Sunday, March 6, 2016


                                     IN THE BEGINNING

It all started , I am told, at around 8.45pm of  Thursday the 23rd of November 1944 in the modest district headquarters called Purnea in north Bihar. I was born! - to Kalyani and Siddhadev Chatterjee. I was to be the youngest of five children with a brother, three sisters and me , in that order.

A lot of people have asked me in subsequent years as to what my mother was doing in Purnea. Well, my mother was only accompanying my father and the children to where duty called him. And it called him to Purnea to discharge his functions as an officer of the Imperial Bank of India! Purnea was, and still is, the District Headquarters town. Its importance was strictly of the commercial kind, being rich in indigo plantations and paddy cultivation. In those years of wartime India it had nothing else to offer. But the Bank reckoned that one of its officers be present there to look after its interests in indigo and rice and so, voila! my father was posted there!

From what I have heard, my parents did not have a pleasant sojourn in Purnea. Firstly, it seems, the town was in a very primitive state with hardly any other civilized inhabitant on  view, let alone any schools or hospitals. Secondly, the place was infested with snakes and my mother could not take to the idea of cohabiting with these slithery and often venomous creatures, come night or day. Thirdly, my father had an unfortunate accident while out on an inspection tour. This resulted in a very badly broken ankle. The Bank wouldn't grant him leave to visit Calcutta to have the injury attended to and Purnea did not have the medical wherewithal for such emergencies. After struggling with pain and functioning from home for about one whole year, my father was finally given a leave of absence. So, finally, the broken ankle was attended to in Calcutta. But it left my father with a permanently troublesome foot!

Thus ended the forgettable chapter in my parents' lives. However, they always maintained that the inconveniences of Purnea were more than made up by the arrival of their youngest child!

I am told that all great stories must include several eventful flashbacks. I believe that it makes the writing appear more "professional", or at least, more impressive ! In deference to this golden rule let me not move ahead with the story but let me go back to tell you a little about us, the Chatterjees.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Somesh, a Bohemian from Barisal.

If you have referred to my blog of late you would have noticed that, on the 17th of October, I had written about our two-months' sojourn in North America in the months of July and August of this year. What I had not mentioned was the fact that my idyllic holiday in the balmy summer days in Ajax, Ontario, Canada had been stirred very violently by the arrival of a telling piece of bad news.

Much as I am loathe to remain "connected" during holidays, I did have to borrow my daughter's laptop on occasions to keep up with the Jones! Peer pressure, I suppose. At any rate, on one such occasion, I was shocked to learn from a mail from my dear friend Sudas that the inimitable, irrepressible and irreproachable Somesh of our youthful years, was no more!

This was shocking! I was dumb-struck with disbelief! Although Somesh had been ailing for many years now - he had not quite recovered fully from a cerebral attack of many years' standing - it was still inconceivable to me that he had gone, never to come back. I was overcome with a feeling of deep sadness, coupled with extreme remorse, at this terrible loss. I felt sad for obvious reasons. But I also felt remorse that I had not been able to stay as much in touch with him as I would have liked, despite my best intentions. And now it was too late to repair the damage! I can easily exonerate myself by saying that I live in New Delhi whereas he lived in Kolkata and hence the difficulty in keeping contact. But all that is hogwash in actual fact, isn't it?

After the initial crippling realisation, my mind meandered along the memory lanes and revisited the the years of almost half a century ago when Somesh came into my life, totally un-announced, and stayed put there like an obstinate limpet.

One day, in the winter of 1962 (I think) my college St. Xavier's played the annual cricket friendly with Presidency College on the latter's ground. Now, this annual match always drew a packed house for the simple reason that Presidency was one of only two or three colleges in Calcutta University which was co-educational. This was the cue for SXC boys to indulge in some wholesome bird-watching and, for the lucky few, may be score a hit or two ! Naturally, it was with alacrity that I accepted the invitation of my old school friend Sankar to spend the day in Presidency College, his college, ostensibly to cheer our team.

St. Xavier's College had an excellent cricket team those days. In contrast, Presidency, while being streets ahead in academics, was not that hot in sporting endeavours. On this particular day, as was to be expected, our team soon had Presidency in trouble while they were batting. At the fall of a wicket, I saw a boy walking in to bat and I turned round to Sankar and asked if this chap was a regular, because he didn't look as though he had ever held a cricket bat in his life. Shanks (that is what I had dubbed Sankar) said that this boy was not only a regular but was, apparently, quite good.

I kept my own council. This boy who was coming out to bat was of medium height, slight in built, wore glasses with a thick black frame, wore badly crumpled whites, and above all, the the buckle straps of his trousers were flapping in the breeze as he walked. His buckles were missing! On top of that he was chewing paan! Sacrilege! I remember I told Shanks that surely an "ABK" (ak baller khodder) was going to bat for his college!

