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.     

30th Anniversary

The second wave of covid came like a tornado and affected most people that I know of… it touched me personally as well. Deepika was tested positive and isolated herself for two weeks. Fortunately she was asymptomatic and barring few days of lethargy and fatigue she was otherwise in good shape.

I lost my sister on April 3 due to multiple organ failure due to kidney infection but was post mortem declared to be covid infected. She was cremated as per covid protocol which prevented my older siblings to pay their last respect to her as her mortal remains were consigned to the fire god. She had many issues in life both health and emotional but her passing away has still not sunk in… even now!

Then, later in April 26, Deepika lost her Chachaji (uncle), the last patriarch of the family to old age. He had kidney infection for last few years and had been on dialysis, got covid infection while visiting the hospital for the treatment, recovered but succumbed to post covid complications. Deepika alone went to pay her as well as our last respect to the departed and somehow picked up the infection that very day.

The April-May 2021 has been the bearer of worst kind of news… practically every day we were given some bad news of departures of friends, colleagues and relatives which numbed us in more ways. There was always an element of uncertainties of the future…each day we thanked for being alive and untouched by the virus. To top it, the city was in lockdown, nowhere to go, not even to pick up grocery from our preferred store(s). We desperately wanted to get out of this morbid situation and run, run to wherever we could, we needed some positive boost…

I have made six journeys to and fro Delhi-Hyderabad which is approx 1600km each way in our trusted Toyota Corolla Altis in last three years. Then in December we went to Naukuchiatal, Uttarakhand in the same vehicle and realized that the sedan is good in the plains but one needs an SUV to enjoy the hill drive. In the beginning of March we looked around for a new vehicle and after checking on Kia, Hyundai, Tata, zeroed on Jeep Compass but then lockdown happened!!

Meanwhile, the Altis was nearing its 4th Birthday (in July) and also the end of its company lease, we paid up the residual amount and decided to lease the new vehicle from the company. However, it had to wait for the lockdown to ease and the auto showrooms to open. Finally, on June 13, we took delivery of the Jeep Compass from the Gurugram Dealer. In a way it was our 30th Anniversary gift from the company!!!

Except last year (2020), every year for last at least 20 years we have taken a short vacation around June 20 to celebrate our anniversary and this year we were simply desperate to go out of the city. But it wasn’t safe to go just anywhere, the second covid wave had instilled a fear in all of us. After lot of deliberations and search, we decided on Naukuchiatal for two reasons… (1) Availability of an independent fully furnished house for short stay, and (2) Our good friend Sanjay Dutt was stationed in the proximity in his own Villa with sprawling lawns where we can unwind.

Last time in December, we left Delhi in the afternoon and faced lot of traffic congestion on the way, so this time it was decided to leave as early as possible around 5/5:30 am. In December we had taken Rolf with us and he was visibly very uncomfortable not only during the travel but even during our stay. He is 12 human years old now with rheumatism issues, so he was left at home under the care of the housekeeper and Guddu, the driver turned man-Friday to walk him twice a day. It did pain me to leave him but I consoled myself that it was for his good only. And it turned out to be a good decision because during most days of our stay it rained and it would have been a challenge for Rolf to walk and do his job in the wet surroundings.

We started off exactly at 5:30 am from home and reached the Bharat Petroleum outlet at Moolchand in about 10 minutes considering the empty streets. I needed to tank up but as I entered the station I realized something was amiss… the outlet had no power supply and wasn’t able to dispense the gas. The next outlet (Indian Oil) on our route was at Nehru Nagar which was thankfully operational and we tanked up.

As we hit the highway, the speed limit eased up to 100kmph and I pushed the paddle, as soon as the speedometer crossed 80kmph, there was beeping noise and the dashboard screen warned that I had breached the speed limit. It was not just confusing but irritating too as the road sign clearly mentioned 100kmph as speed limit and at 80kmph I was well below that limit. We tried calling up the Jeep Helpline but they were helpless…the lady on the desk was very sympathetic and offered us towing service which we declined as politely as we can. We tried the various options to stop the beeping but it won’t stop so we decided to live with the annoying beeping and drive on. Much later, we came to know that all new vehicles (2021 onwards) have this warning beep pre-installed at 80kmph followed by 2 beeps at 100kmph and continuous beeping as one breach 120kmph…this is the new safety feature as per the GoI directive. In a way it is a welcome measure if it can reduce road accidents due to over speeding.

Although we had decided not stop for breakfast (we carried sandwiches and stuffed parantha) at the Nirula’s outlet at Gajraula but had to stop to use the restroom and had much needed coffee to revitalize. As we left, the Sun started playing hide n seek with the clouds. The rain started as we entered the Muradabad bypass road and remained with us till we reached our destination, giving some respite intermittently. To enter Uttarakhand, one needs to have RTPCR Negative Report and Registration at the govt website (Smartcity Dehradun) along with the details of one’s stay. This is checked and recorded at the entry point of the State (for us it was at Bazpur) where they give a token which again is checked at Kaladungi . Having started early, we were lucky to be the first ones at the counter and got our token in less than 5 minutes. At Kaladungi checkpoint, we simply flashed the token from our vehicle and were cleared to proceed. I guess, because of the conditional entry, the number of tourist entering Uttarakhand was relatively less compared to Himachal where there was a 6 km long traffic congestion to enter Shimla.

It took us 7 hours to reach our destination, by far the fastest that we ever made it. Sanjay along with Sridhar aka Siddu, his son was there to greet us and informed that lunch will be served at his place just behind our temporary abode.

Thankfully, the rain had stopped and we could take out our luggage and other stuff from the vehicle. Must point out here that we carried basic cooking utensils and our own crockery/cutlery sets not wanting to use any third party stuff (if available).

We freshened up and went to Sanjay’s place. On earlier visit, Sanjay had been little paranoid about the pandemic and respecting that we had mostly stayed outside the house enjoying the winter sun and breeze. But this time he was more relaxed, probably because all of us carried a negative RTPCR report!! He had ordered food for a party of at least 25 people starting with burgers, pizza, roast chicken and biriyani. We were stuffed for the day!!

Since, we had no intentions of any excursion (having seen most of the scenic sites in our numerous visits to the area), we decided to relax and played cricket with Siddu letting him hit the ball every time. The joy that he had was priceless. We had the good fortune of having Chewbacca (Shih Tzu) as a fielder but she would reach the ball but couldn’t fetch it as the ball was a bit too big for her to bite.

In the evening, we played our favourite indoor sports of Dumb Charade and the card game called TwentyNine. The former is game where one team gives a name of a cinema (Hindi or English only) to a member of the opposing team. The person has to act without uttering any word or noise or pointing to any physical being/things and that team has to guess the name within 2 minutes. It starts with easy names but ends up with tough ones as competitiveness overshadows the camaraderie. My team lost when I could not enact “Serendipity” successfully.

The Twenty Nine card game is primarily a Bong game, invented and vigorously played by every Bong that I know. It is played with 32 cards between 2 teams of 2 players each. The cards in the game are Jack (3 points) Nine (2 Points) Ace (1 point) Ten (1 point) King, Queen, Eight & Seven (no points but have face value). The person next to the dealer calls for point starting 16 (minimum) and can go up to 28 points (maximum 7*4=28). The card no. 6 (all 4) is used for marking the win (Red 6) and loss (Black 6). My team (Sangeeta & I) lost the game to the other team (Deepika & Santanu). It was not my day for sports… instead I opened the bottle of Double Black to relax.

Following morning I woke up around 4:30 am to the sound of chirping of an unknown bird which continued for an hour… I tried to look for it but couldn’t locate the source of the chirping. This would happen every morning of our stay and perhaps otherwise too.

We were informed that there’s “weekend curfew” in place throughout Uttarakhand and all shops including eateries are closed on Sundays, so we had bought bread, butter, cheese and eggs for breakfast. Lunch too had been ordered from a “Home Kitchen”. One half of our entourage was avermse to having breakfast and the other half Dinner!!

In the pre-noon, we drove down to the lakeside and parked at a convenient spot and walked around the lake…the view of the surrounding was breathtaking, the mountains have turned green after the rains and the clouds played hide n seek with the Sun making the nature sparkle.

