October 2022 (Part-2)

While chatting with Hans on WhatsApp, we shortlisted 3 places for a gate-away from Delhi…Varanasi, Amritsar and Agra, all being drivable from Delhi, the first one was a bit far taking almost 10 hours followed by 8 hours and 3 hours respectively. However, because of Didi’s reservations about sitting through such long hours, we decided on the Agra-Fatehpur Sikri circuit and accordingly bought the tickets to the Tajmahal and Fatehpur Sikri from the online portal.   

We have taken a conscious decision of not leaving Rolf alone overnight because of his advanced age and resultant rheumatism and other age related issues, he needs care that the housekeeper or Guddu can’t provide. So, one of us is always with/around him, therefore for the Agra trip it was decided that Deepika will stay back while Didi, Hans, Ayush & I will drive down for the 1.5 day trip. 

AGRA-FATEHPUR SIKRI

We had planned to start around 5:30 AM but managed to leave home 20 minutes late. We decided to go to Fatehpur Sikri first and Google Map suggested we take the NH-19 via Faridabad, Vrindavan, Mathura and take the Agra bypass to reach our destination… 206 km in approx. 4 hours.

NH-19 has been completely revamped and now offers a smooth ride which became apparent as Didi commented that she can’t recognize the route that she had taken to go to Mathura. Even Hans was pleasantly surprised not just of the road but seamless crossing of the Toll Plaza courtesy the FasTag.

We stopped for breakfast at newly opened restaurant near Mathura (Akbarpur) called NH-19 Dhaba and had tasty n filling stuffed parantha and masala tea without milk & sugar. Nice clean place with courteous staff. We were the first customers of the day so were given special attention.

Till now, I was driving but post breakfast Ayush decided to drive. His confidence level has gone up tremendously having driven through NH-44 only a few months ago. I was glad because, I needed to take a power nap to add up to my 4 hours only REM sleep. Ayush drove very smoothly allowing me to doze off most of the distance. He woke me up as we were approaching Dholpur and Google Map was suggesting multiple alternate routes from thereon. I told him to keep to the original route as that seemed less complicated using the Agra-Jaipur highway.

As we entered the road towards Fatehpur Sikri, 2 guys on a motorcycle approached us with offer to get our vehicle parked free of cost and take us to the shrine on a local registered car (no other vehicles are allowed to the complex) and also provide guided tour at a nominal charge of INR 700 only. We agreed and they guided us to a hotel where we parked our jeep. We walked about 100 meters and got into a Bolero which took us the gate of the Fatehpur Sikri Complex.

We were asked to deposit our shoes and provided with a pair of cotton shoes @10 INR per pair. The Guide Shoaib Ali narrated the history in a mix of English-Hindi-Urdu which Ayush and I could understand but had to translate for Hans in English and Bengali for Didi. This was the mosque, Jama Masjid, used by Akbar for praying and the Buland Darwaza is supposed to be the tallest gate as per the guide. I have no reason to argue with him so accepted it on face value. The place like most other has become too commercialized, we were told that if we visit the shrine of Salim Chisti, we need to offer a “Chadar” on the grave and took us to a place where a dozen such sellers had displayed their chadars. These were quite steeply priced starting at INR 2100 onwards going upto INR 7500. The guide very skillfully took Ayush & Hans to a different guy while Didi & I were stationed with another. The con became clear when the seller said we have to buy chadars individually i.e. one chadar per person. Understandably, Didi wanted to offer a chadar, so I bought one for her and politely refused to buy for myself saying that for me the god in whatever name you call, resides within me and I don’t have to do any ritual. The seller and the guide, both were disappointed for loss of revenue. But they managed to con Ayush and Hans by selling them a higher priced chadar each.

I followed them to the shrine but kept my distance from the theatrics and refused to put money on the chadar. There was no way to confirm their claim that the chadars are used to make wedding dresses for young girls of poor family and the money goes to some orphanage. I would rather give the money to charitable organization that has proven records for doing good work for the underprivileged.

We finished the tour in about 1.5 hours and headed for Agra; decided to check-in at the hotel Double Tree by Hilton… rest a while and proceed to Taj Mahal around 4-ish so that we could capture the sunset at the background.

