Our lives are but long strings of incidents. The incidents themselves are little beads that get threaded over a string of time. As time goes by, the beads recede into obscurity and are lost sight of. Yet, after many years, if one decided to pick up one of these discarded strings and looks at one of the beads threaded there on, one finds that though encrusted in dust, the bead itself has lost none of its colour, nor its ability to revive the taste and smell of that time.
As I travel back in time to 1962 and pick one incident, I find that it is as complicated as one could be. It has all the little shades of events and emotions to be remembered as a story. So, here you are…..
I had just arrived at Ambala from Tambaram. I had with me my Mother, my Wife, our two daughters and one nephew. On arrival, housing was a problem for the first two and a half months. Two weeks in the Cecil Hotel, four weeks in Peter Rawley’s house while Mrs. Rawley visited her parents, three weeks in a temporary allotment of ‘quarters’ in the so called Bhangi colony before I became due for the allotment of a permanent house in the ‘below entitled scale’ list. I moved into a small house meant for a flying officer. Soon after we settled down in the new house, it was time for the Puja Holidays in Bengal and we received our first lot of house guests from Kolkata. My Didi Chitra, her two children and her school teacher colleague Beena were our first visitors. For a house-guest visiting Ambala for the first time, a visit to the brand new township of Chandigarh was a must. Such a visit was thus planned.
Monida (Squadron Leader Ashateeta Chakravarty) was then posted to 25 Squadron flying the newly inducted AN-12. He was staying in a beautiful house in the heart of the town. An early morning raid on him was organized over a week-end. A breakfast was followed by a Lunch. Then a drive through the town in my overloaded black Vauxhall-14 limousine ended at the Mughal Gardens of Pinjore by about four in the evening. A July afternoon sun was still high over the horizon.
Mughal Gardens of North India are beautiful spots. Flower gardens and water courses, shady trees and well cared pathways make them ideal for idled hours close to the nature. Pinjore, a small town close to Chandigarh, has one of these Mughal Gardens. We, in our little group, felt happy to be there. A walk through the garden, and then lounging on the grass, we did not know how an hour and a half went by. The children ran about until they were tired. Then my wife Leena brought the picnic hamper out and laid out tea for the group. My daughter Sutapa, who was just short of her second birthday, put her little finger up. It was toilet time for her. Since the mother was busy arranging for tea, the task of attending to her fell on the dad. We walked along the flower gardens and found a public utility. Sutapa, the pert little lady, was already very gender conscious. She would not enter the gent’s enclosure. Her grand ma had taught her how to recognize the gender specific signs for toilets. I had no option but to seek help from one of the ladies heading to the desired enclosure. In a couple of minutes she was done and her generous escort handed her back to me. We were ready to return to our group and enjoy the tea that was awaiting us. Sutapa however was not ready to oblige. She stood firm, looked me in the eyes, pointed her finger to the gents’ enclosure and said ‘Baba susu?’ Yes, I thought, it was a good idea. However, I did not know what to do with the child with me when I did that needful. I thought for a moment, walked the child to below a tree a few steps away and asked her to stay put at that point. I was quite confident that she won’t stray away. I took perhaps two minutes more that what I had thought I would need. As I came rushing out, I found the spot below the tree to be empty. My blood ran cold. I ran down to the spot where the rest of the family was sitting and did not find the child on the way. I reversed my direction and ran towards the exit/entry gate. There was a garden functionary sitting there. To my query he said yes one young sardarjee had taken a small child on his shoulder and gone out of the gate a few seconds ago. I dashed out of the gate faster than what Mikha Singh could have done. I caught up with the crying child atop the young Sardar’s shoulder in about three hundred yards just as they were about to enter into a small lane. I confronted the man and took the crying child off his shoulders. He had a ready excuse. The child was crying and he was trying to find the child’s parents! Then in a moment of inattention as I consoled the child the man melted away in the crowd leaving me angry and frustrated.
I came back to the family gathering with the child dancing alongside me; she was quite oblivious to the emotional storms she had precipitated. Leena came running out to pick the child up. I found that three other people had joined my family group: an elderly Bengali widow, her son and her daughter in law. Quite clearly, the commotion created by the news of the child being lost had attracted them. They were visitors from Dehradun. The son was a teacher from the Doon School. We settled down with the expanded group and rode the emotional high of having found our child with no harm done to her. The newly found friends seemed to be nice people. They were scheduled to return to Dehradun in a couple of days. We invited them to visit us at Ambala and stop over for a day on their way back. The teacher from the Doon School was Mr Aniruddha Goswami and his wife was named Keka. We then returned to Ambala before it was too late in the night.
A couple of days later the Goswami family visited us on their way back to Dehradun. We persuaded them to spend a night with us. They turned out to be very amiable people. Gup-shop continued throughout the day. Aniruddha and Keka were somewhat younger than I was. The two families got along very well. On Mother Goswami’s invitation it was decided that Didi Chitra, her friend Beena and didi’s two children would make a return visit to the Goswami house at Dehradun the following week. We were very fond of travelling and it seemed that so were these new friends. Talking of tourism within the country, I asked Aniruddha whether he visited Kolkata regularly. Yes he said. I do go down to Kolkata quite often. Apart from visiting my relatives, I like visiting Kolkata to look up a very close friend of mine. My friend’s name is Mr Robin Munshi. He works for the Great Eastern Hotel there. I looked at Aniruddha in amazement. How small can the world be? One Robin Munshi working for the Great Eastern Hotel was married to my first cousin Shukla! A few question asked and answered, it was established that Aniruddha’s friend was indeed my brother in law. My excited shout at this discovery brought in my Ma and mother Goswami out to the sitting room. Animated discussion commenced about the possibility of discovering more common acquaintances. Aniruddha had grown up in Darjeeling. My Ma informed Mrs Goswami that she too had grown up in Darjeeling. Her father, Late Sri Dinesh Charan Das was posted there in the 1920s as an engineer with the PWD. It was now the turn of mother Goswami to smile and nod. Yes of course! Her husband knew Mr DC Das very well. Mr DC Das would know him as Neda Gosain of Darjeeling! Ma’s eyes sparkled. Neda Gosain? Ofcourse there was a young Neda Gosain in Darjeeling in the mid 20s when she was a school girl there. Of course he was not married at that time. Leena, my wife could not contain herself any more. She too was a girl from Darjeeling. My father knew Neda Gosain too, she exclaimed. Mother Goswami looked up at her with quizzing eyes. I explained to her that my Father in Law, Sri Kshirode Chandra Roychowdhury was a Divisional Forest Officer at Darjeeling before his retirement in 1959. It is possible that he might have met her husband there. Mother Goswami nodded. Yes. Indeed Neda babu and Kshirode babu knew each other even though Kshirode babu was a somewhat younger person compared to Neda Gosain.
I sat there stunned at this confirmation of the saying that the world was small.