Monthly Archives: July 2010

Ye Olde Herbivores!

 My wife is a diehard fish eater. Most Bengali women are, in fact, created that way. I enjoy my fish too, but not the same way that she does. For her, a fish-less day bears a precarious resemblance to the hapless day Yudhishthira encountered hell. And believe me, she enjoys her fish to the last fish-bone she crushes, chews and extracts the juice out of!

I love my food, non-vegetables included, but I’m not an expert in the food technology. It’s she who loves buying the raw materials for the delicious victuals she prepares. And I cannot help admiring the ecstasy in her eyes when she dances back home with what she calls a live fish, even when it looks a dead as a doormat!  

“It was still jumping,” she informed me with unadulterated excitement this morning, meaning thereby that it was gasping and struggling for life when its flesh was being weighed prior to being slaughtered. Believe me friends, such live fish are the tastiest of them all.  

I know of course that I shall enjoy the fish curry she will prepare. Yet, I need to admit that she made me worry, the same way I worry to distraction every other time she succeeds in laying her hands on “live” fish. On all such occasions, I temporarily put on a vegetarian-hat and ask the question that people have asked ever since human beings were created.

“Do I have the right to destroy a thing that I can’t create, especially one that has never done me any harm?” Quite obviously, I know the answer only too clearly, as clearly indeed as I have known it the innumerably many times the question blocked my way. I can’t possibly evade the grim reality of the answer. The result is that I begin to bother  myself with other inane questions. Such as, “Does God exist? If he does, then will I not be answerable to him on the day they push me inside the crematorium?” Assuming of course that God will keep me company inside the burning chamber.

And the contradiction in my daily existence continues. Like any other animal eater, I do enjoy sinking my teeth into well-cooked flesh. And there is no end to the variety of meat that I have partaken of. I am no cannibal of course, but I have rarely shirked from eating exotic delicacies offered to me across the world. Fish, yes, any kind indeed, from large to small, cooked as well as raw fish Japanese style. Meat too, though I have got to admit that I’ve never eaten a cat or a dog and I did shudder when I learnt about a delicacy from the Far East prepared with cats’ eyes. I understand that a row of eyes, exotically garnished, stare at you from the middle of the finest bone China when they serve you the meal.

Nor, for that matter, have I ever tried to taste a tiger, alive or dead. And this thought, I mean chewing over (Ha, ha, what a silly pun!) tigers, lions, hyenas and the all the rest of the dreaded carnivores (leaving aside predatory human-eatarians needless to say), brings me pretty close to the heart of this gastro-philosophical discourse. I find myself trapped in fact in the Socratic Method of Elenchus, or dialectics if you will.  

“Isn’t the tiger engaged in the same sin that I commit everyday?” ask I, doffing the veggie-hat.

“No, it isn’t,” answer I to myself, this time donning the vh.

“Why not pray?” say I, vh-less.

“I hope you mean pray and not prey. Or else, I’ll call you a dirty scoundrel next time,” I reply vh back in place. 

“That’s what happens to veggies. They forget polite language. Ok, I will call you a rotten veggie instead. Well, tell me rv, why isn’t the tiger sinning?” I reiterate, baring my pate.

“Simple answer, ds! God didn’t endow the tiger with a mind that can ask ethical or moral questions. He didn’t deprive you of one, even though you happen to be a ds. Use that mind and ask. You can survive on vegetables alone. In fact, quite apart from moral questions, I doubt that tigers can digest grass. They are physiologically different.” I the vh gives I the non-vh a ds, this last ds being an acronym for dirty smile. Sorry, I am running out of acronyms.

“Idiot! Do you know that my wife can’t survive on vegetables alone? Like the tigress, she is physiologically different. And now, don’t you make snide remarks about my wife. It will arouse the cannibal in me,” I growled, imitating as well as I could a hungry leopard who has spotted a lonesome goat. “And remember, cannibals prefer vegetarians to non-veggies.”

“Look, don’t bring wives into this discussion. Women are beautiful creatures. That compensates for everything else.” Vh was clearly on the defensive.  

