The last few days of my life

There are some journeys that you would like to remember forever as the most happening moments of your life; and there are some that you'd like to forget immediately as ones full of mishaps. The last few days of my life would fall in the latter category.

Where should I begin? The flight from Lucknow to Bagdogra via Delhi, where we landed in the middle of a thunderstorm, or the train from NJP to Allahabad featuring a derailed goods train and a punctured tyre? Or may be the auto ride late in the night that could have, well, made these last few days of my life, really the last days of my life! Perhaps, I'd start four years ago with the alma mater I bid good-bye today, on the eve of our Convocation.

I come from a small hill station in Darjeeling and belong to a simple middle class family. For the last four years, I've spent the most important festival of our calendar year Diwali in the middle of a few friends, 500 miles from home in Allahabad. So it should come as no surprise to the reader that when presented with an opportunity to go home on Diwali eve after five years, the writer was over himself with delight. So delighted that he could miss his convocation just to go home! You might be surprised how someone can miss the product of four years of dedication and toil and a lifetime of memory (!) for a small moment of mirth. But if you've bid over 50% of your friends who live not more than a hundred miles away, a Happy Diwali as you are left with a bunch of Southies to enjoy Sagar Ratna instead of home-made delicacies, you'd probably understand. But not without a first hand account of events at MNNIT would you completely understand; and thence, decide against turning up for your own convocation.

I had my tickets booked for the 22nd by Rajdhani Express to New Jalpaiguri and return tickets to Lucknow on the 28th. Then, I had a long conversation with my mother that lasted over nine minutes. The agenda of the discussion was to convince me to attend the convo just because she wanted to see me wearing that crazy robe. Without a second thought, I cancelled the return ticket to book another ticket back to Allahabad. Another ticket got cancelled when Tata Motors announced that we were working on 23rd October, Sunday; hence in order not to sandwich my holidays, the best bet I had was to leave on 24th. Hence, the itinerary now read: LKO-> NJP on 24th by Awadh Assam Exp. and NJP-> ALD on 28th by Mahananda Exp.

Problems started to compound when in two months, the ticket I'd booked on wait-list #9 moved down two places only to WL#7. Two days before the train was to leave, I cancelled the third ticket for the trip to book a flight to Bagdogra via Delhi on 25th. Excitedly I called makemytrip.com on the evening of the 24th, only to learn that the transaction had been dropped. The attendant politely told me that he'd try his best that I get the entire amount refunded. I checked all flights for the next day. None would cost me less than Rs. 7,500. I called up a good friend, who checked on his own and found out that if I left that night itself, I'd have to hold in Delhi for the night but would get another flight in the morning and the trip would cost me Rs. 5000. I had to book a flight to Delhi (Rs. 1500) and then another one to Bagdogra (Rs. 3500). By the time I booked the first flight, the second expressed regrets. I was late by 5 minutes and it was full. The next cheapest flight to Bagdogra was for Rs. 6600. I checked my watch; it was impossible to catch the flight to Delhi that night. I cancelled that ticket; Rs. 1100 lost in cancellation charges. In the end (with God's grace), I did get a ticket to Bagdogra for the next morning, for a much cheaper rate and did reach Bagdogra nevertheless. Ironically, on the same flight that makemytrip.com regretted and could not offer any seat to me.

Two days at home passed in a jiffy. After all, it was festival time and I'd some work in the bank and there were family members coming from other places. After two days, I left early in the morning after Bhaiya Dooj. At NJP, I met Sneha Agarwal, a good friend from X+2 for about 2 minutes; came to know that she was travelling by Rajdhani Exp, the first train I had cancelled. The train arrived in 2 minutes and she was gone. Mahananda Exp. arrived some time later. I was complacent that I had been able to spend two days at home and could also attend my convocation now; a rare feat albeit at the cost of a few rules, read my inability to attend the dress rehearsal that was compulsory to attend the convo. But then, if you are an engineer and you've studied at a premier engineering college and work in a premier factory, complacency is a word you'd appreciate.

