Small worlds and Their Strange Reunions

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


Two ex-colleagues meet in a strange situation and recollects

Submitted: October 26, 2017

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Submitted: October 26, 2017

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Aniket Chatterjee returned from the market with some compounding uneasiness in him. The brash morning sun of a summer time Kolkata did not help either. A moist run down of sweat in the backside of his jogger’s vest made him increasingly irritant. Hastily sounding the doorbell, he entered in brisk steps, dumped the merchandise into one side of the kitchen and reached out for his pink bottle of antacid.

Aniket Chatterjee is one among a sizeable fellow Kolkatans who is spending the so called retired life since the last one decade. Fondly known to his ex colleagues as ‘AC’ (and there was one Dilip Chanda known as ‘DC’), his professional career was as sinusoidal as the current his short name resembles. Starting as a management trainee in a small manufacturing unit near Kolkata he reached several heights spanning a movement around four zones of India. Well just not heights, he had his share of lows in his career too - as everybody knows- better peers, bad luck, gap in expectations etc. These things happen.  So he kept on the moving boat until for the last few years of his career he felt it’s enough of nomads and decided to stay put in the city of his love. His family with son, daughter and wife moved along with him in the initial years. With the rising need of a stable educational environment, his wife and teenage children settled in Kolkata in the later days.

So Aniket was literally ‘homeless’ in perfect sync with the meaning of his name as he wandered his way around India. Well, on second thoughts, someone might challenge that ‘homeless’ tag as one serious misnomer. With two plush real estates in Rajarhat, one of which is a penthouse, backed up by his ancestral two storied house in Lake Terrace, he can be anything but homeless. So would one argue and rightly so. The blueprint as Aniket sketched his future days after retirement was simple- he and his better half would rest in his ancestral home while his two children would own each of the Rajarhat flats. But then reality bites. His son went to the US to pursue higher studies, married, settled there and became a US citizen with two kids of his own. His daughter is a financial consultant with a London banker and is currently single with a son after one failed marriage. The Chatterjee Nest in Lake Terrace with just two souls and loads of solitude is in the greedy glare of the real estate hawks. They have approached Aniket with tempting deals for its sell off but he declined every time. He is, however, fortunate to have his children visiting him once in two years. He learns from his neighbour Badolbabu, not so blessed as him, is waiting if his son can make it this time since last five years. Badolbabu took him to a group of retired professionals who would assemble in the tea stall at the corner of the street every evening, for a small talk or two. Aniket started visiting them initially but soon found that all such discussions would necessarily veer around either the ungratefulness of their children settled abroad, or that of their fear of being identified as the next soft targets of the housebreakers, or even worse their last rites being performed online through the internet. He lost interest in no time and discontinued.

His son Bodhisattwa or Bodhi, as he fondly calls him, is now in Kolkata for two weeks. Bodhi’s wife and children decided not to risk the heat and dust of the Indian summer and stayed back in the US. Since Bodhi arrived, Aniket’s wife is braving her failing health and frequenting the kitchen again cooking Bodhi’s favourite dishes. Bodhi is a smart chap who took not so long time to realize that he would never be back in India and sold off the penthouse in Rajarhat. Anindita, Aniket’s daughter has shown deeper roots as she has only rented her apartment in Kolkata until recently she told Aniket to look out for a prospective buyer. This, she told, is to meet up the loans she took in the recent past.

Aniket had always thought that he had a reclusively talented doctor residing in him who can diagnose most of the ailments, even though he is a qualified engineer by profession. The fact remains, doctors and engineers part ways after the crossroads of Joint Entrance Exams, never to influence each other again. But the doctor in Aniket, or as he thinks so, stayed alive all along. So, when the uneasiness in him kept brewing he thought it must have been the Mutton Biryani from Bachan’s Dhaba last night in a state of revolt. He could barely grasp the bottle of antacid when a thrust rising out of somewhere inside him made him completely numb with severe pain and before he passed out he could hear the faint voice of his wife pleading Bodhi to hold him from behind. He regained consciousness in phases only to lose it the next minute and in one of these interim phases he realized that he is in a state of emergency being driven in an ambulance with life support around him and the dazed look of Bodhi sitting by his side.