Double Tree by Hilton is a 5 star hotel very close (1.2 km) to the Taj Mahal… having very courteous staff. The rooms are quite spacious (unlike the Hyatt) and we settled into our rooms within 20 minutes of reporting to the front desk. While checking in, we were told that there will be a buffet dinner at the coffee shop priced at INR 1500 but if we book before 6:30 pm, it will be INR 1000 plus taxes… we booked for 4 persons. We were all feeling hungry so ordered sandwiches through room service hoping that will be served fastest. We were quite disappointed both on account service which took close to 45 minutes as well as the food quality… especially the non-veg Club Sandwich… the bread wasn’t fresh and there was hardly any meat in it… just a paste of chicken and a thin fried egg with lots of veggies.

We had booked a cab and guide service from the hotel travel desk for 4 pm. The guide introduced himself and we set forth for the Taj Mahal. We purposely decided to skip other monuments of Agra to concentrate on Taj Mahal, a place where we have been many times but knew very little about which the guide narrated. The crowd management has improved in leaps and bound…last time in 2011 when we visited, we could not enter the monument because of unprecedented unruly rush. Now, one has to buy tickets online clearly indicating their nationality. There are only 2 gates to enter – East and West… completely barricaded allowing only pedestrian traffic on tiled road followed by security check with body scanner… only medicine and water bottle is allowed inside.

The hotel Toyota Innova dropped us at the parking area from where we got into a golf-cart that took us close to the monument (within 1.5 km) from where we had to walk. A few guys with wheelchairs approached us looking at Didi’s age but she’s made of different mettle and decided to walk the distance… later we realized that the wheelchair thing is a sham as it goes only up to the main gate and not till the actual monument.  Hans with the help of the guide had roped in a photographer to take pictures of us as we moved and provide both soft and hard copies (selected images) when we come out at a negotiated fee of INR 5600. Before I could intervene, the deal was struck, a foreigner was conned a second time on the same day.

The photographer took his job very seriously and started taking pictures immediately right from the entrance gate while the Guide narrated the story of Taj Mahal, most of which we already knew. The popular story that makes round that the all the workers, architects and others involved in the construction of the monument were maimed or killed by Shahjahan is nothing but myth. The guide told us that they were all made to sign an oath that they will not replicate the monument anywhere else and offered alternate occupation. Many of the descendents of such workers are still living in and around Agra and making decorative art pieces of marble including miniature replicas of Taj Mahal.

The Emperor Consort Mumtaz Mahal was initially buried at Burhanpur where she died and was exhumed and brought to Agra for burial at her final resting place at Taj Mahal. The tomb is exactly at the centre of the monument which is quite astonishing as in the absence of modern instruments how they figured out the exact centre point!! When Shahjahan died, he was buried next to her. The British looted all the jewels that adorned the monument but the beauty still persists. The guide told us that the Britishers actually wanted to take the entire Taj Mahal to their native land not because they were enamored by its beauty but to use the marbles for their homes… only the logistics prevented such criminal act.

The on-line ticketing has the advantage of limiting the number of persons that can enter the monument. It ensured that at any point of the day, only a limited manageable crowd is present inside the compound. Further on, there is an extra payment for those who desired to visit the main structure of the monument which effectively reduced the crowd influx that used to be the bane earlier.

Meanwhile, Hans had been busy getting himself framed in Bollywood style… as he said earlier to me that he wanted collect as many memories as he can… and what better than to get the best moments captured in photographs. Halfway to the mausoleum, the guide said the professional photographers are not allowed beyond that point… another first and for better…also the fact that photography is not permitted as soon as you enter the mausoleum. Using a powerful torch, the guide showed us how the Taj Mahal looks under the full moon. The real stones, rubies and emeralds shine in the moonlight giving a surreal effect to the monument.  Incidentally, the visitors are allowed in batches of 50 pax per half hour inside the complex near the main gate till about midnight but are prohibited to venture into the lawns or any further than the porch of the main gate. Another thing that we never realized in our previous visits is the fact that the corner pillars of the hexagonal points are flat if you touch and feel but viewed from a distance of six feet gives a visual effect of curved surface… amazing architecture.

