Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Three Dogs in Our Locality (Concluding Part)

He saw the chef running towards him with a big serving spoon!
“It was really not necessary to serve. I could have directly taken from the container. But Mukherjees are known for their hospitality” He told himself.
“You son of a bitch!” shouted the chef.
Kalu did not take any offence due to the mere mention of a fact. “It could have been little more polite” He thought.

He could feel that something had gone amiss when the chef added “I have not yet started serving my guest and you are already here to spoil it?” He was about to take off towards the exit in all fours when the long serving spoon caught him on the solder. He let out a high pitch painful sound “Whaoooo” followed by the typical cry of mongrels “Kaun, kaun, kaun….” and ran for the exit with his tail between his hind legs.

Near the gate he pulled himself up and thought that it might not be nice to look humiliated in front of his siblings. He pulled up his socks, gave a thorough shake up like all mongrels do to de-dust themselves and came out of the Pandal in as much dignified way as he could, smarting under his recent painful experience!

“What happened? You came out really fast” Inquired his siblings in surprise.

Gelam ar sathe sathe diye dilo (They served me as soon as I entered!)” Answered Kalu hiding his pain & humiliation and trying to look as cheerful and content as possible

His siblings were quite dejected to know that he was well served immediately on arrival and they were still hungry! “Somebody is really having all the lucks” They thought.

Still some time passed and nothing happened. The second one, who was smarter of the two thought “The brave ones are always rewarded”. He was, however, little scared to sneak into the Pandal. Finally the Hunger got the better of him.

“You better wait here. Let me sneak in to find out the reason for holdup” he told his third sibling and sneaked inside the Pandal. It did not take him long to reach his desired destination. This time the chef was prepared and noticed him immediately. “Oh! My GOD! I could not yet start feeding my guests and you have come back once again? Uttered the chef in surprise without knowing the difference. “Wait, I will give you a better treatment this time” Added the chef. Kalu’s second brother could understand that the welcome ceremony was not really proper. Before, however, he could take any evasive action, the chef scooped out some boiling water from a pot with his long ladle and threw at him!

Pain was excruciating! He let out a sound at a higher pitch “Whaoooo” followed by the typical cry of mongrels “Kaun, kaun, kaun….” and ran for the exit with his tail between his hind legs.
Near the gate he pulled himself up and thought that it might not be nice to look humiliated in front of his siblings. He gave a thorough shake up like all mongrels do to shake out water and came out of the Pandal in as much dignified way as he could, smarting under his recent painful experience!

“What happened? You also came out really fast” Inquired his third sibling in surprise.

Gelam ar garam garam diye dilo (They served me real hot!)” Answered Kalu’s second brother hiding his pain & humiliation and trying to look as cheerful and content as possible.

Kalu’s third sibling was quite dejected by now to know that one of his brothers was served immediately on arrival and the other was served real hot and he was still hungry! “I am really unlucky. Luck favors only the braves” He thought.

After sometime when things did not improve, the third brother could wait no more. “Enough is enough” He said to himself and sneaked into the Pandal for an on the spot survey. He could reach the kitchen without any difficulty but was confronted by the chef immediately. The chef was completely foxed! “My God! What a shameless dog?” Uttered the chef without understanding his mistake. “This time I am not going to let you go till I have entertained all my guests” said the chef and tied him to a bamboo post. When the dinner was over, the chef untied kalu’s third brother and gave him a kick for additional propulsion. Kalu’s third brother’s prestige was hurt but he did not want to show it to his siblings. He came out of the Pandal in as much dignified way as he could, smarting under his humiliation.

“What happened? You are so late? Inquired his siblings anxiously.

Chhartai chai na (Didn’t want to let me go!)” answered Kalu’s third brother hiding his humiliation and hunger and trying to look as cheerful and content as possible.

(Note for the animal lovers: This is not a true story. Just the fictionalization of a joke based on the double meanings (pun, best in Bengali) of the replies made by three dogs after their harrowing experiences. However, the plights of the mongrels in India, for that matter all over South East Asian Sub-continent, are no way better than what is depicted in this article.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Three Dogs in Our Locality!

Mongrels are everywhere in India. Every locality, be it a village or a city, can boast of a few, of different shapes and sizes. As puppies they really look cute & chubby. But when they grow up, they look either like underfed “Dingo” or malnourished “Fox Terrier” with shorter muzzle and longer tail!

