Sunday, August 17, 2014

Madras, the hidden hues of shame!

375 has a nice ring to it, no? Gary Sobers plus ten? That’s what Madras has turned this month. 375 years. The Madras week starts from morrow. The national broadsheets as well as the neighborhood times will all go to town i.e Madras to sing its paeans. Like how steeped Madras is in history. Like the soft spongy medhuvadai in milagurasam. What an amazing amalgam or concoction or decoction of tradition and modernity this Madras is! What good karma of our previous births has bestowed on us this present birth in Madras.
Really?  Aren’t we fooling ourselves? Peel off the sentimental gibberish and look underneath. The underbelly will be very uncomfortably visible.  Madrasis singing praise of Madras is any news? Why, for every Ethiopian worth his salt, Ethiopia is the utopia of earth. So with Madras.  I too have been, off and on, proclaiming loudly to whoever would listen that Madras is the best. But deep inside, a few dark images lurk, and now is about time they were dusted, polished, pulled out and put up for public view.  Here are a few vignettes of colours the real Madras is made of:

The most visible hue of the spectrum becomes almost invisible to the average Madras motorist if the color emanates from a traffic signal.  Seldom would you find a motorist stopping at a red light here, unless the signal has, a retinue of traffic cops as bodyguards.  Madras is probably the only metropolis (if only size qualifies it to be called so) where every traffic light has to have a cop as an appendage. It beats logic that to enforce a single rule you spend twice over – one on the cops’ salary and the other on maintenance of lights. And if that cop too turns the other way busy extorting that tenner from a lorry, the traffic junction would be a free for all. It hardly matters if the light is green or amber or red or bloody white.  Who cares? The plain fact is that  traffic rules enforcement is the poorest in Madras of all the big cities in India. Statistics don’t lie, despite their notoriety.  Road deaths are the maximum in TN of all states.

Has anyone noticed why most of the walls of each and every lane and bye-lane in Madras is moist and wet? The unstoppable bladder of the Madrasis, what else? Masons here have learnt the trick of cementing the bricks of the walls and leaving it without watering and curing.  That public service would be taken care of by the Madrasi  urinating all over the place.  The shower-proferring citizens can even teach a lesson or two to the stray mongrels roaming the streets and looking for a lamp post.  The entire city is a lamp post for these shameless denizens of a ‘conservative’ and ‘cultured’ metropolis. In say, the  much-maligned Calcutta one would seldom witness anything rivaling the  magnitude and ferocity of the relieving public of Madras.  The otherwise blissfully-urinating-all-over  ‘cultured’ and ‘decent’  fellow would not forget to paint the Chandrasekara, the Crescent and the Cross on his own house’s wall to prevent the shower-favour being returned. The 3Cs would retain their chastity only for a few days. From day 4, the walls will be back to their alluring and inviting best – wet all over.

You can be sure the State milk distributor Aavin would double production the day a new movie of that mega-mass star releases in Madras.  We Madrasis are cut out for the colossal stupidity of pouring gallons of milk on cut-outs of our mass stars. If Surya is drenched with 100 litres, Vijay should have at least 105. If Vijay has 105, Thala should have at least 110.  One thing you can be sure of – we Madrasis believe in keeping everything and everyone cool. If not the walls,  then the cut outs. Some liquid or the other we would keep unleashing  on the unsuspecting. Taken together with the hundreds of gallons of milk the deities of our million temples consume, are not we Madrasis the torch-bearers of the white revolution?

We have heard of the Corleone family. And the  Giuseppe, Catanic  families. The dreaded mafias of Italy.  Why, even Madras has had its own share of colourful criminal characters like Auto Shankar, Maadu   Sekar, Bokkai Ravi and Welding Kumar. But three mafias of Madras, no power on  earth could root out are the Pachaiyappas, Nandanam Arts and the Presidency mafias.  The venerable inhabitants of these three colleges have managed to bring parts of the city to a near state of bloodbath and mayhem very often by their openly brandishing knives, swords, sickles and sundry other weaponry to attack each other, break buses, strike at the public, smuggle arms inside colleges and in general strike such a terror that the public have come to believe that the police need to think of an alternative profession, casting aside their uniforms.  A few of our city colleges are so infested with petty politicians, criminals & goondas ( don’t ask why I am using 3 names for the same entity – it is for emphasis) that it is a mystery that they still continue to be called colleges when crime-dens would be more apt a name for them.  And then there is this abomination called bus-day celebrations in Madras when on multiple days each section of each college would simply hijack a bus, empty it of passengers, climb on the roof, bang it to pulp and create huge traffic jams in busy thoroughfares on week days.  Police? Well, they will dutifully escort the processions. To prevent any ‘untoward’ incident or damage – to the marauding students that is.

Even the Ebola survivor of Sierra-Leone is sure to fall prey to the yellow fever of Madras once he lands in its airport or railway station.  Gabbar Singh type robbers rule only in the jungle.  Highway robbers loot only in desolate stretches of highways.  Our yellow auto robbers do it all over the city, throughout the day, 24X7,for decades together.  Madras is the only city where per kilometer fare by auto would even exceed the airfare. For those hapless, uninformed, unfortunate ones landing at midnight or unearthly hours at railway stations or airports, they would be better advised to carry title deeds of their property, for they would be required to hand over the same as fare for say 5 kms or beyond, when they run out of cash.   Fare meters, did you say? That is for ‘Dhrishti’, you know, the scarecrow they erect on paddy fields to ward off evils.  To think that this day light robbery is continuing in Madras for nearly 3 decades will be astonishing for outsiders but not for us.  Police?  Enforcement? Again, tell that to the dogs.  [that said, only recently some semblance of order has been restored to the auto scene but that too only in patches, too insignificant to be any newsworthy]

375, did you say? Isn’t that only a number? Even a thousand years hence,  fat chance Madras would reform.  Atleast  in scrubbing off the decadent layers of  the above 5 colours. Temples, music, maamis and madisars, at best, are only the public façade of this monster of a city. The above 5 colors of the spectrum are the reality.  Deep inside its belly. You better believe me, for I know this city like the back of one’s palm!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

பாரதிக்குப்பிறந்த நாள், பார், அதி புனித நாள்!!

1  சிந்தனை மலர் தொடுத்து செவிக்கினிய பாநூறு
    தந்தனை நீ இத்தரணிக்கு     -    உந்தனை
    எத்தனை கோடி யுகம்பல போனாலும்
    சித்தம் மறப்பது அரிது.

2 சாதி வெறியரின்று சான்றோர் போர்வையிலே
   நீதி தவறுவோர் நாடாள்வர்    -   போதிமர
   புத்தனே, நீயின்று புவியிலில்லை, நன்றேயாம்
   இத்தருணம் வாழ்வதிங்கு இழுக்கு .

