“Auto-Man”

THIS INDIA, ONE INDIA

Despite our varied cultural plurality and many known – unknown sectarian identity, at the core of us we ARE ONE, JUST ONE INDIA. No amount of difference, be it religion, region or language can break our tolerance.  I have planned to pen down a series on this very bondage that makes us  One … ONE INDIA.

This is the second in the series….. “Auto-Man” !


I was still standing at the Reception Counter of Vellore Hospital and trying to explain things. But somehow could not make the person follow of what I was wanting! To my rescue came an elderly gentleman and asked me about my queries. I was those days working in Bangalore. There was a Community Health Training programme organised jointly by CMC and a voluntary organisation. My wife is involved in an NGO, in Calcutta, and they had sent 4 participants for this event. She told me to meet them and greet them. I explained all these to this gentleman. He apparently was aware of this event and vellore temple2directed me to go to the Rural Campus of CMC. He said any auto-rickshaw driver would know the place and take me there.

I came to the auto-rickshaw stand and got hold of one who readily agreed to take me there. He was more enthused when I told him that I would go there for about ten minutes and then return again, which would mean he would have an assured return fare.

With the word ‘go’ my ordeal started. After about five minutes journey our man stopped the Auto-rickshaw, digged in his hands into the dash board, collected some stuff andvelore mosque vanished into oblivion. In about 4 minutes he returned, singing happily, he started driving again. He explained that the Rural Campus is the place where CMC has training premise, and, he assured me that I would like the place for its scenic beauty. I was indeed enjoying the outskirt area. But lo, behold. My amusement was short lived. Our man again stopped his auto-rickshaw, digged his hand into the dashboard again and vanished somewhere. This time he returned after a little more time than his last trip. I, on my  part, did a wrong thing this time. I peeped into his hand and could catch the glimpse of a matchbox! Now I knew what was happening. This man must be a hard core drug addict, could not even stop for more than 15 minutes before he goes for a next puff ! I decided to give him a full lecture on this bad habit once we return to Vellore, no matter even if I am late in returning to Bangalore.

As  promised I could finish my visitation within ten minutes. Those colleagues of my wife were  visibly happy as they were invited to visit Bangalore on their return journey to Calcutta once they complete this training.

vellore churchOn our way back, only once our Auto-rickshaw stopped for a while, this time at a semi urban spot. Once he returned, placed back the matchbox into the dashboard and started his vehicle….. I barged in with my first question, “Since how long are you taking this” ? To this our man wore a very perplexed look and shot back “Sorry, Sir, I could not get you”.  “Okay, okay…. Let me be straight. Taking  drugs can be fun, but you know it would soon ruin you, more over I am sure you must be wasting much of your hard earned money on it. And do not try to cover up…. I saw you taking the matchbox, and, also some packet in your hand”.

Our man got the auto-rickshaw halt to a standstill. Came very near to me and said “No one has told me the things that you are telling. Of course my ways of doing things must have made you to think this way “ ! He quietly walked near the dashboard, took out the things. He handed over me those stuff –  a small pack of agarbattis, a small pack of vermillion, a matchbox.  Then he narrated. “ Sir, I have a small but nice family. My sole earning is from this auto-rickshaw. As you come out of CMC Hospital and take this small road to Rural Campus there is a Mosque. Every evening , without fail, I make a short prayer there. Then further up, there is a temple where I say a small prayer for the happiness of my family. And finally near the CMC there is a very old church. I never fail to pray here at least once in the evening. Believe me Sir it gives me happiness for my entire family. Just think Sir, my family gets happiness showered from all ! Balaji, Allah & Jesus … what else do I need!”

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Around night I took a bus to Bangalore. I had a very guilt feeling. Our man must have returned home, happily eating his night meal and must be telling his wife “You know, today I met a gentleman ….. a good man – but with a very narrow mind !”

 

 

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Sunny Saahib

THIS INDIA, ONE INDIA

Despite our varied cultural plurality and many known – unknown sectarian identity, at the core of us we ARE ONE, JUST ONE INDIA. No amount of difference, be it religion, region or language can  break our tolerance.  I have planned to pen down a series on this very bondage that makes us  One … ONE INDIA.