“Good,” say I to I, somewhat placated. “Don’t say anything against non-veggies. It will implicate my pretty wife.” I grinned, my teeth in full view of myself, a reminder of possible cannibal propensities.

Veggie fell silent at this juncture, partly scared, but more importantly attracted by a little news item. In fact, the non-veggie I actually pointed it out to him. He was literate I found as he read it with the speed of lightening. Here is the unedited clipping.

“The Daily Telegraph, London, Dec. 5. Garden vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes have been found to be deadly killers on a par with Venus fly traps, according to research.

Botanists have discovered for the first time that the plants are carnivorous predators who kill insects in order to ‘self-fertilise’ themselves.

New research shows that they capture and kill small insects with sticky hairs on their stems and then absorb nutrients through their roots when the animals decay and fall to the ground.

It is thought that the technique was developed in the wild in order to supplement the nutrients in poor quality soil — but even domestic varieties grown in your vegetable patch retain the ability.

The killer plants have been identified as among a host of species that are thought to have been overlooked by botanists and explorers searching the world’s remotest regions for carnivorous species.

The number of carnivorous plants is thought to have been underestimated by up to 50 per cent and many of them have until now been regarded as among the most benign of plants.”

“Ye Olde Herbibore,” guffawed Ye Olde Carnivore, “What sayst thou to this bit of intelligence? Are you ethically justified in eating a potato?”

There was no reply. I looked around. Not a sign of the vh. He had melted into thin air. Total silence reigned, if you agreed to ignore the light snore my pw was producing as she blissfully dreamed her way into the hilsa filled Haldia world.

Peace at last. Like Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, I think I am finally at peace with God. I don’t think I have any conflict with humanity either, but then this may be a contentious issue. It all depends, as the wise might say, on your point of view.

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The Margosa Tree

Some are skinning off its bark and boiling it.

Some are tearing away leaves for grinding.

Yet others are frying them in oil.

To apply on ringworm afflicted skin.

A panacea for a variety of skin ailments.

Many eat the tender leaves.

Raw, uncooked.

Or, sautéed with eggplant.

Helps the liver.

Endlessly many chew the young twigs … to keep their teeth healthy.

Practitioners of traditional medicine praise it to the skies.

The wise are pleased to see it grow next to one’s dwelling.

“Breeze filtered through Margosa leaves is good for health. Don’t chop it down,” they say.

No one chops it, but they don’t care for it either.

Garbage collects on every side.

Some build a paved platform around its stem. That’s yet another piece of junk.

Suddenly one day a maverick arrives.

He stares at the Margosa tree with rapt attention. He doesn’t tear any part of the bark, nor the leaves. He does not snap a single twig.  He simply keeps gazing.

Spellbound.

And then he says, “Oh, how exquisite the leaves … magnificent! How pretty the flower bunches … as though a flock of stars has descended from the blue sky on to the green lake below … Lovely …”

He stands staring for a while and then goes about his way.

He was not one for diseases to cure, but a poet pure.

The Margosa wished it could leave with the man. But it failed. Its roots had penetrated deep inside the earth. It remained standing in the middle of the garbage heap behind the house.

The condition of the docile young girl married off in the crammed household next door, brimming though she is with housewifely virtues, is no different.

[Translation of a classic Bengali story by Banaphool. It was published in a collection called Adrishyalok, 1946.]

One Evening

Wonder whose sitar — they’re playing on air now
The news in Bangla’s over
I trudge along as I keep on listening — the strains of music linger
A suburb in a mofussil town, rubbing upon a wood
Dusk descends on bushes and brushes — wild fragrance fused
Across the bend, quite unexpected, a red hued earthen mound
Right behind which peeps a hill — a monolith standing its ground
Jackals call as night arrives, ‘n as soon’s I advance
A fig tree’s brought to life it seems by bats that flutter and dance
The noise of hooting owls above — startles — and Oh dear!
Telegraph wires have caught alive a half-moon in a snare.
_____________________________________________________________
Translation of a Bengali poem by Ashok Bijoy Raha (Born 1910).
 