3  மானுடம் பாடவந்த முணடாசுக்கவியரசே
   தேனுடன் கலந்துண்டோம் உன்பாட்டை - வானுயர்
   தமிழளித்தாய், தறிகெட்ட திருநாட்டைத்திருத்தவொரு
   அமிழ்து எமக்களிப்பாய் என்று ?

4  வீரம் உன் வேதம், வீண்பேச்சு பகையுனக்கு
   காரம் உன் கவிதைத்துளிகள்   -  பாரதியே
   இன்று எம்நாட்டின் எழில்வளத்தைச்சுரண்டுமிந்தப்
   பன்றிக்கூட்டத்தைத்துரத்த நீ வா!

5  காதலை உன்போலே கவிநயத்தில் தோய்த்தெடுத்து
   தோதாய்ப்பொழிந்தவர் யாருமிலர்   -  ஏதேதோ
   ட்விட்டரில் காதலாம்,  செல்போனில் முத்தமாம்
   க்விக்பிக்ஸ் உலகமடா இது.

6  நல்லதோர் வீணையொன்றைப்புழுதியில் எறிதல் கண்டு
   சொல்லொணாத்துயருற்றாய் சுடர்கவியே   --  எல்லாமே
   கனவாய்ப்போனதடா,    காரிருள் சூழ்ந்ததடா
   உனக்குக்குறையில்லை, உயிர்நீத்தாய் .

7  உன்னிறுதி ஊர்வலத்தில்  உடனிருந்தோர் ஓரிருவர்
   தன்னிகரில்லா பாரதிக்கிக்கதி  -  இந்நிலையில்
   ஈனப்பிறவிகள், எத்தர்கள் வால்பிடிக்கும்
   மானங்கெட்டவர் ஒரு கோடி.

8  திசம்பர் பதினொன்றில் திரள்வது சோகமே
   கசக்கும் உண்மையிது பாரதி   -   பசப்புறு
   வார்த்தைகள் சேர்த்து உன் பிறந்தநாளைப்பாடல்
   நேர்த்தியுறு நன்செயலன்று.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

இசையரசன் அந்தாதி!

1  பண்ணைப்புரம் எனும் பாங்கான பசுமைசூழ் ஊரொன்றில்
   மண்ணைத்தோண்ட ஒரு மாணிக்கம் முளைத்தது அறிவீரோ
   விண்ணைத்தொட்டதோர் இசையரசன் எங்கள் இளையராஜா
   பண்ணுக்கரசன் புது ராகம் படைக்குமெங்கள் ராகதேவன்.

2  தேவர் மகனின் மாசறு பொன்னிலும் அவன் இழையே
    ஆவர் கடவுளே கேட்போரும், அவன் பொற்திருவாசகமே
    சேவற் கொடியோன் முருகனின் அழகொத்த அவன் ராஜகீதம்
    மூவரும் முககண்ணரும் நற்றமிழும் உருகுமே அவனிசைக்கே.

3  இசையால் வசமானோம் இப்பிறவி பேறு பெற்றோம்  இக்கணமே
    அசையாபபொருளும் அசைந்தாடும் ஆனந்தக்கூத்தாடும்
   விசையால் வேகமுறும் விண்கலமாய்  மனம் உயரப்பறக்கும்
  கசையால் அடித்ததுபோல் மெய் சிலிர்க்கும் கலைஞனவன் சிம்பொனியால்.

4  சிம்பொனி கேட்டிருப்போம் சிலப்பல சமயங்கள், அவ்வொலியின்
    தம்பொருள் புரியாமல் தலை மட்டும் ஆடிடும் தாளம்  போடும.
   செம்பொன் மாணிக்கம் வைரம் நற்பவழத்துடன் அவ்விசையில்
   அன்பொன்றையும் குழைத்து அளித்திட்டான் எம்மிசை ஞானியடா!

5  ஞானியும் நாடுவர் பனிவிழும் நல் மலர்வனத்தை
   தேனி போல் சுற்றுவர் செவ்வந்திப்பூவை அந்தி மழையில்   
   ஊனினை உருக்குமாம் ஜனனீ அம்மா வென்றழைக்குமாம்
   வானிலே வண்ண விண்மீன் விளிக்கும் பொன் மாலைபொழுதை.

6  பொழுதும் அவன் பாடல் அதில் இரவென்ன பகலுமென்ன
   அழுதும் சிரித்தும் பின் சிறிது ஆர்ப்பரித்தும் ஆட்டமிட்டும்
   பழுதாய் போன நெஞ்சில் பால் வார்த்து மருந்திட்டவனை
   எழுதும் பெருமை பெற்றேன், வாழ்க பண்ணைப்புரத்தானே!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Singara Chennai, shokkadan keedhu!

Yes, come here Singara Chennai.  Where have you been all these days?  Remember you are turning  375 today?  I agree, I agree, you look more and more ravishing as the years roll by. Not a strand of grey hair, nor a wrinkle. If anything, you are fitter and more nimble.  But a bit more buxom and flabby.  Your fiery temper has but grown fierier.  I look back at what I saw of you and I hope you recall the lecture I gave you  last year this day. [Birthday greetings, you 373 year old monster]  And try to see if you have any improvement to show over the last 12 months or just continue to be what you were a year ago – haughty, impertinent and downright the naughty girl that you always are, unwilling to mend your ways.  I had then promised that I would give you monster another earful if you live to see your 375th birthday. 

You have lived and so have I.  And now I see you shamelessly handing over your progress card to me for signing.  Lend me your ears and  let me read your progress card first.  I will think of signing later.

Traffic – Still remains the same horrible mess, vehicles have increased on the roads and you are polluting more and more.  But at least no deterioration over last year’s situation noticed. Marks 50/100 – PASS

Police enforcement – The year that went by was one of 'visible policing', as the cops would like us to believe.  Nice hoardings they have put up everywhere – Close to your block, round the clock. Close they are and quite visible too but what about improvement in enforcement of rules?    You still see motorists violating traffic rules with impunity right under the nose of the cop who is busy or rather idling inside his swanky patrol vehicle.  The day when all vehicles stop at a red light even without a cop lurking around nearby would be the day, you would pass this test, Madras.  Marks 30/100 – FAIL

Garbage – Some improvement seen here, at least the mounds of trash are less visible, what with huge blue tin vats swallowing them up. The vats are an eye-sore but any day preferable to heaps of naked garbage strewn around.  Okay, I admit you have done some good work here Marks 60/100 – PASS

