The Relocation

Two weeks before the Durga Puja (2017), on a Friday evening, Deepika announced that her company is closing down the training vertical, that she has been managing as senior leader. She has to choose a different role within the organization or look outside. We decided to take it in stride and take a call based on options within the organization. On the following Monday she called up from office and said that there exist two options, one is in Jaipur and the other in Hyderabad in Business Operations vertical. It was paradigm shift for her from training to operation and a difficult call. The Hyderabad option was more suited to her profile, so she took up the offer without any delay.

Once decided, we started the process of getting mentally ready for the move. It was not easy being born, brought up and work life spent in Delhi. The next step was to hunt for a place in Hyderabad. I had never been to the city and had absolutely no idea about the demography/ geography except some names like Banjara Hills, Jubillee Hills etc. So, I started my research on the internet and came up with names like Kondapur, Madhapur and Gachibowli. Having theoretically acquainted myself with Hyderabad landscape, we decided to go to the ground zero and look for a house. Deepika being there already, I booked myself on a Vistara flight for 28th morning for two day house hunting mission.

I landed around 9:35 am and after collecting my bag reached the Lemontree Hotel at Nanakramguda, Financial District within 45 minutes, courtesy the beautiful ORR (Nehru Outer Ring Road). After breakfast, accompanied by Mr. Jain, the property consultant, we went for the hunt. We started with an apartment block in Madhapur; it was right on the main road but very quiet and peaceful once you are inside the complex. This was followed by few houses in the neighborhood of Banjara Hills. After having seen a dozen places in the surroundings of Hitex, we moved towards Gachibowli. The Ramkey Towers – apartment block, right next to the Deloitte building. The apartment was on the 6th floor overlooking the swimming pool and clubhouse. The security arrangements and the sincerity of the staff were impressionable. We liked the apartment which was kind of semi-furnished ensuring we have to move very minimal household items from Delhi. The owners were Punjabis staying in another apartment in the same complex and were keen to lease it out to us.

In the evening, we met my friends Swathi & Sanjay Reddy at their house in Financial District, just a kilometer away from the Lemontree Hotel. It was a beautiful abode for the beautiful couple. We had couple of drinks before coming back to our hotel.

Next day again after breakfast, we started our house hunt, this time with another property agent that a friend had recommended. He showed us some really decent and nice apartments but all unfurnished and needed either shifting complete household things from Delhi or purchasing new at Hyderabad.

In the morning, Deepika had messaged three of her local colleagues about the Ramkey apartment. All of them warned us of water shortages in the peak summer months which can double our maintenance charges. One of her colleague suggested that we look at NCC Urban where he too is located, just behind Ramkey, a few blocks away. We asked the property agent as well as Mr. Jain (of the previous day), if they have any property in NCC Urban listed with them. Both said they will look in their data base and revert. Meanwhile, Deepika got a call from a lady from NCC who was interested in leasing out her apartment. This call was courtesy Deepika’s colleague who had posted a query for availability of apartments for leasing in the NCC Urban Society App called ADDA, and we fixed up an appointment with lady for that evening.

The first look of the apartment was so pleasing that we almost unanimously decided to take it up immediately. The lady, Ms. Jayasree Gujja had got transferred to Philadelphia, USA and was leaving in a fortnight’s time. She offered us the fully furnished house where we needed just to get our clothes from Delhi. The rental cost was slightly above our limit but since it was a ready to move in place, we decided it was worth it. The following day I came back to Delhi having accomplished the mission. Deepika signed up the Lease Agreement the following Thursday before leaving for Delhi.

The final relocation date was dependent on my sister’s impending visit to Delhi (India) after almost 10 years. So, once she confirmed her schedule, we too finalized the dates – Deepika along with our housekeeper, Savita will leave on 28th Dec and I will start my road journey on 29th Dec with my 4-legged son, Rolf and Guddu, the trusted driver.

Deepika carried 7 suitcases and 3 handbags on the flight (paying for extra baggage) and left a lot more for me to carry in Toyota Altis. Our driver, Guddu was itching for this long drive of almost 1600km. Google Maps showed the fastest route through Taj Expressway but my friend Robin insisted that we take the Mathura Road even if it means an extra hour. I am glad that I heeded to his advice as it was practically fog-free at a time when there was news everyday of mishaps due to fog on Taj Expressway.

Guddu & I loaded up the car in the evening itself and realized, there were too many stuff to take along, but these were all essential items that has to go. Rolf, used to having the entire back seat to him whenever he travelled in the car got really squeezed to less than half the space. We planned for 4am departure to avoid traffic as much as possible. My niece and her fiancé dropped in for a drink and to bid me goodbye and by the time they left, it was almost 11pm. It was time to shut down all systems and lock-up all entry points barring the main exit and cover up the sofas and other stuff that would remain in Delhi. All these activities took up considerable time and I could finally hit the bed around 1 am after confirmation of Deepika’s safe landing in Hyderabad. I got up with the alarm at 3 am and got ready within the hour but there was no sign of Guddu till 4:30 am!! When I called him, the usual reply came that he is reaching in 10 minutes which actually worked out to 30 minutes. We finally started around 5:15 am for our 1600 km journey to Hyderabad after getting the petrol filled to full tank capacity.

The route was NH2/ NH19 (Mathura Road) – NH33(Agra By-pass) – NH43/44, pretty straight forward and simple route which Google said would take 26 hours non-stop, crossing 7 states – Delhi-Haryana-Uttar Pradesh-Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh(again)-Madhya Pradesh- Maharashtra-Telengana State. We decided to take the night halt at a resort in Pench which was right on the highway and begin fresh the next day for rest of the journey.

del-hyd route

The Mathura Road is currently being upgraded and there were sections which were closed and diversions marked, so the smooth cruising kept interrupting periodically. In a way it was good as I realized, Guddu Kumar was getting over enthusiastic about driving and in the process was applying some real hard breaking which was neither good the vehicle nor for Rolf, sitting at the back. By the time we hit the Agra By-pass (NH33), dawn started breaking on the horizon. It was good two hours of driving and Rolf as well as we needed to stretch our legs. I walked Rolf for 500 meters up the highway hoping he would do his job but the chap is so selective that he refused to do anything other than leaking his tank.

We started again moving towards Dholpur (Rajasthan) and then to Morena – Gwalior (MP) and then getting into UP again at Jhansi. We were actually bypassing all these cities as the highway was mostly away or on the outskirts of these cities. This also meant that unlike the other NH that pass through the city this was always skirting away from the city and therefore very few eating options existed on the entire stretch. There were no mid-way food courts like in NH8 or NH24/NH9, only few Dhabas where the trucks would lay by during the afternoon. We stopped at one such Highway Dhaba for breakfast. It was 100% vegetarian outlet and served different kinds of stuffed Paranthas. We ordered for Aloo-Parantha and tea. The food quality was nothing to talk about except it being very hot & spicy.

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As you approach each city, there were signs to take the bypass or go to the city. We diligently took the bypasses but just before Jhansi, we stopped at Petrol Pump to tank-up again. After filling up and getting Rolf to stretch his legs a little, we started again but missed out the Jhansi by-pass and entered the city. Luckily for us it was still early winter morning so the town was yet to come alive fully. We hastened our departure from the city using the Google Map and soon rejoined the NH44. Guddu has been driving since morning and I felt he needed some rest, so I took over the steering from him and asked him to take a nap. The road ahead was absolutely straight and very little traffic, I let the speedometer touch 140kmph and we soon crossed over to Madhya Pradesh once again. Guddu had taken a 15 minute nap and had been very restless. I asked him if would like to stop for toilet or tea but his response was “Sir, let me drive, I am feeling sleepy sitting on the passenger side”.  The effect of air-conditioning inside the car and the sunny warmth from outside was making me sleepy too, so once more I let Guddu take the wheel but told him to stop at the Pathway Retreat for lunch. Google showed it was some 2 hours away from our location.