 
 

Buddhu vs. Aristotle: Kaun Hara Kaun Jita

Ms. Vidya Sinha

I wish they would start a school that teaches you the art of wooing. I have been exercised over the idea ever since I watched Basu Chatterji’s movie ‘Chhoti si Baat’, starring the ever innocent Amol Palekar and the ravishing Vidya Sinha. I admit I fell head over heals in love with the latter the day I saw the earlier Basu-Amol-Vidya movie ‘Rajnigandha’. And ‘Chhoti si Baat’ merely added to my agony, for despite the tricks of the trade Ashok Kumar taught you in this movie, Ms Sinha remained as illusory to me as the blushing sky on a sea shore, bidding farewell to the setting sun.

These at least were the thoughts that crossed my mind as I stood on an evening on the deserted beach of Shankarpur, around half an hour’s drive from the congested landscape of the Digha sea beach. As evening approached, I watched the brilliant blue sea transform itself into a mass of frameless darkness, with nothing but the dimly visible white outlines of breakers lashing on the shore. It sounded like the muffled scream of eternity, held in chain by ever capricious nature.

And then, suddenly, without any warning at all, sweet nostalgia invaded. The dark curtain lifted, revealing a row of white washed cottages smiling in the late spring sunshine, somewhere close to where I stood. A handful of college mates hollered their way into one of these, away from home, determined to enjoy the mysterious pleasures of all that was forbidden in middle class families. All, except one, were students of Presidency College, Calcutta, when it was at the height of its glory. The odd one out was Buddhadev. His name metamorphosed to Buddhu soon enough, as was bound to happen in teenage company.

I had met Buddhu for the first time only a few days earlier at a friend’s residence and found him pleasant company. Of course, as was my wont, I didn’t spare him my Presidency snobbery and backed myself up further with a store of ammunition that I used to keep in reserve for the unwary, even at Presidency College. I had come into its possession by virtue of my somewhat precocious exposure to the gems of English literature at the hands of Utpal Dutt. I was lucky enough to have him as my English teacher for the last three years of high school.

Thanks to Mr. Dutt, we knew Coleridge, Chaucer or what have you by heart by the time we were students of Class X. Shakespeare too formed a part of our extra-curricular activities and this meant, amongst other things, that I had a rudimentary knowledge of the history of Western drama.

However shallow my understanding might have been at the time, or continues to be even today, I was no stranger to the three Aristotelian unities, of time, space and action, and the manner in which modern theatre, a la Shakespeare, broke out of that straitjacket. And these half digested pieces of information were the mighty AK-47s I employed with relish against Buddhu when the conversation veered around to the recently released Satyajit Ray film Kanchenjangha. Buddhu, poor chap, had found the movie quite unintelligible as well as boring and proceeded forth to blurt out this information in no uncertain terms. He had put his foot in his mouth it would seem, for snobs, alas, never let go of an opportunity to berate mediocrity!

Much to his astonishment as well as supreme embarrassment, I seized upon the opportunity to display my treasure trove of “divine knowledge” and proceeded to explain that Kanchenjangha was no boy-meets-girl film. It was, on the contrary, an experiment in abstract art, a transplantation of Greek stagecraft, Aristotle’s unity of space and time, to the modern cinema. I was at my pompous best and Buddhu stared at me in stupefaction as I tortured him relentlessly. He waited with humility and patience till I had reached the boundaries of my limited knowledge and stopped to find back my breath.

I had clearly won the utterly one sided battle, for he surrendered unconditionally as he mumbled, “Well, you see … umm … you know … the general run of cinema goers are probably not aware of these finer points of art … and I was not adequately trained either …” His voice trailed off as I secretly patted myself on my back and patronizingly allowed our discussions to descend to subjects that lesser mortals normally participate in.

But Buddhu was pleasant company as I observed earlier and I was happy to learn that he would be joining us for our planned trip to the newly coming up Digha sea resort in the not too distant future. And soon enough we arrived in full force to occupy a government managed tourist cottage, reserved for us by some magnanimous uncle or the other. Needless to say, it was an establishment that ran on subsidies, like most other business enterprises during India’s love affair with Fabian Socialism. As college students, we found the arrangement particularly advantageous of course, from the pocket money angle.

