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.

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…

The OCD & Other Thoughts

There are 4 types of OCD: Contamination Perfection Doubt/ Harm 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,…

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…

MIRACLE WITNESSED

This interesting scene was in Supreme Court of India where the Bench was hearing the issue of Ram Janma Bhoomi. There were counsels representing both the sides and each side had their own witnesses to provide evidences. While Sri. Parasaran was putting forth the justifications for Ayodhya As Rama Janma Bhoomi, the Honourable Judge intervened.

He asked “You quote from vedas and scriptures for proving that Rama existed and other relevant issues. Is there any evidence in the scriptures that specify the place of birth of Sri Rama?”

An old gentleman rose from the group of witnesses. He was one of the Pragyasakshi ( Chief Witness) and his parents had named him Giridhar. He said “Honourable Sir, I request you to refer to Rig Veda”

He specified the chapter and verse and said “There it is mentioned in Rig Veda, Gaiminiya Samhita. These verses specify the directions and distances from a specific point on the banks of River Sarayu, to reach the birth place of Sri Rama. If one follows those directions, one reaches a specific spot in Ayodhya”

The bench ordered for immediate verification and it was done to find that Sri. Giridhar was right. There it was glaring at them from Rig Veda. And this person was quoting the verse verbatim from memory.

The bench remarked “This is a miracle I have witnessed today.” But the witness who was christened as Giridhar was very calm and serene as if it is a chore in the office on a normal working day.

To understand the wonder expressed by the Judge, one has to go back in Indian History, which needs overhauling at the earilest.

Year was 1950. Month January. 14th day of the month. In the village Jaunpur in UP, Mishra couple – Pandit Rajdev Mishra and Shachidevi ( It is nice to note that that child became a main Sakshi later in life, to reclaim RamJanmaBhoomi) – were waiting for the birth of their child. A very hale and healthy child was born that day and they christened him Giridhar.

Giridhar Mishra was fine till a cruel hand af fate played with him when he was 2 months old. That changed the life of the parents and the child.

Imagine a child who was eager to aquire and improve his knowledge but just could not read or write. Pandit Rajdev would sit besides the child and recite Vedas explaining each word in each verse. He was delighted to find that Giridhar had a great retaining capacity and could memorise every single word taught to him orally.

After imparting whatever knowledge he could, Rajdev admitted his son in one of the Mutts of Ramanand Sampradaya. He was taken in as a disciple and he was given a new name RAMABHADHRA. And the child got a guru who could teach him and encourage him to expand his knowledge beyond the limits of any normal human being.

Ramabhadhra in his zeal to explore the universe of knowledge, learnt and mastered 22 languages including a few ancient ones. He could not read or write and had to depend on his memory and its retention power.

He learnt scriptures and modern verses too. He became a fan of Thulsidas and explored the world of Rama Charitha Manas.

Imagine. Somebody would read these epics and scriptures and he would store in his memory for further analysis. He excelled in his work often dictating to people and getting the feedback orally.

At the age of 38, in 1988, he was crowned as JAGADGURU RAMABHADHRACHARYA one of the four Jagadhgurus of Ramanandha Ashram.

You must have guessed by this time, why he could not read or write. Yes. HE LOST HIS EYESIGHT COMPLETELY WHEN HE WAS TWO MONTHS OLD.

It is really staggering to learn about his achievements. The blind Jagadguru, in addition to mastering 22 languages is also famous as Spiritual Leader, Educator, Sanskrit Scholar, Polyglot, Poet, Author, Textual commentator, Philosopher, Composer, Singer, Playwright and Story Teller ( Katha Artist)

He has authored more than 100 books such as Gita Ramayanam, Sri Bharghava Raghaviyam, Arundhathi, Ashtavakra, Kaka Vidhura and others. He composed Sri Sitarama Suprabhatham.

As a poet he produced 28 famous set of poems ( Sanskrit and Hindi) including four epics

Authored 19 famous commentaries on various scriptures, the popular one being on Rama Charitha Manas by Thulsidas.

Composer of 5 Music Albums

And 9 very popular discourses.

Founder of Jagadguru Ramabhadhracharyas University for Handicapped

Lifelong Chancellor of Tulsi Peeth ( named after Tulsidas)

He was decorated with PADMAVIBHUSHAN in the year 2015.

