6 September 2022

Without my blog, I would have never met this interesting young gentleman

“Remind me again, how do we know each other?”, I asked.

It is a fairly strange question to ask somebody after inviting him to meet you in your hotel. Well, in June, I had tried to meet him but I could not make time. He had insisted that I make some time for him in my future trips. Since my Durgapur trip got canceled, I took a chance to see if he had time.

I knew that somebody called Tirtha Tanay Mandal often posted comments on my blog. Especially the ones about fountain pens. He had surprised me with his knowledge of pens and had made a few shop suggestions for me to visit in Kolkata.

There was a guy a couple of years younger than me in school with a very similar name. I kind of assumed it was that person.

So when Tirtha walked in with his wife Tanushree, I was taken aback a little at how young they were. (barely reaching 30).

“Well, 6-7 years back, I had come across your blog while Googling something. Ever since then I have read your blog posts every single day.”

Looking at his wife, I asked “Have you folks had lunch?”

“No no sir. He has been crazy to meet you. Let’s just sit down and let him talk,” she said.

We moved to the Resident’s Lounge and asked for some soft drinks and cappuccino. And we started talking…

Forget about my blog – the guy is truly aa very interesting person. I was astounded to find out about one of his passions. He collects different tickets that had been in vogue over the years (literally centuries) for the various modes of transportation in India – bus, train, tram, ferries!!

I was not sure how much variety was there in it.

That is when Tanushree fished out an envelope from her bag. And from that envelope came out four ziplock bags. With some tickets in each one of them. That had been in circulation since the earlier part of twentieth century!!

Some of you who grew up in India when I was growing up might remember the bus tickets that used to be made from computer cards. Do you remember those olden days’ train tickets? You can see them in the picture. Apparently, those are called Edmondson tickets. I looked up in Wikipedia. Apparently that used to be a world wide standard in train tickets originally made in the 1840s by a cabinet maker!!

“So where do you get all these?”

Found out that there are forums, collectors’ websites for exchanges and all that. But Tirtha actually goes all over India to collect these tickets. For example, he waits till the crazy crowd Durga Puja season in Kolkata and then goes to buy metro tickets. Apparently, to manage all the crowds that are not used to automated systems, the metro system switches to the traditional mode of tokens!!

In his turn, he loved that I collect pens, old vinyls, CDs and all that.

“I have never found out what you call the hobby of collecting tickets”, said

By the way, trying Googling that. You will be surprised how many websites there are about people collecting bus tickets, movie tickets and all that.

That was not the end of it. Found out that Tirtha and I went to the same residential school (of course, he went a couple of decades after me). But he had the contacts of my hostel warden – who I had been looking for a long time.

As I started putting the ziplock bags back into the envelope and give it back to Tanushree, he immediately said… “No, no. Those are for you!”

“What? These are part of your collection.”

“That is okay. These are extras. I knew a person like you would value them.”

I was truly touched by the gesture.

To say I had one of the best afternoons of my life and learnt a lot would be an understatement.

We also agreed to start writing letters to each other!!!

5 September 2022

That ad made no sense to me

Saw this as we were approaching our hotel in Kolkata coming back from Kalyani. Unless my Bengali has gotten really rusty, the ad is exhorting one (presumably lady) to not change husbands but change houses.

Well, that makes no sense. First of all, in most cases, I would assume changing your husband will result in a change in your house. So, one does not need to present the two cases as mutually exclusive.

Second of all, what the heck was that all about again?

5 September 2022

There has to be a better way than this

As reported before, I had a very smooth experience with the Indian bureaucracy this time. The fact that India disallows Power of Attorney to be given from US meant I had to come to India for aa few hours to physically sign papers, give thumbprints and take pictures. But other than that, the process just glided thru. What helped us was that my brother had done a lot of running around beforehand to get paperwork ready and the buyer is somebody who works in the Land department of the state government. So, he knew the steps very well and guided us thru it flawlessly.

But what if you do not have these advantages?

After giving my thumbprints, while we were waiting outside for the authorities to take our individual pictures and all that, I noticed this very elderly gentleman sitting in a corner. I got very curious about him. You can see that he cannot see well (eyes seem almost closed). The shoes are worn on the wrong foot. What was he doing sitting all by himself in the property registration office?

I put my mask back on, went and sat next to him. And gently enquired – “Ekhaaney esechhen keno?” (Why have you come here?).

He was old enough that most of his faculties were failing him. His words were garbled and he spoke haltingly. After some time I realized that he had come to register his house in the name of his two sons. He has lived in Kalyani all his life. Built a house many moons back. Lost his wife. And now wants to make it easy for the transition for his sons once he dies .

Our conversation got abruptly interrupted when my name was called out for biometrics.

