Story 13. The Refugee. Part 2.

“…. suffering at the beginning of a life is felt to be made good by subsequent achievement. It can be seen in retrospect as a trial or apprenticeship, as part of a larger story of success. By contrast, suffering at the end of a life remains unredeemed – unless of course we look beyond this world. This is the permanent truth in Solon’s dictum (“Call no man happy until he is dead.”). It is only with death that the overall shape or meaning of a life comes into view. Calling a life happy or unhappy before the end is like calling a play tragic or comic before it has run its course.”

~ Robert and Edward Skidelsky in ‘How Much Is Enough?’

I was transferred back to Bombay in 1983 and our friendship grew stronger with four marriages in Bhagwans family taking place more or less within short periods of each other with Bhagwans daughter and son getting married simultaneously in one ceremony. By this time Bhagwan had bought himself a fancy apartment in a posh locality close to where we were living and so the traffic between the two households resumed with increased frequency.

By 1984, trouble started for Bhagwan, with his son Rohit wanting to separate from the family and move out of Bombay. Rohit did not want to be either a restaurateur nor financier and instead wanted to join his in laws in the Construction business and move to Nashik where they were located. Bhagwan had looked forward to handing over his business interests to Rohit and tried to persuade Rohit to go into the construction business in Bombay itself without success. Much unpleasantness between the elders and the youngster took place. It was eventually decided to settle matters by buying out Rohit’s share in both businesses which was duly done. This unpleasantness went on for a couple of years before the separation took place. Bhagwan soon suffered a heart attack and was partially paralysed.

Manohar, suggested that Bhagwan retire from the restaurant business and offered to buy the latter’s share out. A helpless and enfeebled Bhagwan agreed to and his life as a restaurateur came to an end.

Without Rohit’s help, an enfeebled Bhagwan soon wound up his Finance business too and having sold his flat in Bombay, moved to Mathura on a permanent basis. I visited Bhagwan and Savithri in Mathura on two occasions in 1987 and 1989. They seemed to have settled down comfortably in a small accommodation in the ashram which they used to visit earlier.

I moved to Pune in 1990 and Bhagwan and Savithri came to visit us and go to Shirdi. I had made all arrangements for them to do that and they were very happy to have been able to do that much longed for pilgrimage. They returned to Mathura in January 1991 and Bhagwan died in his sleep in March of the same year. Savithri moved in with Rohit at Nashik for a few months but decided that she was more comfortable in Mathura where she took refuge in the ashram and her guru and she too died in 1992.

Manohar’s restaurant is still running successfully, now being managed by his son. I had occasion to go to Bombay on a day’s visit a few months ago and went there to have lunch. I was treated like visiting royalty, and the meal was on the house.

Rohit is a successful builder, land lord, race horse owner and a page three personality in Nashik.

Among the most cherished possessions that I have are a shawl and a Rudraksha Mala gifted to me by Bhagwan all those years ago. They act as reminders to me of a great friendship with a very warm hearted man who became a refugee on two occasions in one life.

Story 13. The Refugee.

MullaTwo kids found a pouch containing fifteen silver coins. One had spotted it and the other had picked it up. Each claimed ownership to the find. This led to an argument and ultimately they approached the wise Mulla Nasruddin with their quandary.
“Hmmm…so you want me to resolve the matter?”
“Yes, please,” both said in unison.
“Alright, I’ll divide the coins between the two of you. But tell me, do you want me to do justice like a human or God?”
“Please do as God would” the kids said.
He counted the coins and gave twelve to one and three to the other. While they both stood there bewildered, said Mulla plainly, “That’s how He operates.”

This is a story about another financier. The first one can be found here. My story starts in 1970 in Bombay as it was then known. Prohibition was in force and tipplers depended on the ubiquitous bootleggers and the Bombay equivalents of the American speakeasies of yore. Bombay also had its own Al Capones!

