Now and Then

Shehjar e-magazine

eople look forward to their retirement and have a set program of celebrating life after having worked all their young age but there are some, like me, who did not plan at all. In its repetition when life gets boring, a little diversion in routine gets you a lot of amusement. This acts as a tonic for the old body and soothes the frail nerves. Generally I read too much, write a little and do household chores that keep me busy all day. Then at times I yawn with exhaustion and try figure out a change in my schedule that could promise me some joy and pleasure. I do have a few friends in the neighborhood with whom I do interact on matters relating to religion, present-day politics and literature besides topics of general nature. We discuss things at random and never agree with each other prompting endless debates. Sometimes things get a bit rusty and we quickly disengage and return to our dens, only to reunite the next day for another debate on some another matter. What started as an exercise in finding like-minded friends now and then it ended up in our regular meet at the local park every evening for a couple of hours.

In this motley group of the senior citizens I found out one man, we call him Pradhanji, who always contradicts my point of view. I do not think I am always right, but even when I know I am, he must stamp his foot down and oppose me tooth and nail. May be he does this knowingly or may be he is just a nut. One thing I am sure about is that he keeps me on my tenterhooks and takes some kind of pleasure in doing so. He will not enter into any debatable argument with the other six in this group of eight. They have no issues to worry them and they least bother to put any weight in their argument. Everyone is literate and everyone has held position of authority in whatever field of activity they were and would perhaps be capable of doing what Pradhanji is doing. But they are a bit more sensible and withdraw from entering into any conflicting situation. Only I do not give up so easily. It is a long outstanding issue with me to make things happen that are kind of unexpected and create some kind of sensation that would take the one-upmanship out him and let him feel beaten at his own little pranks that he often plays with me. I just can’t help doing that for I am as vulnerable to human traits as anybody else.

This time, unexpectedly, I got the opportunity and did not want to miss it for anything more valuable. I got an invitation at my doorsteps by a tour company that offered a Goa retreat during the monsoon season at a discounted fare that would play safe with my finances and play great with my downgraded psyche. The offer was on twin sharing basis and it felt great to take the chance of giving my wife a vacation she deserved rather than share a room with someone I didn’t know. The Monsoon season is a great time to visit Goa and the rains there make the landscape green and the sea furious at its own existence and the River Mandovi a bit playful at this time of the season. I am no great fan of the sea or the beaches but the solid ground with lush green foliage attracts my attention and Goa is green during the monsoon. So I knew I would have a great time.

The flight to Goa via Mumbai was uneventful and no turbulence was encountered throughout the journey despite the huge cauliflower type cumulous clouds hovering around the entire route that the pilot deftly circumnavigated. We had a pick-up waiting for us at the airport and were soon whisked away to the hotel where a welcome drink awaited us as we checked in. Our tour guide turned up later in the evening and he charted out a program for the next four days along with a bunch of nine other old couples like us whom we met first time in the banquet hall at the hotel. I didn’t know that participation was for old guys only. After a few drinks and a sumptuous dinner later we retired for the night and looked forward to an excited adventure ahead. I knew Pradhanji would feel small just by telling him tales of my recent adventure that he missed. He would surely ask why I didn’t inform him about the offer and let him join our group. Let the buzzard swim in his own soup and feel low, I would feel elated.

I felt like a young man once again and frolicked around in Goa and my wife kept up her invectives warning me to slow down. I told her the secret of my desire and asked her to help me gain some special insights with which I could beat the old gentleman and make him feel small. She warned me the idea was not dignified or that it befitted my personality. But like a fool I kept pushing too hard collecting anecdotes that I would recount to Pradhanji and make him jealous. I had a weight on my head that I wanted to offload with a vengeance and for once feel a step ahead of my adversary. I knew for sure he could not counter me on any account for information thus acquired. For one thing at least I discovered the taste of the local brew very invigorating and I thought I should not tire to praise this worldly nectar called “Feni”. It was offered to me on the very next day we started with the tour when early morning after returning from my morning walk I stopped enroute wanting a cup of tea but was shocked to learn that only Feni stalls are open everywhere and not a tea stall in sight for miles.

