Work, passion, interests and life

REFLECTION

Posted on: May 6, 2018

I have been told that Baba consented to marry Ma without ever looking at her photo. Inconceivable for youth of today’s generation… But this was the early 1960s and couples entering a conjugal life being almost strangers were not totally unheard off.

Baba worked in an Insurance company. I am not sure of the number of lives of people he insured, but he did think of making a few, within his limited means, for his family. Often, on a Sunday morning, a few people laden with gifts would come to meet him. Much as I wanted to see what lay behind those wrappers, Baba used to disappoint me. He would return the gifts politely. A pre-teen lad was unable to comprehend the distinction between gifts, bribes and a principled view of leading an honest existence. On the other hand, on several occasions, I would see Baba return from office with packets of sweets. This was offered to him during office parties, and under pretext of having it later, he would bring them home for me.

Fond memories abound of childhood days. Studying in a missionary school in a hill station, I didn’t have a chance of picking up my mother tongue quickly.  Baba bridged this deficit and every night used to read out story books in Bengali to me. However rudimentary, this cemented a love for literature in one’s own language. When I see my son now grappling with foreign and other languages, I wish I could have replicated similar efforts to instill in him a love for his own culture. Increasingly, in modern society, the youths are becoming rootless …

Continuing with childhood recollections, I remember accompanying Baba on many an occasion to Burra Bazar, popular as Iewduh in the local language. We would wander the labyrintine lanes of Iewduh (Khasi for big market, or Burra Bazar) for our daily requirements. I remember the kindly Kong (Kong is a Khasi lady) selling fish rewarding me with 10-20 paisa regularly, a great incentive for me in those days to go with Baba whenever he went to Iewduh.

Baba led a disciplined life. He woke up early and made tea and bread for the family. I am yet to come across anyone on this planet who could match my baba’s skill at toasting bread over slow coal-based fire with such perfection. The crispness that came with it was simply unbeatable. Thereafter, he went to Polo Ground, a ground of four furlongs, for his morning walk. At 9:30 sharp, he would hit the road for his office.

Later in the evenings, when he returned from office, he would spend his time with the children of our joint family. He was always fond and affectionate towards the younger generation. His grand-son would vouch any day for his selfless love towards him, and keeps him on a much higher pedestal than his own parents. Baba was fond of singing, particularly Rabindrasangeet and songs by Hemant Kumar – his favourite singer. He used to sing Rabindrasangeet numbers in office functions, without Harmonium accompaniment which he couldn’t play unlike his brothers. He shared a commonality with Rabindranath Tagore – both shared the same date of birth and both died when they touched just eighty…

Exuding optimism was like second nature for Baba. On my wedding day, owing to the intense heat of Kolkata in the month of June, he fainted but he regained his composure and characteristic spirits after a score of minutes.

He was a foodie and never thought twice of buying groceries at a premiun for household consumption. On a rainy day, he would request his favourite ‘Kichuri’ (a dal and rice preparation) to be made in the house. In Shillong, the hill station where I lived, it rained throughout the year and Baba could sample his fave dish quite regularly. We always celebrated his birthday in a quiet way as he disliked ostentation – Ma made payesh (sweet preparation of Milk and Rice popular among Bengalis) and sweets were distributed among family members in the house.

“Who do you love the most in this world?” my wife had once asked. I replied – Baba. He taught me the basic lessons in life – to be honest, to live within one’s means, to not always covet things that others possess or be jealous about them.

Towards the end of his career, Baba started writing with left hand because his right hand had startedc shaking. He picked up left-handed writing ability with a resolute determination as he knew he had to provide for his family. During the last few years of his life in Faridabad when he was unable to walk properly he never gave up hope- when physiotherapist came to treat him for a month he was up to the strict regime of the instructor. Among his last wishes was a trip he wanted to make to go to his home in Shillong. Alas, that dream never got realised.

When Ma left for Kolkata for a few days for an important work during his eightieth birthday, Dad had asked her “So, you’re not going to be around for my birthday?” Ma tried to reason saying that it was necessary to go and that she would go to the Bipodtarini Mandir (a temple dedicated to a form of Goddess Kali for warding off evil) and would pray for him. I didn’t ask Ma what she had asked in her prayers on that day … Did Baba have a premonition that he was going to leave us. I can’t tell you assuredly, but the void lingers on four years after the exit from the mortal existence …

A moment, a minute, a breath can deform,

And the shape of the world assumes a new form.

   (Src:   Khushwant Singh’s DELHI A Novel, Pg 162)    

 

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