My bootlegger never let me down, but he is not important for this story. Perhaps he will feature in greater detail in a later story.

Bombay speakeasies were inevitably run by matriarchs affectionately called Aunties by their clients. They gave the clients a clean ambiance and unadulterated booze, soda, ice and or water. If you needed anything else like short eats or lemon peels, you had to take them with you and also take the wrappers, peels etc away back with you when you left. The Aunties usually had a bouncer around to see that no one drank too much and gave trouble to the others. Most important of all was the security as the local cops were bought off and as long as I patronized those speakeasies I never personally experienced a raid. All speakeasies were located on the first or second floor of multi-storied buildings. I never found out why but I suppose that the ground floors were too open for the operations.

My favourite Aunty’s was located in an older part of South Bombay. It was in a four-storied building on the first floor. Each floor had two flats and the other flat in this particular case was the Aunty’s residence. On the ground floor facing the road were four shops, one of which was an eatery of sorts. One husband and wife team ran the shop making choley, tikkia, samosas and fantastic sev/bhel puri. I would inevitably stop there either before going to Aunty’s for a snack to take up with me, or after having had my quota to have a snack.

Over time, I started to talk to the shopkeeper and a very warm and long lasting friendship was established. He was aptly named Bhagwan as he was a deeply religious person with very high moral values.

Bhagwan was a Sindhi. A refugee who came to Bombay by ship in 1947 after the great partition. He and his wife had survived in refugee camps by working their butts off and had been able to pay the pagdi for the shop they ran. Bhagwan was also supporting his sister’s husband Manohar, to set up his own business, similar in nature, in another part of Bombay. To the best of Bhagwan’s knowledge, these two families were the only ones who escaped from their village in Sindh and so, the bonding between both families were very strong. Both had a son and daughter each and all four were studying in schools when I got to know them.

Bhagwan was older than I was by about 12 years and always treated me as though he was my elder brother. This is quite common in India as age is given its place in relationships. He would advise me to moderate my drinking and to take a taxi home rather than go by bus if I had had one too many. He would also give me a packet of something or the other to take home for Urmeela.

Bhagwan’s family and we met formally at my home after a few months and both the ladies also hit it off from their very first meeting. The two families became quite friendly and Bhagwan would send his children to Urmeela after school to learn to speak English properly. We would also go over to their place for the occasional dinner or some religious function and got to know the brother in law, Manohar and his family as well.

This relationship continued till I was transferred out of Bombay in 1973. I lost track of Bhagwan for three and a half years while I moved first to Calcutta and then to Kerala and returned to Bombay in 1977.

During that gap, Bombay had become wet and it was a simple matter to obtain a legal permit to buy and consume alcohol. One could go into legal bars and restaurants to tipple and life was good. All the Aunties and bootleggers went out of business.

After settling down in our new home, I went to Bhagwan’s shop to taste my old favourites and found that during the the time I was away, Bhagwan too had fared well and had taken possession of all the four ground floor shops and was running a very successful restaurant serving the same old fare but in larger quantities to a larger clientele who could sit down at tables and eat properly. He had brought his brother in law Manohar in as a partner and the two of them were running a highly successful operation and I was very pleased with their success. We resumed our friendship where we had left off and a lot toing and froing between our two homes resumed.

I was in Bombay for two and a half years before I was transferred out to Delhi in 1980 and we parted with assurances to keep in touch. And true to his promise, Bhagwan landed up in Delhi on a few occasions to stay with us enroute to and from Mathura to which he and his wife frequently went to pray at their favourite temple and to take the blessings of their guru who had an ashram there. During these visits I came to know that over the past many years, Bhagwan had been a private financier to small businesses whose owners he knew personally and he claimed that he was making more money in that business than from his partnership in the restaurant.

To be continued.

Can Men Cook Daily Meals?

I hope that you enjoy reading this post on the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where ten of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Padmum. The nine other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Maria SF, Padmum, Paul, Rohit, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!

