12 January 2018

One last bow… before we draw the curtains!

This was a fantastic family trip!

Big shout out to Natasha whose concern about my dad’s health and insistence on seeing him got the whole ball rolling.

Also to Sharmila who helped put the meticulous planning behind this – it took us days and days of research and phone calls to put a nearly three week, three country, five city tour together. That involved co-ordinating the schedules of no less than ten families!!

Special thanks to Nikita for agreeing to drop school for a week to make this happen!!

And with that we bring a close to all the posts from this trip.

12 January 2018

Beautiful evening

This guy and I go back forty six years – from the time he was born. Born with a lot of complications and almost lost to a virulent attack of jaundice when he was barely a few days old, he was always the “young” one in the house that had to be protected. Somewhere the big brother protective genes had kicked in due to this and all throughout my life, we have been very, very close. We used to write a lot of letters to each other when I left home and then he left home. Now, we talk every single day and almost always we travel together when I am in India.

When we came back from the day trip to Debipur, we realized that dad, mom and the attendant were all sleeping. The evening outside was beautiful. The sun was setting and thru those hazy layers, it looked like a perfect orange orb.

We just sat down with two glasses of wine and enjoyed some quiet time together.

It had been a good day!!

12 January 2018

A bridge across to our future

“Tomra boro hoey ke ki hobey?”.
I asked the five schoolgirls 0- who I had just met and were now all crammed in the back seat of my brother’s car – what were they going to be when they grow up. The students – ranging from fifth grade to eighth grade – all said they did not know. Except the youngest one. She was very shy to open up in front of everybody. But after we had dropped them off, she did come around to the front door and told me thru the window – “Ami engineer hobo”. (She wanted to be an engineer).

For about five to six minutes, i had the greatest time with these school kids. Most suggested math was their favorite subject – everybody had one favorite teacher and one – shall we say, not so favorite teacher? They all live close to each other.

“Ei gaarita AC?”, one girl piped up asking if she was sitting in an AC car.
Another girl in the group immediately pounced on her – “Of course! Can you not feel the cool temperatures?”. (Which was interesting in of itself since the AC in the car was off given the cool temperatures outside)
“O! Ami ei prothom AC gari chorlam”. She was excited that she was getting her first ride in an AC car.

Like I said, I had a great time with the kids (like I often do) getting to know about their classes and school and family and all that.

Speaking of which, I never mentioned how did it come around that we had five young students in our car to begin with.

What happened was this – after seeing Jagannath-Da, we were coming back home. At one point, we had to cross the Ganges river. It is a long bridge and you have to pay toll. As my brother pulled up the car to the bridge entrance, I stuck out my hand thru the window with the money. The guy who collected it did not have proper change – so we walked to the stall nearby to get change.

Right there were five uniformed school girls who were slowly walking towards the bridge. I was looking at how happy they were talking and laughing – undoubtedly going back home after school. One of those kids saw me looking at them and walked up to me. Frankly, I was a little wary of what she might say or ask for.

“Amader bridge-er opaarey chhere deben?”. She wanted to know if we would give them a ride to the other side of the bridge. I asked them where were they going. I learnt that their school is on this side of the river and they all live on the other side. Every morning and afternoon they cross the long bridge. (Incidentally, that bridge was closed for a year for maintenance last year and when asked, they said they had to take the boat that year).

In any case, we let the girls know that we can take as many of them as would fit. Not to worry! They somehow fit all of themselves in the backseat of the small car! And that is how I spent some incredible five to six minutes with some bright minds of our future!

The toll collector in the meanwhile had come back and given me the change and the receipt. Just to be safe and sure, I asked him if the kids live on the other side. He confirmed that. Then he looked at the kids in the back seat and looked at me and my brother.

“Apnader ticket laagbey na”
He took back the receipt and change from me and gave the original money back. He asked us to cross the bridge free!!

12 January 2018

Guess who donned the jacket today?

Do you remember that old farmer who I visited a few months back? He is the guy who helped my dad till the land we had and also put me up on this shoulder so I could pick up a mango here and a tamarind there. After my last visit, I have kept up with him thru monthly calls.

In my first call, I talked to him about how I had put up our picture on the “net” (He would not understand blog or Facebook or even internet) and that my friends liked him and that picture. He was aghast at this. In his mind, all Americans are my friends and all my friends are Americans. And all those Americans have seen him in shabby clothes.