So, I was scheduled to reach Allahabad at 6 am in the morning, well ahead of the 2 pm convocation. But fate had different plans for me. At 3 am, the train stopped at Mughal Sarai junction and refused to budge till 8 am, when I learned that a goods train had derailed some stations away and would take some time to be cleared; meaning if I stayed on that train, I'd probably reach Allahabad only after 5 pm. I immediately got down at Mughal Sarai junction and walked out into a horde of haggling drivers. If I had more time, I could probably take a bus to Varanasi, then another bus from there to Allahabad and then an auto to the institute, but time was not at my disposal. The taxi drivers took advantage of my situation, asking me for Rs. 3000 and Rs. 2800 to drop me to Allahabad. After considerable shoving, I managed to find one good driver ready to take me for Rs. 1300. I jumped in immediately. Hardly 2 kms from the station, the good driver started working on me to raise the fare a little, citing toll taxes and rising oil prices and what naught! In the end, I managed to contain him for Rs. 1400. I had to keep moving.

60 kms into the ride and the rear left tyre punctured. With the little training I've had at Tata Motors, I helped the driver replace the spare tyre. The driver, now fully aware of the adrenaline rushing through my blood, drove in full speed only to reach the institute at 12:30 pm. I collected  a couple of documents a friend had ready in printed form and ran towards the Dean Acads building for registration for the convocation. When I reached there, a blank staring man announced that I was late by 5 minutes. I tried hard and in vain to convince him of my situation. In the end, he said that only the Dean Acads could help me; and he was not picking up his phone because he was in a meeting.

At 1:30 pm, with almost 30 people behind me who had also come a little late but interested nevertheless to attend the convo, we met the Dean Acads. Dr. Duggal brisked us quickly at first but we continued pleading persistently. When you push aside your ego and look beyond your pride, you start using all words like institute-nurturing-you and all-important-day and it perhaps worked, for with 10 minutes to go for the convo, he gave a nod to allow us to wear the crazy gown I'd come for and pose with the director for a photograph. Only when I came back from the stage did I realize that the folder handed over to me was empty; it would take me another struggle through another line to get my degree finally.

By the time I got my degree (after standing in a line for another hour), I was getting late to go back to Lucknow, which isn't very far away but I had office even on a Sunday the next day, and I could not afford to miss it. Not for the 1000 Rs. I'd lose as LWOP, not for the sake of record that I'd notified well in advance about my leaves, not even for the Rs. 87000 I could probably save the company, but because I'd come to convo basically to wear the gown and get my degree; not to meet my friends. And although I wish I could meet my good friends and spend some time with them, I'm sure that our paths would intersect more often to throw more opportunities for us to meet. I'd look forward to be in good touch till then. So, without meeting friends, without wasting another minute in college, just as I'd come like the wind, I was also probably the first to leave.

And I left for good because I caught the last bus to Lucknow just in time. And since I had not had anything since morning, when I'd left the train at Mughal sarai with three biscuits in my stomach, I was awfully thirsty and hungry. I managed to delay the bus by 5 minutes to buy a bottle of water and a packet of biscuits. At 10 pm, I had a morsel of a meal at Bhadohi, mid-way between Allahabad and Lucknow and at midnight, reached Lucknow.

When I was getting down the bus, I realized that I'd also lost that day, my mobile phone cover; somebody might have mistaken it for my wallet that was safe in my bag. With two baggages in hand and another one on my back, and a horde of people hurrying behind me to get down the bus, I landed in a rough patch, spraining my left ankle. In the end, I had no option but to get an auto right from there to take me back to my flat; no option even to bargain the fare. It was past midnight and in his excitement, the autowallah wound a new route to take me to the flat. He said it was a shorter route and I was too weak to resist. I had had fever all day long,  something I had tried to conceal from good friends by acting a little hyper. The autorickshaw wound up a railway track and then stopped right there; right on the railway track with a train not more than a 100 metres away. With a sprained ankle, I got down the auto and pushed it ahead, managing to get it moving with the slow train hardly 20 metres away. Had it been an express, I would have probably perished. Yes, these last days would have been my last days.

With all these mishaps, I write this post, to apologize to my friends that I could not meet; my sister whom I had to disconnect; my parents who had to bear a lot with me and often call many other people to find out if I was safe. Yes, I'm safe and in one piece after everything and I thank God for all the near-misses; eventually I did go home for Diwali, had fun, attended convo, got my degree and am alive. And as a sister messaged me in the evening, even I'm proud of myself :)



To talk only for oneself and speak for everyone
To inspect only oneself and inspire everyone
To value every passing hour to do good for man
To save greed to serve in charity in all lands
To denounce no pleasure but stay away from wrath
To work hard for glory but stay away from pride
To waste not what could be used for social good
To listen to people in want and offer them food
To lend an ear to troubled souls and give a helping hand
To learn something from the manager to the foreman
This is all I would aspire to do
And for all this, I thank you. 