I was filled with amazement as I was collecting information about him. A child who became blind and fought his way up to reach the pinnacle of knowledge and education and its propagation. What a marvellous example to inspire one and all. I felt very very small and insignificant, I am sharing this with you all as it amazed me no end.

There is a niggling thought. How many of us were aware of this great blind man. While Helen Keller was propagated for her achievements as a blind person, and lessons are taught on her, Jagadguru Ramabhadhracharya is a non entity in our education system. Thats how we are.

No wonder the Judge remarked “I witnessed a miracle in my court”

Jai Sri Ram

Suicidal

Tie-a-Noose-Step-10-Version-4

Sushant Singh Rajput took his life… committed suicide at the young age of just 34 years!!

Somehow, this news has rattled not just me but a whole lot of people. Why? I did not know him personally nor did I follow his film career as a fan. He did some remarkable cinemas like Kai Po Che, MSD, Kedarnath, Chhichhore etc which shall remained etched in ones memory for years… but the question remains why did he take the extreme step?

As my son pointed out, the “suicidal thought” is something that’s embedded in the persons mind for a long time but is subdued by the happenings in one’s life. I agree with him, in fact I would like to point out that a large section of the society around us have a dormant suicidal thought deeply embedded in their subconscious and in most of them it remains dormant all through their life.

I remember of a death by suicide in my distant family… the person was highly educated (Gold Medalist), well established in profession (professor at a renowned university) and had a beautiful family. I have met him once or twice as a child and my memory is that of a benevolent uncle who would give me a Cadbury Chocolate bar every time we met. However, my mother and elder siblings believed otherwise; according to them he was self-centered, selfish person who ill treated his wife and child and made her leave home with their child never to return again.

Why I brought it up? Well, I wanted to bring about a different dimension to the narrative of suicide.

Many years later, that child and I became very good friend, we used to communicate every week through snail mail (the only option in those days) and would meet once or twice a year. In one such communique, she informed me of her father’s demise by an act of suicide. She wrote and I am quoting from memory, “I don’t know whether I should grieve on his death or feel freedom from a suffocating relationship. Frankly, I do not know him much or rather he did not let me know him all these years. All I know is that he loved oneself immensely which to the outside world seemed self-centered, selfish and therefore, his taking this extreme step reveals that he was in some kind of deep pain which he could not withstand anymore.”

I think I wrote back some consoling thoughts which I did not believe myself. But her words that “how could a person who loved himself so much take his own life”, remained etched in my subconscious and surfaced now when I read the news of SSR.

Most people consider suicide to be act cowardice, I don’t. It takes guts to jump off the 20th floor, put the noose around one’s own neck and then kick the chair, gulp down a bottle of high-dose sedative or slash the vein of your wrist. Yes, it takes lot of unbearable pain, both mental and physical that induces the person to take the final step. Why guts? Because, the person is fully aware that there will be no turning back once the clock is set in motion.  The desire to live for something… to love someone gets erased momentarily but completely… it is like one has entered a tunnel where it is only way forward to an endless abyss. So what triggers this? Many things actually in succession or simultaneously… be it a financial or emotional loss… it could be certain physical ailment that has reached incurable stage.

The counter argument often is that one should talk to family, friends or doctor to get out of the misery. But what to do when one has lost all the zest for life? Think of the terminally ill patient counting days while experiencing excruciating pain every moment that refuses to subside even with the strongest medication. Think about the person in vegetative state where the mind is alert but rest of the body including the tongue is inert or the comatose patient occupying the (hospital) bed for years together. There is no coming out these miseries even if you have tons of wealth to garner the best medical team. Will it not be logical or rational to let the person go with honor? It does sound politically correct to say that the family will take care… arrange for best medical facilities… and hope the person gets well, when it is evident that it is not going to happen, the vegetative figure will never get up and stand on its feet.