Infrastructure – Status quo ante.  Don’t see too many new flyovers, civic improvements or fresh initiatives.  Metro is coming up fast but you can’t take much credit for that, it is not your state project in the first place. Compliment, if you need it badly, can only be for the fact that the infrastructure has not gone any worse.   Marks 55/100 – PASS

Waterways and Parks – You have long been bragging that you will make a Kaveri of Cooum and a Brahmaputra of Buckingham Canal.  All gas and no action .  You have only managed to create more stinking rivulets rivaling Cooum on the streets in the form of overflowing sewage.  Forget Cooum, can’t you at least give a thought to the last few still unspoilt waterbodies and marshes you have?  And the parks?   Many have given way to constructions and dumping yards.  Sorry, not much to crow about here.  You should be happy that you just scraped through here – Marks 40/100 – JUST PASS

Tasmac shops – Can’t help discussing this underbelly of yours, because they are slowly becoming the face of the city.  They have only increased in number.  Their patrons sustain your livelihood, Madras, by gulping in gallons each passing day.  You throw freebies around out of their courtesy only.  To pay the Pauls, you have all along been robbing these poor Peters.  Have you given anything in return to them?  The gentlemen thronging Tasmacs who fill your coffers continue to wallow in filth and muck.  Your doctors and hospitals do roaring business out of the mass liver cyrrohis your Tasmac patrons contact.  High time you mended your mean ways here and show some courtesy to your drinking millions.   Marks 35/100 – FAIL

Yes, here comes your favourite subject – films.  I thought you would always pass this subject but I see something unbelievable here.  You have managed to create a parallel super censor board to clear films.  Goons roam around wielding sticks and stop film shows.  Now this is new and where did you learn this?  It’s all bad company you have gathered around you.  Marks – 20/100 FAIL

And there are other subjects – like population explosion, auto-wallahs, the heat, the humidity, blah, blah….. Since you can’t do much about these, I let these pass and let you pass.  For these sundries, I give you, Marks 50 – PASS

So this is my earful to you this birthday.  Will hound you throughout the coming year and give you another earful when you turn 376 next year.  Till such time,  good bye and good luck.  Don’t show your ugly face to me for the next 365 days. 

Madras heard out all this without a word, shrugged and walked away nonchalantly.  There she goes, out of hearing distance.  She can’t now hear what I say.  Now readers, this is just for your consumption – don’t blurt it out before her if you happen to meet her again round the corner.

Fact is, my Madras is not that bad at all.  But you do not praise your child before her face and spoil her.  Arrogant she may be but not beyond salvation.  She has good taste, exudes warmth some times, embraces strangers, doesn’t flaunt her prosperity, level headed and cool!  While other cities would go to town over birthday celebrations, she is ever conservative and kind of shy.  Not for her the garish celebrations over birthdays like politicians.  Her Tambrahm inhabitants still make the best coffee in the world.  Her 108 ambulances, state-owned, still manage to reach the mishap site within minutes.  Her Government offices still manage to move files without losing them like Coalgate files.  Her cool evening sea-breeze still make one forget the humid days.  Her temples still offer peace and solace.  Her music season still spell-binds.  Her Amma canteens still give value for money.  Her five star hotels nowadays even make Oorgai cocktails. A dash of mangai oorugai over vodka or something.  (hehe, this cocktail was invented long ago by Tasmac patrons only, how coolly these big hotels usurp the recipe without patent!) Her Madras Bashai is still music to the ears leaving you yearning for more.  Meyyalume!

My Madras still manages to soothe and comfort.  She is now the toast of India.  Every other Bollywood film now fashionably names the movie after my Madras/Chennai.  Meet her I will next birthday and bash her up again but that would be a façade.  Don’t tell her and MIND IT.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Vaalee, the bard, the legend!

Is Rangarajan such a bland, banal name?  Does not seem so, but why a plethora of Rangarajans of the earth have hidden behind aliases in their pursuit of gaining name and fame? Is it because the ones who have not opted to do so, have only managed to turn out to be boring central bankers, listless LDCs, uninspiring under-secretaries  or the pan munching mamas of the neighbourhood?  So if one is born Rangarajan and still wishes to achieve not just professional success but ultimate crowning glory, hide under an alias. Your dreams might just take you to the summit you were yearning for!  

Two such aliases immediately come to mind.

Sujatha and Vaalee.  Two luminaries,  who added color to Tamil literature, each in his own unique way.  The former who made popular reading fashionable; brought a whiff of scientific temper to his audience, even while managing not to be straight-jacketed into a sci-fi writer.  Exhibited a vast repertoire, from Srirangam Maidens to Salavaikkari of Mexico, from Karayellam Shenbagappoo to Katradhum  Petradhum.  His sharp mind  and brilliant writing skills, not every one can aspire to be endowed with.  Not all talent can be cultivated either, some needs to be there deep inside  your DNA.  Yes, writer Sujatha had that streak of brilliance in his genes and doubtless, was a genius.  But this piece is not about him.  His mention here is only casual,  only in relation  to the Ranagarajan aliases.  He is just a passing reference…..

…..This is about the other famous Rangarajan.  The one, who bid us goodbye yesterday.  This is about Vaalee’s vivacity and versatility.  This is about his long, successful journey spanning five decades.  A sojourn which betrayed no signs of exhaustion up until  the moment the traveler fell down and never got up again.  This is about a life full of poetry, a poetry of a life. 

This Vaalee was actually the Sugreev in Tamil film-lyrics kingdom.  Always reckoned as  the underdog to the original Vali i.e. Kannadasan, always lived in his shadow.     Into a kingdom ruled by Kannadasan, our (Sugreev) Vaalee initially found it difficult to step, let alone rule it  with honour and pomp. He fought with all his might but to no avail. He became depressed, dejected and decided to take exile from the kingdom of Kodambakkam.  Legend has it that PBS played ‘mayakkama kalakkama…’ penned by his very adversary, and the song shook his insides.  He returned with a vigour to the kingdom, succeeding in riveting  the world’s attention to the magic he wove  in the film karpagam and from then on there was no looking back. The veteran Vali and the just arrived Sugreev walked hand in hand and strode Tamil film world for well over three decades. 

 Not hundred,  not a thousand  but a staggering 10000 songs sprouted from his ever fertile literary mind.  He could write, with equal felicity, about love, death, injustice, impotence, the virtuous, the wicked, the gods, the scoundrels and a million other things.   He was the voice of MGR.  The MGR our folks saw in their lives owed half his image to Vaalee. Vaalee was the spring from which valour, chivalry, anger, compassion and love flowed through the medium of MGR to the outside world.  Vaalee was the breath in MGR’s life.  MGR dared his enemies by belting out “naan aanayittal” but the actual 'aanai' was that of the sutradar Vaalee.   The duo of MGR and Vaalee was no less potent than the other (rival) worthy duo of Kannadasan and Sivaji.  It was destined to be so.  If the KS duo was bitter sweet, the MV was hot and pungent. If KS evoked tears, MV evoked a hearty laughter.   Both the tastes were of course needed for the meal to be wholesome and delicious.  Both the emotions are needed to maintain one’s composure. 