We had a joyous period of four days of touring in and around Goa and all the sites were really worth seeing. There are a number of amazing churches and an array of equally famous temples around town that are a must see including the memorial built for Dona Paula whose love tale is a legend that the city never tires to recount. I tried all the tasty food that was offered in the streets of Goa and the seafood was in particular yummy. The spice in “Vindaloo” was overpowering and my wife simply refrained from eating this stuff. The Portuguese culture is an unmistakable influence on the local population. On the last day of our tour we had a surprise gift awaiting us and that was a boat ride on the waters of river Mandovi. This was kept as a conditional itinerary subject to the weather being pleasant and it was our good luck we found the weather favorable. There were lights and music and dance on board and a sumptuous dinner later.

While returning home we found the rains ahead of us and the sky overcast and there was light to moderate rain that promised to stay put for some time. We were a bit soiled with rain that caught us during our transfer from the cab to our cabin. I did not leave home the entire evening and simply kept planning how to belittle my old friend with my anecdotes the next day when we meet in the park, subject of course to the fact that it did not rain any more the next day. And certainly there was no rain when I got up in the morning, fresh and pepped up for the assault on my friend scheduled in the evening.

Of course Pradhanji is of an impeccable character. Well that is what he keeps claiming. He has worked in the Central PWD as an Executive Engineer and is just about six years senior to me in age. Having been in the field all the time he has still managed to read quite some literature and even poetry. We do discuss, among other things, authors and their work and offer our critical analysis of their writing. I am of the opinion he is well conversant with all the facets of civil social behavior and appreciates inputs that keep pouring in from our group of eight at the park where we meet everyday. In fact he was unanimously chosen as the leader of the group. Every Sunday we meet at the residence of a member in turns and enjoy the hospitality offered by the family. Tea and snacks are relished as also the companionship of the kith and kin.

Not that the others in this group are of any lesser caliber. One is Doctor who never wrote a prescription but taught anatomy in a medical college, and the other an ex-army officer. Next one was a teacher and the other a retired civil servant. We have a guy in banking profession and the other a straggler who was a sales person and changed jobs at the drop of a hat. In short almost all spheres of activity are represented in this group and we are never short of talent when it comes to discussing a subject that needs our attention. We enjoy our company and take pride in having formed this group just by being regular park joggers at one time. Meeting now and then changed into a permanent camaraderie.

I was all ready with my stories and anecdotes for my friends in the park and I knew they would lap up the content with awe and amazement at my adventures. I wanted to keep the acidic content out for the time being till everything settled down and then at intervals aim my arrows at Pradhanji. I was sure he would feel wounded and my spirits would then really soar high. Reaching the park I found all my friends there except Pradhanji. After taking my seat I looked closely at them to figure out their reaction about me and found all the faces glum and sad. Upon my enquiry about their state of mind I was taken aback when they informed me that Pradhanji was no more. He had faced a massive heart attack two days after my departure for Goa and today was the fourth day of his death and a memorial service was held at 5 pm this evening only at the Arya Samaj Mandir in the vicinity. In fact they had assembled in the park directly after the service.

I was shocked to learn that the fellow had really missed me and kept telling others about my great state of mind and my qualities. He was praiseworthy of my intelligence and kept hammering the fact that my presence in the group was the only factor that made him come to the gathering day after day. He had said he felt invigorated and refreshed after talking to me on any subject that was offered for discussion on any particular day. And all along I had been planning to demean the gentleman. I really felt like a criminal and sought an immediate means to offer my sincere apologies to my deceased friend. I didn’t know how but I stood up and directed my steps to the house of Pradhanji where I found the family gathered in the living room meeting all visitors. I asked around for his wife and said my condolences to her. I didn’t feel light at all after doing that and kept hanging around until I met his only son and shamefacedly narrated to him my feelings about his father before his death and vowed to think kindly about him in my daily prayers. With a feeling of guilt lurking in my heart I gave up my routine meetings at the park.
Shri BL Dhar was born and brought up at Srinagar. After completing his Master’s Degree in Mathematics he ventured out of the state and found a job in the Civil Aviation Department joining as a Gazetted Officer. His area of activity was at Delhi and Mumbai International airports. He was selected to undergo training at the school of aviation; Luxembourg under the UNDP program and later posted at the Corporate Headquarters in New Delhi. He had in the meantime joined the newly formed PSU, Airports Authority of India, from where he retired as a General Manager in 2000. He has written innumerable articles about aviation that was published in the house magazine. He is now settled in Delhi and keeps his interest alive in writing..
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