They do not belong to anybody but the whole locality belongs to them. Though asleep most of the time, they are the first line of defence for a locality against intruders. Burglars are, however, spared. The burglars could always buy their flexible loyalties (like our politicians) with a few bread crumbs. With some more considerations they might even accompany the burglars to their destination!

It is still common in this part of the world to throw leftovers in open garbage cans. When hungry these mongrels will rampage through these garbage cans and “pick and choose” bones and other juicy morsels. Real peaceful coexistence!

Our locality also had its fair share of mongrels, the typical being a triplet! They were completely black and so identical that I doubted whether their mother could differentiate. We used to call them “Kalu

For the last few days they were very happy. They got the news that Arun Mukherjee’s niece was getting married within a couple of days. Marriage in a Bengali family is always a grand affair. There will be too much of good food, mostly choicest non-vegetarian dishes; too much of wastage and too much of leftovers in the garbage bin for the mongrels to celebrate! You could really “pick and choose” and had your fill!

They were monitoring the events very closely. A big Pandal (Enclosure) with bamboo frames with tarpaulin on top had been erected in front of Mukherjee’s house. The inside of the Pandal was decorated with colored velvet and satin clothing, giving the aura of Maharaja’s! It was divided into three sections. The front section, as you enter, was reserved for seating and wedding ceremony. Section on the left was for Indian style dining and buffet. The rear section reserved for cooking was the most interesting section for “Kalu”. Dinner in the evening would always be the grand finale for Bengali wedding!

On the fateful day, they took the strategic position near the garbage bin and were waiting for the good event to start. But nothing was happening! They were extremely worried.

“I really do not know what is happening? Bengalis really do not have any sense of time!” Growled Kalu.
Some more time past and the curiosity got the better of him.
“You two stay put. Let me just sneak in to find out what is holding them up”. Addressed Kalu to his siblings.
In no time he reached the cooking area. Smell was also very helpful as a direction finder. Though he overheard that the bride groom and his party would be coming late, he did not feel that it justified keeping guest like him waiting. Anyway he was never for small talks!

The cooking area was deserted. In the centre there was a serving table where all the dishes in their respective serving bowl were kept ready, with a thin muslin cover to keep away flies. He could not fathom “What is the matter?”

Kalu was simply overwhelmed! Fish Fry! Mutton Briyani! Chicken Chap!… ... My GOD! if he had set the menu himself!
“I think I should skip Salad and Raita and concentrate on non-veg” he told himself, licking his lips with the thought of impending gastronomical pleasure! He was about to start with the first course when there was an interruption! [To be continued.]

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Match Making (concluding part)

Like commercial break in TV serial there was a tea break. Two young boys in early teens who later introduced themselves as Archana’s brothers, entered with two trays laden with tea and sweets. Archana and her mother did not take anything except tea that too with our insistence.

Tea break gave some respite to Sanjay and Swapan who could concentrate in something sweeter than classical music and even could manage to ask a few mundane questions to Archana.

I was, however, not that lucky. I was already monopolized by Archana’s mother and her two brothers with tacit involvement of Archana. Earlier I was slowly getting out of my nervousness considering that I really do not have any stake in the selection processes. However, Swapan’s clarification about my coming to Delhi just added to my woes. To my horror I could see that Archana’s mother was more or less asking for my CV! It was more like Apu in Apur Sangsar (Apu’s world) where he had happened to be present in a marriage function and got drawn into playing the leading role. Archana’s mother must be knowing the oft repeated proverb a bird in hand is better than two in bush and could guess that I may be fulfilling two of the three main criteria for the romantic heroes for Mills & Boon. Though my Napoleonic height of 164 cm with socks could not be called tall with any stretch of imagination, I am sufficiently dark (My boyhood name kalu will confirm) and may not be positively ugly (….in the eyes of the beholder)! An Engineering degree (Whichever way I might have got it) and impending departure to Germany adding icing on the cake.

I, however, asked myself “Am I not making the whole scenario more complicated and may possibly be cheating Arup?” This was definitely not the original script. All just started in a much lighter note when I just joined as a lesser member of the team for the preliminary selection of a girl for somebody I do not even know. Friendship could be alright and that was also my original idea but any further emotional attachment will not serve the main purpose. I could understand that Archana’s mother, like mothers in general was working only from her heart but might not be with proper reasoning. More involvement from my side would only jeopardize the present proposal.