When we came out of the mausoleum, the sun was setting and provided some awesome images. Collectively we, including Didi in her iPhone, took over fifty pictures till the daylight started fading completely. We walked back to the point where the golf-carts were waiting for passengers heading to the parking. The photographer came with an album as well as images in a memory stick which he transferred to Hans’s phone. He also gave a 8”x10” print of Hans with his mother which I am sure will be nicely framed and adorn the walls of their home in Russelsheim, Germany.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at leather store from where Ayush picked up a nice leather laptop bag at 1/3 the price of regular retail shops and Hans picked up a pair of dress shoes at a reasonable price. On hindsight, we should have picked up the leather suitcase which was on offer at a very reasonable price… it could be a reason to visit again in the near future!!

Ayush & I went to the market across the hotel and picked up a bottle of Dewar’s 12 years along with some soft drinks and soda water besides some chakhna. He had a call with his counterparts in USA till 10 PM, so we told Didi and Hans to go ahead for the dinner if they feel hungry and we will join them momentarily.

We should have booked the dinner after having the room service order… the buffet service was subpar considering the hotel is a 5 star property. Didi & Hans had finished their dinner when we reached the restaurant and waiting for us. As we approached them, she got up excitedly and introduced me and Ayush to the occupants of the table just behind ours… they were the same people whom she and Hans had met the Safdarjung Tomb and at the Isha Foundation at their invitation. It was a sheer coincidence that they not just had come to Agra too but staying in the same hotel as well.

The following morning after breakfast which happened to be the best meal we had in the hotel, left for Delhi aiming to reach by 12:30-1:00 pm as Ayush had to log-in by 1:30 PM for his meetings. The return journey was very smooth with one toilet stopover at the Toll Plaza of Mathura Exit. Good thing that both Taj Expressway(Agra Ring Road) as well as Yamuna Expressway have installed FasTag so one doesn’t have to dig into the purse for cash at the Toll Plazas. The change of driver happened at the Jewar Toll Plaza because Ayush was averse to driving on empty stretch of the road as that would make him sleepy… I did not tell him that with how much will power I had stayed awake while driving on the near empty roads… Anyways, we reached home well before the targeted time to allow Ayush to log-in for his meetings.

DIWALI & BHAIDUJ

Diwali is not complete without a visit to the Blind School Diwali Mela especially because their candles are far superior to the ones that are available in the market and burns for the whole night. The other attractions being the handicrafts and paintings by the differently abled students, Hans picked up few of them. On our way back we decided to stop at an Italian Restaurant called EVO, very close to our home but unfortunately that evening they had waiting period of more than an hour, so we came home and ordered PIZZA from another restaurant . We went to Evo on another day with prior reservations and thoroughly enjoyed the Pepperoni Pizza which turned out be juicy and flavorful compared to the other joint.

The following Sunday, we went out for lunch at a CP restaurant and then first to famous Hanuman Mandir where Didi used frequent when living in Delhi and desired to visit the place along with Hans. We then went Central Cottage Industries Emporium on Janpath. Many years ago, before marriage, she used to work there and in her previous visits made it a point to visit to meet up with friends. Now, almost all her friends have retired and moved to other parts of the country, some had taken abode with Madhav. The place has changed significantly, the main attractions are on the ground floor having brass, papier-mâché and ceramic art pieces besides giftables. We noticed some nice furniture as well and made a mental note to visit again when we plan to change ours. Hans picked up few brass figurines of which the Saraswati was quite attractive. I added one more Ganesha to my collection. When I reached the cash counter, I found my childhood friend Alok aka Gutloo with his wife Arpita paying for his purchases. Arpita has an enviable collection of Ganesha(s) which she had proudly displayed in a glass showcase.  