The lunch was typically home cooked food, light and tasty and made us sleepy, moreover, it started drizzling so a quick nap was what I decided is the best thing to do!! In the evening we went to Sanjay’s house for the “Adda” with Uncle-Auntie. Both were very happy to have company after a long time, we reminiscence our earlier trips to various places in the pre-covid times.

The Double Black bottle got over between the four of us and the Glenlivet was opened too for one round along with the dry snacks that we brought from Delhi. The leftover from the lunch was consumed by those who wanted to have dinner besides the Maggi…the aroma of Maggi made me drool but I resisted the temptation.

The following day was our 30th Anniversary and Deepika planned the lunch menu in consultation with Sangeeta and Sanjay before we called it a day.

I made simple breakfast of cheese sandwich, omelet and orange juice for Ayush, Ming and myself. Sangeeta had Maggi while Deepika settled for Milk with Cornflakes. Thereafter, we drove down to Bhimtal to pick-up our lunch from Machaan (Chinese) and i-Heart Café (Pizza & Pasta). Although it was Monday and open for business, the traffic was still very sparse, moreover, the most of the restaurants were open for takeaways of pre-ordered food only. Besides, the RTPCR report being compulsory had turned away many tourists away from this sector. Anyways, our orders were ready at both places which we picked up and returned home. The lunch was spread out at Sanjay’s home as we wanted Uncle-Aunty to be part of the celebration. Post lunch, the real kid (Siddu) and the adult kids (Ayush, Ming & Jhukku) played Ludo & Snake-n-Ladder which became quite interesting with many ups and downs.

Later, in the evening, we once again played Twenty Nine and this time it was Husbands versus Wives!! We were 1-2 down when I got very good cards and decided to play Single Hand. In Single Hand game, your partner puts down his cards and you have to win all the hands, which I did with ease and we went ahead. However, the final result was tied to one set each. This was followed by “20 Questions” where everyone participated.

The following morning was pack up time for departure. I made cheese sandwich for all of us and boiled the residual eggs for the road. Once again it was decided to go non-stop to Delhi but one needs to stop to answer nature’s call too…

Ming, driving the EcoSport took the lead and I followed him as he said he knew of a shorter, less congested route, but I kept the GPS on for safety. It was a smooth drive downhill and within an hour we made it to Haldwani from where Ming took a turn in to a road which to me looked like a lane… as we proceeded, I was thanking Deepika for picking up the Jeep Compass well in time… the road was full of potholes and narrow and still had speed breakers (god knows why)… it would have been a nightmare traversing this phase in Toyota Corolla Altis… but Jeep navigated the stretch with ease and soon we reached the highway.

We stopped at the KFC outlet at Gajraula (just opposite of McDonald’s) to use the restroom and pick up food. At this point we bid goodbye’s to Basu’s as they wanted to proceed… we ate inside the car before proceeding to Delhi (I hate eating while driving), stopping at Brijghat to pick up some mangoes… and reached home around 4:30 pm, once again covering the distance in 7 hours…

This, much deserved break was indeed very relaxing and helped in rejuvenating the home-stuck tired souls… Look forward to more easing up and the next trip… I want to drive down to Goa!!

Our Friend in one of the bathrooms

Home Coming

2020 saw us celebrating quietly the Durgotsav followed by the Kojagori Laxmi Puja at Hyderabad home for the first time in 3 years with the prospect of spending the Diwali as well in Hyderabad.

Also witnessed the fast aging of Rolf and the general apathy of the vets towards senior dogs… he needed medical attention and clearly it was not happening in Hyderabad…

So, when Deepika said she’s moving to another vertical within the same organization and it is based out of Delhi, it was a joyous moment for all of us… we are finally going back to home!!!

It was just after the Laxmi Puja, the confirmation of her movement to another vertical within the same organization came through. When we relocated to Hyderabad, Deepika & the maid, between them carried 7 suitcases and 3 handbags in their flight with AirIndia, paid extra for 20kg. The rest of the essentials were carried by me in Toyota Altis along with Rolf. We were squeezed and it was a difficult journey for not only us (me and the driver, Guddu) but Rolf as well. However, 3 years of running the second home has seen accumulation of stuff that now could not be fitted into the suitcases or in the car. So, we looked for a packer & mover using trusted Google. Many names showed up but most were specializing in movement within the city or in the southern part of the country. There were two that said pan India and reviews showed happy customers that had used their services to relocate up north. We checked with both and finally settled with Agarwal Packers & Movers. Since our load was not full container, it was clubbed with other Delhi bound materials…we were informed the distance would be covered in 4-5 days or max 7 days. We called them a day before the departure of Deepika & the maid so that there is no interruption in WFH. Ayush & I were to start our journey by road 2 days later.

Being a type 2 OCD (perfectionist) I preferred to pack certain items myself, and boy, I am good at it…just like a professional or more!! I had ordered for the cartons, bubble wrapping sheet and the adhesive tape from Amazon and those arrived on time for me to pack the fragile and delicate items besides the personal stuff like my collection of pens and stationery, decorative items made of brass and glassware. The total number of packed items including 7 suitcases turned out to be 40 in number filling out the minivan that the cargo company had brought with them. We were blessed that there was no hard furnishings like bed, sofa, cup-board and refrigerators were involved in the shifting as we had rented a fully furnished (including crockery-cutlery-utensils) apartment.

Once the cargo company was gone, as is natural, we realized there were some items which could easily have been sent through them but now had be carried in the car. I was clear that, I will not overload the car and compromise on the ease and comfort of Rolf and us…rather leave the items in Hyderabad. At the end, we had to leave behind the planters that were blooming besides few other insignificant things.

I dropped off Deepika & the maid at the RGIA on Friday 6th November and drove back on the ORR for the last time. Packed the last of the items and put them in the trunk of the Altis and fitted out the back seat for Rolf’s comfortable journey. The following morning (Saturday) Ayush & I finally locked up J-003 NCC Urban and handed over the keys to our neighbor as discussed with our landlady.  Initially, Ayush had said he would like to drive some part of the journey but once we hit the road, he comfortably settled in the passenger seat!!

The 1600km journey back home was generally incident free; Deepika had booked us at the Hotel Jalsa in Sagar, MP for our overnight break. The hotel was informed that we will be checking-in late and leave early morning and that a 4-legged guest will also be with us. Since, we had stayed with them in 2018 they knew about Rolf and welcomed him. The Jalsa hotel is a vegetarian place, so I carried rice and chicken (frozen overnight) for Rolf. We also had carried cheese sandwich and boiled eggs, some of which Ayush & I had in the car, deciding to limit our stoppages in the covid times.

We left NCC Urban around 5:45am and followed the route suggested by Google and reached a point which made me doubt about the route and I stopped to check and recalibrate it to our first stop instead of Delhi. It still showed the same route with a minor change and we continued… it was a new route bypassing the Medchal and taking the Pipeline road to connect with NH44. What seemed to be a longish route actually saved us 30 minutes; I had decided to stop at Doon Family Dhaba on Nagpur Bypass but missed it completely. Ayush suggested that we have the sandwich and eggs for breakfast and stop only for the lunch at Go Flamingo Resort, Pench, Maharashtra. Rolf doesn’t eat anything while on the journey so I had fed him before we started…one boiled egg and buttermilk.

We reached Go Flamingo Resort around 2pm covering 600+ km and had our lunch. Rolf drank a litre of water and release similar amount as well. The 30 minute break did us good and we continued our journey to the first point covering the distance of 350km and reached Hotel Jalsa around 8:30pm. I must say, Ayush is a good navigator as he directed to the hotel with complete accuracy. The road and surrounding of the place had changed completely since our last visit…earlier, the road was narrow and congested but now it has widened beyond recognition with ample parking space in front of the hotel. It showed that if the govt wants to develop the infra, then it can do so in the shortest time too. The same is the story of NH44 as well…the Pench Corridor used to be a nightmare till 2019 but most of it now is 6-lane concrete carriage way, only a small part of not more than 6km remains under (active) construction and I am confident that as I write this, probably that part also stands completed. I must also mention here that Telengana govt too utilized the lockdown period to develop the infra of Hyderabad and completed long pending Durgam Cheruvu suspension bridge as well as the flyover on Road no.45 Jubille Hills, reducing congestion on Road no.36 and reducing commute time between Mindspace/ Hitech to Jubilee Hills Checkpost Road connecting to Banjara Hills/ Begumpet area.