Well. believe it or not, St. Xavier's lost that match and, to a great extent, the cause of the defeat was an immaculate and polished half-century from this boy in glasses! After the match, my childhood friend Jhunu introduced me to this amazing guy who was her classmate in History (Hons) and went by the name of Somesh Das Gupta.

This was the beginning of our relationship which grew steadily over the years till one day it had transformed into a reliable friendship. I remember that Jhunu had by then started seeing Robi (Mihir Deb) and was thus all wrapped up in her own affaire de couer. She was, therefore, not the catalyst of our friendship.  In fact, the next time I saw Somesh was quite some time later in Shanks's home - casually, of an evening. Shanks's home, above Amrita Bastralaya on Rash Behari Avenue near Gariahat, had become a sort of den where guys dropped in most evening for adda.

In the beginning, I found it a little difficult to relate to Somesh. I had labelled him in my mind as a typical product of Presidency College - a paan-chewing pseudo-intellectual with a superior air, with a penchant for dropping names of Greek philosophers, English poets and European musicians!. The fact that he played cricket was the extenuating circumstance, which made me grudgingly accept him in our group of largely St. Xavier's boys.

Much later, I realised with utter dismay that, in his turn, he considered most of us, and particularly me, to be the usual anglicised, English speaking, ill-read, vacuous, skirt-chasing snobs!

Well, we began on that rocky start and moved on to a level where we spent a lot of time together, both at our homes and away. Our friendship really took off only after both of us were in our post-graduate years. By then Somesh had inevitably become an integral part of our gang, started by Shanks and me and headquartered at The Den above Amrita Bastralaya.

I have mentioned earlier that Somesh used to study History and , therefore, had his masters classes in the Asutosh Building in the main Calcutta University campus. On the other hand, I was pursuing my MA in Economics . Our department was in the Emerald Bowers, some eight miles away. The famous College Street Coffee House thus became the place where we ran into each other on most days.

One of the first things that I discovered about Somesh was his unique sense of humour. In fact, this comic side of him was very endearing. Once, when I congratulated him for a match-winning innings he had played, he told me with a solemn face that it was not his fault!

 On another occasion, during a bus ride in which we were all crushed together on the footboard of the crowded bus he suddenly called out in a distorted voice " Sealdah Sealdah" when actually we had just reached the previous stop! Nobody noticed him saying this in the crowd. People assumed that it was the voice of the conductor! A whole lot of them pushed and shoved their way out of the bus in a hurry. Soon there was space and we promptly went inside and grabbed the vacant seats. Had we waited for Sealdah stop, our mission of grabbing seats may not have succeeded in the face of hordes of people who would have joined us in a huge rush!

Once my mother complimented him on  a new pair of shoes he was wearing. He promptly told her that he had procured it at Rs 5.00 a kilo!

Somesh was one person who had absolutely no inhibitions whatsoever. He fancied himself as a folk-singer of some talent (which he was not!) and would burst into song at the drop of a hat strumming an imaginary guitar!

 Once, four of us friends spent one month across Holi at my sister's place in Kalaikunda Air Force Station. My brother-in-law was in the IAF. On the day of Holi there was a big gathering of all officers and their families at the Officers' Mess. At my sister's insistance the four of us also joined the party. We chose to sit in one corner with young Flying Officer Subramaniam and enjoy his hospitality of the free flowing beer. The beer helped us to shelve our shyness to a great extent. Everyrhing was going on fine. The officers, wives and children were all having great fun.

Suddenly, the Station Commander suggested that we youngsters should also contribute by singing a song or two, maybe. At this, for Somesh to spring up and take centre-stage was the work of a moment. I suspect that he was a bit lit up by the beer. Nevertheless, there he was addressing the Station Commander directly to say that he was going to sing a Tagore song in the Beatles style. He called his fusion "Rabindrik Beatles!" And  there he was, stomping his feet, strumming that famous imaginary guitar, face distorted, belting out "aa aa aakash bhora, su u urjo tara......" at the top of his voice! And mind you, he provided the sounds of the guitar accompaniment too!

 Want to know what happened after he had finished? He got a thunderous applause from the gathering. The Station Commander even suggested that he give a repeat show on the next Mess Night! Mercifully we had to get back to Kolkata before this could come to fruition!

Once, some of us were taking a turn round the Dhakuria lakes when we spotted two girls sitting on a bench. I knew them to be sisters living across the street from us in Lake Gardens. Both of them were quite attractive and seemed to be of our age. Although we were neighbours, I had never actually met them. One of us suddenly had a brain wave (I forget who). Somesh was challenged to go and talk to the girls!

Like on that occasion in Kalaikunda Somesh was not the one to let grass grow under his feet. He was off in a flash and in no time, we saw him approach the bench, saw him saying something to the girls and soon was sitting down with them and chatting, looking quite comfortable! And to top it all, after ten minutes or so, they all got up together and started to walk away in the direction of Lake Gardens!

