“Excuse me, Sir!” mumbled Animesh in a possible irritated-yet-sounding-pleasant tone, “Can you shift one seat, that’s mine actually, if you don’t mind”. The old man gave him an indifferent stare and peacefully moved over. Animesh was restless; he put off his cabin baggage in the closet of flight no AI604, stuffed the New York Times at the back of the seat clumsily, took of his Armani overcoat and sat there fidgeting with his expensive new PDA. He was irritated because the flight was delayed for more than 3 hours and to add to it more he left without the cigarette packet from home. He spared a sideways glance to the man sitting beside him. Pretty old, how much? The receding hairline, the prominent creases on his face, the mellowed eyes, he guessed; maybe 75 or less? Yet seemed quite agile, dressed in a plain off-white shirt, tailor-made, ironed and grayish trousers, in a flamboyant thick framed black Gucci glasses, he seemed to be quite at ease with himself.
“May I borrow that paper of yours?” He asked Animesh, interrupting his constant stare from the corner of the eyes.
Animesh was a little taken aback by the sudden interruption but he managed quite well,” sure you may”, sounding quite authoritative.
“Me, Ajatshatru Banerjee, working class, but retired nowadays, he chuckled.
“I am Animesh, Animesh Roy, so Mr. Banerjee you going to Delhi? Or you have a connecting flight to Calcutta?”
“Oh! You are a Bengali? Nice to meet you Animesh “, without even paying any attention to Animesh’s question.
Animesh clicked his tongue in silence,” all of them have the same reaction when they find one, will these self proclaimed Bengalis never change?
“Hmm, so you have a connecting flight or you headed for Delhi?” Animesh repeated the question.
What do you think?
How should I say?
Connecting flight, yes you are right.
By this time, the plane was soaring up amidst the clouds, white, misty flakes of the heavenly dews, roaming around aimlessly kissing the nose of the gigantic Air India Boeing as it surges ahead across the pacific. Animesh was thinking about the life in Calcutta, dusty smelly stinking roads, the moment he would place his feet outside the cabin the searing, dissipating heat, the air reverberating in sync with the heat emanating from the brown dusty ground, the smell of the rotten fish, the garbage dumped here and there, meandering along the narrow marauding lines of poverty stricken slums, the half-fed dogs, the crows, the tightly packed, loosely constructed shanties along the footpath, everything seemed ugly, bitter and tasteless. He felt like his once hometown had no color, other than yellow, that too mellowed.
Animesh was shocked, “voodoo or what? How did he guess?”
“A few more hours, and there again, the city of joy, the SFI’s, the maidan, homemade food, you don’t get these things in the States, you don’t get life over there, suffocating.” Ajatshatru said. “By the way after how long are you going?” Animesh’s face twitched and his eyes blinked, partially in relief, “after all he is no mind reader”, he thought.
“Yes, Mr. Banerjee, missing home”, he sighed. “—missing New York–” he thought.
“You said, you were into service, but retired now, right?” asked Animesh, desperate to shake off the disturbing pictures of Kolkata.
“Yes, son, I have retired long back, I used to be in the chief judge in Kolkata high court, place as such there was none, I had a transferable job, as result of which I had been fortunate to eat the rice of every color and caste and creed.” recalled Ajatshatru in a triumphant tone, “You don’t mind if I don’t call you by your name? You are exactly the same age as my son is.”
“No, no, why should I mind”, Animesh replied a bit confused about what to say to such a strange request. The toil and grind in America had molded him so differently that he now adheres completely to the western culture of calling names; he’s even changed his bathroom habits, unconsciously though. He still remembers how he and his brother differed in ideologies. His brother, a staunch communist and he a worshipper of western ideologies and dreamt of bigger life, unlike his brother.
“Where in Kolkata, do you stay Mr. Banerjee? North or south?
“I don’t like that side, it’s too congested”
“But, that’s where the real smell of the city is.”
“Yea, smell of rotten fish”
“Ah, that’s a delicacy, did you taste it?”
“And, the smell of pollution”
“Oh! That? They are talking of banning buses that are more than 20 years old, don’t fret over that!”
“And, the musty-smelling bazaars”
“You get good things, cheap, so never mind the smell, plus if that acts as an appetizer, believe me”
“And, dirty politics”
“Even America is not spared, and?”
