Monday, 11 September 2017

The act of the great magician

From my childhood days, I have been always fascinated by magicians. Their tricks always puzzle me, and make me wonder how things get vanished or replaced from my naked eyes.  At the unfolding of any new trick or game in a magic show, I always try to keep myself as much alert as possible to catch the magician in wrong foot, but consistently failed in all my past endeavors, which left me perplexed and overwhelmed in a confused state of mind. The earliest show that possibly I attended when I was as little as to comprehend my age or days around. Only image that still haunts me is that it was an evening show in an open ground. There was a large gathering. I was possibly held on the shoulder of my father watching from a great distance the acts of the greatest magician of the world (that’s what my father told me), senior P.C. Sorkar (that time he was simply the great Jadukar P.C. Sorkar) in a well-lit make-shift stage. He was having the famed turban over his head. I have no memory of the games or tricks he played in that show. Possibly, I was frightened on his intention to cut a girl through and through by his magical sword or to vanish her from a wooden enclosure by the touch of his magical wand.   

My first school was situated about a kilometer and a half from my home. For first few days I was accompanied by my father, and possibly by the maid working then in our house. But it was becoming very difficult for my father to bring me back from the school, as it clashed with his office time. The service of our maid also became very irregular.  My mother was very busy in her domestic work. She had to attend my little brother also. It was not always possible for her to make herself free to receive me from the school gate. So, after a few months I was habituated to return on my own. In my second year of schooling, I gained the complete freedom of my movement from home to the school and returning back.

There were two different routes for walking to my school. One was along a railway track, occasionally used for shunting goods-train in this long track. Sometime a lone coal engine would visit us along the track to fill water in its boiler from an overhead tank. Many a time we used to visit that place after hearing their shrill whistles. Years back passenger trains used to ply, as the railway station was close to my home. This place was also near the river side. But now the station is shifted away from this place, and it is quite near to my first school I attended then. In those days, no passenger train used to run along that track.  Following this railway track we could reach my school by a shorter path. The longer route was along the main metal road through the town. My parents preferred the latter for my self-commuting. They considered that the metal road was safer as there were more commuters in the day time, and advised me to always use the sidewalk beside the road. While returning I used to pass by my father’s place of work. He worked then in the Criminal court. His office was in the first floor of the building, and the window behind his seat was at the side of the road. So, while returning I always shouted at the top of my voice calling him and waited with excitement to see his face through the window. He would wave his hand to acknowledge my call. It was almost a daily ritual that I used to enjoy.

There were other added attractions too.  The court premise was a large area throbbed by a multitude of petty shopkeepers, tea-sellers, cheap book sellers, food vendors, hawkers, typists, copyists, astrologers, and many other colorful characters apart from black-hooded lawyers, their clients, clerks and other staffs of different trades connected to our justice dispensing system. My school was in the morning hours. So, on my return; I used to find the whole arena jostling with murmurs, excitements and occasional shouting of all these people. The astrologers, showcasing a framed photograph of Goddess Kali anointed by red vermilions, would plead passing travelers for seeking their advice, and sometimes they would sit with their preys in a trance and with an occasional look at their palms. The random rhythmic sound of type-writers would continuously hum in your ears. But the most exciting part was the trick-shows freely offered by various hawkers. Some of them used to sell tooth powders, medicinal ointments, herbs or extracts, etc. Even if you were fortunate you would get a snake-charmer selling a type of herb-roots for driving away snakes with a live demonstration of various snakes and their movements around them. They would play the flute and speak intermittently with the snakes and also with the audience. Sometime I could also watch tricks with monkeys and bears in this open show.  But these were rare events. Mostly I passed the gathering without any interruption in my journey. My mother also instructed me not to interact with any stranger on my way or make any stop or delay. However, only on those rare treats, I used to join the crowd around it, and take the liberty of enjoying a break not lasting more that a quarter of an hour.  

On one occasion, I was put into an embarrassing situation. That day I was attracted by the sound of dugdugi (an instrument of making fast beating sound) played by a lean, thin and dark person raining incessant stream of words in a high pitch modulated rhythmic voice. He was promising to show many tricks with full of fun to the people around. Not only that, he vouched to teach those tricks to the open gathering. Within a moment, a good number of people encircled the place centering the show-master. I also joined them and placed myself at the front of the encircling crowd. The man was accompanied by a boy a few years older than me. For quite sometimes the senior person continued playing dugdugi shouting his words of promises to the viewers, till he got satisfied with the numbers around the show.   Then he brought out a pair of iron rings, attached with each other, from his jhola (a bag made of clothes usually carried by hanging on the shoulder). He announced, “If any of you can make this couple separated, I will give you a reward of five rupees.”  His much younger partner approached the spectators for trials. A few tried, but of no success. I also made an attempt, though he was not eager to oblige me. The trick-star separated them without an effort. Again, he passed the separated rings and asked whether we could chain them again. No! No one could do it. He restored the bonding of the two rings. Next, he with much eloquence demonstrated how to pull them out, and how to attach them together. Things were getting interesting for me. I lost track of time, that I should spend there. This was more due to the fact that he promised to show us a very interesting trick, which none in this world can do. Only his late guru taught him this amazing trick. Saying this he brought out an apple from his jhola and a bottle, made of glass, with a very narrow opening. He placed the apple on top of the opening. It was pretty big enough compared to tiny opening of the bottle. But he declared he would make the apple go inside the bottle through this opening before our naked eyes. He would also teach each of us this wonderful trick at the end of this show. By saying this he started canvassing for a tooth powder. Intermittently he kept on reminding us about the trick that he would be performing. I was patiently waiting for this wonderful fit to be performed before me, and did not keep any account of the ticking clocks at that noon hours. I did not know how long it went. The trick star went on selling bottles of powder, and after each successful endeavor he would return to the topic of the apple going inside the bottle. At last, there was none but me waiting to see his wonderful trick. So, I went to him and asked to show the magic. He gave a big smile and rewarded my patience by presenting the apple to me. I was too disappointed to accept his token of appreciation and hurried towards my home, as I realized I spent more than an hour in that show. On my way, I met my mother. I could see her from a distance. She was walking back from my school along the railway track. From her appearance, I could see the trauma she went through that hour. She came out from our home without changing her dress. With untidy hairs, she was walking without any purpose, and with an empty look. When I called her, she was unmindful to make any response. But moment she saw me, she came almost running, and asked why I was so late. I told her the truth. Surprisingly my mother did not utter a single harsh word to me. She only told me not to make any such stop and delay for any reason whatsoever while returning back. I had a good lesson from my mother and the street-charmer as well on that day.

I was attracted to science as it has that magical touch in my childish imagination. The earliest encounter with such wonder was a radio set. I should be around the age of three then, as I was always at my home and did not start attending any school. One day, my father bought a radio set. I could distinctly remember the model ‘Bahadur’ made by Phillips. This set was small, and not a big valve set of its previous generation.  I was amazed by the talking, singing and playing machine with the rotation of its dials. At its back, there were tiny rectangular grills. Often, I wanted to see through it whether really there was someone speaking from such a small place! Of course, my father explained me that it was a machine and invented by scientists. In particular, I came across of fame and name of Jagadish Chandra Bose connected with its invention from my very early childhood. So, when the opportunity came to make a radio set with only a blade, safety-pin, variable condenser, a long wire and an ear-phone, I got very much excited!  I was then in my sixth grade and a friend of mine brought a torn page from ‘Kishore Bharati’ (a magazine for the kids), where this wonderfully simple circuit was sketched. My friend was very proficient in model making. He was also of my age, but was very good at making paper toys, cars with card-boards, in short, he had a pair of skillful and artistic hands. So, both of us decided to get started with our project radio from safety-pin and blade. We had almost everything. My father took us to one of his acquaintances, who was knowledgeable in repairing radios. From him we could collect a resistance and a variable condenser. But we faced an uphill task to get the earphone. It did not exist in our town. Once again, our parents came to our rescue. We went to Kolkata with my father, and walked a few miles in Esplanade east to get a piece of ear phones in various shops in the New Market. Finally, we could manage to get it in one of these shops – a little white piece, a real treasure to us. We returned with a lot of excitement. To our utter dismay, the circuit failed. We could not get a single sound from it. We read that page over and over again, but could not make it. So, we went to my father’s friend again, who gave a broad smile and told us that he knew that circuit would not work. He gave us a relatively simple circuit with a piece of transistor and diode. Even with that circuit we struggled a lot. One evening my friend got an idea. We hanged a long stretch of wire in our roof and made it the aerial of the set. It worked! We could listen to the magical sound of Vividh Bharati by tuning with the variable condenser and played across the ear phone. A magical moment indeed!