Can what Vaalee produced be termed literature?  Oh, not that question again.  Like the eternal debate between mass cinema and art cinema, between a Bach and a Barman, between a Shakespeare and a Sheldon…each cocking a snook at the other, each chest-thumping that his genre is superior…Let’s not get into all that.  Like Kamal said, there is only good cinema and bad cinema.  Like Raja said, all music which touches the soul is great music.  And Vaalee’s output was stupendous, rich and extremely soul touching.  It remains so even if the purists are reluctant to place it on a high literary pedestal.  His athai madi methayadi was as soothing as his thottal poo malarum.  His singari sarakku was as intoxicating as his maistry, kadhal sastry.  (Don’t wince. Yes, he wrote those words.  Sastry is well, mettukkudi Aryanisque,  but maistry???  Well why not, Vaalee asks.  Maistry builds the house brick by brick so does the kadhal maistry in “love build up” as Vadivelu says).

Not for him the gimmickry of knotted imagery and convoluting phrases.  Not for him the odorous  viyarvai and thorny ambugal in every other song, making the listener weary and wary, giving the feel of  travelling in a rickety share auto on a pot-holed Chennai bye-lane. His words came straight from the heart, unadulterated by literary ostentations and pretensions (and no, this is not a denigration), sliding smooth as a Volvo on an expressway with no speed breakers.   After all, those were the sixties, the golden era of Kannadasan and Vaalee.  The lyrics would be simple, gush like an unbridled stream, roar like a waterfall and caress like silk and in effect, embellish the situation and the song, not in the least fearful of being swamped and drowned in computer music.  The lyrics, the tune, the instruments, the play back singer and the actor emoting on screen, all complementing one another and leaving a lasting impact.  Such were the times!  Such was the milieu which gave space to talents like Vaalee to experiment and excel.

.....Ah, the good times have ended.  The koel has fallen  silent, the gushing waterfall has stopped.  A stunning silence has enveloped. Darkness has descended. Vaalee is gone……

PBS first, then went TMS and now Vaalee, all within a space of a few months.  The gods appear to be in a mindless, tearing  hurry to snatch away mirth, melody and music from us the earthlings. Hey foolish god, if you pluck all flowers at once what will remain of the plant?  One shudders to even think which flower of yesteryears would be the next.  Can’t death make an exception here and there, now and then?  No, death will not listen.  For death is not wont to appreciate music and the joy, music  gives to life.  Death and music are oxymoronic.

But alright.  As  one sloka says, Vaalee had anayasena maranam, vina dainyena jeevanam (a life without hardship and a death that was effortless).  He deserved such a smooth life and a smoother death.

Rest in peace, Vaalee!  People of your ilk but descend on earth, once in a century!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chargola Chronicles!

Brevity  may be  the soul of wit.  Since this narrative is neither witty nor does it come with any baggage of soul, I choose to  describe things here in ‘vilavari’, meaning  lengthy detail in Tamil. Now, you can just skip the rest of this narrative at this very point and attend to better things.  Or you can struggle to finish reading the piece and then curse me.  But don’t say I did not forewarn.
Where shall I begin this final part of the trilogy? (Trilogy?  But of course! The term is fashionable and I like it.  Scroll back to my   'Ratabari Rishkawallah' and 'Memories of another life' and you now see why I call it a trilogy)  If it should begin at the beginning, then the Sugar Mill administrative Officer it should be.  Forgot the gentleman’s name, too bad.  Ungrateful it is to forget the good soul who arranges  a house for you at your first request, that too at a princely monthly rent of Rs.90/-. 
When I got posted to Chargola, I thought it was the end of my career life, even before it began.  The posting order was a bolt from the blue and it was a brutal wake-up call for me to go out and face life.  What splendid six months we five spent in Silchar and Badarpur!  What fun and frolic!  All that is going to end.  The joy of Ambicapatty and the lovely  land-daughters.  What the hell, I did not even have the faintest idea of where on earth Chargola was. Not many locals too had heard of the place.  Just as we had no idea of where Cachar was some six months back.  But Cachar was presently discovered by us and it needed no Columbus.  The Cachar adventure  was just a trailer, I realized later.   The main film was yet to begin.  In July 1990, the trailer abruptly ended and I was suddenly catapulted into the main film called Chargola.  I felt like crying when I received the transfer order but two things prevented me from doing so – the first being the age-old saying that ‘men don’t cry’ and the second of a more recent vintage  and more truthful, that crying in my Bank only begets more crying. 
To make things somewhat better for me and to prepare me for the solitary confinement   ahead, my friend Samal suggested that I move to R.K.Nagar and stay there with him  temporarily, till I found out a house in Chargola.    This Nagar (nagaro for sylhettis) was just 7 kms from Chargola and I can commute.  Doggy buses ply regularly between the two places.  The ones which took birth as trucks and gradually evolved into buses - the front will look like a run-down Benz truck and the rest of the creaky vehicle made of  tin sheets,  with holes gorged out on the sides.  The holes went by the name windows.  The seats were of back and butt breaking wood.
When Samal broached this idea, I asked him ‘Are there hotels in R.K.Nagar or Chargola?’  He looked at me strangely and I could as well have been from another planet, judging by his look. 
“Hotel?  Gaon hai bhai, gaon” he said and my heart sank.  Reluctantly leaving Silchar behind, we both caught the ASTC bus to Dullabcherra at 2.30 that fateful Sunday afternoon.    And alighted at  nagaro as dusk was beginning to fall.  Samal asked me to make myself comfortable in the new home.  He can say, because he already has made himself comfortable in a house in which he himself is a trespasser.  The original occupant was on a temporary transfer to some other place and he had allowed Samal to occupy his house till he was away.  And this Samal had kind of sub-let the house to me, even without asking the original owner! Good soul, Samal, he still is.  The perfect host, as I am to re-discover years later, at his Bhubaneswar home.

Coming to Calculus, sorry, Chargola,  I discovered to my amazement that my Bank’s Chargola branch  was not actually  in Chargola!    It was once in Chargola village, within the Cachar Sugar Mills compound.  The mill closed down, business floundered and thus the bank branch, ever the fair-weather friend,  shifted to a relatively busier place called Anipur.  But the name of the branch still remained Chargola.  RBI rules you know, branch can shift but name can’t change…The day I joined, my branch  manager heaped effusive words of sympathy on me. ‘Why they put you here?  That too as a Rural Development Officer?  How can you talk to the customers? You don’t even know the language.  How can you live in this place…”  with frequent interspersions of ‘Don’t worry, I will help you’.   Help he did.  The first day itself this gentleman, the administrative officer of the sugar mill (the first para wallah) walked in and my manager introduced me to him.  Narrated my plight to him and requested him to provide accommodation for me at the Sugar Mill quarters.

