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.

The Marandi Boy

Father’s Name: Dilawar Hossain

Mother’s Name: Rupa Sarkar

Boy’s Name: Somra Marandi Sarkar Hossain

Surprised? Yes, I too felt surprised. The boy came to me with his mother for English tuition. He was in class 9 of the same school where my father was in administrative job. One of the teachers who knew about my tuition classes had sent him to me. Mother and son did not look from the same family, she was fair complexioned in total contrast to the dark boy. May be he has got the father’s complexion, I thought. I felt the shock when I asked his name. Somra Marandi Sarkar Hossain, the boy said with lots of pride. The mother, with vermillion on the forehead and the typical Hindu bangles of Shakha & Noya and yet the boy has such a name. I was in a visible shock, definitely.

The mother perhaps understood my dilemma and sent the boy away to buy a new pen. Then, narrated the complete story.

Rupa & Dilawar had a love marriage. The families were dead against, so they ran away from their village and settled in this moffussil town. They have maintained their individual religious beliefs in all these 22 years and stays near the brick-kiln factory. They had found the infant boy near the factory in a very bad shape while coming back from the Mandir on Mahashivratri. He was hardly a day old and maggot infested already. The husband-wife duo had picked him up, cleaned him and then took him to the doctor. Later, they found out that the biological mother was a tribal girl working in the brick-kiln factory. The boy was the result of the rape by one of the supervisor of the factory. The girl could not possibly take back the child to her village as her husband would not hesitate to kill both of them for adultery.

Rupa & Dilawar decided to keep the baby and asked the girl what name she would have given him if she was to keep him with her. They kept the name and added their surnames to it.

Rupa said, “He is my Bhole Nath, Shiv Ji. He came to me on the Mahashivratri. He is the apple of my eyes. Even his father also dotes on him. When he comes back after the day’s work, he sits with him and helps him in his studies, whatever little he could.” She took a deep breath and continued, “Somra would imitate his father as he offers his Namaz in the evening but my husband doesn’t allow him at all. He says that son, you know all about your birth, the tribal god is your god and if at all, you should pray to him. But right now your god is your studies, you must grow up learned and thereafter whichever way of prayer you choose, I will accept that. But if don’t study, I will not hesitate to hit you the stick.”

“I know my husband can never even slap the boy let alone hit him with stick. He loves him just too much. Sir, now you only can make him study by whatever means. We just want him to be educated and live with his head held high in society.” Rupa said before went away leaving the boy with me.

Rupa just renewed my faith in the humanity once again. Something unthinkable is happening in my India, a Hindu mother and a Muslim father is raising a bastard tribal child as their own. Jai Maa Bharati, I salute you a million times.

Jai Hind.

Note: Translated from Bengali as received in WhatsApp. Original author unknown.

Rolf Adenauer

It was summer days, the schools had declared holidays and Ayush was having a relaxed time, waking up when he wanted, usually around 9/9:30 am and having choicest breakfast and dozing off once more only to get up for lunch. However, such laziness is enjoyable only for a few initial days. And it showed in his restlessness after sometime.

One day, some time end of May 2009, when I came back from office, Ayush was on the computer and seeing me he blurted out, “Dad, I want a pet. A dog basically.” I did not said ‘yes’ immediately knowing well that Deepika is mortally scared of dogs and will not agree to the proposal. Instead, I asked him to check with his mother and make her agree first. I am a dog lover and dogs irrespective of their lineage loves me back.

Anyways, after lot of persuasion, Deepika agreed on the condition that the dog should not be a large breed but small or medium. Although, my parents had a dog long back when I was an infant but later in life, we never had a dog as my mother was asthmatic and the doctor had advised against keeping one. The next step was searching for a suitable dog. Ayush had ruled out Labrador as it was very common in the neighbourhood. We checked the newspaper classified columns but could not zero on any of them. At this time our friend Sanjay chipped in, he always had a dog all his life and knew the whereabouts to get one. He suggested that we check the web and decide on the breed based on its suitability to our home.

So, on a June Saturday afternoon, all three of us plus Sanjay and his wife Nandini started operation search dog. While surfing the net, I got attracted to a photo of dog, it looked like a lion, a mini one!! The breed was Chowchow, a medium built guard dog. The site said it is family dog that loves grown up children but is little aloof meaning it does not like too much cuddling. I was sure, we will not find this particular breed in Delhi, and looking at, still hesitant Deepika, I said, “We will take this breed immediately if it’s available.” Sanjay suggested that we should go and see physically, a couple of places that he knew about. Our first stop was at NFC where the breeder had a Cocker Spaniel approx 8 weeks old but very feeble. The pup also did not show much energy, may be because of the heat. Ayush was not too impressed and said we should look at other places.

On our way to the next stop at RK Puram, Sanjay called up a breeder that he found in the newspaper and straight away asked him if he has a Chowchow pup and incredibly the guy answered in affirmative. He was based at Sainik Farms but gave an address of South Extension to see the pups. It was on our route so we decided to visit there immediately. I was curious to actually see a Chowchow in flesh n blood.

There were two pups, a Labrador and the Chowchow. It was a ball of fur roaming in the room that immediately caught our attention. The Labrador puppy immediately came to me wagging its tiny tail and licked my face as I picked it up. The fur ball kept at a bay initially and after a bit of cajoling finally came to me and sniffed at me, perhaps trying to size me up. I picked him up on my lap and instantly knew that I wanted him badly. The little one jumped from my lap straight into Deepika’s and settled down very contently. For once, I knew the chap has won over Deepika too.

 

It was settled that we will be taking the Chowchow but then arose a problem. We were scheduled to go for the movie – INCEPTION and there was hardly any time left to drop the Chowchow at home and then go. So, we decided to come back next day to pick him up even though the breeder said he will not hold back if another person came and paid for him. We had no choice but still requested him and left for Sanjay’s house to drop them.

Ayush was visibly upset at the thought of someone else picking up the Chowchow. We had reached the Moolchand crossing and waiting for the signal to turn green for us when Nandini offered to look after the pup for the evening and we could pick him up after the show. Without another word, I took the U-turn and headed back to Southex before Deepika could come up with a counter point. After we paid for him, Ayush announced that the Chowchow will be known as Rolf, which in Deutsche means Leader. Later, I added Adenauer to the name to sound more German!

Later in the evening, we picked up Rolf from Sanjay’s house and were told that the little one had made a ruckus there. The house pet Pepsi, a mix of Pomerian and Shitzu, a brave girl otherwise was mortally scared of him as he ate from her bowl shoving her out of his way. On our way home, the main concern was how our resident maid will react to the new addition to the family. Deepika was firm that if she objects, then we will have to forget about keeping a pet. To our delight she was just too happy to have Rolf around.