I had dozed off for good an hour and half as we sped through the NH44. I enquired of Guddu if we had crossed Sagar and the Pathway Retreat and he said “Yes, about 30 minutes back.” I said, “Why didn’t you stop there?” He replied, “Sir, you were sleeping and so was Rolf, so didn’t want to disturb either of you. And moreover after the morning Aloo Parantha, I am not hungry at all, will stop for tea after some time.” I agreed with him and moreover, we were at least 3 hours ahead of Google’s predictions and stood a good chance of reaching our night halt station at Pench well before 9pm. We drove for next 2 hours without any incident except that there were huge line-up of trucks and tractor-trailers with sugarcane, practically closing one side of the highway. We negotiated the default single carriageway for about 3-5km and then moved back to the main carriageway. We stopped at Mowgli Street Food, just before Seoni for tea and let out Rolf for much needed break. He drank almost one litre of water but refused to eat anything. After a 15 minute stoppage, we rolled on towards our first destination – Go Flamingo Resort, Pench National Park. As we started, Google showed the destination to be 4:30 hour’s away meaning we will reach around 9:30pm. I had been to Pench National Park around 4 years back and knew the roads to be bad and narrow, typical forest roads. As we moved closer to our destination, the Google started re-estimating our arrival and confirmed that we will reach by 8:30pm, saving a clear one hour. The sun was setting over the horizon when we were still on the 4-lane highway and as the dusk gave way to darkness we encountered our first bad road, courtesy the frenzied expansion and construction of highways happening, which continued for about 6-8 km but seemed much more, eventually opening up to 2-lane jungle road. This was the hilly track or Ghat section that takes you to Pench. After a grueling one hour drive through the under-construction highway, which seemed like more than 2 hours, we finally made it to Go Flamingo Resort, Pench National Park.

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Go Flamingo Resort is the regular kind of Jungle Retreat, nothing fancy or luxury around this place. The rooms were extremely spacious and well-lit; the hotel staff extremely courteous and efficient. The room allocated to us had one double-bed, large enough for two people to sleep comfortably but Guddu refused to share it so I requested the hotel guys to provide an extra bed for him. I ordered food for us and laid out Rolf’s (dog) food and water. He ate half of it and the full bowl of water. I had forgotten that I was carrying boiled eggs from Delhi; there were 4 of them, so I gave 2 to Rolf and rest shared with Guddu along with the Elixir of Life which Guddu simply gulped down. The dinner was simple – dal, egg curry, salad and chapatti, which we devoured in double quick time, we were starving!! After dinner, Guddu went out, probably to have a cigarette because when he came in, I could smell the tobacco. We, including Rolf had a sound sleep and I woke up around 5:30 am (my body clock has got tuned to this hour of wake-up). After the morning rituals, I took Rolf for a walk and to my relief and his satisfaction Rolf pooped on the jungle path of Pench Tiger Reserve and marked his territory at various spots!!

We had a quick breakfast – Rolf: 2 boiled eggs & plain lassi, Guddu: 2 aloo parantha & tea and I had bread-omelet & coffee. I settled the hotel outstanding and started for the last leg of approx. 550km to Hyderabad. We got the car tank refilled at a petrol pump on the highway about 20km from the resort. I opened the Google Map and fed the destination and kept waiting for it to respond but what can GM do if it can’t get the fodder (network) from Vodafone!! Meanwhile, Guddu Kumar had stepped on the accelerator to reach Hyderabad on time for lunch. There were road signage’s directing us to our destination so I was not worried about the map. We crossed Gurmeet Dhaba but it was too early for tea-break and came to a fork where the right side road looked more lucrative and before I could respond, Guddu had taken the elevated newly constructed road and I could fleetingly see a signage on the left abandoned road saying “Towards Hyderabad”. This wrong turn not only cost us almost 170km but we lost crucial 3/3.5 hours.

fiasco-at-nagpur

Anyways, the lucrative good road lasted only about 10-12km and soon became completely potholed pathetic road. We were doing 100-120kmph earlier but the road ensured we keep it down to less than 30kmph. In the absence of the map navigation, we were completely unaware where we were heading towards. We kept going and reached a T-junction where it said Amravati on the left and Kolkata on the right. The obvious choice was Amravati but I was having a nagging doubt, in my numerous checks about the route map, I have never come across Amravati anywhere near my route. I rebooted my phone in the hope for getting the connectivity but it wasn’t to be and the most frustrating was that all other apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc were working with regularity. Using MyVodafone App, I upgraded my plan to the latest one but still no luck. Then I realized Guddu was carrying a smartphone, I asked him if it was Airtel connection but it was Vodaphone too. Guddu unlocked the phone and tried the Google Map and Wallah Habibi, it was working. The Google Map commanded us to take the U-turn in next 2.5km and proceed straight for next 67km before turning right. We have lost the early morning advantage as the road became crowded with vehicular traffic. It took us almost 2 hours to cover the estimated 70km and we turned right as directed by the map. As we kept moving, we realized we are going back to the point from where we took the wrong road and frankly did not want to go through that terrible patch of almost 20-25km again. We reached a crossing where few trucks were parked and I decided to check with their drivers for alternate road to reach NH44. One of the drivers speaking Maharashtrian Hindi directed us to a road and said we should take the right turn under the flyover at Buti-Bori. The road wasn’t showing up in the Google Map and it kept commanding us to take its suggested road which we finally took and reached the Nagpur Outer Ring Road and travelled another 34km before we could meet NH44. We had lost over 3 precious hours. I called up Deepika and told her that we are terribly behind schedule and would now reach only around 8/8:30pm as per Google Map.

The NH44 that lies in Maharashtra needs urgent relaying, most of the surface having gone from bad to worse. Our average speed came down to a mere 40-45kmph as every 5km of good double carriageway was complimented with 10km of potholed single carriageway. This continued till we crossed over to Telengana around 3pm. The car had consumed lot of gas and we were again down to 25% limit. We haven’t come across any gas station in the last 50 odd km which was really odd.

As agreed, once we hit the Telengana State, Guddu handed over the steering to me and we cruised on at a sedate speed, keeping an eye for a gas station. It would have been a nightmare to get stranded on the highway without petrol. We were cruising around 90-100kmph when Guddu shouted that a Gas Station is just ahead of us in less than 250mtr. I immediately slowed down and the car behind us narrowly missed hitting us, this was my first and only blemish in the entire journey. We tanked up at Sri Ambica Filling Station (HP) between Dollara (behind us) and Sekapur (ahead of us) and clock said 3:45pm, the Google Map still estimating 8:30 as ETA Hyderabad. I had decided to hand over steering to Guddu once it gets dark as he is more tuned to negotiating the traffic through the dark as seen the previous evening. But before that I wanted to enjoy the drive through the beautiful highway and reach my new home as early as possible not only for us but Rolf too as he was getting restless in the cramped rear seat.

We zoomed past Adilabad on our left and Nirmal on the right and the signage said Kamareddy some 92km ahead. I gunned the engine and the speedometer touched 140kmph and stayed there till we crossed the exit to Kamareddy and headed towards Ramyapet, 27km ahead.  The sun was setting in the distant horizon, I decided to look for a dhaba or tea stall and found one about 5km before Ramyapet exit. The tea was nothing but sugar and milk syrup but it provided much needed energy. Rolf also was able to stretch his legs, peed and drank a liter of water.

Guddu took over from me for the last stretch of our journey as I recalibrated the destination to NCC Urban, Gachibowli, Hyderabad.  The clock said 5:35pm and Google estimated ETA at 8:09pm. Being a Saturday, the traffic was low on the highway and soon we were cruising at 120kmph and reached the outskirts of Hyderabad around 6:15pm. There were some traffic as we approached Nehru Outer Ring Road (ORR) but once we were on it, the traffic became smooth and Guddu stepped on to take the needle to touch 140kmph and I had to restrain him and slowed down to 100-110kmph. Guided by the Google Map we finally reached NCC, Urban precisely at 7:13pm, beating Google ETA by almost one hour.