The conversation went on for some time till Sanjay thought about calling it a day. He assured Bhavani that he was quite satisfied with to-day’s meeting and would inform Arup and his family accordingly. “Wish you a happy journey” whispered Archana before we parted. I could only say “Thank you” with a meek smile.

Inside the car both Sanjay and Swapan jumped on me to vent out their frustration. Like children they were complaining that though I was supposed to play the fiddle, I just snatched the centre stage without giving them a friendly chance. No amount of my argument that I just wanted to help the damsel in distresses since they were more interested in the male members (Gay movement was not so strong in those days, otherwise it could have given me a better edge in my argument) could not cut any ice. They could have strangled me but for my long friendship with Swapan!

On reaching home we found Swapan’s mother and sister were eagerly waiting to know about the outcome. “Auntie, Biplab spoilt the whole thing” was the first remark made by Sanjay. “Whaaat? That is impossible!” remarked Swapan’s mother with her confidence on me slightly shaken. “Tell us in details what actually happened?” demanded Swapan’s sister. Sanjay and Swapan, with some meek protest from me in between, then explained in all gory details what all had happened. Verdict was prompt! “Biplab has not done anything wrong” declared Swapan’s mother (Being an underdog, I always get preferential treatment from ladies!) “Rather he has saved the situation. You two are to be blamed for what all happened. From tomorrow, I suggest, you two take classes on classical music. From what I gather the girl is quite a suitable match” added Swapan’s mother further. A smile on Swapan’s sister’s face confirmed that the judgment was unanimous!

Sanjay and Swapan were not really happy with one sided judgment but decided to meet Bhavani once again to collect some further details. But this time, only after I was safely packed abroad.

Next day I left for Germany and immediately got bogged down with my studies and adjustment with German culture which is so very different from ours.

I remembered Archana all the time and wished her well but have no clue to what finally happened, since in those days communication was not as easy between two far of continents and it would have of course seemed a bit awkward asking about friend’s …friend’s …friend’s probable fiancĂ©…

Even now sometime I ask myself “Did Archana expect anything from me? Did I deceive her in anyway?”

The question still haunts me like the cry of a red-wattled lapwing floating in the air and seeking answer night and day “Did-ye-do-it? Did-ye-do-it?”


Thursday, July 17, 2008

An apolitical view on Nuclear Deal & India's Energy Security

It is really commendable for Anil Kakodkar as chief of Atomic Energy Commission to accept reality and make a public statement “if we do not do it now, history will not forgive us”. He has, however, not elaborated constraints India is now facing except shortage in nuclear fuel supply. Statements from most of the political parties, both for and against, are full of rhetoric and pseudo idealism, not having any relevance to reality.

What is our energy requirement?Since we do not have any clear concept of our energy requirement, a few decades back one chief minister in West Bengal diverted fund for a thermal power plant for the construction of an indoor stadium with a myopic statement “Are we going to eat power?” That decision not only plunged the whole state into severe power shortage but also prompted many industries to relocate elsewhere. We do not eat power but we can not eat without power!

The energy requirement for a country is having a direct co-relation with its GDP growth depending on its living standard and its position in the development scale. Normally it varies between 0.7 to 2.5 times the GDP, inversely proportional to living standard. For 1% GDP growth, the energy requirement will grow by about 0.7% for USA and 2.5% for the least developed country. For India with its present state of development the factor is approximately 2 out of which a factor of 1.5 could be assumed for power generation. If we consider an average GDP growth of 7% (more than that on a sustainable basis will be a foolish thinking with any form of coalition government; in democracy you have the advantage of digging your own grave), 1.2 as the factor for electricity and our present installed capacity of 1, 40,000 MW (without captive plants), our projected requirement for 2030 will be about 7, 44, 000 MW! That means from 2008 onwards we have to install approximately 27,500 MW per year till 2030 to sustain our modest growth. Power requirement by 2050 will about 18,50,000 MW, even considering lower average GDP growth of 6% and 5% for the successive two decades beyond 2030! Even with this staggering growth in power generation, if at all happens, we will still remain below world average in per capita power consumption and least in BRIC!

