she cooked Kadhi-Pakaudi and it was near perfect. Over the years she mastered the recipe and frankly I have not had a better Kadhi-Pakaudi than what she used to make. I have attempted to cook it but it was miles away from her perfection.

These days, I go to Chittaranjan Park to buy Kasundi and Vadi but during my childhood, she used to make both these items at home in large quantity, some of which used to be lapped up by our neighbors. The same about the pickles too… I particularly loved the sweet mango chutney and the jujube chutney and would be very upset if any neighbor took even a small portion.  

In the growing up years, we only had Coal Angethi & Kerosin Stove, the former was used for cooking meals while the other one for tea and snacks. We neither had a pressure cooker nor any other fancy gadget (available those days), so most of the cooking was based on the principle of Slow Cooking and today this has been proved to be the best option to retain the maximum flavor in any Indian Cuisine. My mother wouldn’t waste even the peels of potato or bottle gourd and cook up a dish that tasted amazing. In later years, she would stand with me in the kitchen and guide me to make mutton/chicken curry like a true teacher. Her knowledge about the proportion of spices was excellent and today I can say with pride that I had absorbed that knowledge like a sponge from her.

As I was growing up, our family of nine started to shrink with my sisters getting married and moving out. When I was in the 10th standard, my eldest brother announced his intention to get married. We were overjoyed with the idea of finally having a bhabi… I must mention here that my parents were most liberal and did neither believe nor practiced the caste system. So, they had no objection to my brother’s choice of girl and warmly accepted her as the eldest bahu of the family. But this joy de vivre was short lived as within two years my brother and his wife moved out after creating lots of drama in the ensuing period… and they did not leave a forwarding address. It happened on a week day when Maa was alone at home; they simply called a Truck, loaded their stuff and went away. My mother pleaded with them to stay on till the rest of us return but they did not heed to her plea. And for next 3-4 years we had no contact with them and the reconciliation happened after my nephew was born. I am still baffled by this incident because she lived with Deepika, my wife for almost 12 years but the two never even had an argument rather they had a relation like mother-daughter.

When my younger sister (Rangadi) introduced her boyfriend (few years younger to her), it was Maa who stood by her and convinced my dad and bro to solemnize the marriage. It was Maa who looked after her and the granddaughter for good 6 months before she could gather up the courage to handle the new life of motherhood on her own. Therefore, it was ironic that she and Maa had some misunderstanding and did not speak to each other for several years, in later life.

Since the time I knew my mother, she was obese with multiple health issues and would need constant medication and visit to the doctor. I remember her blood pressure hovering in the range of 220/140 all through years we were in Karol Bagh and she under the care of Dr. Ashok Ghosh. However, she did not let those deter her from caring for the family. And the way she managed the family budget (and saved few rupees every month) she would have made an excellent finance minister of the country (hahaha)…

My Dad passed away exactly 5 months after my marriage… I am sure it was devastating for my mother to lose her companion of 50+ years but she remained calm, composed and in control of her emotions. A month later when my brother (in whose house we were residing) made it clear that I should move out to my own place, she made it abundantly clear to all that she will move out with us as well knowing well that the comforts of that house won’t be there with us.

With her blessings we found a decent accommodation in the heart of South Delhi, a colony called Soami Nagar (North) within our means and started our journey… She was very supportive of Deepika and encouraged her to continue working while she took over the reign of the house. Life was slowly but surely becoming comfortable with both us in decent gainful employment but then suddenly her Asthma which had been dormant for several years started giving her sleepless night. One late evening, when she had a severe bout of asthma, our landlord suggested a doctor residing few houses from us and we immediately contacted him… Dr. Sandeep Saluja was god send to her rescue; not only she recovered by his medication but survived more than 10 years under his care. And this doctor refused take any money from us… initially we thought may be because we were neighbors but it turned out that he had left his lucrative job with AIIMS to pursue his calling in life of social work. He treated all his patients absolutely free. I have lost touch with him but sincerely wish him a happy peaceful and fulfilled life.

When my son Ayush was born, she got a new lease of life and took care of her grandson right from his bathing to timely feeding and because of that Deepika could continue with her profession. I must confess here that I was envious of Deepika because her relation with my mother was very close like a mother-daughter instead of typical Saas-Bahu that was evident with my bhabies … she relied more on her than on me or any of my siblings. Deepika became her confidante… every evening they would spend time catching up on day’s events.  

Those days it was mighty difficult to get a phone connection (landline), I had many people who took my application (to MTNL) details promised to use their influence to get me a phone connection ASAP… but nothing really happened. One day a chap from the media community came to visit me in the office and both of us recognized each other… he had come to our Karol Bagh house on some errand for my brother. After pleasantries we talked business and as he was taking leave asked for my home telephone number to which I told him that I don’t have one. He immediately asked if I have applied for one and if so, then do I have the relevant document with me. There was no reason to carry the ‘application copy’ around so he said that he will send a guy to collect a copy of that the following day. I had no illusion that it was just another soft talking by one vendor to get a favourable response but on advice of my boss carried the doc with me to office. Surprisingly, a person landed up early in the morning to collect the paper. I handed him the application photocopy and did not think about or spoke to anybody about it. About 10 days later I was shocked to hear my mother’s voice on the phone as she excitedly said that just about that time a phone was installed at our home and she gave me the number. I called up the person (I do wish to name him) to thank, to which he said it’s a temporary connection for 6 months but assured that it will be converted to a permanent one before the expiry which actually happened. For us it was a great relief to be able to contact home to find out well being of both my mother and my son. Did I return the favour to the gentleman? Well, even if I wanted, I could not as he was in a particular media line which did not interest my organization that point of time… few years down the line when things became promising, I could not locate him, his telephone went unanswered and some other entity was occupying the business address given to us. He had simply vanished in thin air!!

We moved to our own apartment in Vasant Kunj on 6th October 1995 when my son was 6 months old and becoming naughty every passing minutes so we looked for a maid who would take of him and help mom in household chores. This arrangement continued for about two years with help of two subsequent young girls (cousins) but both wanted to start their own family and left. Then my sister sent a middle aged lady who could look after both as well as cook. My mother did not like the idea of sitting idle and would invariably walk into the kitchen to cook. She was getting old and her energy levels definitely going south and it took lot persuasion to make her retire from the kitchen.

I left my corporate job at the end of 2002 to start a new chapter on my own to ensure I can be near home in case of any emergency. But soon it became even more hectic than my job with no fixed time but a 24×7 kind of assignments. She realized this and would deliberately not tell me if she wasn’t feeling all okay. Years of taking high sugar content had its effect on her with extreme diabetes which eventually affected her kidneys. She would confide with Deepika about her status and even then she did not tell her till the last day that she was unable to pass urine for almost two days. On the morning of the fateful day, I called up Dr. Saluja who asked me to immediately pick him up from his home. After a thorough check up, he advised that we shift her to a hospital and recommended Batra Hospital on MB Road. He also called up the hospital and arranged for an ambulance confirming that he will also reach the hospital alongside… My mother was insistent on walking to the parking where the ambulance was waiting but the medics insisted on her being on the stretcher. Whatever be the cause, it seems her time was up and she was all set to finally reunite with her mate on the Valentine Day. She had started her journey to Baikunthadham well before the ambulance reached the hospital.

She remains in the heart of all those who came in contact with her. Om Shanti.    

In the times of C

For 2 years in a row, we have been house arrested, by force as well as voluntarily. Never imagined in my weirdest dream that I will be scared to move out of the house but 2020-21 taught us to be patient with life… not to take it too seriously… live in the present… be thankful… for there can be no tomorrows…

Two years in a row, I did not go out and celebrate the New Year eve but spent the evening with my family… ordered food and ate it solemnly. There was no invitation from friends or family neither we dared to invite anyone, rather we discouraged someone who was keen to join us for the evening. Fear of unknown was at its peak.

On 16th December 2021, we had a get-together of friends at a Farmhouse and my guess is that everyone, who joined accepted the invite as it was in the open under the sunny skies. It may sound funny now but after the event for next few days, we checked on each other to find out if all is okay with them. One case of Covid19 would have sent the entire gang into isolation.

Now, we have almost covered the second month of 2022 and the cases of the Covid along with its variant Omicron is not only in the news but has affected many of us. Thankfully, the variant though virulent, is milder and not fatal. However, no one is willing to take the chances and stubbornly refuses to physically socialize.

My sister(s) and brother along with their family got infected and were quarantined for over a week at their homes. Normally, if one’s close relation is unwell, we visit them to cheer them up but in this case no such visitation only checking their status over phone. And the message is loud and clear that none is welcome to visit vise’ versa.

In my younger days, I could visit anyone be it my friend or relative without prior information (there was no means of doing it either) but then as I grew up and got entangled in the corporate race, the energy, urge and time disappeared and all such visits became an occasion. Even then, one would try and catch up at least once a month or two. The Pandemic killed that too, I haven’t seen my sisters and brothers for many months now.

January 28 happens to be a quirky date for my family… it’s a birthday that is shared by my brother-in-law, my better-half and yours truly… it is also the marriage anniversary of my brother. In better times, we used have a gathering at home to celebrate but this year was different. Fortunately, our son was here with us after a gap of few years (advantage of WFH)… Delhi Government was considerate enough to lift the ban on restaurants dine-in which prompted us to plan to go out. I persuaded my sister & bro-in-law through my nephew to join us and settled for an early dinner so that they could reach home before the night curfew starting at 10pm. It is actually farcical to impose the night curfew to control the pandemic as if the virus is waiting to strike as soon as the clock ticks to 10 O’ Clock!!!

My dear friend Gora (with whom I had many memorable escapades), officially turned SIXTY this January (actually he still has a year to achieve the feet) and as per terms of employment, retired from the CGS on 31st January. I had a long chat with him and suggested we should have a Retirement Binge Party. But he cut me short saying, ‘No party till we return to complete normalcy’ in other words, “Thanks, but you are not welcome in the foreseeable future”…

Thanks to my other dear friend Indro, we could break the jinx and meet up over drinks n dinner at the Air Force Golf Club courtesy yet another dear friend Gr. Captain (Retd) Suranjan Choudhary aka SuroKhuro. Indro, after 10 months 10 days of enjoying the pleasure of living with family was going back to Baghdad to join work. It also meant beginning of his bachelor days, and as had been the practice for last few years, he stops over in Delhi at least once in his to-and-fro journey to meet up with friends. This year, though, we could not arrange for a larger space to have big gathering and had to accept the constraint of club restrictions to limit the numbers. The joy of meeting friends after a long time was visible through the vibrant vibes we exuded.

