Calcutta Notebook


Those who are past the mid point between sixty and seventy and who seldom have anything worth-while to do, often pass the time by thinking of the past. Two episodes have been coming to my mind recently, both about people long gone.

In December 1966 I took the school final exams and came to my parents' home in Sagar. There was plenty of time before the next academic session in July and I decided to go to Kanpur by a bus service which had just been started. I received a message asking me to come to another house on the university campus. There I met a lady who was visiting from Jabalpur, which was just over a hundred miles away. In her town she had been friends with a Mrs Mishra, who had since moved to Kanpur. She wanted to send her friend a quantity of khoye ki jalebi, a speciality of the region. I agreed to carry it and deliver it.

In Kanpur, Mrs Mishra was most pleasantly surprised to get the mithai her friend had sent. When I sought to leave, she said, "Wait a while. Vinod should be back from badminton soon" and proceeded to make kachoris for me whose taste I still remember. Sure enough, he came back on his bicycle and, after he had had a bath, took me to meet friends of his. The talk was all political and therefore new to me. His friends were his age, 19, and as a callow 16-year-old I found myself floundering. Seeing my blank look, the others explained things as best they could. They too were new players, after all, and they could not have foretold the formation, just a year later, of the All India Co-ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR).

In 1972 or 1973, when I was at JNU in Delhi, I was introduced to a girl named Anu, an under-graduate, who was visiting from Bombay. (The expression "women" was still some distance in the future, and universities had Girls' Hostels). She wanted to meet a few people, some of whom I knew, so I took her around on my motorcycle. Back at JNU it fell to me to ward off the attacks of a class-mate of mine (now dead for several years) on her, made solely because she came (he said) from a "privileged" background. He was being unjust, of course, and I may have been specially protective because she had been calling me "dada". I saw her only once again, in Nagpur in the mid 1980s. I was standing in a city bus and she was sitting some distance away. When our eyes met, she looked down and shook her head slightly.

Vol. 48, No. 42, Apr 24 - 30, 2016