Oil peril:When oil price jumped to US$ 1 per barrel in 1973 just after Yom Kippur war, people started cycling on Auto Bahn on Sundays to conserve oil. Lots of closed coal mines which were non-viable when oil was cheap were opened. From that level oil is now US$ 147 per barrel. For the last 30 years there was no new major addition to global oil reserves and the oil production has peaked now at 85 mbd. Considering projected oil requirement of 120 mbd in 2030, we are not going to get enough oil even at US$ 200 or more! No body also knows how long the world oil reserve is likely to last.

Since our indigenous oil and gas production could hardly meet 40% of our demand, as of to-day, we have to de-link oil from our energy requirement because of prohibitive cost much before it is exhausted. The transport sector which is the oil/gas guzzler needs to be
converted to electric and hybrid propulsion to save oil import bill. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones but we found a better alternative.

Available options and constraints:Till now bulk of our generating capacity is based on fossil fuel (thermal), mostly coal with a small percentage from water resources (hydro power) and a minuscule percentage from nuclear and others.

Coal:Coal is our main stay for our thermal plants and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Main problem with coal is however pollution and carbon emission. China has gone in for coal fired plants in a big way disregard of environmental consideration. The question is whether we should follow China even with 40% ash in our indigenous coal? Besides manufacturing capacity constraint, described later, this would also require massive modernization of coal mines and transportation sector if we want to avoid logistic nightmare.

Extractions of coal-bed methane, sea-bed methane (nodules) as well as conversion of coal to synthetic oil are in various stages of development but none could become our major source for energy in the near future.

Hydro Power:Total potential for hydro-electricity, which is very clean with a very low running cost, is about 1,25,000 MW with about 56,000 MW under exploitable category. It should be exploited to its full potential. However, besides the manufacturing constraint as described later, it is also plagued with high capital cost, long gestation period, large scale displacement of population, ecological disbalance due to inundation. More over most of the potential is located near the politically sensitive N.E. region including Arunachal Pradesh. Even after full exploitation, hydel power will not contribute more than 10% of our power requirement even in 2030.

Bio-fuels:Ethanol as an alternative though technically viable, it is likely to cause severe food shortage. Production of 100 liters of ethanol requires 300 kg of grain which can feed about two Indians for a complete year. Bio-diesel from Jhatropha could be an alternative to fossil fuel till its cultivation is restricted to non-arable land and does not encroach on arable land due to pure economic consideration. All these are, however, only icing on the cake.

Renewable Energy:On paper there are so many renewable energy sources like solar, wind power, wave etc. Though we have to try all of them simultaneously, none can meet our energy requirement to any significant percentage, besides having their own limitations. Solar panels required to produce 1000 MW will take up enter area of Manhattan Island! Similar capacity from wind power will require 3.5 times that much!

Nuclear Energy:India has gone in for three stage nuclear power generation concepts eventually to exploit huge reserve of Thorium (U232). The stages could loosely be explained as follows:

1) 1st Stage : Uranium Fuelled Reactor (Power Reactor) :
Uranium core (0.7% U235) > Power + Plutonium (U239)
2) 2nd Stage : Plutonium Fuelled Reactor (Fast Breeder Reactor):
Plutonium (U239) core + U238 and Thorium (U232) blanket >
Power + Plutonium (U239) + Thorium (U233)
3) 3rd Stage : Thorium Fuelled Reactor (Breeder Reactor):
Thorium (U233) core + Thorium (U232) blanket > Power + Thorium (U233)

The 1st stage is operational with about 4,000 Mw installed capacity using Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) requiring natural / very low enriched Uranium (0.7% U235) . PHWR are mostly common in India and Canada. All other countries, using nuclear energy for power generation, are using Pressurized Light Water Reactors (PLWR) requiring low enriched Uranium (3.7% U235).

We have perfected design, production and commissioning of 500 MW PHWR. It has now been planned to produce 8 nos. 700 MW advance PHWR design for which is ready. For the second stage a 40 MWe Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) is working since 1985. A 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is under construction since 2003 and is likely to be commissioned in 2010/2011, which, however, looks doubtful. Two more 500 MWe PFBR are being planned in 2010-2020. The third stage is still under R&D and will depend on the techno-economical successes of the second stage.