“Bolbey to babu ektu aagey. Bhalo jaamata porey aastam” (If you had told me before, I would have put on my better shirt).
“Kota jaama aachhey tomar?” (How many shirts do you have?)
“Keney? Duto. Ekta bhalo aar ekta aatpourey”

So I gathered he has two shirts – one for regular use and one for special occasions.

This Wednesday, not having much else to do, I got my brother to point his car towards the village I was born in and headed back there again. Like last time, Jagannath-da was waiting for us at the Shib-tala. This time, we got him to climb in our car and then we went from village to village as he showed us various points of interest.

For example, he showed us a house in a nearby village which apparently belonged to my grandmother’s sister. I did not even know that my grandmother had a sister. That night, when I asked my dad, he did say there was a cousin my grandma had in that village.

One other reason Jagannth-da and we were going from village to village was that we were looking for somebody. It was a futile attempt this time but I have been looking for the first domestic help we had in Durgapur – who I can consider to be my first nanny too. She was a poor girl from a neighboring village that my dad had brought to our house. She got food the whole day and their family got money from my dad and she took care of us when my parents both went for work. It was a win win for everybody. Someday, I will successfully track down Pratima-di but this Wednesday was not that day.

Finally, we ran out of time. We went back to our village, dropped Jagannath-da and came back home.

But the remarkable part was how Jagannath-da had somehow whipped up a jacket. Extremely ill-fitting and certainly beyond his ability to know how to put a jacket on (check out the collar or the buttons he has put on), that jacket was nonetheless, his way of putting his best face forward to all my friends. He was aware that another picture will be shared with my friends (who he thinks are all Americans) and his chappals and lungi be darned, he was not going to let any body down this time!!

“Jacket-ta porey tomay khub manachhey”, I complimented him on his jacket.
“Sotti kata bolbo?” (Shall I tell the truth?)”
“Ki holo?”
“Tomar saathey chhobi uthbey boley ekjonar kaach thekey dhaar niyechhi”.
He sheepishly admitted that he had borrowed the jacket because there was going to be a picture of he and I together!!

In my life, I think it is fair to say that I have had more than my share of travel. It is the human beings that I have met during my travels – regardless of who they are, how well off they are – that always make me feel that this is a wonderful world we all live in.

11 January 2018

The Dasgupta family!!!

The challenge with my nephews growing up is that they are getting more and more involved with their studies and therefore has less and less time to spend with me. Last Tuesday, I was going to stay over at my brother’s place but I knew if I went in the evening, that would disrupt the nephews’ studies, homework etc. It therefore seemed as good a time as any to keep an old promise.

A few years back, I had gone to visit my classmate from school days – Sibapriya – in Midnapore where he was working at that time. I had the great fortune of meeting his dad and mom there. His own family – wife and twin kids were in Kolkata. I talked to them over the phone that time and had promised to visit them too when I got a chance.

Tuesday was that day!! Finally got a chance to meet Sutirtha, Shubham and Shruti! As strange as it might have sounded to me and Sibapriya if you had mentioned it to us when we were in middle school together, we actually discussed (along with Sutirtha) on the pros and cons of various approaches to raising kids!!

Also, I was blown away by Shubham’s artistic talents. That kid is something else!!

11 January 2018

“Pen, pen, pen… Pilot pen”…

I have completely lost the moral platform to lecture the girls on all the shopping of clothes they have been doing this trip. I had found out about this place in Kolkata – “Pen Hospital” a few months back. Almost a hundred years old, it is a very small shop in a very crowded Esplanade corner in Kolkata. The owner specializes in fixing fountain pens and has a stack of vintage and new fountain pens. Both used and new.

After dad and mom went off to sleep, I managed to convince my brother to hit the road again and go back to Kolkata to check out the shop. An insane amount of traffic later, I finally hit pay dirt when I found the shop. It is not often that I come across somebody who really knows a thing or two about old fountain pens and their history.

Picked up a few pens – which are incredibly inexpensive by US standards. The crowning glory was the Pilot 51. A few days back, when my father in law and I had gone to the other pen shop, he had mentioned about the Pilot 51 pen. That was an iconic pen in his days. It was somewhat of a folklore when we were growing up. In fact many Bengalis might even remember our old rhyme “Pen, Pen, Pen / Pilot Pen / Siri thekey nemey elen / Suchitra Sen”!!!

My mom used to have one of the non-classical versions of Pilot pens that her teacher colleagues had gifted her in 1972.

The Pilot 51 is an all time classic. One of the few pens with vacuum system for filling ink, it has a very unique nib too. It is a pity that these pens used to be made in USA and I cannot find them in USA any more!! The best part of the pen that I got? The nib is an original 1946 vintage!!!