On our way out, I noticed he was not there any more. I figured his work was done and had left.

After the whole thing was over and the bank folks came and verified everything and handed over the checks, all of us – including the buyers side – helped ourselves to a round of hot tea by the streetside. (BTW, best masala tea I have ever had in my life).

It is then that I noticed the same gentleman was being helped by two younger folks – presumably his sons – on his feet to shuffle towards however it is that they had brought him.

I stepped up, bent to his head level and said – “Kaku, abaar dekha hobey”. (Sir, I will see you again).

He kept staring at the ground and mumbled something. I could not hear him with all the street noise around us. I simply stepped back and watched him slowly move on. Fairly sure in my mind that it had to be the last time I was seeing him.

Came back and joined everybody else for tea.

Felt pity for the ordeal the gentleman had to go thru. There has to be a better way to take care of such important processes for such elderly folks.

5 September 2022

This has been the season of transitions

That quick signature and the paraph indelibly inked the new truth that as the eldest son of all the surviving children of my parents, I concurred that we have for ever forsaken ownership of what was my home away from home. It has now been consecrated to the annals of memory without any recourse to reverse.

Lately, it seems like I have been going through a cold winter of separations. First my mom, then my dad, then what was my home for 15 years, then Nikita left and now my home away from home is no more ours!!

That signature was what all this very quick trip to India was all about. It was done with the alacrity of incredible standards by Indian bureaucratic norms.

So much so the better I guess. Some of these separations are perhaps best done without lingering around for too long.

Putting the final lock to two homes in a matter of six weeks!! I do not think I could have ever mentally prepared myself for this.

5 September 2022

How time came to a grinding halt

Every December, I would show up in India with 5 calendars filled with my pictures of Sharmila, Natasha and Nikita. Oh! also Jay Jay!! Every January, dad would put it up on the wall. Every month, the pages would be flipped and the next few days of phone calls with my mom would be around the new pictures.

Where was it taken? Who is the other person? As much as I would explain to her that I could not see the calendar she was seeing (invariably I would be calling from my car), she would press for more answers for a few more days.

And then suddenly on Dec 2020, the page flipping came to an end. That was the last month of my mom’s life and the last time she saw new pictures of the Roy family in the USA.

My dad, in very poor health condition, had no need for a calendar. He too moved on in a few weeks.

And the calendar stands there even today – many months later – as a symbol of when time stopped in the Kalyani house of my parents.

Even that will be thrown away to oblivion today.

5 September 2022

Last few moments of calling it our own – the balcony

Absolutely the most memorable place for me in my parents’ place. So many early mornings spent with dad before anybody woke up – just listening to the birds… not a word uttered between us, yet volumes spoken.

This is also where we used to have those hilarious moments.

Without a shade of doubt, the funniest moment was my socks moment. I had just finished my run and was sitting in the balcony cooling down. I had taken my shoes off but had my socks on and my legs were outstretched on the top of the railing while I was sitting in one of those plastic chairs.

The socks, as is customary in the USA, were ankle socks – the concept of which was completely lost on my dad. He kept staring at my socks that day.

“Ki holo?” (What’s the matter?) I asked.

“Socks gulo eto chhoto diyechhe keno?” (Why did they give you such short socks?)

I was not sure how to answer that. I merely offered a defensive “Erokom-i hoy”. (This is how they are)

Not convinced a bit, he came back a few seconds later with “Koto daam niyechhe?’ (How much did it cost you?) My father’s general knowledge of any object in this world used to be incomplete without knowing the price.

Now, I had no idea about the price. I have seen Sharmila bring home half a dozen of them at a time and I never had asked her for the price. (Not everything apparently runs in the genes)

Just to fend him off, I told him “One and a half dollars”.

You could see something was churning in his head. As it turns out, he was trying to multiply 1.5 with 62.5 (which was the exchange rate those days for dollars to Indian rupees). As the numbers piled up in his head, his eyes started widening. (“Bisfarito netro” for my Bengali friends).

Finally he blurted out something that had me rolling in the balcony. The summary of it was this: “Son, the American shopkeeper cheated you. For that much money you can get socks here that will come up to your knees!!”

🙂 🙂

Such great memories.

All those are setting now just like the evening sunsets we used to watch together – again from this balcony!!

5 September 2022

Last few moments of calling it our own – his spot

Everything has been dismantled from the area that was my dad’s. The bed has been disposed of. A couple of his shoes are lying against the wall. The furniture is all gone. A couple of plastic chairs are still there and some discarded newspapers.

Fairly painful to realize that things came to a stop so quickly. That too during Covid – the one time I could not come back and see him quarterly.

The room represents the emptiness that he left in my heart…