Rishikesh

On Bhaiduj day, while chatting with my elder brother-in-law, the conversation turned towards the general boredom that has crept into our lives because of the covid lockdown leading to fear psychosis of the Corona Virus… and the need to go for a vacation. It is impossible for me to take extended break because of Rolf who with his advanced age has become clingy to me and needs care that perhaps only I can offer. After much deliberation, it was agreed that we will go for an ultra short trip of 2 nights to Rishikesh, Uttarakhand on the weekend of 13th November ’21. By evening, my brother-in-law confirmed the hotel (Ganga Kinare) bookings and we were all set to go.

On Saturday morning we started our long journey around 8 am from Anand Niketan taking the MG Road (Ring Road)-Barapulla Road to join the Delhi-Meerut Expressway. This road has made travelling to Western UP and Uttarakhand a much convenient journey.

My friend Ashish is a frequent visitor to Rishikesh and uses this route practically every 10-12 days visiting his project (Namami Gange) site, provided the details of road condition and pit-stops, so I was prepared when the 6-lane road narrowed down to 2-lanes for few kilometers. However, I was not prepared for the surge of traffic… it seemed that all of NCR is on way to wash their sin in the Ganges!!

We stopped at Namaste Midway, a food court that boasts of some of the well known restaurants. We decided to go to Naivedyam, a south Indian cuisine restaurant which we felt would be less crowded. We had Idli-Vada-Dosa in a relaxed atmosphere and charged up for the rest of the journey after a 45 minutes break. Ashish had suggested taking a right turn towards Cheela Dam-Rishikesh Road, however, because of the heavy traffic, the police had barricaded the turning and we followed the Google Map routing and reached Ganga Kinare just in time (2:00Pm) for check-in.

After a leisurely lunch and relaxation we went to see the Ganga Aarti at Paramarth Ashram, in the evening. The Paramarth Ashram is near the Janaki Setu (Jhula) which has 3 pathways, 2 of which is meant for up & down 2-wheeler traffic and the middle path is dedicated for pedestrian movement. The hotel car dropped us near the Janaki Jhula from where we walked the 1.5km to the Paramarth Ashram Ghat. By the time we reached it was teaming with devotees with ‘Havan’ in progress and 2 of the disciples singing Bhajans which were soothing to the ears unlike the ones churned out in Bollywood tunes. Deepika and others went down the steps to have a better view but in the end I had the most vantage position right below the arch to the Paramarth Ghat. After a while the head of the ashram HH Swami Chidanand Saraswati Ji along with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati Ji made their way to the ghat and offered Purnahuti at the Havan Kund. Thereafter, the duo regaled the audience with soulful rendition of Bhajans and meaningful sermons. Sadhvi Bhagawati Ji is an American by birth now devoted to Hindu spirituality and spoke of life’s journey comparing it to the flowing Ganga from Gomukh to Gangasagar through the ups and down, narrow and wide passes, shallow and deep gorges in its journey never looking back.

Deepika had availed the service of a youth (Guide) and he took us to the Ashram to see the Kalpataru Vriksha which had purportedly churned out during the Samudra Manthan (as per the Hindu Mythology). We also saw the 200 years old Banyan Tree which had an impression of Ganesha in inverse besides the Glass Temple of Lord Vishnu in Vishwaroop. From there Deepika and I went to a Govt shop to see Ekmukhi Rudraksh (a rare variety). We ended up buying couple of things from there ensuring the guide gets his commission from the shopkeeper (in full honesty he admitted that the shopkeeper pays him at the end of each month based on the customers he brings to the shop).

Back in the hotel, tiredness gripped us completely and we needed some sort of energizer… I was carrying a bottle of Dewar’s 12 years just in case… of which I and my brother-in-law had a peg each before dinner. I had a chat with Ayush before calling it a day and was assured that Rolf had been a ‘good boy’ eating, walking and doing his chores without any fuss.

The following day, Sunday, we had booked a taxi to take us to the Neelkanth Temple, some 25 km from Rishikesh. The way to the temple is through Rajaji National Park, a wildlife sanctuary inhabited by leopards and elephants besides other species. Though the road was narrow and winding it was scenic.

At the entry point of Rajaji National Park near the Barrage, the Govt. of Uttarakhand had installed a Camp for Covid19 Test… which I found farcical; they refused to acknowledge our Double Vaccination Certificate and insisted on the test (Rapid Antigen Test) which does not give accurate result. We were told that by the time we reach Neelkanth Temple, the result will be messaged to us. They gave us a ‘Receipt’ which was supposed to be checked at the Temple Entrance. THERE WAS NOT A SOUL TO CHECK THAT RECEIPT NEITHER AT THE PARKING AREA NOR AT THE TEMPLE AND I CAN BET HALF THE PILGRIMS WERE NOT EVEN VACCINATED.

About 2 km from the temple, the police stopped us and directed us to the parking lot. We were told that we have to walk rest of the road; however we could see many vehicles, primarily local taxis were freely plying on the stretch. We managed to reach the temple which was not just chaotic but confusing as well. As a principle, I do not go inside any temple, church, mosque, gurudwara etc., so I stayed back guarding the shoes of my company while they went inside to offer puja. After a while, my brother-in-law and Bhabi came out visibly shaken and disappointed that they couldn’t find the actual temple with Neelkanth Idol. However, Deepika continued her spiritual journey and offered her prayers and puja. On the way back we managed to get a taxi which dropped us at the parking lot from where connected with our taxi for the return journey. We had planned to explore the city of Rishikesh but it was already 3pm and we were hungry, so, the next stop happened at the Chotiwala Restaurant at Laxman Jhula. Some 30-35 years back this used to be open plan Dhaba but things have changed… it is now an air-conditioned restaurant with a digital access menu card and bottled water. The food is still good and we were hungry from the trekking to Neelkanth… as a result missed out taking the picture of the food!!

There are shops in the vicinity from where we bought stuffs like Pashmina mufflers, ladies suits and t-shirts besides brass sculptures for gifting purposes. None of us had any strength or inclination to explore further so decided to go back to the hotel. On our way back we got stuck at the Triveni Ghat and our driver decided to take an alternate route through the serpentine winding lanes of Rishikesh. Right fro Haridwar to all the way up is Dev Bhoomi and none of the hotels/restaurants/dhaba’s serve non-vegetarian food not even eggs…therefore, I was surprised to see a shop inside the lane openly displaying and selling eggs!!

Early morning, on Monday we went for a walk on the ‘Marine Drive’ a walkway created by the govt along the Ganga which for a change was not only clean but without the usual crowd one sees around the river bank. This may be because all the properties on it were privately owned with many being hotels/retreats for Yoga & Meditation.

We had a hearty breakfast trying out all the varieties… stuffed parantha, puri-aloo, chhole-bhature and even idli-dosa. I also tried the Matar Kachori which was quite delicious. At around 9 am we paid the hotel bill and checked-out…the journey back to Delhi was much smoother and as promised to Deepika, I dropped her home well before 2pm before going ahead to Anand Niketan to drop our companions.

Rock n Roll Ranchi

On 24th September 2021 just as I was planning to take my afternoon siesta or catnap, my dear friend Indrajit aka Indrobodon aka Panto called up, “7th October is Judha’s engagement…” and before he could extend the invitation, I told him, “I am coming on 6th Oct.” I have never met his son, Judhajit personally but through his blogs I have come to know him and liked him a lot. Therefore, it was impossible for me to miss this opportunity to meet the young doctor personally.

The next proposition of Indro was the toughest one… he said, “I am calling up others and you follow up with them to ensure their participation”. It was easier said than done… we take minimum of 6 months to organize a G2G locally and this involves travelling 1250+ km!!! Anyways, I told him to let me know the initial reactions of the guys, based on the inclination I will try and persuade them to take the journey but I knew only a handful would finally make it.

Even before I could undertake Indro’s wish, Roma called up to ask about my plans. I told him that I will fly out on 6th morning and return on 8th evening (I can’t afford to be out for more than 3 days as my aging pet Rolf becomes unmanageable by others). He was insistent on driving down which I declined as it involved 4 days (both ways) driving for 2 nights stay. It made sense if we were to go for a longish period…say 10days or more. I knew that Roma was afraid of flying, nothing unusual, lot of people are scared of flying on a airplane. The next option of train was also turned down for the same reason… spending 18-20 hours on each way on the train was not acceptable to me for a short stay. Then because of the Covid issues, Indian Railway has stopped serving food and beddings so, one has to carry these for travel… cumbersome!!

I convinced Roma to fly along with me assuring him that I will ensure his safety onboard. He had 2 issues to resolve… (1) Arrange for a ‘walker’ for his pet dog (Phoebe) and (2) arrange for a care giver for his aging mother. He did manage the first but the second one could not be arranged and he regretfully declined 2 days after our conversation.

Based on Indro’s input, I called up Atish (Kolkata), Gora, Taposh, Satyabrata and Ashish who showed their inclination to take the journey. I also messaged Alok as I was not sure if he was in town or touring some remote places (which he does quite often for his organization). It was decided that I will buy the tickets (if they so desired) on Monday 27th September morning giving them enough time to take the call.

Alok messaged back that as he is scheduled to go on a weeklong vacation to Srinagar Kashmir starting 10th, it would not be possible for him to take another 3days off from office. Gora called up and we had chatted at length… apparently he could not take even the first dose of vaccination due to adverse circumstances. Moreover, he was down with viral and was not fully recovered. Also the fact that his fractured left leg (from accident) has still not recovered fully and doctors have advised him to take it easy. With so many issues I decided not to press further… there will be the wedding next year and by that time he will be fit to participate. Taposh called up on Sunday and confirmed he is ready to go and Satyabrata also confirmed… so it was 3 musketeers from Delhi. Ashish said he will go but cannot be certain on the date… later he made a mess of it!!! On Monday evening, Atish (Kolkata) called up and said he had made arrangements to reach by road as both air or train options did not suit him due to prolonged compulsive wearing of mask (a problem many people face these days).

Having booked our tickets on Air Asia morning flight, we were excited about the week ahead.