My fascination and imagination with scientific experiments and inventions have been growing steadily. I could sense that science is the key to my magical world! In the first year of my middle school (in my fifth grade) I came across of a list of inventions and their inventors. I was eager to know magic behind them! Those inventors were my heroes then! Once I asked my father who was the greatest scientist in our recent times. He readily named Einstein. But I did not quite agree with him. His name was not included in my list. I thought he should have named Thomas Alva Edison, the greatest hero to me in those days.

I was hungry to get a feel of those inventions! I was mostly an outsider in this world. It was partly due to my age, partly due to my socio-economic constraints and underdevelopment of my country. We had no electricity at our home. There was no television set around us. Hardly could we find a telephone receiver in our neighborhood! My hungry eyes would keep looking at flying aero-plane over the sky. I longed to see working of X-Rays, television tubes, cameras, microscopes, periscopes, telescopes, like so many different gadgets.  So, in their absence, I let my imagination fly and dreamt about a magician who would see even the tiniest object or watch an event from a farthest corner of this world, could travel at the speed of lightning, or make himself invisible among the multitude of people.

My interest was further nurtured by my school. In the beginning of the session in my eighth grade, one day our Head Sir called me and asked me to join a few of my seniors to participate in a science quiz competition, which was to be organized by Birla Science Museum at Kolkata. The exciting part of this participation was that we made several trips to the Museum accompanied by one of our teachers. In my very first visit, I was enchanted looking at large portraits of famous scientists including Galileo and Newton. We were asked to note every bit of facts from the galleries for preparing ourselves for the competition. It was exciting to see working models and their live demonstrations through active participation on pressing a button or switch and observe its working and effects. I was very much thrilled by watching a model of Geiger counter and listening to the beeping sound as it was making during the movement of the sensor and getting exposed to radioactive particles. The most exciting part of our visit was a live demonstration of a Television studio and the live video transmission that we could see over the screen of a TV. That was the first time when I could watch a TV. In the later part of the year, first TV transmission took place through Dooradarshan in Kolkata and adjoining areas in our state. Incidentally quiz competitions were held in this studio and visitors could watch on a TV outside. Though we were eliminated in the second round, it gave me exposure to various facets of modern science, and gave me the taste of several gadgets I was eager to know about and watch their workings.

 In the same year, I was encouraged by our Head Sir to participate in a competition where a seminar to be presented with charts and models on a topic on the quest of new energy sources.  He told me to go to library and search for relevant books and magazines to get ideas. There were a few popular science books in our library, though they were in English, which was not my medium of instruction. There was also a Bengali science monthly. From them, the closest realizable model that came to my mind was of a windmill. No sooner I spelt my idea to my Head Sir, he called Kalipadada, our teacher of work education, and requested to help me in making the model. My school had excellent facilities of workshops. It housed three sections, smithy, carpentry and lathe machinery. Kalipadada was in charge of the lathe workshop. He designed the whole model. I was almost a spectator, while he did the machining and built the model of four bladed windmill, which drove a small rotating magnet using pulley and shaft mechanism.  A voltmeter was connected to a coil of copper wires, encircling the magnet. One afternoon I was put on a van-rickshaw (a human driven tricycle with a wooden platform to carry load) with my model for participating the event, which was held in my home town, about 8 km away from my school. My excitement knew no bounds, when with the speeding rickshaw, the blades of the model were also rotating fast and the rotating magnet was making cracking sound (as we find in the generators) shooting the needle of the galvanometer to its extreme right positions.

Now we are living in such a magical world, that I lost my sense of surprise at knowing or hearing any sort of human accomplishment, which were thought to be impossible even in early nineties of the past century. The boundary of science fiction of our childhood days and the real-world happenings is getting blurred day by day. I bear with great fortitude my passive submission to this magical world. But I never imagined the greatest trick that was waiting for me in one sunny morning, which left me stunned and dumbfounded.

The morning was bright and full of sunshine. The festive mood was prevailing everywhere.  Durga puja, the greatest annual festival in our state, was knocking at the door. In my morning shower, I was humming a popular Bengali tune, “Ek jhank pakhider moto kichhu roddur … (A beam of Sun-rays spreading their wings like a flock of birds ..)”. I would be visiting my mother who was recovering from her broken ribs. She had to be admitted to the hospital in our campus.  The doctors advised her complete rest. She had to wear a specially molded guard made of a synthetic fiber wrapped around her chest to keep the broken ribs fixed. Initial hurdle was to get the wrapper done. As during the measurement for making the cast of wax, my mother was so restless, breathless, and writhing with pain, that she had to be admitted to our hospital. Even in that condition she was objecting vehemently by waiving her hands, and was reluctant to lie on the stretcher. That was about ten days ago. Later she got stabilized and the chest guard was finally made. She had been using it, and feeling more comfortable in her movement. In that Morning, she had to go through an USG test of abdomen. She was having breathing problem and the doctors were not able to find any diagnosis of that condition. She had a chest X-Ray the day after admission. But the X-Ray was not very clear due to some movement during imaging. It was planned also before taking her to the diagnostic clinic, which was around 2 Km. from our hospital, there would be another chest X-Ray for her. As she was having occasional breathing problem, an ambulance fitted with oxygen cylinder had been arranged for her. Usually I would visit her early Morning as I was used to carry her breakfast and tea from my residence. In that Morning, she needed to be with an empty stomach. So, I went to visit her after getting ready for my office. I planned to go to my office directly from the hospital. My young friends, Chhotu and Shashaank, would be meeting us in her cabin. They would accompany my mother to the diagnostic clinic. My wife is a doctor. She works in a hospital close to the clinic. She would be joining them from her hospital. Everything looked to me in order and under control. I was in peace, and enjoying the freshness of morning air and sunshine.

For past three weeks, my mother went through terrific experience due to a fall from her bed while sleeping. She told me, she had a sweet dream, and went to her younger days playing with two of her friends. One of them pushed her, and she found herself on the ground wrapped with the mosquito net. Initially she was reluctant to tell anything to anybody. My parents lived in their own house at our home town. My sister with her family also lived quite nearby, and they would regularly visit my parents. For three days, my mother did not mention anything about the fall. She was hoping for a natural remedy. She was always reluctant to visit a doctor and run through a series of tests. Even my father did not know for a whole day. He came to know a day afterward when he noticed my mother was having difficulty in movement. She admitted that she fell from her bed, but asked my father not to tell anyone. She had a dominating personality, specially over my father. So, my father kept quiet. Only when the pain became unbearable, she disclosed it to my sister. My sister immediately called me, “Where is Boudi (sister-in-law)?”

Jhuma was in Kolkata for puja marketing that whole week. I was alone in my residence. It was a Saturday. Next day, I would be going to Delhi for taking a PhD viva examination. I told, “She is in Kolkata. Why?”
“Mother fell down from her bed. She is moving with a lot of difficulties. I am telling her to take rest and engage a cook. She is not listening. She is not able to sleep. Not able to lie down. Yet reluctant to visit a doctor, to get the X-Ray done.”
I told her to give the phone to my mother. My mother responded meekly with a sound of hello. I told her, “Oh! You fell down! Are you feeling pain? Is there any fracture?”
She tried to assure me, “It should be okay. When I move, or stand, I do not feel any pain. Only when I lie down, it is paining too much. I am not able to sleep.”
“Please go to a doctor and get X-Rays done.”
“I do not think, I have anything to do with a fracture. My problem is that for last three days my bowel is not getting cleared. It is so uncomfortable. Only if it gets cleared, I should be completely fit. I tried all kinds of totkas (traditional remedial measures), Isabgol’s husk, Nature Care, Cremafin, nothing worked! I need a good laxative. That is why I asked Mana (my sister) to call Jhuma.”
“Go to a doctor. Get his advice.”
“I will. Today Laltu (my brother-in-law) would be bringing glycerin tube. If it does not work, I will go to a doctor.”
“You need to take rest. Keep a cook. Do not cook by yourselves.”
“I cannot. I feel better working.”
“Do not be stubborn. When you will not be able to move at all, what will happen? Keep a cook immediately and take as much rest as  possible. You might have a fracture. Get the X-Ray done.” I insisted.
I asked my Sister, whether I should cancel my Delhi trip. She told me, “I do not think that would make much difference. We will be taking her to a doctor. The only problem is that she is not willing. I hope now she will cooperate.”
I also called Jhuma and apprized her about the situation. She told me that she had talked with my sister and asked them to get her admitted in a nursing home. She would be visiting my home town before returning back to Kharagpur. I also called my brother. He was quite upset to know about it.
He said, “None told me so.”
“I got it just now. Mother did not want to bother us.”
My brother told me he would be going home next day to visit my mother and take care of her treatment.
We had planned to visit Andaman that year during Puja break with our parents. My parents were very much excited about this trip and were collecting information from all sorts of magazines about those beautiful islands. Occasionally I would get some of those tips from my mother. So, when I heard from my sister about her fall, immediately it struck to me that our trip to Andaman was under a big question mark. It was not that we were apprehensive about such a scenario. But we never thought it would be due to my mother. We were always worried about our Father, as he had his occasional complaints of dizziness and unstable movement. We noticed, before any such trip, his complaints would take a serious turn and he would be pleading to cancel his tickets. However, with some encouragement he would agree to join. But, we had no worry about our mother, as she kept herself fit by doing regular Yoga and Pranayama in the Morning, which usually ran for a session of more than an hour. My mother ardently followed Baba Ramdev’s programs in TV channels, and had complete faith in Pranayama’s preventive and even curative effect in keeping her fit. She had been practicing them for more than ten years, since when she had to go through different tests and was put into several nursing homes about a month. I was abroad in that full year. When I came back, she told me that it was a terrible experience for her. She was almost suffocating in those cylindrical drums of CT and MRI machines. All those tests were unnecessary, as they could not diagnose any disease in her. They were all money-making ploys. By resorting to Yoga and Pranayama, she could lead a normal life. I advised her still to go for regular checkup with the doctors, specially the cardiologist she was consulting then. She did it for a few years, and then declared even the cardiologist acknowledged the fact that she became more than fit, and did not require that many frequent visits. Later she switched to one of our local specialists, who was also a friend of my sister, though her visits were infrequent. As she did not complain any other ailment and carried on with her usual energy in daily activities, we were also less worried about her health. Our worries were mostly centered around our father as he had a major complaint of vertigo, and at times he had to be admitted to nursing homes for a day or two in past few years. Moment I got the news of my mother’s fall, I apprehended that our trip to Andaman might have to be cancelled.