In an around Diwali, playing Teen Patti (3 card flash) had become a ritual but for last 4 years or so, it had taken a back seat due to pandemic related restrictions. Then the passing away of the biggest organizer my Chhordi (sister) due to covid related complication in early 2021 has been a big dampener to the spirits of Diwali. This year we did not organize any card party nor were invited to any such party. On the Diwali evening, after the usual puja, Deepika, Ayush, Hans and I sat down to play the Flash but without involving money. We first had to explain Hans the rules of the game, he being a quick learner, picked up the nuances of the game and soon was on winning way.

My insisting and persuading Didi and Hans to visit us during the time of festivities had an ulterior motive as well… there was some kind of undercurrent in the relations between my elder siblings due to variety of reasons and misunderstandings. No amount of counseling from my end had had any positive effect as being the youngest (but wisest), I could not influence them. So, I thought, Didi being the eldest, almost a mother figure, can perhaps put some sense in warring individuals.

It took some cajoling, admonishing and pushing by her but at the end, I am very happy to say that all the misunderstandings were set aside and we had an enjoyable sibling’s get-together on Bhaiduj. And needless to say, my culinary skills won the day with Hing Diye Aloor Dom and Kosha Maangsho. Deepika completed the menu with her famous Punjabi Chhole and Tomato Paneer. And of course there were an array of sweets for dessert.

Bhaiduj happens on the second day after Diwali but this year because of the Solar Eclipse, Bhaiduj (officially) happened on the third day after Diwali. However, we are in the age of convenience, so Deepika’s brothers came over on the second day to celebrate as both had preoccupation the following day. In a way, it was better; they got full attention as was my siblings the following day.

All times, good or bad, comes to an end… Didi & Hans flew back to Germany on 1 November early morning and Ayush to Bengaluru the following evening… Deepika & I are back to daily grinding… hoping for an eventful, happy beginning to the New Year about a month ahead from now…

The One

Saw this excellent piece from facebook post some 5 years ago…

Eu. – So, Erode, we were discussing about your name before you came.

Me. – What about it?

Eu. – Is Erode your first name? Is it your given name?

Me. – (laughing) Erode is not my given name. Prabhakaran is. Erode is the name of the city that my ancestors apparently came from. It is like Faro, or Lisbon or Bologna.

Eu. – Then how come it is your first name?

Me. – See, when I was filling my passport details during my graduation, I had to fill something into the First name and last name column. I had no idea what these meant then. This is how my name appears in my school registers and this is how I filled it in my passport.

Eu. – Ok. We were wondering, because, who would name their child Erode?!

Me. – Why?

Eu. – You know that Erode was one of the bad kings in Bible right?! We won’t name our kids Erode!!

Me. – I know the king Nero. But not Erode.
Anyway, I don’t know how many people read the Bible here in Italy. But in India, in general, we hardly sit and read these books. We respect those who follow religion, just like we love and respect all. But the stories that are prevalent in India about anything – not just religions – are those that talk about their positives! Like the Loving nature of Jesus. His teachings, etc.

I can assure you, almost no one in our who society would have known about the biblical connection to Erode when they included it in my name!!!! (laughter)!

Eu. – So what percentage of Indians are Hindus? You are a Hindu right?

Me. – All those existing in our country are Hindus.

Eu. – But I have heard that lot of muslims and Christians are there too!?

Me. – You are confusing religion with Geography. Hindu is not a religion. It was a name given by Aristotle / Plato while referring to the geographic peninsula that was East of the Indus river. Megasthanis and Selucus who accompanied Alexander also mention it for the first time in their description of this land, which is called as Bharath.

So, everything here is Hindu.

Eu. – But I am talking about the Hinduism. The religion.

Me. – There is nothing called as the Hinduism or the Hindu religion. We never had religion in Bharath. Religion was introduced in our land through incursions and invasions by the Arabian slave dynasties in the 12th century. After that people like Marco Polo and Vasco da Gama and later the Brits brought the religion of Christianity to our land.

(There was a discussion on Jesus coming to India – which I will mention in another write up).

What you “mean” as Hindus are those who follow “Dharma” – which is righteousness.

Eu. – Let me put it this way. What is your holy book?