Indro informed that his nephew (sister’s son) is also going in the same flight (Air Asia 744)… closer to the departure date I called up Indro to figure out if I need to book the hotel or he has made arrangements as he said earlier. While chatting he said that the Air Asia morning flight has been cancelled and his nephew is now going by the afternoon flight #559 ETD 1540… and asked me check our flight status. This was a shocker because neither the booking portal (Make My Trip) nor the airlines (Air Asia) had sent any kind of communication in that regard. I started with the MMT App but it still showed our original booking… no mention of any cancellation or rescheduling. Then I tried the Air Asia portal and there it showed that we too were booked for the rescheduled flight. Now, the problem arose how to revise the Boarding Pass… Govt. of India has made it mandatory to do WEB CHECK-IN for all fliers as part of Covid protocol. My first 1.5 hours went in futility as neither MMT nor Air Asia allowed any revision or fresh web check-in… I left it at that hoping to resolve it later or take our chances at the airport itself. Then in the evening I received a message from Air Asia informing of the rescheduling and asking for fresh check-in at the link provided within the message. With some effort on second attempt I was able to generate the revised Boarding Passes… Air Asia is a big blot on Tata’s (their share holding is 84%) and sooner the management takes corrective actions, it is better for them as well as customers.

We were warned that due to Covid protocol, there’s much rush at the security check at T-3 (my son took 1.5 hours and just about managed to board his flight on 2nd Oct), so we decided to reach the airport by 1pm for the 3:40 pm flight. Surprisingly on 6th Oct afternoon, the IGIA T-3 was relatively light and we (Satya & I) were through the security check in 10 minutes and then waited for Topshe to come…he was coming by Airport Metro which in his case coming from other end of the city was a faster alternative than taxi. Although, I had my breakfast at my usual time of 9-9:30 am, I wasn’t hungry and Satya had a brunch, so we decided to skip lunch (later we found out it was a bad decision).

Satya had planned to take his strolley as cabin baggage but I persuaded him to give it to the luggage and keep his hands free (a good decision). He had a battery pack which he took out and gave it to me to keep in my “mail bag” – a small bag that I always carry when travelling… it is expandable and helps in keeping my personal stuff including medicines at the security check. Unfortunately, Topshe having reached later did not realize that his battery pack was in the checked in bag and had to go back and retrieve it with the help of the ground staff.

Having enough time in hand, we leisurely walked to the Gate (#47) and occupied 3 lounge chairs… Topshe was smart; he had bought a chicken roll for lunch and offered me a bite but declined. However, seeing him devour it, I suddenly felt hungry but going back to the food-court was long and tedious walk so I bought a chilled bottle of water to quench the thirst as well as hunger. Boarding was supposed to be at 3pm but there was no sign of the aircraft. The take-off time of 3:40pm too went past, still no sign of the aircraft…finally around 4pm we saw an Air Asia plane land in the distance and we hoped it to be ours.

Meanwhile, just pass the time we took up a game of identifying the “Nephew” of Indro without actually knowing anything about him except his name. I used the deduction process of elimination to arrive at the correct individual after getting a “description of the person” from Indro. Just before boarding, the “extrovert” Satya spoke to him first and later introduced us as well. It was the only fun we managed in otherwise a boring scenario…

Thankfully it was the same aircraft we boarded 10 minutes later and we took off around 4:30pm (after a good 50 minutes delay). The pilot informed us that the flight had come late from Srinagar but did not even once apologize for the delay on behalf of Air Asia. As soon as the plane took off, I reclined my seat and dozed off despite the continuous chattering of Satya sitting next to me. Topshe sitting on the window seat had field day taking pictures till the day light allowed and then he too slept.

We landed at Birsa Munda Airport, Ranchi around 6pm and as the airport is small, it did not take much time to retrieve our baggage and come out of the airport. Indro & Jagrata had come with 3 cars (their own, one hired Innova and one borrowed from Judha’s friend). Topshe, Satya alongwith Indro’s nephew, Dr. Amitava Mitra went to the hotel The Royal Retreat, in the hired Innova while I waited with Indro to receive the another set of guest (the bride’s sister and family) coming from Hyderabad. They came out within next 10-15 minutes and went with Jagrata… Indro & I took the third car to reach the hotel. As we hit the roads, I became aware that I am many miles away from Delhi metropolis, the traffic was haphazard with vehicles coming and joining the flow at will from all direction… it reminded me of Hyderabad roads!!

Indro had booked the entire first floor of the hotel The Royal Retreat, a three star property…clean and very amiable staff. The arrangements were on twin sharing basis Topshe & Satya shared the room #108 while I got the #107 waiting for Ashish to join whenever he lands up. Indro asked us to freshen up and come to the driveway of his residential building which was on the other end of the road… a bare 2 minutes walk. While checking on the messages, I came to know that Atish had suddenly taken ill and not coming to Ranchi… he missed a great fun filled short vacation.

As we reached the gate of the Global Lavanya (where Indro lives), the aroma of the food suddenly made me famished and I followed my nose to the food counter… I savored two plates of mixed pakodas along with tea with great delight… the pakodas were delicious and I would have more but decided to keep space in the tummy for the dinner. Indro had a busy schedule of picking up more guests from Railway Station and Interstate Bus Stand and excused himself… confirming that we will meet for dinner around 10pm at the same place. We returned to the hotel to relax. I ordered a whiskey and chicken drumsticks, Satya made tea for himself while Topshe was good with a glass of water. We chatted and watched some news on television… Indro came with Judha to take us for dinner but before that he took us to room #110 to meet the bunch of young doctors, the friends of Dr. Judhajit. These youngsters were given the charge of innocent vices of liquor and a mild variety of locally grown Ganja which was quite aromatic and looked more like some kind of herb. Indro had told them that one of his friends liked to smoke the stuff and they were made to guess (unfortunately for them the cannabis lover Ashish was yet to land up)… they thought it was me probably because of my shaven head!! They were utterly disappointed to realize that I don’t smoke but were soon elated when I told them to serve the whiskey (Teacher’s) on the rocks. I have always enjoyed the company of youngsters; they are much smarter and knowledgeable than we were at that time of our life. And I speak to them as a friend rather than uncle so they tend to open up with me. After enjoying a few drinks with them, we went for the dinner. The food (Chicken Curry) was very tasty and we were hungry so we finished it quickly and walked back to the hotel. Indro had to pick up another set of guests from the Railway Station around 4:30 am and was planning stay awake… I told him not to because the following day (the engagement day) is going to be hectic with all the guests around. The day long activities, excitement coupled with the intake of more than few pegs of whiskey, I was feeling sleepy… Satya & Topshe too were tired (without the whiskey), so we retired for the day around midnight.

The breakfast, following morning, consisted of stuffed (Aloo) parantha with curd & pickles followed by tea (we asked for black tea and got it). After that we strolled the nearby streets and bought a pack of biscuits (remained largely uneaten) and some Bengali sweets (not worth it) and returned to the hotel. Indro remained busy looking after the guests from the bride’s side (politically correct). Topshe had his laptop and suggested we watch some old Hindi movies… after much deliberation, we settled for much watched but eminently repeatedly watchable comedy CHUPKE CHUPKE… Halfway through though all three of us were snoring to glory!!

Sometime later, Indro came to take us for lunch… he said something special is on the menu which we liked very much and indeed it was!! Besides the usual vegetable fair (not very keen on those), the attraction of the day was Rui Maachher Kalia & Chingri Malai Curry. I normally don’t take fish (can’t stand the fishy smell as well as the innumerous bones), but Ranada, the caterer insisted that I try at least one piece of the fish with some gravy… it was really nice without the smelliness and manageable bones…the curry was really tasty… this was followed by Chingri Malaicurry… the prawns were put on wooden skewers to keep it straight while cooking (innovative way)…

Post lunch, we chatted for a while with the guests… getting to know them especially Indro’s Jamaibabu Shri Abhay K Mitra, a very amiable person and friendly… Also interacted with Suvojit, Indro’s cousin from Barackpur, WB… he reminded me of my late cousin through his way of talking and mannerism. There was the bride’s (Taniya) cousin with her husband and daughter from Hyderabad… the little one was firebomb both in action and speech…we adored her every moment. We could have continued the ADDA, but had to rush to the airport to receive Ashish Banerjee who was making a courtesy call… apparently, while he had checked-in at IGIA, he came to know that he had to be in Rishikesh the following morning to represent his company to Namami Gange Team, especially because the Prime Minister might be there as well. We tried to persuade him to stay back for the main function but failed to convince him. However, in the short time that he was there (1.5 hours precisely), he enthralled his audience (the young friends of Judha) with his doctoral knowledge about cannabis and its medicinal properties, besides giving historical snippets since ancient times. The hospitable friends of Judha helped us down few pegs of Teacher’s as a precursor to the evening event.

We were the first one to reach the venue (the Banquette Hall of the hotel) as being single we could get ready in jiffy after Indro & Judha (fully dressed for the occasion) came and reminded us why we were there in the first place!! However, except for Abhayda (Jamaibabu), Bikram, Manish & Ankur (Judha’s friend) we had no inkling of who’s who… a little later one gentleman made his appearance with about 6 fully armed bodyguards…later we came to know that he was the Speaker of Jharkhand Assembly and a guest of the bride’s father. The gentleman stayed for a while and blessed Judha & Taniya before leaving. The ceremony started with the Bengali tradition of Aashirbaad of the bride and groom…it’s a long process with so many family members from both side besides friends. The Ring Ceremony was short and sweet… Judha was made to go down on his knees to seek the hand of Taniya who without much ado agreed to the proposal. This was followed by cake cutting (not a Bong tradition)… in this case a three tiered huge cake courtesy the friends of the groom, Judha.

Initially, the drinking party was supposed to be at Room #110 but the hotel later agreed to provide the facility at the lawn adjacent to the banquette hall.  There were two Chhatri’s (umbrella shaped sitting space) where tables were set for about 12 people in each…immediately one was occupied by the youngsters while sat on the other… first time in my life I spilt whiskey and that too not being drunk!! It was the very first peg and wanted to put some more ice to reduce the stiffness… as I was picking up the ice bucket I hit the glass and the whole content spilled on the table and on lap. Luckily, I was carrying a spare trouser which I changed into and thereafter no such untoward incidence happened as we enjoyed the evening. I snacked on too many fish cutlets (more of a ball) and chicken tikkas with my elixir of life, therefore avoided the non-vegetarian dishes during dinner. The food variety and taste were excellent… the only dampener was that the hotel did not serve my favourite Vanilla Ice-Cream and I had to settle for the strawberry flavor along with “engagement” cake.

