Thursday, October 9, 2008

Unusual Courtesy

My friend Palash is a prolific “friend maker”. But for the difference in time period, I am sure he could have easily given some tips to Dale Carnegie.

He is fortyish, medium built, slightly pot bellied with a well trimmed “Baby Walrus” mustache. By profession, he is a career agent with the Life Insurance Corporation of India and could easily boast of more than five thousand extremely satisfied customers who literally consider him as a friend, philosopher and a guide. Like we try to preserve so called useful articles in our house lest they come in handy some day, Palash nurtures friendships by helping others during their hours of need. His customers are not only satisfied with his professional service but more for the “additional” service he can provide through his numerous “contacts”. They would not do anything worthwhile, be it children’s education or extracting a tooth without consulting him. Palash is always obliging!

Though he can now boast of a long list of rich clients, he had not forgotten those Muslim tailors behind the New Market in Kolkata who were his initial clients and who helped him during his hours of need. Although he has now a staff of ten to help him, he personally visits the tailors in New Market once a month to collect premiums as well as to enquire about their well beings.

It was a late afternoon in November when Palash was waiting near a street corner behind the New Market, for one of such clients. The day was coming to an end and he was worried since his client had not yet shown up, when he noticed somebody was watching him across the street while puffing a bidi (unroasted tobacco wrapped in dried kendu leaf). The man was of dark complexion, with shoulder length curly hair, clean shaven except for a thin mustache. He was bare footed and was wearing a blue and green striped lungi and a red T-shirt.
After a few minutes the man crossed the street and came and stood by Palash.
“Are you from police?” the man whispered without any preamble while puffing the bidi.
“No! But why?” Palash was startled.
“I saw you standing here for quite sometime while watching all the corners” the man replied with some authority in his voice.
“I am a LIC agent and was waiting for one of my clients” Palash replied with a wry smile.
“Then this place is really not very safe for you. There is a chance that you might get mugged or pick-pocketed” the man replied in a matter of fact voice.
“Most of the Muslim tailors in this locality are my clients for a very long time. I always come at least once a month to meet them. Frankly speaking, I never had any problem so far” replied Palash nonchalantly.
Mention of his local Muslim clientele apparently softened the man somewhat and he was no longer aggressive.
“Are you also from this area only” Palash asked the man after a while.
“What do you do for a living?” asked Palash tentatively, just to keep up with the conversation.
“I pick pockets” replied the man hesitantly
“What?” Palash was shocked!
“These days I really do not pick pockets myself” replied the man as if to pacify Palash “I control a gang who operates from Lindsay Street till S. N. Banerjee Road” he elaborated further.
Palash was stunned and did not know what to say!
“I think I must leave” Palsh said thinking he had enough for the day.
“My name is Habib. Come to me if you need any help anytime” said the man. “Come, I will introduce you to Munna” added the man as an after thought and took him to a nearby kiosk where a young boy was making bidis.
Selam Alaykum, Habib Bhai” said the boy with a broad smile while still continuing with his work.
Aleykum Selam” said the man and then added, pointing to Palash “Munna, recognize this man. If he enquires about me, just inform me”
Munna looked at Palash with a smile and gave him a nod.
Khuda Hafez, Habib Bhai” said Palsh before taking leave
Khuda Hafez, Sab (Sir)”

While going home, Palash wanted to forget about the whole incident without knowing that destiny was going to be different!

Next day during the afternoon, Palash had a chance meeting with one of his very important client, Mr. Bose.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Bose. How are you” said Palash with his infectious smile while extending his hand.
“Good afternoon, Palash” replied Mr. Bose while shaking his hand with a glum face.
“What happened? Why are you looking so sad, Mr. Bose” Palsh was worried.
“To-day was a bad day for me. While coming to office via Lindsay Street, I parked my car opposite to the New Market to purchase some medicine. While returning to the car after purchasing medicine my purse was pick pocketed” replied Mr. Bose with annoyance in his voice.
“Oh! Did you loose a lot of money?” enquired Palash with concern
“Not really much money as such. Say about two thousand. But I lost a talisman which always brought me good luck” replied Mr. Bose ruefully.
“Did you report it to the police?” asked Palash
“Oh, come on! They are not likely to break their neck locating my purse” replied Mr. Bose with frustration.
Palash thought for a moment and yesterday’s incident came to his mind.
“Mr. Bose, please come with me. Let me give it a try” said Palsh
“Don’t tell me that you have got connections with the underworld as well?” exclaimed Mr. Bose with surprise.
“Not really underworld in true sense. But I did make some contact only yesterday. Let me find out its effectiveness” replied Palash while hailing a passing taxi.