To say the least, I was alarmed. Should there be any unpleasantness (remember in the mid-60s Kolkata was not so liberal about "boy-meet-girl" in public) it would happen right in front of our house and my parents were quite likely to be a witness to it. And mind you, I  had the sneaking suspicion that I would have to  somehow take the rap because I was the youngster who lived opposite and Somesh was my friend!

We put our heads together and decided that the best thing would be to follow them and see what ensued. We did just that - and landed up in our street. We concluded that Somesh would see them off at their front door and try to join us again. But then Somesh was Somesh! To our horror we saw him go in with the girls through the front door which seemed to shut with a telltale bang! As far as we were concerned, that was that!

We went to our place, up to my bedroom and sat down to wait, always keeping an eye on that front door across the street. A lot of theorising went on amongst us as to what was taking place in the house opposite. Jams (the ininmitable) even went on to suggest that perhaps Somesh was receiving the pasting of his life from the girls' brothers right at that moment!

We were kept in suspense for the good part of an hour. Then we thought it best to go and investigate. So promptly Jams was nominated to go across the street and find out (he was the biggest amongst us after all!) When the two of them came back, much to our relief, Jams looked outraged while Somesh was quite unperturbed. In fact he kept waxing eloquent about the terrific shingara and cha that he had been offered and accepted with pleasure!

For all that, Somesh was an out and out extrovert. Sheer lack of inhibitions took him to places where we would have hesitated to venture into. And he was the eventual gainer. And, to be with him was always adventurous.

I cannot forget the bizzare week we once spent at his behest with a group of American "Project India" students. From attending charity events in the distant suburbs to attending inter-college fests (courtesy American University Centre) to hanging around with the bunch in their hotel in the Bohemian surrounds of Sudder Street!

And then there was the "Utopians". Since Calcutta University lacked any kind of compact and enclosed campus, it was very difficult for any student to interact with those of other colleges spread across the city. In order to try and solve this problem, a handful of us conceived this idea to form an association whose objective would be to bring the students of various colleges together on a regular basis. And, if I am not mistaken, the initial suggestion to name the group after Sir Thomas More's "Utopia", came from Somesh (or was it Ronen?). At any rate , Somesh became the first General Secretary of the Utopians.

His eccentric energy saw us organising a week-long Czech Film Festival, a similar Polish Film Festival and a series of inter-college exhibition debates within the first year itself. Most of us did the legwork, but it was Somesh who networked tirelessly with various Consulates, College Principals, media celebrities, the Police Department, Student Unions, etc to bring the "Utopians" considerable success and publicity. His "my dear fellow" kind of approach would invariably open many doors for us as a group.

Somesh was not just a fun guy. While on the one hand he was a good sportsman (cricket, table tennis) he was also well read, well versed in contemporary music and a true film buff! He even wrote poetry and had actually published a book of poems with the blessings of Prof Lal's Writers' Workshop. Add to that the fact that he was a good student and you pretty much have an all-rounder of considerable merit.

If he had a failing, it was a compelling desire to wear the sobriquet of "intellectual" on his sleeve. He did not have to. His multi-skills were evident to one and all. This was the reason that some guys would dub him a pseudo or "aantel" and give him a wide berth. I know, because I too had done that in the beginning. Luckily for me, I could see through the veneer of superiority he donned and discover the gem that lay deep inside.

Somesh was a guy who did not conform, for the sake of conforming. He had a mind of his own and knew what he wanted out of life. He pursued his own vocation in an age when competition was tough and jobs were hard to come by. Yes, he had to struggle a bit. He even sold hamburgers in New York to earn a living! But he came back and adopted the noblest of noble professions , that of a teacher. He was good at it, he loved it with a passion and he made a more-than-handsome living out of it. There was a time when he was financially far better off than the rest of us battling through corporate or government jobs. But one could never tell by interacting with him. That was Somesh.

As I reflect on this quirky ex-member of our gang and our association with him over the years, what readily comes  to mind is the undying images of those two characters Ramalingam and Sundar Kaka
who had regaled us over the years courtesy Somesh Das Gupta. That all his claims towards the absolute authenticity of his storie were complete balderdash, I never had any doubt! Yet their exploits never failed to make his audience roll over with laughter.

After all these years, I cannot remember every  story about them. But I do remember that Mister Ramalingam, along with some other people allegedly appeared at Fern Road ( where Somesh lived) at the crack of dawn one day to have their palms read by our friend - "Bhor belai shobey Forhans ti marisi, hatath chitkar, artonaad; dekhi Ramalingam in three-piece two piece suit with one piece tie, standing with fourteen madrassi couples with palms extended!"