The celebrations continued thereafter but we excused ourselves and came back to our room(s)… I crashed out within minutes of hitting the pillow and only got up in the morning on Satya’s insistent calling on my phone (I forgot to keep it on silent mode!!). He said that Indro has been calling up for breakfast… there’s some local Jharkhandi dish for the breakfast… I looked at the time… it was close to 9am!! I couldn’t remember last when I had slept this long. Satya said he was all ready and Topshe was taking bath at that moment. I told him that I should be ready by 9:30 am but if he is hungry, he should go ahead but he insisted that we all go together.

The Jharkhandi special dish was Dhuska, a mix of rice and lentils and fried… it comes out like a fluffy puri (luchi) and is served with a Aloo-sabji.

Ingredients

  • Rice – 1cup (200 gms) (soaked)
  • Chana Dal – ½ cup (100 gms)
  • Urad Dal – ¼ cup (50 gms)
  • Green Chilli – 4
  • Ginger Julienne – ¾ inch
  • Green Coriander Leaves – 2 tbsp
  • Cumin Seeds – 1 tsp
  • Asafoetida – ½ pinch
  • Turmeric Powder – ¼ tsp
  • Salt – 1 tsp
  • Eno Salt – ¼ tsp
  • Oil – for frying

Process

Take a ½ cup of Chana Dal, a ¼ cup of Urad Dal and a cup of rice. Soak them in the water for 4-5 hours or for overnight. After soaking them, remove the extra water from them. Add them in the grinder jar along with some water, 4 medium sized green chillies, 3/4 inch ginger julienne and grind them for the paste.

The paste of Dal is ready after griding them. Pour the paste in a bowl, add 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1/2 pinch of asafoetida, 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric powder, less than 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of green coriander and mix all the ingredients well. If the batter is thick then add some water to it . The running consistency of the batter is required for the Dhuska. Preheat the oil to fry Dhuska and beat the batter for 2 minutes. Add the batter using a spatula in the rightly heated oil. Flip and fry till golden brown from both sides. Drain out the excess oil using a tissue paper. Fry rest of the batter. Serve with Aloo Sabji. Serves 4 persons.   

Dhuska, looked like a fluffy luchi specially as it was served with Aloo sabji. However, when I dug into it, the misgivings were soon gone… it was more like a multi-grain fried idli… I finished two and there was still one more on the plate… the taste was so compelling that I attacked that one as well and finished off quickly. This was followed by the sweet dish of my favorite Jalebi… slim, crisp and juicy.

We went back to the hotel to pack up for check-out… Indro told us to vacate one room… Satya & Topshe moved into my room. Topshe switched to “Movie Mode” and we watched another old favorite Angoor starring Sanjeev Kumar, Deven Verma, Moushumi Chatterjee & Deepti Naval. This time we did not doze off and saw the entire movie.

The lunch comprised of Bengali style Masoor Dal, Beguni (Aubergine fried in coat of Besan) with rice…followed by Kosha Maangsho without which no Bong gathering is complete. Indro had indeed chosen his caterer quite well because the food, on all days were exceptionally well prepared. The only thing that Rana da, the caterer needs to improve is the quality of the “server” the guys were completely clueless about serving and on occasion came to serve the last course (sweets) even before the first course was finished. Clearly, they needed training and rehearsals before the event.

Indro said he will drop us (Satya & I) at the airport and Topshe at the Bus Stand from where he would take the bus to Jamshedpur (3+ hours)… to meet a friend. We told him it was a crazy idea because he would reach not before 9pm and would have to leave immediately after breakfast or brunch to catch his train the following evening.

I felt, Indro was a bit out of touch with driving specially a car which was not his own. It was the same car that he drove to pick us up from the airport. As I said earlier, Ranchi traffic reminded me of my Hyderabad days, it is simply crazy with all kinds of vehicles coming from all corners with scant respect to the “right of way”. And soon enough one two wheeler fellow jumped the red light and landed in front of our car. Luckily for him, the car had just started rolling and Indro applied brake but a little too late to nudge the scooter. The guy fell down in animated posture. The passerby’s including the Beat Police had witnessed the entire scene and lifted up the guy. He was adamant to stop us for a prolonged confrontation. I would have really thrashed the guy but we were in a hurry to reach the airport. In the process of clearing out from the chaos Indro tried to reverse the vehicle not realizing that a Scorpio had sneaked into the gap and nudged it as well… It was a hilarious situation like a Comic Strip. Topshe had got down to check the damage while Indro started off and stopped after about hundred meters, Topshe came running and we immediately took off… the Scorpio driver was upset but as it was a Govt Vehicle, did not persue us further.

We reached the airport well in time without any further incidence. Checked in and flew back on time to Delhi. While at the airport lounge, Indro called up to inform that good sense has prevailed upon Topshe and he wasn’t going to Jamshedpur but staying back in Ranchi only. He moved up a floor to a new room at the same hotel. Topshe told us that following day Jagrata packed food for the train journey which was more than enough for all three of us… in fact it would have been good even if Ashish had joined too!!

We now look forward to the wedding, some time next year when a greater number of Langtoos (childhood friends) will join the merriment. Almighty willing, I plan to drive down then… a long adventurous drive…

Retired

I am really tired and RETIRED…

Every morning, the brain wakes up but the body refuses to budge…it creeks and ouches at every possible point… needs lot of cajoling and petting to stand up and get going through the motion called life. Though I would have liked to withdraw myself completely…kind of Vanprastha perhaps, but Madhav has cast his Mayajaal so elaborately that I have to wait awhile before I can start walking towards Dikshunyapur…

My friends are also into that sphere where they ought to feel really tired and retire… however, I am amazed to find the jest in them to continue their march on the streets of every day (mundane?) chores… I guess it is the desire for more and more and more…some intrinsic, some materialistic… it is like glued to the Keshav App created by Madhav Inc. I have more or less everything that I may need, in fact more than I need but the Keshav App says yeh dil maange more!!!

Couple of months back, we were considering in investing in a larger accommodation and had almost fallen for a 4-bedroom ultra modern apartment of around 4000sqft… then I, first reasoned with myself and then with my better half, “Do we really need that big a place to live”? The current place is a 3-bedroom 2000sqft apartment in a very central location and in a peaceful colony. Yes, it needs some amount of renovation or makeover… and then in few years time in the near future, it will be just two of living here…the son is itching to go to the greener pastures of a place called “abroad” and it may happen sooner than we can anticipate… Thankfully, she understood and let it go but also reminded me that in the absence of any Govt. Pension (being in private service), we would need a steady income every month and a rental income will be welcome in days to come when we will be completely obsolete both physically and technologically and shall be unemployable/ unbusinessable. I agreed to that…

Two years back I sold off my Duster as it was standing in the garage and literally rusting as we were away in Hyderabad and there was no certainty when we will be back. It was a diesel vehicle and usurped 60% of its life (10 years being the limit). Things looked up in the last quarter of 2020 and we took the decision to come back. Initially, it was okay with one car as movement was restricted due to covid restrictions but as the guards were lowered, we realized three people wanted to go to three different directions and one car cannot cater to all… in the month of June we bought the second vehicle… And now I am realizing owing to personal reasons, I cannot go for a spin as I would have liked to… most days both vehicle don’t move an inch from their spot. Hindsight is always wiser!!

In this current environment of covid scare still looming over our heads, the movement is restricted; we go out when it is absolutely necessary. Visiting relations and friends (vice versa) is practically nonexistent and I am afraid, it shall remain so in the foreseeable future. In such a scenario, one neither needs a big house throw parties nor an exhaustive wardrobe to change into every few hours. When we came back to Delhi after closing down Hyderabad chapter, I cleared up my wardrobe by almost 50%…logic being that if I haven’t missed those clothes for 3 years, they are redundant to me…donating them to the charities was the only good thing to do…

Going forward, I expect our basic expenses will be on everyday subsistence viz. electricity, water and food with occasional refurbishment of wardrobes and travels (till the body supports) and most importantly MEDICAL EXPENSES. Therefore, how much is sufficient or say a bit more than sufficient to carry on with the charade. I am not good at maths so I left that decision to my better half which I believe she’s good at… I am more philosophical and believe that if Madhav wants me wait a while, He will ensure the charade continues uninterrupted.

A few of my friends, in the very near future are destined to be told by their employer, “Enough is enough you have slogged too hard for too many years go and rest a while”… What will they do with the sudden but inevitable interruption and change of course… I don’t know for each has to cope with their unique situation. I have chosen to be the Bawarchi of my home and a writer of irrelevant stories to keep me going bonkers. I am a recluse, a loner and introvert…I prefer the back office rather than the limelight of the reception desk.

Years ago, when I had not become the cranky atheist, I had consulted the astrologers and numerologists to know what the future holds for me… More often I was told that I would be successful as a businessman… taking their cue, I plunged into it only to realize that to be successful in business, one has to take all kinds of crap from the customer and vendor with a smiling face… one can’t tell them that they are simply morons. The worst comment I received was ‘Aranjit isme mazaa nahi aya’ and that after spending two sleepless nights to create an advertising communication because that’s what the timeframe demanded by the client… I went back created half a dozen more layouts and copy and returned after one week… then, the client goes back to the first and approves it. I decided next time I hear such a phrase, I will tell them to go someplace else to get their Mazaa. I did tell one of them but I was called back once they realized the mazaa is a relatively elusive phenomenon in communication.