 

The first thing that Rolf did was size up his new abode inch by inch, corner to corner and in between peeing on the legs of the dining table and on the carpets marking his territory. He drank a little water and spilled lot more and settled down on the wet floor. We were first time pet owners with zilch experience of handling a puppy and here Sanjay and the Internet really helped us overcoming the initial days.

I never liked pets getting on the bed or sofas and at the same time detested the idea of chaining the pet. To my great satisfaction, Rolf was a quick learner as I had to tell him only a few times the dos and don’ts around the house. For example, he doesn’t go inside the kitchen from the very first day. He had jumped on the bed only once and had immediately climbed down realising his mistake. Yes, I had been a strict disciplinarian with him as I was with Ayush. As advised by his doctor, we did not take him out for a walk till he was 4.5 months and trained him to pee and poop on the balcony where we spread out old newspapers. However, once he started going out for a walk, he stopped peeing and pooping in the house on his own. In fact even today he poops at secluded corner spots far away from the house and prying eyes of strangers.

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We hired a dog trainer but the guy came only for 10 days out of promised 15 days, so the training of Rolf was bestowed on me by default. Over a period of time, I have ensured Rolf turn out to be a darling of the household without curbing his natural instinct. Today, no stranger can enter the house without permission. It has taken time but today, even if there is food (non veg) within his reach, he will not sniff or lick it let alone eat it up.

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We have taken him with us on vacations wherever possible. The first one was Jim Corbett, Ram Ganga Resort. It was a three day outing with friends along with their pets so that these guys too can enjoy each others company. But on the very first day, it was evidently clear that Rolf was born snob, he not only ignored the other two dogs but roamed around the resort as if he owned it. There were kids who wanted to cuddle him but he was not interested in them at all. We had tough time running around him as he would invariably wander to the nearby jungles. This jungle wandering almost cost him his life.

On the last evening, Rolf suddenly became a bit quite and snuggled upto me and sat down at my feet. We were having our drinks and playing dumb charade and it was Ayush who noticed that Rolf was giving out low cries now and then. I thought he wants to be petted, so every now and then I would pet him and he would calm down. But as the evening progressed his cries became louder and more frequent. Worried as hell, we looked for any visible injuries then felt for any fractures in the legs but nothing showed up. Not knowing what was the problem we could only pet him and wait for the morning to rush back to Delhi to show him to the doctor.

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In the morning, after a quick breakfast, we headed back to Delhi and called up the doctor once the mobile phone was in the signal zone. The doctor assured us that he will wait for us even if it gets late but I ensured that we reach Delhi as fast as possible. I must say that we were lucky to have such a young but experienced vet for Rolf. He asked where all places Rolf had roamed in the resort and immediately knew the problem. Somehow, while wandering into the jungles, some maggots had infested in his genitals invisible to us. The doctor immediately administered the localised medicine as well as antibiotics. The medicine continued for three days and Rolf was once again back to normal. Much later, the doctor confided that had we been late in reaching him that day, we might have lost him. This very thought losing him is very unnerving.

Thereafter, Rolf had been with us to Naukuchiataal, Nainitaal and Rampur on the hills, to those resorts that welcome pets with open arms. He had become instantly famous with his looks and amiable but aloof nature. He had featured in innumerable snaps that people around had taken with him. In some instances he enjoyed the adulation but mostly he allowed to be photographed out of courtesy to my requests.  I can say that having grown up together in these last eight years, we now understand each other to a great extent – Rolf my verbal command and I, his dumb charade.

Oh, yes he is wholly my pet now, Ayush having gone to the university and hostel.

We go for a walk in the morning and on more than a few occasions, the passing car would abruptly stop and the occupant would request for photo-ops with Rolf. I have had to give details of the breed, the origin, temperament etc but firmly refuse to answer when people ask for the price, and usually say “He is priceless.”

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The C-Life Dossier: The Interview

I had chucked my well paying job because of difference of opinion with my boss, the Marketing Manager and now feeling foolish. I was too stubborn and egotist to apologise to Mr. M and get back the job. I roamed all over the Connaught Place, had a Big Boy Burger and Banana Split Sundae at the Nirula’s Corner House outlet, then around 5 pm headed back to home. I decided not to break the news of my freshly becoming unemployed so soon to my parents. I was 25 and my CV already boasts of three employments, none lasting more than 18 months.

Approaching home I saw the younger boys of the colony playing cricket in the park. I decided to join them and further delay my appearance at home. Also playing with younger lots reduces the stress. So, finally I reached home well past 7 pm with dusk settling in on a mid March evening. Mom opened the door and said, “How come you are sweating so much? Are you alright?” A typical concern of all mothers for their 25 year old’s; I told her that I have been playing the park and that is why I am sweating. She asked if I would like some tea. I said yes to that and went to freshen up and change into my pajamas. Mom brought the tea along with some potato cutlet; it is the norm of most Bong household to have evening snacks with tea whenever they reach home from office. Then she gave me the bunch of mails that had come during the day. There were two letters for me; one was from my long-distance girl friend which I kept for later reading and the other one from the FMCG company where I had applied for a job. Praying that it was not a rejection letter and visibly shaking, I opened the letter. It was a polite letter asking me to visit their Connaught Circus Office for an interview. The date mentioned was three days away and I felt both elated and skeptical. It was a big company and I didn’t know much about their culture though I have been to their office seeking advertisement in the magazine that I was working as Marketing Executive. But that was just meeting the Brand Managers and impressing them with inflated circulation and readership data. I waited for my brother to come who may have some knowledge about the organisation.

On the appointed date, I wore a neck-tie, borrowed from my brother and took an auto-rickshaw to reach the D-Company office in Connaught Circus. There were 4 more candidates and all of them looked quite confident of themselves. The receptionist, Suman, knew me from my previous visits and in a low voice wished me luck. We were told there will be a written test followed by an interview with the Marketing Head.

The written test consisted of English Comprehension test along with sections on marketing acumen and mathematical ability. I had no problem with the first two but got completely stumped by the third. Even today, I vividly remember that my brain stopped functioning when I tried to figure out the result of 2% of Rs.800/-! I simply sat there with a blank stare at the question. The invigilator by the name of RD, a guy who later became very good friend, took the answer sheets and asked us to wait in the reception area. The other candidates gave a triumphant smile but I was still trying to figure out the maths answer. One by one the candidates were called inside and two of them came out shaking their head, an obvious sign of dejection. The other two came out and sat down in the reception, the short listed guys! I was the last one called inside, the same conference room where the written test was taken. There were two guys and I knew one of them, however they introduced themselves as Senior Brand Managers and asked me to sit comfortably. After that came a barrage of questions, especially on the maths part. The guy whom I have not met earlier asked me, “You don’t know what 2% of Rs.800 is?” By that time I had it figured and answered “It is Rs.16”. He smiled and said “Why didn’t you write that here?” showing me the answer sheet and then pushing it towards me said, “Write it down.” Thereafter, I was asked on my views on several brands of the company which I had some vague ideas and gave my views. I was asked to wait in the reception again. Now, there were three shortlisted candidates for one Marketing Assistant (that’s what the position was called but for all practical purposes it was Brand Executive).