Stories Untold

Many stories lie in the back of my mind
Daring to be expressed in words rude and kind
Unpolished languages that moisten the eye
Fiction and fact from far below to the sky
Stories that these lips just cannot say
Stories from the past that do not decay
Stories that wish to be spoken out
In crisp lines that could be recited aloud
To fall and spread like autumn leaves
To overcome blocks stuck in the throat like beads
Forbidden by voice with a pain captured within
Tears blur the vision; eyes closed - no more is seen
These stories weigh on me to scribble a few lines
A few words that have been unspoken so many times
But the words are captured in my heart like a cage
And another day passes just like another age

That Woman

"Hello", I called out and smiled at you
You looked with disgust, "Do I know you?"
I'm neither well-dressed nor a pretty face
But insult me not with scorn and disgrace.

"You know me, as I've often told you
I am that beggar woman you see across the street
That you pass each day, with no sympathy
That woman struggling daily to make both ends meet.

"You know me, as I've often told you
I am that old lady that was shunned by her only son
Like an inanimate object that would not protest
Still waiting for her inconspicuous son to return.

"You know me, as I've often told you
I am that mother who sold herself every night
In youth, to feed her baby crying in her arms
Hiding him in her aanchal from dust and light.

"You know me, as I've often told you
I am that woman you left at another crossroad
When I was breathing and living and eating
Why do you feed me on my shradha now?

Footnote: Shradha is a ceremonial fire or yajna in India that devout Hindus perform on the death anniversary of their parents for their souls to rest in peace. Among other things, he feeds the fire with food and sweets so that his parents do not suffer from hunger in their afterlife.

This poem is inspired from a small reading of Shree Madh Bhagwat Gita that I happened to attend a few days ago where all the holy shrines are said to rest in the feet of one's parents and by offering service to one's parents, one earns the blessings of all the Gods.


Stairway to Heaven

The mystic’s eyes glistened with gleam
His lips curling in upward stream
To point to the Heavens above
That now lay within his reach
A journey he had sought to beseech
To spread his message of love.

And although he could read the sign
He double checked the beautiful rhyme
Cause a verse can give two meanings
There’s a brightness on his face
That clearly shows his confidence
And the surge of subtle feelings.

And he walks towards the Heavens
Through rough highways and small by-lanes
Spreading his message of love
He sprints, flints, with a calmness so rare
Joined by hundreds and thousands in his dare
To take them directly to Heavens above.

Spreading his word on universal love
The man ascends peacefully with a smile above
His soul no longer bound to earth
But his message lives for men to see
A path he had uncovered in his destiny
To get rid of the cycle of rebirths.


War and Peace

Peace sleeps in the darkness of the night, brooding all this time
And ginger mourns and foxy hounds sound such a saucy rhyme
The wind beats against the iron roofs that clatters like old man's teeth
A sultry silence beats the eerie sound of shameless defeat.

And nothing gained through years of end of self and sacrifice
To satiate one man's insatiable quench for pelf and prejudice
And he shines now, is he the Sun and noble son of the land
For the land is red with bloodshed albeit all the riches in his hands.

But the war does not end here. nor its pity nor its gloom
All that glitters is not gold, not every lily blooms
The road ahead is steep although a milestone has been laid
At the cost of a hundred tombstones that lie restless with words unsaid.

And with swords unsheathed yet, their voices will haunt him forever
The compromise has been made but his heart will shine now never
And although peace has been made, is this any less than war
For the warm rays dispel the darkness but Peace still sleeps for sure.

To Whom It May Concern

Crouching slowly over my bed
With a thousand memories in mind
And still running short of phlegmatic words
To capture them in rhyme.

Of long chats and sleepless nights
Mischievous pranks and marvelled heights
Fancy days and faded lights
Some memories flashing before my sight.

Of happydent and not much repent
Times we together spent
Pictures, movies, art and paint
Evil, genius, dalmations and saint.

And futile rules and wasted tools
Of turtles and flirts pretending cool
No less than kids out of school
Of a fancy party by the pool.

This is a dedication to the lot
Who keep reappearing in my thoughts
Half of what I do is jealousy
The other half is called poetry.

For the Girls

The brooding chariot of the God of night
Brings Martha's wrinkled face in sight
Who sings in darkness all night long
To tempt young Phoebus with her song.

To bring alive her fate long dead
To drive some wine down her head
To bring back once again those days
Spent on endless sin and error's maze.