The day after my mother agreed to go through the checkups. She was admitted to a nursing home, and consulted by an orthopedics. They did X-Ray on her back, but apparently could not find any fracture. In the nursing home, they took care of clearing her bowel and she was feeling okay. So, they released her. I came to know the details from Jhuma, after she returned to Kharagpur. Eventually the orthopedician advised rest, and suggested a belt around her waist, which my mother should put on for a few weeks while making any movement. Over the phone, my mother sounded relieved, and even asked whether it was possible for her to join the Andaman trip. I assured her, given the doctor’s advice we would take all necessary measures in the trip.

In the following weekend, I went home to visit my mother. I found her seated on her bed wearing the belt and gossiping with my sister in a lighter mood. Seeing me the first thing she asked, “Will I be able to go to Andaman?” I told her, “Sure. Why not? As there is no fracture, you should be recovering pretty soon. You need to take complete rest.”
She laughed, “The person who came here to deliver the belt, told me “Didimoni! ( An address to a female teacher. My mother was a teacher.) Do not listen to anyone’s junk advice. I checked your X-Ray. Nothing to worry. No fracture. Even you may not require this belt.”
I warned her, “Still you need to take rest and wear the belt.”
She told me, “Only problem is that I am not able to lie down. It is so painful.”
I asked, “Still now!”
She nodded. I was quite bewildered. I had already planned to take her to Kharagpur, where she could be put in proper rest, and if needed, we could easily admit her to our hospital. I told her so. But she was reluctant. My father looked very much worried. He told me, “She is not listening. But she requires a thorough checkup. Get her admitted to a good hospital.”
I told him, “I am planning to take her to Kharagpur. One of Jhuma’s colleagues is a reputed orthopedician. He should be able to treat her. Jhuma also can supervise her treatment. We would carry out all the checkups there, and if needed, get her admitted to a hospital in Kolkata. It appears, she only requires to be rested for a considerable period.”
That night I could see how my mother was writhing with pain and did not sleep at all. Many a time she had to go to the toilet with great effort. Next Morning, she herself told me that she needed to be admitted to a hospital. She would not be able to manage on her own. I asked her, whether it would be possible to travel by a car to Kharagpur. In that case, we would be able to look after her better. She readily agreed. So, I called the travel agency, from whom I used to hire cars. They sent a car in the afternoon. I also asked my father, whether he would be coming with us. He told, “I have some pending works in the bank and post office. I will join later.”
Before leaving, my mother told my father not to worry, and asked him to come to Kharagpur when his pending works were over.
Finally, the orthopedician in Kharagpur informed us that there were two fractures in her ribs. He consulted the same X-Ray plate taken a week ago in our home town. For some reason, previously the diagnosis was not proper. Even the belt suggested by the orthopedician at my home town was of no use, as it was not protecting the ribs fractured. So, she was advised to wear a guard, to be molded specially after taking measurements on her body, that I already mentioned before. I wanted to get my mother admitted to our hospital directly for providing her complete rest. But the superintendent doctor told that without any concrete reason, it would not be possible to get her admitted. Providence must have been listening to our conversation then. Within a day, we had to admit my mother as she was becoming breathless and restless, when the team, assigned for making the mold, came to our residence and tried to take measurements of her chest and ribs. Since then, my mother was in the hospital. My daily routine was to visit her thrice and carry her food prepared at our home. She got quite friendly with two Aiahs (female assistants to a patient), who were looking after her round the clock. First few days, she was put under an oxygen cylinder. My mother told me, “What I require is this cylinder. I feel so better with it. I should have a few in our house. Then I need not come here.”
Her pain got reduced, and was having good sleep in most of the nights. In the meantime, the team again visited her cabin and could take all the necessary measurements and prepared the cast of wax. Three days later, we could get her chest guard. I asked her whether she was feeling better with it. She told me, “I am having good time here.”
She looked quite happy. She loved to talk with my sister, her brother, who lived in our hometown with his daughter and son-in-law, and a few of her close relatives and friends. She talked with her cousin sister, who lived in the place where she spent her childhood. But her communication with my father was very cryptic and rare. In fact, my sister advised me initially not to inform my father about her admission as he would be very much worried and nervous, which I obliged for a few days. Then I told her to apprise him about the situation and ask him not to worry.  I also called my father to assure that everything was under control.
That day I was about an hour and a half late from my usual visit to my mother in the Morning. As I was climbing the stair case of the hospital to visit her cabin, I could find my phone was ringing and my mother was calling me. She was quite eager to see me, “Why so late?”
I said, “As you are not taking breakfast today, I came here after getting ready to go to my office.”
She told me, “There is a good news. Tania (my cousin sister) has a baby son.”
My cousin sister in my hometown was expected. My mother was quite worried and enquiring every day to her brother about the progress. Last evening also she was talking to him and told him, however late at night it may be, he should inform her. She was feeling very happy. I asked her, “Did you have a good sleep?”
“Very much. Actually, I had a happy dream. I dreamt my mother last night. She was caressing my hair.”
Then she became quiet. After a while she hesitantly told me, “Probably I will not be able to go to Andaman. You should cancel my ticket.”
I replied, “I have already cancelled our tickets.”
She got very upset, “Why so? All of you could have made the trip. I thought of asking Mana to come here, and stay with me.”
“We do not want that. Rather all of us will spend here Puja together. All of them will be visiting us here during puja. That is the plan.”
Still I could see, she was feeling very sad and guilty for the cancellation of the trip.
 I told her, “Chhotu and Shashaank would come now to take you to the diagnostic clinic for USG. Before going to the clinic, there will be another chest X-Ray here. Are you ready?  Do not forget to wear your chest guard.”
She laughed, “It looked like an armor, as if I will be going to fight a war.”
Then she said again, “Is it necessary to go? I am feeling quite okay. I should be able to go back to your quarter soon.”
“Your trouble with breathing is worrying the doctors. They could not diagnose the cause. They advised this investigation. We should follow their advice.”
My mother smiled at me, and accepted the verdict. Chhotu and Shashaank came a few minutes later. I gave them the money and bade good bye to my mother, “I will come during the lunch time again.”
I got absorbed in day’s proceedings. I had a meeting with one of my students and a colleague. About an hour later, I called Chhotu, “Is the USG done?”
“Not yet. Jethima’s (aunt) bladder is not full. They gave her water to drink, and we are now waiting for the turn.”
After half an hour Jhuma called me, “Her USG is done. It appears there is a problem in her chest X-Ray done today. So, the doctor is suggesting for a CT. But mother is not willing to go through.”
I told her, “If she does not want, do not pressurize her.”
A few minutes later, she told me, “We are bringing back to her hospital. Will you come?”
I told, “Now? Okay I will be there.”
After a while, Shashaank called me, “Sir, I am with the car. Please come downstairs.”
I apologized to my student and colleague with whom I was discussing, “I have to leave. My mother is in the hospital.”
They were quite surprised to know, as I never mentioned it before. I told them, “She is doing fine. She had broken her ribs, and now she is recovering.”
Shashaank was driving me quite fast to the hospital. I asked him to slow down, “You should not drive with this speed in the campus.”
I found the ambulance was at the step of the hospital, and the doctors were waiting there. No sooner my mother was carried into the emergency room, they rushed there. A green curtain was drawn, and the doctors were treating my mother inside. I was sitting in the bench outside. I knew this procedure. Ten days before my mother came for admission. She was taken to the room, and was performed preliminary investigations then. I was waiting for the curtain to be drawn open, and my mother would be taken to her cabin. Jhuma was inside. A few minutes later, she came outside looking very troubled. She told me, “I do not know what will happen? Her condition becomes very critical.”
I was dumb founded. I rushed to the room, and found a doctor was frantically giving message to my mother’s chest. There was a machine where a red dot was jumping here and there. I was looking at that dot and hoping that it would show all the energy of resurgence. But it did not. It became flat and dead.

