Another New Year has dawned, and it’s business as usual for me again. But let me reminisce for a bit over how I spent the last days of the dying year. It was a perfect vacation…
I took my last classes on Friday, December 21st. My wife and daughter had left for Kolkata the day before, and I took off on the 22nd morning. Lovely Volvo ride along the NH2 (I am addicted!), and soon I was in our city flat. Kolkata was unusually cold. Basked lazily in the sun the whole afternoon, then Sayan and Rashmi came over: we had a long, lovely chat. Sunday was spent housecleaning, chatting with Abhirup and then an old friend of mine, Subhasis, whom I was seeing after more than a quarter century! Biryani from Shiraz did not agree with me. Monday morning we moved to my in-laws’ place, and then off to catch the Rajdhani Express from Sealdah station. Got caught in a traffic jam on the way; would have missed the train but for my over-cautious habit of setting out early. Thanks to dense fog all over Uttar Pradesh, we were eight hours late. Poor Arundhati, Aakash, Saikat and Subhadip had to cool their heels at New Delhi station waiting for us, but we got a cheery welcome. Off to Aakash’s flat, and we decided it would be too risky to drive down the deserted road to Agra that night, so we dined and slept there: Aakash and his wife Arundhati, whom we were meeting for the first time, proved to be the perfect hosts. My apologies to Arundhati for the trouble we gave her; I hope she didn’t mind too much!
Early on the morning of the 26th we set off along with Saikat for Agra in a hired car. The eight lane superhighway, opened only months ago, was a driver’s dream. We stopped off at Itimad-ud-daulah’s tomb (‘baby Taj’) before arriving at Sai Homestay, where we had booked a suite online. The owner, Mr. Rajiv Sethi, made our stay very pleasant, as much by the impeccable service as by his affability. In the afternoon we visited the Taj. It was horribly crowded – poor Pupu, she was seeing it for the first time. Agra Fort was somewhat better. But alas, thanks to excessive vandalism by ill-mannered tourists, more and more interesting things are being put out of bounds: the Sheesh Mahal, for instance, and the room where Shah Jahan was imprisoned during his last years. Very soon, we shall be able to see all our top attractions only on TV and DVD, and that will serve us right. Fatehpur Sikri was a dream, but it was foggy all the way, and bitterly cold: I hadn’t felt so chilled to the bone in Shillong at this time last year, though we were more than 5,000 feet above sea level then! Dined at Pinch of Spice on the second night. It was nice, though a tad over-priced.
We visited Sikandra on our way back to Delhi, and also Mathura, but gave the birth-place of Krishna a miss: it being too crowded, and too over-zealously guarded by swarms of gun-toting guards. What a country we have made, really. Checked into a very nice hotel in Paharganj, a five-minute walk from the railway station: my old boys, themselves living in Delhi, were surprised that such a good hotel room at so reasonable a price could be found anywhere in the capital. The weekend was spent travelling all over the city, especially the parts my wife and daughter had not seen during their last visits: Purana Quila, Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi Haat, Mirza Ghalib’s den at Balli Maran, Gurdwara Shishganj, the Baha'i Temple, the ruins of Tughlaqabad Fort. Also, stopping off at various eateries on the way (the nahari at Karim’s off the Jama Masjid and the mirchi bhajji at Green Park Market were superb), as well as markets (naturally, with so many women present – Arani and Dipanwita had joined us on Sunday). There was Aakash’s car, alongwith a rented MUV to ferry us around. Driving around was not a problem, despite several approach roads to India Gate being closed off. I marvelled for the umpteenth time at Delhi’s wonderful roads and wealth of well-tended greenery. My daughter’s sixteenth birthday was celebrated with books from Spell and Bound at SDA Market, a pair of boots she had set her heart on, and red wine, besides assorted gifts. Sunday evening was spent chatting in our hotel room and the rooftop restaurant (Fire and Ice) over many cups of coffee before they all bade goodnight.
Monday went by at a leisurely pace, packing up, bathing and dining. We left for the railway station, and – after ten continuous days! – the Rajdhani was bang on time. Arani, Saikat, Subhadip and Subhanjan came to see us off. A quiet, swift ride, and we were back at home by 8:30 a.m. on New Year’s day.
So we saw a lot of sights, dined well, stayed in good hotels, and moved about a great deal. But for me at least (my daughter will write about her own experience, and I’m sure she’ll tell it differently), the real – and indescribably heartwarming – pleasure lay in meeting and going around and chatting with so many beloved and loving old boys. I could have sat in a hotel room and done just that and never felt that I was missing anything. Saikat has become almost a family member now. Subhadip Biswas, God bless him, is still happy and ‘excited’ to be my trusty point-man in Delhi, and assures me that much that I taught is still of use to him. Aakash, in his own quiet way, kept amazing me with his minute and glad recollections from his days with me in school. He went to a great deal of expense and trouble for my sake: it fills me with a deep sense of gratitude that he made it apparent he was enjoying every minute of it. Arani and Dipanwita, dog tired after having travelled all over the country, made it equally apparent that they were happy to meet up and go around with us nevertheless. I look forward to many more delightful encounters with them, and they have my best wishes for everything. Subhanjan was tied up with work, yet somehow made time to come to see us off at the railway station; my grateful thanks to him, too.
Bijit Mukherjee broke my heart five years ago. Something was lost there that will never come back, of course, and yet, these boys (I still call them boys!) have tried magnificently to make up for it. One of them was gracious enough to tell me that those pupils who never made the effort to know me well, or those who dropped off after a while don’t know what they have missed. So I can’t help feeling that despite everything, I have been truly blessed as a teacher. These young people had been telling me for years to come over and enjoy myself with them, and by God, I did. All that remains to be seen is how their tribe increases as the years roll by…
[here is a link to fifty selected photographs, in case you are interested]