Me. – Ha Ha Ha!!!! What is Not Holy? Especially in our land of Bharath?!
We see divinity in All existence. We believe that everything is an expression of the same One Divinity. We see Divinity in a mouse, a mountain, a snake, a bull or a human! Perhaps you can call that as Hinduism! Seeing Divinity in All!
So, we don’t have any book that is holier than the other.

Eu. – What about the Taanthra, Kamasutra?

Me. – Ha Ha Ha!! Nice that you have been introduced to these! These are a part of a large body under the Sanskrit Literature. Sanskrit literature is vast and is broadly divided under the categories. Sruti, Smriti, samhita, Itihasa, purana, kaavya, shastras. These Taantra and Kamasutra are a miniscule part of Shastras.

Each of these categories is rich in anecdotes, prescription if you may, of Life and Living.

Shastras, for example, are the compilation of the research findings of our ancestors. Yoga shastra is one of them, for example. Artha Shatra (Economics and accounting), Ayurveda (medicine), Vaana Shastra (Astronomy, Panchaanga Shastra (Astrology), etc. are all part of it.

They are not by one single person. Nor are they from one single time domain. They are collective literature of verifiable experimental findings on existence, transactions of existence and their well-being.

Eu. – So you don’t have a particular revelation? The holy book like the Bible?

Me. – No. We don’t have any book of commandments. There is nothing that says, you follow this or you are doomed.

Eu. – Wow!!! “You” are just a book of revelations now! This a absolutely mind-boggling! You people don’t have a religion!! This is just Huge! So, is morality important in your … in you?!

Me. – Do you realize that you don’t have to have a religion to exist?!
Vyasa, who compiled a lot of the Shrutis and Smrutis of the Sanskrit literature several thousands of years ago, was asked to condense the essence of all of the Upanishads and the Vedas into a couplet.

He said – the essence of all Puranas, Itihasas, Srutis, etc. is

“Love All, Serve All.
Help Ever, Hurt Never.”

That is all.
Perhaps this is our only commandment – or prescription.
As long as you follow these, you can improvise in life.

Eu. – But what about when you need guidance? Like situations in life?!

Me. – What guidance do you need in life other than “Love all, Serve all”? These define both the Goals and the Methods.

If your child falls into a pond, which holy book will you first consult before jumping to rescue it?!

Eu. I must say Erode, I am sorry Erode is easier to pronounce for me, I have never heard such broad but crisp revelations before!

Me. – Come to India! Our taxi drivers can give you these!

Eu. – So, where is God in your scheme of things?!

Me. – You tell me? Where is God? There is Divinity in Everything, Everywhere, Every instance. Everything is Just ONE. When Everything is ONE, then God must also be You! and You must also be God.

See, You see the variety in creation. And see that it is changing and infinite.
We see the underlying principle that is connecting ALL this variety. Which is ONE!
You see the Pots and Ceramics. We see the Clay!
You see the stars, We see the sky!
You see the ornaments, We see the Gold!
You see the religions, We see Divinity!

Eu. – This is just mind boggling! Is there a way to convert to Hinduism?!

Me. – You don’t have to leave your religion to be a Hindu!

Eu. – ?! You mean yu can follow Hinduism along with other religions!

Me. – Ha Ha Ha …. See, I told you, it is not a religion! It is a way of life. It is Dharma. It is Clarity of Vision. It is Pure Existence!
The moment you appreciate “Love All, Serve All”, you have realized the so called “Hindu” in you! You can give it any name you want to – if you still have not realized that there is nothing in these names like Hinduism, Christianity, etc.

Eu. – Are you a Guru?

Me. – Well, today, I Am. To those of you who have seeked.

Eu. – Erode, we should do all our lunches together! This is awesome! We are loving it!

Jamai Shoshti

Image courtesy: Indrosphere/ Kinjolkini

The essence of the family bonding is usually expressed through the tradition of festivities. In the north, it is usually Diwali-Bhaiduj when the extended family members gather together to celebrate the occasion.  In Bengal, however, there is a day marked for the Son-in-Laws called JAMAI SHOSHTI, which is perhaps unique not just in India but for the world culture as well. The day usually falls in the last week of May or first week of June, every year (Jaisth maser shukla pokkher shoshti tithi as per the Bengali calendar).