It is with much regret that I bid Shackman goodbye from the LBC gang. He has expressed his inability to participate due to personal problems and I wish him well. I hope that he is able to solve his problems soon and rejoin us.

male cook

Most men may not be able to but Padmum should know that her three brothers including this writer, can and what is more important, her husband can too!

If however the question was to be rephrased to include a word – voluntarily, I expect that most men would say no. No, only to cook daily meals, not the occasional foray into the kitchen to experiment or try out a recipe received from somewhere or even just to show off how good they are. I say most, because, there are exceptions and I know quite a few of them.

I learnt how to cook by observing some friends who used to visit us in Mumbai. These were a group of men who were employed in Saudi Arabia. There, they lived in barracks and cooked their own food. They would return once a year to their homes in Hyderabad and our home in Mumbai was their transit accommodation.

I refined my ability by meeting with chefs in hotels and restaurants and asking them about the dishes that I liked and further by getting some recipe books. A friend of mine, Shoib seeing my interest, gifted me with a copy of the book Cooking Delights Of The Maharajas way back in 1987 which is still a treasured possession often referred to while cooking up something exotic. As synchronicity often does in my life, the author’s son H.H. Vikram Singh Ji of Sailana, a surprisingly modest and unassuming man who has inherited the family’s passion for food, came into my life quite unexpectedly and was thrilled to hear from me my appreciation of his father’s book. He too is a great cook and is famous in Pune as the host of food festivals held in Pune’s top hotels.

For many years, during my late wife’s illness, I was the cook at home cooking daily meals. She would inevitably appreciate the output and thank me profusely and I used to bask in that glow. I cooked for my late father too to satisfy his craving for our traditional food, but since he could not be satisfied, I ceased to, to bring some peace at home.

I can therefore say that yes, a man can cook daily meals, but I suspect, only when it is appreciated. Women on the other hand, have to irrespective of receiving appreciation or not, as my late mother did for decades till she was freed of that silly occupation.

The Awakening.

NITHYASREE“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

~ Albert Schweitzer

The weekend would have been like any other and Saturday was just that.  On Sunday morning however, I received a phone call from a friend inviting me to attend a Carnatic Music concert in the evening.  On an impulse, I agreed to attend and recovered a forgotten ear for that genre of music.

In my childhood, I used to hear my parents, particularly my mother sing songs in the Carnatic style and we were inundated with Carnatic music from the radio. Even Tamil film songs used to be based on the classical system but arranged by music directors to please a public not quite familiar with the classical music.  Apart from these influences, close family friends were deeply in to the genre and we used to listen to two particularly playing on the Veena.  And, all our weddings inevitably had musicians playing Carnatic music with Nadaswaram and in the evenings during the receptions, leading vocalists entertaining the guests.

As was the then custom, we had a teacher coming home to teach our sister and our cousin to sing, but alas, despite his best efforts, these two worthies could never master the technique though they did as all of us listening to their efforts did too, learn to appreciate the finer aspects of the genre.  Apart from all these influences, our father had a penchant to associate himself with lady singers and would drag us to meet them to listen to private performances.

I grew up in that atmosphere but lost touch with that part of Chennai life with the advent of Rock and Roll and Elvis Preseley etc.  That led to other interests and I eventually ended up coming to appreciate Hindustani Classical music due to living in Pune where it is de rigueur to be seen attending concerts with two very big festivals, the Sawai Gandharva and the Pune festival, celebrating it.

The Sunday concert by Nityashree Mahadevan and her troupe, was  three plus hours of sheer magic.  I was surprised at my ability to sit through the whole concert without losing interest.  Nityashree and her accompanists were all inspired and it was a once in a life time evening.  The audience response was no less in appreciation and involvement.  I had the music playing in my ears till Monday afternoon. I have decided to become a member of the local society promoting this genre of music and attend more concerts that they regularly arrange. No, I have no intention of learning to sing though!