On other occasions Mr. Ramalingam would wear Terylene shirts with Boroline pants! That is vintage Somesh for you once again! He was a master in this type nonsense humour.

Somesh always claimed that Sundar Kaka was one of his father's distant cousins.( He always referred to his father as Subodh as, indeed, he referred to my father as Sidhu and Shanks's father as Dhrubo!) Anyway, I always suspected that Sundar Kaka was a fictional one. This suspicion was reinforced by the fact I had never ever come across this mysterious uncle in my numerous visits to Fern Road!

Nevertheless, in no time, with considerable help from Somesh, Sundar Kaka had become widely known and popular amongst our friends and relatives. His travel tales were incredible! Who can forget his reaction to viewing Taj Mahal for the first time; "Taz on a moonlit night was a toussing sight from a passing train! Ki ze kabo. Money hoite silo zano akta raazbhog suspended in time!"

Or his recollection of Darjeeling: " lift er doroza khuila galo, aami hitkaiya bhitorey dhuklam. Tar por lift othey aami uthi, aami uthi lift othey! Hatath doroza abaar khuila galo. Aami hitkaiya sitkaiya gia porhtei dekhi, 14 peaks of Kansenzonga amaarey ditesey salute!"

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that all these gems were cococted by Somesh himself. He did give us a first hand experience of his ability to speak non-stop nonsense on the night of Jams's wedding when he, single-handedly, kept us all awake throughout the night with his tales of M/S Ramalingam and Sundar Kaka.

Despite this pronounced streak of the jester in him, Somesh was a serious fellow. He was an equally serious school teacher, husband, friend and well wisher with a large-sized heart. The abiding image of him is that of a lively countenace racked by raucous laughter.

Yes, Somesh had become my friend. He is the one who got me to play cricket for CUPG Calcutta University Post Graduates) in the 'versity knockout. It was his efforts that enabled me to play for Dalhousie Athletic Club in the CAB 1st Division League and it was him who accompanied me on many Saturdays (1966-67) to Mallikpur to play friendlies in a village surrounding.

Again it was he who initiated me into the activities of the American University Center, although I was already a member.

And also, typically, it was he who took me to Loreto College and introduced me to several girls he had befriended!

And it was him who would often visit our home when I was not around, just to keep my aging parents company.

R.I.P. Somesh Das Gupta. You brought many a smile to many a face in this life. Hope you are smiling happily for ever and ever.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On The Move

Well, all that self-remonstration in my last post has not really worked, has it? Here I am, back on these pages, yes, but after 6 months!

When I wrote on 24th April, we had come back from a fortnight in Kolkata and were comfortably back into our domestic circuit for a while. But, hardly had we settled down, when our thoughts turned towards our 40th marriage anniversary. The 40th is always an important one (so say our friends and relatives!). We decided to celebrate in a special way. Travel!

We had received rave reviews of Angkor Vat in Cambodia from several friends. It was quite natural that we visited this idea more seriously this time. After that it was only a matter of logistics. So come mid-May and we were happily off,  armed with an attractive tour package designed by TUI. And oh yes! Since we were going all the way to Cambodia, how could we not refresh our memories of Thailand and Singapore? And so it was that we had a really wonderful fortnight of holidaying. Who can ever forget the awesome ruins of Angkor Vat?

Just about a month later, on the 5th of July, to be precise, we were off once again to distant shores. This time our destination was North America. We were already scheduled to visit Rupa in Canada. To this we added a ten-day trip to USA to cover , both, my nephew's daughter's wedding and a look-see at the Big Apple, Boston & Cambridge, etc. We spend a memorable two months in the balmy N. American summer before returning to base on the 29th of August.

What I meant to record is that, because of my absence from home for about two and a half months, my resolve to get on to the pages of my blog ASAP (made in April) has taken a knock.

But South-East Asia, North America and Kolkata are done and dusted. Chandigarh and Darjeeling are still about a month away. So, despite the attractions of Pujo and Diwali, I shall do my best to put in at least one more post before we push off once again.

Let us see what ensues!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I am back!

Yes indeed, I am back!

I admit that this has been a very long absence from my blog - over six months! I cannot think of any momentous reason for this hiatus. because there isn't any! Its just that I did not get down to putting my thoughts into words. Let me attribute it to my innate laziness.

The other day, my friend Ekta Singh rang up for a chat. I must say that she regularly does that, bless her!. While nattering over many things she happened to mention that she enormously enjoyed reading my blog (ahem!), especially the post on some hilarious moments from our years with Toshali Resorts International. It was most exciting to chew the cud and share a few laughs with Ekta over the memories. Also, I have to confess, I was secretly flattered when she praised my writing and narrative skills!

Anyway, this call from Ekta proved to be a much needed nudge to my mental ribs to shake me out of my state of stupor! The result? Well, here I am! I now hope that my "Reflections" will find more representations in the future!