The first night passed off peacefully enough, though two of our friends, whose identities I cannot recall anymore, tried to keep us entertained till the small hours of the morning by singing Bade Ghulam Ali’s “Aaey na balam …”! They were totally out of tune and at one stage we threatened the duo with murder. After which, silence prevailed, not because the singers were unnerved by our threats, but on account of the fact that all of us succumbed to slumbers whose depth youth alone can appreciate.

I wonder how many days we spent there till the miracle happened, which took the shape of a young lady falling like manna from heaven with her parents into the cottage immediately adjacent to ours. And life could never be the same for us anymore. The cottage lay in full view of our curtain-less windows and we in turn tried with all diligence to present our own best views to our neighbours, absolutely free of charge. Our voices grew louder and louder and conversations more and more witty as we tried desperately to fill up inadequacies of sight by the power of our lungs. And finally, when nothing else worked, we fell back on Cupid’s ultimate gift to Bengali teenagers, romantic Rabindrasangeet numbers!

We sat as close as we could to the window seats and began to sing ‘Path diyey ke jaaey go choley, daak diyey shey jaaey …’ (Who is it that keeps calling out to me as s/he strolls along the path…?). Buddhu was a good singer I remember and he took the lead, swinging his arms much in the fashion of Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The only problem of course was that he had brought a single pair of trousers with him and had washed it late in the afternoon. It hung on the clothes line somewhere and was still too wet for him to wear. He had nothing but his underpants to protect his modesty and by common consent therefore, the lights were turned off. Buddhu did the Zubin Mehta act in a state of semi-nudity while we poured out our hearts, following the lead of his invisible baton with rapt attention.

Love’s labour was totally lost however.

The adjacent building, but for the lights that lit the rooms, remained as silent as a haunted cabin. No one registered the slightest recognition of our presence. Leave alone the girl, not a single person belonging to her family appeared to be interested in our musical soiree. We sighed deeply and finally found solace in sleep once again, accompanied, perchance, by dreams.

By the time we were up and about next morning, the sun shone brightly, a pleasing breeze greeted us from the sea, the tall evergreen trees lined up along the shore gently swayed back and forth. All nature conspired against the lovelorn lot. But none of us was man enough to start a conversation with the girl. A mere morsel of a girl defying the towering snobbery of a Presidency crowd!

We sat glum faced in death like silence in our rooms. What on earth does she think of herself that she wouldn’t even appear on the balcony? She was no Anna Pavlova, not by any stretch of imagination. We did have a glimpse of her when they arrived two days ago. Not even pretty, man, just a homely girl. Whereas look at us! Each face brimming with unmistakable sign of genius. A mere look at us should tell her who we were, each one a potential Nobel Laureate. How stupid can a female be?

We did not speak out our thoughts audibly of course, but wavelengths matched and one by one we congregated to our balcony to stare at the sea and ruminate over God’s injustice.

And then, suddenly, what’s this we see yaar? Isn’t that Buddhu, the very same Buddhu who sang with nothing but his underpants on last evening? Or, probably not even that? What’s Buddhu up to? No good surely.

We watched him wide eyed and in total disbelief. Freshly showered, wearing his Sahara dry trousers, the rascal was walking up the path leading to the cottage of our fantasies. It was hard to believe what we saw. He was actually there, knocking on the door. Traitor! Did we not turn off the lights for his sake alone? Did we not sacrifice all we possessed merely to prevent his exposure to the world at large in a state of undress?

And then, lo and behold, the door is opened by the very damsel who had been eluding us all through. We stand there all ears listening to the conversation.

‘Hi! I wonder if you could help me,’ said Buddhu the dirty swine.

‘Yes, sure, what can I do for you? Won’t you come in please?’ spoke out the lovely voice that only a freshly blossomed woman can possess.

‘No, no,’ Buddhu was clearly on his guard now. ‘No need for me to come in. Actually, I seem to have lost my comb, can I borrow one please?’