The nurses of the Sapphire General Hospital have been taught about nuances of public relations over and above nursing, so they are pretty smart in the way they approach business and patient dealing in tandem. It is from them that Aniket learned that he had a severe heart attack and had been in the intensive care unit for the past 24 hours and once stable he is shifted in this shared cabin of two people. But the danger is over and now he can be slowly treated for the mending path. He was still tired and drowsy possibly due to side effects of the medicines pushed intravenous. He took a cursory glance around the cabin and found that it has all the amenities of a home away from home intended in  making the hospital stay as ‘homely’ as possible. The other bed in the cabin is vacant waiting for the next patient to be filled. It’s around 12 noon and still 5 hours for the ‘Visitor’s Time’. Aniket felt hungry and pleaded with the nurse for some food which she sweetly declined as being not advised but reckoned that it is a good sign indicating normal function of the biological systems. He wanted to lift his left hand to get hold of a magazine by his bed side but could not move an inch. His wish of grabbing it could not be translated into a physical action and the next thing that Aniket can realize is the heart attack has affected the mobility of his left side or at least part of it. He could raise his left leg with lot of difficulty. But again this is curable at least to a great extent with exercises, so is the hope always. These and many other thoughts passed him as he felt drowsy and decided to give him a nap.

A faint sound of commotion woke him up and he could hear a male voice of protest in the corridor overriding the voice of a couple of nurses and one male attendant. There are certainly differences in opinions about something and in no time the agitated procession entered his cabin with a man on wheelchair and nurses around his side and the male attendant in charge of driving the wheel chair. The man in the wheelchair is around his age and looks a familiar face which made Aniket struggled his way through his memory lanes to figure out where he has seen him.

“So AC, we seem to be in the same boat brother again” said the voice in wheel chair pushing aside the nurses as he got out from the chair and stepped on the vacant bed. Aniket gave a completely puzzled look still wondering why he could not recognize him but the man could, on the contrary.

“So AC has decided not to remember DC as it is a far inferior technology in the flow of current” beamed the voice as he burst out in laughter. Instantly the laughter is recognizable by its sheer honesty and Aniket knew this is Dilip Chanda or DC in professional parlance, speaking to him.

“Goodness Gracious Dilipda, it is your beard, you never had it and for a moment I could not associate that thing with you, the eternal advocate of a clean shaven presence”. DC is four year senior to Aniket and many a time when Aniket used to arrive unshaven with the Monday morning blues in his bachelor days, it was DC who drove him to the barber’s shop round the corner during lunch and waited till he finished.

“Things change in life Aniket, clean shaven grow beards and ex colleagues get a chance to recollect side by side in a hospital cabin” DC burst out in laughter again.

“It certainly does Dilipda, but I think some things in life never changes in contrast, like for example your laughter which is why I could gather myself back quickly in looking beyond the beard”. “So what was the commotion all about?”

“Ahh, all these morons telling me I have to be in the wheelchair as being procedural but I said a man as hale and hearty as me needs no wheel chairs as I came by a taxi on here and got myself admitted with a week of hospital charges paid in advance. But who listens”.

“So you came all alone here, DC”, exclaimed Aniket?

“I go alone here, there and everywhere my dear, but you seem tired Aniket, get some sleep and we will talk in the evening”. Aniket agreed as the meds were having its effects and fell asleep.

The nurse woke up Aniket from a well earned sleep and opening his eyes he could see his wife and son by the bedside looking eagerly at him waiting to open his eyes. A step behind is Badolbabu casting a worried look, perhaps imagining himself instead of Aniket on the hospital bed.

 “We have been waiting an hour for you to wake up Baba, said Bodhi, which left Aniket visibly embarrassed, but we decided to let you rest some more. Instead we had a chance to talk to your ex colleague Mr. Chanda and had a good one hour of your service life collage”. DC is now lying on his bed giving Aniket the look of a schoolboy prankster.

“Remember Aniket, I have not divulged any of your secrets, winked DC, this still remains a part of our old time non-disclosure agreement” DC burst out in laughter once again. Aniket could not help resist joining his laughter.

“So where is your family Dilipda?” DC seemed to have been ready for this question and instantly he drew Aniket’s attention by his bedside table which topped a collection of Tintin comics by Herge. “These books Aniket, this is my family today evening and I am expecting couple of my friends tomorrow”. Aniket felt a little uncomfortable having asked this question and soon diverted the topic to the more serious fact of modern day hospitals as more of profit making business houses with little or no ethics. The visiting time out gong made Bodhi ask his mother to take leave of him and they exited one by one. Aniket’s wife was very upset and could not resist her tears seeing the pain of a man she was with for more than 40 years.