I notice that my last piece was posted on the 22nd of September 2011. Since then, the political scenario has been replete with incidents, co-incidents and accidents that have been quite memorable. But all that is history and, undoubtedly, they have been discussed and debated threadbare in every forum. Therefore, I give to myself the privilege of opting out of commenting on them. A lot has happened in our personal lives since I penned that piece in lament over the loss of the irrplaceable Tiger Pataudi. Firstly, suddenly there was a deluge of classes to be taken in the Indian Retail School. That is the strange thing of being a member of a guest faculty. There could be periods when one is in limbo; and there could be times like Sept-Dec '11 when I had to take classes every other day. However, classes are always fun and I had an engrossing four months. Secondly, a decision to redevelop our house was finalised, no doubt precipitated by unforseen circumstances. This meant shifting out temporarily to another house, a transit home, as it were. Wow! Not having done this for 20 years -a period when all of us have grown 20 years older! - proved to be a back-breaking experience. Anyway, it had to be done and it was done. We moved out of C498 on the 13th of November. The house was handed over to the builders on the 31st of December. And on the 1st of January 2012, C498 went under the sledge hammer. Well, the work is going on steadily. The structure is up. All the details of the interior work now remain. This is the slow and tedious part.However, we hope that we shall be able to move back to C498 latest by mid-2013. Apart from this, the social world keeps on buzzing. Wheteher it is Durga Pujo or Diwali or the New Year, there is never any dearth of excuses to party! And so it was in the last quarter of 2011. Add to that the odd birthday or wedding anniversary and you get a calendar of continuous "hell-raising", if I may say so! In the midst of all this, Titir (Sohini) the beautiful daughter of my college pal Sudas Roy, got married in January this year. Sudas made sure that we spend the best part of ten days in Kolkata and participate in the non-stop activities that he had laid on for the occasion! From September '11 to March'12 we were also extremely privileged to have lots of friends and relations as house guests. To say the least, this not only ensured that we were totally absorbed in the welcome change from the routine of post-retirement life (Kumi also retired in Nov '11), but also it injected a great deal of excitement and fun into our days! It is a blessing to have such wonderful people around to seek and provide meaningful company. So, times have been hectic and busy. But now I hope to be more consistent in my interactions with "Reflections"! Till the next time then!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Nawab from Oxford

Amongst our friends, during our college and univ days, the chief criteria for judging a guy' worth were i) whether he could converse in English - even more whether he could think in English - and ii)whether he played cricket! This apparent elitism was nothing but a product of our self-assigned snobbishness. It was our way of trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. And so it came to pass that cricket, and all it stood for, became a high point in our lives.

Into this world of fanatics, a young Oxford and Sussex player, and a Nawab to boot, stormed in with his elan and accomplishments in those early years of the 60s. The Nawab of Pataudi, much like his late father in 1946, was picked to play for India! The buzz around this happening was unbelievable, more so when, after appearing in only three or four tests, captaincy was thrust upon him in the midst of the West Indies tour of 1962.

At the "ripe old age" of 21 years, Pataudi with his immense promise of talent(despite a horrific car accident which made him blind in one eye at the age of 20) and his enigmatic persona with an aura of royalty around him, became the cynosure of all eyes. Not surprisingly, therefore, our band of friends made it a point to watch every test match at the Eden, during Pataudi's heydays,
i.e. the decade of the 60s. Only, 1969 onwards did I watch Pat and his team at the Feroze Shah Kotla having moved to North India by then.

I had been watching test cricket from 1956 when Ian Johnson's Australians stopped over in India on their way back home after an "ashes" battle in England (which they lost) to play a 3-test series. It was the familiar story of those days. We lost the rubber 2-0 after being bundled out on a turning track at the Eden Gardens by the Australian opening batsman Jim Burke!

In the rest of the decade we actually went to the test matches to watch all the greats from the visiting sides! Though we did have some Indian heroes, we were well programmed to expect only token competitiveness from them. A draw against other teams was a much coveted result. Those were the years when the likes of Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston, Ron Archer, Roy Gilchrist, Wesley Hall, Ian MacKiff, Alan Davidson and Fazal Mahmood, etc, annihilated India with their raw pace, steep bounce and canny swing. And who can forget the epic innings of 256 by Rohan Kanhai in 57-58? Or the fantastic ability of the peerless Gary Sobers, whether batting, bowling or fielding? Or the glimpses of the greats Neil Harvey, Collie Smith or Hanif Mohammad?