Though our nuclear scientists have done commendable work of strategic importance and their pioneering R&D work is recognized all over the world , their effort is plagued with various constraints like nuclear apartheid, insufficient funding, poor and insufficient manufacturing base, short supply of nuclear fuels etc. In the processes there is huge time overrun in almost all the projects. Unfortunately impression for projected completion schedules for commercial exploitation of FBR and eventual BR (for Thorium) are also not realistic. Though we are under the false impression that commercial exploitation of Thorium is around the corner, it may take more than 30 years! Japan, even with its excellent technological base, huge financial commitment (13 billion Yen in FY07), accesses to top end products from USA, is only hopeful of commercial exploitation of FBR technology not earlier than 2050 (2030 being most optimistic). Development of BR for Thorium and its commercial exploitation is likely to take a few more decades thereafter! Most of our older generation atomic experts are mentally in Nehruvian era and are quite confused between strategic consideration & commercial exploitation! Frankly speaking we are yet to achieve commercial exploitation of nuclear energy in India.
Extremely Poor Manufacturing Base as the Main Constraint:
BHEL with an installed annual capacity of producing equipment required for 7,500 MW is still, more or less, the only production facility we have both for thermal and hydel power plants. Who is going to produce equipment for balance 20,000 MW per year?

Before Dr. Manmohan Singh initiated the reform under Rao’s government the entire heavy engineering industry was languishing with excess capacity which changed drastically when the effect of the reforms started taking the effect. However, the growth in production was mainly due to better utilization of available capacity with hardly any addition in actual manufacturing capacity mostly due to lack of reform in financial sector and labour laws (constraint of coalition government).What ever manufacturing capacity we had in the heavy engineering sector, both in public and private, was gobbled up with the simultaneous expansion in all conceivable sectors like steel, power, material handling, defence, ship building and other forms of infrastructural requirement due to the economic boom that followed.

What are the viable options to bridge the energy gap?There are only two sources which have enough potential to bridge the energy gap – Coal with its associated logistic, carbon emission and other pollution problem or Nuclear Energy which is clean with minimum carbon emission and scalable to a very high per unit generating capacity. Nuclear power is also very safe. More people are killed and wounded by accidents in coal mines and oil rigs every year than in accidents in nuclear power plants since its inception. Which ever option we take, best being a mixture of both, we have to depend on import in a massive scale along with parallel creation of world class manufacturing facility, to tide over the immediate energy gap. Manufacturing base thus created will help reduce the import in the long run.

“Nuclear Energy” option, however, is not possible unless we sign “Nuclear Deal”!

If we want progress, we really do not have any choice.

Japan, the only victim of atomic holocaust, is now embracing nuclear power in a big way to take care of oil shocks and environmental consideration (CO2 emission free power generation). It is already producing 30% of its power requirement through 55 atomic reactors and is contemplating producing 40% of its power requirement through nuclear energy by 2030. If in 1994 Japan could contemplate building a Strategic Uranium Reserve for 50 years to take care of its 55 existing reactors including planned future addition, we could also do the same. Incidentally, unlike fossil fuel, the cost of Uranium is only a small fraction (2 to 3%) of the cost of nuclear power.

80% of the power generation in France is through nuclear energy, portion of which is exported to EU for about 3 billion EUR annually. France have perfected 1600 Mw super critical power reactors (PLWR) having the lowest per unit power production cost.

We may have to go for cluster plant concept of three to six 1600 MW units in one location made through BOT or BO concept either under 100% FDI or JV.

As a renowned economist Dr. Manmohan Singh could realize that unless we can break the nuclear apartheid through nuclear deal to ensure energy security there is no future for India’s economic growth. Only our economic might where energy plays a dominant role could make us one of the poles in the tri-polar world in 21st century! We have already lost one valuable year in political brinkmanship and we should not wait any further to push the deal through.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Some comments through e-mail

I was not sure how my trial blogging will be accepted by my near and dear ones. I did receive some encouraging comments on my blog, but most of the encouragements came through emails and phone calls. Though each comment is as good as any, i just wanted to reproduce some of them , after protecting their identity.

“Absolutely wonderful ! Waiting eagerly how u and Archana hit off together in the end ! These beautiful days of long-lost youth -- fond recollections tinged with romance and 'what might have been' feeling -- embellish our life -- and it's a gift. Happy writing “

“…I am very happy after reading your match making story & "Mentor" article. Besides Ma & Baba, you are my main mentor in my life and till date to me your word & idea are the best of my knowledge. I am eagerly waiting to get more exciting and information oriented articles from you.”