The mental illness or the depression is something that doesn’t happen overnight but seeps into the brain cavities over a period of time. What triggers it is a point of debate…

Let’s take a hypothetical case of a person who had been in a administrative job all his/her life…the person having worked in middle management level was never a decision maker but a good follower and implementer of the instructions… suddenly with the lockdown across the country forcing the employees to work out of home, makes his/her job redundant… with still few years before retirement… with no other skill set to explore newer alternatives… becomes kind of unrelevant to his/ her own universe. The person is physically there amongst people but has nothing to contribute productively. His/her existence is taken for granted and doesn’t have any impact on the people around except probably as an irritant. He/she quietly waits in silence to become completely irrelevant from this stage of unrelevant before fading away completely.

There’s a section of such people who disappear in milling crowd in anonymity, some take the spiritual route to find relevance of their existence. Though the thought of going to Dikshunnopur is highly romantic as has been painted by the Bengali author late Shri Sunil Gangopadhyay or Neel-Lohit (pseudonym) but I find it to be uncourageous because one remains as useless as before… still unproductive, a parasite living off the society… only the environment changes.

I strongly feel that if such a situation arise in one’s life, it is better to go with your dignity intact. There is no shame in accepting the final defeat and cross over the rainbow bridge to a world of classless society… (I am guessing!!)

NB: Won’t be apologetic to those who may find this “defeatist and/or morbid”… I have the freedom of thoughts…

The Lockdown

The Covid19 lockdown has entered the phase 5 with more relaxation than restrictions, so I thought of penning (or keying?) down my experience and not-so-serious-thoughts…

We all knew by the beginning of March that India will go for a lockdown in some form or the other, though I must confess that neither I nor my friends thought a complete lockdown of the whole country as big as India is possible!! Then, on the 20th March the Prime Minister addressed the nation at his favourite time slot of 8:00 PM and urged the citizens not only to follow a self imposed one day lockdown on Sunday 22nd March but to come out to their balconies/ rooftops/ doorsteps to clank the bell in solidarity with the doctors, nurses, policemen et al who are at the forefront in fighting the pandemic. There were doubting Thomas’ who thought it will be a utter failure as Indians known for indiscipline specially in adhering to govt directives (traffic violation is a glaring example). However, surprisingly, people stayed home on a Sunday… came out on their balconies and rooftops to clank the bells, blow conch shells and sing songs like Vande Mataram and Saare Jahan Se Acchha Hindustan Hamara. The only sore point was the sporadic incidence of over enthusiastic people coming out on the streets to do a parade of sort.

I had predicted to my family and friends on Sunday itself that the 14 hour self imposed lockdown is the precursor to the longer version. I thought like others that it will happen from the following week but Prime Minister believes in surprising the citizens with such announcements (e.g. Demonetization) and called for a nationwide complete lockdown of 21 days starting 25th March 00:00 hours once again at his favourite time slot of 8:00 PM giving no time to the people to buy and board up for the long haul.

Anyways I am not here to look and point out the flaws in the decision making of the govt. though in hindsight it seems that there should have been a time gap of 7-10 days to allow not just the migrant labourer but a large number of people who got stuck at distant places because of the suddenness of the lockdown, to go back to their homes.

The RWA of the Residential Complex where we stay in Hyderabad had banned entry of all e-commerce deliveries, the maids and drivers from the beginning of March itself. Now they imposed ban on people moving out as well with exception to essential services, medical emergencies and pet walking. The last one was a great relief for me and Rolf who being a high pedigree dog refuses to poop inside the complex and necessarily walks quite a distance away from it to find a secluded place to do the job.

As I had anticipated, the lockdown measures were like the Chinese Whispers… the messages or instructions announced by the higher authorities got twisted or did not percolate down to the last man guarding the gate/ barricade. The first such experience was when on 25th March I took Rolf out for morning walk, one of the guard of our complex came and asked me to turn back as walking is not allowed. Luckily for me, I had the detailed guideline issued by the Covid19 Team and therefore I told him that pet walking is definitely allowed as an exception. He was not convinced and complained to his supervisor who met me at the main gate to stop me from going out. I showed him the guidelines and told him in clear terms that I will be going out twice a day (morning & evening) and he is free to complain to whomsoever he wishes. I also gave him details of my apartment. I did not face any further resistance which may be because the guards including the supervisors were suitably made aware of the guidelines. In later days I came across many instances of highhandedness of the beat police at the road barricades because of lack of clarity in communication, as narrated by friends who being in essential services had to traverse every day.