A word or two about the Sugar mill,  Sugar mill employees and the Sugar mill quarters.  The sugar manufacturing plant was put up by the State Government some 15 years back, in that backward village of Chargola.  Sugar cane cultivation was encouraged to be taken up all around the village.  Our bank opened a branch right inside the mill complex.  The bank extended finance for all the sugarcane cultivators.  Paid all the salaries of the huge army of staff at the mill.  Extended personal loans and all such stuff to the staff.  After a few years, you guessed it, the mill went sick, got into ICU and one day was very dead.  Production halted completely. Machinery went into rust and disrepair.  Our bank’s loans went kaput, cane cultivation stopped.  In short everything dropped dead. But the staff remained!  Not a single worker was retrenched or sacked, and not a single worker took retirement. ( no, Assam was not ruled by the Communists then). They all happily remained on the rolls on subsistence wages i.e. some minimum salary for not reporting to work.  Everyone had some private business to keep the kitchens running.  They need not even come to the mill office and sign the muster, not even on pay day, because pay was automatically credited to their bank accounts with our branch.  They were provided with staff quarters when the mill was running and they continued to remain there with families.  Two of the staff quarters were allotted to the bank staff and even after the mill stopped, the quarters continued to be occupied by us. The bank and its staff were just extended family for the sugar mill people. 

It was one of those quarters the administrative officer was kind enough to allot to me.  I was in seventh heaven or cloud nine or some such numeral-tagged place suspended in space when I got the allotment letter, but I should have known better.  I should have contemplated on why that particular quarters remained unoccupied all these years.   When I landed up after office at that ‘quarters’, I was shell shocked.  For one, the quarters was not any quarters at all.  It was a ramshackle, dilapidated Assam type hut complete with a thatched roof, bamboo fencing and cardboard walls.  The entrance door was just a functional swinging contraption fastened to metal hinges to ensure some opacity from onlookers outside.  It did not even have any pretence of trying to prevent a burglar from entering.  It needed no lock, there just was no point.  For, with a push and a light shove, it would give away, the lock remaining in tact.    But there was no need for me to bother, since I had nothing to hide from the burglar, even if he entered.  My earthly possessions at that time would have made a sadhu- sanyasin blush.
I paid Rs.20 to a maid (who eventually would become our kajer lok, our mashi..) who cleaned up the interiors.  The hutment had one hall, a bed room and a small kitchen and the toilet.   It had not seen any repairs or upkeep for the last 15 years ever since the mill was set up.  Not a single time the straw  on the roof was changed.  When it rained, it poured cats and dogs.  Inside the house, I mean.  Another lesson learnt.  The thatched roof was just to block sunlight and it had no wherewithal to block heavier stuff like rain.  Countless rainy nights were spent inside that house with my single cot moved to the centre-island  of the ‘hall’ and I blissfully asleep, not bothering about the pouring rain water all around me.

Chargola abounded in snakes.  At night, strange creepy sounds would emerge from the rooftop and with my heart in my mouth, I would wonder what’s causing the noise.  It was no ghost, I was sure, since even ghosts deserted the place when the mill shut down.  Some said it was cats and others said snakes.  Having seen no cat during day time, I was pretty sure it was the reptile variety making those noises right over my head.  Had they fallen on my head, I would have attained martyrdom at the age of 23.  They did not and so here I am, penning these lines, quite alive. I immediately bought mosquito nets and felt safe, ensconced within its confines at night.  The mosquito net doubled up for me as a snake-net.
A word about the landscape of the colony.  Each dwelling unit was so thoughtfully conceived and beautifully executed.  Imagine this picture-postcard scene.  A velvety grassy meadow, hillocks yonder, a small stream flowing,  blue sky, birds chirping, the setting sun, no vehicle, no pollution, a scene not very unlike the famous vistas wallpaper of Windows. On that meadow, trenches dug alongside the circumference of a circle.  With a space of about 20 feet separating two trenches.  Houses built on those trenches.  From the  ground level up from the meadow, the individual houses would be barely visible, as they spring up from some 10 feet below ground level.  Imagine something like this.  And imagine I was staying in that piece of heaven for about 2 years.  By paying a pittance.  The only flipside being I had snakes for company.

Besides snakes, I had a few interesting people too for company. Talking of company, what is a colony without the people in it?  Opposite my villa, to the right,  was my manager’s  house.  A typical Dr.Jekyll and  Mr.Hyde, my manager.  Inside office, he was ever the serious, poker faced manager Sen Babu out to extract his pound of flesh from recalcitrant borrowers.  By 4 p.m. he would shed his official cloak and transform into a typical Bengali fish lover. Office was officially till 5  but at 4 the fish-sellers would start spreading  their day’s catch right below our Bank.  We would shut the bank, and troop out to the balcony.  Sen Babu’s countenance would brighten up.  “See that Hilish, ki darun… Aajke ki nebo….Ki ba kotho kore?”   He would marvel at the varieties on display.  Slowly saunter from one vendor to another, to ensure the catch is real fresh and no seller dare double-cross him. After a great mental struggle, he would decide on what variety to buy and make the purchase after tough bargaining.  By this time, it would be 5.  Ayub Ali would be waiting for us at the rishkaw stand and perched on his chariot, we would majestically make  our way in the cool evening breeze to the quarters about a mile away.  Time for Sen Babu to transform from the gourmet to the artistic and poetic Ananto Da, after reaching home.  Ananto Da was an exponent of Rabindra Sangeet.  He was very shy and reserved and it took a lot of cajoling and pleading to make him agree to render a song.  The way he would close his eyes and render soulfully a ‘Gagane, Gagane, aapnor mone, ki khela…” would bring tears to the listener.  As it did even to me,  one quite clueless about Rabindrasangeet and Bengali.  Most of the evenings were spent in this Sangeet mehfil environment.

Consider my  company to the right. The wife-beating Sarkar, despite him being the only unemployed in the household and his spouse being the real earning member, notwithstanding the pittance the male Sarkar got every month from the mill.  But you have to see the way he talks to us bank folks.  Very polite and respectful,  always part closing his mouth with his left palm.  I initially thought it was out of some feudal-type respect but later on realized that it was to block the odour of alcohol.  Where on earth in Chargola he managed to get his regular supply from, I used to wonder.  (It was quite a while before I figured out where from.  The discovery did help!)