The concept Jamai Shoshti evolved centuries ago to involve the women of the household in the socio-religious affairs of the society at large and specifically the family. It also helps in bonding of the son-in-law with the family of his wife and vis-à-vis… the day marks the gathering of all family members to enjoy the festivities.

On this day, the son-in-law or the Jamai becomes the centre of attraction and the mother-in-law traditionally makes a number of delicacies to feed him. In some traditional Bengali homes it starts with breakfast and ends at dinner. I vaguely remember, my sister coming with their husbands on this day for lunch at our home till my mother was in good health to make the food herself.

The son-in-law requested to be fed on banana leaf…

My dear friend Indro says that after marriage, the first time when he went to his in-laws home for Jamai Shoshti, his mother-in-law had to be hospitalized and he abandoned the idea of going there for Jamai Shoshti. Recently, his son Judha got married and was all excited to attend his first Jamai Shoshti this year… a week ago, his mother-in-law got admitted to hospital for surgery. But our Judha is a smart chap, the surgery was successful and he got her released from hospital just in time for the Jamai Shoshti!!!

A few of my friends have their mother-in-laws living with them and they enjoy the Jamai Shoshti every single day of the year!! Yesterday, a friend suggested the English term for Jamai Shoshti as Dissatisfied Customer Compensation Day

Having married in a non-Bengali (Punjabi) household, I never experienced the occasion called Jamai Shoshti… my mother-in-law was totally unaware of such a tradition and my mother never ever insisted.

Today, the 5th of June 2022 happens to be the Jamai Shoshti and I am going to treat myself… order food for lunch, may be a traditional Bengali cuisine from Oh Calcutta…

The Missed Ranchi Rendezvous

Dear Gora,

You have truly been my Langtoos since we roamed the lanes of Karol Bagh in our langots. By the time you read this, I would have gone far far away never to return. Unlike the popular belief there’s no afterlife… we are just dots of different sizes according to our deeds on the earth… I will be able to communicate with you only for few more hours as I am shrinking every moment and racing towards a big dot, perhaps bigger than the sun that we see from earth. It seems every soul or the dot gets shrunk and is absorbed in that big dot… may be it is the Baikunthadham, the ultimate resting place for the souls.

Goodbye my friend, we won’t meet again.”

The above thought lingered in my mind in the delirium of extreme high fever…

I was all set to take the mid-morning flight to Ranchi on 5th May 2022 to attend the wedding reception of dear Judha & Tania, in fact I convinced my friend Alok to go with me a day earlier than he had planned. However, there is many a slip between the cup and lip… on the morning of 3rd May I woke up with bad throat, even drinking water and tea was hurting. Just a week before Deepika and the housekeeper were down with Omicron variant of Covid-19. Though both recovered within 4-5 days, the doubt that the virus is lingering in the house somewhere to attack the unsuspecting remained. Deepika had a spare test kit of Rapid Antigen Test and used it to check me… immediately I became covid affected!! The good part was that all three of us have been living in isolated condition for the last one week and continued with the same arrangement.

I knew my Ranchi trip stands cancelled but there was a glimmer of hope that the test may not be correct and I am actually covid negative. Deepika suggested that if I have no other symptoms namely, fever, cough or body ache, then I test again on the morning of 5th and take the final call.

We had decided to bless the newlywed couple collectively with cash to be presented in a nice carved wooden box along with a citation. I was entrusted with creating the citation and getting it printed on a good quality paper. My venturing out to the market to get it printed was ruled out. There was also the issue of handing over the contribution money, not just mine but Jallu’s as well. He was not able to join the party as his appointment with the doctor for his wife, Rupa at Vellore hospital happened to be at those very dates… and therefore he had sent his contribution to me.

I called up Satyabrata and explained him the situation, told him that I will be sending him the PDF file of the citation for printing at his end. His reaction was and I loved it, “You are absolutely fine… the RAT is not authentic… test it again on 5th morning before getting on the flight”.

