August 02, 2007
Ever since Sujoy had returned home, they were all talking about it. Sometimes with a look of apprehension, and sometimes in hallowed whispers, the corridors of the haveli abounded with mentions of the D-Day that everyone was dreading. One day, the apple of their eyes would depart again on his educational quest, to a life where a hundred sophisticated knives would skin him before he turned brown, somewhere between peering into fiery tandoors and thrusting a gloved hand into the freezer for some gooey chocolate ice-cream.
As for Sujoy, he was just happy to be back again. All the things that once seemed so old and dreary now jumped up at him with boundless delight. This included the frogs in the verandah who had spent a full year in viraha, mourning for their beloved. Every afternoon, while the house enveloped itself in the soporific lull of a siesta, the verandah bustled with strains of nether-activity. For all the frogs wanted to look their kissable best when their prince would saunter down to survey his harem later that evening. They were given tough competition by the jealous parrot at the other end of the house who lost no opportunity to screech her eligibility and availability to all those present. Not just the frogs and the parrot, even the occasional centipede was to be found scurrying across the majestic lotus-tiled floor of the mansion.
While the animal kingdom renewed its acquaintance with their prince, the kitchen echoed with the joyous clatter of steel utensils. The cooks spared no expense or effort and churned out dishes that would give a multi-hued Kanjivaram sari a run for its money. And Sujoy was always left with a satiated smile on his face reflecting his gastronomic ecstasy. After all, twelve months of having to go through a circus act of dexterity with those complicated bits of eminently fragile cutlery at every meal took its toll on any previously sane being.
Being home again was bliss indeed! No one was snapping at him to cut his nails, or sniffing the air delicately like an exhausted yogic miracle when he didn't take a bath. He could sleep as long as he liked, and could spend hours watching all those music videos that were dangerously 'kitsch' back there. He felt like he was floating on a wonderful feathery pillow which he did not have to fluff himself.
But...like all good things, this was to come to an end soon. The D-Day was nearing with the certainty of a half-hourly Balaji Telefilms thunderclap. The eerie feeling of impending doom was slowly creeping over the entire household. Sujoy's father was possessed with dread at the thought of having to go to the railway station to see his son off. Railway stations, with their imposed air of parting and departure, left him strangely unnerved. In another corner of the house, his brother was trying not to think of the year that loomed ahead endlessly, its absence of naughtiness making it seem like a convent school devoid of girls who rolled their skirt hems above their knees. Talking of girls, what in high heaven would he do without a veteran Chaser to give him tips? Life was bad. "Veryyyy, veryyyyy bath", he mused, thinking of how that delectable Jamaican girl in Grade 11 would say it.
The packing had begun. A laptop was stashed away at the bottom of the large trunk. In went ironed suits, chef's hats and a thousand more odds, ends and oddities. The frogs held a teary ras-leela in his honour. So teary, that some worried human neighbours came to investigate the source of the lamentations...
One fine day, they all woke up to realise that the DAY was here. Other diurnal and nocturnal pursuits stayed in a suspended state of hibernative animation and more pressing last-minute tasks were given due priority. A pair of drum-sticks went into the trunk. As Sujoy watched this, he was amused to hear his brain react in what would now become a predictable manner. But, looking at the grave expressions on the faces of the people around him, he firmly pushed these funny concerns out of his head. Mulling upon the edibility quotient of a pair of wooden drum-sticks was currently not a valid pre-occupation.
The DAY was here, and now it was time for the MOMENT to arrive. The hushed whispers seemed gratingly disturbed by the dull thud of the trunk being placed in the back of the car. Sujoy got into the car, accompanied by his mother and brother. His father took to the driver's chair; ghastly visions of the railway station clouded his brain and made him feel like a criminal being sent to the gallows. The engine rattled to life, shaking the inhabitants of the car out of a stupor that was induced by a mix of doom and sleep. As the car whooshed down the forlorn road by the river, Sujoy was bombarded by a volley of instructions that thundered down on him from all sides. They ranged from tips on keeping his clothes a tad whiter than his teeth to warnings about all those dangerous people who always contrived to lurk wherever he went. When the solid and re-assuring facade of the railway station loomed ahead, the instruction round once again faded into an aura of solemnity.
The sleepy clerk at the counter was quite irritated with this bunch of conscientious Indian citizens who seemed to think that their honesty was worth more than his sleep ever could be. Ignoring his unsuccessful attempt at customer service, they trudged into the station. Very soon, a round of announcements began, heralding the impending arrival of the train. And to everyone's surprise, the train got to the station on time. From a distance, Sujoy thought it looked like one of those quaint coaches, in its royal blue avatar. He strode towards the train with a horrible mix of nostalgia and anticipation. A ticket-checker held out his hand for the ticket. Sujoy proudly flicked open his shiny new leather wallet and extracted the ticket with a flourish. The TC took one look at the ticket and flung it back at him with a look of malicious triumph on his face. If a third person had had the good fortune of observing this startling exchange, he would have sworn that both men were a little too sozzled for the occasion. While Sujoy rolled his eyes as far and as wide as they would go, the moustache-endowed TC cast a smirk at the ticket with an almost incomprehensible swirl of his bushy upper-tail.
Sujoy's mother, who had been taking in this quick exchange with alternating feelings of intrigue and horror, suddenly snatched the ticket from his hands. She read every word of it, from the inanities in bold lettering that had a vague sense of welcome, to the fine print that always made one want to mutter the choicest profanities. Like a boomerang that had suddenly found its true calling, the date hit her in the face. In the eyes. Going by what this flimsy piece of paper had to say, they had missed the train by a month.
Yes, a whole month.
They went back home, like soldiers who'd just been told there was no war.
Chairs and tables may have been hurled,
All because of a date,
That came too late.
What ensued hereafter is best left to the reader's imagination…