To taste again that juicy lust
The betrayal following the trust
To hiss the green snakes in the night
Those scale necks in ember light.

To plot, to hate, to contemplate
To drive, contrive, in all bad faith
To suckle like a vampire no less
And bite him open in his face.

To revenge all he had forgotten
A maiden, waiting for his return
A message he did not reply
Because his message-pack had expired!


Out of Business

Ten years ago, who would have imagined that Kostobh Mukherjee would be selling talc cum powder or dry-cleaning clothes or painting houses. He not only did it now, but did it with a smile on his face. A first class graduate from one of the finest universities in the country, Kostobh had been the school topper continuously since fifth standard, i.e. ever since he was introduced to the word competition. For twenty years, he dodged every social carnival, toiled through every examination and burnt the midnight oil, only to be out of business for no fault of his own. When the sub-prime crisis hit America towards the turn of the new century, the HR quietly called Kostobh and handed him the pink slip. 

“You mean you are firing me?” Kostobh had dreaded this day for ten years but he could hardly believe it now. He had completed all his targets this term two days in advance. The HR tried his best to be his best buddy in this hour of dire need but could hardly contain a long discussion and a few exasperated gasps.

“Mr. Mukherjee, the company does not find your services indispensable any more. In accordance with the decision arrived at by the Board of Directors, we have been asked to curtail our finances, which means laying off a few men. Your performance hasn’t been any better than it was ten years ago and you have not been able to contribute significantly to the company’s growth.”

“But why now?” Kostobh looked bitterly at the HR. The prospect of his parents looking for a bride to groom this man, at a locality nearby immediately filled Kostobh with horror.

She gave him a very sorry smile and said, “We are very sorry, Mr. Mukherjee. Let me try to explain it to you the simple way. Some bankers in the rich countries were silly enough to lend money to stupid people who put their money on overestimated houses. So when the bubble burst, the banks found themselves in a flimsy and short of cash. Now people there are short of money; they aren’t buying from our country much, hence people in our country are short of money and aren’t buying from us either. So to cut things short, we have a huge dip in our sales and we have to take out someone from the sales department to please the board. It is a tough decision for us but there’s …”

Kostobh could hear it no more. The last statement kept ringing on in his mind as an echo. At least from the manager’s face, it was difficult to believe what he had just said. A smile slowly flickered on Kostobh’s face as he left the room which eventually turned into tears; painful, throbbing, irrepressible, uncontrollable, heart-rendering, intense sobs that could be a hundred curses on the manager and the company that he had served for ten excruciating years.

From the office, Kostobh headed straight to the bank to find out his financial position. Even with the meager salary that had creeped slower than a dead cockroach in ten years, he had managed a small recurring deposit, often by taking loans from neighbours, that would mature in less than six months time. Of the few right things that he had done in life, Kostobh had put all he could invest in this savings account that the bank said, would yield him ten times the money he had deposited throughout the period.

As he waited outside the Bank manager’s office, Kostobh counted the time left for his savings to mature. 160 days it was. On his drive to the bank, he had been relieved that the long period was almost over but now, 160 days appeared a shade darker, a grim bit too long. How was he to run his family for 160 days? How was he to pay the bank for the deposit for 160 days? If only he could get back his money now, he could live comfortably for another year while searching for a new firm to work with. As he was rushed into the manager’s cabin, he immediately flew upon the manager: “I want my money back!”

The manager hushed his impatient client and shut his room with a thud. In the most courteous voice he could manage, the man tried to reason out with Kostobh that he had deposited his money in a time deposit and if he withdrew it before its maturity period, he would not be entitled to any interest, leave alone the multiplication factor that Kostobh kept ringing every now and then.

“No sir, if you remove your money today, we would only release the sum deposited by you. Not a single penny more. The bank could also discount a few hundred rupees towards remittance fee, transaction fee and penalty. You must continue your recurring deposit for another 160 days to avail of what you have been promised.”

“1-6-0 DAYS!! I am bankrupt!! Why don’t you understand!!” Both the men rose from their seats and silence filled the heated atmosphere until Kostobh sank in his seat with his face sinking beneath his seat.

“I understand your situation sir and I would feel anything but pity for you, but please try to understand that we, banks are going through a situation no less. At such a time, I can help you no more than suggest to burrow from your neighbours for another 160 days; you can repay them back as soon as you realize your money.”