The following day we had breakfast of stuffed paratha and fed Rolf with the balance two boiled eggs and buttermilk and started around 7am for the final 600km stretch. Since, the final destination now was home, we were relaxed decided we will have only one or two short stops only to relieve ourselves and stretch our legs. I was bit apprehensive about the bovine menace that we had faced earlier in and around Sagar, MP and parts of UP but to my surprise all those scattered cows have magically vanished from the highway, only a few could be seen grazing on the sides. The road between Jhansi and Gwalior was notoriously bad in our last journey but pleasantly, it was surfaced now and we had a smooth run. We had stopped on Jhansi Bypass for about 10 minutes to relax a bit, feeding water to Rolf and us too.

Ayush said, he would like to drive once we hit the Yamuna Expressway but once we reached there around 3pm, the skyline was getting dim with polluted air and he said it would be better if I only drive through and reach home at the earliest. We stopped only to fill up petrol on the Expressway and reached home around 6pm, breaking my previous record of 12 hours for the distance. Here, I must say that throughout the journey all the Toll points had FasTag system and we sailed through those smoothly but both Taj Expressway (Outer Ring Road of Agra) and Yamuna Expressway surprisingly are out of the ambit of FasTag and only accepts cash. And their Tolls are highest in the entire 1600km journey!!!

As a safety protocol, we observed self quarantine at home getting the daily requirements delivered from the local grocery and vegetable shop. We had reached exactly a week before the Diwali and the home needed to be lighted up for it so allowed the electrician to come and fix the lights. In that week long quarantine, I broke the rule only once to get Rolf checked up by the vet and giving him a bath all along maintaining physical distancing with people as much as was possible.

On Diwali night, we went to my in-laws place to play cards and for the first time I won handsome amount. It was a great feeling meeting them all after a year plus but for next few days we were little apprehensive about covid and stayed home, especially for Ayush as he was going back to Bengaluru the following Saturday morning.

It’s been four months since we have come back to Delhi and though it is a great relief to be home, we do miss certain aspect of Hyderabad… the openness and greenery of the NCC Urban, our abode there and the departmental stores across the city whether it was Spars, Reliance, Big Bazar, Vijetha or Q-Mart…all of them were big spacious and well stocked up compared to what we have in Delhi (around our home). Coming to Delhi, my driving has also come to a halt with Guddu rejoining the services immediately on our arrival. In fact he was there to help unload the car when we reached…he assumed his job is secured and we also felt supporting him at this critical juncture would be humane gesture. Since, there’s not much driving around with WFH in place, he helps around with other requirements including walking Rolf in the evening and sometimes in the morning as well.

In these four months, we have attended two weddings and went for a 3-day short vacation to Naukuchiataal, Uttarakhand. Both the weddings were eminently avoidable but for the relation of the sources…one was Deepika’s cousin and the other her childhood friend. In the coming days, there are more invites but frankly we are a bit skeptical about our participation in view of the rising cases of infection across Delhi and rest of the country.

On Deepika’s insistence, I got my first jab of Covishield under the co-morbidity (diabetic) clause on 15th March and was expected to have fever as per the collective wisdom of those who already got it… nothing of the sort happened except that the following afternoon, exactly 24 hours later, I suddenly felt dizziness and profuse sweating as if I am about to collapse. I steadied myself and had half a bar of dark chocolate and a bottle of cold water…in about 15-20 minutes I was absolutely fine. Thereafter, I had lunch with Deepika & Ayush but they never realized what I went through in the previous half hour… I too kept mum about the incident, no point in alarming..

One of the reasons for coming back to Delhi was the health of Rolf and I am happy to say that he is in much better health thanks to his vet who understands him very well having treated him since he was a puppy. He still limps a bit sometimes but overall in a much better space considering his age. In April, he will be 12 (human) years and in one corner of my heart I am saddened that with every birthday he is inching towards the rainbow bridge. But now, it is celebration of life with my sweetheart Rolfie…

The OCD & Other Thoughts

There are 4 types of OCD:

  1. Contamination
  2. Perfection
  3. Doubt/ Harm
  4. Forbidden Thoughts

I have huge Type 2 OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), honestly, I don’t know if it is good or bad or ugly. I like to keep things in their proper places. I have often straighten up the framed pictures/paintings at places like doctor’s clinic, in client’s office, at friends or relatives home, and not just wall hangings but arranged furniture as well; always switch off the lights/ fan/ AC while going out from hotel room. I am told that my OCD has increased during the lockdown and WFH in the past one year. I don’t deny that because earlier, I was spending less time at home and even the other members too would leave for work early in the morning returning late evening. The entire house was at my command and I would ensure it is in proper shape without any external influence. However, with WFH, both my wife and son being at home, it is democracy now and I am no longer in control of things. This would cause stress and friction and I would often get irritated and at times show my angst.

The show of angst apparently has a negative effect on my son and he would shut himself in his room. Then my wife would vent her emotions and the cycle would go on…

Recently, I was reflecting my relationship with my father in my twenties. There is no shame in admitting that though it was friendly but never intimate with him. I never shared my work life trials and tribulations with him though he would routinely enquire about my job and general well being. Frankly, I was busy building up my career, preferring company of friends rather than spending time with my aging parents. Now, if my son in his mid-twenties does the same thing I have no reasons to complain but it feels sad to drink alone while he’s around.

I am often told that with my temperament, I should have been in the armed forces… in fact, in initial days in Hyderabad while walking Rolf in the neighborhood, many thought I am a retired army colonel, especially as I carried a baton to ward off the stray dogs!!

Coming back to the OCD, I am sure it is not genetically passed on to me because none of my parents had it, they were most liberal and accommodating and socially amiable. So, why I am like this?

Well, one of my sisters is a cleanliness freak: I remember, she had put up a signage at her home in Kashmere Gate that actually said, “NO SHOES/ CHAPPAL BEYOND THIS POINT”. In her home, the hair cutting of all the male members are a ceremony itself and had to be done on the same day…once back from the salon, each one should enter at a time and go straight to the bathroom to take bath, while the other(s) should stand outside. She had many such weird ideas and would force them on her husband and two sons. However, over the years, she had mellowed down or perhaps the guys have become rebels…

I am not that crazy!!!

I am a perfectionist or try to be one. Back in Dabur days, every year there used to be bunch of Management Trainees joining and they would routinely be sent to me for orientation. My word of advice to them, at the end of the session, would always be, “Try to be a perfectionist now because you will have to make lots of compromises as you climb up the corporate ladder.” I do not know if any of them had taken me seriously and had followed the advice.

The idea of perfection makes one an awkward guest in matters of interpersonal skills. You tend to lose the art of diplomacy and are blunt with your observation to the point of being rude. This definitely affects one’s career growth because no senior would like to be corrected at every corner. However, it gives a feeling of uprightness and pride that no one can snatch from you.

Coming back to the point, where it started, I often wonder about why I acted in certain way or why I am obsessed with the balance of things around me. Why it affects me if the ‘forks’ are kept in the same slot as that of ‘spoons’ or if the towels are not folded in a particular way. The answer to these is frightening…

With no occupation, gainful or otherwise, I have developed a feeling of being useless, a handicap to the other members of the family. In short, my existence doesn’t matter. This did not happen overnight but slowly and gradually over the last few years. My actions and language, if I may be blunt, is that of a frustrated loser who is trying hard to remain relevant to his surroundings.

I know that I have to get out of this mindset, but how?

Till few years back I was doing freelance designing and creative writing though it was not a regular affair but I used to be occupied at least 10-15 days a month on such assignments and moreover, since I was selective in accepting the job, it was mostly, intellectually fulfilling if not financially. Then in the end of 2017, I had to relocate to Hyderabad and all such opportunities simply vanished. I did some online content writing just keep myself occupied but they were poor both intellectually and financially and I lost interest in pursuing them. One particular organization still owes me money…

Also, around this time I had serious health issues and was confined to bed for more than 6 weeks… making me lethargic and it also made me question my ability to do anything…the self confidence took a nose dive. I became hesitant to talk to strangers and became a recluse…ready to dive into depression but thankfully I survived.