My interview with the Marketing Head lasted all of five minutes. He asked me a question (on brand marketing) and the moment I started answering he would say “Wrong” or “That’s not correct” and would give the answer which in at least two cases were exactly the same that I said. Anyways, the other two guys were asked to proceed to the Company Headquarters for the final interview with Managing Director. I was asked to wait outside and kept thinking when someone will come out and say, “Thank you for your interest in our organisation but sorry you do not fit our requirements.” But surprisingly, the HR Manager, who was sitting with the Marketing Head and did not utter a single word in that five minutes, came out and asked me to accompany him. I was taken to the HQ by the HR Manager in his car! I couldn’t believe it!

The Managing Director of an Indian Company is usually the owner and by virtue of that, is the Lalaji. The image of Lalaji is not very amiable in the context of corporate culture, but this Lalaji, I found very different from the others that I had previously met. He asked me to sit down and then said, “You have been selected. You can relax now.” After that he asked me a lot questions about my family, education and current job. I gave honest answers except that I was unemployed at that very moment. I was asked when I can join and I gave the standard reply of a month’s time, though I would have loved to join the very next day. I was told that some formalities (reference & background checks) needed to be completed and I shall be getting the appointment/ offer letter shortly. Thereafter, the HR Manager said there is employee bus going to Delhi which I can take for a drop at Connaught Place. I came out with a bit of anxiety what if they figure out that I am without a job now? The other two candidates were also waiting and one of them was selected too in sales function (back office).

A week later, I received my appointment letter that said my salary was same as what I was getting in my previous job but there were added benefits. I was advised to report to the Marketing Head at their Connaught Circus office in 15 days time. My brother advised me to behave well and stick to the organisation for somehow he knew about my chucking the previous job but had kept his mouth shut all this long time.

I joined the organisation that changed my life completely and wholesomely. I met my life partner during the course of my tenure, made some very good lifelong friends, learnt a lot and above all had wonderful bosses that were eager to share knowledge unhindered. Through a series of interesting episodes, I will share some of my escapades at the D-Company.

(To be continued….)

The Barking

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Sukhomoy Samaddar is the English teacher in the local Bengali Senior Secondary school.  He is that character which does not evoke any curiosity; he can be in a party physically without getting noticed by the host. In short, to most people, he simply does not exist. He, however, is an excellent English teacher to those students that are eager to learn. The backbenchers neither cared about him nor did he ever try to discipline them. He is the quintessential non confronting Bengali Babu. So it was quite contrary to his character that he went to see the latest Hollywood movie that evening. He had asked a few acquaintances about the story but all of them had advised him to go and see the film himself. Now that he has seen it, he is repenting it badly. Sukhomoy can’t even sleep at night.

Sukhomoy Samaddar is a confirmed bachelor. It is not that he did not try but somehow none of the women he met wanted to become Mrs. Samaddar. So after a while, he stopped trying. He lives alone in a two bedroom house with sufficiently large garden with coconut, mango and jackfruit trees besides a rose patch that his parents had left behind for him. A housekeeping lady by the name of Sandhya, comes in the morning to clean and cook for him.

Sukhomoy Samaddar had a very bad sleep the evening he went to see the movie. The story of the movie has been playing on his mind ever since he came out the theatre, particularly the two ferocious dogs or rather the spirit of the dogs. How they avenged the murder of their master by crooked nephew is the gist of the movie.  The barking of the dogs is constantly ringing in his ears. He had kept all the doors and windows closed but somehow he had a feeling that some dogs are barking just outside his bedroom door. Sukhomoy’s fear of dogs is from the childhood when the local street dog Bholu in his playful gesture had jumped on him and he had a near heart attack. Bholu is long gone and now there is pack of 4 dogs that have terrorised him to no end. Sukhomoy at all times carries his umbrella which not only comes handy in rains and scorching sun but as a deterrent to these dogs as well.

In the morning, well after the sun shone bright, Sukhomoy, mustered enough courage to come out on his porch and checked the garden but there was no sign of any dogs anywhere. Sukhomoy sighed relief and went on to make tea for himself. As he took a sip from his cup sitting on his easy-chair in the porch, he could again hear the barking of the dog. This time very loud and clear and from somewhere close-by. Sukhomoy froze in his chair, he barking sound was coming from the garden where the coconut trees are lined. He tried to look for the dog but couldn’t make out. He got up and went inside closing the doors and windows. He decided to take the day off from school and called from his landline. He said about not feeling too well and the Principal was very concerned and advised him to take rest for as many days that he wanted. Sukhomoy has never taken any holidays in the last 20 years of his teaching job.

Sukhomoy was startled when the calling bell rang; cautiously he went to open the door. Sandhya, his housekeeper cum cook was at the door. He ushered her in and immediately closed the door. Sandhya felt a bit odd but did not say anything. She went about her job of cleaning. She was opening the windows when very uncharacteristically Sukhomoy shouted at her, “Don’t open the windows.” Sandhya was taken aback and looked at him askance. But Sukhomoy did not elaborate. Sandhya decided that the man is getting old and without a wife around is getting senile. She kept a watchful eye on him for any tell tale eccentricities.  Sukhomoy sat on the living room couch trying to concentrate on the book he has been reading. When Sandhya finished her work and asked him if anything else was required, he said no and locked the door after her departure.

Sukhomoy got engrossed in the book and lost all sense of time. The call bell rang again and so did the barking of dogs. Sukhomoy was sure that the spirits the dogs from the movie have come to take revenge from him but he couldn’t be sure as to what wrong he has done. Sukhomoy started to perspire and could feel a stinging pain in his chest. He thought he was going to die, his mouth was dry and could not even shout for help. But who will come to help him from the spirits of the dogs, he thought. He tried hard to remember if he has ever hurt any dogs in his life but other than shooing them out with his umbrella he has never even thrown a stone at any of the street dogs. Sukhomoy didn’t know what to do; he kept sitting on the couch sweating profusely.

 The bell rang again and this time accompanied by a voice “Sir, are you home? I am Keshto.” Hearing the voice, Sukhomoy felt a bit assured and got up to open the door. Keshto is local jack-of-all-trade and comes to Sukhomoy regularly for odd jobs like getting the tender coconuts or the ripe mangoes from the tree. Keshto gave him a big teethe smile with his paan stained teeth and said “Sir, did you see my mobile phone? I had come yesterday to take down the tender coconuts; maybe I have left it here by mistake.” Sukhomoy felt irritated and said, “I don’t know, you check it yourself.” Just then the barking of the dogs started again and it came from the garden. Keshto was all smiles as he said, “Sir the phone is here only” and rushed to the garden. Keshto climbed up one of the coconut trees like a monkey and came down quickly holding his mobile phone. He came to Sukhomoy and said “Now I remember, yesterday when I was plucking the tender coconuts, I had received a call and kept the phone on the tree top. Then I forgot to take it with me while climbing down.” “But how did you know the phone is on the tree over there?” asked Sukhomoy, a little perplexed. Keshto again gave a teethe smile and said, “He he Sir, the caller tune gave me the location.” Before he could elaborate further, his mobile ranged and the dogs started barking right in front of Sukhomoy. Keshto answered his call and thereafter said, “Sir this barking sound is the new caller tune in the market. This is from the soundtrack of the latest English movie. My son downloaded it yesterday only and made it my caller tune.”