This is the first in the series….. “Sunny Sahib” !

There was a festive mood in the air, at least till this morning. Since one month every youth in the locality, in this end part of Ballygunge, was engrossed and busy. The reason – “Mahanisha”.  This is the name of the play or drama that the local youth planned to stage. Those days, it was very much in vogue to stage a drama in the locality with a large number of youth participating and there were regular rehearsals in the evenings. The local youth caught hold of Shambhu Uncle, a veteran drama director of the locality and the drama selected was Mahanisha.  Shambhu Uncle also agreed to spare his sitting room for the rehearsals.

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This roughly is the spot for stage… Shambhu uncle’s house at the backdrp

Everything was going on as per schedule. That evening was the show ! The day before the tent-wallahs brought in a lot of bamboo poles, tarpaulins, bundle of ropes, and, they promised to put up the tent this morning…. And…. Then…. There was this thick black cloud visible on the sky since morning.

Everyone said it is just a matter of minutes….. there would be heavy down pour of rain and it would surely ruin the drama show ! Everyone wore a gloomy look, and, at this juncture someone suggested “How about asking Jhantuda for some kind of  err….. way out?”. Jhantuda was the local thakurmoshai (priest) for all puja functions.

When approached, Jhantuda thought for a while and suggested a way out. “ There is a way out…. That is if you all have faith ….. and I am sure we will have the blessings of Devimaa”.  What Jhantuda suggested was this “ We must find out a person in the locality who is the only child – a son. He should dig a deep hole, all by himself, and then place a small metal bowl in the hole…  then fill up the hole with sand and lose soil..”. And now there was some cheer in the gloomy faces – every one went on different directions to fetch someone as per order…. Only child….. Only son.  But the cheer was short lived… they could come up with some names, but most of them had one or two sisters….and none was the only son.

At this juncture some one yelled “Jhantu da, there is one, at the very next door. But if   I spell the name you may not agree…. He is Sunny Sahib, our anglo-Indian neighbour.I mean after all he is not an  er…er..”. At this point Jhantuda rebuked him quite loudly “Shut up.You are talking non-sense….. what is important is how sincere the person is in seeking from the heart that rain must not ruin our drama show”.

When the youth group reached Sunny Sahib’s house, he was busy in doing push up. He was a fitness freak,a good horse rider ! He was all thrilled at the idea of digging and came out in no time with his own sets of crow-bar and shovel . Soon he dug up quite a large hole -more than what was needed. Someone brought in an old aluminium bowl.Sunny Sahib neatly placed it in the middle of the hole and in no time replaced the loose soil to fill-up the hole….. all along he wore his signature cap on his head.

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That evening there was a full house show of Mahanisha – a large number of people from neighbourhood gathered, under the clear sky.They said some of the local youth performed very well, much like the professional actors. I, for one, remember a bit. Our neighbour Kumar Uncle was in the lead role! He was a good looking hero. But perhaps, the actual hero of the day was Sunny Sahib – an anglo-Indian Christian who gave all his time and might to please Devi Maa!

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Sunny Saahib’s Bungalow still stands tall in the locality !

Green  Gate, Punya Maali and Gautam Ghose

I returned home from office around seven in the evening. I saw my daughter and son were glued to the small t.v.set. Those days we had a black and white one,  and one of them shouted “Dad join us, this is a good tele-film, about a village doctor.. its by Gautam Ghose” . I just glanced and said appreciatively “oh it is by Gautam… my personal friend !” To this both of them gazed at me for a while and then together they burst into a loud laughter ! “Dad, what is a ‘personal friend’….”. I lost my words trying to utter something “ well… it is like…. I mean”. At this juncture my wife came to my rescue and said “why not come to the dining room …. I will get you a hot cup of tea “. I simply followed her and almost ran out from the spot.