Deepika was at the gate to receive us and guide us to the underground parking bay. I let out Rolf to relieving himself before getting into our new home for some years to come.

Guru Dakshina

When the announcer called his name, Dr. Ashesh Sanyal got up with a smile on his face to give his acceptance speech, carefully placing the flower bouquet, the plaque and the award cheque on the table in front of him and walked up to the podium slowly.

In his career as a talented and accomplished professor of mathematics, he has delivered many a speech with élan. The spotlight, the podium, the vast audience in the semi-darkness of the auditorium doesn’t make him nervous at all now. He has said ‘thank you’ so many times that it flows like water, the moment he takes to the podium. But today was different, Dr. Ashesh Sanyal stood at the podium contemplating what to say, perhaps overwhelmed at the honor and the award cheque, both were large enough to make him speechless. It seemed that he was looking for words to express himself. The audience meanwhile started to get restless and the cacophony of noise from the auditorium broke his reverie and started to speak with a shy smile…

You must have realized that today standing in the midst of you all and receiving such honor, I was lost in thoughts for a few moments. Some of you may even felt that I was overwhelmed in receiving such appreciation and perhaps I would say that I do not deserve such accolades, as is customary in many such speeches.

I would say, you have guessed it right, I was overwhelmed and an emotional storm started brewing inside me. Yes again, I truly do not deserve all this accolade and awards and this is not any hollow acceptance speech but I am speaking from the depth of my heart.

I am going to tell you something that I have not shared with anyone till date. You may find it difficult to digest after the reading of my citation by the chairman of the organizers here but the truth is I was very weak in mathematics in my childhood. And not just weak but really scared of the subject. I used feel feverish just thinking about it, the subject class used feel like a concentration camp. I remember, till the sixth standard, I have failed in the subject in many term exams. Once I got just 5 marks out of 100! Yes, you heard it right 5 out of 100.

To make me capable if not strong, my parents appointed a private tutor to teach me mathematics. This particular tutor had the fame of making the weakest pupil score good marks in the exams. His appearance was very intimidating to his students with a thick mustache and joint eyebrows and the eyes that were always red in anger; moreover he carried bamboo cane for disciplining his errant students. And his booming voice was enough to make my heart jump out of my mouth!! He used come twice a week for two hours a day and would grind me in an invisible machine called mathematics. I used consider him only next to Satan and hated him from the bottom of my heart.

His teaching style was really scary. He would himself solve problems after problems in a notebook reading out the steps to solve them without bothering to check if I have understood or not. Thereafter, he would ask me to solve the same set of questions in my notebook and if I missed one step or the answer was wrong, his cane came handy too easily. So, I tried rote learning of the answers but the problem with rote learning is if you forget one step then that’s the end of it, the question will never get the right answer. I think the amount of caning that I received at that time was proportional to the reducing marks in my mathematics paper.

When the half-yearly exams result were declared, I received Zero out of Hundred.

My uncle (father’s elder brother) finally got rid of the monster of a tutor and told my father “There is a guy who knows mathematics: he is quite poor, let us try him out and see if he can make the boy understand mathematics.”

I was nervous again, a new tutor! It was like jumping into fire from the frying pan. I kept praying that at least the new tutor should have a pleasant personality and temper unlike the previous monster. Somehow, I felt all mathematics teachers were like the previous tutor, always angry and ready to punish the hapless students like me.

Anyways, the new tutor came with my uncle and all my premonitions evaporated instantly. Instead of being scared of my new tutor, I was amused to the hilt. There was this lean man carrying a bunch of notebooks and papers that overflowed from his bag. He was anything but scary and I rather felt pity for him. I had gotten over my fear in him, so I smartly guided him to my study room.

The new tutor in a timid way patted my back and asked “Are you weak in mathematics? Are you scared of the subject?” then in a conspiratorial voice said “I am scared too about mathematics but please do not tell your uncle or father otherwise I will lose this job, my only earnings.”

I was taken aback. He came closer to me and said again “I don’t know much about mathematics but if I didn’t take up this tuition, I would have starved to death. Now, you are my savior, if we both try, perhaps we can help each other.”

“H-h-how ca-a-n I help you” I started stammering. Sir just caught hold of my hand and said, “I might get stuck at some point while solving, you must help me in solving the sums. You are young with fresh brain; you will surely be able to solve it. And please don’t tell anyone that you are helping me, I will get into huge trouble.”

I was dumbstruck looking at my new tutor. He was most apologetic in his demeanor and almost pleading with me in a tearful manner. Something snapped inside me, suddenly I felt empowered and decided that I cannot fail this person, I must put my whole energy in saving my new tutor. You know, when you see a person drowning, you too jump into the water to save him even if you are not a swimmer. That was the moment from where mathematics became my obsession. I decided to do the sums on my own, use logic to solve them and more importantly, do well in the exams. If I could show improvement in my results, then only my new Sir can save his job. It was for him that I transformed myself.

I don’t know if you all will believe it or not but the very next day onwards, the fear of mathematics simply vanished, evaporated from my consciousness. I started spending hours on mathematics trying to solve the problems and if I got stuck, I would put all my energy till it would get solved. Slowly I realized that problems that I once thought unsolvable are really very easy. The logical steps that used elude me earlier were now very clear. I started enjoying mathematics and would feel elated after solving a difficult question.

My new tutor also tried very hard but would often get stuck at some point and would request me to help him. Soon our role reversed, we would try to solve the same question separately and I would always come up with solution before him. He would say, “Oh, you have solved it already, I got stuck at this point, can you please explain the process to me?” I would then explain him the process as if I am his tutor. He would say “Okay, it’s that easy!” thereafter just to hide his own embarrassment he would give a tough question and say “I am sure, even you can’t solve this.” I would get even more determined and find the right process to solve it. Sir would smile innocently and say “You are really very brainy. Will you be able to solve the questions during the exams? Please ensure that my job remains otherwise you know I will starve to death.” By this time I had developed immense self confidence and would assure him “Sir, you just wait n watch, I will get full marks.”

Sometimes he would get some very difficult ones and tell me “Just see these questions if you can solve, I can’t make a head or tail of these. I think even you can’t solve them.” I would get very annoyed and leave everything till I could solve them. He would sit by me and give some tips as if asking me if they were the right ways. As I would solve them I would shout “Eureka” and explain him the process like a teacher. He would gratefully say “Thank God, you’re there to solve these tricky ones.”

Meanwhile, even in school, my teachers could see the transformation within me and would often exclaim “Your brain has opened up magically, it is unbelievable!”

I would instantly remind them “You won’t believe it when you mark my paper in the exams.”

My tutor would reprimand me saying “You shouldn’t boast like that, if you make silly mistakes or forget the steps during the exams, you will not get the desired result.”

“I will never forget the steps; mathematics is now securely embedded inside my brain. And if not for any other reasons, I have to secure good marks just for you. I can’t fail you Sir.” I would assure him sincerely.

That was the first time I saw sparks in his eyes but couldn’t make out if it was out of excitement or something else.

Doctor Sanyal took a sip of water from the glass kept on the podium and took a deep breath before starting again.

I won’t take much of your time, you have been very patient with me but my story is nearing its end now.

When the result was declared in the school, my teachers were literally taken aback. They kept saying, it is a miracle that the boy who rarely got double figure marks all these times has secured 100% marks in mathematics. My mathematics teacher had checked my paper thrice but could not deduct even half a mark, it was 100/100.

I rushed home in a euphoric state with my result and urged my father, “Please take me to my tuition Sir, and I want to share my result with him just now.” I could feel that I won’t be able to rest till I tell him that “We have succeeded”.