‘Oh, is that it? Give me a minute please.’ She was back as promised with a comb and Buddhu started to comb his luxuriant hair as she watched him from a distance of two feet. So did we, only from miles away so to speak.

‘Lost his comb, my foot!’ each one of us recited in silence as we gnashed our teeth. Some excuse man! But he stood there, the scoundrel, combing his miserable hair for what appeared to be an eternity and exchanged pleasantries with her. His voice slowly descended to scarcely audible sounds and we did not know what confidences they exchanged, but prayed to God Almighty that her father would show up with a stick or a broom at least and get rid of the trespasser. But God preferred to remain deaf on that morning.

Buddhu finally returned the comb to her and began to retrace his path back towards our cottage. He swaggered, needless to say, and, if I remember correctly, even winked back at the flabbergasted lot that growled as it awaited his glorious return to pavilion after scoring his century. Should we try and find out the details of the fate that greeted Buddhu when he stepped into the cottage? That would be unnecessary waste of space wouldn’t it?

But there was a clear message that I did not fail to absorb on that distant morning. Buddhu the mediocre, Buddhu the pedestrian, Buddhu the commonplace, Buddhu, who had failed to appreciate the artistry of Satyajit Ray, had nonetheless managed to win the battle that the Presidency cum Utpal Dutt led Aristotle school had lost!

What is it that women admire in men? Wit or chutzpah? I haven’t discovered the answer, but I can afford to smile at my ignorance now. As Belafonte would have sung: “Now that I am ninety three, I don’t give a damn you see!”

I looked up at the sky where the silent stars glittered. They must have been merry spectators of the event four decades ago, but I did not think they would ever testify to the veracity of this simple tale. Nor would any of my mates, at least one of whom had even ceased to exist. And I did not know where most of the others were.

I was completely immersed in thought and did not notice that the black curtain had quietly fallen, cutting off the brightly lit stage where the magic show of innocence had been in progress. I knew only too well that this was one show that would fail to engender encore calls from an audience.

I heaved a sigh in the dense darkness as I remembered my own countlessly many ”Chhoti si Baat-s”. Ashok Kumar, alas, wound up his school soon after Amol graduated. And Vidya Sinha’s tribe proved to be no more than a chimera all through my life.

I began walking my lonely way back to the hotel while the sea kept roaring behind me in eternal indifference.

Anti-clockwise Bhagat

The eternal triangle appears to suggest that human destiny could well be governed by geometric patterns. The hypothesis enjoys the support of eminent philosophers, beginning from no less a person than Plato, who asserted that God was a geometer. Indeed, if historians are to be trusted, he had even posted a signboard at the entrance to his renowned Academy which said ‘Let no man ignorant of geometry enter here’.

Plato breathed his last though in the year 347 BC and Mr. Bhagat his first well over twenty two hundred years later. Or else, he might have found the atmosphere at Plato’s Academy more congenial than that of the Delhi Branch of the Indian Statistical Institute, which, much to his distress, put an abrupt stop to his geometric preoccupations at the Yojana Bhavan, located next door to the Reserve Bank of India on Parliament Street, New Delhi.

It was not a triangle however, but a quadrilateral, to which Mr. Bhagat’s misfortune should be traced. Or, at least, a quadrilateral shaped corridor that framed a large quadrangle in the centre of the august building. He was a permanent staff member of the Indian Statistical Institute, but he specialized neither in Statistics, nor Mathematics nor Economics, nor, for that matter, in any of the disciplines the institution was internationally reputed for. He was a simple person with no more than a simple knowledge of Russian, appointed by the Institute when its founder, Professor P.C. Mahalanobis, was invited by Pandit Nehru to move to Delhi from Calcutta as a member of the Planning Commission. India was deeply in love with the Soviet Union at the time and the venerable Professor had been assigned the task of drafting the Second Five Year Plan. He needed the services of a translator to help him read Soviet literature on models of economic planning. And it was to aid him in this direction that Mr. Bhagat had probably been employed.