Sukhomoy was speechless for a moment; he couldn’t believe that the caller tune of phone had almost given him the heart attack!!!

Then he remembered, Keshto had asked for 500 rupees yesterday and he had asked him to come this day. He took out a 500 rupees currency and gave it Keshto. “Why did you install such an odd caller tune? Nobody keeps barking sound as caller tune, just change this immediately.” Keshto agreed to change it once he gets home as his son only knows how to do.

Sukhomoy sat down on the couch and felt hungry; he had forgotten to eat his lunch.

One Night with a Stranger

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Circa 1991, much against my wishes, I was asked to handle the sales management functions in addition to the marketing function for which I was hired in the first place and a job I knew well. My geographic area of operation was north to east i.e. Punjab, Haryana, UP, Bihar, Bengal, Orissa and Assam. The product we were marketing was a bunch of ready-to-eat snacks. I had just got married but have been touring the country side for almost 20 days a month. I was sick and tired of this job and had a talk with my boss about it. He advised me to have patience for couple of months and he will do something about it, typical management style and he was the master.

The month was September when I embarked on 3 weeks tour of the eastern territories beginning with Bihar (undivided) to be followed by West Bengal and Assam. Luckily, the product being very urban, the travelling was restricted to class-I cities/ towns. I started off from Patna to Muzaffarpur to Ranchi to Jamshedpur in the first week. The dealers or wholesalers appointed by my predecessor was ill-equipped to handle food products and were never given any guidance in that area. As a result, there were huge damages and claims that needed settling. By the time I finished the first leg of the tour in Jamshedpur, I was exhausted and badly wanted to get away but the distributer there, Ashish Agarwal, a young guy just out of college insisted that I have dinner with him and catch the 10:45 pm train to Kolkata. Ashish over the last two days had become a good friend, primarily because of his amiable nature and enthusiasm to make the products a success in his territory, so I couldn’t refuse and ended up at his (family) bunglow in Kadma area. The Agarwal household was joint-family; as such it was full house with all his uncles, aunts and cousins living under one roof. The food was vegetarian but delicious and I over ate. After dinner pleasantries done, I was ready to leave for the station and Ashish volunteered to drop me at the station. We left in his Ambassador car not knowing what fate has in store for us. A short distance from his house near the water tank, the ambassador suddenly started spluttering and finally stopped. My first thought was fuel has run out but the fuel gauge showed half-tank is still available. Ashish tried his best to bring the car engine to life but it simply refused to start. I was panicking now as Tatanagar Railway Station was still quite a distance and alternative transport was not in sight. After a frantic search we finally traced an auto rickshaw with the driver soundly sleeping in the back seat. With much cajoling he agreed to drop me at the station. I bade farewell to Ashish and got into the auto rickshaw. The vehicle had clearly seen better days and now was on its last leg. Even with full throttle, it refused to move beyond 10 km speed. It finally entered the station premises at 10:43 and trudged along to the main entry gate.

I left the bewildered auto rickshaw driver with balance change of the Rs.100/- note and ran towards the platform. But I was late by the whisker as I helplessly saw the tail end of the train from Jamshedpur vanish towards Howrah……

I was at my wits end in that completely unknown place. There was not a single soul on the platform except a few sleeping figures in the distance. I walked towards the Station Master’s cabin to check the next available train. The station master was Bong and was sympathetic to my woes but was helpless. The next train was at 4:45 am and he endorsed my existing ticket for that train. He also directed me to the First Class waiting room.

The FC Waiting Room contrary to my expectation was very clean and empty. There was not a soul in that large room. I found a nice comfy single sofa and put my luggage – a suitcase and a leather office bag on the side table, bought a bottle of water from the vendor on the platform who was about shut shop for the day. I made myself comfortable in that sofa and took out the book – Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth which I had bought from the New Delhi Railway Station. I always buy a book whenever I make a journey on train or plane, it is a habit. Most of the time, the book is finished by the time I return.

After a while, the Station Master came and introduced himself as Mr. Abani Sarkar, originally from Burdwan but posted here for last 2 years. He said he has fallen in love with place and might settle down in Jamshedpur only. He also said in case I need anything like tea or coffee, just hop in to his office any time during the night. I thanked him and requested him if he can wake me up just in case I am not already up by 4 am. He said, “Sure, I will come and wake you up and get you some tea as well to refresh you.”

Once Mr. Sarkar departed, I concentrated on the book and soon was engrossed in it in so much that did not realise than another gentleman had come inside the waiting room and sitting a away from me. The man seemed to be from the armed forces with a very thick moustache and wearing a blue tweed blazer over a grey trouser and a striped tie. The tweed blazer was a bit awkward as it was not that cold in September to wear a woollen jacket. May be the person is old enough to feel the night chill… in the insufficient light of the room, it was difficult to figure out the age.

I smiled at him and said, “Hello, you too missed the train?” He smiled back and said, “Yes, I missed it too.” Thereafter, there was an awkward silence, as I wanted to continue with my reading and it seemed rude to just going back to my book. I was in a dilemma but the gentleman only broke the silence, “You want to read your book, you may please carry on or on the other hand I can tell you a real story. By the way I am Colonel (Retd) Rudrapratap Roy.” I introduced myself and said, “Yes, a real war story would be great. Before that let me get us some coffee.” I got up to go out in search of coffee but Col Roy stopped me and took out a flask and two stainless steel glasses. He gave a hearty laugh and said, “I always carry my coffee with me, just in case…” He poured the two glasses and handed me one of them and came over to where I was sitting making himself comfortable in the other single sofa. Now that he was closer, I could make out that he is in late 50’s or early 60’s but still very fit and strong.

We both finished our coffee and he began his narrative thus….

The year was 1986 and I was posted at IMA, Dehradoon as an instructor. As part of the training, we did regular excursions to the lower Himalayas around Yamunotri and Gangotri. In one such excursion to the Gangotri region, I was leading a fresh batch of 20 cadets who had aspiration to reach great heights physically and intellectually. The young guns were physically very fit and were trekking to the higher altitudes with ease. Our trek was progressing smoothly and we had hoped to reach our summit spot at Gangotri by 1700 hours.

At around 1300 hours we stopped at clearing to have our frugal lunch and to re-energise ourselves. Thereafter, we continued our trek to the Gangotri.