My father’s face was quite grave not showing any joy at my brilliant result. He said at length “Yes, I have been waiting to take you to your Sir. Let’s go.” And then as an afterthought said “Even he wants to meet you urgently.”

I was surprised to see our car getting inside the hospital instead of a house. I asked my father “Why are you taking me to the hospital?”

“Your tutor is very ill. Two days back he fell down in an unconscious state and when we got to know, we admitted him here. An hour ago he regained his senses and has been asking for you since then.” My father said solemnly.

My mouth became dry and I anxiously walked with my father through the long corridors of the hospital. My tutor was lying in a ward bed at the corner of a large room. He was thin but now it seemed that he has lost few more kilos in the last two days, dark circles have formed under his eyes. He was visibly in pain but when I showed him my mark sheet, his face lighted up for an instant. He took my hands in his and kept smiling as tears rolled out of his eyes.

The nurse urged us to leave as his condition started to deteriorate. With great difficulty, Sir spoke to my father “Please see to it… what I told you.”

“Yes, you be rest assured, I will do what I have to do.” My father assured him.

Dr Ashesh Sanyal stopped for a while covering the microphone mouthpiece with his hand, took a few sips of water and then composing himself started again.

That was the last time I saw him. He passed away that very night. My father and uncle cremated his body without telling me. Next evening my father called me and said “Your Sir had left this for you.”

There was an old file folder roughly tied with blue ribbon. Inside were three notebooks and some loose sheets of paper. All covered with blue ink depicting strange mathematical figures.

I had absolutely no clue about the texts but the handwriting including the crisscross was very familiar.

“All of it are higher mathematics, research oriented. He was such a brilliant brain, we could hardly figure out.” My father sighed and then continued “He couldn’t finish his research. These are beyond the comprehension of most people but he was confident that you will be able to take this research to a logical conclusion when you grow up. He has given his blessings for your success.”

Dr Ashesh Sanyal took off his specs and started cleaning the glasses with his handkerchief. He kept on rubbing the glasses, his eyes filling up with tears. There was pin drop silence in the whole auditorium. He was trying desperately to control his pent up emotions. Then he said …

You would have realized that I am trying to control my emotions. Yes, I wanted to stop my tears but they are not listening to me anymore and there’s a tsunami building up inside me. I have nothing more to say but I am sure you have guessed it rightly that I owe everything that I have today to my Sir. He acted as if he didn’t know mathematics and ignited the passion inside me to succeed. He let go of his ego just to ensure his pupil would be successful. Yes, he changed my life, my destiny. In fact, he has given me this life. He made me what I am today. This award, the citation and the prize money, all are rightfully his only.

This research breakthrough of Prime Number for which I have received this huge award, has been possible only because my poor, unknown Sir had written down the basic approach for the research work. I have followed his path diligently and that is my only contribution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have decided to set up a Trust Fund with the money that I have received today for the benefit of the exceptionally talented but economically weak students of mathematics; they will receive monthly stipend from the Trust – Shibnath Sarkar Memorial Scholarship.

Yes, Shri Shibnath Sarkar was my mathematics tutor. He made me what I am today. This Trust Fund is my Guru Dakshina to him.

 

Note: The original story is in Bengali called WRIN by Sourav Mukhopadhyay. It created a huge impact on me and I couldn’t resist re-writing it in English with minimal changes. I offer my sincere apologies to Mr. Sourav Mukhopadhyay, if I have erred in bringing out the true emotions and nuances of his original craft.

My Father’s Wedding – 2

This is the story of Sunny’s father.

When I joined the school in Jamalpur, one of the first guys I befriended was Sunny. He was a bit unusual from the others; he had a thick beard and mustache, very unlike the other students of class nine. So I called him Uncle Sunny and in reply he landed a uppercut precisely on my nose sending me to the floor five feet away, senseless.

I regained consciousness after a good half hour and saw Sunny sprinkling water on me to bring me back to my senses. The moment I opened my eyes he started apologizing profusely. Thereafter we became very good friends.

One day Sunny confessed that he really likes a girl called Ruksana and if I could help him write a romantic love letter to Ruksana. I asked Sunny to get nice writing paper, the ones that girls usually liked and come over to my uncle’s home in the evening. When Sunny came over to my uncle’s home, my cousin Rubina called me aside and asked, “Where did you find this sample piece?” I said, “What do you mean? He is my classmate and good friend.”

“He was in the same class with my elder brother, then with me and now he is in your class.” Rubina said in a matter of fact manner.

I was shocked because my cousin brother was in the final years of college and Rubina in her first year of college. Any ways, I did not tell Sunny or any of my other friends about my new found knowledge about Sunny. In fact our friendship became stronger over the months in school. However, I noticed that he never invited me or any of his classmates to his home.

Many of my classmates used call him Bastard’s Son behind his back. I did not like it and one day confronted Saiful, “Why do you people call him Bastard’s Son?”

“His father looks like a drunkard, chews tobacco all the time and drinks local wines in the evening. He can always be found in the red light area of the town. Not only that, he is a habitual molester of women” replied Saiful in disgust.

“Doesn’t anybody complain against him?” I asked.

Saiful spat out before answering, “Those who are sitting in judges’ bench are all scoundrels and bribe takers. Every time the guy was caught and brought to the court, he would bribe them and the matter is dusted under the carpet.”

“What about Sunny’s mother? How is she tolerating all these nonsense?” I asked again.

“Sunny doesn’t have a mother. She passed away many years ago” replied Saiful.

Now, I could understand why Sunny avoided calling his friends over to his home.

One day we got the news that Sunny’s father has got into trouble once more. This time he had misbehaved with Magistrate’s wife and his men have tied him up with a tree in their bunglow lawn. Deep inside me, I was happy that the bribe taking magistrate has become the victim now but knew that the old man needs to be rescued too. So, went to the magistrate’s home to plead with him and after much plodding he agreed to let him go against transfer of ten acres of land in his name.

Next day, I found Sunny sitting in the school lawns under the mango tree, all alone. He seemed depressed for some reason. I asked him, “What happened, what’s bothering you?”

“I am worried about the old bastard” replied Sunny.

“Who is the old bastard?” I wanted him to clarify.

“Who else but my father” replied an agitated Sunny.

“You too call him a bastard?” I asked in shock.

“I only have given him that title” shouted Sunny.

“Why don’t you get him married again?” I asked him. Sunny seemed to like the idea and calmed down.

The following day after school, I along with Sunny and Saiful presented our proposal to Sunny’s father. The old bastard seemed to like the idea and blushed like a teenager.

After much searching around, we found a woman marriage counselor who agreed to search for a suitable bride for the old bastard in exchange of five hundred rupees as her fees. She confirmed the following Friday for meeting with the would-be bride and her family.

The household seemed well-to-do but the bride to be was just 15 years old and had 7 more siblings, perhaps, all a year younger to the previous ones. It seemed that man of the house has no other job but procreation as per God’s will and in the process the health of the mother has become miserable. The four of us along with the marriage counselor sat on one side of the room while the bride-to-be all decked up sat on the other side along with her mother and siblings. The marriage counselor introduced me and Saiful as groom’s nephew but kept quiet about Sunny. She actually stopped Sunny when he started to say something and instead asked his father, if he liked the girl.

The shy smile of the bastard confirmed that he liked the girl. The bride’s family too was willing for the match. While paying the bride’s money, Sunny said to the bride “You are going to be my mother, please don’t treat me as a stepson and consider me as your own son.”

The bride’s mother flared up hearing that and said “What do you mean by stepson? Is this guy your father? We were not told that he has a grown up son?” then she attacked the marriage counselor. We came out running and did not stop till we reached the safety of Sunny’s home.

We were indomitable in our endeavor to find a bride for the bastard and soon found another marriage counselor. This time we gave her clear instructions that she should not hide the fact that the bastard has a grown up son. Two days later the counselor got back with a proposal and we decided to check it out.

