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The Man Who Would Be Magician

I have caught this nagging infection that makes me travel backwards in time. Unlike Benjamin Button or Barnaby Fulton, it doesn’t make me any younger mind you. (In case you haven’t heard of Barnaby Fulton, you will be well-advised to watch Monkey Business on YouTube. It was made in 1952, when most of you were still to be born. I was there of course, not to speak of Cary Grant, Ginger Roberts, Marilyn Monroe and a few other inconsequential people.) The infection reared up its head, I suspect, since the day I cogitated about Kamala Bastralaya around three years ago. That was a tailor shop, let me remind you, at the crossing of Manohar Pukur Road and Rashbehari Avenue in erstwhile Calcutta. The shop has evaporated now having fallen victim to the ravages of time and the prime location is occupied by Asian Paints, which, paradoxically enough, gloats over its anti-ageing formula. But it is not Asian Paints that drags me back to my foggy past today.

Instead, I wish to dwell upon Rashbehari Avenue alone and a little man who once lived on an offshoot of that street called Jamir Lane. The busy road stretches from east to west, a road that is uncompromisingly straight compared to Manohar Pukur Road. The latter never fails to remind me of a rippling river winding its way along the plains. It is full of feminine curves as it were, charmingly illusive through rain and shine. Not so Rashbehari Avenue. As you walk westwards along it, you go past Deshapriya Park (recently redecorated), Kamla Vilas (the well-known hideout for South Indians of yore), Lake Market (which still sells the best fish in South Kolkata), Melody (a widely visited music shop that, unlike Kamala Bastralaya, has kept Asian Paints at bay) and then finally take a sharp left turn to reach the Keoratala crematorium with military precision. That’s the point of no return. Sunset land.

But return we must though today, for our time machine is driving in reverse gear. Let’s walk eastwards therefore to the other end of the avenue. Somewhat in the spirit of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, however, the road, like universe itself, appears to curve back on itself at its eastern fringe and begin to traverse back west. The secret of the trick lies in the almost unnoticed Jamir Lane that connects the eastern and western flanks of Rashbehari Avenue. It lends to Rashbehari Avenue a magical quality, making you believe that you are moving east, when in fact Jamir Lane deceives you back to the westward stretch.

Magic, yes, uniquely magical it is, this eastern end of Rashbehari Avenue. No wonder therefore that it is exactly here, where west swallows up east, stands Indrajaal. Indrajaal was a mansion of sorts constructed by TW’s GM as a residence. Though palatial during its early youth, it has assumed a somewhat stunted appearance now, facing as it does a gigantic shopping mall on the opposite side of the street.

TW’s GM was an acronym used by an American Magazine to refer to P.C. Sorcar, who had performed in the US, advertising himself as The World’s Greatest Magician. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of that magazine any longer. He was probably the most successful magician that India produced during his lifetime, which ended abruptly and far too early with a heart attack sustained during a performance in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan. P.C. Sorcar’s passing away created a void for a while in India’s presence in the world of magic, till he was replaced by his equally capable son, known as P.C. Sorcar, Jr and the latter too held the world in awe for several decades.

I should have been a schoolboy then, and so was my younger cousin Rana. And we had a common ambition, to turn into master magicians. TW’s GM was still alive and kicking and we were avid readers of the books he wrote for youngsters, but we knew only too well that they could never lead us to the Holy Grail of sorcery. We needed a teacher and Sorcar Senior, given his eminence, was unreachable. Hence, we set out on a search mission for a Guru if you will.

The search led us to another name, a magician called A.K. Sarkar. Quite obviously, P.C. Sorcar was born Sarkar too and had changed his family name to Sorcar, to draw people’s attention to his link with sorcery. A.K. Sarkar held magic shows as well, but unlike Sorcar who performed in the best known auditoriums, Sarkar probably never went beyond the confines of make shift stages occupying pavements during seasonal festivities. And once in a while, he wrote in magazines for young people like us. Consequently, he was not a street juggler either, like Maganlal Magicwallah.