Gangotri, the origin of the River Ganges and seat of the goddess Ganga, is one of the four sites in the Chota Char Dham pilgrimage circuit. The original Gangotri Temple was built by the Gurkha general Amar Singh Thapa. The river is called Bhagirathi at the source and acquires the name Ganga (the Ganges) from Devprayag onward where it meets the Alaknanda. The origin of the holy river is at Gaumukh, set in the Gangotri Glacier, and is a 19 km trek from Gangotri.

Places to visit near the Gangotri Temple

  • Bhagirath Shila is believed to be the holy rock where King Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiva.
  • Pandava Gufa, located 1.5 km from Gangotri, is the place where the Pandavas are believed to have meditated and rested en route Kailash. Pilgrims will have to trek up to the Pandava Gufa.

In the pilgrimage journey of Chota Char Dham, Gangotri is often visited after Yamunotri (located on the western region of Garhwal Hills). Pilgrims generally make Uttarkashi as their base camp. The time taken from Uttarkashi to Gangotri temple is about 4 hours by road.

We were about an hour away from our destination, when things started to go wrong. First, one the cadet Tarkesh Kumar, tripped and sprained his ankle badly then all of a sudden, the weather took an ugly turn with black clouds engulfing the entire horizon. I wanted to speed up and reach the summit urgently but couldn’t with a limping cadet in tow. Soon enough, it started to rain and with each move forward, the intensity increased. There were no places to stop and shade ourselves from the incessant rain. There was lightening happening, practically every second and one could hear terrifying sound of cloud bursts. All of a sudden, I could hear another sound fast approaching towards us – the sound of water gushing at great speed. I shouted to the cadets to get hold of whatever they can find nearby as the flood waters minutes away from blowing us away. I was little late in my instructions as the flash flood in the hills are much ferocious compared to the plains and it swept us in a matter of seconds. I had no doubt that very soon I will be meeting my makers and as a soldier, the only thought on my mind was, “This was not the way to go. I would have liked a bullet in my heart or stepping on a landmine.” I desperately tried to catch any moorings but there were none in the path as the water at over 100 Km surface speed swept me away and few of my cadets, soon after I blacked out.

I woke up with a shake and found one scantily clothed Sadhu was shaking me to see if I am alive. I sat up with a startle and felt my throat was completely parched, I couldn’t even speak. The Sadhu held up his Kamandul (a kind of jug) and gestured me to drink from it. Hesitantly, I took a swig from it, the water was very cold but it somehow brought warmth in the body. The Sadhu spoke first and said that it is going to get dark very soon and if I am feeling good, we should hurry and trek down to the nearby temple to spend the night. I agreed and we started to move towards the temple. The temple door was closed but he pushed it open and we went inside, leaving my shoes outside. There was an idol of indeterminate deity which gave out a mystic feeling in the dim light of the earthen lamps and made the atmosphere very eerie with more shadows than lights.

The Sadhu momentarily moved away from my sight only to appear again with some fruits and offered them to me. The smell of the fresh fruits made me hungry and without much thought I devoured them in no time. The Sadhu had been looking at me intently with his deep gaze as I was eating but all the time there was a smile on his lips. He asked me where I am from and I narrated the incidences since that morning. As I was telling him, I instinctly reached into my pocket for the cigarettes but realised they are gone, probably in the flood water somewhere, I looked at wristwatch but it was gone too. No cigarette to warm you up and no way to know the time. I asked the Sadhu how long he has been living there. With a smile, he said “I don’t live here, I come and go”. “You mean you have other places to stay”, I asked hoping he will elaborate his statement. He thought for a moment and then asked me, “Do you believe in God?” My first reaction was to say NO but not to offend my saviour and host of the night I said “I really don’t know but yes I definitely do not believe that God lives inside a temple. The temples are places to exploit the people with fear or greed.” He was nodding his head in affirmation and clapped in joy, hearing me. He said, “I keep telling people the same but still they throng to the temples looking for God. You are different and I knew it when I saw you the first time.”

The Sadhu continued, “The God created different species and plants for a purpose, Humans were created as a superior species to take care of all the others but it seems there have been some manufacturing defect in them!!” He chuckled like a child. Then on a more serious note, said “The very idea of a religion is not of the God, it is the creation of humans for their own selfish agenda. God wanted the humans to take care of the nature in all its form and not destroy it. Initially, the people would worship the nature because they had realised that it is the Nature that helps them in their survival. But slowly over period of time, they, the humans became greedy, greedy of power, greedy of materialistic life, greedy of becoming overlord of their surroundings. And that brought the miseries. One set of humans started exploiting the others and situation came to such an extent that the exploited revolted and refused to accept the God they have been forced to follow till then. They felt their existing God doesn’t care about them. They looked for solace in another God and started following it, worshipping it and then fighting fellow humans in the name of their God. It became fashionable to project – My God is Better than Your God. Alas, they forgot that the God is One only.”

He stopped for a while to compose his thoughts, and then said, “You know, the people who throng to the temples do not go there because they love their God but they have an inherent fear of God in their heart perpetuated by years of exploitation by the priests. I feel ashamed of them.”

The oil lamps started flickering giving the signal that the oil it is in the verge of finishing and the lights may go off any moment. The Sadhu got up and to the other side of the deity and brought to blankets and offered them to me saying, “The lights will go off very soon, why don’t you make yourself comfortable and try to sleep. We will talk again, perhaps in the morning.” I was definitely feeling sleepy, so I took the blanket to make myself cosy and then I slept.

I woke up by sound clanking of chains and rustles of feet outside the temple. I got up and looked for the Sadhu but couldn’t find him anywhere in the still dark temple. Then with a bang the temple door opened and flash of bright sun light filtered through the open door. A posse of people in the attire of the temple priests came in and looked at me in total surprise. They seemed stupefied and speechless looking at me. I was still adjusting my eyes in the sudden bright sun light by guarding the eyes with my hand when one of the priest, presumably the head of the group, asked me, “Who are you and how did you get inside the temple?” I told him about yesterday’s flash flood in the upper regions and how as a castaway I was rescued by a Sadhu and brought to this temple. I also told him that I couldn’t find the Sadhu when I woke up this morning and that he must have left very early in the morning. There was a clear commotion amongst the congregated people and everyone was talking animatedly at once. The head priest raised his hand to silence them and said something that made my head spin violently.

“I do not know how you entered the temple. There are neither any akhara nor any hermitage anywhere in the nearby. The flash flood you are talking about happened six months ago, the same day that this temple closed for the winters. We unlocked the doors just now after six months and if you, as you are saying, had come on that day, then you have been sleeping inside for six months!” The head priest then held my hands and touched his forehead to them in a gesture of naman or obedience and said, “You perhaps, is unaware but you have been rescued by the God himself and brought here. It was his blessings that you are alive without food or water for this long.”