Once again, the four of us went to see the bride-to-be along with the marriage counselor. We were seated in the long verandah of the house, the bride-to-be sat opposite to us with her parents on either side. The bride’s father looked handsome with toned up body that was all muscle while the mother though a little plump, still exuded beauty.

“Do you like the girl, Abba? Sunny asked his father.

“I liked the one standing by the little girl” replied Sunny’s father with a shy smile.

Everyone around was shocked that the bastard liked the mother of the bride. “Let’s get out of here before anything goes wrong.” I told Sunny. But before we could do anything, the bastard had caught hold of the woman’s hand and pleading her to marry him. We tried pulling him away but the husband of the woman started beating him up and as the commotion reached the neighbors,they too joined in the beating, even we were not spared and got beaten up badly.

Somehow in tattered clothes and injured body, we reached Sunny’s home. Sunny was most affected and warned his father “If you do not get married in one week, I will never set foot in this house.” Saying this he came out with me to my uncle’s home.

Though the guy was a confirmed bastard in his behavior, he really loved his son, so this time, he on his own found a marriage counselor and actually got married within the week. He sent Saiful to give the good news to Sunny and me and asked us to join him.

Sunny and I were sitting in my room with some books on poetry to copy the lines for the love letter to Ruksana when Saiful burst into the room and said excitedly, “Sunny, I have two surprises for you.”

Sunny and I asked in unison, “What?”

“First one is that your father has got married finally.” Saiful said with a mystic smile on his face.

Sunny and I jumped up in joy and asked “What’s the second one?”

“You need to go to your home to see the second surprise.” Saiful started laughing as he said this.

We hurried towards Sunny’s home without wasting further time. We found the couple in the kitchen where Sunny’s new mother was making Rice Pudding and his father was standing next her chewing betel leaf with tobacco. Seeing us he said, “Darling, serve up the pudding, your son and his friends have come.”

Sunny’s new mother turned towards us and immediately Sunny blurted out, “Ruksana, it is you!”

“I am your mother now, don’t call me by name. You can call me Ammu.” Ruksana reprimanded her son.

Suiful started laughing aloud and said, “How did you like the Second Surprise?”

My Father’s Wedding – 1

This is the story of my friend’s father.

I had just got promoted to Class 9 after spending two years in the previous class. However, within the first week of the first month of school reopening, the teachers realized I was not going to make the next grade with other students. Therefore, mid-session I was handed my transfer certificate and unceremoniously thrown out. It was difficult to get admission in any school in Dhaka at this time and I was totally at loss about my next move.

My Uncle asked me to join him at Jamalpur where he was a well known political figure and headed the board of few schools. I got admission in one of the schools where he was a director and started the new session. When you join mid-session, it raises lot of curiosity among the existing students but within a week they make you their friends. So, in next 10 days, I made some good friends – Saiful, Shanu, Lakhin, Jahangir, Munni, Aarifa, Dancing Shiela, Wrestler Shiela and many more.

The story is about Saiful’s father. Saiful was the first boy of the class but he was not into studies 24×7 like most other first boys. Therefore, soon we became very close friends. Almost at the end of class 9, I got to know that Saiful’s father had married twice and Saiful and his two sisters are born of the first marriage. The second marriage did not yield any child. His father was rich in the sense that he own lots of landed property. He wanted to keep Saiful with him as the second marriage proved to be childless but Saiful’s mother did not agree and took him away to ensure he goes to a school and become educated.

Though, it was quite tragic situation but we used make fun of it and teased Saiful, “Why don’t you get your father married again? At least we will get treated to a feast of Biriyani and other delicacies.” He would get upset and not speak to us for rest of the day.

After my Senior School Certificate (SSC) exams, I came back to Dhaka to join college. I used to meet all my Jamalpur friends whenever I visited my Uncle’s home. When other students were busy getting special coaching for university admission, I was loafing around knowing well that I won’t be getting admission in the university and even my uncle cannot help this time around. So the call from Saiful was blissful. He said. “Come to Jamalpur immediately, my father is getting married next week. You always wanted to have feast at my father’s wedding, there will be lots there! Incidentally, the girl is no other than our classmate Shiela.”

I was shocked but asked him “Which one, Dancing or Wrestler?”

“Dancing Shiela” replied Saiful.

Must tell you here that there were two Shielas in our class, one had a built like a wrestler hence referred as Wrestler Shiela while the other was a good dancer, hence Dancing Shiela. We used watch her dance in the girl’s common room through the keyhole.

Anyways, next day I left for my Uncle’s home in Jamalpur. On the day of the wedding, dressed up in our finest clothes we accompanied the groom for bride’s home. “You father is so old, his one leg is already in the grave! The bulb may fuse any day.” I told Saiful under my breath.  “The old man is beyond reasoning.” Saiful replied as a matter of fact.

We were soon lost in the midst of all good looking dames who had a chance to flirt with the boys in abandon and I forgot all about Saiful’s father. The food was excellent starting with pulao, bhuna beef, mutton, egg, chicken, sweet curd, sweets and ice cream. Everyone was enjoying except Dancing Shiela who perhaps was thinking that instead of joining university, she is being married off to a old man for money. And the groom happens to be the father of her classmate, what an irony!

In such a situation, nobody cares about what the bride is thinking or what is going through her mind. I too let the thought pass me and helped the bride get into the palanquin and she was brought her husband’s home. There was another reception next day and after spending a week in Jamalpur I came back to Dhaka.

On the fourth day after I came back to Dhaka, Saiful called up. I answered the call with a joke, “Where has your father taken his bride for honeymoon?”

Saiful’s voice was sad as he said, “He is yet to go, but will go 6 feet under the ground.”

“What are you saying?” I cried.

“He passed away an hour ago. The burial will be before sunset, see if you can make it in time.” said Saiful.

I immediately left for Jamalpur.

After the burial, I stayed over at Jamalpur, giving moral support to my dear friend Saiful.

Three days after the death of Saiful’s father, the Panchayat called a meeting at Saiful’s home to discuss and help in property division. One of the leader of the group took aside Saiful and in a conspiratorial voice told, “If you give me acre of land, I will ensure you get the entire property.” Saiful did not made any comment.

The meeting started and the members of the Panchayat started voicing their opinion in contradiction to each other. Then Saiful said, “Please stop everyone and listen to me. The matter is our family concern, if we can resolve it ourselves, do you guys any problem?”

The Panchayat said in unison “No, not at all.”

Then Saiful turned towards her first step mother (his father’s second wife) and said, “I know you don’t like me at all, mother and though you have not given me birth, still I am your son only. Moreover you are getting old so I and my sisters would like to take care of you, please stay with us. What will you do with this material wealth, we are your real wealth, mother.” The impact was immediate as his step mother hugged him and said, “You are right my son, I don’t want any of this wealth.”

I thought Saiful had played a masterstroke by emotionally blackmailing his step mother. He has effectively reduced the number of claimant to just two parties.

Saiful then turned towards Dancing Shiela, his second step mother and said, “Mother, you know me very well, we have studied together. My father’s death has affected you the most; whatever I say or do it will be insufficient. However, the property will be divided into two parts, one will be yours and the other will be ours. But you cannot go back to your parent’s home with all that property because your parents might marry you off again with some other old haggard man for money. So, I would request to you is stay here and continue with your studies and when it is time, we will find the right groom for you.”

Dancing Shiela’s parents had objection but she agreed immediately to Saiful’s proposal. Probably she trusted Saiful more than her own parents who had practically sold her off to the old man.

Today, six years after that eventful day, Saiful called again and said, “Next month, my younger step mother is getting married. Please come and join the festivities.”

The C-Life Dossier: The Resurrection

Beyond the expectations of many including my parents and brother, I have not only stayed put in the organisation but have actually made progress in the last two years and I credit this to work environment and my bosses.