“Read both, manto & the blog.. Was just thinking about the
& my reply/ comments.. Came up with a fused reply.. Sort of..
the work of a mentor just became clear to me.. The work of a mentor is
to answer questions.. Sometimes directly, sometimes through other
you understood my dilemma about writing.. My question about writing
about the ugly side of life without making the reader bitter.. & lo &
behold you give me manto.. Aar ki bolbo.. Except thankee.. :)
sometimes i want to go on asking questions.. There ARE so many! :)
sometimes we just need a little push in the right direction.. & that's
what a mentor is for.. So here's to life.. Cest la vie.”.

“THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING IDEA !!!! your daughter is right.
By this I get a chance to know you even better, because during my days at Rexroth, I have always bug you with my FOOLISH questions ...but I am on the same page with you, as far as defining smartness...I am only smart enough to hide my dumbness...:-))..About defining knowledge I am still struggling a little...MIGHT be a great IDEA if you share something about it on your next BLOG..”.

“You have written very well indeed.
My attention was drawn to your second entry. What can I say about your mentor?
I had the good fortune to have met her - however briefly. She can be the remote mentor to all. Any one who brought up your entire family the way she did with the kind of values, ability, gentleness, kindness, forbearance and integrity would necessarily have to be blessed. Or else what can explain the excellent family you have.”

“Great writing! Worth publishing. Can I forward your mail to our common friends? “

“Though I have always respected many things in you , we tend to take our friends for granted . Hardly ever have I openly and visibly expressed my appreciation for your qualities . This time I realised that I owe it to myself to tell you that you have done a great job in your blogging and I consider myself privileged to be included in your mailing list .Keep blogging and keep me posted .Take care,”

“Simply brilliant..
I look forward to the future episodes of the match making story. Eta ki shotyi ghawtona naki? Swapan manaey ki amader Hazra babu? Taar pawre ki holo janar jonye nishwash bawndho kore boshe roilam..
Aar tor chhotobalay shona gawlpo duto o khub chamatkar, aagey amaro shona jodio, kintu tor lekhar bhongi ta durdaanto. “Astute traditions of goatism”... ha ha ! Chaliye ja..”

“Khoob valo hoyechhey. dutoi excellent lekha. Shesh prjonto biye-ta holo kina janar jonno udgreeb hoye roilam. Eta tui amader mashik potrika-r moto teney jetey parish besh kichhu din...........pathok-era hooked hawbey nischoi. Keep it up and populated. “

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Match making (part II)

On the fateful day, I once again put up valiant resistance but was overpowered by Swapan & Sanjay who literally dragged me along with them. While entering the house we followed the same formation (nobody wants to change the wining formation!). Sanjay rang the bell and it was answered by an even bigger giant with a broad smile from one ear to other. “I am Bhavani Banerjee. Do come in please” he said and ushered us in. He was joined by his brother Chandi who was also beaming from ear to ear. Before entering the living room we just briefly surveyed the same. On the left there was a window, by the side of which was a huge Bengali style divan. On the right there was a big sofa by the side of the wall. The living room being not too spacious, these two pieces of furniture had created a choking point like “Strait of Hormuz” near the entrance. If you had crossed that choking point, the rest of the room was sparsely but tastefully decorated. On the opposite side of the window there was a curtained door leading to the dwelling portion of the house. A few chairs were kept in between for additional seating.

Before we took our seat, Chandi introduced us to his elder brother. To keep the escape root clear Sanjay took the divan and Swapan sat on the sofa. Considering me as a nonentity both the brothers immediately decided to personally entertain the more important guests. So Bhavani sat with Sanjay and Chandi took care of Swapan.With no other option left, I crossed the “Strait of Hormuz” and occupied one of the chairs, avoiding the one conspicuously decorated with a cushion.