I had a lot of explaining to do to my commanding officer at the IMA when I finally reached there. But that is not part of the story, the Colonel said with a mysterious smile on his lips. He asked me, “So, young man what you have to say?” I said nothing but just gave him a salute.

Well, the story should have ended here but it didn’t….

I was awakened by the Station Master Mr. Abani Sarkar. He said, “Get up Mr. Bhattacharjee, the train is about to come, it has left the last station.” I got up and checked my watch, it said 4:25 am. I looked around for Col (Retd.) Rudrapratap Roy but he was nowhere to be seen. I asked Mr. Sarkar, “Where is Col Rudrapratap?” Mr. Sarkar looked at me with bewilderment and said, “There is nobody else here, Sir. You are the only passenger that utilised this First Class Waiting Room last night. I even got you a cup of coffee when you were reading your book. Thereafter checked on you on my usual beat and found you soundly sleeping, so I did not bother you.” I protested, “But there was this gentleman who introduced himself as Colonel Rudrapratap Roy. He even offered me coffee and narrated a very nice story or rather life experience too.” I remembered he was smoking a cigar and looked for the ashes on the floor. And it was there, clear tales tell sign of the existence of Col (Retd.) Rudrapratap Roy. I showed the ashes to Mr. Sarkar but he was adamant that there was nobody in the room except me. In a last ditch effort, I checked the attached bathroom but there was nobody there either. I packed-up my bag and followed Mr. Sarkar to the platform and looked around in the hope of finding the Colonel but he was nowhere to be seen.

Till date I have found no plausible answer to this escapade of mine. I refuse to believe that my mind played games with me that night because I had no external inputs like a book or incidence to trigger such narrative. Rest I leave it you to decide.

The Chocolate Cookie

Once in a month I am forced to stay bachelor when my wife is away on a week-long tour and son is anyway in hostel. I make it a point to eat out at least one such evening but diet restriction has made me very choosy. Last week was one such period and I decided to eat out on the penultimate day of my bachelor status. I ventured out to the new opened but well known chain of swanky Delicatessen in the neighborhood. I ordered for a chicken croissant and coffee and sat down at a table by the window. I was engrossed in watching the chaotic traffic and the milieu of crowd thronging the market street when my attention was drawn to a father-son duo who was contemplating whether to enter the shop or not. By their dress it was clear that this kind of place was not their regular hunting ground. After few minutes of peeking through the glass facade, they finally gathered courage and entered the shop. The kid was overwhelmed by the decor of the place and tightly gripped his father’s hand as if otherwise he might loss him.

The father in low tone practically whispered to the son, “Take a look and quickly decide what you want to buy”. It was easier said than done, the little boy with wide eye started to check the array of cakes in the glass case. It seemed, he wanted to buy all of them, they were heavenly for him. The counter sales staffs were least interested in them and very reluctantly gave away the prices of the cakes, none them being any lower than Rs.400/- for 500 gm cake.

By this time my wholehearted attention was on them, forgetting about my chicken croissant and coffee. The father was trying his best not to get intimidated by the sophistication of the shop but was clearly ill at ease in the midst of hip crowd hanging around the counter. I guessed, it must be the little kid’s birthday and he probably wanted to celebrate it with a cake just like the other kids of his age. He had his eye on a Red Velvet cake and a Black Forest cake and after much contemplation, the kid zeroed on to the Black Forest cake. The father asked for the price and was rudely told that it was for Rs.450/- (500 gm). He took out the money from his soiled trouser pockets and counted, it was only Rs.300/-. He checked other pockets but nothing came out. He probably was in the Impression that 300 bucks would be enough to buy his son’s coveted cake, having never tasted such a delicacy himself ever. He tried to bargain with the counter staff just like he would do with the grocer or the veggie vendor but the counter staffs were not interested and curtly told him to buy from elsewhere.

Having watched their saga for some time now, I suddenly had an urge to help them out. I walked over to them and offered to buy the cake for them. “If you don’t mind, let me buy you the cake.” I urged the father. But he was in no mood to take my offer and told me sharply, “Thank you but no. Please stay out of our affairs.” I pestered on and requested him to at least accept the balance money for the cake. But he was adamant and retorted, “Told you to stay away. We don’t need your money or sympathies. We will handle it ourselves.” Meanwhile the little boy was perplexed why his father not accepting the money that could buy him his Black Forest cake. He was very disappointed and his eyes were welling up with tears but remained composed like an adult.

I have never experienced such a situation ever before but realized it to be very common in a poor dis-balanced country of mine. The duo started to walk out of the shop but the father stopped at the door and came back to the counter once again. He checked the prices and selected three pastries and 100 gm of Chocolate Cookies, which was well within his limit of 300 bucks. The little boy was jubilant now and picked up the packed. His father has made his birthday special this year. They started walk out and just reaching the exit doors, the little boy came running to me and gave me a Chocolate Cookie from his meager quantity.  Even before I could say “Thank you and bless you”, the little kid had ran away to join his father on the pavement outside the shop. I saw them cross the busy street and vanish in the milieu of the crowd.

I looked at the cookie and felt emotions welling up inside me. I wanted to gift him a cake because I had the surplus means and can afford it but the little kid showed me how to share even when one doesn’t have much to share. I picked up the cookie and took a bite. It was the best Chocolate Cookie I ever had in my entire life.

A Plain Tale of Shakya

The flight from Miami reached Frankfurt early in the morning around 6 am. Shakya had ample time in hand but practically nothing to do but wait for his Delhi bound flight in the afternoon.  The terminal 1 concourse where the Lufthansa flight landed will be the same from where it will take off for Delhi. Therefore, Shakya was confined to that small area of Frankfurt airport not able to explore the other part of the airport without a transit visa.  After taking two rounds and checking all the shops, Shakya settled himself at the American Express premium lounge. He took his bath and freshened up before settling down to have breakfast of three-egg omelette with assorted cold cuts and salads. Shakya always enjoys his breakfast more than any other meal, may be because it’s the first meal of the day. In any case, he hardly gets time for lunch in his busy schedule as an Investment Banker based in Fort Lauderdale and his dinner consists of soup and bread on most days. He had married Jennifer while doing his masters at Berkeley University but the marriage lasted less than a year. After that he has decided to never get into that path and is extremely proud and happy of his freedom. He does have many girl friends, mostly happily married, so as not to get emotionally attached to Shakya.

After finishing his breakfast at leisurely pace, Shakya found a nice cosy corner and settled down in the comfortable single sofa. He picked up “Scion of Ikshvaku” by Amish, from his cabin bag, a book he has just started reading and which is basically Ramayana retold in a new light. He still believes in reading books printed on paper, no Kindle for him. Soon, he got completely engrossed in the book and lost touch with his surroundings.

