The septuagenarian gentleman sitting across me on the lower berth of 2-AC in the Kolkata-Bhubneshwar Express train has been engrossed in his smart mobile phone right from the beginning. In fact he had taken out the phone as soon as the train rolled out of the Howrah station. He was frantically typing out in between light laughter, smile and muffled guffaw. His dress of kurta-pyjama and a sleeveless jacket with the blanket loosely spread over his legs suggested that he is the quintessential Bong Bhodrolok. I guessed, by his demeanor that he must have been a teacher in a college or university. I also thought he must be going on a vacation unlike me who has to attend a boring seminar in the morning as soon as I reach Bhubneshwar.
The gentleman kept glancing at me intermittently as if trying to figure out if a conversation could be struck. The train for some unknown reason has been relatively less crowded and that made the air conditioning work with double efficiency and I was feeling little chilly. I spread the blanket over myself and made myself comfortable in a half lying up position before taking out my phone to check mails and messages.
Finally, the gentleman asked me, “Are you feeling cold, my son?” Now, hearing “my son” I was convinced that the person on the opposite berth surely have been a professor. I said, “Yes, a little bit.” He continued, “The last coffee vendor will come in few minutes, have a hot cup, it will comfy you up.” Soon the coffee vendor appeared and we took two cups and then the chit-chat started with usual question-answer that any Bong on first acquaintance would like “Where do you live? What do you do? Are you married and how many kids? What are they doing etc?” He also revealed, as I had guessed, that he was the professor of Bengali Literature in Calcutta University. Thereafter there was silence and I wondered what to say! But the professor broke the silence and asked, “How is life treating you? Are you able to spend time with your loved ones?” As I was figuring out what to say, he again said, “I mean are you finding the life sweet or bitter?” I smiled and said, “It is sweet, sour and spicy, all at the same time.” I reflected upon the everyday scene… leaving for office at 9am only to return around 8pm, completely exhausted not just with office chores but driving through ever increasing traffic on the road. Then, having crossed the honeymoon period long ago, there would be some sort of losing argument with my wife or she would be having a fight with Piyali, our daughter on issues like “Why do you get up so late in the morning? Have you done your homework? Why haven’t you finished your food? Have you packed your school bag? Why haven’t you made your bed? Why are these books scattered all over the place? Why are you watching television instead of studying?” The list is endless… sometimes I would lose my cool and scold both.
Professor, took a deep breath and said, “My son, this is the best period in the life… don’t ignore and let it pass by, enjoy this lovely sweet-sour-spicy time with full enthusiasm, give it all your attention and love. There will come a time when only the silence will greet as you reach home, the bed is perfectly made, by some ominous magic the arguments of mother-daughter has been resolved forever. You will have the urge to undo the bed, scatter the books all over just to break the deafening silence with their arguments. The urge to sit with your little one as she attempts to solve that mathematical problem will be immense. You will realize that everything is in its place but the solitude will engulf you, overwhelm you, perhaps, you will search the familiar sweet smell of your little one, your ears would yearn for her constant chatter. No one to say bye as you leave and no one to snatch the TV remote, no one to take the egg yolk from your plate, it will simply dry up on your plate. The daily shrill voice on the other side of your mobile will become weekly then monthly to finally occasionally. She will come for two days and will take back the sweet dreams that you have painstakingly building now. The power of your eyeglass will increase; there will be more medicine to consume than food. The sleep will elude you as well.”
Every word, the professor said, hit me hard as I started visualizing the future… I asked, “So, what and how do you suggest the life should be lived?”
Professor thought for a while and then said, “No one will look back at you if fall like the winter leaves, you will be gone looking at the greenery at the top of the tree. You will have to reinvent, renew yourself like the new leaf on the tree. Locate your old friends wherever they may be, renew that warmth of the friendship. The warmth of the bonfire on a chilly wintery night can only come from the friends through uninhibited laughter, stupid jokes and all that bonhomie. That is why, I keep fiddling with my mobile phone… the old childhood friends keep sending jokes and tidbits that light up my world, keep me alive. Keep up the friendship that you developed long ago in your childhood; do not lose the camaraderie in today’s rat race. I am going to a gathering of my friends which we have every three months… we call it G2G, acronym for Get Together!! We have music, jokes and uninhibited laughter; we relive our youth for two days… take in the pure oxygen of friendship, extend our live every three months through this G2G.”
Next day, early morning, when I got down, there were around 15 young septuagenarians talking animatedly with the Professor and laughing like teenagers at some of their jokes, perhaps. The professor turned around and shouted, “My son, these are my little green leaves, my oxygen.”
I do not know what will happen 20 years hence? Will I have the strength in my fingers to type on the mobile? Will the eyesight be gone completely? I know for sure the cacophony of the G2G will go on but perhaps I may not hear a single word, I may not even remember any of them as my memory gets consumed by the dreaded Alzheimer’s. But the show must go on… the camaraderie of the friendship must continue…
Note: Received the Bong story without any reference to the original author. I decided to repost this beautiful realistic piece in English and dedicate it my own group of friends… the friendship developed many moons ago in the classroom, in the football field of Raisina Bengali School; we fondly call it Mastans of RBHS 80.