In the first week of my joining, there was a bit of confusion as to whom I was being assigned. Of the two contenders, one was on tour therefore the other one claimed me as his own for the first three days. Then the first one came back and promptly reclaimed me. Looking back, I feel good because under him I learnt a lot; not just about my assignments but on inter personal skills and general life skills.

I remember one incident, about a month or so in the job. Sanjeev, my boss had gone on a tour once more. The mails addressed to him were given to me and I would neatly put them in file-folder and keep it on his table. As a child, I was told not to open anybody else’s mail and I always followed that, even today.

It was Tuesday or Wednesday (midweek) when Mr. Ramachandran, the super boss called RD, my colleague in his room and he came back within a minute and informed me that I have been summoned by him. I was sure that I was going to be fired for something wrong I may have done. With a trembling leg, I entered his cabin. He looked at me and said in a even tone, “Did you get a letter or memo from Mr. Lal?” At that point of time, I had no clue as to who is Mr. Lal? Gathering courage I said, “Sir, all the mails are kept in Sanjeev’s table, shall I get them?” I brought all the mails to his table. When he saw the unopened envelopes, he asked “Why are these not opened?” “These are all addressed to Sanjeev, so I did not open them” I replied. Then as an afterthought I told him that I have been told since childhood not to open other’s mail. Mr. Ramachandran had a hearty laugh and then said, “Son, there is nothing personal in all these mails that come every day in the office. Since Sanjeev is not here, it is your duty and responsibility to open the mails and take appropriate action. You may falter in your action sometime but that is acceptable because otherwise how will you learn. There may be some issues beyond your realm, in such cases, come to me, I will advise you. Now, open all these mails and bring me the one from Mr. Lal. By the way he is the RM of Bihar.”

This one incident gave a big boost to my confidence and helped me create a niche for myself in the organisation.

The organisation was rapidly expanding and needed people to power them to the next level. So, for the first time, it was decided to recruit directly from the university campus. In the first instance three people were recruited from two different campuses and they joined as the first set of management trainees in the history of Dabur.

Two of them came from IMT, Ghaziabad and I knew them from an earlier instance when they had come for an event sponsorship. The third one was from Delhi University having done her masters in business economics and had an air about her. The training programme was for 18 months after which they will be absorbed in different functional area.

One day, around this time, Sanjeev announced that we have been given the brand Hajmola, a digestive tablet. The brand was in a decline on its lifecycle and needed some boost.  From a high volume of 50000 cases annually it had fallen to around 35000 cases. For the next one week, we analyzed the sales trend of Hajmola and realised that there were not only stiff competition from smaller branded players but a plethora of me-too brands from unorganised sector have mushroomed over the last couple of years. The task was simple but uphill – (a) reposition & re-establish Hajmola as the Fun Product that is efficacious and good for all age group (b) create a noise/hype around the brand that will subdue the rest. For the first initiative, we recreated the Hostel Film (Hajmola Sir) with a contemporary touch. But for the second part we got stuck, we wanted to have consumer promotion that will have a ‘pull’ effect rather than dealer scheme that may or may not ‘push’ the product. In those days MRTP commission was fairly strong and all trade/ consumer promotions needed to adhere to their norms. We drafted our plans and submitted to the legal dept for them to get the clearance.

A week later we were told that there’s a meeting with the lawyer to thrash out the details before we could proceed further. Just a day before the scheduled meeting, Sanjeev had go out town on urgent work and Mr. Ramachandran told me that I have to be the front man from the Marketing. I was sweating but outwardly showed enough confidence to face the lawyer (till then I had no clue, who it was). On the appointed day, Mr. Ramachandran called me in his chamber and asked “Can you reach this place around 7 pm?” giving me an address of Sundar Nagar, ND. The name on it was Mr. Soli Sorabjee with the address. I nodded yes, for my throat was completely dry.

I reached the destination around 6:30 and waited for the others to arrive. About 15 minutes later Mr. GC Burman, MD & Mr. PD Narang, HoD Company Affairs came and thereafter Mr. Ramachandran.  He asked me if I am carrying all the relevant documents with me which I confirmed. We went inside to meet Mr. Sorabjee who was flanked by his deputies and I could see my hand written draft of the consumer promotion lying on the desk in front of him with some marking and side notes. It has been read by the great man, I was elated. I was asked to repeat the modus operandi of the scheme which I did without once referring to my notes as I knew every detail by heart. I felt, I have impressed all present including the solicitor.

At the end of all deliberations lasting over an hour, Mr. Sorabjee cautioned that the Consumer Scheme may attract MRTP sanctions and all efforts may come to noughts. However, he suggested that if we could work around it and make it Retail oriented then it would work out. Mr. Ramachandran asked me work on that area and come up with a solution in a weeks’ time.

The following week started with brainstorming for converting the consumer promotion to a retail scheme. The issue was that retailers always look for discounts & margins more than any reward at a later date. Sanjeev & I were against giving any cash discount at that stage as it would eat into our promotion budget. We involved the freshly inducted management trainees to come up with ideas, even the weirdest ones will do. After a few late evenings (unthinkable in those days at Dabur), we finally came up with Hajmola – Know Your Nature Quiz Contest. It was simple, innovative (for retail trade) and workable. The top prize was a Maruti 800 Car followed by other attractive gadgets like Washing Machine, Refrigerator and Television etc.

The Hajmola Know Your Nature Quiz had a series of nature related simple questions followed by a fill-in-the blank question asking the respondent why he/she loves Hajmola. The Coupons were serial numbered and in 3 parts where one part was retained by the retailer and the other two parts returned to the dealer/ sales representative. All coupons were collected at HO and sent to an agency that segregated coupons based on ‘all correct answers’. The other coupons with incorrect answers were also kept for later scrutiny if demanded. At the end of the scheme period of three months, the winner would be declared through computer random number generation. It was fool proof scheme without any biases and though there were multiple complaints to MRTP commission but none was entertained and we were given clean chit to continue.

In that three months period all the marketing people travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting not just the strong markets but tertiary markets as well. Sanjeev & I had to alter our travel plans to ensure one of us remain in office to coordinate with the agency in segregation of coupons. The team of management trainees, Robin, Jolly & Deepika were extremely involved and helped us with their tireless services. My interaction with them in these three months gave me two very close friends and my life partner.

By the middle of the second month or half way through the scheme period, we knew it was a success because we had reached the 18000 cases, way above the monthly average, in the first month itself. And when the scheme closed finally at the end of three months, the sales figures were astounding; we had not only achieved our annual target but sold more than 60000 cases of Hajmola in just three months.

It took another month to complete the segregation of coupons and preparing the list of successful entries. Then we arranged for the lucky draw through random number generation process at the Holiday Inn Hotel, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi. It was a big event and all dealers across the country were invited to join the event. We arranged the services of a professional host, Mr. Shammi Narang, renowned media personality, to conduct the ceremony. Amidst the fan fare, the winner of top prize was announced which went to a retailer from Patna City. The symbolic key of the car was handed over to Mr. R S Lal, the Regional Manager. We had tied up with Maruti for delivery of the car in any location in the country using their vast dealer network across the country and it took another month to formalise the delivery.

As a reward, Sanjeev suggested that I should represent the Brand team and go to Patna to hand over of the keys of the Maruti 800 to the winner. It was a big honour for me and I was truly elated. It was decided that a small function will be organised at Hotel Ashoka, Patna to felicitate the winner. When we went to invite the shop owner in Patna City, we realised it that it was a tiny shop selling daily use products and the humble shop owner was in tears when we invited him for the function. He was overwhelmed by the fact that stalwarts like the Sales Head Mr. Udit Mehra, the Regional Manager Mr. R S Lal and the others had gone to invite him personally. We were offered tea & biscuits which we accepted as respect to the owner. Ironically, nobody in his family had ever ridden a car let alone driven one. The Patna ceremony was a simple affair combined with sales conference for the Bihar state.