“Hi, isn’t that you Shakya?” a female voice startled him. He looked at the woman who had spoken those words. She looked like a typical Bong lady, wearing western clothes and clearly uncomfortable in them. It took some time, may be a few seconds but Shakya recognised the woman, after all, one doesn’t forget his first love! Her name is Shoma and she used to be Mukherjee when Shakya had met her at their ancestral home in Burdwan. Memories came flooding as Shakya remembered his first encounter with Shoma and thereafter…

Except for his parents, all his uncles had settled down in Burdwan, a laid back town in West Bengal after the partition in 1947. The Bunglow with ample garden was a joint effort of all the brothers but Shakya’s father had decided to settle down in Delhi. The top floor of the house belonged to Shakya’s father and by default to him. His parents have been to the house only on the occasion of weddings in the family and that too for a very short duration. His mother was asthmatic and the humid weather of Bengal did not suit her at all. Shakya, being the only child, longed to meet up with his cousins as often as possible and made it a point to visit his uncles and cousins once a year at least.

It was afternoon and he was alone in his top floor room. All his cousins were either gone to college or were at work. Shakya was engrossed in the detective novel by Sharadindu Bandhopadhyay titled Byomkesh Omnibus. His concentration was broken by a shrill female voice that asking, “Who are you and what are you reading?” Shakya was about to retort with “Who the hell are you to ask and how did you come here?”, when his mejo Boudi (sis-in-law) appeared and said, “Let me introduce you two. Shakya is my Bhaithan (Bro-in-law) from Delhi and she is Shoma, my younger sister. She is now studying at Shantiniketan and is here on vacation.” Shakya remembered the tragic event about 3 months back when his mejo boudi’s parents had met with a road accident on way to Kalimpong from Darjeeling and expired. Mr. Satyashadhon Mukherjee was the General Manager at a Tea Garden in Darjeeling area and was travelling with his wife when their driver lost control of the car while saving a group of pedestrians and plunged into the deep gorge.

Shoma was almost Shakya’s age, about a year or two younger, quite good-looking and intelligent. The two bonded very well in the next few days and by the time Shakya left for Delhi, the bond had transformed into something more. Both being student of economics, they had a leaning towards left of centre politics. They discussed, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Naxalism to the Left Front govt in West Bengal. Shakya and Shoma even managed to go Kolkata and spend the day watching Mrinal Sen movie and generally spending the day on their own. It seemed that there was tacit approval of mejo Boudi to their friendship. The day Shakya was to return, both were sad but decided to put up a brave front. They both agreed to write to each other regularly and exchanged their addresses. The long distance friendship was well established and flourishing.

Sometime in the beginning of December that year, Shoma wrote to Shakya that her University is planning a study tour to Delhi-Jaipur-Agra and she will take out time to meet him. Shakya was euphoric with the news and kept following her up with request to confirm the dates. He made up his mind to go Jaipur and Agra on those days as Shoma would be visiting.

Finally, the day came when Shoma and her nine friends along with two teachers landed up in Delhi and checked into a hotel in Paharganj near the New Delhi Railway Station. Shakya went to see her and got introduced to the others. The girls were quite interested in him but Shakya had his eyes only on Shoma. He spent some time at the hotel in the hope to talk to Shoma in privacy but that did not happen. Also, she informed him that they would be leaving for Jaipur early next morning and from there they will proceed to Agra and then come back to Delhi again in five days. Shakya was very dejected as he could not tag along with her to all those places. To cheer him up, Shoma said, “I have taken permission to stay back for two days once the tour finishes. So don’t be so melancholy my sweetie pie”. The news of her exclusive extra days in the city did cheer him up and he promised to show up again when the team comes back to Delhi, as he left her reluctantly.

Those two days with Shoma were the most memorable day in the life of Shakya. They went to see movies, theatre and art galleries as these were not part of her itinerary with the university group. They had the famous Delhi street foods – gol-gappa & paapri-chaat of Nathu’s at Bengali Market and bhatura-chana at Sita Ram, Paharganj and also dined at fine restaurants. On the last evening of her stay, Shakya mustered up courage and proposed to her. In her reply, she simply gave him the most passionate kiss and then they made love, initially awkwardly, because it was first time for both and then with more passion and vigour till both were completely exhausted.

The love did not whither or diminish when the following year Shakya went to IIM Ahmedabad to do his MBA program having graduated in high first class and securing a score of top 50 in the CAT exams. The correspondences continued between the two but Shakya had no opportunity to visit Burdwan because of the pressures of study, all he could manage was 2-days sojourn to home in Delhi twice a year. And in the second year, Shoma also moved to London to do her masters at LSE. The letters that were exchanged twice a week became twice a month but in every one of them, both professed their undying love for each other. Shakya graduated in PGDBA with a score of 8.2 CGPA and was hired from the campus by Citibank and got posted at Chennai. He was diligent worker and soon rose to the position of AVP in a short span of 4 years.

Shoma, meanwhile, finished her masters in Economics and had returned to Kolkata to do her Phd from Jadavpur University. The choice of JU was purely economical as the cost of doing it in Europe or US was highly deterrent. Shakya in all these years have never been to Kolkata or Burdwan during the Durga Puja festivities and decided to visit Kolkata and also look up Shoma with whom now he wanted to settle down. He requested his parents also to go but his father flatly turned down the offer saying he doesn’t want to visit the chaos called Kolkata. So, Shakya having taken 10 days leave took the flight straight from Chennai to Kolkata. He had pre-booked a room for the duration of his stay at a guest house near Deshpriyo Park, which is the happening place during the festivities. He did not inform Shoma with the intention of giving her a surprise at her flat near JU.

On the Shasti day (beginning of Durga Puja), Shakya went to meet Shoma at her girls hostel just outside the campus. He had bought a diamond ring for her and it was now safely sitting in his pocket. He got off the taxi at the JU gate and asked the tea vendor for the direction to the address. It was a short walk inside the lane and he found the house without much effort.

He knocked on the door and an elderly woman came out and asked, “Who do you want to see?” Shakya asked for Shoma and the lady shouted back to someone inside to send for Shoma. All the while, the lady had been guarding the door lest Shakya get inside, there was clear sign that no male is allowed inside. After a while another female came and told the lady that Shoma is not in her room, in fact she had left early in the morning but she does not know her destination. The elderly lady in turn started to tell Shakya the news but he had already heard so he simply thanked the lady and left.

On reaching the guest house, he called up his Mejo Boudi to check if Shoma had reached Burdwan but the call was picked up by his youngest uncle. He said, “Mejda & Boudi has gone to Darjeeling the day before, and Shoma hasn’t come to Burdwan. Where are you? Are you coming home?” Shakya had no intentions of going there so he simply said “No Chhotka, not now, may be next year I will spend the Pujo with you all.” After disconnecting the phone, Shakya contemplated his next course of action. The guesthouse keeper had already informed him that in case he was to pre-vacate, the minimum charge will be for three days. So he decided to stay put for now and visit the near-by Puja Mandaps and fly down to Delhi to spend some time with his parents.