We as individuals living inside a gated community were more or less insulated from the happenings outside. The welfare association had arranged vendors for fruits, vegetables, eggs and chicken to deliver twice a week besides the community store that opened through the day to cater to the demands of the residents. In addition to the above they tied up with Apollo Pharmacy to deliver medicines and during the subsequent phases of lockdown they arranged for bakery and other sweet-n-savory items as well. So, in reality, we were better off in the lockdown with everything available to us in the convenience of the residential complex.

However, the situation was not so good for people staying in non-gated community residential apartments, for they faced huge inconvenience in the initial days even for the essential items including medicines. My son living alone in Bengaluru (his flat mate left as the lockdown started) faced issues with getting medicines as well as vegetables and chicken. For few days he literally survived on dal-chawal, Maggi noodles and oats. His medicine requirement was arranged by my wife through her friends in Bengaluru. However, the whole experience made him self sufficient in managing the household while working from home. His only complaint was that he did not get time to stock up on beers!!

There are many positive outcomes from this lockdown as well… I sharpened my culinary skills through cooking up many traditional dishes giving them my personal twists. I mastered the art of making Bengali Aamer Mishti Aachar (Sweet Mango Pickle Bengali style). Tried my hands (successfully) in making Bedmi Puri-Aloo and other vegetarian delicacies that were liked by my (veggie) wife!!

timthumb

However, the most positive outcome of the lockdown is getting over my addiction of Chetana Churan (the combination of Rajnigandha and Zafrani patti No.120). The addiction happened 3 decades back when for a very short period I had taken up field sales position where the sales reps would be having this concoction in between the sales call and/or after every cup of tea/ meal. 8-10 hours in the market negotiating with the shopkeeper not just on the number of items to stock but the discount and other schemes was really frustrating and this concoction worked out to be a great healer, even better than cigarettes which I had given up in one shot a few years earlier. I have tried to bunk it earlier too but the easy availability and the job stress would invariably dilute my resolve. When the lockdown happened, I had stock to last me for a week or 10 days at best. I prepared myself mentally to accept the inevitable and slowly started reducing the intake quantity as well as frequency. So, finally when the last bit was consumed, I simply threw the container that was part of my life for many years. It is not that I did not feel the talab for it but resisted the urge with my legendary “Will Power” or resolve. Another point that acted in favour of giving it up is the source of procurement…. I wasn’t too convinced about the hygiene of the shop or its owner(s). It is now over 2 months without the Chetana Churan and I am convinced that the addiction is finally over.

Animal Instinct is something you need to experience to fully understand. During the morning walks with Rolf, he used walk close to 2 km wandering through the lanes as if he owned them. The street dogs would bark at us initially but the snobbery of Rolf made them realize it was futile. A few of them would come to me for petting wagging their tails but a mere look from Rolf would chase them away. However, a couple of days into the lockdown, suddenly Rolf would go out of the complex barely few hundred meters, do his job and turn back for home immediately. Initially I was worried that he wasn’t keeping well but the dogs have a god gifted strategy to tell their hooman parents if they are unwell… they stop eating. However, in this case, his appetite was strong and there was nothing in his movement to suggest otherwise. He was due for vaccination as well as de-worming April and May respectively, so I waited for the relaxation of rules to take him to the vet which finally happened in the first week of May. The Vet also said that it could be psychological… the absence of both pedestrian and vehicular traffic may have psyched him because health wise he is doing well for his age.

5e78204c2300003000c8b599

The day I took Rolf to the Vet, I also visited the dog grooming parlor – Scoopy Scrub to give him a much needed bath and a hair trimming. It was a hot, humid day and I realized it was very taxing on him but once done, he actually felt nice and relieved. The usual bounce was back in his stride…

As I write this, we are inching closer to the Unlockdown 1.0 wherein the places of worship, malls and most other shops will open for business. The Govt as well as Private Offices will function at 100% capacity and the RWA’s are advised to open their gates for the maids, drivers and other workers. When the lockdown happened, the country had only 500 confirmed cases of Covid19 and now when it is being rescinded, the numbers are at staggering 200000+!!!