I failed to keep up the momentum due to factors within my control and beyond my control; I was/am stubborn and carry my ego on the tip of my nose and therefore refused to take anymore bull crap from anyone howsoever high and mighty they maybe…externally, the good fellas with whom I had established a rapport through diligent service decided to look for greener pastures elsewhere and their replacements had their own agenda which I refused to accept. Also, 15 years of anarchy with my body had taken a toll on the health and frankly the years were catching up fast and furiously so I called it quits. Now, I am told to open up a restaurant or at least a ‘takeaway’ outlet and I am scared of yet another failure… I know, I am a reasonably good cook… I have inherited the ‘taste factor’ from my mother and refined the presentation by keenly watching numerous culinary shows. But home cooking is different from professional cooking. I don’t know if I should or shouldn’t… I leave it to the future…  

Independence Day G2G

The Covid pandemic (second wave) and voluntary house arrest therefore has had some psychological effect on all of us. There have been mood swings to the extreme at times. What we needed was to come out of the shell. The infrequent visits to the mall or eating out wasn’t the kind that satiated our appetite for freedom as they were always laced with a doubt of getting the virus from unknown sources even if one is cautious. Then there was the ominous warning that a third wave hitting us in the end-July beining-August loomed over our head. Though, personally, I believed (and still believe) there won’t be any third (devastating) wave of Covid. The viral is here to stay with us but the effect will be milder unless there are any additional complications in the individual concern.

As I had mentioned earlier, we have a Whatsapp group Mastans of RBHS80, of school batchmates. We, on a regular basis chat on this throughout the day as per convenience of the members… and the members are scattered all over the world. Recently, we had the privilege of including Frank (Debashish Mazumdar) whom we hadn’t met after school and that’s 41 years!!! Therefore, it was earnestly felt that we must organize a get-together to meet our guest-of-honor, Frank. But it is easier said than done… to gather the lot residing in the NCR is a massive effort… everyone is busy in their own way and to come to a consensus venue and time usually takes 6-8 months of constant follow-up and cajoling unless some emergent situation crops up or someone gives a strong sting or bite to jolt us to action.

Three weeks back, the Kolkata Chapter of our group (Atish, Abhijit & Shiladitya) organized an impromptu get-together (G2G) when Indrajit visited the city on some personal work and had one afternoon free to meet the guys. They met at a Park Street restobar and enjoyed the company with beer and delicacies. The images sent by them stirred us to have our own G2G in Delhi. We discussed and almost finalized the date and venue. The usual venue for our G2G have been the DEN of Satya (a fully furnished basement) or the PENTHOUSE (top floor) accommodation of Ashish aka Hathi Bhai (though he has lost so much girth that he can no longer justify the nickname)… these are preferred because of 2 reasons… (1) We being Bongs tend to speak at a higher volume and when a group of 15-18 bongs does that simultaneously, the decibel reaches beyond the civic level. (2) Either of these places offers complete privacy for us to shed all inhibition (read maturity) and return to our childhood. However, we could not get the desired places to hold the G2G… Satya was getting some renovation done and Ashish had some personal issues to sort out… so it kept dilly dallying every time the subject was broached at the forum…

Then, Atish gave us a piece of his mind, a lecture that stirred us out of our slumber… his point was why can’t we have the gathering at a restaurant or hire a place to meet. Indro, as usual added fuel to the fire with his witty n spicy comments. It was valid point and we figured out two such places where we can meet… either Bijoli Grill at Banga Bhavan or Oh Calcutta at Masjid Moth GK-2. The former did not serve any liquor including beer and also don’t accept any reservation. We zeroed on Oh Calcutta who confirmed they will reserve the table if we confirm 48 hours before for the Weekend Buffet with Beer. Suranjan & I conferred and called out to others to confirm for the 14th August Saturday… few confirmed in affirmation but others did not respond… Satya had problem getting out of office on a Saturday for extended lunch but he told us to go ahead. Suranjan & I finalized for Oh Calcutta with approx 12 pax participation and was about to call the restaurant to book the desired table(s) when an elated Satya posted in the forum saying his basement will be available on Sunday 15th August as on that National Holiday, the workers won’t be coming and he will get the place tidied up for the occasion. It was settled.

The prep started with earnest… the first thing was to get confirmation of guys for the G2G followed by fixing of the all important Menu. We have about 20 members based in NCR out of which 18 confirmed their participation within couple of days (normally it takes anywhere between 6-12 months!!)… when it came to the main course, the choice was unanimous…Kosha Mangsho (sponsored by Roma & arranged by Ashish), Prawn Malaycurry (sponsored by Utpal & cooked by yours truly), Ghee-Bhaat Aloo Seddo (a Bengali delicacy)…completed with Mishti Doi and Rosogolla (sponsored by Alok & Gora). The Beer & Whiskey (sponsored by Suro & Alok)… the snacks was arranged by the host Satya.

The 15th August being on Sunday plus a National Holiday, it was difficult proposition to find parking space around pocket 40 CR Park but this was solved by Satya who arranged for our cars to be parked inside the colony park… all we had to do was to provide our vehicle number which was checked with the list before allowing entry.

In consultation with Utpal (UD) I had ordered 3Kg of Prawns (medium size as these are tastier compared to the large ones) and stored in the deep freezer. Then I faced the problem…my new LG668 ltr refrigerator malfunctioned… the freezer part declined to freeze but maintained the temperature just about zero degree. I was scared and kept checking on the status of the prawns every few hours. Then in the evening took them out and fried them…this actually helped the following morning in cooking the malaycurry faster than usual time. I tasted the curry, adjusted the salt and wallah habibi, it came out just perfect. I hoped the guys would like it…

Roma had some fascination for Kosha Mangsho (actually all of us have) and had promised to treat us for a long time…initially he thought of making it at his home and bringing but logistics issue cropped up and it was decided to get it cooked from a professional which Ashish managed through his contacts. Suro had arranged to send over the Beers to Satya so that we could enjoy absolutely chilled beer.

On the eve of the much awaited G2G, Supriyo, one of the first signatories to the Independence Day G2G had to back out as official commitment forced him to fly out to Mumbai thence to Nashik on Saturday. We missed him as also Pralay who was recuperating after a surgery.

This G2G was a bit extraordinary…defying the convention, most of the guys turned up well on time… I think it was because of the excitement of meeting Frank aka Debashish after over 4 decades.

Most of us reached almost simultaneously…I picked up Alok with his load of excessive Mishti Doi and Rosogollas. It was good to see Gora not only standing but walking without the support of a stick after being in bed for over 6 months with multiple fractures (8 to be precise) on his left leg and rib cage. He had a very bad road accident sometime in November end/ December last year. It was his sheer luck that his head and spine were not affected by the impact.

Debashish or Frank hasn’t changed much except putting on age appropriate meat but remaining as amiable as he was during our school days. He was the team Raisina Goalkeeper and excelled in that position. I was never a good athlete but covered it up being an excellent cheerleader. Unfortunately, he is undergoing a very difficult time but his positive attitude towards life is simply commendable and a lesson for each of us. I am not a prayer person but did speak to the One Supreme to heal him up fast.

Ashish was one of the last to reach but he was carrying 6Kg of Kosha Mangsho so he was excused for late coming!! But could not escape the barbs regarding his new found love for Basanti Chatterjee (totally fictional… imagined and created by yours truly). Ashish aka Hathi Bhai being such a sport absorbed all of it with his winning smiles… at one point it seemed everybody in the group were very well acquainted with Basanti Chatterjee and that stumped Runu Bouthan (Satya’s better half) because she knew us all for a long long time…she wondered how come she had missed such an important person in Ashish’s life!! I don’t know if Satya has told her the truth or charade continues… Talking about Ashish who was nicknamed HATHI (elephant) many moons ago in the corridors of Raisina because of his girth, is today a complete antithesis of that having lost not just the baby fats but even adult kilos becoming lean and trim gentleman with love for flowering shirts which he wore that day.

I had taken up the role of Barman and poured the chilled beer for everyone…Babua & Roma are teetotalers and opted for Limca…I poured a little beer in Roma’s Limca making it a Shandy… being a barman has the advantage for the self to drink as little as one desires… therefore I ensured the 16 large bottles (650ml) of beer plus 4 cans (500ml) besides approx 1 litre of whiskey were consumed by the gang before they had first grub of Ghee-Bhaat-Alooseddho… I, not being a Beer-Person, just about managed 2 cans of beer and it later affected my judgment… As I moved out of the parking, I realized I have forgotten my favorite baseball cap…Ashish sitting besides me called up Satya to bring it out and as we entered the narrow road (all CR Park/ GK roads are narrow), one auto following me started honking for pass, I tried to go to the kerb side but brushed a car, then after collecting the cap and reversing the car to move out I squarely hit the car behind which fortunately was driven by Roma otherwise a altercation was guaranteed.

I love the simplicity of food and Ghee-Bhaat-Alooseddho is just that… with which I started and by the time I went for a second helping it was over…the Bongs love their food and the good food doesn’t take much time to get over. The 6kg Kosha Mangsho and 3 Kg of Prawn Malaycurry were finger lickingly delicious and seeing the almost 3-score young adults relishing the feast was tremendously satisfying. I was much appreciated for the Prawn Malaycurry and the guys suggested that it should be a STANDARD MENU for all future G2Gs. The only thing that was in excess was the desserts with most guys going through age of diabetic, only “tasted” the Mishti Doi and Rosogolla… that left bulk of them still pristine in their packing.

Debashish was flying out to London following early morning and is expected back sometime in October…we agreed that the next G2G will happen then, may be as Bijoya Sammellon after the Durga Puja. Jaydeep, volunteered to offer his home as the next venue and in principle all agreed. He also reminded me to make Prawn Malaycurry which I am delighted to cook up once again. I have a feeling that some of our outstation guys will surprise us by participating in the Bijoya Sammellon.

Karol Bagh

I was born and raised in Karol Bagh, more specifically in an area called WEA (Western Extension Area). I have lived in 6 houses in the span of 24 years of life; though I don’t remember the house no. of 14A block where I was born (it belonged to a doctor named Dr.Bali) or the 3A block house where we stayed briefly but thereafter I remember each one of them starting with 5A/198, 6A/49, 5/20 and finally 12A/38. In 6A block and 5-block our stay was limited to 11 months and 22 months respectively as the landlady believed in rotating her tenants as frequently as possible.

I practically grew up in 5A/198 WEA from an infant to a 10 year old kiddo. This house was the smallest that I remember, had only 2 rooms and toilet, no separate kitchen but had storeroom adjacent to the staircase; it was also a bit haunted!! There have been instances that defy logic, for example, there was a window which would invariably open up as soon as the lights were switched off or during the winter nights there would be constant sound of people doing “Daandiya Dance” on the roof. My elder siblings vouch to have seen some old man gazing upon them as we used sleep on the roof during the summer months (Delhi used have cool breeze during the summer nights, hard to believe now). As far as I am concerned, I have seen a shadow of a bald man on the water tank of the bathroom once… I had a logical streak in me since childhood, so I had gone to the roof to investigate… believe me, there was nothing that possibly could create that shadow for I checked the angle of sun rays and waved to see if my shadow falls there and it did. At that moment, all by bravery vanished and I rushed to my mother’s lap in no time. Thereafter, I did not go to the roof alone for many days.