It didn’t take Rana and me too long to discover that A.K. Sarkar was related to P.C. Sorcar, though the exact nature of the relationship remains obscure. I assumed they were cousins, whether near or distant I have no idea. And for all I know, they need not have been cousins at all.

Even at that young age, we were shrewd enough to guess that a man with limited fame was likely to be more approachable than a famous person. We discussed the matter in depth therefore and then hatched a plan. Rana used his contacts and discovered that A.K. Sarkar’s residence was no different from P.C. Sorcar’s. They both lived in Indrajaal. The building was not far from our own homes, but we were not sure if we could gain admission into the premises, given that we were both teenagers. Nor did we have any idea about the plea we needed to forge to begin a conversation with Sarkar.
An adult was required to accompany us we decided. We were too young to attract attention.

In this connection, help arrived in the shape of Moni Kaka (Moni is a name and Kaka means paternal uncle in Bengali). Rana was Moni Kaka’s only son and despite his busy lawyer’s work schedule, Moni Kaka was never a spoil sport, especially when young people approached him with bizarre proposals. The proposal in this case was that he chaperone us to A.K. Sarkar, without any appointment whatsoever. Moni Kaka, Rana’s doting father and my doting uncle readily agreed and one fine evening drove us down eastwards along Rashbehari Avenue in his shiny black Ambassador (or, was it Landmaster?) and parked it in front of the imposing gate of the mansion. The gate was tightly closed. Even though we didn’t notice a No Admission sign, there was a stern looking gateman posted there with that telltale message radiating from his eyes.

Moni Kaka led us to this obviously unsympathetic man and struck up a conversation.

“Can we see Mr. A.K. Sarkar please?” asked Moni Kaka as casually as possible.

The watchman, who was eying us suspiciously, grew even more so. I tend to believe now in my old age that his overly suspicious behaviour had a solid foundation. Given Sorcar’s international recognition, he was probably used to dealing with autograph seeking tramps waiting for chance encounters with the master. He knew how to send them away. We, on the other hand, could well have belonged to the minority who ever sought an audience with A.K. Sarkar and he needed to assess our nuisance value. In the absence of Moni Kaka, the two cousins were sure to have been sent back immediately. But Moni Kaka being an adult and exquisitely well dressed in a dark suit, the man was on the horns of a dilemma.

“Who — umm — are you?” asked the man, somewhat heistantly.

“I told you I wanted to see Mr. A.K. Sarkar,” said Moni Kaka. “I have important business with him.”

The gatekeeper’s unbelieving eyes shifted from Moni Kaka to us and then back to Moni Kaka. Even if Moni Kaka could possibly have important business with Sarkar, what were these youngsters doing with him? But Moni Kaka too had his lawyer like looks and he used them to his advantage. The two of them kept staring hard at one another till the gatekeeper finally gave in.

“You wait here, I will go and inquire,” said the man and disappeared behind the gate, locking it from inside as we waited outside on the pavement. But Moni Kaka smiled back at us.

“Battle won,” his eyes whispered.

We were waiting for around ten minutes I think, before the gate reopened a chink or so and the guard signalled us to enter. We stepped inside gleefully, but were somewhat disenchanted to discover that we were not being invited inside the building. We had to stand unceremoniously on the courtyard in the gatekeeper’s company. A short flight of stairs led up to a ground floor balcony along which were located a set of rooms. Out of one of these a gentleman came rushing out, happily excited. He was frail and shortish, in his mid-thrties probably, if memory serves me right, dressed rather plainly. A Bengali style pyjama possibly and a loosely hanging un-pressed shirt. We could see his face clearly, since the balcony was well lit. He stared at us, as the gateman had done, but not with grim suspicion. Instead, a hopeful smile lingered across his lips.

“I am A.K. Sarkar. Are you looking for me?” he asked Moni Kaka, his face still glittering in excitement.

“Oh yes, Mr. Sarkar, we have come here to see you,” said Moni Kaka smiling brightly in turn.

“Which club do you represent Sir,” said Mr. Sarkar with endless naiveté.

