Life is nothing if not full of ironies. All through the last year I was thinking and talking about taking more frequent if not also longer breaks. I ended up doing the single longest stretch of continuous work in probably my whole life – all of six months at the rate of seven days a week, except for a week after the accident! And for all those six months I never went more than ten kilometres from my house, either.
So I finally cried off after Thursday, the 10th of September, and next morning I had myself driven to Kolkata. Everybody’s fears notwithstanding, it was a smooth, uneventful and painless drive. And this last week I have enjoyed the kind of leisure that can come only from a clean conscience, a full belly and (reasonably-) good health after you have worked long and hard, also provided that the air-conditioner is working full time, and you have a daughter like Pupu with you.
We have watched three movies together – Gone Girl, Hercule Poirot’s Halloween Party and Inside Out. The first two were unfortunately about pathological killers; the third was good. Animation movies are so heartwarming and even thought-provoking these days that I sometimes think I’d rather watch those than the ones with real humans in them. I also read out Macbeth to Pupu, and even my wife found it fascinating enough to sit through the entire session. Good friends came visiting, as well as my parents. I finished a very serious and most interesting book on the socio-economics of contemporary Japan: Bending Adversity by David Pilling, 2014. Many thanks for the gift, Rajdeep; I am a more educated man now. It compelled me to wonder again and again – is that the direction India is heading? But heaven knows when I shall find the concentrated time to finish all your other books. …and now I have started on Nirad C. Chaudhuri’s Bangali Jibone Romoni, something that I last read at least 25 years ago. I’ll write what I feel about the book at this stage of my life.
The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Jadavpur University campus. I had missed out on Pupu’s admission process because of the broken leg. This time, too, I had to be driven there and back, and I could only slowly walk around with a crutch, but I did walk and see a great deal. Nearly three decades have passed since I was a student there, so predictably there had been some changes. The road that skirts the campus is much greener and tidier now. The campus is swarming with cars and motorbikes – they were not allowed in our time (the head of the department of history drives a Mercedes: I wish the engineer-manager babus of PSUs in Durgapur could just see this!). Few girls wear saris, and almost all of them smoke – far more, in fact, than boys do! Everybody has earphones dangling, but when they chat face to face in groups, they rarely irritate one another by texting all the time. There are far more buildings around; most of them have lifts, and many classrooms are airconditioned (Lord, the tuition fee is 75 rupees a month). The posters and graffiti are as silly, strident and ubiquitous as they have always been. The façade of the Arts Faculty Students’ Union office bears a painting from Tagore’s Shohoj Paath, alongside a quote from one his poems. I was glad to see that a lot of youngsters spoke good, fluent Bengali – and, as with the smoking, far more girls used Banglish than boys did. There were far more canteens and open-air eateries selling a much wider variety of food than before. Some of my professors had become history, as I saw with the Anita Banerjee Memorial Hall (she was wife of Milon Banerjee the then solicitor general of India, and my favourite teacher, not only because she taught public finance but she alone could speak English with the kind of fluency, accent, poise and allusive style that I would have expected an Oxford don to do, which distanced her from her very Bengali middle class colleagues). But the miracle was how much had not changed: walking out through the ‘Bengal Lamp’ gate to the line of tea stalls across the road, I might have jumped back in time. The young man behind the counter said he had been manning it for only eight years: when I told him I was a regular more than thirty years ago, he said his grandfather must have waited on us. The nicest thing I discovered was how handicapped-friendly the university has become, and the saddest thing was how the college crowd – they who belong to the most privileged and educated section of the populace – litter their surroundings, despite bins and warning notices all around them. Swachh Bharat, ever? I wonder.
I am thankful to my daughter’s new friends, both male and female, for giving me a most un-selfconscious and chirpy welcome. The one that made my day was the girl who said ‘Thank you for the next treat!’ I am heartbroken to have forgotten to take a group photo with them, but I’m sure I’ll visit again. I have told them that if their gang ever lands up in my place, I shall do my best to give them a gala time.
My twelve-year old car, with an ace driver behind the wheel, did the whole highway from Santragachhi Station to Muchipara crossing in two hours flat today. I did not know the old boy still had it in him!
And now I am back home to work, but cheerful and rejuvenated, and determined to give myself more and longer breaks, inshallah.