I started spending time in the kitchen…experimenting with traditional recipes and creating my own concoction. There have been disasters but only in terms of the look or getting overcooked but never on taste. My mother had passed on certain things genetically and I think the culinary skill is the best one…I am not boasting but the people who have tasted my food, do certify that it taste quite similar to what mom used to make. Obviously, I will never be able to reach her level… I tried making Punjabi Kadhi-Pakaudi, though it was edible, it lacked the zing that she could bring out.

Having worked in five star hotel kitchen for nine months, discipline and hygiene in the kitchen is ingrained in me and I generally keep the workstation clean as I work, keep washing the used utensils after use (not leaving it for the maid to wash up later) because, the dirty utensils can pile up and become eyesore (for me). However, my wife is just the opposite… she would work in the kitchen with gay abandon… so much so that once she had left her mobile phone inside the refrigerator and had looked for it not just through the house but the entire housing complex!!!

Anyways, it seems my working style is too dictatorial… it is my way or highway kind.

So, we have come up with a solution, I don’t enter the kitchen while my wife or the maid is working there and I don’t allow anyone to come inside while I am cooking. I don’t mind cutting the raw veggies, meat, fish on my own because based on the dish, these has to be cut in a particular shape…you can’t have one item shredded and the other cut in cube!! I am told it doesn’t matter but it does matter to me not just emotionally but scientifically too… if the veggies are cut in similar size and shape, they will cook uniformly and will look good in the dish as well. 

The pandemic and resultant lockdown, restricted movement has had an effect on my culinary journey too. Anyone, who loves cooking, would confirm that if what you are cooking is not shared with others, it is no fun anymore. The whole of 2020 and I suspect 2021 will too see a taboo in get-togethers or very restricted entertainment. The sword of covid contamination is still hanging on our head and frankly, we are scared of meeting friends, relations… especially, because of the rise in cases across the country once again, as I write this…

Therefore, my active participation in the culinary sphere is also getting restricted to cooking up for my son whenever he’s home.

My other passion is reading & writing but that needs a cool, stress free mind… where do I find it?

There are at least 3 books which are in various stages of unread, in last 2 months I have picked them up to complete but haven’t moved beyond couple of pages. My dear friend Indrajit had been coaxing me to pick up the pen or rather open the laptop…I ended up translating a couple of posts that I received in whatsapp message…then my other dear friend, Monojit said, “These are nice but please write something original”.

To write something through imagination needs the mind to be uncluttered and to do that, I thought it is best to write down what’s on my head right now and be done with…

Hopefully, the next one will be a hardcore fiction with lots of action…     

RX 100

After a brief tryst with advertising agencies, printing presses, hotel management and media space selling, I finally found my calling when I joined Dabur in Marketing in April 1987.

I was living in Karol Bagh and office was in Harsha Bhawan, Connaught Place with ample commute options the office timings of 8:45am to 5:45pm was dream especially after slogging morning till late evening in media sales… one couldn’t leave office till boss decided to call it a day!!

Then all of a sudden the floor that my brother had bought in GK-1 and getting it renovated was ready and we shifted there in the second week of May… and my problem started immediately…

Those days in Dabur, there used to be an attendance register where everyone (barring the directors) had to sign in at entry as well as exit time. The register was kept at the reception counter from 8:30 am to 9:00 am and thereafter it was sent to the desk of General Manager Marketing who was also the head of the entire office, all verticals included. He would circle the slot of all those who couldn’t make it by 9:00 am and 3 such circles meant half-day leave gone. From GK-1 there were only 2 buses that connected, one was route no. 401 to Super Bazaar and the other 440 to Jantar Mantar. The former suited me more as it was the shortest walk to office the bus stop while the latter involved 15 minutes walking. But the service of 401 was erratic and the route was long. I would typically leave home clutching on to my buttered toast eating it on way to the bus stop and sacrificing my lunch box most days, still I would barely check-in just around 9am. Then it so happened that I missed the bus twice in a row and ended up in the super boss’s cabin to sign in…he didn’t say anything but gave me a questioning look. Next 3-4 days I took an auto-rickshaw to be on time but it was an expensive proposition considering the salary I used draw those days.

I discussed my predicament with my immediate boss and he suggested I buy a 2-wheeler. It was easier said and done as there was a strong opposition from home about 2-wheelers especially by my brother who ironically was with Escorts Limited Motorcycle Division as Advertising Manager. Then over the weekend I checked my bank balance and surely it was not enough. I spoke to my sister invoking confidentiality clause and requested for a loan. The deal was that I would open a Recurring Deposit Account for 36 months and the entire proceed will go to her.

Once the financing done, I visited the Welfare Shop, the Yamaha & Rajdoot motorcycle dealer, at Savitri Cinema Complex… actually it was the only company owned dealership. I deposited the cash of Rs.15800/- for the Steel colored Yamaha RX100. I was asked to get the Ration Card for address proof (those days that was the only authentic proof of residence). I called up my boss and informed him that I would be taking the first half off on Monday to take delivery of my bike.

On Monday, I went back to the dealership with the Ration Card. I hadn’t told the manager there about my brother so he was quite surprised that I hadn’t gone through him and availed the employee discount of around Rs.1200/-. He said he call him and arrange for the discount but I stopped him and said “If he comes to know, surely you will loss sale of one bike”. He then gave me some free accessories like the rearview mirrors and a Stud Full Helmet in black color. I was asked to take the bike to the RTO at Tilak Marg for registration along with the logistics guy from the dealership. Those days, and even later the vehicle registration happened immediately on purchase. In fact some of the Maruti dealers used keep the registration numbers with them and if you were friendly with the guy, he would let you choose the number too…

Anyways, it took about an hour for the formalities and my bike was given the number DBW 822… a sort of VIP number!!

The guy from the dealership gave me a bunch of paper and requested if I can deliver those to the manager at the dealership. Since I had taken the first half leave and wanted to get the feel of my bike, I agreed and headed back to GK-2. And I got the first taste of biking within 15 minutes!!

As I was rolling down the Oberoi (hotel) flyover, the front wheel started wobbling and I maneuvered the bike to left side of the road before stopping. The tyre was flat in no time…the sun was on top and roaring and I had to push the 125kg bike… however, a good biker stopped and gave me a valuable suggestion… to start the bike, put it in first gear with little release of clutch will help the bike to roll easily without damaging the tyre. Luckily for me the petrol pump and the “puncherwala” was close by and on the very first day, I had the punctured tyre repaired. Surprisingly all through the 11 years that I had the bike, that was the only puncture I ever had.

I am fond of powerful machines (within my means) and in those days the most powerful bike was Rajddot (Yamaha) RD350 with 38bhp, but it was way beyond my reach with a price tag of Rs.30000/- plus. The next option was this RX100 with 11bhp… all other available bikes viz. Hero Honda CD100 and Ind-Suzuki( later TVS) 100 cc bikes were in the range of 7-9bhp. The RX100 could do 0-60 km in less than 10 sec and I did it many times during my biking days. Another thing was it could sustain a constant speed of say 60kmph for as long as you want without any power loss or throttle pressure. On the flipside, the petrol consumption was much higher than the contemporary 100cc bikes but I didn’t care as I was enjoying the flying experience with my RX100.

Coming back to the first day first show… I reached office around 1:15pm after depositing the document files at the dealership, well before the beginning of second half of the day. My boss immediately demanded party which I promised when I get the salary following month…he settled for a pack of Gold Flake King packet of 10’s for the moment. I didn’t mine because I knew it will be shared and I will take more from him in days to come (I was a smoker then). However, I could not deny my friend RD Sharma few mugs of beer at the Nirula’s pub in the evening.

I reached home later than usual and all the 3 members, my dad, mom and brother were on the balcony looking out for me… I was the cool dude who expertly parked the bike at the common area on the ground floor and went up to meet the questioning looks of my family. Of the three, my dad was cool about it, probably knowing it was futile to counter now but my mom was quite agitated about the traffic and probable accidents waiting to snatch her son away. It seems, the manager at the Welfare Shop couldn’t keep the secret and had spilled the bean to my brother during the day. “You could have asked me, I would have arranged for discount” he said.