“Club?” It was Moni Kaka’s turn now to lose his poise. He quickly recovered though and continued with remarkable grace. “I am not representing any club now, though I am a life member of several in the city. Today however, I am not seeing you on behalf of a club. I am here,” he explained further, “with a request on behalf of these two boys. My brother’s son and mine. They are deeply interested in the art of magic. I have brought them over to find out if you might agree to help them train.”

The expression on Sarkar’s face went through a series of transformations upon receipt of the message. The elation travelled downwards and ended up in a dark chasm of despondency. He was completely taken aback to hear what Moni Kaka had to say and kept gazing at Rana and me, totally befuddled. He was at a loss for words.

But then, suddenly, a trace of hope leaped out of the Pandora’s Box we had opened up for him.

“How did you find out about me?” he said in a voice that could remind you of a dying man catching at a straw. There was pathos in the air. I smelled it even at that immature age. Sarkar was not a sought after person as Rana and I had correctly guessed. Unfortunately, the magician had not learnt the most important trick of all. He didn’t know how to hide his emotions, suggesting to me what his status probably was in the family with which he resided. It was Sorcar who was known the world over. But here were people who had come looking for Sarkar! Was there a glimmer of hope in the horizon finally? Had Lady Luck herself wielded the magic wand?

It was my turn to speak out now, since I knew that Moni Kaka didn’t know the answer to the question Sarkar had asked, and Rana, being younger to me, was a little shy to speak up.

“We are familiar with the stuff you write for magazines. We learnt several tricks reading your articles.” I quickly responded.

My response resulted in a painful bursting of his temporary bubble of hope. I had driven in the proverbial last nail in the coffin. Hope gave place to gloom almost instantaneously. Seeing Moni Kaka’s smart attire, Sarkar had probably taken for granted that a wealthy party had arrived to hire him for a magic show in a carefully chosen venue. But that was not the case. He was being actually asked to tutor two juveniles in the art of magic! We were standing face to face with a monumental sigh.

I don’t think the conversation proceeded too far beyond this point and he found a way of getting rid of us without sounding too rude. I have forgotten how he excused himself or how, for that matter, the gatekeeper showed us out. Nor can I remember what Moni Kaka told us on our way back home.

Moni Kaka continued to flourish as a lawyer and Rana made a name for himself in adult age as the first person to run a private news channel in Bengali. Even though he didn’t turn into a great magician, hprobably taken for granted that a wealthy party had arrived to hire him for a magic show in a carefully chosen venue. Instead, he was being asked to tutor two juveniles in the art of magic! We were standing face to face before a monumental sigh.
I don’t think the conversation proceeded too far beyond this point and he found a way of getting rid of us without sounding too rude. I have forgotten how he excused himself or how, for that matter, the gatekeeper showed us out. Nor can I remember what Moni Kaka told us on our way back home.

Moni Kaka continued to flourish as a lawyer and Rana made quite a name for himself in adult age as the first person to run a private news channel in Bengali. Even though he didn’t turn into a great magician, he is well-known in India and abroad in the television show business. I managed to survive as well in my own small way.

What life did to Sarkar though continues to be a mystery. Soon after the senior Sorcar passed away, his son, Sorcar, Jr, took a prodigious leap into the world of magic. And while this phenomenal transition from senior to junior was in progress, Sarkar probably took a curtain call unaccompanied by encores.

Rashbehari Avenue may well know which way he went in the meantime. I suspect myself that he slowly crawled westward and never came back. But the avenue now, with its shopping malls, restaurants and traffic jams, is hopelessly uncommunicative about that last journey.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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That Patch of Green Behind the Bright Yellow House


As I was saying, Kamala Bastralaya exists no more at the corner of Manoharpukur Road and Rashbehari Avenue, but the roads themselves are yet to disappear. In fact, even though aged, they continue to bear the stigma of the names assigned to them at their birth. Unlike wizened old cities that is, like Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram, or Kolkata itself for that matter.