Then came the 60s. In this scenario now entered the Nawab, a stripling 21, leading men rather long in the tooth in a cricketing perspective. The transformation was quick and palpable. Suddenly, The Indians started to field instead of merely escorting the ball to the boundary every time the batsman hit the ball into the gaps! The Nawab himself was breathtaking in his pursuit, pick-up and throw while fielding. No surprise then that soon there were the likes of "Panther" Borde, Abbas Ali Baig, Russi Surti and the "Tiger" himself patrolling the covers and the onside. Who can forget the phenomenal Eknath Solkar at short leg; or the sharp Venkat, Abid Ali and Wadekar in the leg trap? India had metamorphosed into a fielding unit that could give today's Australia or South Africa a run for their money! This was the Tiger's foremost contribution. Incidentally it was the nature of his fielding that had won him the sobriquet of tiger during his stint with Sussex.

This one-eyed wonder had, by now, completely captured our imagination. Although I did not get to see a really big innings from him at the Eden, it is difficult to erase from the mind the image of Pataudi repeatedly dancing down the track to loft Tony Lock over the straight field. This was heady stuff; never before seen in test cricket! I remember that in a later test at Feroze Shah Kotla in the same series Pat scored an unbeaten double hundred. This was such a rare occurrence in Indian cricket those days! Only Vinoo Mankad (twice) and Polly Umrigar had managed the feat against New Zealand in 1955. I remember I was glued to the radio as Pat approached the landmark. When he hit a four to jump from 199 to 203 it felt as though we were listening to a bit of history being made. It was exhilarating! The whole stadium must have erupted! However, my joy was somewhat spoilt by the fact that, at that historic moment, the Maharaja of Vizianagram was on air. Old Vizzy, as the potentate was more familiarly known, had gone into patriotic raptures congratulating practically everybody in the Pataudi lineage, failing completely to describe the action on the cricket ground!

Pataudi was a hero several times over for us youngsters. His electric fielding, his innovative stroke-play and his bold captaincy tickled the cricket ribs in us. We worshipped his in-born stylish mien. And his aura of royal sophistication was simply awesome! All in all, a heady mixture which turned us into instant, life-long fans of his. I believe, that Pataudi was responsible to convert the Indian cricket team from being the subject of derisive laughter to one which could hold its head high and look the the opponents squarely in the eye.

The people of Kolkata (then Calcutta) just loved him. Later on, this love was reinforced many times over when Tiger began wooing the Bengali girl Sharmila Tagore, a celebrity in her own right, firstly as a member of the great Tagore family and secondly as a film star of repute, introduced to the industry by no less than Satyajit Ray. What was thrilling for us was that, during match days, we did manage to catch glimpses of their courtship once in a while in and around the entertainment hub of the city!

But life was not always a bed of roses for the young nawab.The terrible crash that took away the sight from one eye must have been a crushing blow for the 20 year old cricket prodigy who had the world at his feet with his prodigious talent and promise.
Certainly, all his fans were crushed. But not for him to despair. Reportedly, he told himself that though he may have lost the use of one eye he had not lost his objective! Soon he was back playing cricket and the rest, to use a cliche, is history. His determination to be back proved to be phenomenal, mind-boggling! When asked at some point of time as to how he overcame, when batting, the double vision he suffered for a while, he calmly said that he had learnt to play the inside line of the two deliveries that he saw at a time!!

A highly accomplished cricketer,a popular & well-connected individual and a mature personality honed by the early loss of his father and a sudden induction into the India captaincy (the youngest at 21), should have made him a natural for running the business of cricket in India. But, no. The BCCI had no use for a man like him. Is it because he was above all pettiness; all shenanigans? Is it because he always played with a straight bat? I shall leave it to the readers to decide.

I was much taken to the brand of humour that Pataudi often displayed - pithy, snappy and tongue-in-the-cheek. He lived up to the Shakespearean adage that " brevity is the soul of wit". Despite being an erudite and highly gifted person, the Tiger chose to be self-effacing, and amazingly so. On the limited occasions that he appeared on TV or radio he remained the picture of mature dignity, once in a while coming out with his classic one-liners. Who can forget his pronouncement from the TV commentary box as India threw away a match from a winning position - "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!" A lot of people say this nowadays but it is the Tiger himself, and nobody else, who is the author of this gem!

Tiger Pataudi is no more. In mourning for him, which I do deeply, I fervently hope that people do not debase the legend by resorting to statistics in remembering him. That would be a deep insult to a great cricketer, who did a lot for the game which nobody in India had done before and who, at the end of the day was a true pioneer and path-finder.

RIP, Pat.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mumbai re-lived in capital city - almost!

Delhi, 9th September, 2011.

There is a common belief that bad things happen if one gets off on the wrong side of the bed! Well,it is irrelevant to me since I have been getting off on the same side of the bed for several decades - what being happily tied in wedlock and what not! Is it the right side? Is it the wrong side? Who cares? However, yesterday, for a fleeting moment, the thought did cross my mind that there may be something in that belief, after all!