When everybody left the room, I went to see my mother, still warm sleeping in peace without any sign of pain in her face. Probably my mother had no idea that she was leaving this world without a word of good bye to anyone. Within a few minutes without giving any notice, the great magician vanished my mother, and left me mesmerized. He turned my world upside down – a world without my mother.


Monday, 12 December 2016

The CV of a fighter

“Sir, I would like to discuss with you about my CV.”
The moment I left the lecture room, Arup (not his real name) requested me. I got a bit irritated! My lecture slot was the one before the lunch break. I was hungry enough to rush to my residence. At that point, I was not really in a mood to discuss anything in this world. Moreover, what was there to discuss about the CV of a person like Arup, who had just submitted his PhD thesis, and was looking for a Postdoctoral opportunity abroad? But, I have been interacting with him for past several years, and like his sincerity and dedication as a researcher. He is also such a composed person, that it is difficult to ignore him.  I tried to understand why he was making such a strange request to me. Then I could remember that he did badly in his Higher Secondary examination. Probably his past academic records were bothering him, and he was feeling nervous for applying abroad. Five or six years ago, he tried to get an admission for PhD in our Department. But we had set a higher cut-off for the senior school examination marks, while short-listing a candidate. So Arup could not manage to get a call. He was quite disappointed in our first meeting, when I pointed out this while going through his CV, and could not keep his request on extending a special consideration on this matter. That would have been the end of the story of our interaction, had I not found him a few months later greeting me with extreme happiness and excitement, “I got an admission to the PhD program here!” I was surprised, but happy to know that he had been selected in one of our sister Departments.

Though he was not working under my supervision, he used to visit me at my office for seeking some advice, or discussing on certain matters. Initially, those were rare. But for last two years, he was quite regular in meeting me, once or twice in a month. He used to make a formal appointment before coming for a discussion. He is very methodical and systematic. Before coming for a discussion, he would have informed me the topic on which we would be discussing. He would also mail me a few related research papers on that topic. While initiating a discussion, he used to brief me about the work going on, and draw my attention to principles and theories behind them. So finally, at the end of our hour long intellectual exercise, I was not convinced who was the real beneficiary out of that process.  My role was mostly meant for understanding and confirming his analysis. Yet Arup continued these occasional randevu by knowing perfectly well about my limitations, and ignoring my ignorance in general. He kept me regularly updated about his progress, and showed me the review comments on his papers. When his first publication came out in a top journal, one day he came to my office with a state of supreme happiness for presenting me the print of his published work. I was moved by his simplicity in sharing his pride and joy on the maiden journal publication.

I wanted to settle the matter fast, and told him, “Is it your HS performance that bothering you? But, what can you do? If you feel, you may add a few statements on your background, acknowledging that you were not well prepared then, but you did pick up well at later stages.”
He smiled, “That’s not exactly in my mind! If I do not tell everything, you may not be able to understand!”
I still insisted, “Your honest acknowledgment may have a positive effect.”
He stressed upon, “What is there to acknowledge, when the fact is already placed before? I have other issues too. Can you spare some moment? I need to explain you my background. That would help you to advise me.”
That was what Arup-like! I could sense that though it was not going to be a technical discussion parse, it was the same protocol he was following by setting up the agenda and its background before initiating a discussion. Though my lunch at home was waiting for me,  I became interested to listen to him, and took him to my office.

Arup is a very calm and quiet person. He speaks softly, and there is a bit of monotony in his presentation of ideas and thoughts. Yet, you could feel the sincerity and seriousness in his utterances. He was still hesitating to start, “Actually, there are several problems in reporting my academics and experiences in my CV.”
I could see that he was not feeling comfortable, and often looking aside, while speaking these words.
“For some reason, you could not do well in the HS,” I tried to open up the discussion.
He looked at me for a moment, and then said, “That time I was going through a severe depression. I was on medication, and I really could not do well in my examinations.”
“Whatever! You might not have done well then, but you recovered,” I tried to comfort him.
“Actually, there was something more,” he interrupted me. “I never mention it in my CV. I did also a BSC then.”
“How was its performance?”
“Not good. In between, I also cleared DOE A level certification course.”
“That’s not easy! I understand, it is equivalent to BE in CS.” I tried to cheer him up.
“Not exactly. It is at the diploma level.”
“But still, that is difficult. How did you prepare yourselves?”
“On my own.” He replied.
“That’s an achievement!” I appreciated him and asked, “How was your performance?”
“Not remarkable. But I got the best project award in the Eastern zone. I developed software for the Central Blood Bank.”
“Then? When did you take admission in an Engineering college?”
“I will tell you. I am coming to that point.  I was working in the insurance sector. I was quite successful there. I had a good clientele, and was making good money. I was not holding any regular salaried position.  I was working as an agent.  But, I was not satisfied with what I was doing then. So, when I got an opportunity, I joined Siemens”
“That must be a good turn around for you. This experience can be shown in your CV. I am sure you did that.”
“No, it is not,” he negated my assumption. “The problem is that I cannot mention that period in my CV.”
“They did not offer me any regular position.”
“Were you working in a project with temporary assignment?”
“Some sort of!”
“Why don’t you mention that?”
“But, I do not have any certificate of experience from them.”
“Oh! When was it?”
“It should be around 95-96.”
“So after that you took admission for a BE program?”
“No, that was not the case. Actually, things got little more complicated.” He again avoided my eye contact, and then continued, “As I had some experiences with the insurance sector, in Siemens they were interested to offer me a position in their accounting department. But I was interested in working in software development. If I have to do accounting, I could do whatever I was doing earlier. So, I returned to my Insurance business. This time I was misled, and committed some grave mistakes. I took agencies of some of the chit funds.”
“Which companies?” I got apprehensive, after knowing the recent turmoil and trauma faced by agents, and clients of various ponzi schemes across West Bengal.
“Verona, and Overland – those were the two companies.”
“Yep! I also heard their names. Were they also chit fund companies?”
“Yes. I could convince my clients to make considerable investment there. But these companies as usual cheated, and vanished with all the money of the depositors. I was not prepared at all. Overnight my clients owed me a few lakhs of rupees! Those were horrific days for me! I was dammed and chased after! Though, my family supported me. With their help, I could return the sum. But I did not know how I had spent those days and months. At one point of time, I attempted suicide.”
There was a moment of pause. With some hesitation, I asked him, “What did you do?”
He had a queer smile in his face, but, this time he looked straight at me. He told, “I took a good number of sleeping pills. Actually, if you take that quantity and quietly go to sleep, it may not have that much fatal effect on you. Most of the drug would have passed with your urine. But, what I did after taking that many number, I did exercises, I jogged, walked, jumped, and exhausted myself out.”
“Consciously?” I asked.
“ Yes. So it had a good toll on me. I was not supposed to survive. For a long time, I was in a hospital.”
He paused for a while, and then continued, “It took a few years to do away with my depression. I was fortunate to be treated by a good Psychiatrist. He was my father’s friend. He spent long hours with me, and took me to different cases of suicidal attempts. I saw many of these people, who got crippled due to their attempts, and were spending miserable lives. I felt lucky. At least, I was surviving as a whole! Finally, this gentleman suggested me to go for academics. He said all my frustrations were due to not being satisfied with my academics. So, I sat for the Joint Entrance Examination, and enrolled myself to an Engineering college.”
“In which year?”
“In 2002.”
“How old were you then?”
“I was born in 1973.”
“I did my BE in 2006, and then I appeared for GATE, and did ME in Jadavpur. That was in 2008. After that I took admission here. Now, I have to decide what I should do after submitting my thesis.”
“What is your plan?”
“I have a few offers from software companies.”
“What are they?”
He named two of them, one is in Kolkata and the other one in Bangalore. Both of them are interested in him for his research background.
“That’s good. Why don’t you join in any one of them?” I suggested.
 “But, I prefer to go to academics,” he declared.
“How was your BE and ME performances.”
“You have a few good journal publications. Yet it may be difficult to get entry in a good Institution with your poor academic records,” I was sorry to disappoint him with my candid judgment. I wished that, I am wrong.
“That is why, I want to do a Postdoc. Do you think it would help?”
“It may. But Postdoc is not a degree, and at your age, I would suggest you should go for a job. Postdoc may push you to further uncertainty”
“But, I will not be happy unless the job is research oriented.”
“Are they not?”
“On the face, they are. But actually it may not be so! I have some idea while working earlier. There is no independence. I would prefer a Postdoc position. You already suggested me a place. But, tell me now what should be there in my CV?”
I had no answer. How do you put a person’s struggle and overcoming of barriers at various stages of life, in our barren academic CVs? Do the mere count of publications, exam results, laurels and distinctions speak everything about us? I said, “Try with what you have presently.”
 By looking at his smiling face, it occurred to me that Arup was also not expecting any solution from me. He knew that he could not write many things in his CV. His unexplained breaks between degrees would remain unanswered to the outside world, and might impede his opportunity to get a position there. Yet, he was prepared to raise his fight to the next level for pursuing something great in his life. He was aware of his precarious past and nervous about his uncertain future. Yet, he was carrying all the excitement at the prospect of realizing his dream for becoming an academician and independent researcher.
Hats off to you, Arup! Good luck!