When I posted about this development on my Facebook page, the sheer joy of my dear ones welcoming me back to the fold left me stumped!

Thank you Koushik for rekindling that inner fire and being the other human being too! Thanks to you, another human being Nityashree too did that.

Story 12. Bizarre Career Path.


This is the second story originating in Pondicherry, the first one being the Gritty Lady. The hero of this story is Elangovan. Neither Elangovan nor Tanya are aware of each others existence and you will soon see why.

Elango was also a classmate of mine who was in the school hostel as his father, a farmer/merchant of Pondicherry had sent him to Chennai to study. Elangovan soon started to be known as langot but was able to carry that off with panache. He was an excited student and full of cheer and was always playing practical jokes on his classmates.

I lost touch with Elango after school till I went back to Chennai to work. On one of my weekend visits to Pondicherry, I succeeded in locating his father’s shop and then traced him to the local Medical College, where he was in his final year. After that, we were in regular touch by letters, yes those wonderful things that people used before the advent of emails. He graduated and joined up for postgraduate qualification in orthopedics.

Till now, his story is no different from thousands of other stories that we all know. But from here, it starts being bizarre. Six months into his postgraduate programme, his father died and the joint family business and agricultural operations were taken over by his uncle. Something went wrong between Elango and his uncle and our hero dropped out of college and started a poultry farm on the plot of agricultural land that he got partitioned as his share from the ancestral property.

Going back to the late sixties of the last century, poultry farming was not what it is today. Elango was more or less a pioneer of sorts and had his share of grief and joy in seeing that the operations became profitable. I know that he had to struggle a great deal and in the process, alienated his family who refused permission for him to marry his cousin to who he was betrothed from childhood. Our hero fought on and made his enterprise a grand success in about three years time.

He then decided to sell the business and move on with his life outside Pondicherry and using his French entitlement which his father had not fortunately surrendered, emigrated to France. His understanding was that he would resume his medical education there and make a life for himself as a doctor.

Reality was somewhat different and he ended up qualifying to be a pathology laboratory technician and started to work in earnest. By this time he was nearing the age of 30 and among the few contacts that he had in India was yours truly. By the late seventies, our writing to each other tapered off and I did not know what had happened to him till fate again intervened in the form of a visitor from France who traced me to Mumbai where I was then stationed to seek some help. He had been told to contact me at need by Elango and having contacted my Chennai office which was the last address that Elango had of me, he traced me to Mumbai. It was lucky that I had not changed jobs and through this little development, I reestablished contact with Elango. He had by then married a French girl and was residing in Marseilles and continuing to be a Laboratory Technician in a hospital there.

We would exchange new year greetings every year and that was about all the contact that I had with him till fate again intervened.

I had to stop over in Paris in 1988 for a few days visiting friends there when with their help I was able to speak to Elango on the phone. He insisted that I go over to Marseilles at least for a day which I did and had the most enjoyable reunion with him and met his somewhat shy wife. She could not speak English and it was a trying time for her to be anything other than an onlooker while the two of us chatted away and caught up with a lot of history. He had by then bought a nice little row house in a terrace and well settled in his career though he thought that he had made a mistake in not pursuing a career in medicine in India. He had burnt all his bridges with India and had little to do with other Indians in France content in his small world.

We parted company once again and I went my way onward to the UK and again lost touch with him till 1997 when I had to go to Paris again, this time on business and I was able to combine a weekend there. I got in touch with Elango who readily agreed to come over to Paris for a day and that was when I got the shock of my life.

Our hero had again changed his career and was now a transcontinental truck driver. He simply said that he found the new career paying much more than his Lab Technician job did and he was building a nest egg for his retirement.

That was the last time I met him and my attempts to locate him via the internet have failed and he did not respond to mails sent to him to his Marseilles address. I speculate that by now, in his seventieth year, he must have retired and be pottering around in his small garden. I dare not speculate anything else.