As you cross Rashbehari Avenue from North to South, near the corner that never fails to extract a sigh out of me, you part company with the lilting twists and turns of Manoharpukur Road and walk into Lake View Road, which leads you straight on to the Dhakuria Lakes. In the language of mathematics, if Manoharpukur Road were to be viewed as an nth order polynomial curve, then Lake View Road is the closest approximation to strict linearity. A no nonsense look so to speak that it has borne since the day at least that I was carried home displaying unmistakable signs of a new born baby. At the intersection of Lake View Road and Jatin Das Road, where Jeloka House towers still much to my disbelief, you need to take a sharp left turn and move eastwards along Jatin Das Road, past the pink building that used to belong to a grumpy old man (who, till his last days, stuck to his single minded grouse against youngsters, that they didn’t look after the stray dogs of the locality), till it forks out into a left and a right branch. Around four buildings down the right branch stands a three storied white washed bungalow and it was in the rented ground floor apartment at the front of this building that I transformed into a biped from a quadruped and even learnt the first few human noises I managed to produce.

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Like Jeloka House, the total changelessness of the building took me by surprise when I landed recently on this stretch of Jatin Das Road. How many of the occupants of the premises as I knew them are still a part of the temporal world I didn’t venture to guess as I stood across the street and viewed the windows that I was so familiar with in the distant past. The perspective then was different though, for I used to stand inside my home and watch the world outside instead of being a part of that same outside as I was now. I wondered if it was I instead that was now the object of scrutiny. Unlikely I thought of course, for the shutters in the green windows were firmly pulled down.

Perhaps this building had seen too much for too long to be interested anymore in mortal happenings. The multi-storied condominium that stood bang opposite and stared back at the older house with supreme disdain today was non-existent when I had started life. In its stead, there was a green plot of land surrounded by a waist level wall on three sides, a playground for children during those long lost afternoons. On the far side, beyond the boundary wall there used to be a yellow, two storied house occupied by a Chinese family that has now disappeared along with the house itself. It was the back of the building that faced our dwelling and my mind to this day cannot resist the temptation of climbing up the rusty spiral staircase that clung to its wall and disappeared through a door into a world of mystery. The morning sun that rose behind my home lit up the yellow house with its first rays and this is invariably the picture I have associated since childhood with the arrival of mornings. The back of a sunlit yellow house standing immediately beyond the patch of a green playground.

The green bid us good bye with the arrival of Dr. Sen who built up his residence on that plot of land. The yellow house disappeared too behind Dr. Sen’s construction and our playground spilled over to the pavements and the street. Soon neighbourly relationships grew up and Dr. Sen’s youngest son, Sudip or Bachchu, and I turned into playmates. His eldest son, Prateep-da, was still finishing his medical degree and at some point of time he left his home for foreign shores to earn an FRCS degree from Edinburgh.

It was the second of the three sons, Sunip, who stood out amongst the three sister-less siblings. Not because of his achievements, but for his handicaps. Unlike his two brothers, both of whom were good sportsmen, Sunip, or Sunip-da to me given our age difference, suffered from a serious ailment, related I think to his heart. His mother visited our home often as ladies used to in those days of yore. And my mother learnt vaguely about the problem, perhaps the only problem, this upper middle class household was afflicted by. Sunip-da had to be kept under perpetual medical care and was strictly forbidden from undertaking physically arduous tasks. The result was that while his brothers went for medical and engineering degrees, Sunip-da was sent to an Art School. I have no idea how deft he was as a painter, but he managed to clear his exams.

The mother was certainly not an impartial person and, though she did not display aversion towards her physically well-equipped sons, she was more than preoccupied with Sunip-da’s health. And Sunip-da did need all the attention in the world, given his telltale look of sickness. The contrast with the brothers was quite obvious. They were tall and well-structured, while Sunip-da was short and emaciated, his thick myopic glasses providing supporting evidence of his fragility vis-à-vis a world he lacked the equipment to cope with.

The Sens were wonderful neighbours who, despite their material success compared to others in the locality, were good friends, always ready to extend a helping hand as we were growing up through school and college.