The nurses arrived to alert that doctors will be on the round. DC told that after the doctors finish their rounds they will have a world of time to talk over. Aniket was starving and this time the nurse was kind enough to give him some soup which tasted like an elixir and at least neutralised his hunger to some extent. The doctors made their rounds, looked at the reports, asked a few questions and left. DC is carrying a file of reports done in the past and it looked like the doctor was aware of this and seemed to be treating DC for quite sometime now.

DC seemed to be in a bit of discomfort as he is fixing up his oxygen mask fitted unto his bed, but he is making a good try in hiding it all the time. Aniket himself is feeling no better and it is coming out in his face. “Evening time is not good for hospital patients” said DC, “that’s when the God of Recovery gets a drink or two”, DC laughed again, this time with a degree of sadness and lacking in the imposing strength of the afternoon. “I know you have had a heart attack and it proves you still have a heart” the schoolboy pranked again.

 “For me, my lungs have covered themselves with a layer of all the smoke I have inhaled all over these years. So I get in here to get it cleaned from time to time with dose of steroids as my oxygen level in blood gets lowered. Then I go back and get a free time and when it gets worse again I get it cleaned again. I used to get it cleaned once a year but now the time has come down to a frequency of 3 months, but it’s still a long time”, smiled DC.

“So what is your side of the story? What happened in all these 14 years since you hung up your boots, asked Aniket. I never knew you were in Kolkata; I heard that you have left for the US a month after you retired from the last company you worked, to be alongside your daughter. She has always been the cute and pampered one, remember the birthday bash she had on her 16th – it was such a fabulous party, I still remember”, Aniket said this all in one breath.

 “Well she is happily married now just that she is too busy and scarcely gets a chance to visit here. I visited her couple of times in these years but this medical attention thing in the last three years is keeping me away”, said DC.

“And your son, Ronnie, how is he, I remember I had my A negative blood transfused in him while he visited you and injured himself while both of us were commissioning the plant in a remote location of South India. I forgot the name of the village completely but remember we had to travel 15 miles every day to the nearest telephone booth for calling our homes and offices and faxing the progress reports to the head office”.

“Yes, I remember Aniket and if you remember the nearest post office was 25 miles away. And yes, about Ronnie, I have not seen him in the last ten years. He was doing PHD in Political Science in JNU and one fine morning he seemed to have disappeared once and for all, so says Delhi Police. The police report him to be one of the leading think tanks of the revolutionary group you hear about so frequent these days. In police records he is still absconding but I have a firm belief that he is no longer. Else he would at least be present in his mother’s funeral who he loved the most in this world. Ashalata, my wife, could not bear a life without Ronnie and left this world 5 years back”. DC lifted the oxygen mask again perhaps as a mask to cover up his face wreathing in pain but could not hold back a thin trail of tear rolling down from his left eye.”So this is my story Aniket, so very boring though but I will surely listen to your side of the story tomorrow” this time DC could bring back a glimmer of the smile that seemed to have left him for the last one hour. “So which was the last company you worked on before you retired? I know since I left Peterson Projects you also followed suit two months later”, exclaimed DC. “Dinnertime folks”, cried the nurses as the dinner trolley approached Cabin No 206 of the Sapphire general hospital. DC has masked himself up in the meantime and the sedatives in Aniket acted up on the dinner in his stomach and he fell fast and sound asleep. The wall clock in cabin 206 was showing 8:30 pm.

The dazzling morning sun fell on the eyes of a sleeping Aniket, good enough to wake him up. Its 8 am in the morning and the doctors will soon make a round, so says the nurses. Aniket felt a little better but the numbness in his left side continues as is where is. He quickly looked at DC’s bed and saw it vacant. The sound of the water flush in the attached bath confirms that DC is already awake and going through the morning tasks. He waited to wish the day as DC comes out of shower. The flushing sound has stopped and the door of the bath opened with the Janitor making way out with his usual gadgets. This is surely not a good time for a morning walk for DC, so Aniket caught hold of the one of smart nurses doing the rounds and asked about DC. “He is no longer, he died last night” said she in the most nonchalant way she can. “I know I am not supposed to tell you all this as you are also a patient here, and there is professional ethics, but my experience says that it is more foolish to hide it as you will come to know when a new patient arrives here. He had a serious drop in his oxygen level last night, although we monitored it periodically and carried him to ICU. Bad luck he could not make it as all his organs failed in quick succession. It was extremely quick all in a span of 1 hour around 3 am, so you know” exited the nurse to do her morning errands.