“Oh yes, you would probably have instructed every dealership not to sell any bike to anyone sounding like me” I retorted.

Later, my father asked how I had managed the finances and if I need any money. I told him it has been taken care of and explained him the deal I have made with my sister.

Needless to say, thereafter, with my own transportation, I was never ever been late to office throughout my “rat race years”.

The bike came handy when as brand managers we had to compulsorily visit markets alongside the sales executives and travel across the city. And later when I briefly left Dabur to join Emami Foods with its office at the crowded Asaf Ali Road…the parking was easier, anytime of the day.

I always romanticized about riding the bike with my girlfriend on deserted roads at high speed while she would hold on to me tightly…just the way it was in the bollywood cinemas… however, the problem was my so-called girlfriend was far away in Kolkata/ Vishwa Bharati University, Shantiniketan. She was busy worshipping Maa Saraswati while I was trying to please Maa Laxmi. So, I had no choice but to wait for her to visit Delhi to live my dream.

Meanwhile, my friends had opted for Honda, Suzuki and Yezdi bikes and we would often meet on Sundays and roam around the city. On one such rendezvous, we had gone to the Tibetan Monastery market near ISBT for a plateful of chowmein and tomato-egg drop soup besides checking out the fake Wrangler/Levis Jeans (those days these brands in original, could only be imported through a foreign returning relative or friend). After a satisfying lunch of egg-chowmein with lots of red chili powder in water masquerading as chili sauce and real green chilies in vinegar along the egg-drop tomato soup we haggled with the shops selling fake jeans but did not buy. As we were departing to respective home, I had my friend Gora on the pillion whom I promised to drop at home in Noida, an autorikshaw hit my rear tyre making the bike slightly wobble. Even before I could control the bike from this rear assault, it suddenly swerved to the left and hit the front wheel throwing both of us on the ground. My other friend Babua was slightly ahead on his Yezdi, he immediately stopped the autorikshaw from fleeing. After giving him a good thrashing we realized the guy was completely drunk. Looking at the commotion, the police in their Gypsy came down, we explained what happened and looking at the state of the autorikshaw driver, it was their turn to thrash him to his senses. We didn’t want to press any further charges, so left the place. The net loss was my brand new t-shirt which got torn when I fell down. Gora shifted to Pronob’s Hero Honda CD100 who was going to Mayur Vihar and it made sense for him to go a little further to drop off Gora in Noida.

I was in regular touch with my so-called girlfriend or I should say pen-girlfriend as we were mainly talking through weekly letters which were soon to become weak!!! Anyways, she informed in one of her now infrequent letters that her family has planned a vacation of Dehradoon-Mussouree-Hardwar-Rishikesh during the Durga Puja holidays along with some close friends. I realized, it would be one chance to meet her and take her on a bike ride and the best place would Hardwar-Rishikesh stretch. I asked her to let me know the final itinerary but did not divulge my plans…I wanted to surprise her. However, I did not know what cruel surprise awaited me!!!

So, once I knew the dates, I asked my friend Pronob if he was game for a long distance biking and he immediately agreed.

At home, I informed that Pronob & I are going to Rishikesh but did not say anything about biking. When asked why I am taking the bike, I simply said that I would park it at his place and take the bus. At his home, Pronob also said the same only that I will leave the bike at my home and take the bus. We started around 8 in the morning and reached Khatauli, the midway township. We stopped for something to eat and drink. I spotted the shop that shouted out “Chilled Beer” on large banner. We bought 2 bottles of Kalyani Black Label and had Matar-Kulcha from a street side vendor. Since it was Pronob’s turn to drive now, he was entitled to max half a bottle or just enough to quench his thirst. We reached Hardwar in the afternoon and checked into UPSTC (Hardwar was still part of UP State) hotel by the Ganga. It was newly constructed place with ample parking and nice airy big rooms. The view from the room was awesome, on one side the river Ganga was flowing in full glory while the balcony on the other side offered the view of Chandi Hills and the temple on top. We had quick lunch of dal-sabji-chapati at the hotel dining room, needless to say, the place served only vegetarian food just like any other place in Hardwar.

I had no idea where my girlfriend was putting up but instinct told me that she along with her family could be found in and around Har-ki-Pauri. Our hotel was on the other side of the river so we drove down to the main parts of the city where the action happens. After parking the bike at an authorized slot, we walked down to the ghat area the milling crowd thronged. The place resembled mini Kolkata…full of Bongs talking in high pitched voice…enjoying their Puja vacation…some would soon take out their “monkey cap” as soon as sun sets on the distant horizon. Most of the eating joints had large menu boards in Bengali to entice the prospective customer…the most famous outlet being “Dada Boudi’r Hotel” and perhaps the oldest Bong hotel in that area.

Till then, I haven’t told Pronob the real reason behind our impromptu visit to the holy city, and I kept it that way as I guided us to the eating joint through the crowd. Sure enough, I could see my girlfriend at the distance with her entourage sitting on the bench kept outside the hotel. I approached her and said, “Hey, what a surprise!” sounding it was a chance meeting and I had no inkling about their visit. She too sounded casual and introduced us to the gang. I knew most of them through my visits to Kolkata but there was one set of people whom I have neither met nor heard of before. After the pleasantries we talked generally about their vacation and sightseeing…I told them about our adventurous motorcycle expedition from Delhi to Hardwar to Rishikesh. I invited them to our hotel for evening tea later and moved on but there was something amiss that nagged me…soon I was to find out.

We went up to the main Har-ki-Pauri ghat to touch and bless ourselves with the holy water of Maa Ganga and also to fill up small 2 litre plastic canisters with the holy water for back home in Delhi. Back at the hotel, we ordered for Samosa & Kachauri (famous tea time snacks) and tea to be served when the guests arrive. The hotel had less than 50% occupancy probably because it was new and still unknown to the tourist or perhaps the tariff was too high for the pilgrimage seeking crowd. So, they were delighted to fulfill the order.

Once back in our room, Pronob finally asked, “What’s the deal bro? I know you are not religious deep down to visit Hardawar…and were you really surprised to see her?” He is my childhood friend and very intelligent so I told him the details of the plan. He thought for while and somberly said, “Be careful on what you do hereinafter.” I did not much about his comment then but in hindsight, he probably had seen the unseen chemistry existed within the group. Anyways, I told him about my escapades in Kolkata and visits to Shantiniketan to meet her whenever I could manage a furlough from work.

The group came around 5pm and I invited them to come up to our room for an informal atmosphere rather than sitting at the dining room which they agreed. The snacks along with tea were instant success… the chitchat began but I was only watching her…somehow she looked distant. Pronob saved the day through his earnest engagement in the ongoing conversation. Suddenly, she got up and said, “Let’s go for ride on your bike, before it gets dark.” Pronob also echoed the thought and practically pushed us out of the room before anyone could interject. As we were climbing down the stairs I could hear her mother saying, “Drive carefully.”

We drove aimlessly choosing the less crowded roads and soon came to an isolated spot from where one could watch sun set behind the mountain range. The sight was beautiful but my mind was in turmoil. I took her hands and said, “We are in love, let’s get married.” She looked at me and then removing my hold on her hand, said, “I can’t… there’s nothing common between us to bond. Moreover there’s someone else in my life now.”

“What are you saying? I love you so much.”

“Yes, probably yes, you love me but not vice-versa.”

I was shocked by such rude retort and choked on emotion… “Who is this new guy in your life?”

“You saw him earlier today; he’s the professor at the university.”

“So, what was that between us? Wasn’t that love?” I persisted.

“I thought about it and realized, it was just infatuation that led us to some lust moments. We simply mistook them as love. You shall realize that too in times to come. But now, it’s getting late, we should go back to the hotel.” She said calmly.

I was raging inside and drove back in really high speed making her cringe…forcing her to hold me tightly which she had avoided till then. A kind of sadistic pleasure that made me calm down.

Climbing up the stairs, I stopped her and said, “Let’s have a last kiss, a parting away kiss.” She refused but the devil inside me urged me to force kiss her one last time.