Bachchu was two years senior to me. I was probably doing my Bachelor’s degree in college and Bachchu finishing his engineering course when Dahlia metamorphosed from a girl to a young woman. A woman that bloomed with a vengeance, doing full justice to her name. She lived with her family right next door to the Sens and Bachchu had fallen head over heels in love. This was open secret to all, but there were problems that loomed large for him. Dahlia was a Brahmin, one of the prettiest one could have ever had come across, and Bachchu, though handsome, was not a Brahmin by any stretch of imagination. Hence, there were complications that one heard of, originating from the direction of Dahlia’s family. But Bachchu was a sportsman who played his best to win. Fortunately for him though, Dahlia reciprocated with a gay abandon and Bachchu was soon the firm owner of her heart, but her father or mother (or whoever else I know not) were not yet ready to play ball with either Romeo or Juliet.

Dahlia kept on blooming ever brighter as the days progressed Marriage proposals were jamming up the living room in her residence as Bachchu agonized under a cloak of dark silence. Although Dahlia was his forever, I suppose he was not yet ready to elope. We youngsters were already familiar with their secret rendezvous spots, though we didn’t know the plans, if any, that were hatching between them.

Matters concerning the heart have a propensity to afflict without bias. Consequently, as Bachchu’s roaring relationship with Dahlia was travelling at supersonic speed, the heart patient in his household, Sunip-da, was passing through a turmoil of his own. Except for the fact that no Dahlia had as yet shown up in his life. The result was that the entire world full of budding womankind turned into potential Dahlias in Sunip-da’s eyes. He didn’t exactly chase girls, but the way he was staring at all the girls in the neighbourhood made their parents wary. And the wariest of all was his own mother. Given the physical state of his heart, the specialists had advised against marrying him off. As a result, his ailing heart was desperately wailing. So loudly and clearly in fact that his parents, especially his mother, were finding it far too difficult to make him stick to his diet of strict celibacy. The eldest brother, Pratip-da, must have been married by then. It was Sunip-da’s turn and Bachchu the youngest was finding it embarrassing to bring up the question of his wedding before his elder brother was married off. This was a tough situation. For Dahlia, as I said, was not in a position to wait much longer. Bachchu’s friends wondered if he was planning to jump the queue.

But then one day, Mrs. Sen came over to our home with an invitation card announcing Sunip-da’s marriage. A marriage it seems had been arranged, a risky matter as she told my mother. But it could not be avoided anymore if Sunip-da was to be kept away from a lunatic asylum. And one balmy evening, Sunip-da dressed up as a bridegroom, set off on a trip to marriage-land, accompanied by all the young people the family knew and I still remember the great feast we enjoyed that evening. In fact, the wedding reception was arranged in a hall located three houses down Kamala Bastralaya! Walking distance from my home too.

There was great fun and frolic and Sunip-da was smiling at last. He came back home with his young bride, whose name unfortunately I cannot remember any longer. But I do recall that she was pregnant soon after the wedding, which was only to be expected, given the state to which Sunip-da had been reduced during bachelorhood. Bachchu too probably began to feel relieved, now that the barrier in his home front had receded.

And it was exactly at this point of time that Sunip-da died. Leaving behind a wife and an unborn child. No one found out the precise details of the cause of death, but it appeared that he had slipped past a step while coming down the staircase. He rolled down to the ground floor losing consciousness, a loss that remained doggedly uncompensated. They put him inside a ventilator of sorts, or whatever it was that used to ventilate in those bygone days, without success. Dr. Sen, with all his medical connections, failed to bring his son back to life.

A pall of gloom had settled on that evening on the right arm of Jatin Das Road, with neighbours standing in silence on the road adjoining Dr. Sen’s house. The silence was so thick that one could cut it with a knife. Then the time came to lift Sunip-da’s lifeless body and start towards the crematorium. Following Bengali custom, someone gave the lead: Bala Hari, Hari Bol. This was a cue for a piercing cry, a heart rending scream emanating from the voice of the departed person’s mother. It broke the silence like the noise of shattered glass. I can still remember vividly what she had said repeatedly on that dismal occasion. With whatever strength she had at her disposal, she kept on demanding: Where are you taking him, where are you taking him, where are you taking him, no, no, where are you taking him …?