Shakya made whirlwind tour of some of the most famous Durga Pujas of Kolkata starting with Deshapriya Park, Ekdalia, Suruchi Sangha, Lake Town, Badamtala, Bose Pukur, Kumartuli, Bagbazar, College Square etc. before flying back to Delhi. His parents were pleasantly surprised at his unannounced arrival. His mother was inquisitive about his Kolkata visit but Shakya just said that the place is maddening during the puja time and his father took the right call of not going. He spent the rest of his holidays at home only barely moving out. He was outwardly very calm but there was unease inside his mind. The day before leaving for Chennai, he had called Shoma’s PG only to be informed that she was not in her room.

Shakya returned to Chennai and his work and became busy during the day but remained restless in his free time. He had called the PG every alternate day but every time the answer had been the same that Shoma was not in her room. He could not somehow make out as to where had Shoma disappeared. Finally, after almost two months, he gathered courage to check with his mejo Boudi and called her to find Shoma’s whereabouts. “Helo, mejo-boudi, how are you?” he started off with usual greetings and then asked, “Do you know where is Shoma? Hope, she is fine.” The answer made him gasp for some air as felt breathless. “Oh, you don’t know, Shoma just got married last month with Ronald. They had met in London while she was in LSE. She has moved to Houston USA where Ronald teaches in the university. I wish you could come for the wedding but everything happened so quickly that we could not inform all you guys” said mejo-boudi over the phone but Shakya had stopped listening. He was feeling very unwell and took the rest of the day off and went for long drive to Mahabalipuram. The drive on the new highway and the relentless waves of the sea somehow calmed him. But he just couldn’t believe that he has been dumped so unceremoniously by Shoma.

“Hey, what’s up?” the shrill voice of Shoma brought him back to present from his reverie. He got up and shook the extended hand of Shoma and said, “Hi, it’s been long time. How are you?” “Am good” said Shoma and sat down across Shakya. “So, where are you going? Are you travelling alone?” Shakya wanted ask so many more questions but controlled his emotions. “I am going to Bangalore and from there to Chittoor, where my daughter Priyanka is studying in Rishi Valley School.”  There was an awkward silence which none of them wanted to break. “Will you like some coffee?” Shakya finally asked and got up to get the coffee without waiting for Shoma’s answer.

Getting back with two mugs of coffee, he placed one in front of Shoma and sat down. “So tell me how’s been life with you?” Shakya asked Shoma with a purpose. Instead of answering his question she said, “You tell me first.” Shakya thought for moment then said, “Well, I am settled in Fort Lauderdale with a Green Card. Dad and Mom both passed away two years back and I have no one to fall back in India now. This is probably my last visit wherein I intend to dispose off the Delhi property.” “I am sorry to hear about uncle and aunty” Shoma said softly. Then as an afterthought asked, “Didn’t you marry? What about your family?” Shakya took a hard look at Shoma and then calmly said, “I have none. Now tell me about yourself.”

Shoma looked a little uncomfortable but composed herself and said, “I know, you have not forgiven me but to tell you the truth, I have not led a very happy life. Ronald died in a car crash when Piku (Priyanka) was just five years. I had my University job, so managed somehow but Piku in the western cultural influence was getting out of hand, so two years back I got her enrolled in Rishi Valley. Now, I am moving to Hyderabad permanently, got an offer from ISB for Professorship in Economics.” Shakya did not say anything for some time, looked at his watch and realised his flight might be announced any time soon. He looked Shoma in the eyes and said, “You are mistaken Shoma, I had forgiven you then and there only. I realized that if a person can run away without telling, then that person is not worthy of any memories.” Then changing the cue, said, “My flight will be announced any time now, must move towards the gate. What time is your flight?”

Shoma did not answer. She simply sat there and sobbed softly. Shakya came around to her side and with his kerchief and wiped her tears, then turned to go as his flight is being announced. Shoma suddenly got up and gave a tight hug to Shakya and started crying visibly. Shakya was taken aback completely as a few eyes were directly upon them. He wriggled out her hug and looking straight into her eyes said, “I told you Shoma, I had forgiven and forgotten you. Today, there is no place for you in my life. Please control yourself and get grip on your life. Goodbye.”

Without giving a second look to her, he walked away towards the Gate no. 7A to board his flight. As he sat down in his Business Class Seat, he felt light, having finally erased the memory of Shoma. He felt truly liberated, free, albeit selfishly.

Gabbar Is Back

Sujoy works in a software company in Gurgaon and stays at a short distance from his office. He usually comes home late but makes up his long working hours on weekends with his beautiful wife Shreya with enjoyable outings to film or drama or just a long drive in his beloved Skoda Yeti.

On Monday morning, he left his apartment a little earlier than usual as he had an important client meeting. As he approached the parking spot where he parks his Skoda Yeti, he was stunned to see the spot empty! His beloved Yeti is gone, stolen. He called the watchman but the guy was adamant and kept saying that nobody had come during his duty hours. Sujoy forgot all about his important client meeting and rushed to the Police Station to lodge his complaint.

It has been two days and there’s no news about his stolen Yeti. He has been commuting in taxis and visibly upset about the loss of his Yeti.

On the third day, as he is about to get into the Meru cab for going to the office, he is pleasantly surprised to see his Skoda Yeti parked in its usual spot. He rushes towards the vehicle and inspects it to see any damages but there was none. He tries the door and it opens easily and on the driver’s seat there is an envelope with his name. He opens the envelope to finds a letter addressed to him. He starts reading it –

“Dear Sir,

Three days back in the middle of the night, my mother suddenly fell ill and had to be hospitalized. I could not find any taxis at that late hour so I had to borrow your car without telling you. The keys… well that I got from the Watchman’s keyboard, the fellow was in deep slumber.

I know, you have suffered mental trauma in the last few days because of my reckless behavior. I am really very sorry for that and plead with you to forgive me. I have filled the gas as much as I had used and the key is under the mat.

Sir, you have unknowingly helped me at a time when I was in distress and I shall remember that all my life. I can’t express my gratitude in words and as a token of my penance I have left two tickets of the late night show of the Hindi film Gabbar is Back in the envelope for you. Hope you will pardon me and accept this token gift. Once again I am really very sorry to cause you so much trouble, please consider me as your younger brother and forgive me.

Yours truly

Rajinder”

Sujoy was completely taken aback by this turn of events and rushed back to his apartment to tell Shreya what has happened. Shreya was surprised too but the couple decided to forgive the unknown Rajinder and watch the movie later that night.

Sujoy & Shreya came back late that night after enjoying the film Gabbar is Back and was shocked to see the shattered door lock of their apartment. As they entered, everything in the house was displaced, the music system in the living room, the televisions in the bedrooms, the ornaments and cash in the locker of Godrej almirah… all are gone.

There was a note stuck in the dressing table mirror, it said, “Hope you enjoyed the movie. By the way, Gabbar is Back”.