Palash along with Mr. Bose went to Munna’s kiosk and found Munna absorbed in his traditional work of making bidis.
Munna could recognize Palash and welcomed him with a broad smile “Selam Sab! Are you looking for Habib Bhai?”
Selam Munna! Yes, I am looking for him. Could you please inform him?” replied Palash.
Habib came to Munna’s kiosk within a couple of minutes and greeted Palash “Selam Sab! Are you looking for me?”
Selam Habib Bhai! I need your help” said Palsh with a smile and shook his hand. Then he introduced Mr. Bose to Habib and narrated the incident in brief.
Habib was listening to him very intensely and then asked Mr. Bose” Are you sure that you lost your purse at Lindsay street only?”
“Yes, I am very sure” said Mr. Bose emphatically
“Could you please tell me approximate time when it happened?” asked Habib
“Say about 10 AM!” replied Mr. Bose
Habib thought for a moment and then said “Come with me” and gestured them to follow.
Both Palash and Mr. Bose followed him hesitantly.
Habib crossed many lanes and by-lanes and stopped near a shanty which was locked from outside.
“Akram!” shouted Habib in general direction.
A lame man with a crutch came out from another shanty and said “Selam Habib Bhai” while casting a suspicious glance towards Palsh and Mr. Bose.
“Akram please open the door. Don’t bother about them. I know them” said Habib with authority.
Akram opened the door and stood aside.
Habib gestured both Palash and Mr. Bose to follow and entered the shanty.
Inside the shanty there were a number of bamboo baskets, all full of wallets, ladies hand bags, jewelry and other articles.
“Based on the area and the timing we always segregate the stolen items and keep them in the designated baskets for three days in case we have to return them due to connections at high places. After three days they are all disposed” said Habib in a matter of fact voice. He then located one basket and told Mr. Bose to search for his purse. Mr. Bose was really elated when he could locate his purse within a couple of minutes!
“Please check whether anything is missing” instructed Habib.
“Everything is intact” declared Mr. Bose after checking.
“You are lucky! Now you go home and don’t tell it to anybody” said Habib with a smile.
Palash was simply overwhelmed. He took Habib’s both the hands in his hands and said “Thank you very much Habib Bhai. I do not want to disrespect you in anyway but may I offer anything to you or to your colleagues?”
Sab, I did it only as a good gesture. Take it as a courtesy from a friend!” said Habib, still holding his hands.


Raktim Dutta said...

The wonderful feature of your blog is that the narrations are easily identifiable with our day-to-day experience in life.

Unusual courtesy is no different. Except or the fact that it was never an untold story for us.

Courtesy again to our acquaintance with the principal character, Mr. Palash.

biplab said...

raktim, you are correct, till now all my articles are based on what is always happening around us with minimum of fictionalization. names are, however, sometime changed to protect the identities where i felt necessary

Unknown said...

this is a lovely story - vintage calcutta. this city never ceases to surprise me. and i share every bit you say about palash. he is such a dependable friend - prabhat

biplab said...

prabhat, thanks that you liked it. my blog is nearly becoming a "truth sayer". palash got a couple of phone calls asking for help!

Rini said...

Boy you sure are having a dry spell :(

Indrabhom said...

This story is proof again that fact is stranger than fiction.

One of my relatives was DCDD Kolkata Police long ago, and I have heard a number of similar real life "stories" from him when I was young.

Keep up the inspiring good work, Biplab. We are enjoying your blog thoroughly..


biplab said...

indra, palash have already started getting phone calls asking for help!

Unknown said...

Ei golpota shottyi-i durdhorsho!

biplab said...

shuktara, as indra also commented sometime truth is really stranger than fiction! have you read the newer ones?


This story reminds me of a no-so-fortunate lady who lost a packet containing ornaments in a bus journey ( She could not explain why she avoided a safer mode of transport ) from Calcutta airport to Lake Gardens.

The police did take her to the den of the right person ( in this case a pregnant woman !!) , but, this group did not have the practice of highly-placed-people friendly waiting time of 3 days .

The valuables were disposed off in a period of 24 hours.

Unknown said...

I had a somewhat similar experience in Bombay (now Mumbai) in early seventies. The place was bye lanes of Kurla instead of New Market.

biplab said...

Dear Prabir, why don't you tell us the story!

Sid Roy said...

Dear Biplab Da,

I liked your blog -Unusual courtesy ! Great story - reminded me of Chekhov ! unusual characters with a big Heart !
your blog was recommended to me by Muliyilda at L&T !

best regards /siddhartha

biplab said...

Thanks a lot, Siddhartha. It is my pleasure