Photo taken from the Internet. Source

Biman saw a big plastic packet sitting on the Security Guard’s table adjacent to the gate of the building. It looked like a few boxes of cakes. He could see the name of the bakery written on top of the packet. Not the usual ones that Swiggy brings into the building. This one must have come directly from the bakery in their van, thought Biman. He had been away from the gate on a washroom break.

Since no deliveries were allowed to go beyond the gate, things were left at the guard’s table usually, from where the residents picked it up. Not always though…

Many had become so lazy since lockdown happened two months back that they refused to walk those ten steps to the gate to pick up their stuff. They would inevitably make a call to the security guards and ask them to drop it off at their flats.

The company that Biman worked for, which had a contract with the building that he was guarding now, had strictly ordered them not to run errands unless it was emergency medicines for aging residents. So, when the calls came to deliver the pizzas, the biryani, the groceries left by Amazon, the fish left by the fish seller, to the respective apartments, Biman had to say a firm “no”. Then they would request, command and threaten him over the phone.

All for what, so that they didn’t have to step out of their front doors, thought a hassled Biman.

“They are shamelessly heckling the guards to make their easy life even easier. The morons never think I am doing my job and nothing else,” an irate Biman lamented.

Yes, the guards had a few jobs less now, of opening the gates when the cars came in, of jotting down the registration numbers of the Ubers, of getting the guests to sign the register, or keeping an eye on the maids.

But he had ensured that none of those para guys could walk in and ask for money from the residents as they had been doing in other buildings. And when some people came at night saying that they were from the Municipality checking every apartment to make sure no one had fever, Biman had repeatedly asked for their ID that they failed to show. He kept the gates firmly locked.

He had ensured every single person who walked inside the gates used the hand sanitiser, he had made sure the lift surfaces, the stair banisters were cleaned twice a day. He had taken on the mantle of the caretaker, who used to come in the local train. Biman switched on the pump on time, made the gardener cut the wild shrubs, maintained the lift, saw to it that waste was cleared from every home properly by the sweeper.

Despite that it was one undelivered pizza that became the bone of contention. The building president told him that he could have just delivered the box to the lady since she was single and old. Biman had retorted that her young niece had been living with her since lockdown, a fact the president didn’t seem to know.

The old lady had complained about Biman to the building committee. She had told them that she found him ogling at the women and watching porn on his mobile while on duty. The president assured him he didn’t believe her.

“I know you are a good guy. But it’s not in my hands. We might have to let your company know…”

“And then…?” Biman asked, the anger building up in his throat.

“We will see.” He said. His face gleaming with the power he felt on another person’s life decisions.

Biman’s cheeks were burning up. Now would he have to deal with a lifetime of shame for one woman’s laziness?

He thought of his everyday fight with his wife. She worried that he interacted with so many strangers and went back home to sleep with his 3-year-old daughter.

“Can’t you do something else?”

“What else?”  Biman would scream. “People don’t have jobs now. You should be thankful I am still drawing a salary.”

Biman sat at the guard’s chair, crestfallen.

*

“No one took that packet yet?” asked Monohar, Biman’s colleague.

Biman looked at the packet disdainfully.

“You should see them when the bakery van comes these days. They come down in hordes as if cakes are what they are living for. No social distancing, no masks, their tongues touching the ground in gluttony,” chuckled Manohar.

Piya was walking down the driveway towards the guards table. Biman looked away.

“God knows what this young woman thinks about me. A pervert or a good man?”

“Biman da, Monohar da, ei packet ta tomader (this packet is for you),” she said.

“What’s there?” asked Manohar eagerly.

“Some cakes and chicken patties for you,” said Piya.

Biman remained expressionless. Manohar had already opened a box. A grin lit up his face.

“Biman da tumi toh jhor tuleccho (you have raised a storm),” said Piya.

Biman looked at her stunned. She already knew about his shame.

“My mom said that all the women in this apartment have stood up for you in the WhatsApp group saying you are a gem of a person. All allegations against you are false,” smiled Piya.