After pleasantries were exchanged, there was a silence, may be due to dried throats of my partners or lack of topics. Anyway, Swapan cleared his throat and mentioned, “End of this month, there will be a big function in our locality on Rabindrasangeet (Tagore’s songs). Are you too coming?” just to start the conversation.
“We are exponents of classical music and do not consider Rabindrasangeet as having any class.”, said Bhavani with finality.
The remark probably offended Sanjay who, I later understood, had some soft corner, like normal Bengalis, for Rabindrasangeet.
“I don’t think your remark is very fair” protested Sanjay mildly.
Swapan was suddenly buoyed by his team spirit and thought it was his solemn duty to help Sanjay.
“Rabindrasangeet, after all, are lyric based and some of them could easily be termed as semi-classical” commented Swapan, like an expert.
His intention, I guessed, was not to pick up a fight but might be just to prove that Rabindrasangeet are songs after all!
Conversation, however, did not stop there. Both the brothers took it as their solemn duty to convince both Sanjay and Swapan, whom they have already accepted as de-facto disciples, the greatness of classical music and its superiority over any other form of music. All four of them then got engaged in an animated discussion over music in general and classical music in particular!

I, who never had any brush with music, was wondering with their depth of knowledge on different type of music and Ragas (tunes) most of which were going over my head! I was particularly impressed by Swapan whom I knew to be innocent in music while in IIT just the other day!

When the argument had reached its crescendo, the curtain on the dwelling side was gently parted and floated in a girl in her late teens or early twenties along with a middle aged lady. Suddenly there was a hush in our conversation and we all stood up to greet them. The girl was wearing an aquamarine sari in typical Bengali style, a single strand pearl necklace and matching ear rings. She was of fair complexion, medium height with long raven black hair flowing half way down her back. She was not classically beautiful with very sharp features but very pretty. A face which would not be lost in the crowd. If you have seen it once, you will always have a desire to see it once again. Minimal make-up and a faint fragrance of jasmine added to her charm and innocent youthfulness.

We all sat after exchanging salutation in Indian style. The girl sat on the cushioned chair next to me, increasing my pulse rate to 150 (hope that is possible?). For some time no body uttered any word. Then all of a sudden Bhavani said “Yes, what I was telling?” Then all the warring factions once again went for their musical discussion completely ignoring the main purpose for the assembly. The middle aged lady, who was the girl’s mother, kept a smiling face but must have been cursing her husband under her breath. The girl found something very interesting on her thumb nails, which she must have seen so many times before. I did not know what to do and concentrated on the mosaic design on the floor which I was seeing for the first time.

This imbroglio continued for a couple of minutes, which was like ages under the situation, when I thought that it must be quite humiliating for any self respecting girl to be kept waiting like this with nobody paying her any attention. My throat was completely dry due to nervousness. She looked at me with startled expression full of anxiety when I drew her attention and said, “Look, the one who is wrestling with your father is Sanjay. He is a classmate of Arup who is looking for a partner. The one on the mat with your uncle is Swapan. He is Sanjay’s friend from Delhi. I am not sure whether he has ever met Arup. I am Swapan’s friend and just happened to be in Delhi. I really do not know anything about Arup. So my judgment is not likely to tilt the balance in anyway. Since, however, the main characters are so very busy, we may probably introduce ourselves as friends if you do not mind. By the way, my name is Biplab”.
The girl gave me an unsure smile, making my day. “Oh! That’s very fine. My name is Archana”.
I always found Bengalis outside Bengal are quite self assured and Archana was no exception. Probably my preamble also put her at ease. Though she started nervously, some prodding from her mother made her quite free in discussing almost anything under the sun including some personal details like, her studies, her hobbies etc.
When I asked her “Do you also sing classical? Don’t worry I am not going to ask you to sing one”
She rewarded me with a smile and said “Yes, of course” Then she gave a flitting glance to her father and added in a low voice “I also sing Rabindrasangeet when my father and uncle are not around”.
Sanjay was already feeling suffocated with unending discussion which he did not start and was now visibly frustrated seeing me having a good time with Archana. “Biplab is leaving to-morrow” he uttered, may be just to give the signal that I would not be the part of the team from the next meeting.
“Why? Though summer is not the best time to visit Delhi, but since you have come all the way, why don’t you stay for a few more days” asked Archana’s mother.
“That is not the case. Biplab is leaving to-morrow for Germany with a scholarship.” Corrected Swapan.
“WHAAAAAT?” said everybody in unison unable to check their surprise.
Though Archana did not utter any word, she just looked at me and gave a knowing smile, as if I have concealed something intentionally. [To be continued…]

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Match making

It was June of 1972 and extremely hot in Delhi. I had just managed to get a German scholarship for two years and landed in Delhi on 1st of June and put up with my class mate Swapan. Though I was supposed to fly on 6th, I came to Delhi a little early to complete the visa & other facilities. That was my first visit abroad and I did not have any experience with German efficiency. Surprisingly all the formalities were over within two hours on the first day itself and I did not know what to do for the rest five days!