My next call was Gora to update him. I told him that I will be transferring the contribution amount of mine as well as Jallu’s. His bank details were registered with my bank as I had transferred some money while we were in Hyderabad. His reaction was more balanced with suggestion to take ample rest and if the health worsens, then go for RTPCR test and consult the doctor. I told him that I had a video consultation with doctor and taking the medicines as prescribed.

Having accomplished both tasks, I decided to take it easy and rest if that would help in quick recovery. But I had already decided to abandon the Ranchi trip knowing well that my conscience wouldn’t allow me even if the fresh test result is negative.

On the insistence of my son, we consulted a doctor on the Practo App over video call. He prescribed medicines and suggested blood and urine test, which we immediately got done on 3rd May itself. The result was available in the evening which showed some anomaly in the urine result but nothing to worry as per the doctor.

On the 4th early hours of the morning, (around 2 am), I suddenly felt extreme shivering with burning body temperature… it felt as if I am at Rohtang Pass and at the same time inside a boiler room. I wore my “down jacket”, doubled up the blanket to stop the shivering. I did not check but it was good 30-40 minutes when the shivering subsided to allow me to search for a paracetamol and take it. Soon I started sweating and the fever subsided and I slept. I thought the fever was a freak case but no, it made a comeback post lunch to put the scare not only to me but Deepika as well. She consulted with her brother who arranged for the home visit of CMO of Sitaram Bhartiya Hospital following day. Meanwhile, I had a chat with Indro and he told me send him the test result and the prescription for Judha (he is a doctor by profession) to check as well.

The doctor from Practo had prescribed some 7-8 medicines but both CMO of SBH and Judha cut them down to just 3 and prescribed one additional medicine after they diagnosed the fever to have caused by urine infection. I was mighty amazed with the fact that both of them removed the exact same medicines from the schedule and prescribed the same medicine for urine infection. Not only that, both doctors said that a single dose of the medicine is good enough to cure the infection.

The fever did not come back and I started feeling better but decided to go for RTPCR test as well, only to reconfirm that I am still covid positive. I received numerous calls from Delhi govt as well as GoI health department advising me to remain in isolation and take medicine as advised by the doctor. I told them in each occasion that I am in isolation for over a week and taking medicines as advised.

I received a long text message from Gora on the intervening night of 3-4 May. It asked about my health situation and advised to consult doctor. And then he also mentioned about the apprehension of some of our childhood friends about my joining them still being infected. Some of them even threatened to cancel their trip if I decide to go. Initially, I was hurt, irritated and angry but then realized in the mass of some 20+ schoolmates, there are only a handful of real friends and only they matter to me… the rest are not friends but just acquaintances with whom you do handshakes and smile at gatherings.

Anyways, I posted my position on the WA group (specially created to communicate between the ones who were attending the wedding reception) with assurance that I am not joining the celebrations because of my sudden illness. My inner self heard lots of “sigh of relief” from my so-called friends!!

There’s a silver lining to all dark clouds… in this case, it opened my eyes to the fact that one doesn’t become friends just by attending school together for few years. It was hurtful that few of them doubted my wisdom and thought I will be irresponsible enough to not just infect them but a wider group at the wedding reception. I am happy to have few lesser number of friends than a large group of acquaintances, for me they have ceased to exist in my world.

Way back in February when Indro finalized the wedding dates, I had told him that in all probability I won’t be able to attend… then the reason was completely different. Our housekeeper was going to her home in WB after a gap of 2 years for about 1.5 months and we were not sure if she would come back on time or at all. In her absence, I had to take care of the needs of our aging pet Rolf including cooking his food, feeding and cleaning him making it impossible for me to leave station. Whatever be the reason, my prophecy came true.

Now, I look forward to attending the Annaprashan ceremony of Indro’s grandchild!!

PS: I heard the stories of Ranchi from my friends, how they enjoyed their tiny vacation as well as all the gossips they shared while drinking the elixir of life… but since I was not at the spot, I decided not to include those snippets even the juicy ones…        

Chhordi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With my sisters at happier times…

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

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

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

Om Shanti. Om Shanti.  

Rock n Roll Ranchi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Day G2G

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karol Bagh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Few incidences or events that have remained etched in memory…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost in Translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…