“And communism and beggars and rusty old buses and stinking humidity and … wasted childhoods, great expectations from a city that’s inevitably a vacuum and there are toiling laborers, and dusty skies, even the moon looks ugly nowadays …
… … … don’t mind if I am rude!!” Animesh heaved.
“I see, you have great affection for your city, good to know!” Ajatshatru smiled.
A steely silence waved over the two, Animesh broke it “so, you stay with son in New York?”
Yes, you can put it that way; at least he does it that way” Ajatshatru said.
“I didn’t get it” What do you mean by ‘that’ way?”
“Is this your routine tour of India? I will back by the next week, but I won’t be alone. You are coming back on?”
“Neah, I am already! My ma will be coming.
“Your parents are there in Kolkata?”
“Only my ma, father died 5 years back.”
Oh! Am sorry! Then you should have brought her here long back.”
“Ma used to stay with my brother, but he got married, there have been loads of problems, and brother shifted her to a nearby old home. But recently there have been some problems with the good-for-nothing management group of that home.” rued Animesh.
Is that so? Why what’s wrong?
“I don’t know Mr. Banerjee, don’t ask me. I got this letter from my brother last month, that the old home closing down due to lack of funds and he couldn’t afford to bear ma’s medical expenses, and …
… And you volunteered to fly to your ma and keep her near to you? She must be a very fortunate person to have a son like you, I am sure.” Ajatshatru completed the sentence for Animesh, a sense of great satisfaction and lament appeared on his creased face.
Animesh searched for the tone of sarcasm I it, but there was none, he cleared his throat and proceeded,” yes, that is the thing, but you know America is an expensive country and the dad’s pension that ma gets was never enough, however, we were planning to divide up all properties that father left in ma’s name and conjure up the expenses. Let’s see, the talks are still on, anyways, its family matters”
But Ajatshatru wasn’t listening, the last sentence distracted him, “the property… the inheritance… the divide… the greed…” He cleared his throat and poked Animesh, no, it’s not that I don’t have interests, I told you, I had spent 40 years of my life in these legal matters.”
Oh! Yes, I forgot! Animesh said almost apologetically. And my legal advisor says that there are ways that I can remove my brother completely from this inheritance race.
“Hmm” hummed Ajatshatru.” Where did you say you stayed?”
“Ha-ha! I never told you anything about that Mr. Banerjee, it’s an old trick, I stay in Ballygunge, but why do you ask?
Just like that, no reason, and what’s the name of the old home that your ma had been in?
“Umm… some Bonolata Devi Old-Age Home, I don’t understand why the govt. would even grant them permission if they can’t show enough resources, to maintain and run the organization” He suddenly felt very tired, the already blatant world just suddenly seemed more naked to him. Man’s ugly necessities of life loomed over him like cannibals in a desolate, lonely island, dancing for the death, for the greed, the shrill thundering sound of the Boeing pierced his ears. All his life he had seen this, been in the legal section he has never been spared from man’s utter covetousness, total materialism. He has always despised these and somehow he killed the pest without touching it or making his hands dirty. He removed his red Gucci glasses; they seemed too heavy for him and excused himself from Animesh. Went to the washroom, sprayed water over his face, came back and just sat there in his seat with eyes closed thinking nothing.
He sat like that for hours, ordered a light veg. lunch and ate in silence.
“Mr. Banerjee is everything okay with you? You look pretty exhausted, maybe this long journey!”
“How many minutes to land?”
“5-10 minutes, we have reached”, informed Animesh
“Hmm, you wanted to know when I am flying back to America. Right? ”Yea, if you don’t mind”, muttered Animesh. “Well… then listen, I didn’t give any of my 2 crore property to that idiot of mine and his wife, they don’t deserve it. I made my will, in which the entire property have to be handed over to a charitable trust. And when my son came to know about this decision of mine, I am here flying back to India, Kolkata, shyambazaar, north Kolkata you know, the place you hate so much, am going to breathe over there, and …
[Mr. Banerjee’s voice was drowned in the ear splitting sound of the touchdown of the flight AI604]
The flight has landed, passengers shifting here and there, voices, commotion, the air hostess preparing for the final adieu to all on board passengers and outside a scorching misty heat wave awaited Animesh Roy.
“You want to know the name of the charitable trust, Animesh?”
“It’s the same that went out of funds and was supposed to close, but don’t worry, it won’t close down now, you can have second thoughts about your company in the return flight” snapped Ajatshatru Banerjee.
Animesh was the last passenger to move out of the cabin, he walked away motionlessly.