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Friday, September 18, 2015

A week's holiday

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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Suvro'da,

Your blog-post is as vivid as ever! I can now almost say that a picture need not speak a thousand words, having read your description of the holiday to Kolkata and more so, of your visit to our beloved JU campus.

I had been there last three years ago and that was after a span of a little more than a decade and had found the changes overwhelming at that time. True, there were things which hadn't changed from our times, as you too have found out after a much longer spaced visit, but I guess that's how things are always and that is what helps us to connect tangibly with our past and memories. JU campus always holds a special place in the hearts of its students. I have had this for a fact being one myself, having a group of friends around who still love of go back there and also having met strangers who have turned immediate connections just by the mention of our alma mater! Your recent visit to JU and the details of it certainly does inspire me to follow suit.

It is very heartening to know that Pupu has now joined JU for her course. Please do convey my congratulations and best wishes to her.

On your note on the animation movies of today, I cannot but agree more! My son loves watching his movies with me in company and I have learnt to cherish animation movies much more now than I had done ever in my growing up days. Well, not that there were too many of them then, but still the few which I had had the privilege of viewing had left a mark more for their thrill and graphics rather than the message. I recently watched 'Kung Fu Panda' and 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' with my son and both were enjoyed by us father and son for reasons peculiar to our own maturities. What was even more delectable was the discussions that followed between us thereafter!

Nice to know that your twelve-year-old car stood you in good stead on the long drive and made your journey enjoyable. Long drives are a great way of holidaying and you must do them more often! I had been reading your blog-posts silently for months but having read this one, I just could not stop myself from writing to you!

Best regards,


akash ganguly said...

Dear Sir,

Thank you for such a wonderful, vivid post. While reading, I never felt like an outsider looking in, the account seemed to unfold right in front of my eyes.

I can only imagine the surge of excitement, joy and nostalgia that you felt visiting your alma mater. You should take more vacations like this one.

I agree that nowadays I'd much rather watch an animated film than live-action films, most of which come nowhere near to 'old' and yet 'evergreen' classics like The Godfather or Forrest Gump. Old really is gold.

And Santragachi to Muchipara in two hours flat at the age of twelve! Hats off to your car!


Shilpi said...

Hullo Suvro da, It's a week from the day in between the trip to and walk-around and sit-around in Jadavpur and the road trip to Durgapur - so I'm writing a bit as a comment. Life is full of ironies - I can't argue with that part but then every now and then life comes across as a genuine phizzwizard of a dream - if even in twists, snatches and patches and sequences. So, thank you. And it was lovely meeting Pupu's lively friends. I can't help but chuckle a bit while I write this but I'm almost sure that many of your old boys might glare at me and go a little green if they knew you let me accompany you on the memorable trips. I had the feeling from the first time I saw Earl Grey (your car) that he can speed like the dickens even though he looks very sedate.

I haven't watched Inside Out but I do find myself going back to animations - even ones I've watched before like Monsters Inc. and How to train a Dragon especially. I had actually been watching a lot of the Poirot and Miss Marple TV series available on Youtube last year and I still like them a lot. I didn't know that there was a recent film of Halloween Party. I remember I found the book creepy but interesting back in school. The Macbeth session must have been grand.

I'll say a loud Amen for your concluding sentence for this post and wish you good cheer, among other stuff. Take care - Shilpi