KPR's Blog

The Winter of 1981 – Part I

Posted in Uncategorized by K P Ramachandran on July 26, 2020

 It was my seventh year in Calcutta. We were living in South Calcutta, not very far from my Bank. My childhood friend and cousin Govindan (Prof. Govindankutty Kartha) and my brother in law Shankar were on their maiden visit to Calcutta. Both were accompanied by their spouses. Govindan had Arathy, his first born with him. Shankar was newlywed. Most of the evenings were charted for the city highlights – the Victoria memorial, Kalighat, Dakshineswar, Belur Matt, National Library, the Zoo, Rabindra Sarovar. They enjoyed every moment and relished every experience. Our driver Sahu enthused them with his running accounts and took them proudly around as if showing around his own private estate.

We were toying with the idea of a long weekend trip to somewhere. Our Ambassador car had a virgin charm. As a family car Ambassador had no rivals at the time. And Sahu was waiting for the start whistle.

Mr. Agarwal was a frequent visitor to our Bank – sometimes for his banking needs, at other times casually as a well-wisher. Many a time he suggested that a visit to Hazaribagh, a hill resort in Bihar is well worth making. He had his elder brother, a bachelor, staying in a Bungalow in the Chota Nagpur area. We could avail his cordial hospitality anytime we went there. Now knowing that we had visiting relatives from home, he repeated the offer. This time he sounded too persuasive to resist. Agarwal’s longstanding offer was accepted. Hazaribagh was to be the destination of our long family trip.

 We were 8, not counting the three kids. Besides the 6 of us in the family there were Sahu our driver and Mathew, my friend and colleague in the Bank. Mathew was a person of inexhaustible energy and fun. Thus, the recipe of our dream ride was ready. But there was a snag. Senior Agarwal was known to be an avowed spiritualist and a sworn vegetarian. Hence Mathew apprehended a conflict between the orthodoxies that go with vegetarianism and spiritualism and the ‘spirit ‘of the trip which he had collected in costly bottles. A holiday trip could not end every day with a glass of sweet water and ‘amen’. There cannot be a lock without a key, I told Mathew. Let us launch out.

We set out at 5 am the next Saturday. We were to cover about 500 km before sunset. At many points, our road intersected the bandit’s trail. Drive at odd hours was risky. Most of our way cut thru wild and desolate countryside. Sahu was our David against those dangerous Goliath’s. He knew where their shadows would fall. He wore a reassuring look which dispelled our concerns. We reached Hazaribagh by 5 pm and located the mansion where Agarwal was sitting on a long evening’s wait for us. It was early winter and Hazaribagh being a hill station, chillness thickened from early evening. We looked worn out after the long ride. Agarwal proposed a refreshing bath in the cool and crystalline well water. The water from his well had medicinal properties, he said. Be it as it may we really felt reborn after the bath and thanked generously for his timely advice. Soon we were sitting in the central hall chatting as in family evenings with Agarwal in his armchair. He was discussing his manorial life practices and the arrangements he had made for our night’s rest. Mathew was growing restless since Agarwal showed no intention to sign off. He did not want to embarrass the venerable host by setting the table for drinks. Finally, finding that he would not get a break from Agarwal, Mathew revealed his plans for the evening. Evenings of holiday trips are customarily ‘spirited ‘and he had brought along fine scotches for the purpose. And now we are waiting for his nod. We were all nervous and a tense silence followed. None of us would embarrass such noble and patriarchal host for any reason. The initial grimness on our host’s face softened. He rose from his chair and walked out enigmatically. The suspense and silence prevailed in the room was broken when Agarwal reappeared after a few minutes followed by his servant who carried 5 glasses, soda, and ice box. In a manner of making a policy statement, he said then “You are my guests. It is customary and binding on us to ensure your happiness when you are with us. Athithi Devo Bhava.” He started the session with the condition that he be served first. And ceremoniously Mathew started with the host. Mathew was euphoric and kept the mood doubly hilarious. A delectable feast followed. It was one of the golden evenings in my memory.

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