Or, the company to my left?  The Banerjees?  The  company  that impacted me the most  during my two year stint in the sugar mill quarters (refer last paragraph for more graphic details).The boisterous man with a lovely wife and an adorable kid.  He was the primary school teacher in Dullabcherra Govt. school.  Off to school whenever he pleased and  out of it, again, whenever it suited him.  (Teaching profession in India was and still is one of the best jobs in the world!)  Banerjee Babu could talk about any subject in the world, he was the veritable chatterbox Chatterjee, rather the blabber-box Banerjee in that colony. He would be there, sitting on the porch and watch us enter at 5 o’clock.  Invariably his welcome question would be “Nomoshkar, mohan babu, aajke ki – mach, mangsho or dim?” (What today, fish, meat or eggs?) I first used to think he was kidding since he knew that I could not cook.  Later realized that this is the most common greeting of  Bengalis.   Not without reason, someone remarked that the easiest way to the Bengali’s heart is through his stomach.  Banerjee could have given Sarkar a run for his money in  wife-beating, for I could daily overhear (no need to actually overhear, our houses' walls were made of wooden sheets so it was not even windproof, let alone sound proof) the high pitched quarrels the husband and the wife exchanged every night.  But wife-beating he could not actually accomplish however much he apparently hated his wife, for two reasons – for one, his wife was actually lovely and beautiful (as most Bengali ladies are) and second, his wife never feared any one and used to pay back abuse with abuse.  She could well have been the lone husband- beater in that complex, well, but what happened between those four walls, who knew?

Or the company right opposite?  The soft-spoken post-master of Anipur Sub post office, Taslimuddin Khan?  The density of population in his quarters was the highest in the entire complex.  While I had the entire 500 square feet of my villa (!)at my single disposal, he had to share the same space with 7 of his family members.  One wife  and six children.  The eldest of his offsprings appeared to be his younger brother and the youngest, his grand-son.  I used to marvel at his ability of accomplishing what he accomplished within that 500 sq. feet of space.  Who said it needs privacy to procreate?  Now all this is in a lighter vein and truth being told, Mr.Khan was one of the finest gentlemen I have moved with.  A man of few words and belonging to that rare specimen of Govt. servants who toiled eight hours in office.  Imagine the sub postmaster of Anipur village reaching office daily at 9 in the morning and toiling away till 5 in the evening.  And by the way, his family members numbered 7 when I entered Sugar Mill and it remained at the same number when I left.  Again quite an achievement for Mr.Khan, against all odds. Did I say when I left? Yes, the last paragraph is coming very soon.

There were others – my beloved Mashi, my 60 year old house keeper-cum-cook-cum-well wisher.  This soul was also loaned to me by my manager babu, used to  loaning he is.   She used to work only in Ananto da’s bari but when I arrived, as usual, my manager took pity on me, on my inability to cook, inability to manage the house-hold chores and a general inability to do anything productive.  So Mashi was forced into doing part-time employment for 4 hours daily in my home, 2 hours in the morning and two in the evening.  The kind soul must have departed from earth even as I write these lines but she is one soul I would pray for anytime.  For she kept me from starving.  For she cooked me those lovely dal-bath and crispy parattas day in and day out.  She swept the floor daily, did odd jobs and never said no to any request, reasonable or unreasonable.  No sick leave or no kam-chori. 

Time to come to the last paragraph.  Two years passed since I moved into Sugar Mill quarters.  I had conquered my fears and cleared the cob-webs by then.  What looked like unsurmountable obstacles when I entered now seemed child’s play. I had learned to live with my snakes.  I had learned to live with 15 hour power-cuts.  (God knew, even at that time, that I would eventually settle down in Tamil Nadu, so he had prepared me well for the adversities).  I had learned to bargain with the fish seller.  I had learned to do the rounds of interior villages on Ayub Ali’s rickshaws  for my recovery drives.  I had learned to attend Gram Sabhas with the village Mukhiya.  More important, I had learned how to reject loan proposals, and was almost on the verge of becoming a well-rounded rural banker.    I had learned to spend hours of solitude night after night, without electricity, with only the moonlight  and Murphy two-in-one for company.  Listening to BBC’s  “This is London… Tattada tatta tattada tatta....”  lilting symphony that precedes the world news.  And Radio Bangladesh’s crystal clear reception of Tagore’s “Ami chini go chini tomake, ogo Bideshini..” and the static filled Akashvani’s 7 p.m. district news bulletin of Silchar radio station (Gothokhal Hailakandi jilai ,blah, blah, blah......…).    But all good things must come to an end.  My tryst with good times at the cachar sugar mills came to an end unexpectedly at about 10 p.m. on a winter night.  My left side neighbour plugged in a high watt bulb  in the outside verandah to the socket and switched it on.  The bulb shone for an hour or two.  And then it exploded.  He did not know.  He was inside the house, immersed in that night’s tiff with his beautiful spouse.  The small explosion (short circuit we later learnt) produced a small fire.  It spread fast.  I could spot it from my home immediately.  I rushed and immediately called out “Banerjee Babu, agun legeche.  Bediye ashun..” before he could hear me, gather his wits and rush out with his family, the entire thatched roof of his home had caught fire.  Within no time, it spread to my adjoining hutment.  Our only priority during those nerve-wracking 10 minutes was to remove the LPG cylinders from both the houses and whatever else we could salvage.  I could salvage my suitcase containing my important documents and certificates.  Could salvage nothing else as within 10 minutes the raging fire swallowed everything.     Within a matter of minutes,  I found myself without a roof, under a starry sky, in biting cold, with that solitary suitcase and the  lungi I was clad in.   All lost.  All my  earthly possessions.  My immediate concern was how to go to office the next morning.  For all my bravado, I could not dare venturing into office in a lungi, no not even in Chargola.

But I need not have worried.  For in all adversities during my stay in Assam, unsolicited help always came my way.  This time it was Senapati, my deputy manager, who took me into his house that very night, lungi and all.  The next day, I did manage to attend office in his oversized pants.  Later events can fill another story. Ah, did I say “last para” in the previous para?  Sorry guys, my tales don’t seem to end.  The last paragraph never manages to keep its promise of being the last.  What can I do?  Perhaps there is a case for another sequel to this narrative. A whole life can't be capsuled into three or four parts.  Sequels will continue as long as the journey of life continues....  Despite my warning in the first para of this being the last of a trilogy.  By the way, what do you call a four part narrative, a quadrilogy or a quadrology?.......

Monday, February 4, 2013

Memories from another life!