The following day we checked out from the hotel and proceeded to Rishikesh. We had a quick visit to the famous “Laxman Jhula” a suspension bridge that connects Tapovan village of Tehri Garhwal to Jonk village in Pauri Garhwal. The “Jhula” refers to the swaying of the bridge one feels while crossing it. While returning, we stopped at roadside eatery and had “Bedmi-Puri-Aloo” again a famous breakfast dish across the northern parts of the country.

The return leg saw Pronob drive up to Khatauli from Hardwar as I needed the rest having driven the Rishikesh leg of the journey. The drill was similar, he drank 1.5 bottles of beer while I just satiated my thirst.

That day I had vowed never let a female sit on the pillion and never to get married not knowing that soon enough, both will be broken. But that’s another story for another day.

I had the RX100 with me for 11 long years and then sold it for Rs.18000/- making a sweet profit of Rs.2200/-!!!  

         

For The 90’s Kids

Pratyush was getting very irritated sitting at the Bank’s reception with his father for over an hour. He had finished reading the 3 months old India Today cover-to-cover and had observed the people, mostly of older generation coming in for such trivial issue such as updating their passbook or withdrawing cash which can be done at home or any ATM. His irritation was now solely aimed at his father and he blurted out, “I told you so many times to learn on-line banking, but you are so adamant.”

“What will be good in learning internet banking?” His father asked.

“You could have easily done this job sitting at home… what more, you can actually buy things sitting at home through on-line shopping apps. But you won’t go for such easy method… you will waste valuable time sitting here.” Pratyush continued.

“Okay, I understand that if I could use online banking, I would not have to step out from home.”

“Yes, precisely, we need not have wasted the last one hour sitting here.”

Ashish, the doting father of Pratyush said something that stunned Pratyush and silenced him…

“What do you achieve by saving so much time? You (people) are always glued to your smartphones or the laptop… have you in last one year called on your aunt who stays about a kilometer away or Indro uncle across the street who had a bad fall last week and is bed ridden? I have always given priority to human relations and regularly checked on all my uncles and aunts even if it was just a 15 minutes visit. What is the point of saving time if we cannot share it with our loved ones?”

The people standing nearby were attentive to what the old man was saying as was Pratyush…

Ashish continued, “Since the time we entered the bank I have four of my friends and exchanged pleasantries… you know, I hardly ever leave my room let alone the house so whenever I can, it brings immense joy to meet up with people known and unknown. At my age, I have ample time but hardly any company. The online apps whether banking or shopping will provide the service/product at my door step but not the warmth of human company that I miss so badly.

You remember, couple of years ago I was hospitalized… the pharmacist from whom I buy my medicine was the guy visiting me at the hospital, looking after my needs. The modern apps probably would send a customary email or message wishing speedy recovery sans any real emotion but can they really understand the pain of loneliness of a retired old man?

Few weeks back your mother fell down during morning walk in the park, who do you think picked her up and brought her back to home? It’s not your internet banking or the online shopping apps…they may know her account number or house address but not her personally, especially when she’s just human lying on the ground. The guys who helped her back on feet and brought her home are the ones with whom we interact everyday…in the park, in the market…

If everything becomes online, people will miss-out on human touch… Today, the apartments have made us “apart” instead of bringing us together… we get to know of passing away of our neighbor because of the stench of rotting body!! Is this humanity? In my childhood, there used to be one or two television in the entire neighborhood… we enjoyed the weekly Chitrahaar and Hindi Cinema watching it together. Today, each household has multiple television sets and gadgets that keep the individual cooped up in their rooms… sitting across the table, the youngsters converse through messaging apps instead of talking to each other… where are we headed to?

You see that bank teller as the guy who disburses cash or the shop salesman as just a salesman but miss out the human behind the façade of the job they are doing… I see them as a fellow human, read their stories in their eyes, understand their unsaid words, in short can empathize with them… it somehow binds us as a humanity. Your online apps can provide the service but can never replace this bonding of humans.”

“Is technology bad for humanity?” Pratyush asked.

“No, technology is not bad at all. In fact it is boon for the humanity in this time of pandemic and lockdown. Millions of students and professionals are using the “Zoom” to further their studies and work. It is great but we must not get addicted to the devices…it is perhaps equal to or worse than drug addiction. Both alienate us from our family, the loved ones and make us zombies!! We must aware of this… We must encourage use of technology while developing relations with fellow humans and not vice-versa… we must not become slave of technology!!

These days, waking up, the first thing a person do is to check his device (mobile or laptop) instead of greeting his/her family members…this trend is dangerous for mankind…

However, I must acknowledge that apps like Facebook have connected many of us who have lost touch years ago for various reasons. Today, I am able to interact with my long lost classmates because of apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram etc.

Few months ago, Asha Bhonsle the singer had posted a picture of her at a concert with caption “I am surrounded by people but completely disconnected because each one of them are busy with their handheld devices.”

I may be wrong or perhaps right, I think you guys are more familiar with the Brand Logo than the people behind them. By all means use and take full advantage of the technology but also put aside your devices to interact and share the joys of your loved ones.” Ashish stopped to take a deep breath.

The Bank Manager, Debabrata called out “Ashish da”

Suddenly, Pratyush could see that a human bonding with another human instead of a Customer interacting with the Bank Manager… he had tried to teach online transactions to his father but the Dad taught him human relation in just a few minutes.

Hyderabad Days

Loved the sunrise in the distant horizon

Three years ago, almost to the date, we had taken the call to relocate to Hyderabad after living in Delhi since our birth and through the ups and down of life. The reason we could take such a drastic call was because we no longer had any strings attached with the city, both our parents had crossed over the rainbow bridge, the only child is grown to be a fine person and living independent life in another southern city. We were looking forward to a great second innings of our life…

Well, it wasn’t such a great knock as far I am concerned but Deepika did love the city. Frankly, if asked, I can’t really find any fault with Hyderabad. The weather is generally good with only about 3 months of acute summer as against 6 months in Delhi, there’s practically no winter making it a place with even temperature all through the year. It’s a growing city with infra development all over the place and still having huge tracts of land for further growth. The govt of the day is thinking progressively and have some of the biggies in IT/ITES organizations to invest in the city generating employment. Then, what???

As I look back to this second innings, I realize we had missed few hard realities when we took the call…

We came to Hyderabad, a new city for us after crossing the half century mark of life. We didn’t have any friends except office colleagues for Deepika and a distant acquaintance from my Dabur days. We called both sets over dinner and lunch to bond and have bonhomie but it was not to be… colleagues, especially the ones reporting to you can’t become friends till you are their boss. With the other couple, I really don’t know their psych because they never called back or made any attempt to nurture the relationship. Once I met the lady while driving back home and had a forced conversation at the roadside for 5 minutes. There was no follow-up even though I was assured of a call back. I am a self confessed snob and egotist; I carry my ego at the tip of my nose… I am not going to call, ever again!!!

Despite such unwelcomeness, we managed to live in the city for almost 3 years now. We also met few guys who are like us ‘outsiders’ but have made Hyderabad their home now. These gentle souls are amiable and friendly; we perhaps would have bonded more but then covid jumped in the frame of things and all physical socialization became a taboo.

Coming from the city of forts and monuments, the famed Charminar and the Golconda Fort did not charm me but I was visibly impressed with the Salarjung Museum even though there’s a serious lack of maintenance and upkeep if you compare it with the European museums. I am also impressed with the Falaknuma Palace, the Taj Group that manages the hospitality section has kept it nicely and entertains the guests with lots of insight with a guided tour of the palace. Though the visit to Falaknuma Palace will make you poorer by few grand, it’s still a worthwhile visit, at least once in a lifetime for many of us.

One aspect of Hyderabad that amazed me and frankly I liked it a lot, is the size of the stand-alone shops, especially at the newer expanded part of the city viz. Gachibowli, Madhapur, Hitec, Jubilee Hills etc. I remember the Hypermart (now closed) inside the Inorbit Mall was my first experience of the hugeness of the supermarket both in terms of size as well as items. It was quite like Walmart stores in US. Talking about supermarkets, there’s a overload of them in the area where we live…with Spars, Vijetha, Big Bazaar, Reliance Fresh, Spencer, More and Ratnadeep having multiple outlets. There’s even one Tata-Tesco outlet too though I haven’t been there so far. These large outlets do elevate one’s shopping experience to another level and we found our solace visiting such outlets for our weekly rations every weekend. One could pick-up the dry grocery, vegetables, meat/fish/egg, and household cleaning items and even crockery-cutlery, kitchen utensils and even small electrical appliances too. So, even if you don’t intend to purchase anything beyond the veggies, it is a great place for hours of window-shopping!!!