The Second Five Year Plan was no success story, as posterity demonstrated clearly enough, and the Professor retreated back to his haunt in Calcutta leaving India’s economy in the doldrums. Some of the people he had employed though continued in a state of limbo in a wing of the Planning Commission at Yojana Bhavan that had been rented out to the Institute. The talented ones functioned no doubt with aplomb and helped the institution attain the remarkable academic status it enjoys till this day. But Mr. Bhagat didn’t belong to that class. Worse, no one who remained with the Delhi branch of the Institute either understood, or had any use for Russian. Soon therefore, Mr. Bhagat turned into a surplus labourer, that is, in Indian governmental jargon, a salaried job holder with absolutely no duties to perform whatsoever, formally or informally.

Nature of course abhors vacuum. And Mr. Bhagat, even though reduced to a meaningless entity as far as the Institute went, probably continued to be a meaningful part of nature. Following natural laws therefore, he invented an occupation to address his state of ‘un-occupation’. Or, as the bard might have said, he gave to ‘airy nothing a local habitation and a name’.

There was an office room assigned to him which no one I was acquainted with had ever visited. The activities that engaged him inside this room therefore are not a part of recorded history. However, he did emerge out of his office several times a day, like a cuckoo poking its head out of a clock, to take a stroll along his quadrilateral. Like the cuckoo moreover, he performed this job with precision, except for the fact that he had added an anti-clockwise dimension to this self-assigned pursuit.

Anti-clockwise, yes, since he made it a point never to walk clockwise along the corridor. Instead, he would take several anti-clockwise rounds along the vast corridor before disappearing inside his office and wait there till it was time again for him to re-emerge for the next shift of patrolling. And it was this anti-clockwise propensity that must have earned him the name by which he was often referred to, Anti-clockwise Bhagat, especially so when he was well out of earshot. Indeed, I never found out what his first name was.

It is possible of course that his anti-clockwise perambulations did not carry any deep significance at all. He could well have been born that way, somewhat in the nature of a south-paw. On the other hand, one cannot rule out altogether a deliberate, even if pathetic, decision on the man’s part to try and run a time machine on reverse gear, this being the only choice available to him to establish contact with the geometers of yore.

It was on the corridor that I came across him the first time in my life. He was past middle age, while I was a somewhat snobbish youngster, who had just arrived from the US, bearing the burden of a PhD degree in an abstruse mathematical area of Economics, which, like Mr. Bhagat’s skills in the Russian language, humanity at hand had little use for. Nonetheless, for a reason I shall never be able to unearth, I was admitted to the elite group in the Institute, whereas Mr. Bhagat continued to languish in benign neglect.

I found out that his eccentricities were not confined to time and geometry alone when the little man walked into my office one afternoon displaying a neatly typed sheet of paper bearing the title ‘Instructions’. What was written below though, was complete gibberish. Or at least, it defied human comprehension. Mr. Bhagat stood next to my desk staring at me, while I helplessly glanced at the sheet and his face, alternatively. He was very dark, wearing high powered spectacles and, despite the summer heat, a faded maroon and greyish white checked beret on his head. Neither the trouser nor the shirt he wore was too clean and the nails on the fingers that held the document needed to be attended to. As far as I can recall, his attire never changed from the first day that I saw him till the last. It was a constant of nature as it were, like his anti-clockwise tours, except for the fact that the second of the two constants received a severe jolt towards the end of his ‘peripatetic career’ at the Institute. But of that later.

“It is an international language I have developed,” he said in a deep throated voice that his physical size did not match.

I was totally baffled and kept staring at him open mouthed. He continued though, quite undeterred by my stupefied expression, to explain how the verbs would be conjugated so as to be intelligible to everyone on earth irrespective of the language he spoke. I had of course vaguely heard of the Esperanto experiment, but my knowledge of an international language, or any language for that matter, other than my mother tongue and a modicum of English, hadn’t proceeded too far.

“Please go through the instructions and you will know how to communicate with people from any part of the world,” he offered with supreme disdain.

I should probably have brought the conversation to a close then and there, but, being young and inexperienced, tried to prod him further.

“But how should I know the words? I mean there are no universal words are there, even if verb conjugations follow a universal rule?”

