Friday, September 26, 2008

Memoriam

He was the only man I knew who had no human links as far as blood relations were concerned. He was not an orphan, he had his relatives. But for some reason they had vowed not to “see his face” ever. He had a wife. She had run away with someone very long ago. I had never seen him mourn any of these losses. Of course, when I met him he was past middle age, and he was beyond the age of confiding to someone fifteen years younger. There was another difference which I think was vital. I was a school-teacher then, and he ran the small tea-stall on the boundary wall of the school.

He was everybody’s favourite. Beginning from the Head Master to the Door Keeper, every single person always remembered him. Not only for tea, but we often passed our time of day with him in inane conversation. Quite often he would participate in serious discussions about the school – things which usually generate teacup tempests! He was to be seen in all the School events, may it be Sports or Annual Prize Distribution programme or Students’ Drama Presentations. Without him the School would not run. Everyday after taking my seat in the Staff Room, I would holler through the window and a small glass of tea would be ready for me. I remember I introduced him to someone as belonging to the School, he was unfazed. He did not even look happy because of such an august introduction. I believe he thought of himself as belonging to the school, so my introduction was normal as far as he was concerned.

His great love was country liquor. He would often be under the influence. During these times he would rarely make an appearance within the School campus. Most of the time he would remain covered from head to toe in a multi-holed bed-cover which I don’t think had ever covered a bed in its life. He lived in his 6'/4' tea stall. Morning, evening, night he would be in it. Drunk or sober, happy or melancholy, that was his refuge. Lately he had started to sleep in one of the classrooms – an arrangement probably secured with some financial assistance to one of the night-guards.

I left the School eight and half years ago. There was a bit of money I owed him for the last cups of tea. We never paid him everyday, he kept the record of our tabs. How honestly we never asked! I believe he was very honest. Sometimes a bit of hangover might have made his accounts tipsy, but that’s about it. When I went to pay him he refused. He was not sentimental, he simply told me to pay him later. I tried several times. But his reply was always the same. One of my friends from the School jokingly asked me not to worry, he probably has already recovered his money from their accounts! Probably. But I still owe him that money.

The day before yesterday I was talking to my friend, who is the Assistant Head Master now, and he told me that Tapas-da is dead. He was not that old, was my first reaction. Apparently he was sick and was sleeping in one of the classrooms (someone was being kind to him), had a massive heart attack, fell down from the bench and cracked his skull. No one knows if he suffered, if he did then for how long. There was no one else in the building. His body was taken away by the Police. They would do all kinds of things to his body. And since there is no next of kin available – they all summarily refused to accept him even after his death – his body would be cremated as an unclaimed one. Unceremoniously, without anyone to bid goodbye.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Commodity

The other day I saw an advertisement in the Readers’ Digest that amused me to no end. I am one of those unfortunate people who suffer from chronic bowel disorder and hence spend a large part of the day in the water closet. One might say that the loo looms large in my layout. Everyone learns to adapt to their situation and make the best of it, and therefore my w.c. has become a reading room as well where I read most of my fiction (fiction does not include the newspapers). So I have this peculiar attachment to the stool of release. Do forgive me for using such a scatological pun – but as my friends know I have this other disorder of verbal diarrhea. Every time I return from a trip I get reunited with my very own you know what (and with my side-pillow, which I gather is a typical Bengali habit). Such passion about any object also becomes aroused by the new. I am not one who indulges in xenophobia. I believe in new things, I believe in trying out new things.

So you can imagine my joy when I saw that a certain company has unveiled the latest breakthrough in toilet technology. The invention happens to be a state of the art aerodynamic digitalized commode. Yes, you may ask anything, you may remain agape for a while as I was. (It wasn’t the April issue.) But the advertisement promised a completely automated robotic ‘chamber pot’ which is smart, efficient and perhaps one day will even be called sexy! To top everything, it comes with a remote control. Excuse my ignorance, but such a thing I have never seen before. In the series Ally McBeal the character nicknamed The Biscuit had a remote flushing device for common toilets, but I thought that was just a joke. But one should not undermine the power of the joke, many a grand invention began as something silly. If no one had scoffed at Mr Edison, or Mr Beard and a number of other such people, modern civilization would hardly be modern.

But I am intrigued by this latest addition to human greatness. This intelligent thing will sense what you need and when. It will flush for you; it will spray two jets of water aiming at certain embarrassing places. It will raise its lid when you arrive – no other machine has ever been so polite – or was that something you have to do with the remote? I don’t remember if it can play music or not, but soon enough, I believe, this will be the ultimate entertainment unit. FM channels might even start a programme called Hit Sheet or something like that in strategic times in the morning! Isn’t technology wonderful!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nostalgia

Music has this peculiar characteristic, it attaches itself to events, to memory. There are quite a few bits of music, and many songs which remind of particular incidents, or of a time in general, or even a portion of my life which is long gone. When I hear these songs or these bits I get all nostalgic, sometimes even downcast.

The other day my wife was listening to Pehla Nasha (translations kill, and this is one good example, “First Intoxication” hardly does justice to the evocation of the original!) from an oldish movie called Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (“The One who wins is Alexander” – another example of translatory murder). The movie was released at a time when I had just cleared my Higher Secondary Council examination. The movie – loosely based on Breaking Away – was a huge hit. The song was heard everywhere. Our College Union Room had a PowerHouse – a music system – and the song was often played. Since one of our classrooms was directly above, there were a couple of times when attention drifted from lectures to elsewhere.

However, that is not the association that this song carries. Just after the Council Examination I had our first taste of freedom. I was allowed to go on a trip with close school friends. Puri is a seaside town very familiar to all of us. And since it was to be my nth time there, my parents had no objections. Four of us had many a misadventure in the temple-town, including a cyclone. The whole trip was wet with rain – we were not introduced to alcohol as yet (as a matter of fact we had our first cigarettes on that trip, well hidden inside our room, scared stiff that the elders might ‘see’ us). Asheshananda took a music player with him, and I had a couple of cassettes (CD and DVD were unknown concepts in the world then!). One of the songs that frequently played was Pehla Nasha. The cloudy sky, the infrequent drizzle that turned into a torrent, the powerless candlelit night which filled our room with rain, a night in which emergency Jam and Bread was dinner, four of us wet to the bones – we had the time of our lives.

Of the four Asheshananda is lost. The other two are still very much a part of my life still. One is in Bristol. The other is here in my hometown. He is a doctor now. To think this year we celebrate 22 years of friendship! I am lucky as far as friendship goes. I have friends with whom I have remained close for the last 30 years. Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? These people I know from the age of four! But number of years hardly matters. Even my college friends are as close, though I know them for a mere 16 years now.

In many ways I was truly fortunate because I found my college friends. When I joined Presidency College I was what a very good friend described as “A Babe out o’the Woods”. I could not speak English properly – nervousness is the reason, I am from a Bengali medium school. No one mocked me, the support I had from my friends and my teachers is something I shall cherish forever. I was a friend in need. The others proved that they were friends indeed. Mockery would have destroyed whatever little confidence I had. There are many things that seem to be amiss with my life – many things that people normally get that are denied to us as yet – but as far as friendship goes I think life has compensated for all the things that I do not have.
 
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