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We were studying at a missionary school in south Calcutta. It was quite an old school run by the Anglican Missionary, located on a main street complete with quite a big church. We had two entrance gates…. Green ornamentaly iron-cast. The one leading to the cathedral 3church portico was the main entrance. This was managed by Punya Mali. As the name suggests, Punya was basically a gardener… the school  indeed had some scattered garden….. but he also doubled as the gate-keeper. We also had another identically designed large gate at another side of the school, behind the church, beside the small grave-yard. Yes, this too was coloured green. This gate was always kept locked… and it was at a secluded place.

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That day four of us assembled behind the church. Ataul explained that he will stand just at the corner end of the church, I am to stand a bit far on the passage… my job was to warn if anyone is seen coming this way. The mission was to arrange a safe passage to Niloo and Gautam, so that they can scale the tall green gate .. jump and escape…. . As

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Thanks to Facebook ! I found the exact spot, after so many decades ! I was behind the bush !

planned both Niloo and Gautam reached near the gate. Niloo first climbed the gate. Half-way through he threw the leather sandals onto the road outside. And then he jumped on the road with ease . It was then the turn of Gautam.  Gautam always wore black heavy shoes-  he was almost on top of the gate. And then the inevitable happened ! I saw Punya Mali coming to this side. I got nervous and signaled  “Ata… Punya !” On his turn Ata warned the duo about ensuing Punya’s arrival on the site !. But, Punya suddenly halted and made an about turn . And vanished  into some class room somewhere !

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There was a popular cinema hall in Colootola named Moonlight. It was popular among student film-lovers because of its convenient show timings…. it had a noon show…. From 12 noon to 2.30 p.m. Which meant that students could attend school , mark their attendance around 10, and , even  go through an entire 45 minutes first period. And could still watch a movie and return home, at times even return back to the school to attend the last period !

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cathedral 2 (2)We were about 7 or 8 of us, most of us studying  in the eighth standard. It was tiffin break and we would all assemble at the dark class room near the stair case. Niloo and Gautam would tell us about the film they watched the previous day. It was normally a narration on rotation. Both of them were good story tellers. It was in one of those sessions we heard the entire story of of Devdas – complete with Gautam’s role play of Dilip Kumar’s last scene…. I can still remember him showing how to tremble the lips.. and almost whisper “Paro” .

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It was on a session like this that we heard the story of  Hum Dono – complete with  the song  “Mai Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhataa Chala Gaya” rendered by Gautam. Gautam had a deep voice with good resonance. He was a perfectionist who would get upset if you pronounced “Zindagi” as “Jindagi”…. And often he would reprimand Niloo about his awful  hindi or urdu pronunciation, on narrating a film dialogue !

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When we reached at the crossing of Rustamjee Street it was evening . The occasion was a cultural show.  A stage was built, even if it was an open air show. Chairs were laid on all three sides of the narrow street junction. (It is the lane next to Mukti World now, near Ballygunge Phari) . Soon the play “Thana Theke Aschi” started. As usual Gautam and Niloo were in the lead roles. Niloo looked awful  wearing an over sized attire of a polce inspector. It was a good show, both of them acted well, full house… and the audience often applauded with clap.  So, this can be termed as Gautam’s first public directorial venture !

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I was intently watching the meat seller so that he should not  fool me on the correctness of the weight of the meat when there was a heavy pounding on my shoulder “Hi, I did not know you come to this Park Circus meat market too”! It was Niloo. Both of us were now with changed looks.  After we hugged for a while Niloo said “Guess who was at my home last week ?  Ha, ha.. it was Gautam” ! What he explained was like this. Niloo has married a Christian girl. He has two daughters. They are quite grown up…. college goers.  As usual Niloo used to tell his children about the good old school days. And somehow  had mentioned to them that Gautam was his close friend. His daughters never believed him .And then suddenly one Sunday Gautam appeared in flesh at their home and spent the whole day- including having a family lunch ! .

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I hurriedly returned from the market and narrated the whole story of meeting Niloo to my Children. Both of them smiled and started pulling my leg “So the moral of the story is ‘mera number kab ayega’ !

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“Gautam, izzat bacha le yaar, kabhi toh mera bhi ghar aya kar …..”