Swapan was in midst of changing his job (he almost took it as a hobby!) and was naturally very busy and had no time for me except during late evening. Due to extreme hot climate, I was also not venturing out during the day time and passing my time gossiping with Swapan’s mother, father and younger sister.

Next day one of Swapan’s friends, Sanjay came for tea. He was looking little nervous and informed Swapan that he has to meet a Bengali family near by in connection with a match making proposal for one of his close friend, Arup. Since his friend stayed away from Delhi, Sanjay was entrusted with making the “First Information Report”. He was too scared to go alone and wanted immediate help from Swapan. As usual, Swapan was most benevolent and agreed to help

“Arranged marriage” is still a common practice in India and about 40 years back “love marriage” as an alternative, used to be quite uncommon, if not a taboo! Once some proposal has come either through match maker, relative or friend, it is customary for the girl’s parents to send the photograph and other details of the girl (an elaborate CV starting from family history to complexion) to boy’s parents for initial approval. If it is tentatively approved then boy’s parents along with some senior members of the family would go for seeing the girl. The processes are, however, quite long drawn and on occasion, could be quite humiliating for the girl and her family. Since I have six sisters of my own, I was quite familiar with the procedure and did not like it beyond a point.

Swapan & Sanjay decided to meet the girl’s parents and if possible the girl that day itself and wanted me to accompany (Swapan had a very old Morris car which requires occasional manual encouragement and two would always be better than one!). Though initially I declined, Swapan’s mother prevailed over me. Anyway I did not have anything else to do and she had the misconception of I being more mature of the three (lady’s instinct I suppose!)!

We all set out in Swapan’s car by the evening. I was very nervous since I had never had such an encounter. “Biplab, don’t be nervous. We have enough experience. You just sit back and relax. We will do all the talking” boasted Sanjay may be just to smoothen his nerves and mine too in the process.

Girl’s house was only a few blocks away. A small footpath leading from a wicket gate to the main entrance of a typical government quarters in Delhi. Sanjay was leading the charge with Swapan as second in-command. I opted as rear guard (only position available in a three men army) and kept the gate slightly ajar as an after thought to take care of any eventualities. Sanjay confidently rang the bell. Within a few minutes the door was opened by a huge hulk of a man who could be a contender for WWE championship. He looked at us very suspiciously and demanded with a matching gruff voice “Whom do you want?”

Seeing the giant and hearing his voice I already took a couple of steps backward with a pretext of admiring the non-existent flower garden and could also observe all the confidence vanishing from Sanjay’s face.
“We are looking for Mr. Bhavani Banerjee. Is he home?” stammered Sanjay.
“No. He is not at home. I am his younger brother Chandi Banerjee. Is there anything I can do?” boomed the door keeper without lowering his guard or allowing us to cross the threshold.
“There was a matrimonial proposal for his daughter and we came in that connection. We would like to meet the girl and her parents” whispered Sanjay.
Mere mention of matrimonial proposal for his niece changed the scenario completely. The giant became most docile.
“See, this is a very important event in girl’s life and we would require some time for preparation. Could you please come back on day after tomorrow when my elder brother Bhavani will also be back? Said the giant in a sweetened voice.
“By the way, how are you related to the prospective bride groom?” he further quipped, probably as an after thought
“I am his friend. We were class mates in college” answered Sanjay.
“And you?” question was directed to Swapan.
“I am Sanjay’s friend”
For a couple of moments giant was pondering whether it would be prudent to ask me about my credential but the curiosity got the better of him “and you?” he asked me in a some what puzzled tone.
“I am Swapan’s friend “I replied, half way down the path, keeping in mind unpredictable nature of giants for humor.
Anyway, there was no violent reaction and Chandi Banerjee closed the door with a puzzled smile on his face probably thinking whether he has taken a right decision in inviting us day after tomorrow evening to meet his niece and what his elder brother would think of him. We all hurriedly got into the car having settled the issue for the time being. Once inside the safe refuge of the car, Sanjay & Swapan both lighted cigarettes to tone up their nerves. I being a non-smoker subjected to passive smoking from the back seat. [to be continued…]