The ONE thing that helped in favor of living in Hyderabad is choosing the right residential society. When we had decided to move here, many people suggested that we take up independent house preferably with lawns for Rolf to roam freely. We did our searches and realized that such houses don’t come cheap or even affordable besides having its own discomforts and disadvantages. Even Mr. Agarwal, the property consultant who was helping us to find a suitable accommodation advised against such places. The biggest disadvantage is the security besides the little errand jobs that would keep surfacing like plumbing and electrical repairs… honestly, though Hyderabad is much less polarized on language front compared to the other southern cities, it is still a difficult task explaining your problem to that class of people who mostly are proficient in their native tongue and has an understanding of English. So, living inside a relatively large residential complex takes care of these issues as they provide such concierge services. We were extremely lucky to chance upon the NCC Urban Residency and a fully furnished apartment where we just moved in with our clothes and few other items. Most of the apartments here have open spaces greeting them (no face-to-face flats) resulting in airy, naturally lighted rooms. Another advantage here is that there’s no surface traffic of vehicles, the parking is below ground giving much needed respite to the vehicles from natural wear-n-tear like blazing sun and incessant rain. There’s also a convenience store within the complex which was a great help during the lockdown period.

I must mention here that Hyderabad is much more pet friendly than Delhi, especially the kids are generally more dog loving and fearless. In our everyday walk, many of the kids would stop Rolf and cuddle him. There have been people in high-end luxury cars stopping and requesting a photo shoot with him!!! Also, there are dedicated individuals in the complex who regularly feed the street mongrels’ morning and evening. I found the Streetys’ of Hyderabad much docile compared to some of the resident devils that we have in my New Delhi residential colony. Every day, two of such streetys’ accompany us in our walk since the lockdown began in March and they are kind of bodyguards to Rolf!!!

I have mentioned earlier too but it needs to be reiterated again…the daring devils in 2-wheelers, both male and female. It seems that the covid hasn’t been able dampen their spirits; on the contrary, the near empty streets have made them even more brazen in their misadventures on the road. Earlier, the excuse for rash driving was to reach the work place on time (which is a misnomer in Hyderabad – no one takes the appointment time seriously; reaching in 10 minutes may mean “reaching in 2 hour” and without apology), but now why are they putting theirs as well as other’s life on the edge, is unfathomable. The closing of the offices had taken out the Mahindra Xylos and all such call centre vehicles from the equation giving much relief to the normal humans behind the wheels.

As I was writing this, Hyderabad faced unprecedented rain for over 3 days due to depression in the Bay of Bengal. Normally such depression and subsequent landfalls doesn’t have much impact on the city as it is at least 500 km inland from the shores. But this time, the rains created havoc, especially in old city and other low lying areas as almost all the lakes and water bodies became full to the brim. The floodgates of Himayatsagar Reservoir were opened up after 8+ years and river Musi flowed with full glory of the past. We were spared the agony as the area where we live is on higher grounds and relatively better planned than the old city. The only damage our residential complex witnessed was few uprooted trees including one that we had planted and grown to about 10 feet height. And as per the IMD, there’s no respite for at least another 7-10 days with sporadic rain across the region. Most of the times, in Hyderabad, the rains start in the evening hours and then continue till about midnight or sometimes carry over to the morning as well.

The overflowing Musi River

One disturbing trend that I have noticed not only in Hyderabad but in Bengaluru and Chennai as well is the lack of civic sense; barring the main roads of the city, the sidewalks of the colony roads are used as dump yards. And most of the cases it is the well to do households that dumps their daily garbage and other disposable/ discards on the roadside. The municipal corporation is either ill equipped and/or least interested in clearing and cleaning of the muck. In Bengaluru, they simply burn the stuff at site once the dump becomes eyesore for the bosses.

Our residential complex Nagarjuna Residency is situated on a connecting road between Old Mumbai Highway and Mindspace Road which also boasts of two of the most popular schools viz. Prerana Waldorf School and NASR School for Boys. It is the latter that is the cause of concern. It has a sprawling campus with separate grounds for football and hockey and also houses the bunglow for the Principal or the Head of the Institution and is well landscaped with water bodies for the ducks to swim. Since about a month back the housekeeping workers from the school started dumping first the pruned tree leaves and other remnants and then even the household garbage including food waste on the sidewalks just opposite the school. The situation has gone from bad to worst with the garbage now overflowing onto the road as well. I understand that the workers were told not to dump but they haven’t heeded, in fact they openly flaunt a devil may care attitude, obviously assured of support from their politically well connected boss’s. I am told that numerous complaints/ requests have been lodged with GHMC but so far no action has been initiated to clear up the mess. Don’t know what values are they imbibing in their students!!!

First time in the last three years, we will be spending the Durga Puja in Hyderabad but alas the covid has ensured that we don’t get to see the Durgotsav of Hyderabad as most of them are either doing a symbolic puja or have restricted the entry to the members only. The Durga Puja, as I have seen growing up is “Sarbojonin” meaning it is open to public from all walks of life without restriction and without bias of race, religion, color and caste…but the Covid19 has taken out the “Sarbojonin” out of it making it a private affair of the few. I understand it would be difficult for the organizers to control the devotees if it is kept open to all but then why have it in first place? This year, so many other religious and cultural celebrations were cancelled or curtailed across the country, so why not cancel the Durgotsav as well. I can smell politics… WB will be going to polls next year, so they have to please the citizens who have been waiting for the biggest cultural festival of the land. There’s commercial angle to it as well, the Durga Puja coincides with Navratras culminating in Dusshera and ushers in the festive season of Diwali which also witnesses a frenzied buying season. The argument in favour is that the “economy needs the boost” and I agree on that point but can it be at the cost of the health of people? I don’t want to be the judge, let people decide what’s best for them. On my part, with great reluctance and at continuous pestering of Deepika have agreed let a Purohit come and do the annual Kojagori Laxmi Puja in a much smaller scale…

Contrary to the popular belief, the Goddess neither arrives nor leaves. She is the omnipresent, she has existed before time and will continue to stay beyond eternity… She is always around you and also within you, She lives in your conscience and in your breath, often guiding your soul when you invoke her, showing you the path whenever you deviate. Durga Puja and the nine nights of Autumn are therefore symbolic of our life. We arrive, we live through our blessings, we celebrate our existence, and we merge back into our elements.

For me Maa Durga manifests in two primary forms…

(1) AS MOTHER: Ya Devi Sarbobhutesu Matrirupenam Sangsthita, Namasteswai Namasteswai Namah Nama…

and

(2) AS SHAKTI: Ya Devi Sarbobhutesu Shaktirupenam Sangsthita, Namasteswai Namasteswai Namah Nama…

This year, I would like her Shakti Roop to unleash her fury on Coronasur and vanquish the demon of Covid19 from the face of the Mother Earth!!!

My Circa 2020

In the closing days of 2019, the popular joke was “How different will be the new year 2020?” and the cryptic answer in Hindi used be, “Zyada nahi, Unnis-Bees ka hi farak padhega.”

Well, I guess the Kaal Chakra probably was having a hearty laugh… the 2020 has turned world upside down, we are past the 9th month and is on the verge of forgetting what’s it like being normal. The term “New Normal” has been coined to calm the nerve of the human race but how long can this new normal be sustainable? In the process of keeping physical distance, we are getting socially distant, the grandchild is not allowed to hug the grandparents, the best buddies can’t even shake hands, there’s always a fear, “Will I get infected doing that or that?”

So, how’s my 2020?

Well, the year started off promisingly… in the first week of January we were in Delhi enjoying a particularly good chilly winter which we have been missing for three years having relocated to the southern cities. Then in February, we went to Goa to celebrate my son, Ayush’s 25th birthday. Though it was a short stay of 2N3D, it was thoroughly enjoyable. We used the opportunity to take possession of the One Bedroom pad that we had taken up jointly with our long time friend Robin. Looking back it was a wise decision to complete the govt formalities using the short sojourn.