Like all fateful evenings, this one too was over and morning arrived as it never fails to. Dr. Sen’s family slowly found back its strength to face up to life and begin to hope too as the day of the baby’s arrival approached. Sunip-da’s young widow was often visible on their first floor balcony, vacantly staring at the street.

The baby to be born was not the only hope that was being nurtured in that family of course. For Bachchu still had his Dahlia to be shifted over from the neighbouring building to his own. His task was now ever harder to accomplish. Even if Dahlia’s parents were to agree, it was no easy task to raise the question of a wedding with his own parents. How Bachchu managed to solve the problem I can’t tell. But Sunip-da’s child was yet to be born, when Dr. Sen arrived at our home with a fresh wedding invitation. He was crying more than smiling, but he had to do what had to be done, for Bachchu must have put his foot down.

The wedding ceremony turned out to be a simple affair despite their means, and compared especially to the revelry surrounding Sunip-da’s wedding less than a year earlier. This was inevitable, since the yet to be grandparents barely managed to remain floating in their sea of sorrow, as time, cruel time kept the human drama alive.

I looked up again at the white house that had seen it all, and which I hadn’t. I left India for a distant destination before this tale had reached its denouement. But Einstein had told us, the universe with its space and time components tends to bend back on itself. No wonder therefore that I had come across a friend from this area, Tapas, many years later. He was visiting his daughter in Delhi and dropped by to see me at my office. As expected, the conversation veered on to the days gone by. And I asked him about the rest of the story as it had unfolded in Dr. Sen’s home.

As I heard him out, I realized that some tragedies at least continue without end. Sunip-da’s wife, I was told, gave birth to a son who became the apple of his grandparents’ eyes. They doted on him, which was natural, but the doting crossed bounds of propriety. He turned into a hopelessly pampered boy by the time he reached his adolescence. He grew up into an unemployable of sorts, one with no future to look forward to at all. At some point, as expected, Dr. Sen and his wife passed away and probably property disputes followed. The house was sold off and the condominium whose shadow I stood under came up in its place. Tapas didn’t know where Bachchu and Pratip-da had gone away to, but whatever their destinations might have been, they had lost all touch with the right arm of Jatin Das Road.

Perhaps the story is over now, but a whimper of an epilogue is still in order. Back in Rashbehari Avenue, I was sitting one day inside a shop purchasing a wall clock I think. Suddenly, as I looked out of the shop, I saw Bachchu passing by. An elderly, much changed Bachchu. Closely behind him was Dahlia, who bloomed no longer. Two middle aged persons going their way. I could have rushed out of the shop to greet them. But I didn’t. They were a part of my bygone past. That past, I felt, was no more revivable than Sunipda himself.

Like Manoharpukur Road, Rashbehari Avenue, Lake View Road and Jatin Das Road, the whitewashed house I was facing has survived the ravages of time. It had witnessed children playing on that patch of green beyond which stood the yellow house. And it had seen the rise and fall of the Sen family.

Along with Sunip-da though, the yellow house where the Chinese family had lived is itself no more, but unlike him, it still shines brightly in my memory. That’s where mornings will always begin for the rest of my own life.

Kamala Bastralaya

As you meander down Manohar Pukur Road towards Rashbehari Avenue in Calcutta, you are likely to notice a paint store bearing the Asian Paints logo at the right hand corner of the meeting point of the two streets. I never had any use for the store, but have often wondered in the course of the last few years when it was that it came into being. For it didn’t exist when I was a child or even when I was a university student. Instead, it was Kamala Bastralaya that occupied this prime location.