It’s a catch22 situation, if the lockdown continues; there will be serious repercussions on the economy which as it is has taken quite a beating; on the other hand, the opening up of the lockdown poses serious health issues for all as even to this day, the Covid19 virus remains a mystery… how and what circumstances it spreads is still baffling the medical community.

Interestingly, many of the tech companies have already decided to allow its employees to WFH till end of the year 2020. In my wife’s organization, a poll was taken amongst the employees and overwhelmingly people have voted for WFH statuesque. Those who can afford to work from home are likely to continue with self imposed lockdown. The most affected sectors will be the travel and hospitality, the automotives, the retail business as people would only be interested in spending on the essentials and postpone their holiday plans, new vehicle purchase or go for the trendy clothes and accessories. Another sector to get affected will be the unorganized retail sector where the main issue with consumer will be state of hygiene of the vendor.

We have covered almost half of 2020 wherein the country has faced the pandemic of Covid19, the fury of Amphan cyclone, the earthquakes in Delhi and the cyclone Nisarga is making landfall on the western coast of the country. What next… the monsoon havoc… the flooding of the plains???

I wish I am in the midst of a long nightmare and when I wake up tomorrow all these are gone and A NEW DAWN BECKONS US…

  6751939_preview

The Pakud Case

868697-81989-qtmxjzdjqs-1518612906

The Covid19 pandemic and the lockdown thereof have people wondering whether this is a natural virus coming from animal source or artificially created albeit by accident in a science laboratory. There is a section of society who would like to categorize the Covid19 as bio-terrorism and they do have buyers of their theory.

My friend Indrajit Roychowdhury in his article on the subject (https://indroyc.com/2020/04/22/coronavirus-new-blueprint-for-bio-terrorism/) has highlighted the use of biological weapon that gave shape to epidemics and I quote him as under …

“By the fourteenth century, the idea that the immediate cause of epidemics was some sort of corruption in the air was widely accepted. It was believed that this corrupted air could gain entrance to the body by way of the lungs or through wide-open pores in the skin as a result of excesses, bathing, or heat. Also in the fourteenth century, additional prominence was given to the idea of contagion. In the theory of contagion, the “poison” was originally generated in man himself and spread person-to-person by contact with the sick or dead, or with their personal effects (fomites).

A report by the Italian chronicler Gabriel de Mussis of the siege of Caffa (1345–47) is often credited as describing an early deployment of a “biological weapon”, thus triggering the “Black Death” in Western Europe. He reports that Mongol troops threw plague victims into the city with catapults, thus contaminating the inhabitants. However, re-evaluation of historical, biological and epidemiological data indicates that the spread of the disease was probably an inevitable consequence of the intense trade relations along the coasts of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Therefore, the alleged catapulting of infected corpses would rather have been a marginal contribution to the diffusion of the disease (if it took place at all). The infection was subsequently spread by refugee ships via ports at Constantinople and along the Mediterranean trading routes and harbours towards Genoa, Marseille and Venice, thus initiating the Plague in Europe.”

However, this story is closer home in India and happened in the last century. This is perhaps the very first murder committed using biological weapon in India. We are aware of numerous cases of murder by poisoning but those were poisons with single or limited use like curare or cyanide etc. but this is one for mass killing used for a single murder. Read on….

images

26th November 1933, Howrah Station: The Prince of Pakud (now in Jharkhand State) Royalty Shri Amarendra Chandra Pandey along with his sister Princess Bonbala Devi were walking on the crowded platform towards their train coach having bought their tickets for the journey to Pakud. Their elder brother Prince Vinayendra Chandra Pandey has come along to see them off and was walking a little distance behind trying to dodge the oncoming disoriented crowd.

61V-UoEryIL._SL1000_

“Auch” cried Prince Amarendra holding his arm in pain. “What happened brother” asked Princess Bonobala Devi. “I collided with a person and felt a sharp pricking pain in my arm” replied Amarendra still holding his affected arm. Bonobala turned around to see who could have collided with her brother and could get a glimpse of a beggar wrapped in dirty shawl looking back at them. By now Vineyandra too joined them and enquired “Hey, what happened? Let me see.”

Vineyandra took his brother on the side away from the crowd and Amarendra took his shirt off to show where it hurt. There was a small pinhole and instead of blood it had a yellowish drop of fluid.