Monday, 16 February 2015

Lokpal and the color of corruption

Almost three and a half years passed, since I wrote this commentary on the movement for Lokpal bill led by Sri Anna Hazare.  Presently, the hulla-bolla of Lokpal seems to reach its fate accompli.  Moreover, some of the past comrades of Annaji have recently occupied the seat of power in the state of Delhi, and raised the expectation of Aam Admi in providing fair and just governance. It would be interesting to see their adjustment and political realignment in the prevailing system. Under this context we may revisit the events of August 2011, and my understanding of the movement at that stage.

It appears that a large section of so called civil society of India are emotionally charged by the hunger strike of Sri Anna Hazare, and are joining his bandwagon for placing his version of Lokpal Bill to fight the corruption in the Government machinery. They consider that the Lokpal is the messiah for upholding democracy in this country, as it will make the Babus and Netas accountable, and enforce transparency in their dealings with private citizens. Interestingly against a far more blatant violation of civil rights, we have not heard these voices so loud and clear. We have not seen mainstream media’s outcry against the most uncivil laws practiced in different parts of this country (e.g., AFSPA in Manipur). Hardly there is any coverage and support for activists like Irom Sharmila Chanu, who is on hunger strike years after years (since the year 2000) for their withdrawal. We have not found these champions of democracy to go for a hunger strike when Vinayak Sen, the dedicated doctor serving rural people of Chhatishgarh and leading a social movement for people’s health and economic upliftment, was kept in prison for more than a year with flimsy charges. They were all mute listeners to our roaring Home Minister who labels any civil citizen as supporter of ultra-left violence, if he / she raises voice against the state repression on common people and repression of political activists fighting against such atrocities. Now these champions of transparency and corruption-free India have suddenly stormed the capital with the slogan of formation of Lokpal Institution for fighting the menace. Even a section of media hails their movement as another freedom struggle.  Mainstream opposition political parties are also happy to join the frenzy and commotion of volatile mass, which can overshadow their links with major business houses and their corrupt patronage to them, as the color of corruption in the eyes of Annaji is ‘Sarkari’.

Interestingly, Government is also more than ready to bring the Lokpal Bill, which is to be tabled in the Parliament in the current session.  But Annaji and company want their versions in word by word to be accepted, even if Parliament is not willing to pass them. Even more surprising is the fact that these two versions have cosmetic differences, such as whether to bring the office of Prime Minister under its purview, whether it should be able to judge the judges, how the selection committee should be formed, whether an MP’s participation in the parliament is under its jurisdiction, whether the CBI should be merged with the Lokpal, etc. All these could have been resolved in the parliament during the passing of the bill and bringing amendments to it. However, the peaceful Gandhian and his supporters started burning the copies of the Government’s version, and demanded complete adoption of their version by any means. The Government also on its own rationale, chooses to heighten the tension between two camps. They could have considered so called civil society’s version for the parliamentary debate, and resolved it there. In stead, the Congress party started attacking the individual members, questioning their integrity, and subsequently the Government allowed the situation to embroil into a state of confusion and anarchy. They arrested Annaji and their associates, and are successful enough to bring the Lokpal in the forefront of antigovernment demonstration.  

Why Lokpal?

One thing is clear from the shadow fight of these two opposing camps. Both of them apparently agreed upon the fact that the present constitutional bodies for checking corruption failed abysmally. From their eagerness of looking for an alternative institution, we can infer that our executive bodies and judiciary are either incompetent or corrupt to handle this corruption. We need a separate constitutional body, which should be specially targeted to punish the rogue elements in the government machinery. Lokpal appears to be a ready-made solution under this context. It is under consideration of parliament for decades. But neither the present, nor the past Governments, which included oppositions as well, had any intention of tabling it.  So the credit goes to Annaji, as he took the opportune moment of exposure of a series of scams and corruption involving different Ministries and a section of MPs, and mobilized his supporters with favorable media coverage for the constitution of Lokpal. What is amazing, is the promptness with which the Government accepted the demand, and subsequently, almost all the political parties, which were not so keen on passing Lokpal bill so far, started favoring its speedy adoption. Annaji and his team became buoyant with their negotiated success, and went for a glorious celebration. The Government also was more than happy to trap an opportunity of showing its face of reformation, when it has practically nothing to offer to the people in the face of rising inflation and under-employment.
Brickbats between two camps

What confuses us is that, even after Government’s assurance on formation of Lokpal, there is no lessening of antigovernment rhetoric from the opposing camp. They rejected the draft produced by the Government, and placed their own version to the public. However, to a non-partisan person, they would appear by and large in conformity. There are differences, but they are not as significant as asking for any revolutionary change in the social or political structure of this country. However, Annaji and his associates are adamant on insisting their version to be passed in the parliament. In fact, they virtually want to override parliament’s independent review, and dictate their own terms in this regard. Their uncompromising attitude towards any deviation from it has created the present impasse. Let us try to understand why they are acting so defiant?  What is there in the Government draft, which made them so much impatient?

It appears both the parties are eager to protect their own interests in their own domain.  The government wants to have its greater say in the constitution and running of Lokpal, and at the same time, tries to protect its functionaries from the harassment of frequent frivolous complaints, as expected to be a defeating outcome of this exercise. The activists on the other hand want to keep themselves out of this scrutinizing process and reject any accountability of making charges, whatever may be the basis and motivation of the complainants. As many of them run through private patronage and work in forming NGOs and Societies, they also want to keep the functionaries of these organizations, out of the gambit of Lokpal. They consider that it may lead to possible harassment from the Government.   However, it does not fit with their vision of justice from a Lokpal, as an independent body, free from the intervention of Government.

Heroes and villains

The basic presumption of anticorruption lobby is that the source of corruption is Government machinery. To substantiate this argument, they cite evidences of   roles of a section of MPs / MLAs/ Ministers/ Judges/ Bureaucrats / Public servants, etc., on scams, those came into surface in recent years. They hail roles of journalists and media, civil right activists, retired judges, and lawyers for exposing the corruption, and want to strengthen the process through formation of Lokpal, their own version of Lokpal. To them corruption is a result of aberration of an individual’s own integrity and honesty. For tackling them the society requires vigilance on these functionaries.  As there are villains, there should be heroes as well in this highly tensed drama. Our heroes, with the help of Lokpal, will punish these unruly horses. So self-styled guardians of our civil society are hogging the limelight of media, and posing themselves as the messiah of corruption-free India. For the Government and the political parties backed up by business houses and private sectors, it is very convenient to subscribe this theory. They need not look into social causes and face various unpleasant questions on the source of corruption. To them a fasting Anna is more than welcome, than a Sharmila of Manipur. So Lokpal is the right choice for the right moment. Only it is a matter of bargaining between our politicians and so called guardians; how they will use the Lokpal for their glory and maneuvering.