We were in the middle of discussion about our June (anniversary) vacation that we usually undertake with Basu family when the lockdown happened. At first it was fun getting locked up with all offices and school/ college closed, shopping malls, multiplexes and restaurants closed… nowhere to go, no one to visit you. The lockdown happened from 23rd March and because of our Goa trip the previous month, the buying cycle of our monthly groceries had somehow moved to the middle of March, so we were well stocked up for a month and more. As far as vegetables and fruits and dairies were concerned, the convenience store within the housing complex geared up to cater to 350+ families. The NCC Urban Residency did an excellent job by arranging fruit, vegetable and meat vendors to come to the complex and set weekly shop and/or deliver the online orders. In fact, we were never out of any stuff during the complete lockdown of the phase I.

However, our son who lives in Bengaluru wasn’t so lucky… he had gone to Goa again in March 2nd week with his school/college friends and as a conscious citizen went ahead with one week self isolation upon his return on 16th March. Ironically, the day he could go out was the day nationwide complete lockdown happened. To make matter even grimmer, his flat-mate decided to move with his girlfriend in the same city, thereby leaving him alone in the apartment. It had a positive side as well… he no longer had to share the limited grocery and other food stock and could extend till the relaxation happened. Deepika used her connections in Bengaluru to arrange for some medicine that he had run out but beyond that we could not help much. It was agreed that at the first opportunity he will come over to Hyderabad as his company like many others had announced WFH till end of the year, so location did not matter…

One item that reached critically low (quantity) was the Dentastix of Rolf and surprisingly, the Pet Food was not considered “Essential” by the govt, therefore no e-commerce sites were delivering any pet food. I had to cut them in half to extend the inevitable end and every day would remind Rolf that soon it will be over…

Then one evening during our daily call, Ayush suggested that I try the Swiggy app which had started delivering grocery and other stuff. It was such a relief when the following day I could locate one shop having stock of Pedigree Dentastix, I ordered for 8 packets good for 8 weeks hoping that life would step back to normalcy by then.

One gets used to certain luxuries of life, mine being my morning cup of Lipton Darjeeling Tea which I have been having since the time I started drinking tea!! Unfortunately, my stock got over by April end and it was not to be found in our convenience store (though it was an extension of a large departmental store) and I had to look at outside avenues. The famed BIG BASKET failed miserably in our expectations, though they had the tea but for continuously 15 days, their delivery slots were always blocked and all this while I could see their delivery executives visiting our complex not once but twice a day to deliver to different apartments. I had to adjust with whatever was available for about a week before I could get it from Amazon pantry.

I was addicted to gutkha (mixture of betel nut & chewable tobacco) for over two decades… my stock got over in the second week of lockdown and since the pan shops were shut, there was no way to replenish; the first week I did show some withdrawal symptoms like headaches and irritability but I suppressed the urge knowing that this was one opportunity to chuck the addiction. Once the shops opened up I crossed my regular shop while driving back home but there was no urge to have it…     

NRFOWA, the RWA of our residential complex proactively stopped the services of the maid, drivers and other helps to all apartments except to few senior citizens living alone in the beginning of March. They also put an embargo on visitors to the complex much before it was official, thereby reducing the chance of infection. We have had sporadic cases since the lockdown relaxation and the figure approx. 10-12 out of over 1000 residents.

I must mention here the need for clear communication to the last man at the front… recently I read a story of a Delhi based advocate winning a case against Delhi Police. The person was fined INR500 for not wearing a mask while driving alone in his car. Apparently the policeman who challaned him was not briefed properly as to what constitute as public space and what’s a private domain. Similarly, when the lockdown happened on 23rd March, the RWA had issued advisory that morning walk/ jogging etc along with sports arena are being closed to residents. There were exceptions mentioned like pet walking and visiting the convenience store for essential items… So, as soon as I had had stepped out with Rolf for the morning walk, a young guard came rushing towards us and said we must not walk and should go back immediately. Since I had read the advisory earlier, told him politely that pet walking is allowed under exceptions, but he was adamant that there’s no exception and we must turn back. It was irritating so I told him to convince Rolf otherwise we are going ahead, he can take a chill pill. As expected, he rushed to his Supervisor at the main gate and complained. As we approached the gate (about 200 meters from our apartment), the Supervisor came up with the same narrative; I showed him the entire communication of the RWA to which he said that he wasn’t aware of the same and can’t allow me to go out of the complex. Needless to say, I was furious and told him that I am going out definitely and he can complain about me to anyone he deems fit. I think I had raised my voice a bit high and also used some choice words which made him realize to back off… 

In April, Rolf became 11 (hooman) years young… the celebrations were low key due to complete lockdown but he got extra portion of “Chimken” and 2 scoops of Vanilla Ice Cream…

In Hyderabad, the worst months in terms of weather are April to June when the dry heat of April-May becomes humid and sultry by the beginning of June, you simply pray for the rain god to come soon!! This year, because of the lockdown, staying indoors, the severity of the weather was not felt, especially for people like us who are living on the ground floors of multi-storied complexes. We also avoided the severity of the monsoon which this year had been above average resulting in many water logging in the city. So, to that extent the lockdown has been a blessing in disguise.

After two cancellation of flight, Ayush finally managed to reach Hyderabad on 7th June morning and immediately quarantined himself for the next 7 days. The 3 months of no-gym had a toll on his body both physically and mentally. For a young man, being locked up at home without any social contact is really frustrating. Even under normal circumstances, I rarely moved out but when you are forced stay indoors because of external factor, there’s kind of rebellion enters the mindset. I could sense that in Ayush with his constant irritable stance and practically non-communication. His mother and my wife Deepika was concerned and upset at the situation but I knew that over time, he will be fine. Since 2013, he has been staying away from home, first in college hostel and then with flat mates when he started corporate life…he had tasted the gay abandon of living separately from the parents… what he needed was an assurance of having a private space while living with us which I ensured through minimal interference in his life. His presence also provided me with an opportunity to explore my culinary skills. I have never cooked as much as I did in the last 3-4 months. He has settled down now and is enjoying his stay at home, although he refuses to acknowledge Hyderabad as home and calls it a camp and frankly I agree with him on this count.

Actually, the private space factor is very important in all relationships… it affected me too in some ways… Since the time we moved to Hyderabad in the beginning of 2018, my life had seen a kind of solitude 5 days a week… from Monday to Friday I used to be on my own once Deepika left for office or I dropped her to office. However, with Deepika working from home, I first had to give up my desk and the cozy corner office that I created for myself, then my OCD came to the fore and we would often get into arguments over trivial issues. The presence of Ayush helped in minimizing the domestic skirmishes as well, although my OCD is still quite strong but I am now simply going about it quietly.

In June, we celebrated our 29th anniversary quietly with Ayush in attendance taking pictures for memory sake. Normally, every year barring a few emergency situations, we have gone for “destination celebrations” with our dear friend the Basu Family (and sometimes the Dutts as well), but this was exceptionally different.

Now, most of the lockdown restrictions are gone, not because the epidemic is over but people are impatient to get back to pre-covid freedom but there lies the real threat of another wave of the pandemic in the near future. The least one could do is to maintain physical distance, wear a mask and keep oneself sanitized while in the public places. It is really surprising to see the educated people not wearing the mask properly covering the mouth & nose or even not wearing at all. I am told by my friends in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata that this is an issue even there too; in fact a friend who drove down from Siliguri to Kolkata said that about 60% people are covering their faces in some form in Kolkata but in the hinterland it is business as usual…no mask, no physical distancing.

As I was concluding this piece, the news came in that C-19 has entangled my in-laws family in Delhi. My prayers are with them for a speedy recovery.

The Unnees-Bees joke has given way to “I am not adding 2020 because I didn’t use it” statements from all netizens. Frankly, I don’t care if it gets added or subtracted, I want the last quarter to sprint to the checkered flag… and I would surely like to welcome the circa 2021 with all my friends around in a grand celebration.

We have lived through the 9 months unscathed and sincerely hope to scrape past the balance 3 months as well in good health and high spirit.

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…

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…

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…