“Let’s go to a doctor right now, I am very scared dada”, insisted Bonobala. But Amarendra laughed at the suggestion and said, “Huh, it is hardly any injury warranting a visit to the doctor.” Vineyandra suggested to checking with the doctor once they reach Pakud to which Amarendra agreed.

Once they were on way to Pakud, Bonobala again said, “Dada, I am very scared. I now remember having seen that guy at the cinema hall near the ticket counter… same clothes and the dirty shawl!!”

You are getting paranoid, sister, retorted Amarendra. However, after 6 hours of train travel upon reaching Pakud, Amarendra’s arm had swelled up and he was running high fever. Next day Bonobala along with their family friend Kamalaprasad took him back to Kolkata for consultation with Dr. Naliniranjan Sengupta.

After checking him the doctor said, “He is suffering from Septicemia.” Dr. Sengupta clarified that septicemia is a contagious infection that spreads to body parts very fast and is lethal. To confirm whether the infection is viral, the doctor sent Amarendra’s blood sample for culture and at the same time started the treatment to contain the infection. However, before the blood culture report could come, Amarendra at the young age of 20 years passed away on 4th December 1933. His last rites were performed by his elder brother Vineyandra.

When the blood culture report finally came, Dr. Naliniranjan Sengupta was dumbfounded. The report said, “Growth of Yersinia pestis.” In other words, it is a virus causing plague… it could be bubonic, pneumonic but instead it was septicemia. Since the body of Amarendra was already cremated, postmortem could not be done but the suspicion remained.

The following day, Dr. Sengupta, Bonobala and Kamalaprasad went to see the Deputy Commissioner of Police. At first the DCP was not convinced about any foul play but at the persistence of Bonobala and Dr.Sengupta agreed to get the matter investigated. He gave the charge of the case to seasoned detective inspector Sharatchandra Mitra but warned him that it was a sensitive high profile case and therefore the image of Calcutta Police should not get tarnished.

The very next day Inspector Sharatchandra along with Bonobala and Dr. Sengupta went to the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine situated at Central Avenue. In those days, the institute was amongst the pioneers in the field of tropical and viral diseases. They with the director of the institute and asked him a direct question, “Can Septicemia happen if the plague virus comes in direct contact with the blood of the victim?” The answer was “Yes, if it comes in contact with an infected or injured part of the body.” Sharat Babu asked Bonobala if there was any such injury on Amarendra’s body. She hesitated and then said, “No, not any injury as such but he collided with a person at the Howrah Station and he felt sharp jab on his arm. It seemed like some injection needle had pierced his upper arm.” Dr. Sengupta confirmed having seen such a mark on his body.  Inspector Sharatchandra turned towards the director once again and asked, “Can this virus be injected in the body?” The director said, “It’s very strange and I haven’t come across such cases but yes, it is a possibility.” “Are there any cases of plague in the country reported?” Sharat Babu asked. “No, there are no reports of any plague anywhere in India. We would have known if there was any.” replied the director of the institute.

Coming out from the institute, Inspector Sharatchandra asked Bonobala if she can describe the person who collided with Amarendra so that a sketch can be made. She agreed but even after the sketch was circulated across all police stations, the man couldn’t be traced.

Inspector Sharatchandra went back to the Tropical Institute for another chat with the director. “Other than the infected body of the victim, where else can one find this virus?” he asked. “Well, the Halfkine Institute in Bombay is working on a vaccine for the plague, they will have the bacillus for research purposes”, replied the director.

The very next day, Inspector Sharatchandra left for Bombay to meet the director of Halfkine Institute. He had a list of questions…. (1) Where do you keep the plague bacilluss? (2) How secure is the place and who is in charge of the security? (3) Are all the units of bacillus safe and not pilfered in the last couple of months? “The security for such deadly virus is absolutely secure and no, not a single phial is missing” replied the director.

As Inspector Sharatchandra got up to leave, the director said, “I just remembered an instance that happened few weeks back… a diploma holder from Tropical Institute, Calcutta had come asking for sample of the virus for his research project. Since his project was not govt sanctioned, we refused him the sample. Then again he came back with letter of recommendation of two doctors of medicine. But we refused once again as none of those doctors were government authorized. I don’t know how far this information is useful to you.” Inspector Sharatchandra smiled at the director and said, “Please give me the details of those three people from your records.”