The day dawned with copious amount of rainwater being precipitated from the heavens on to the hapless and unsuspecting people of Delhi. City rain, and its accompanying greyness, has always caste a pall of gloom on my mood. Yesterday was no exception! Added to this was the thought that I would have to make an early start(i.e. 07.30 hrs.), drive 13 kms in the rain and set foot on a squelchy, muddy car park of the Institute - thus spoiling both my Hush Puppies and the Institute's floor with equal facility! The gloom in my mood knew no bounds!

When trouble comes, it pours! This adage proved prophetic, for, no sooner was I informed on arrival at the Institute that there would be no class, the rain intensified and became a veritable cascade! A double whammy, if ever there was one! This was at a little after 8.30 am.

It was only by 9.30 or so that the deluge seemed to be easing off. By 10.00 the rainfall had come down to a mild shower. That is when I made my first mistake. Armed with an umbrella I set off for the car park. Straight away I sensed that things were much worse than it had appeared from the dry safety of the Institute's lounge. The "ground reality" ensured that I was immediately in shoe-deep water. The umbrella did manage to protect my half-bald top for a while, but did little else to help. In no time my shirt was drenched; my trousers were drenched and, in trying to get into the car, finally my head too got drenched! And it was in this state that, with a sense of dubious achievement at having made it to the car, I drove off.

I do not know if you have ever been to Nebh Sarai in outer Delhi, a part of the substantial expanse of rural habitat that Delhi has. There is a stretch of road 1.7 kms long which bridges the Badarpur-Mehrauli Road with the Institute. This road is a road by name only. Actually, 0.7 kms of it, towards the institute, have been concretised and broadened. The remaining 1km is a motorist's nightmare of the worst order. It is narrow. It is used by an amazing mix of transport vehicles from trucks, RTVs, cars(big and small), two-wheelers, push carts, rickshaws, bullock-carts, cycle-carts, etc. You name it - it plies there! The road also has no surface worth its name. Moreover, there are several even narrower roads which converge on this from both sides. Given the rustic habits of the drivers (whether of urban or rural pedigree!), coupled with the total absence of traffic lights or policemen, the area is a potpourri of the chaotic and the insane!

My second mistake was to drive off, as I did. Immediately, as though on cue, the rain started to intensify again. The concretised part of the road was not a problem. But the moment I hit the infamous stretch, I realised that I was in trouble. The traffic had piled up - and there was water everywhere. Now, this situation was not really new to me as I had faced such hurdles in previous years too! Although, things did not look encouraging, I had every hope of safely , though slowly, negotiating the stretch like in previous occasions.

As I inched forward, I noticed that some cars were turning around in search of other routes - of which I had not the faintest idea. The rain also gathered a little more momentum by now so that I had to keep the windows up. Inching forward on half-clutch I advanced about 50 yards in 15 minutes! It was a regular waterway out there in front of me! Where was the road? The water level was at the hub-cap level as evident from the other cars. Another 25 yards - and the snail-march came to a halt. And there I stood for 20 mins or so, unwilling to switch off the engine, cocooned in the car with totally frosted windows affording no view, except through the wind shield, which was kept partially clear by the metronomic whoosh- whoosh of the wipers. And then, suddenly, my worst fears were realised! Water started entering the car!

As I heard the dreaded lapping of the water, I was momentarily transported to another point of time when I had read horror stories of the plight of motorists caught in the catastrophic flooding of Mumbai in 2005. Believe it or not I broke out in a cold sweat. I was petrified! My brain stopped functioning. I could not decide as to the right course of action. I was alone in a water tank and slowly drowning. An there was no chance of anyone coming to my rescue. At least this was the vision that arose in my mind. What was I to do?

Very soon, my feet were completely submerged in the water up to the ankles. The chilling sensation must have jolted me out of my near-panic state, for I suddenly decided to turn and head back to the institute, if I could! Some divine force must have taken over my body because I do not know till now just how I managed to turn the car around without any visibility of the surrounds because of the fogged windows on all sides. Also with every shift of gear from reverse to forward I was expecting the car to stall. It took me all of 10 minutes but turn it I did. I was bathed in sweat but at least I had managed to face the other way. With gritted teeth, and still driving on low gear and half-clutch I headed off and managed to regain the institute's car park in ten minutes. The time was 11am. After an hour' traumatic struggle I had returned to base having travelled not even 1km! The rain continued to come down in sheets.

A helpful person from the institute arrived with a mug and managed to decant the accumulated water from inside the car. I was ever so thankful that, through sheer blundering, I had managed to take a sensible decision of returning to the institute. I was grateful to squelch back to the dry safe haven, viz. the institute's building. A visit to the washroom, a cup of steaming hot tea and some magazines did restore a semblance of order in my mind. The most important part was that I was able to recover my poise soon enough.