Color of corruption

The question, which remains unuttered in this process, is the role of corporate houses in systematic corrupt practices in Government machinery.  Every scam is associated with big and small corporate houses. It is difficult to leave exception of any particular big business house, which has not taken part in this game. Even usual judicial procedure recently indicted a few higher officials of those corporations, and put them on trial. It is their money power that corrupts or attempts to corrupt individuals in every sphere, whether it is Sarkari or Besarkari. It is a recurring phenomenon, and still Lokpal is meant for checking the Government functionaries only. There is no check or vigilance on the practices in the corporate house, on their employment of lobbyists, hosting social gatherings, influencing media coverage, participating in various Government committees and influencing decision on promoting their business, etc. There is no mention what punishment society should reserve for them for amassing wealth through these means. Even within these corporations, there are corruptions related to stealing employee’s benefits, evading taxes, etc. Lokpal is silent on these matters.  In the rhetoric of our anti-corruption activists, not a single word is spared on these matters. One may argue that there are other laws for handling them. But are they effective to tackle them? Then, why should not a separate institution like Lokpal be formed for tackling them? It is unfortunate that our so called civil society and also the media promoting them are silent on this issue, when the color of corruption becomes ‘Besarkari’. There are awards and patronage for them from these corporations. A section of media is also run by big corporate houses.  Naturally, they should not pursue these unpleasant questions with the same zeal, they showed otherwise for the ‘Sarkari’ corruption. The same is true for political parties and their Governments protecting vested interests of these houses. In this regard, there is little difference between Annaji and Soniaji. They are brothers and sisters on the same boat.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

A Friendly Investigation

I love reading detective stories. My favorites are from Satyajit Ray, and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, who created immortal Bengali detectives like Feluda and Byomkesh. It is both exciting and exhilarating to read their exploits, which usually culminate by a grand exposure of the truth behind a crime connecting all missing dots in a sequence of events! However, till date I still carry this doubt, whether such a species called private investigator exists in reality. Even if so, I wonder, in real life how he (she) unfolds a mystery before an august audience, or whether at all, gets an opportunity to do so! I never met a person with such distinction, nor heard any such story from a firsthand account; except in one occasion, I did experience something similar. I was then in the second year of my study in this Institute. The story I would like to share, requires a brief intro of my early hostel life here. Let me put them on record. My only rider with this narration is not to take any of my friends’ names seriously. They are all fictitious. Neither the dialogues are very authentic. Most of them are notional. I am left with shoddy outlines of those events, and hopelessly trying to connect those missing dots.  
As a matter of fact, I never left this place since my admission here. I did all possible degrees in engineering here, and joined as a faculty member subsequently. Presently all our hostels are so crowded that hardly a room is singly occupied. But in our days, we had the luxury of enjoying our rights to exclusive privacy from the day one, as we stepped into that world; and what a world was revealed to a semi-urban boy of seventeen in its very first night! It’s not that I was not prepared!  More than thirty students from my college, where I studied for my high-school degree, were admitted that year in this Institute. Out of them around fifteen students got their accommodation in the same Hall (hostel), where I was also put. Before coming here, I did hear various horror stories about so called ragging by seniors from my friends. Though I was mentally prepared to face them, I had no idea in what form this terror would strike me. I was also taking comfort of the fact that a good number of my classmates would also be staying in the same hostel, and together we would find a way to face the situation. So when my father accompanied me to my hostel with the luggage, I implored him to leave me at once. I was worried, if anything unpleasant occurs before him, he might feel humiliated and insulted.

It was around lunch time. After seeing off my father at the gate, I went straight to the mess (dining hall). I took a tray from the counter, and looked for a seat in a table. There seated all strange faces before me. Out of them I did find a familiar figure and face. It was my friend, the math-genius, and once a room mate in my previous residential school, who must have arrived there before me. But hardly could I recognize him! If he was not distinguished by his thick glasses and a very fair complexion, I could have missed him as well! Where was his curly and fluffy hair, for which he was so proud of? Even he was ready to defy then the dictate of an Army commandant, who was supervising our NCC drill, for retaining his long hair. But, at that moment it was mowed too heavily to acknowledge its fragile existence on his unusually big head. To my eyes it looked worse than what he had once suffering the trauma of my experimental hair-cut! Moreover, there was no trace of his nicely trimmed moustache and beard in his clean shaved face, which he was carrying otherwise a few months ago! Anyway, I was very glad to see him, and sought relief from his presence in this seemingly hostile and unknown territory! He was taking lunch almost without looking at anyone. So I did not receive any greetings from him, when I took my tray beside him, and dropped myself on a chair. I asked, “When did you come?”
He whispered, “Don’t talk to me.”
He moved his eyeball around trying to make me aware of the charged atmosphere fuming around me.
“Good afternoon, Professor!” It seemed someone greeted me in front with a hissing sound. I looked up, and found a lanky frail figure; wearing a colorful kurta (a long shirt) addressing me. In fact, there were a few other strangers, strangely smiling at his remarks. I could sense the teasing tone from his voice, but I could not help replying back, “Good afternoon!”
“Good afternoon!” he mocked me back, and sat on a chair beside me, “What is your name, Professor?”
I told my name.
“Do you know mine?
How could I? That was our first meeting! I said, “No.”
“Well you should. Look Tano! What a great moustache our Professor has!”
“Leave it Bhox! He just arrived.” Tano took pity on me. But, Bhox continued, “Not till our Professor promises me that he should get rid of it. And if you don’t, I will chop the half of it. The other half you could carry if you wish! Will you not?”
I remained silent as I did not have any idea how to respond. Bhox still continued, “And what a lovely hair you have? A real hero! But look at! Ouch! Does a hero wear chappals (leather slippers)? Dear Professor, you need a genuine shake up! Wait for the evening!” Fortunately my tormentor had to hurry up for afternoon classes. I had to run also to my new Department, where an orientation class was supposed to be held.

During the orientation session the professors of my Department were getting introduced to us. We were about thirty five in number, and majority of them were from my college (high school) and two other Institutions of Calcutta. That year from my college, more than thirty students took admission here, and out of them twelve (including me) were placed in my Department. We were told about different facilities, and opportunities in the Department. However, I was not very attentive to those lectures, as I was worried about the unknown horror waiting for me in the evening.  I met my high-school classmates there too. All of them bore the signature of a thin hair-cut and a moustache-less appearance.  Kobi, an old pal, looking at me told, “What kind of preparation you had my dear! You are going to die tonight.”
I told, “Why?”
He hushed, “You have not shaved your moustache, kept long hair, wearing a Chappal instead of shoe! Didn’t you know that those are to be observed here? This is ragging period yaar (friend)!” 
I took surprise in the tone he was talking to me. We studied together for past two years, and interacted quite often. But I never heard him talking with such a dramatic intonation. I frankly admitted that I was completely in dark. I enjoyed my happy moments for past two months in my home after the HS (Higher Secondary) examination. Though I was apprehensive about the infamous ragging of this Institute, I did not make much effort to know these details. Rather my parents were more worried than me. There was a person who graduated that year itself from our town. My father contacted him and brought a reference letter from him. I was asked to produce that letter to one of my seniors in my Hall in case I had any trouble. That’s all the preparation I had. There was another worry for me. I confided to him, “I do not have any shoe presently. I am not used to it.”
“Well! You are in deep trouble, Brother! Better get a pair. Go to Gole-Bazar (a market place in our town). Have your hair cut, and buy a pair of shoe.”

 I took his advice. No sooner than our introduction was over, I left the place, took a rickshaw and went to Gole-Bazar. Fortunately, my father gave me enough money for my initial settlement. That saved my day. By then, I was knowledgeable enough about various protocols that needed to be followed during those initial days, so called ragging period; a period lasting for a first few weeks. After that every freshman had the equal right of freedom and justice as others. How long could the period be? It could be a month; it could be a few days. All depended upon the whims and rationales of a few senior students. So I was not sure how long we had to wait for our days of redemption. During my whole ride by that rickshaw, I was making a mental list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ that I learned from my friends. First, wishing a senior was an integral part of the protocol, and one had to address him honoring his temporary knighthood in that period. Moreover, the trick of getting a reprieve from a person was to remember his name fully from the first letter to the last including the acronymous middle part of it, and with a mandatory prefix ‘Mr.’ before the full name for every utterance.  Hearing such an honorable debriefing on his existence, any person in this world should possibly refrain from playing tricks with the messenger. Moreover, if I knew the name of a person, he needed to take additional precaution, for not becoming a catalyst to any untoward incident, which might get reported to the authority.  However, I was also warned that reporting to the authority may not bore well with the greater community of my new strange world, where I would be living for at least five years.

The market place was quite far from my Institute. It took about half an hour to reach there. It was in the middle of July, and occasionally it rained that day. But when I reached there, the afternoon was shining bright. To my delight I found the place quite clean and had enough space to roam around. It was not like any other usual crowded market place. After arriving there, first thing I did, was to find a saloon and luckily found an empty seat there. I always felt relieved, if I find that I do not have to wait in a cue to have my hair cut. It went smooth – a very special cut indeed; on my request the barber trimmed my hair twice. He also shaved my beard. When he thought that his job was done, I asked him to remove my moustache. He hesitated a bit and asked, “Are you sure?” I told him to go on.  It was a bit of consolation to me to know that I was not the only person there, who was unhappy at that moment. With great reluctance he finished his job.