Kostobh’s face glowed at once. In a moment, the exasperation, the suffocation, the trifled sobs, all seemed to have been given an outlet by the modest suggestion of the manager and it struck him at once. He considered no more and headed home. With a heavy heart, as he sat down for dinner, he passed the news about his removal as well as the bank manager’s suggestion to his parents. They were dazed but Kostobh gave them a smile to kindle them again. It was all that he thrived on, and they thrived on him.

The next couple of months, Kostobh worked hard to find a new job, but at 32 and with the kind of resume that he carried, it was difficult to catch the eye. Where his juniors had managed three promotions in a singular calendar year, he had failed to get a promotion in ten long years. No doubt, he had outperformed everybody in school and college examinations, even his best friends could not vouch for him. He had always been a nerd and his social circle could be counted to two or three friends who too found themselves in trying circumstances.

For two months, Kostobh kept borrowing from his neighbours and paying for his recurring deposit. But neighbours find out sooner than anybody else when a person is out of business and in Kostobh’s case, one could never be sure that he would be back on business again. With a hundred days still to go, finances were increasingly difficult to handle.  Kostobh would act, wash, paint and do anything to keep his household going. In the next two months, he would break all barriers to make two ends meet. He would pull rickshaws, appear as a waiter in a marriage, carry heavy luggage at the bus stop and even perform stunts in local drama.

Just fifteen days for the recurring deposit to mature, Kostobh was sleeping idly below a mango tree after a hard day of toil. It was at this time that Kostobh’s father was admitted to the hospital in the emergency ward. Kostobh tried all means to arrange for the heavy money required to get him admitted but his friends had been facing tough times themselves and who would borrow money to a man in a situation that this man was in. Kostobh walked about the streets in disdain until he came across the local drama outfit. There was a long queue in front of the makeshift stage.

Kostobh slipped in the line slowly and asked another person: “Why is this mandali here?”

To this, he received a sharp stare but it hardly bothered him now. “These people are from Mumbai. They are staging a play on unemployment in Indian villages. They are auditioning today. If you get selected, you could get anything between one lakh and five lakh rupees.”

Kostobh’s jaws dropped. It was like a God-sent to him. He immediately roped into the local drama unit’s director and asked him to make a recommendation. He begged him that he was in dire need of money and that his father was ill. It did not make a difference to the director who had heard this story from ten other boys who had also done small works with him but he did give an assurance. As Kostobh waited for his turn, he reeled upon his own life how unemployment had changed his life.

Where he used to enjoy his time before a computer in a comfortable office, getting tired with a few calls between, he could now go on to work all day long in the sun. Where he idled his time away, every second now meant an opportunity to earn. Where prices gave him headaches once, he had learnt to exploit price differentials. And he had learned to interact with people, to make them see reason, he had shed his inhibitions, had done all kinds of works and had learned life.

At the stage, he showed how a man of no confidence had changed into a highly confident man, thanks to the unemployment. The director ridiculed his performance but shortlisted his name before the final selections. Kostobh waited in tow to see how his competitors fared. He noted how one had been so frail in his emotions that his emotions were all over the place. He also pointed out how another one had failed to show no emotion at all. In the end, he was confident that he could persuade the director to give him a role and he could probably beg him to give him a signing amount to meet his father’s medical expenses.

The man without emotions was selected. The man with too much emotions was also selected. But not Kostobh. At once, he was raged and grabbed the director’s throat to which a dozen men came flinging to get the director rid of his clutches. When he had cooled down a little, he asked a spot-boy very close to the director what he had in mind. The spot-boy said: “This play needs special handling. The proponents have to sway their emotions according to the audience’s grasp. The director saw that myriad of expression on one person. He got selected.”

Kostobh could hardly have been more baffled. “And what about the other guy?”

“Well, there is a character whose expression should not change no matter how much the audience laughs at him, no matter how much he makes them laugh. We needed someone to fit a character without emotions. This man suits that role.”

Kostobh left out a heavy laugh that could well have been an outburst and the spot-boy disappeared. In bewilderment, he kept wandering off the streets until he came across the bank. He rushed at once and withdrew everything that he had deposited in the recurring deposit in ten and a half years. The manager kept telling him that he would be out of his mind to withdraw fifteen days before maturity but nothing loomed in Kostobh’s mind as he put his signatures.

When his father opened his eyes in the general ward the next day, Kostobh looked into his eyes and said, 
“There are more things on heaven and earth than can ever be dreamed of in our philosophies. But this is not the end. It is only the beginning of a new life.”