I am not sure if Kamala Bastralaya, a tailor shop, was born before me. I had seen it at least since the days I was a toddler, so it could well have been older than me. And following natural laws, I still exist (or so I believe) and Kamala Bastralaya does not. It was a shop into which my elder brother and I  were herded as the Durga Puja Festival drew near. Those were days when readymade garments had not invaded the market and brand names were rare to come by. Parents and close relatives presented us with shirts’ or shorts’ lengths, whose colours invariably matched our school uniforms. With these we marched to the tailor for measurements to be taken. The proprietor of the shop, invariably clad in a long knee length milk white shirt and dhoti, a tallish man for a Bengali, wore black framed glasses and a squint in his eyes. He would call out numbers designating the sizes of different parts of our bodies and his chief assistant wrote them down on a note pad. This used to be an embarrassing experience, for his voice was loud and measurements of certain parts of my body, that I would normally not discuss in public, would be audible to all customers present in the shop.

I can still recall the assistant’s face. Darkish, a sharp nose protruding slightly beyond what would be called normal. I don’t think I had ever seen any of them smiling, either at the customers or at each other. If they did smile once in a while, it was a closely guarded secret. However, the expressions on their faces wouldn’t make a customer feel unwanted. There was a trick in this trade whose secrets I never managed to unravel.

There were other assistants too who were constantly whirring away at their respective sewing machines sitting on an elevated wooden platform located towards the far end of the shop. These were manually run machines, electric sewing machines were an unheard of phenomena in that Jurassic age.

A long wooden table separating the customers from the workers, ran all the way from the entrance to the shop to its end under the elevated platform. The strangest part of our regular relationship with this shop was that it never occurred to us that we didn’t know the names of anyone of its employees, leave alone the owner himself. But they knew our names, since our exchanges were recorded in a receipt book bearing names and probably addresses too.

Once our measurements were noted down, a date would be fixed for the trial and we had to show up without fail on that day. A second round of number crunching accompanied the trial ceremony and the master tailor used a flat, blue triangular  marker to indicate necessary alterations in the garments. I learnt from my mother that the marker was made of special stuff, the marks being washable once the final delivery was made.

I can’t recall if Kamala Bastralaya attended to my needs once I transcended from shorts to trousers, for by that time my friends included fashion conscious boys and they could have led me to dandier joints that catered to the classy customer. That should have cost me more money and endless hankering with my poor, dear middle class mother.

My father, on the other hand, stuck to Kamala Bastralaya all through, that is till he was able to make it to the shop without external assistance. And I have no idea if he had use of his physical faculties by the time the shop wound up. Despite his loyalty to the shop though, he never ceased to be critical of its sartorial skills. His trousers for example were always ordered at this shop and by the time the final product arrived he was ever prepared to walk over and pull them up. And this love hate relationship with the tailor would often lead to situations that bordered on farce.

On one occasion, he criticised them for delivering a pair of trousers with one leg shorter than the other. It was no easy task to make them accept the charge of course. But as far as I know, my father continued the battle with a measuring tape to make his point. Upon which they produced their own tape to prove him wrong. I don’t know exactly what the sequence of events was, but I suspect that he disappeared inside the trial room to put on the trouser and demonstrate his point to them. Whether they saw what my father saw is unclear, for they had apparently told him that it was not a trouser leg that was shorter but that there was a mismatch between the lengths of my father’s own legs themselves! How this explanation could have resolved the issue is anybody’s guess.

Yet, my father never chose a tailor shop other than Kamala Bastralya. As I remember clearly now, when my parents were living with us in Delhi, one of my father’s regular complaints was that he couldn’t get his pyjamas stitched at Kamala Bastralaya.

Well, both my father and his tailor have moved forward now and Asian Paints has made sure that the past has vanished for good behind their “Advanced Anti Ageing” commercial. I never found the courage to walk into this paint store to find out if they have really found an antidote for ageing and if they have then where on earth have the tailor and his grumbling customer disappeared?

Well Devi Durga came amidst much grandeur recently and now she is gone. Unlike my younger days, I didn’t go pandal hopping. Nor to purchase things to wear. But the Devi made sure nonetheless that I couldn’t detach myself from my past. Crowds of memories kept flocking in, the tailor, the stationer and the ever smiling salesman at Bata Shoe Store bang opposite Kamala Vilas on Rashbehari Avenue, where South Indians found refuge during their stints with Calcutta. But of that, some other day.