Normally, in similar situations, I would sit back and relax. But this afternoon, I didn’t listen to my friend and his wife and left, foolishly hoping to beat the rain by walking briskly.
As I stood under the projected balcony of an old building, it felt good. After how many years did I stand by the roadside in pouring rain? Shabby buildings were getting smudged with the grey sky … waves of rain hit the road like whiplashes … rivulets of water swirled down the gutter into a grating in front of me. Looking up, I also saw the joists holding the balcony over my head were rusted and withered. I didn’t want to find myself underneath a pile of rubble or in tomorrow’s newspapers. I moved under the awning of a shop.
Splashes of rain soaked me as I stood in the deserted North-Kolkata lane. Two boys in dripping school uniform walked past, talking and laughing, as if that is how they returned from school every day. They were evidently "loving it"! When I was their age, I too loved to wade through water-logged streets through heavy showers. Perhaps every child loves it. But today, as the gutter filled quickly and water rose with much flotsam, my skin twitched at the thought of walking through the fetid green water. It continued to pour; it was time to worry about how I’d reach home at the other end of the city. I decided to give the meeting a miss; it wouldn’t be a great idea to meet Mrs. M. and her principal looking like a mop just out of a bucket. There were no taxis … no vehicles at all.
Suddenly, an angel flew in from the sky in an auto rickshaw and offered to drop me at Girish Park metro station for a small consideration.
When I stood before a pedestal fan on the platform and phoned Mrs. M., there was a touch of desperation in her voice, ‘Please don’t leave. It’s important that I hand you over a letter and take the one you are carrying. Please wait, I’ll take a colleague’s car and reach the metro station in five minutes.’
Fifteen minutes later, she called. More desperation: ‘Where are you?’
‘On the platform, in front of the escalator.’
‘I too am in front of the escalator. What’s gone wrong? Please look out! I have a brown envelope in my hand. In fact I’ve been waving it at every gentleman on the platform.’
‘And I have a white book in my hand. But are we on the same page? I mean, are we at the same station?’
A brief pause was followed by, ‘I am extremely sorry. I’m at Mahatma Gandhi Road station.’
She covered the distance between the father of the nation and the father of Bengali theatre in five minutes. We exchanged pleasantries, apologies, and letters, but the story didn’t end. She was sorry to trouble me, but could I please meet her principal to conclude a few details? Ah! If all our teachers were as stubbornly committed, our education system would score ten on ten. Mr. Sibbal would have little to do.
We took another train to MG Road, because the car was there, which incidentally was not there. Mrs. M asked me to look for a green Maruti Zen. It would have been embarrassing to declare that I am colour-blind and can’t distinguish between green and red. So I took a chance. I saw a red Zen, and hoping it would look green to the rest of the world, pointed at it with a winning smile. She gaped at me in utter incomprehension.
We found the car, but the driver was not to be found. He materialised ten minutes later, a bit pale, and panting. He had been looking for Mrs. M. in the station. His intentions were peaceful: he just wanted to tell her she had been brought to a wrong station. But the alert policemen guarding the station thought he was "moving about in a suspicious manner". He was released only after being frisked and grilled.
I wonder what else could go wrong this afternoon.
Kolkata, 12 August 2010