The rain petered out slowly. At noon, I was told by the staff that word had come that the 'infamous stretch' was at last cleared of waterlogging and traffic jam. So, after an hour's recuperation in the college lounge, it was time for me to leave once again.

I was a trifle apprehensive about the car's refusal to start, but it did. So, with almost a song in my heart, I set off again. But, it being that kind of a day, my joy was short-lived.

The 'infamous stretch' was safely negotiated only for me to discover that Delhi was in a gridlock of vehicles, covering practically the whole city. No route was free to travel in. All that I could do is change direction, reverse and seek strange looking by-lanes over and over again. I spent 45 minutes in Saket; 30 minutes on Press Enclave Road and half an hour inside Defence Colony itself before reaching home at 2.00pm. I descended from the car in a totally knackered state to discover Kumkum waiting for me at home. She had not been able to go to office in Hauz Khas which is 3 kms away!

Well so ended the saga of the deluge. Looking at the state I had been reduced to by my 3-hour battle with water-logging and traffic jams, I could not but feel blessed in contrast to many poor souls who had suffered much worse on that fateful 2005 day in Mumbai. This was Mumbai re-lived, but not quite!

Monday, July 4, 2011

A hellhole on earth?

Soudhriti Bhabani, reporting about a proposl to entertain motorists with music during red traffic signals at street intersections in Kolkata (Mail Today, July 5 2011),provides a sharp comment in passing about the great metropolis itself. The reporter says - and I quote - "often described as a hellhole on earth, Kolkata is a city on the brink of an urban collapse."

On the 27th of June this year, I returned from Kolkata after spending 15 days with my siblings, other relatives, friends and a few acquaintances. Needless to say that my wife and I had a wonderful holiday despite the uncomfortable weather which, believe it or not, included a cyclone to boot!

For a "non-resident Calcuttan" that I am, a fortnight spend in Kolkata is usually spent in indulging in large doses of both hugging and hogging! This time was no exception. Add to this a few bouts of compulsive shopping and voila! You have your Kolkata holiday!

We drove around a lot (both sides of the river), walked about a good deal, visited people in all parts of the city, looked in on all kinds of shops from stand-alone retail outlets to the undying New Market, to the iconic South City Mall to the Metro Cash and Carry wholesale facility. We lunched or dined in various restaurants. We went to a few of Kolkata's famous clubs. We attended several parties. We even visited the serene monastery at Belur built by Swami Vivekanand to perpetuate the memory of the saint Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

Having so recently had such a good time, I could not but help raise a mental eyebrow at the pronouncement of the Mail Today! I realise that no city in India is perfect; that all cities have their plus and minus points; that each one portrays an unique characteristic. I can recall many regrettable atrributes of Delhi or, for that matter Mumbai - so much so that they grate on the nerves, they irritate no end. Yet I would think a thousand times before letting a comment like Bhabani's roll off the tongue(or pen) with such facility.

The cultural scene is flourishing as usual in Kolkata. In fact the new genre of Bengali music including the copyright-free Rabindrasangeet. is pulsating with excitement, creativeness , dynamism. The concept of the "Bangla Band" has revolutionised Bengal's popular music into contemporary rock and pop art-forms.

The Bengali stage is still producing high class plays & dramas albeit without the presence of the once legendary professional theatre of Star, Bishwaroopa and Rang Mahal.

There has been a remarkable revival of the Bengali cinema in recent years. Never has the Bengali screen and its stars caught the imagination of its audience in such a big as it is doing nowadays, by the consistent production of quality cinema of every genre.

From whatever we could see around us, we saw signs of progress - be it in the cityscape, the traffic patterns (did not find a single mal-functioning traffic light in sharp contrast to Delhi), the lifestyle, transportation (new buses, plenty of cabs), infrastructure projects like east-west metro corridoor passing under the river Hooghly, etc. Whether or not all the projects of civic amenities are completed within respective target dates, they certainly do not convey to me the unmistaken sign of a "hellhole - on the brink of disaster!"

Take Delhi - with its maddening, choking traffic without benefit of one-way systems or functioning traffic signals; with its incendiary road rage that takes a toll of human lives with alarming regularity; with its dubious yet well deserved sobriquet "the rape capital of India"; with its non-existent drainage system that floods all roads after every rain shower - even with one-tenth the rainfall of Kolkata! Will I call Delhi a hellhole? No way!

The simple truth is that no city can be dismissed so callously as Bhabani has done with Kolkata. As I have said earlier, every city has its merits and demerits. Yes, I agree that individuals are free to have their own opinions on these. However, this does not, or should not, allow columnists to pontificate on things that cannot be established credibly in any case!

The Kolkata I know, and I know it well, can teach the rest of India a few things about human and social values that are prominent features of civic society, in other words, a city. To dismiss such a place as a "hellhole" smacks heavily of preconceived notions. And that is a sad commentary on newspaper reporting.