The 6A/49 ended my bathroom singing…I used sing Rabindrasangeet reasonably well (that’s what I believed) and on that particular day I was singing “Aakash bhora surjo tara…” full heartedly while taking bath when the old lady of the second floor was climbing up the stairs with her two dogs. The booming sound (not my voice but due to the closed boxy bathroom) made the dogs very excited/scared and they started pulling on the leash which almost toppled the old lady. Fortunately she let go of the leash and avoided a nasty fall down the stairs. My siblings made so much joke about it that I stopped singing from that very day.

Coming back to the haunted feeling, the 5/20 definitely had the presence of some unholy soul…like most (old) houses in Karol Bagh, it had 3 interconnected rooms, the first and the last room used to get sunlight but the middle room was always dark or at best get some twilight. Therefore, this particular room was ideal for the residence of the “one who could not be seen”. It remained just a feeling till my eldest sister, one morning, complained that someone shook her bed violently during the night. We all said she might have had a bad dream and did not give much thought to it. Very soon, she got married and moved to another part of the world (Germany) and I inherited her bed. Few months down, I was woken up in the middle of night with a jolt…some invisible being was shaking my bed violently. It stopped as soon as I jumped out of the bed and woke up my younger sister sleeping on the other bed. We switched on the light but there was no one; my parents were soundly sleeping in the middle room and my brother on the third room. My logical brain suggested earthquake and we awaited the morning newspaper for the confirmation, but there wasn’t any earthquake… not even minor tremors in the vicinity of Delhi that night. For the rest of our stay in that house, we rearranged the beds and not just joined them but tied the legs of the bed with each other just in case something or someone repeats the mischief.

5/20 WEA also provided my sister with her life partner, Abhay…they just celebrated 38 years of happy conjugal life… Almighty bless them.

At the end of that year (1977) or early next year we moved to 12A/38 WEA…this was perhaps the best with lots natural night and air. The old landlady was contended with peaceful tenants and we fulfilled that criterion pretty well. There were two other tenants who had been there for many years and continued even after we moved out.

Growing up in Karol Bagh was fun as a large chunk of my school buddies also resided there and would meet every evening to play or just for Adda. On week days we used to play “short pitch” cricket on the driveway of Babua’s house. Babua was “Sunil Gavaskar” in that format, very difficult to bowl out. Then there was Gora who would bowl leg spin googlies…those days I was a fan Prasanna and would try to emulate his bowling giving lot flight and in the process get hit for boundaries after boundaries…though sometimes I would get the prized wicket of Babua. In all probability, he used to get tired hitting the boundaries losing his wicket to one good ball of mine on that evening.

On rainy days we would huddle in Babua’s home, he had a spare room where would assemble to play carom or a game of TwentyNine (it’s a card game played between four players divided in two teams…details of the game are in 30 Years in aranyascope.com).

The game of TwentyNine is a very addictive game…one day during summer holidays, we decided to have lunch out and went to a restaurant (more of a dhaba really) in Gaffar Market to have Mutton Boti Tikka Masala and Naan. I remember the food to be finger licking delicious and absolutely pocket friendly in those days. Post lunch, we assembled at our makeshift club house (the spare room) to play TwentyNine. In the evening Mashima (Babua’s mother) served us some snacks along with tea. We got so engrossed in the game that we lost count of the hours till my brother came searching  for me around 11pm!!

That room served as our fireworks factory as well, Manas had the formula for making “Tubri” or “Anaar”. We purchased the clay pots and other ingredients and under his strict guidance made the harmless Anaars that sparkled on the Diwali evening…it was a proud moment for us.

During the summer holidays and on weekends, our favourite sport used to be football… there was (and still exists) a park that used to be a graveyard earlier adjacent to a cremation ground and next to an ice factory (don’t know if it still exists) where we would play football endless number of hours. I was never a great athlete but would participate in the game in full sportsman spirit. If we became thirsty, we would simply drink from the hose of ground water that used to water the grass and never ever fell sick… I guess those days even the ground water was eminently potable. On our way back, we used cleanse our system by having a “masala lemon soda” (kanchawala soda with masala).

Two of my very close friends (from school) Pronob and Atish would sometimes come over from school; my mother would immediately cook up Egg Curry and rice for all of us. They would stay till evening and join other friends for simple adda. Sometimes, while on way to drop them at the Aryasamaj Road bus stop we would drop in at the South Indian restaurant just off the Ajmal Khan Road Market for Dosa or Idli-Vada depending on the strength of our pockets.

Those days, pocket money used to be limited and mostly used to get over much before the month concluded and one would have to beg from the siblings. So, when our classmate and friend Pradipta Paul offered us contractual job for a week to make some extra money, Gora & I immediately accepted it…the job was to put up a makeshift stall in front of a medicine store on Ajmal Khan Market to sell Anchor Toothpaste. We did fairly well and the end of the week made some 2000+ bucks between two of us. The experience came handy later on in sales promotion when I was managing the Hajmola brand and also during my brief stint with Emami Foods…marketing WAH brand of snack foods across the country.

In the senior classes, we had tutorials after school and would therefore reach late and hungry. Most days we would take a bus that would drop us at Pusa Road (Sadhu Vaswani Marg)… we would walk down through the Ajmal Khan Market doing window shopping and stop at the Jainsons Westend shop where a “Matar-Kulchawala” and Kwality Ice-cream vendor awaited us. We would have a portion of spicy Matar (25paisa) and a orange bar (50paisa) every day…some days we would get into a bus for Aryasamaj Road and would miss out the delicious masala-matar. Some days if we reached late (4pm) then we could get Fruit Chaat or Aloo Chaat from the street vendor near the Punjab Stores (17A Block).

Few incidences or events that have remained etched in memory…

  1. Picnic: We decided to go for a picnic in the Jungles behind Majnu-ka-Tila…menu for the event was simple Mutton Curry and Roti…none of us had cooked before barring brewing tea and occasional omelet at home. Manas insisted on buying mutton that had lot of fat, logic being that the mutton would cook faster in its own fat and will be tastier. We made two makeshift oven using the available rocks and twigs. The whole energy of the group was spent in cooking the mutton and Roti and it took over 3 hours and at the end the rotis that came out was thick enough to qualify as “Pan Pizza base” and we literally fought to extract the mutton from the bones!!
  2. One of our classmate, Sonjoy Banerjee who used live just opposite of the school in Gole Market area, had bought a new bicycle and rode it Babua’s place to show off (none of owned a cycle and used to rent out for couple of hours in the evening). After some time, Babua decided to ride the bike and insisted that both Sonjoy and I also sit (sonjoy on the rod in the front and I on the carrier). He said, “Lets drop Sonjoy home and we will come by bus”.  We had not gone more than 500 metres when Babua hit a autorickshaw headon, fortunately, none of were hurt but Sonjoy’s bicycle got badly damaged. He started crying for it was a brand new cycle… we caught hold of the autorickshaw driver and forced him to carry the cycle as well as Sonjoy back home. We promised him that in case the cycle can’t be repaired we will buy him a similar branded cycle. I think he managed to get it repaired because we did not buy him a new cycle!!
  3. We used to hire bicycles and go for a ride in the evenings…on one such occasion, Subhro, a very close friend but brilliantly eccentric who had recently managed to cycle around the streets without banging on anything or persons decided to join us. We told him to remain in the group lest he get lost. To be on a safer route, we decided to explore the Pusa Institute Campus where one of our classmates, Sandeep Mukherjee resided…it used to be quite secluded and good for cycling. There, we met Sandeep and talked to him, he took us around to some hitherto unexplored areas of Pusa Complex. Till then all of were together including Subhro and we were enjoying the traffic free, pothole free well laid roads of the campus but it was getting late with sun going down on the horizon…we wanted to back in Karol Bagh before it got dark, so we bid goodbye to Sandeep and started our ride back home. When we had reached Prasad Nagar, we realized Subhro is not with us, someone suggested he had rode ahead of us, so we continued looking for him right till the shop from where we had taken the cycles on rent but he wasn’t there… we decided to go back the same route looking for him…our worst fear was that he might have banged someone or something. Nearing the park where we played football, in the twilight of dusk, we saw an erect figure coming towards us, cycling furiously, when the figure came close we could recognize Subhro and called him out, but he did not respond and kept cycling. We chased after him and after some distance could stop him on the side. Instead of being sorry to leave the group, he shouted at us for leaving him behind. Once he calmed down he said that his cycle chain had disengaged and as he needed a support of the footpath (like now) or some boulder to alight he continued to roll some distance on the Pusa complex till he could manage to stop it along a dump of stones, then with some difficulty put the chain back on track…by which time it was dark and he got lost inside the campus. With the help of a good Samaritan, he finally managed to come out of the campus and maneuvered through the busy streets of Patel Nagar and Pusa Road to reach inside Karol Bagh. We had no choice but to apologize to him.

It wasn’t that we were only interested in boys only games, we were definitely interested in girls but being in a Bengali govt. aided school, we had serious complexes talking to opposite sex. One reason was that we used think and compose our conversation in Bengali and tried to speak in English, the result was hilarious to the recipient and humiliating to us. So, we could only have crush on some the neighborhood girls…we did not even knew their names…we gave them names of our choice and fantasized… being civilized boys we never eve tease any of them…it was pure admiration.

Once, Babua’s parents had gone to Kolkata for couple of days on some urgent family related work providing us with an empty house and abundant ways of mischief. We were in college and till then had never seen any x-rated movie and now were the time to watch… Satya had a VCP and we hired a color television and couple of ‘sensational’ (as claimed on the cover) video cassettes. Had our dinner at our favourite dhaba at Gaffar Market and all set to watch. Our KB friends Atish and Pronob had joined us too…we had decided to spend the night at Babua’s place and informed our respective parents so… Anyways, the tech guys of the group tried very hard for over an hour to sync the VCP with the TV but they simply refused to coordinate with each other. Atish and I were looking out at the night time street view when our attention caught view of a bedroom just across the road… meanwhile Babua, Manas, Suranjan and Gora were planning to play TwentyNine and taken out the carom board as well to divide the group to play as one wished. Babua called me to join him but instead I hissed out to him to come over. The entire lot scramble to the window to have a look…the whole thing lasted for about ten minutes but to us it seemed eternity. To this day it remains etched in our memory.       