With my new appearance, and a shining pair of shoe on my feet, I presented myself with a renewed confidence.  The moment I entered through the gate, I met a person gentle in appearance with a philosopher’s look behind thick glasses of spectacles. I greeted him, “Good Evening, Sir!”  
“Good Evening! What is your name?”
I told my name.
“Department?” Then he asked again, “Which School?”
When I told the name of my School, he was very pleased, “Oh! I am also from the same place! I heard this time a good many number have taken admission here.”
I confirmed.
“Good! Come with me. Don’t get afraid. I am Arunava Bose. Did you have your snacks?”
“No, Sir!”
“Then come with me in the mess.”  
Before going there, I went to my room and kept my belongings. Arunava scouted me the whole route. He advised, “I may have to act rough in front of others. You should not mind. Today, I will take to my room so that no one can disturb you. But you should not avoid anyone. Here, we like to see that you mix with everyone in this Hall.”
I followed him to our mess. Evening was not so bad. Arunava took me to his wing, and introduced me to his wing-mates. Some of them behaved rough and tough, but I realized soon that most of them were acting for some reasons. They intended to be as friendly as possible to us, yet not violating traditional unwritten codes of conduct in asserting their seniority to a new-comer.

I was a complete stranger in that world. It’s not that I was a beginner in my hostel life. I had already been a veteran for two years in that regard. That too was a college hostel, as our high-school study was done in a college. But the atmosphere in my new hostel was completely alien to me. It sounded so chaotic to me; it appeared so irrational, that it made a lasting impression on my study of human nature. Western rock and high-pitched metallic sounds were being played all around, intermittently mixed with sudden shrill voices with strange vocabulary.  We were advised many do’s and don’ts then. We came to know that there were infamous raggers in our Hall. Again there were also a few famous anti-raggers. If we show our attachment with those famous personalities, we might get into more trouble. The biggest challenge was to get the name of a senior. It might not be as trivial as it looked.  The honorable person in all likelihood won’t introduce himself. We had to get it indirectly, either listening to the names addressed toward him, or by searching them from their copy-books lying here and there. Sometimes they made fun of confusing freshers by calling their friends with wrong names.  Our introduction went on beyond two o’clock midnight. Finally, when all the neighboring tantrums seemed to ebb down, I was asked to go back to my room, with a piece of advice, “Don’t get caught by those night-mongers!” Fortunately I was not. After entering my room I simply threw myself on the bed, and went to sleep. Even I had no time to change my dress!

A half an hour later I woke up suddenly with sounds of banging and kicking at my door from the outside. Both the window and other objects in my room were vibrating with shouts of kicking and warning from outside. Still half asleep I replied on top of my voice, “Wait please!” and opened the door. Four strangers with full of aggression and abusing language pushed me into my room. The very first question they asked why I was sleeping. I had no answer; I already got used to such irrational questions before! Anyway, they went on observing their rituals in welcoming a freshman, with a half-hearted indirect introduction of them. As per rules of games, these spirited gentlemen did never utter their names to me directly. So the task was shared by others in a round about way. I went through these exercises with their mutual threatening and cooperation on this matter, and could wish a “Good Morning” to a few of them with their full names. Sometimes I needed to answer them by squatting myself on an imaginary chair. Then, they asked me, whether I knew where the Musoorie was. By that time, I was informed enough to know that, in that world Mussorie was not the famous hill station, but the empty box-space between the ceiling and the top of cemented wall racks of my room. I had to ride there, and jump from that height to the floor.  It seemed they were pleased enough on my compliance. Then, they took me out. A few others were also brought in the lawn in front of our wing. For half an hour, we paraded, ran a few races, and, got drenched in water thrown from top. Some of the late-night watchers of that gala show, leaning forward against the railings of their corridors in first and second floors, were occasionally throwing buckets full of water over us. Finally, our hall president intervened and requested them to allow us a few hours’ of sleep. That was my first night in this Institute!

We went through those first few fiery days testing our patience, and in turn, grew a sort of solidarity among us in the face of common humiliation. Many of us vowed for ending this abject irrational practice of welcoming new-comers. We were also encouraged by quite a few of the seniors, who shared similar views. But the opposition was in varied forms. Some felt the practice was necessary for integrating a new-comer in the melting pot of our cross-cultural tradition. Some took it as an avenue for hunting new talents among them, who might otherwise put themselves under the curtain of shyness. Some considered physical abuses abominable, though they favored teasing and mental subversion. A minority of them wanted to oppose this culture at any level, but they were afraid of getting labeled by a term ‘anti-ragger’, which had a stigma of social ostracization among the student community. There were some students who became famous by being a ragger, and a few by the tag ‘anti-ragger’. It appeared the politics in our Institute was largely affected by these two identities, and candidates of elections in Gymkhana and Hall councils counted support from the community for their respective causes. There was a bit of twist in this labeling also. ‘Anti-raggers’ were also equated with ‘commies’, as the most vocals among them openly professed their allegiance to communism. Naturally, it was difficult for a student to get himself enlisted in the camp of so called anti-raggers with a questionable political brand such as ‘communism’. In spite of that, most of our friends when we left our Hall at the close of our sessions in the first year, agreed that one need not be a communist to stop ragging, and that was what we would be doing in the coming session.  We went home happily thereafter to enjoy our first summer vacation.
Once I returned from my home and joined my fellow-mates, I found that same merriment and hulla-bolla (chaos) was going all around us, except the fact my own role had been reversed. I had to acknowledge to the greetings of fresh-comers with my freshly anointed temporary knighthood. To my surprise, I found most of my friends started enjoying their newly changed status, and acted roles of habitual bullies to them. I expressed my displeasure to them, and more often openly, which was straining my relationship with them. It happened so, even in my second year, I did not change my room, which was the usual practice for a senior to move up from the ground floor. However, most of my wing-mates decided to stay back so that we could move together in the next academic year.  Even my wing-mates also disappointed me, as I found them behaving in a no different way to a newcomer.  The lead role was taken by Shiva. He used to bring freshers to his room, and bullied them to a great extent. He also encouraged others to join him.  Being confronted by me on several occasions, he shouted at me once, “What is your problem? We are having fun? Either you join us, or you leave.”
I squarely told him, “I would not like to see anyone suffers in my wing. So, let us behave properly.”
My other wing-mates did not oppose me there, but neither did they show any solidarity to me. It appeared they had tacit support to shows led by Shiva.  According to them it was not a great deal, as there was no physical abuse taking place.  Though my role got reversed, I was still depriving my sleep during this period. I took the moral responsibility to move around my friends, and check them against committing any excesses.  I must admit, it was no less strainful than facing humiliation from a senior. Things were taking quite ugly turn. So two weeks later, quite a few of us, likeminded fellows, assembled together, and decided to blow the whistle to bring an end. The matter ended, when we got a report of such excessive abuse, and almost forced our hall mates to come to sense and stop then and there.  That night itself the unofficial ‘official’ declaration from the seniors flagged down the welcoming season of newcomers.

Our days were moving fast with classes, assignments, and evening-addas (informal meets of friends for gossips and chit-chats). In that evening, all of us assembled in one such session in Samar’s room. Our Puja Vacation was just over. So we were sharing our funs and exploits of that season. Samar was my neighbor. I had already grown a good friendship with him. We used to take a long walk in the neighborhood in and around our campus almost in every afternoon. He was also my lab-partner. Besides Samar and me my other two wing mates Shiva and Paritosh were there. In addition, two of my friends from another wing also joined with us. KK and Bishu came from the wing opposite to our block (a unit of a three storied building) in its first floor. Both of them were great followers of sports, in particular, football. KK was a zealous supporter of East Bengal, and Bishu was fanatic on Mohun Bagan. So, whenever they used to meet, they started their mock fight over claims and counterclaims of various feats of their teams. We also used to take part in that teasing, as each of us too belonged to one of these camps and enjoy the fun of expressing our camaraderie to our co-supporters.  In that season, both the teams shared the IFA shield. As there was no conclusive proof of reigning supremacy of any of them, the debate on their ranking was used to be quite intense. Added to it, we had our funs in comparing greatness of our cricketers.  There too KK and Bishu differed. While KK was a fan of Viswanath, Bishu worshipped Gavaskar.  In that evening also, we had those usual jeering and cheering of their respective teams and sports personalities. Samar, seated on his chair, was making occasional puns and twists of words in these gossips. He was very popular among us. He was a natural talent of fine arts. He could play Tabla and Flute, was a good actor and could draw sketches nicely. The biggest charm of his behavior was his simplicity, and always carried a smiling face in every situation. Like Samar, Shiva was also popular with my hall mates. He was a typical urban boy. He was tall, could mix well with others, maintained a Bachhan-styled hair, and tried to mimic his art of speaking for impressing others. However, rarely I could get along with him. It was not a secret between us, neither to others. Shiva used to lead all this discussion to his favorite topics on girls and sex, which were not to my taste, and I used to express my displeasure. Likewise, I also detested his cheap porn jokes, which he used to crack often. I was surprised, how a person like Samar started enjoying his jokes and mannerism. My other two wing-mates, Dipten and Paritosh, with whom I grew intimacy, were nice and gentle. Dipten was a reserved person. He was formal in his interaction, and used to maintain a distance, while Paritosh was more open, but quiet.