Upon this he proceeded to deliver a long lecture on the structure of his invention. I couldn’t follow a single word he said, though it was English that he spoke. And his harangue pulled me, quite relentlessly, into the depths of a quagmire of incomprehension. I kept interrupting every now and then of course, but concluded soon enough that the sound waves my vocal chords produced for the entertainment of his eardrums were refused entry into the area of his brain reserved for understanding. Language for him was an instrument meant to treat people to monologues. A linguist he was, in other words, with no interactive use for languages!

It was pointless to carry on the conversation I figured out finally and allowed him to tire off and take his leave.

Interestingly enough, this was the only time he ever spoke to me. He never expressed any further interest in finding out whether the linguistic light rays he had graced humanity with had managed to enlighten me at all. This was all too obvious since I continued to come across him often enough on the corridor he ruled, but he didn’t know me from Adam!

His real troubles started though once the Institute moved to its new campus in South Delhi. Our office building now was architecturally quite different from the Yojana Bhavan. Most importantly, it didn’t sport a quadrangle surrounded by a corridor. Instead, it was a long narrow building with a straight corridor connecting the front end of the structure to its rear. And this meant Mr. Bhagat could not engage anymore in his philosopher’s walk along a quadrangle, clockwise or anti-clockwise.

As might be expected, the authorities didn’t wish to waste scarce space by finding an office accommodation for him. He was forced therefore to squeeze into a room reserved for storing the Institute’s refuse furniture prior to their disposal by used goods dealers. I can well imagine that he had little room for manoeuvrability inside the jam packed godown, or else he could have used its rectangular structure to keep himself occupied with his geometric fantasies.

This was ruled out though and he began to walk up and down the new corridor. But the pursuit proved too demeaning for him and this was hardly a surprise. Quite apart from the fact that his quadrangular trail had collapsed into a kink-free straight line, the very dynamics of his lifestyle had to undergo a drastic change. His movements bore a precarious resemblance now to a pendulum, bordering thereby on clockwise conformism compared to his earlier counter-clockwise revolution. Soon therefore, the rebel in him was back in action as he adopted yet another innovation, converting the straight line back into a quadrangle.

He began to climb up the staircase at the front end of the building leading to the second floor, walk all the way along the straight line corridor there to the staircase located at the rear of the building, come down to the ground floor and then walk along the ground floor corridor back to his starting point. In other words, he ended up converting his horizontal quadrilateral at Yojana Bhavan to a vertical one in the new campus!

Despite the originality underlying his new idea though, I didn’t fail to note a disturbed look on his otherwise placid countenance. I concluded to begin with that he was finding this exercise physically demanding at his age. However, I couldn’t rule out a more sophisticated interpretation of the phenomenon either. Could it be, I asked myself, that his unhappiness owed its origin to the fact that he wasn’t too sure if his walks had an anti-clockwise bias or not? His rotational pattern now clearly depended on which side of the building one was watching him from. As things stood, a person located to the north of the building would view him to be following a clockwise course, the reverse being true for people watching him from the south. (True, the same relativity problem existed at the Planning Commission too, depending on whether he was being watched from the floor below or the one above. However, the probability that such astute watchers existed in the Yojana Bhavan was much lower.)

And this confusion relating to the direction in which his time machine was travelling, I tend to believe, made him lose his mental orientation altogether. Rumour has it that he began to treat acquaintances from the Institute to drinks late into the night and then arrive home in their company to the horror and dismay of his aged wife. He would even insist that she prepare a full dinner for the guests and the poor woman trembled at the sight of the revelry, but followed his command to save herself from the prospect of physical assault.

Fortunately though, he was now close to retiring and did not need to suffer the ignominy of losing his way in time and space much longer. Indeed, I never saw him visit the Institute following the day he received his last pay cheque. It is not improbable in fact, that soon afterwards, he managed to fix the relativity problem in his anti-clockwise voyage through life and landed at the very doorway opening into Plato’s Academy. If so, then this is a story with a happy ending, for he should have proceeded there onwards to the eternal past in the blissful company of the great philosopher, engaged in Dialogues on the geometric mysteries of the universe.