Aniket could not move for several seconds still trying to digest what he just heard and resisted with all his power from breaking down. He held the side of his bed with this right hand, which is the only hand he can move and gave in silently. The nurse arrived in short time alerting about the doctor in round who inspected Aniket, advised the nurse about something and left with a thoughtful face. The nurse quickly came back and handed over a piece of paper to Aniket saying that his friend handed her over this before they left for the ICU. He told her that he has written it with a lot of difficulty last night after Aniket fell asleep and originally wanted to hand it over to Aniket before either of them leaving the hospital first. But he could sense his time is nearing and wanted her to hand it over in case he could not make it.

The letter is written on the snapped out last page of one of the Tintin comic books which is kept blank by the publishers. The letters are unusually large bearing the marks of the pain and labour of the hands associated in creating them. There was no need to wear the reading glasses and Aniket started going through it

 “My dear Aniket,

I will cherish our brief reunion so many moons later, for many days to come, if and when I can see them coming. I always wanted to say this to you but every time I wanted to, a defiant soul in me forced me to drop it. But now that we all are a step ahead in calling it a life sooner or later, I thought I am now more comfortable in writing it to you rather than telling. Remember, we were talking of the remote South Indian village where both went for commissioning and you were reporting to me that time. We had challenging times in getting the reactor commissioned and I was confident, if it was to be commissioned, it was only you who can do it. We were round the clock on the machine and were out of communication with the civilized world for two weeks. The day we started the test runs, I got a telegram delivered to me at my office by the postman saying that your mother is seriously ill and wants to see you the last time. I reasoned enough to tell this to you immediately but that would mean losing you for many days jeopardising the commissioning. We had fear of penalties imposed due to delay and that would mean a spot in my career as a project manager and my promotion and thus decided to hide it completely. Your brother in law arrived ten days later with the news of death but by that time the reactor was up and running.

I was kept bitten by this remorse all through my life, especially when one month later on your return; you donated your blood to save the life of my son.

I don’t know how to end this letter but like we said in our professional times, it is a small world, till we meet again.

Yours Dilipda.”

Aniket sat numb for quite some time. DC went away without the baggage of remorse, clearing the air off. But he has left Aniket in more guilt than before as he could not do what DC did. He could never tell DC that it was him who gave a negative feedback to the HR when DC applied for a post in the same company he was working. This was around the time Aniket returned to Kolkata in the later days of his career. He has always seen DC as extremely efficient and his presence would take away the neon lights away from him.

Aniket felt a lump inside him moving fast wanting to tear out through him. The day since morning has left him shattered. In a couple of hours it will be visiting hours again and he is eager to meet his son and wife. Amidst all this, his eyelids felt heavy, possibly the meds have started acting again. The lump inside is getting more irritant and all he needs is some good sleep to see through this. He could sense the brisk steps of the nurses around him running and calling for resident doctor to arrive fast. This was the last sense he could remember before falling asleep again.

Bodhi was all at a loss for the things to do to in the burning ghat to get through the cremation of his father. Aniket could not survive the second attack around 2 pm in the afternoon and passed away. It took some time to convey the news to the relatives in Kolkata and now he is in the burning ghat for the last rites. His sister is arriving in the next flight and he is thinking of telling her sister that he wants to take his mom to the US unless she objects leaving Kolkata. He will leave with a solace that at least he could be physically present during the last rites and more importantly beside his mother when she needed him most.

It was well past midnight almost close to the wee hours of the morning when Bodhi returned home from the burning ghat. In a few hours Kolkata will wake up again minus at least two ex-colleagues who had a brief time to catch up on the recollections of their professional life. So be it the two forlorn beds of a hospital cabin, a time to find an old colleague with whom many professional challenges were well negotiated as a part of a much coveted teamwork, will always be cherished. The wall clock in the Chatterjee Nest sounded three times to declare its 3 am. It is already 24 hours the world has spent since DC has left it the night before. And as he said, in professional parlance, it still remains a small world till two ex-colleagues meet again somewhere, sometime.


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