My sister and brother-in-law, Abhay used to live in the next block across the street…one day we friends along with Pronob who had come from the school with were standing below our house when Abhay was returning from office on his Yezdi motorcycle. I had recently learned two-wheeler driving and wanted to show-off to my friends. I requested him lend me his bike for a test drive which he obliged. The Yezdi/Jawa motorcycles were notorious for the back-kick and as luck would have it even after several kicks the bike wouldn’t start, instead it gave a solid back-kick that made my sleepers fly to a distance. I let it go as it was getting dark and Pronob wanted to get back to his home in Lodhi Colony. We walked with Pronob to drop him at Arayasamaj Road bus stop from where he took the route no. 89 which would drop him at the base of Safdarjung Flyover and he would walk to his quarters in Block-23 of Lodhi Colony. Later that night, I was woken up with extreme pain in my right foot accompanied by shivering and fever. I was unable to put my foot down let alone walk a step; I called my brother who helped me reach the toilet and later gave me a paracetamol tablet to subside the fever. In the morning our (the then) house physician Dr. Pradeep Baruah visited to check and said it was a ligament rapture and advised complete bed rest for three days. I never touched the Yezdi in my life!!

My brother had bought a Premier Padmini car (pre-owned) and I learnt driving the four wheeler from a trusted driver of USSR Cultural Centre (through my sister who worked there) and as promised by him. It was a blue color car and I loved driving it around Karol Bagh…those days petrol used cost around Rs.7/- per litre!! One evening, we (Mano, Roma, Abhay, my sister and I) were chatting standing below our house when we saw a Road Roller that had recently laid the road was slowly rolling down…initially we thought it was going back to the shed but as it closed in, to our horror, we realized it was without driver and rolling on its own, directionless… I shouted to my brother to drop the car keys so that I can move the car from its path but my brother was slow to react and the roller hit the first car on its path and continued to maul whatever came on its path. The car just before ours moved to the other side of the road on impact, climbed on the footpath and hit the wall of the house there. The road roller then was directly on our car and dragged it for some distance before the car got stuck on to a street lamp post. It was badly damaged from all around but became a hero for saving bigger calamity. The police investigation confirmed that some miscreant from the nearby slum had turned on the key to start the machine and then released the hand brake before jumping out of it… the insurance paid the bare minimum for the repairs…the front fenders, two doors where the roller had finally hit and the trunk lid had to be replaced…the blue car came out white after spending weeks in the garage.

We have always lived in a rented house and my brother decided to move to the posh south Delhi… and bought a floor in Greater Kailash Part One. It took almost 4-5 months to get it renovated and was ready to move sometime in April of 1987. It was around this time that I had joined Dabur in marketing and enjoying the easy commute from Karol Bagh to Connaught Place and back. However, to live in one’s own house was a dream and we decided to bid adieu to Karol Bagh in the first week of May 1987. Since, my brother had the new home furnished completely, most of our existing furniture were given out to needy people. I think, I was the trigger as soon enough, Gora, Roma, Babua and Satya too moved out from Karol Bagh to their own houses scattered over the NCR. But Karol Bagh remains fondly etched in our memory as this was the place where we grew up from infant to teenager to young man. Few years back after dropping my son at St. Michael’s school on Pusa Road for a competitive exam, I took Deepika to Karol Bagh to show the places where I was born (it hadn’t changed) and the last house where I lived before moving out…I couldn’t recognize the place, it has changed…the character of WEA Karol Bagh has changed completely…from a peaceful residential colony it has transformed into a fully commercial hub of the city…every house on the street where I lived has either turned into a hotel/hostel or a shopping complex. It was heartbreaking not only for me but all my friends who were once part of Karol Bagh. Unless it’s a must go, I don’t think I will ever go there again.       

School Days

We have a WhatsApp Group called Mastans of RBHS80 comprising of Class of 1980 of Raisina Bengali School, Mandir Marg (the original one). We discuss everything from sports to politics to religion to philosophy to x-rated subjects… we consider ourselves as Utracrepidarian (is someone who is in the habit of giving advice or have an opinion on matters of which he has no knowledge…like a politician)!!

Today, we were discussing some funny and naughty incidences during our school days and I thought why don’t I pen down the some of the memories before it fades away with age?

I joined the school in Class 4 as my parents wanted the child to learn mother-tongue Bengali and the best (at that time) was Raisina Bengali Higher Secondary School. My brothers had gone to Union Academy School but it was no longer in demand by the time it was my turn to join the high school.  Anyways, the first friend that I can remember befriended me was Manojit Dasgupta aka Gora…

One evening when I had gone out play with my colony friends, he came searching for me in a full size cycle, and pedaling it in scissors style (I never could do it)… I got the details from my sister who couldn’t remember his name but knew his sisters (being in the same school, Vidya Bhawan). Next day, she found out where they lived and took me to meet him. That day we formed a friendship that is now more than 5 decades young and continuing. Together, we have done few adventurous trips, which I have written elsewhere (Summer of ’83 at aranyascope.com) and have shared our joys and sorrows and fought for each other as well as with each other.

The next one is Manas Kanti Chowdhury who joined in my class (and section) after the summer break. I used to take the School Bus from a stand across our residential block, there were many other students but mostly seniors of Middle School (class 6 to 8) and as that age group does, they royally ignored us, the juniors of Primary School (class 1 to 5). In such a scenario, one day, a gentleman with two kids holding his either hands joined our bus stop… the gentleman looked around and fixed his gaze on me for few moments and then approached me and asked my name and introduced me to his son Manas (my classmate) and daughter Mitali (probably one or two class junior). The friendship continues till date despite losing touch post school and reviving it some two decades ago through the initiative of my enterprising friends of RBHS80…

When I joined the school, Raisina used to be co-ed till class 6 and thereafter only for boys, however, this was to change later… by the time we completed the middle classes, the school decided to become coeducational institute. We welcomed the change as some of the heartthrobs of primary school rejoined us in class 9… one such sweetheart was Kanika Chatterjee…

It used to be ritualistic (even now, I believe) to distribute candies to classmates on one’s birthday… Kanika on her birthday gave away 2 candies to everyone barring me… she gave me a handful and thus the rumor spread like wildfire that she had a crush on me… while the truth is that neither of us had any inkling about it… I was ‘informed’ of the ‘status’ by one of my class as well as bus mate Nobin Ghosh… While returning home in the school bus, he asked me in a conspiratorial tone, “Do you know the meaning of mohabbat?”  I truthfully told him that I had absolutely no clue about it. So, he continued and explained not only the meaning of mohabbat but the significance of those extra candies as well.    

The next incident that I recall is of Ashish Banerjee aka Hathi… The incident was while we were in class 7, Ashish used to be FAT and I was close to be called anorexic but so were many others. Ashish was nicknamed Hathi (and till this day he is instantly recognized by that)… in one of our class (verbal) fights I said to him, “You’re Hathi’r Baccha” meaning son of Hathi. He complained to the class teacher Reena Didimoni. She asked me if it was true and I confirmed… She was perhaps impressed with my truthfulness and instead of reprimanding, she humored both of us and said, “Instead of calling him Hathi’r Baccha, you should call him Baccha Hathi”… and to break the ice, she arranged for ICE CREAM for the whole class. Ashish remains a Buddy till date.  

The Class 8 brought with it our first share of ‘Group Punishment’ and helped develop a deep rooted bond that got rekindled about 15-16 years ago through Facebook and flourished through the years. The incident happened in class 8, one day, after the first period we had 2 periods off due to non-availability of teacher and the replacement teacher happened to be the PT teacher who sent us away to ground (Pahariwala ground) to play football. Let me tell you a bit about our school geography… the entry to the school is from the point where Peshwa Road connects to Mandir Marg… there are three schools, on the extreme left was DTEA, then in the middle NP Boys (now renamed Atal Adarsh Bal Vidyalaya) and extreme right is Raisina Bengali School (erstwhile Raisina Bengali Higher Secondary School). As you climb up the stairs from Mandir Marg, there are two lawns on either side then further up you reach the schools…the ground where we went to play is right behind the NP Boys on top of the hillock and it belongs to our school.

We went to play in the second period and should have come back by the end of third period (70 minutes) to attend the fourth period of Maths just before the recess. However, as with the boys of that age, we got so much involved in the game that we forgot the time (and I don’t recall anybody in the class having a wrist watch those days). One of our classmate Amit Mukherjee came down to the main building to drink water (we had no concept of carrying water bottles, packaged or otherwise) and was caught by the Maths Teacher Shri. Shyamal Roy Chowdhury. He asked Amit to get us all back immediately. We were all lined up outside the class and each one was given lash of cane on each palm and a hard slap on the left cheek… no discrimination about first bencher and last bencher. The recess for us was cancelled and we had to continue with the math class.

In the next class (Class 9), the girls returned to the school, few old ones including Kanika and few new entrants. The initial euphoria of having her back in school and that too in the same class was quickly evaporated when it was established that the class Hulk Biswanath Ghosh aka Bishu and Kanika had become (unofficial) couple. I was in touch with them till college days and knew about their flowering romance but lost touch thereafter. So, it was a shocker when I met the school buddies after some 20 years, to know that Bishu and Kanika had a breakup and she had moved to Canada where she tragically died of cardiac failure…the imaginative grapevine in a hushed tone suggested suicide!! Whatever may be the cause, it was tragic and I pray that her loving soul have attained Moksha. Om Shanti.

Another important thing happened while we were in class 9, we had a new Principal Shri Amarnath Banerjee who joined us from Sainik School, Purulia, West Bengal. He was a strict disciplinarian and extremely good administrator. During his tenure, Raisina flourished under his able guidance.

If the class 8 incident bonded the friendship of the classmates, the incident that happened in class 10, helped (some of) our bonding with the dreaded English Teacher, Shri Bablu Sanyal, affectionately nicknamed Jagga (as in Jagga Daku). He had a very short fuse and not just the students but the whole school including some teachers used to dread him and avoided crossing his path. Our friendship with him ensured immunity in the school from seniors as well as the teachers. Moreover, being in his good book automatically put us in the good books of maths, commerce/accountancy and biology teachers as they were close pals.