Well, this narrative is going to be a bit long.  Because it dates back to 1990. That was some 23 years ago.   On the 3rd of January of that annus horribilis, I joined a new employment with a Government Bank, quite popular in the east and the north eastern parts.  It still is.  That bank, or rather its mandarins sitting at the Calcutta headquarters, in their appointment letter, ordained me, a simpleton from Madras, to proceed straight to a place called Guwahati and join duty at a branch there.  I had, even at that point of time, at least heard of the place so that was no big deal.  The big deal was finding a train from Madras that would take me there.  I found one, travelled 55 hours and the bonus 8 hours the railway gave me free by running late, without any extra cost (the railways were the real pioneers of modern day sales gimmicks - buy one, take one free;  in their lingo, pay for 10 hours and get 5 hours free!) to me.

I did manage to locate the office in Ulubari in Guwahati  and joined  duty promptly on a Wednesday, considered generally auspicious by my folks down in conservative Madras.    But my happiness was short-lived. I was, the next day, asked to proceed further north-east  in the direction of China and Burma, to report to Jorhat branch.  Now that was a challenge for me.  These exotic places like Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Jorhat etc, I used to come across at not-so-frequent intervals in the columns of The Hindu,  whenever Brahmaputra was in spate and flooded Assam.  Brahmaputra has made it a habit to wreak havoc at least once a year and all the national dailies worth their salt, would devote at least two columns to this 'news' which is how we get to improve our general knowledge on various quaint-sounding north eastern towns.  Anyway, cursing my fate, I boarded an ASTC bus to Jorhat that night at 9  in the bustling Paltan Bazar bus-station abutting the railway station in Guwahati.   I must, though, mention that the bus ride was not such a pain at all.  The vehicle as well as the road were decent enough, certainly better than some of the luxury coaches and national highways I encountered in mainland India much later.  On a bitter cold January morning, I landed at Jorhat bus stand at 4 a.m. I was apprehensive about what to expect when I disembarked.  Not knowing what to do and where to go, I spent close to an hour at the bus stand itself because that seemed relatively safer than venturing out in search of a hotel in pitch dark, in biting cold.  Day-break took its own time in coming and when it finally did, I gingerly ventured out and knocked at the first lodge I could spot, which was right across the road.  After several minutes of a  marathon linguistic crossfire, me firing in butler Hindi and the lodge keeper in Assamese- mixed Hindustani, I managed to get a double room.

The naive fool that I was!  My English  had thus far taught me that a double room is a room where two people could sleep and since I was single, and paying for a double, I get to enjoy all the space meant for two.  But in Assamese English, double room meant you pay double charge and get to share a double cot with another single  complete stranger!  Imagine my horror, when I was ushered into a room where another guy was already sound asleep in the double cot!  This is what probably they meant when they said 'misfortune never comes single'-for me it came in double size!  Anyway, having completely run out of ideas, I cast aside any hope of catching up with some sleep and quickly had a shower, locked my luggage, left it along with the luggage of the bloke blissfully asleep and came out. Presently, I located my branch where I was supposed to join duty again and there I found three other guys who too were quite lost like me but were from different geographies.  They had  also come there to join (or rather re-join)  our bank and they took too were shooed away from Guwahati just the previous day.  It felt better to meet up with fellow-sufferers and certainly much better when they  promised that they would take me to their hotel once office is over.  Surely a better deal than sleeping alongside a stranger and they kept their word. I moved in with them, the same evening.   And that was the beginning of a long journey for all of us, a journey  replete with adventures, ecstasy and the occasional moments of agony and heart-breaks.  Also it marked start of an enduring friendship among us.  It has been a long 23 years, one or two of our initial group have since even left that Bank but the friendship and camaraderie still endures.  Life in that bank took us places, it opened several new windows for us to make new friends, to learn new languages and in short, to reinvent life itself.   

Not more than 200 hours we four would have spent in Jorhat but how exhilarating those 200 hours were! Despite wallowing in near-poverty situations! I experienced earthquake for the first time in my life there. At midnight when not a soul stirred, my cot did, and my friend sleeping beside me shook me and just about managed to whisper 'Mohan, run, earthquake', before he set upon his 100 metre dash.  I followed suit, woken up from a reverie, and ran after him down the stairs of the hotel and mark my words, we both would have given  Ben Johnson, even after doping,  a run for his money.

Another ethereal experience was that 'Chandni' we viewed in a picture hall.  That was one Hindi movie I enjoyed to the hilt, and up till then, I had hardly watched any Hindi movie in my life, save for the occasional 'Yadon ki Bharat' in Triplicane Star Theatre.  Sridevi's histrionics and Shiv-Hari's lilting music, experienced in that Jorhat cinema hall, without any Dolby or DTS, still gives me the goose-bumps.  The 200 hours were peppered with sundry other humourous events - like the night we went over to a senior Manipuri union leader's house to get advice on how to get reimbursement of the little fortune we had so far spent on hotels and travels.  Advice we got aplenty along with sympathy, the  union leader, constantly smoking from a hukkah bar,was no miser.  with either.  Like the day in office when one of our bosses was literally running mad searching for a file which was lost.  Knowing his temper, the entire office was that day searching for that lost file and we too pretended to.  The situation was just hilarious.

I do believe in the credo that a rolling stone gathers no moss but having already traversed more than 3000 miles from home, I was in no mood to roll any more but would rather fancy gathering  more moss.  But that was not to be.  Within a week, all four of us were  ordered to march to Cachar!  Cachar?  No, certainly I have never heard of such a place even in The Hindu's occasional two-column updates on the grim flood situation in Assam.  And Cachar could as well have been somewhere near Timbaktu for my three friends too.  Strangely, we could  not find any train from Jorhat to Cachar, no such station existed.  Little did we realise that trains would run only to places which exist! Yes, we came to know much later that Cachar is only a district of which a town called Silchar is the Headquarters! Meaning, trains run to Silchar and not Cachar.  So we were in fact given marching orders to  Silchar - not that it made any difference, our bosses could as well as have ordered us to march to Mars!  To this day, we cannot fathom why the Bank did not order us to join duty at Silchar in the first place but thought it wise to plan our itinerary in such a way that we would spend a night in Guwahati and eight more in Jorhat before landing up in Silchar.   But that was how our Bank did things and the Bank is known for its unique ideas!

And so Silchar it was for us now.  Nothing much to speak of that town, if you would call it one.  To be brief, Silchar was, at that point of time,  one of the dirtiest, most umkempt places on earth.  It was  full of two things - rickshaws and Machar (mosquitoes). What a nice lilt-silchar and machar.  Life was uneventful, yet quite eventful  for the next 6 months for the four of us, to be joined by a fifth & sixth  guy here. (yes, you guessed, they too had a lost look on their faces before joining us). Uneventful our stay in Silchar started until, after a few days in a hotel which made our already light wallets much lighter for our comfort,we decided to rent a  house in Silchar and share the cost and the spoils.