In the evening, we had an informal get together at Mr. Udit Mehra’s hotel room where I had my first scotch whiskey, two pegs of Black Label. Later that evening, another wonderful friend that I had made, Sanjay Sinha, the Area Manager asked me if I was done for the day or game for more. Obviously, I was game for more because after a day’s respite from hectic activities, I was scheduled for long haul through the hinterland of North Bihar right up to Raxaul, the border town with Nepal. Sanjay took me in his Yezdi motorcycle through the labyrinth lanes and by lanes of Patna and stopped in front of a house and knocked three times on the window. Immediately it opened but I couldn’t see the face and after a brief chat, the person handed over a bottle Old Monk XXX Rum. We returned to my hotel, picking up some munchies to go with the Rum. Needless to say it was a long evening which finally ended in the wee hours of the morning. Sanjay slept on the spare bed as he was too drunk to drive back home.

I spend next 10 days touring through the north Bihar towns like Muzaffarpur, Motipur, Motihari and Raxaul. At Motihari, the Sales Supervisor booked me a nondescript hotel. The room was on the top floor, big room with a double bed in the middle covered with mosquito net. In the evening when I checked into the room after working through the day, I realized that the light in the room was insufficient to read. I asked the hotel manager to change the bulb but he said that the bulb was already high powered (100 Watts), it is the voltage supply that is too low. The Sales Supervisor, perhaps to boost my morale and calm my mood said that even the big bosses who were several notches above me had stayed in the same room!

Another thing that I remember is that the town of Motihari was so dirty that in my stay of 36 hours there, I refused to eat anything locally and survived on two apples and bottled water that I carried from Muzaffarpur.  In Raxaul, the dealer, a Muslim fellow, wanted to treat us but was at his wits end as how to invite a Hindu (Brahmin) to his home. He confided in the Sales Supervisor and when he told me, I burst out laughing and reassured him that we will definitely join him for the Biriyani & Korma.

The Hajmola Know Your Nature Quiz not only resurrected the brand Hajmola Tablet but paved way for Hajmola Candy that became instant hit across the country when launched nationally. It also gave me the confidence to propose to Deepika, not immediately but few months down the line after lot of cajoling by Robin, but that’s another story for another time.

Poyla Boishakh: Fiasco to Feast

The 15th April marks the first day of Bengali calendar year, Poyla Boishakh. Just like the 1st January, Bongs celebrate with traditional sweets and savory treats with family and friends. I do it too or say used to celebrate but of late, it just passes off like any other day. However, this year I had the privilege of having my school buddies over at my place for Bong New Year Eve celebrations and that kind of rekindled the BONG in me and I thought of celebrating POYLA BOISHAKH.  So, I called up a friend who was visiting India from Australia and checked if he was free for a couple of drinks and typical Bong dinner thereafter. Although, he had an invite at Gurugram, he decided to take my offer. We planned to meet at our place for the drinks and then go out for dinner.

Sanjeev, my friend landed up at my place around 8 pm and by the time we finished our drinks it was almost 9:30 pm and we decided to try out often heard Bong restaurant called BONG APPETIT in Qutab Institutional Area. The place was midway for both of us and that made sense. After a bit of searching, we found the place using Google Maps. It was inside the Automobile Association of Northern India premises and we had to sign in the gate register at 10 pm even though we were just going to the restaurant!!

Anyways, we reached the restaurant after climbing 4 or 5 flights of stairs to the top floor. We wondered how any middle aged Mashima or Mesho will manage to climb up! The restaurant appeared cosy with 4 tables – one for larger group of 8 persons, two for 4 persons each and one for a couple. The couple table was vacant and we took that up in the absence of any maître d. There was a lone server, a dwarfish steward. After about 15 minutes a guy (I forgot the name, it could be Subroto or Suvobroto or Somboron) wearing kitchen apron came out and asked if we had made reservation. When we said no, he very firmly said that he cannot serve us food as that evening they are only serving fixed Thaali priced at Rs.1200/- + taxes. We had seen the menu board which had luchi, dal, fish fry, fish curry, kosha mangsho and some other vegetarian dishes totalling about 8-9 items including the sweet dish. Frankly, I have never heard of any restaurant that makes food for a fixed number of guests, especially on festive days when it can definitely expect few walk-ins like us.  When we pointed out the vacant table, he said it was reserved for some other guests, we thought what will he do with the food if those guests don’t turn up? Isn’t a bird in hand better than the two in the bush?

We came out contemplating where to go now, options being Al Quasar at RK Puram or some dhaba at the Qutab Instt. Area which are usually open till very late. Then I thought of checking with Oh Calcutta, another Bong restaurant in Nehru Place, not wanting to disappoint Sanjeev on Poyla Boishakh. They said, they are open till 11:30 pm and we can walk-in as they are not taking reservation for the evening any more. At that hour it was smooth traffic and we reached there around 10:45 pm.

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Even at that hour, Oh Calcutta was running in full steam, there were at least a dozen more people waiting to be seated beside us. It took another 10 minutes to find our table. I have been on many occasions previously also and the service has always been pretty decent. The manager said we should go for the buffet as ala carte will take time. The buffet spread was large starting with salads, appetizers, main course and sweet dishes, over 25 different dishes. And priced at Rs.1035/- plus taxes. We ordered for their famed cocktail – Kaal Boishakhi, a heady mix of Vodka and Aam Panna.

We decided to skip the salads and concentrate on the appetizers and main course. In the first round we had chholar dal-luchi, fish fry and prawn malai curry with pulao. This was followed by more of them and kosha mangsho. The food was as usual excellent, neither spicy nor oily and suited us very well. In the sweet dish, we had all that was on offer right from nolen gurer soufflé to bhapa sandesh to rasmalai (bengali style)  and mishti doi. It was a real feast and we profusely thanked Bong Appetit for refusing to entertain us which prompted us to come here at Oh Calcutta!

When I dropped Sanjeev at his place in Vasant Kunj, it was well past midnight and I realised that I have superbly overeaten. My stomach felt like bursting but the feeling of being well fed in true Bong tradition on Poyla Boishak was overwhelmingly satisfying.

Epilogue: Recently I was checking the rating and reviews of Bong Appetit as I thought of visiting that place again for a personal experience. The overall rating in Zomato is 3.4 and reviews are mixed with a large number of reviewers complaining about service and arrogance of the owner/ chef. It also seems that the whole place is run by just 2 individuals, one is the chef cum maître d cum manager cum cashier and the other is that dwarfish steward. Nothing wrong in it if you are able to manage it, I have seen many such joints in coastal India and in the hill station of north India where the restaurants are managed by husband-wife team. But then, they were super efficient in their respective areas.    

Dad

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Today, the 30th March 2017 marks my Dad’s (I used to call him Baba in true Bengali tradition) 100th birthday. I haven’t given him anything of value while he was alive, I couldn’t, and perhaps I was too busy with myself. And before I could realise, he was gone, forever. On his centenary birthday, lots of memories flashed by me and I thought of penning down some. In a way this is my tribute to an ordinary man but extra-ordinary father or Baba.

The journey of Prafulla Kumar Bhattacharyya (my Baba) began from the village Ujirpur, town Jessore (now in Bangladesh) and culminated in Greater Kailash Part-I, New Delhi. He was the eldest of the surviving five siblings. He was, like most young impressionable Bongs, hot tempered and stubborn. A small argument with my grandpa over land dispute with his cousins resulted in his surrendering all his rights over the land holdings (I am told the total area would be close to the size of entire Vasant Kunj in Delhi if not more). In any case, the land and everything was gone with the partition of the country a few years down the line. But he was in Patna, far away from the village and the property, taking care of his extended family.

