Holy matrimony seemed to have settled down with me and put to rest my search for August, or so I thought. No, no, I was perfectly, happily married to the Bee. Even the friends of the Bee swore in his presence that he had taken to Bengali like a Bong to fish, that he was actually speaking whole sentences in Bengali. Phew! I thought. But who would have known then that life away from my Madna would get more complex. And little did I know that the affection for an abstract noun named ‘perfection’ would be the albatross round my neck and in trying to escape my Madna I was merely stepping into another Madna, only larger.
Why? Just read on.
Like the gasping, choking fish out of water, we, the ‘freshly out of Charnock’s Kolkata’ in the Rajdhani, found our first home at the heartland of Bengalis in Chittaranjan Park, in South Delhi.The sleepy street with a long patch of grass separating the two neat rows of houses, the hint of Bangaliana in the terracotta name plates, the tastefully done up windows with chiks complete with a ceramic wind chime swinging in the gentle summer breeze, careless evenings spent on the wide terrace of our barsati and its row of potted foliage and the rusting desert cooler by the long french window – and like all newly-weds I thought the dream would never end. Because just like you, even I had thought that thenceforth it would be happily ever after in Lutyen’s, being far away from my Madna.
Thus, for a while I merrily found solace here, among the Bangali Mashimas, paanch phoron, bori, Ilish maachh, Durga Pujo, Poila Baishakh, baro mase tero parbon and most things Bangali. And yet, somewhere deep down I pined for the language I had inherited. Something seemed amiss. And I kept putting it off, distracted myself with long summer afternoons, the rattling, rusting desert cooler, andhis, pots of spider ferns and foxtails, holi and other such idiosyncrasies typical only to Delhi.
It finally dawned upon me when my friendly neighbourhood Mesomoshai called me and informed me, “Are beta, ami to sedin sirf mazak korchilam“. My Bangali chromosome was in for a rude shock. In the name of speaking Bangla, in the heartland of Lutyen’s Bong ghetto, they churned out a punch of Bengali peppered with a liberal dose of Hindi .
That day I realized that however much I loved the nuances of a nuanced speaker of the English tongue, my Bong crux cringed in seeing the thousand deaths my mother tongue died every minute. I winced in pain when the Mashimas, Meshomashais, Boudis, Dadas as much as at the machhwalla, bajarwalla blurted out with poker faces “Amar naam Ghosh hochche“; “deyale chipkali dekhe bhoi pawar ki holo“; “Beta, eta tomar uncle hocchche“; “aajker Ilishta khub taza hochche“.
I even seriously considered opening a “ Eso Bangla shikhi” class, of course, pro bono with some snacks thrown in. So there I was again, reliving Madna among the displaced tribesmen from my tribe who were perfect in their Bengali customs and rituals and utterly confused about their troubled tongue. I mean not too many Bengalis are known for their finesse in the national language. But the way they had acquired the ‘third’ language and made it a part of their daily existence was a far cry from what my mother tongue was supposed to be.
In the middle of all this my tormented inner being continued to forge ahead with its own faulty logic of perfection.
One of those evenings I saw Agastya, standing by the flower shop at the corner of the Second Market. Yes, he had stepped out of the alleys of my mind and was watching me from the shadows, watching me betraying myself. He seemed to question me, my sanity and what happened to my pursuit of ‘perfection’ and my pursuit of him. And I questioned myself, was it that I was in pursuit of August or I was still pursuing the old suspect Perfection?
Soon it was time to move on, but not too far , just a step away from the Bengali galli to the vast “good” gaon of Haryana.
The big guns had already set up the much promised land for the upwardly mobile corporates, for whom gentry, an X sized apartment decorated with Y brand of furniture, the newly launched Z car, Diwali gifts, weekend potluck, teen patti and some other inanities were but essential. I succumbed to the daily soaps that telecast the “pleier” of owning stuff, showing off faux couture with elan, hosting cougar parties.Yes, I tuned in for a while, just to sit and listen. I was, perhaps, trying to tone down the compulsive perfectionist in me. Agastya decided to leave me alone with my trials and errors at fitting in.
Must I confess that I soon gave up on the “pleier” of watching the daily soaps and returned to “wrong pronunciations”, “grammatical errors” “they call this talking in Bengali”? The ennui gave way to an understanding that my perfectionism would flog me forever unless I learn to rein it and channelize it into, yes, you are right, planning an escape out of this “still rustic at heart, still smelling of wet earth” Madna. Agastya still lay low, lost in the maze of my mind. I let him stay there. By now I had learned to live with him and was used to him appearing out of the blue as a premonition, perhaps.
Eventually, with the first escape hatch opening up, I was on a flight out of Madna, or so I thought, flying westward. In four hours I had landed in Sindbad’s “land of black gold”. As I headed out of the air-conditioned comfort of ‘al mataar al masqat al dauliya‘ I thought I caught a glimpse of Agastya sporting a smirk, waiting by the automated glass doors which parted to usher me into the country with a gust of hot and dusty desert wind.