And it was thus we found ourselves in Ambikapatty, Silchar.  Ambikapatty is to Silchar what Anna Nagar is to present day Chennai.  Upmarket and posh by Silchar standards!  The house we took up had some added advantages as well as disadvantages.  The disadvantage was that the landlord stayed in the same house in another portion.  The advantage was that he had two lovely daughters!  Would any one in his senses in contemporary urban India rent out his house for six bachelors, four of them unmarried, especially when he is   father of two beautiful girls?   But our land lord did, despite the 'land-daughters'! And we grabbed the house, despite the land-lord, for this little disadvantage was far outweighed by the obvious advantage mentioned earlier.

What fun it was in the house!  It had three rooms, which we grandiously named as the drawing room, the bed room and the kitchen.  In fact it was a drawing room without any furniture, a bed room without any bed and a kitchen without any stove or utensils.  We furnished the house very sparsely to the extent our incomes would allow.  We did not even venture half a mile anywhere near luxuries like cots or chairs.  We focussed only on the essentials like mosquito nets and odomos creams. Each working day was routine - 6 a.m. woken up by SP Balasubramaniam belting the number - "hum ye lungi uthathi, tumko disco dikhathi.." well, that was the alarm we had set in a tape recorder for we had no alarm clock.  After a hard day's work, returning to our den by 7 in the evening.  And on Sundays, the house was turned into a big dhobi-ghat to wash the dirty linen in public. Afternoons spent inside a cinema hall - watching inanities in the guise of movies like 'Beder Meye Jyotsna', a Bangladeshi production (a super hit, equivalent to our Jagan Mohini) and 'Maine Pyar Kiya' (Was that the same Salman Khan we now see?).   We did not know how time flew by for the next six months!  All six of us,  managing in 600 square feet!  But who cared! Life was one big picnic, one reason could be we were all single, at least the majority of us were!  Two were married and had left their spouses back in Delhi, though they made occasional visits.  Those married singles were much naughtier and raucous than the unwed singles among us and it was quite a task for us to maintain decorum, what with the lovely land-daughters loitering about. But nothing untoward happened, lest you start imagining things.  We remained singles successfully till the end.

Six men confined within 600 sq. ft. was perhaps too much even for the Lord and that's why he sent away two guys to different branches, some 50 kms. away.  But come Saturday, all the six would land up at Ambikapatty by 5 p.m., soak in the atmosphere, soak in something wetter for the next two days, which would give a high, play cards with stakes (we always found  money for this activity) all day and night, never bother with mundane chores like bathing and eating and fly away to their respective branches by Monday morning!  And start dreaming about the next rendezvous six days hence.

Life in Ambikapatty, brought together six people from six different parts of India - Delhi, Agra, Darjeeling, Gangtok, Madras and Delhi. (two were from Delhi and they were as different as chalk and cheese.  That's why Delhi included twice).  Iniitally we could not even converse in each other's lingo. Converse we sure did, but  conversation from the heart in the initial stages was too much to even attempt.  And each of us had to now learn to converse in Sylheti, that unique dialect Cacharis speak.  I remember that Sunday afternoon when we had an unusual visitor to our house, who took the liberty of entering straight into our kitchen when we were busy (what else) playing cards.  Unusual because the visitor had four legs and two horns!  And no decency to ring the bell before entering!  A COW!  Imagine our plight then.  We had to drive her out which was an uphill task by itself but even more uphill was to call out  our ever benevolent landlord for help because we could not speak Bengali!  We just could not express in proper Sylheti, the calamity that has just befallen us  to our Land ka lord (meaning landlord!).   After much dumb charades and valiant attempts at conversation in a medium which would be understandable by both parties, my Sikkimese friend just blurted out "Goru Duke Geesey!"  ( A cow has entered!)  The cow was driven out but what adulation and envy the Gangtok boy  got from the rest of us! Learning Sylheti in flat five months! Now that is quite a task!  A time would eventually arrive when I was also quite comfortable with the lingo that even now I get compliments from  my old Cachar friends about the near flawless Sylheti I used to speak those days!  (Can't resist this  little ego-trip, forgive me!)


Six months was neither short, nor too long for us to evolve and learn life.  In those six months, the land-daughters were properly and adequately seduced (in a gentlemanly way, let me remind), gallons of beer and whiskey were adequately consumed, hundreds of mosquitoes were adequately swatted and thousands of cigarettes were adequately puffed. All during those six months in Silchar.  And more than anything else, we all learnt the ropes of banking during those six months.  And we felt like emperors!  Effortlessly debiting and crediting others accounts for lakhs!  For once we all felt like God!  We can, just like that, debit a guy for a lakh and credit another one!  I cannot create money but I can transfer money, and hence I am half-God!  For God is but money! Is not Lakshmi, the Goddess, venerated as money all over our land?  And we practically lived all day amidst mounds of Lakshmi i.e. bank notes.

Phew, what a life!  What a journey!  And when did we all lose the joy of living?  Why is it now that we look back at the vast expanse of sand that lies behind us and wonder about what could have been?  Lost in families, lost in career aspirations, lost in compromises, we seem to have lost everything.  At the end of the magical journey of six months,  we all went different ways, meaning, posted at different branches, far away from each other.  But we still maintained contact with each other. Only, the weekly or monthly meeting place shifted from Silchar to another dream-place called Patherkandi some 90 kms away, enroute Agartala.  

And I was banished to a place called Chargola, all alone. Where I would be spending the next 5 years!  Where I would be taught the basics of rural lending by a wonderful branch  manager!  Where I would meet souls like Ayub Ali, the humble rickshaw-puller.  Where I would listen to soulful renditions of Rabindra Sangeet by even common-folks.  Where a run-down thatched hutment near the Cachar Sugar Mill would be my abode for two years which would also burn down one day, leaving me homeless!  But that is a sequel of which a detailed account would follow.

We were not drafted to the military but our lives were no less harsh without the attendant perks.  We were not from some five-point-someone type IITs but lack of fancy degrees did not diminish our zest for life.  We were not certainly flush with money but we lived life King size in Assam.  I cannot imagine what would have happened to me had I not taken up the job with the Bank and travelled to Assam on that fateful day. In hindsight, life would have been smoother and easier but it wold have been plain, placid and listless.  In short, life would not have been life, at least for me!  It would have just remained a vegetable existence.

Image: 1 road-cum-rail bridge at Katakhal, near Silchar (courtesy, the web) 
              2  Here goes, five of us.  Turning the clock by 23 years.....Mathur,Mohan,Nagpal,Tshering & Bhutia.....
                  - thanks to P.Wangdi (Bhutia) for somehow retrieving this from his junk....