Our adda started with usual exchange of information and teasing on our exam preparation. Then it turned toward sports and movies, and finally settled with Shiva’s hot topics on his recent exploits with his girlfriends in Puja Pandaals. The audience was quite enjoying and appreciating his story of tricking a girl with usual punctuations of slangs and lingos of teen agers.  The story was yet to be finished, when suddenly Dipten knocked the door, and entered the room in haste. Finding all of us there, he announced with a serious tone, “I am sorry, I am interrupting you. But I thought I must inform you all.”
Samar asks, “What’s the matter boss? You look so serious.”
“I am not getting a few hundred rupee notes. I kept them in my purse. It was lying on my table. Someone must have stolen it.”
Samar exclaimed, “No way Boss! Are you sure you did not lose your money somewhere else?”
“I am quite definite. There were two hundred rupee notes. I counted them even in this afternoon. Within these two hours they got stolen.”
Shiva commented with an irritation in his voice, “What is happening yaar! We should be careful about outsiders.”  He looked quite disappointed at not being able to finish his story.
Dipten told with conviction, “It’s not an outsider. Who is going to come in these hours? Moreover, I was around. Only for a few minutes, I had a brief chitchat with Paritosh. I was clearing my doubt over a Fortran program.”
Paritosh confirmed, “Yes! Yes! You came to my room. Did you lock your room?”
“No. It was only for a few minutes. Usually I lock the door, if I am away for a longer duration. Of course, right now I kept it locked, you see.”
Dipten was naturally very upset on loosing his money. There was a bit of silence. KK told, “Parui was also telling he was not getting a few bucks in his room. He was not sure whether he lost them somewhere else.”
Bishu added, “Not only Parui, Jode too had lost.”
Paritosh confirmed, “Yes. He told me the other day; he was not getting his money. So may be, this stealing is going on for sometimes.”
Everybody looked quite alarmed. I commented, “It means somebody from us is stealing our money. Otherwise, it cannot be such a frequent affair.”
Shiva shouted with excitement, “What are you saying? How is it possible that one of us is stealing?”
Samar too supported him, “No way, Boss! It must be an outsider. Why don’t we catch that milkboy or the dhobi? We might get a clue!”
The mood of that evening dramatically got changed. Our adda also came to an end. Bishu and KK went to their rooms as they had to study for the exam. Shiva too left saying he had to finish some assignments. I was also about to leave, but stopped when I heard Dipten saying, “I suspect a person.”
“How come?” Samar asked.
“He took a book from me to read, and later being asked denied of having it. So I went to his room and found it lying on his table. Of course, he apologized, and swore by Goddess Kali that he had forgotten about it. But I doubt; it appeared to be intentional.”
“No way!” Samar still could not agree.
Paritosh said, “I also suspect someone. Most likely we are talking about the same person.”
We found Dipten and Paritosh eyed each other and smiled, as if they reached a consensus. We pleaded, “Tell us. Whom do you suspect?”
They did not oblige us. Paritosh only told, “It was also a book. Once he took my JT Bell (A book on coordinate geometry written by Robert J.T. Bell, and identified here by the name of the author). When I asked he denied. Then I found the book on his table. It was a new one, and my name was not yet written there. He insisted that he owned that copy. But I could find a few exercises marked by me with pencils. However, he was very adamant and not to be convinced. I could not say more.”
Samar told, “Oh? Why don’t you ask that bastard to return your book?”
Paritosh said, “You know. I am not good at shouting and quarreling.”
I told, “But others should be warned. Let us inform our wing mates.”
Both Paritosh and Dipten almost simultaneously told, “Please no! It may lead to false accusation and a loss of face for all of us.”
I suspected Shiva as the person meant by both Paritosh and Dipten, almost immediately. But I was afraid to ask them by naming him as I was already known not in good terms with him. So I might appear mean to them and unfairly biased against him if he was truly innocent in their affairs. So I went to my room with the anxiety of knowing that one of us had the habit of stealing. Next day I asked the coordinate geometry book from Shiva. He gave it to me. I searched for pencil markings in exercises, and found them quite easily.

So I confided to Paritosh about my suspicion. He readily agreed that he also meant Shiva the other day. We went to Samar, and later called Dipten. We all shared that piece of information, and decided not to disclose our suspicion to anyone unless we could find any proof of Shiva’s involvement in stealing money. We started also observing the wings where Shiva was visiting, and found that he was occasional visitor of those rooms from where moneys were stolen. One evening we again heard that there was another incident of stealing. This time it happened to Subir who was my schoolmate as well. He brought money from his home for paying mess bills. The amount was about Four hundred rupees. I met him in his room, and wanted to know how the money was stolen, and who the persons were visiting these days. He had no specific answer to my queries, and did not mention anyone’s name in particular, but we knew that Shiva often did go to their wing for a gossip.  I consoled Subir saying that one of us in our Hall must be in that horrible business and the thief won’t stop unless he found himself in our trap. Hence, there was a good possibility of recovering his money.

Though we were suspecting Shiva, we were careful enough not to give any hint to him. Neither, we disclosed it to others. He was interacting with us with his typical mannerism and carefree attitude. Once he asked me, “What is happening boss? We need to be careful about our money. I heard Subir also had lost his bucks.”
I told him, “Yes, it’s quite unfair. He came from a needy family, and it would put him in great difficulty.  He has to pay his mess-dues. Anyway, we have to find the culprit.”
He teased me, “Are you people after someone? After all, Subir is one of your schoolmates, and so many of you are here. You must be doing something.”
“Yes, we also felt we need to act. But, It’s difficult. Whom to suspect?  Let’s see.”
“Tell me boss. If I need to do anything, I am available.”
He expressed his sincerity in tracking down the culprit.  

Paritosh finally suggested, “Let’s check his bank account. If he is stealing, he must have been depositing it in his account.”
“How could we?”
“I will get his pass book, and give it for an update. He has given me one of his room keys.”
Paritosh did get the book from his room, and we all went to the bank for updating it. To our surprise, there were really a few deposits within this period, and our suspicion became firm from that day.

We were not sure how we could get a conclusive proof of his involvement. Even the deposits in bank accounts were indicative, not enough for challenging him. However, the providence played its role.  We were not at all prepared for the chain of events unfolded next. This was how our investigation ended, rather unusual and a bit of anticlimax compared to what we find in finishing pages, paragraphs or sentences of a detective story. Nevertheless, that was exciting too. The evening started as usual. I was in my room studying for the end-sem exams, which were scheduled after a fort-night.  Suddenly, I got a knock at my door and heard an excited voice calling my name. I found Arun and Jyoti outside my room. They informed me, “Parimal’s money was stolen, and Shiva was seen there a few hours ago.” By that time, some of my friends might have guessed that we were after the thief, and Shiva was a possible suspect. I immediately called Samar and Paritosh, and went to Shiva’s room. He was inside, and opened the door. I told him, “There is another report of stealing. This time Parimal is the victim. Let us search everyone’s room, and find out whether the money is there.”
Paritosh added, “Parimal was intelligent enough to write the numbers of those notes, as all this stealing were going on. There should not be any difficulty in identifying the stolen bucks.”
I stared at Shiva, but he appeared unmoved.
Shiva told, “Search Boss! This is not fair. But what can I do?”
He remained seated on his chair during our operation. We were so desperate that we were looking for the money at every possible place in his room. We searched his bed, books. He also opened his suitcases. But of no avail. I had to be always apologetic during this operation, however with dogged determination we went on carrying out the search. I exclaimed, “We should also search our pockets. Let us try that.” But when we turned our heads and looked for him, we did not find him there. He was nowhere to be seen. He left his room by then. But a few minutes later, we heard Jyoti running and shouting with excitement, “Shiva was caught red handed. He was found keeping the money over the flush-tank in a toilet. Parimal was following him and caught him in his act.”
That night itself Shiva was sent home accompanied by some of our friends. He did not face us after being caught, neither we were interested in getting us into any further embarrassment. He had to skip his year of study. His mother approached us for a possible reconciliation allowing him to stay in our wing, and completing his study for that year. But so hotheaded were we then, we rejected her request. I regretted later for our impoliteness to her. Shiva rejoined our Institute a year later, and he finished his study one year after we graduated. During his remaining years in our Hall, he maintained a low profile, hardly speaking with any of us. However, in his final year, when I was doing my Masters here, we had our rapprochement. We met occasionally and exchanged greetings.  Once we played a few games of chess in one of our in-house competitions. He was a better chess player, and defeated me quite easily!