After the demise of my grandpa, much before the partition, my father came over to Kolkata along with the other members of the big joint family. He could have gone back and sold the property but perhaps his ego stopped him. As the head of the family, he married of his two younger sisters and helped the brothers to settle down.  He was transferred to Patna in the early 40’s where the family grew with seven of my siblings. It was in Patna that my grandma became ill and despite all available and expensive treatments she succumbed to her untreatable ailments. Based on the sketchy info of her sufferings, it seems, perhaps it was cancer that took her life. After the loss of landed property, this time my father lost all his savings in the treatment of my grandma. But he never complained and continued in his endeavour to give his family a healthy life and decent upbringing.

In the early 50’s he came to Delhi on transfer but the joys of settling down in the capital of the country was short lived as he had to leave the job under difficult situation. I think I do not have his courage and will power for survival, with seven mouths to feed and unemployed in a new strange place, I would have long died. But he managed to find another job, albeit much less paying than the previous one. Once he settled down in the new job, the family got extended with two more mouths. I was the 9th and the last child.

 My earliest memory of Baba is of going with him on his bicycle to buy vegetables and fish/ mutton every Sunday morning. He would put a towel on the front rod and tie it up for me to sit. It was my most endearing moment with him and I looked forward to it eagerly through the week.

This weekly fun rides with Baba came to sudden end when he was transferred to Jullundhar. He went alone leaving the family in Delhi as my two elder siblings, sister and brother had started working after graduation. He would come home every month end combing with his official visit to the head office in Delhi and spend 2-3 days with us. This continued for about three years till the everyday consumption of heavily spiced Punjabi delicacies took toll on his health, he developed stomach ulcer. I still vividly remember his crying in agony of the pain. It was obvious that he couldn’t possibly continue in Jullundhar. He pleaded with his company for Delhi posting but much like the current times, the company was not interested in a 50+ person in the head office. He quit and filed a case against the company under labour laws. I believe, the case continued for over a decade and finally he won. But by then he was past the retirement age, so reinstatement was out of question but the company paid compensation for all those lost years.

I remember going with him to the Hamdard Dawakhana at Asaf Ali Road for his ulcer treatment. The medicines were like churan and I would at times lick them. The medicines worked wonders albeit slowly but surely he was cured of the ulcers. He took up a job once more first with a publishing company and then with an export company from where he finally retired in 1986.

I was an F&B Trainee in Taj Palace Hotel, hoping to become a Chef. It was 27th June 1986, when on a single day I got to know two bad news that was to change the course of my life. The first one, at work where the HR Manager told me that I cannot be absorbed in the Kitchen as I was not from the food tech institute and that I will be joining the restaurant service as a Captain, something that I detested. The second one was that Baba had a heart attack while in office. According to him, he felt uneasy right after lunch which he thought was gastric issue, so he had Limca with some black salt but it did not help. Thereafter, he took an autorickshaw and came back home. My brother called the doctor who confirmed it was a mild stroke and he should take complete rest. I came back from duty around 2 am and got the details from my brother.

By this time, all my sisters as well as eldest brother had found their life partners and settled down in different parts of Delhi and Germany. In the house were only four people residing – me, my brother and parents.

It was Saturday, 28th June, my weekly off day and my brothers weekend (his was 5 days working), the doctor had come in the morning and after check up had assured that my Dad was doing well but needed to rest further. In the afternoon, my father was at the dining table having his lunch of light Khichdi with my mother at his side. Suddenly I saw him falling down from the chair and rushed to stop his complete fall just in time. My brother called the doctor and as advised we took him to Dr. BL Kapoor Memorial Hospital, the nearest to our home. He had a major stroke and stayed in the hospital for a week. In retrospect, the doctors should have done the by-pass surgery at that time. But back in those days it was not a priority, perhaps.

Following week, after Dad came back home and life had settled down a bit, I sent in my resignation to the Taj sighting inability to accept restaurant position and insisting on placement in the kitchen. This was once again declined, so I quit and with that my desire to become a Chef was completely quashed. I wholeheartedly moved into my new job of marketing & sales. The timings were long as most days there would late evening meetings or some party. It was practically same with my brother too. In effect my parents were left at home in their own world. Unaware to us all of this detachment of the children somehow affected his health in the long run.

One incident during this time is forever etched in my memory. There was a 3-day marketing conference at the Ashoka Hotel and on the last day after the conference got over, a cocktail party was organised by the host. The wine, beer and whiskey flowed freely and I had just too many (actually I remember up till the sixth peg). I used to ride a Yamaha RX100, the cool bike at that time. I have tried to remember the course of that evening but it remains sketchy. What I remember is that I was stopped by my ex-boss on my way out who insisted I raise a toast with him but it was more than just one! Thereafter I remember having crossed the South Extension on the Ring Road and reaching home safely but unable to get off the bike. Every time I tried, I felt like falling down. Then finally, with great effort I put the bike on the side stand and got down, pushed the bike inside the gate. To me the entire exercise took about 2-3 minutes. My parents were at the balcony watching the spectacle with concern as well as amusement.

Next day (Sunday) at the lunch table I was told that it was good 15-20 minutes that I was struggling to get off the bike. My mother had asked Dad to go down and help me but he refused saying that I needed to stand on my feet. My brother gave me a strong rebuke for being drunk but the most fitting response was from my father. He said nothing and that made me resolve to never have more than two pegs if I have to drive back home.

My parents and especially my father was way ahead of his time. He had given complete freedom to all the children; as a result all of us have had love marriages. My eldest sister was married to a Kayastha from UP, my eldest brother had inter-caste marriage, my youngest didi married a Marathi and that too younger than her and my life partner is a Punjabi. He believed in freedom of choice and the family truly embraced the diversity of the nation.

In 1989, my father had another serious cardiac attack and this time the doctors put a pacemaker inside his body. We were told the life of pacemaker was 10 years and we took it as the number of years added to Dad’s life! The Almighty might have had a hearty laugh.

My sister had come over to our home for the delivery of my niece, Tutul. The little one instantly became the apple of our eyes and especially of my father. She would not sleep till my father sang a lullaby holding her close to his chest. This became a routine for the next three months till she was at our home and it also gave Dad a renewed vigour.

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In the next three years both my brother and I tied the knot with respective life partners and Dad had a very satisfied demeanour. He really got along with daughter-in-laws and was much contended playing and keeping company with his grandson Chintu. They were actually inseparable and at night my brother would forcibly take him to their bedroom amid the ruckus of the little one. Then suddenly on 19th November 1991 evening he had a blackout and fell down on the floor. We called the ambulance and rushed him to the closest nursing home. For the next three days extensive tests were done both for cardiac as well as cerebral but every result was negative. He was feeling better and the doctors said they will keep him under observation for couple of days more as they were baffled by the results of the tests. There was definitely something wrong but it was not showing up. On 23rd Nov evening Deepika & I were at the nursing home, my brother and Bhabi had gone back home after spending the afternoon with him. We spoke to him briefly and told him in two days time he will be going back home and he smiled at us. The nurse told us not to disturb him any more so we came out. My sister and Brother-in-law came to see him. They went and came out immediately and said that Dad was using the pot and the nurse asked them wait outside.

We were at the reception talking to ourselves when we noticed sudden inflated activity among the staff. The nurse who was with Dad, rushed with some medication and filling the injection syringes while on the run. The resident doctor shouted some instruction to the receptionist. I thought the other patient in the room who was on life support has become critical and rushed to give moral support to Dad. I was shocked to find the doctors and nurses attending my father only. Apparently, he had cardiac arrest while passing the stool. For the next 30 minutes, the doctors tried their best to revive him but Dad had already decided to quit this time. He had seen all his children find their mate and settle down in life, what more could he be wanting. At 7:20 pm the doctors declared him brain dead and requested my permission to take out the pacemaker that had lived only two of its promised ten years.

My father was an ordinary man to the world but for me he remains an extra-ordinary Dad. I never said this to him but yes Dad, I love you.