Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bow to conquer …

In today’s fast paced world, can old-time values survive? This is what I learnt, from the most unlikely of teachers.

Sometime back, I took a trip to Blore for S’s housewarming. A day off from work spent sauntering across Blore with nothing in hand, soaking in S’s wonderful hospitality and a promise of yummy Bengali food was too irresistible to miss. Thus I found myself staring at an ornate door some 600 km away from home, at the royal hour of 5:51 AM on a Wednesday.

Fast forward to the actual housewarming. The beauty of India is her culture (a dumb cliché, but its 1AM and I’ve been working all day. I’m so drained, I’m writing two sentences here rather than use the DELETE key…) My only experience of Bengali culture have been the rosogolla (K.C Das) and a Durga puja I attended in Chennai. But I digress. The fact is that the average Indian, and that includes the Bengalis too are so wonderfully charming in their rites and rituals. The invocation to the gods by a rotund pujari, known/unknown aunties and uncles swapping notes, and the combined “youth” looking out of the balcony waiting for the food to arrive sums up the typical ritual experience. But I gott brave enough, and wandered into the proceeding and sat in the puja; and it was quite wonderful. This gave rise to a related problem. What do you say to an aunty next to you some 4 decades your senior, unknown by face and speaking an unfamiliar language? You smile broadly perhaps, teeth and all. And that’s what I did –to all and sundry, including the pujari.

As an aside, I found that the invocation in a Bengali ceremony including the continuous chanting of the sacred Gayatri mantra. Down south, I have not come across open chants – instead my upanayanam had me inside a silk shawl of sorts with my Dad, who initiated me to the mantra in a whisper. Most interesting.

Sometime along this time, N entered the proceedings. A flashback here, courtesy inputs from the host – N is the good chum of S from college. Along with V, whom I’m yet to have the pleasure of meeting, they formed the Unholy Trinity and tormented all of Bangalore’s collegiate population in the last millennium. But fear not - they have reformed and lead respectable lives and careers.

Thankfully for me, I soon managed to hit upon the stars of the day – S’s niece S and N’s son V. Rather, they “hit” upon me. Somehow, both kids got it into their minds that I was perhaps a good high-five coach/ punching bag. Soon enough, both of them were putting their calories to good use and beating me to pulp. And I loved it. And that was just one of the many activities they undertook – running around the house, crying for food (yes, coming in the next para), asking forthright questions etc. etc. At which point of time, one lonely black “DRA-GUN” with bloodshot eyes was discovered with typical entreaties to the kids to keep silent lest he gobbled us all up. In short, this was the typical Indian ritual.

If somebody told me that the Bengalis were the sweetest people on earth, I would second the thought. The food was lip-smacking and sweet. Quite an effort in the first helping, but one gives in by the second, and is raving from the third onwards. That perhaps was the number of raids that S (S’s friend from the bank, a guy) and I participated in. And each raid brought yummy booty. From puri with mango, sweetened dal with rice and subzi and the most delectable sweets they had us begging for more.

Post lunch and general gupshup ensued. The wonderful home, stock market crash, Bengal updates, rains in Bangalore (and the absence thereof in Chennai) were all animatedly discussed. The kids got all fidgety and the DRA-GUN was fast losing his bite. At which point of time, the rains broke and a walk to the play area followed. Post this, it was tea time and soon folks had to depart for home. It had been wonderful till then, but the best was yet to unfold. As N turned to leave, little V reached out to me sitting on the floor and bade me to get up. Thinking he wanted an escort to the door, I gladly complied. At which point of time the young feller in a flash quickly bent and touched my feet.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t choked. It has never been this way- but perhaps in a long, long time I was touched by a simple gesture of a little child that I’d just met. N explained that V was taking leave of me with a “Namaste”. I did not know what to say – perhaps a little longer and a tear or two would have made an entry. I don’t know why – perhaps sometimes people just make you happy and you express it by crying. But I didn’t and that’s the way it is.

The day wound up with S’s dad taking care I got onto the correct bus back home. There is so much I’ve left out in this account- Uncle’s old world charm, Aunty’s excellent house management skills and their hospitality and all the other things that go to make a great day. But then its simple gestures like those of V that really speak a lot. As a “consulting detective” put it:

"My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as to the tendencies of a child by the study of the parents. Don't you see that the converse is equally valid. I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children. - "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"

N and V must be proud of their son and justifiably so. And so for the first time, I deviate from my “no-names” policy on this blog. Ladies and gentlemen – please put your hands together for Vinay A Kamath.