The records revealed the names; the diploma holder was Dr. Taranath Bhattacharya and the doctors who had given the reference are Dr. Durgaratan Dhar and Dr. Shibapada Bhattacharya, all three of them are residents of Pakur!! Moreover, Dr. Taranath was the official doctor for the Royal Palace of Pakud. However, further investigation confirmed Dr. Taranath Bhattacharya to be a fake doctor having some work experience as a bacteriologist at some laboratory in Calcutta. The other two were genuine doctors of good repute.

Inspector Sharatchandra announced to the DCP, “Sir, please issue the arrest warrants, I have found the culprits.” The following day all three were arrested from Pakud and brought to Calcutta for interrogation. Under extensive interrogation, Taranath accepted that he had gone to Halfkine Institute for the bacillus of plague because he needed it to confirm the efficacy of antidote he invented, but they refused. Both the doctors, Durgaratan and Shibapada confirmed his story and said they had given the reference letter in good faith.

The police couldn’t deny their logic and had to release them on bail. The two doctors had no motive behind the murder but Taranath being the house physician was not fully above suspicion. His claim of finding the antidote for plague and therefore needing the virus sample sounded too convenient a story. Inspector Sharatchandra started looking at all the clues right from the beginning…

    1. Amarendra died of plague
    2. However, there’s no plague pandemic anywhere in the country
    3. Therefore, the virus must have come from the laboratory

But how? As per the director of Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, the plague virus bacillus is available only at the Halfkine Institute, Bombay. Therefore, it must have come from there only by some means!!

Inspector Sharatchandra once again met with the director of Halfkine Institute. “Have you given the plague virus bacillus to anyone in the last few months for any kind of research?” he asked the director. “Well, Infectious Disease Hospital, Arthur Road had requisitioned few phials of plague bacillus which we supplied to them.” Came the reply from the director of Halfkine Institute. Inspector Sharatchandra rushed to the Arthur Road hospital and met with the directors, Dr. Mehta & Dr. Patel and asked, “Where are the phials of plague bacillus that you requisitioned from Halfkine Institute?” The answer was not only shocking but astonishing too…

“A young man from Bengal had come to do research on plague vaccine. He claimed to have developed a vaccine for plague and needed the plague bacilli to test the efficacy on rats. So we arranged for the bacillus from Halfkine Institute. However, his vaccine was a failure as all the rats died. But he left for Calcutta sighting personal emergency even before the results were confirmed.”

“Can you confirm if the research scholar used all the samples or have taken out a phial with him?” Inspector Sharatchandra asked. “We have no clue about that” replied the director duo in unison.

“Is this the person?” Sharat babu asked showing the picture of Taranath. “Yes” confirmed Dr. Mehta & Dr. Patel.

“Isn’t it a bit irresponsible on your part to allow an outsider to play with such deadly virus without any background checks?” Inspector Sharatchandra admonished the directors. “What can we do? He came with recommendation from a very influential person. We have the letter of recommendation in our files.” Dr. Mehta replied.

Dr. Patel took out the personal file of Taranath and showed the letter of recommendation. The letter was signed by none other than Vinayendra, the elder brother of the victim Amarendra. Inspector Sharatchandra called up his boss, the deputy commissioner of police immediately and said, “I have cracked the case, Sir. Please arrange for the arrest warrants….”

Vinayendra alongwith Taranath were arrested and confessed to their crimes. The plot was hatched to eliminate Amarendra so that all the wealth of Pakud Royalty would belong to the elder stepbrother and he can splurge it on gambling and womanizing.  The idea of using plague bacillus was ensure that the death would be treated as natural cause; which probably would have but unfortunately for them, there was no epidemic of plague anywhere in India at time and thus the cause of death became suspicious.

The case in Calcutta High Court was famously followed by the press as well as public at that time. Both the culprits were found guilty and sentenced to death. However, on appeal, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at “Kalapaani – the Cellular Jail at Andaman’s”.

The actual murderer – the man at the railway platform & the weapon – the hypodermic syringe with plague bacilli were never found.