Class 10 meant we were to appear for term end Board Exams and the new Principal wanted good results for the school. He called for Tutorial Classes for the Board appearing students to be held every day after the regular school time. This was told to us in the morning (first class) by our Class Teacher Shri Bablu Sanyal aka Jagga and he advised that we all have “a tutorial note book for each subject”…we assumed the classes would start from the following day. However, it was a shocker when he landed up in our class as soon as the final bell rang. He asked us to open our “Tutorial Notebook” which none of us had barring few good boys who had un-used notebooks and took them out, but that number was significantly miniscule. It was a Monday and Jagga used to be in terrible mood on Mondays due to hangover from previous evening merriment. Realizing that most us do not have the Tutorial notebooks and have quietly taken out our “Rough copy”, he flared up and demanded to know why we have disobeyed him. The clever ones, including this one kept quiet but there are idiots and one such guy blurted out, “But Sir, you asked us in the morning only, how could…” the poor fellow couldn’t finish the sentence as a solid slap landed on his cheek… a few more were planted on some others who were in the vicinity of that idiot. He then, very quietly asked us to explain the meaning of “Gunny Bag” picking it up from one of the chapters from the text book. We surely knew the meaning of Gunny Bag but in Bengali, he wanted us to tell him in English!! Some of us probably knew the answer but in the tense situation we were all dumb-stuck. This time his fury fell on the well built hulks of the class including Bishu and they were welcomed to the class 10 with few blows that are etched in their body and mind till date. However, the very next day, he called some of us and told us to be successful, we must be prepared for the unexpected…it was, I guess (now), perhaps a way to apologize for his unwarranted behavior. He remained our Class Teacher through the rest of the years and “the gang” as he used refer to some of us became his protégés, for him we were beyond any mischief. What happened in the following year, made him proud of the class that was under his tutelage.

We were in Class XI and just before the HOLI, the colourful festival, the Principal Shri Amarnath Banerjee who by now had been affectionately nicknamed “Ganderi”…I will come to the reason a little later as to how the name evolved, announced in the Assembly that no students shall bring Gulal (Aabir) or any colour to play Holi in the school premises. If he hadn’t announced, nobody would have thought about it but since he said, it was decided to defy the order. On the Chhoti Holi day (the day before Holi), Bishu was all smiles as he showed us the Gulal packets in his bag. It was decided that the “Play” would take place in the recess. Jagga Sir could sense our planned mischief and jokingly warned us, “Remember, you can’t hide the color.”

As planned, we all splashed the Gulal on each other including the girls…we had 2 girls in our Commerce section but the Humanities students also shared the same class room which had around 6 girls out of their total strength of 11 students. As soon as the recess finished, we were hauled up at the Principal’s office in our colorful Avatars. Shri Amarnath Banerjee aka Ganderi wanted to know who had brought the colors so he could punish that fellow only for defying his dictate. But to his surprise, none of us opened our mouths including the girls and were ready to face the repercussions together. He kept on asking “Who brought the colours?” and Bishu, like a broken record kept repeating “I had the colours, Sir”. Though he was speaking the truth and perhaps trying to save the rest of us but it was not the answer that Gander Sir was looking for… in the process each of us got 3 or 4 lashes of cane on our palms and bums… one of the guy Utpal Das Sharma used to wear loose trousers the lash only fell on the trouser missing his flesh and he exclaimed (quite vocally), “Dhur Shala!!” meaning WTF. The Principal couldn’t figure out who said it and lashed out at the nearest student, a guy called Debashish Chatterjee or Chatu, a smart aleck who cried out, “more gelam” meaning “I am dying”. We were further detained for one hour once the school got over.

Looking back, I feel bad about some of my fellow classmates who were really innocent but stood by us with full solidarity…some of them were good friends of mine as well viz. Probal Ghosh (since kindergarten school), Taposh Dey, Niladri Mallick and few more…

Shortly thereafter, we all sailed into our final year of school, we were ‘The Seniors” and notorious as well but loved by our teachers and students. The Principal, Ganderi Sir had also accepted the fact that we were beyond redemption and thought once we leave school, peace would prevail.

Let me come back to the naming of Shri Amarnath Banerjee, in fact most of the teachers have had student given nicknames…some of them not so alluring… so I am refraining in spelling out those.

Well, when Shri Amarnath Banerjee joined our school, he immediately realized that the senior students, though are quite vocal amongst their fellow mates, they lacked the confidence of public speaking; of course there were exceptions. So, he initiated a process where the senior students from each class/section will give speak for few minutes on whatever subject of their choice, each day at the assembly. To break the ice, he recited a very famous patriotic poem in Bengali titled “Kandari Hushiar” by Kazi Nazrul Islam. So he instantly became Kandari (meaning the Helmsman or Steersman) of the School and later mutated to Ganderi (I will not tread the path to explain further… Samajhdaro ke liye ishara kaafi hai)…

We were in the final year of school and most of the students had by then decided their future course of life and accordingly they started preparing. But then, guys like us who neither had the vision nor had any counseling to tell us what we should aim for in the future. Our aim was therefore to clear the Board with best results and get into a college for graduation and job thereafter. In short, we were bindaas about our future. I had a longing to join the Defence Services (NDA) but my physic would not allow (I was thin like a stick with a potato head).

Anyways, like what the Principal said before Holi, he dictated that no one should burst crackers in the school premises before the Diwali. He shouldn’t have said that… it simply rekindled the thought of revenge in us… we planned well, both in terms of weapon of choice (the gola and sutli bombs), waited for the opportune moment and timed our moves perfectly. The result was a series of cracker burst at different locations near the Principal’s office when no one was around the places. The masterpiece was the one that blew out the nameplate of the Principal, we were with Jagga Sir discussing the game of cricket (his favourite sports), very far away from the hotspot but could hear the Bang. He looked at us and we acknowledged our handiwork in the ongoing ruckus thereby making him a partner of our crime. We also knew that he will now save us with all his might. The Principal also knew that it was all our doing but we had perfect alibi and witnesses, he couldn’t do anything. Revenge was served cold but boldly and the class of 1980 became Legend for years to come…

We passed out and went ahead in our lives but the bond that was formed in those days have only strengthened over the years and we hope it shall remain in the future as well.

Lost in Translation

The last week of June was not only hot but sultry humid as well. I guess, it was always like that but we did not feel it being in Hyderabad (in the past three years), where the monsoon comes mid-June or latest by the third week to ease the humidity and heat.

It was a Saturday morning, we were having tea when Deepika said, “It’s exceptionally hot this year.” I casually replied, “Then you should go to Tibbot (Tibet)” referring to the famous Bengali children’s book called HOJOBOLO authored by Sukumar Roy, father of Satyajit Ray. However, my joke fell flat on Deepika, being a non-Bengali has never heard of such a book let alone read it. In fact, I remember having bought the English translated version of HOJOBOROLO & ABOL TABOL, also by Sukumar Roy. Both though were good attempts at the translation, completely missed the essence of the original. The little nuances like Chondrobindur CH, Beraler Talbo SH aar Rumaler MA, hoye gelo CHOSHMA is perhaps untranslatable!! Coming to Abol Tabol, the English version is simply painful, the poems therein doesn’t even bring smile to your face… forget about a hearty laugh. How will one translate Ramgorurer Chhana or Tnash Goru or Kumropotash? In fact these words/names were non-existent in Bengali vocabulary before the book was published and has now become everyday use.

In context to the translation and adaptation of stories, our film makers are both masters and damp squibs. Recently, Netflix advertised and promoted a composite cinema called Ray to pay tribute to the Maestro on his birth centenary. It is cinema of 4 independent stories based on the short stories of Satyajit Ray. Now, let me tell you that SR wrote those stories for the children (Feluda & Prof. Shonku) and young adults. In his story, there was no glamour, sex or explicit violence. Also, none of his stories were judgmental. He allowed his readers to draw own conclusion about the characters.

In the film RAY, the first two stories are directed by Shrijit Mukherjee, third one by Abhishek Chaubey and the last one by Vasan Bala. The first Story based on the short story named Bipin Babu’r Smritibhromi is called Forget Me Not… WHY? If you are paying tribute, why not stick to the original name and the story? Why include unnecessary glamour and sex-up the screenplay? I am sure, the rustic environs of the original story would have been equally, if not more, appealing to the audience. Also, the multiple revenge angle to story and ultimate fate of the character is a sure shot bollywood potboiler rather than a Satyajit Ray story. Creative freedom is welcome but not at the cost of losing the script. The same thing happened in the second story as well, Bohurupi, the original story adapted as Behrupiya. While, in the book, the central character of Nikunja Saha is engaging and keeps the reader engrossed, in the film Indrashish Saha is good in parts but fails to impress… there’s a unnecessary coitus scene added which does not exist in the original and frankly, it would have not made an iota of difference if it was edited out from the final version. Both the cinematic versions are eminently forgettable.

The third story, Hungama Hai Kyun Barpa based on Barin Bhowmik er Byaram perhaps is the best executed among the four. It sticks to the essence of the original story and Musafir Ali played by Manoj Bajpai is engrossing while portraying the emotions as he recognizes the person from whom he stole a traveling watch 10 years ago. The end is humorous as well giving a fitting tribute to the Maestro.

The last one Spotlight, the original also of same title, maintains the similar storyline but again goes over the top to glamorize and adding unnecessary footage. The dialogues are dragging and at times vulgar. You won’t miss much if you haven’t seen it yet.

On creative freedom, there’s limit to where you can take a story or song from the original version. For example, Rabindrasangeet has been in existence for almost a century now in its classical form, some love it while some (I know of people) loath it. You cannot sing a Rabindrasangeet in ROCK-n-Roll format or jazz it up with hard rock music. Recently, I saw an attempt at singing RS in hardrock format on YOUTUBE and I wanted to slap the singer then and there… he was not murdering but slaughtering the song. Similarly, there are stories which are best if followed in its true essence.

Lastly, if you really want to taste the brilliance and humour of ABOL TABOL and HOJOBOROLO, I sincerely suggest, learn the language (Bengali), it is one of the sweetest and easy to learn. If you do so, you will surely thank me.