Nao ebare cake khao tomra (now you guys have some cake). Ma has ordered this for you.”

Biman looked down, at his own gleaming shoes. He couldn’t let Piya see his tears.

– By Amrita Mukherjee

Read More Short Stories On Lockdown

Short Story: The Maid’s Home

Short Story: A Teacher’s Lockdown Lessons

Short Story: Feluda And The Covid 19 Death Case

Short Story: In Love With Social Distancing

Short Story: Washing the milk

Picture from the Internet

I am used to the morning rush. Everyone is, when they have kids going to school and a job to keep. But I find something unsettling about this rush hour now. I am up as usual at 5 am preparing breakfast, finishing the day’s cooking and cleaning up the kitchen before I rush…yes, rush nowhere.

The kids head from the bathroom to the bedroom; I walk from the kitchen to the sitting-room couch and my husband stays put where he is, at the dining table. We have only two laptops at home and we are those middle-class parents who want to give their children the best. My husband and I juggle our jobs on the tab and the smart phone, depending on necessity.

Today there was another necessity, one that was making me edgy. Singing has never been my forte.

I could see from the corner of my eye that bewildered look on my husband’s face. He has never heard me singing, and I had forgotten to warn him that I would be making an exception today.

Seeing his expression I felt laughter threatening to wreck me from within, but I kept singing keeping myself stoic.

It’s Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday today. If schools had been open, functions would have been held; we would have decked up with flowers in our hair and helped the children dress up for the stage.

My voice lacked rhythm, but still I sang with passion as if to hold on to that last bit of my root, my reality that has suddenly become boxed into the gadget that I was holding in my hand.

The mobile has become like my extended body part. It’s constantly pinging with messages and there are at least 10 WhatsApp groups, some of which have students, guardians and teachers in them. There have been a couple of mornings when I switched on the data and no messages came. I was pretty sure that very day I would be asked to put in my papers; I would be told of my inability to cope.

Or maybe they wanted to do to me what they had done to my colleague. Snatched away her classes because she had supposedly been fumbling and asked to log into classes held by younger, tech-savvy teachers and learn from them.

I instantly messaged a colleague.

“Did you get any messages?”

“None today. Very strange,” came her reply.

My stomach had already started tumbling like the insides of a washing machine. It halted.

There isn’t a moment in the day when I am gadget free. When online classes end, the training starts; how to talk, how to make PPTs, how to make online lesson plans, how to deal with the chats and emojis the kids throw up (the kisses and skulls being the favourite and the poop and the bikini occasional aberrations) and then there’s the psychologist as well telling us teachers how to stay calm. I look at the last one as the most important lesson of the day, because I do end up screaming hysterically for my husband or my elder son’s help if I am unable to make those PPTs or unmute the Zoom mic. Power Point was Hebrew to me till lockdown happened. Actually so many things are, still.

For starters I am competitive, but I really have not grasped what’s there to be competitive about PPTs. The slides are worked on, embellished and submitted with an attitude that these works of art will land us a space in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Then there are the relentless comparisons, praises and criticism. Sometimes I feel like laughing but then I have to put in my best. I can’t let my position as one of the best teachers slip. I have worked hard for it for so long. I can’t let a virus kill it.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

In my 20 years of teaching experience the thought had never occurred to me that I would start teaching a new batch of students never seeing them in person for once, but I would know how their bedroom looks, I would marvel at the colour of their walls or make a mental note of the chic dressing table design to be passed on to my carpenter, some day.

Neither did I have a clue that one day I will have to see some of my students’ fathers without a shirt.

Some of the fathers have developed the habit of hovering around the kids in their boxers showing off their rotund paunches in their shirtless avatars. The first time this happened, I can’t even begin to tell you how shocking it was. I complained. My colleagues complained. The management sent out mails that guardians should not be around kids. It stopped for some time. Then someone would suddenly appear in the frame by “mistake” and move away only after ensuring that you are unnerved enough by their uncouthness. Within weeks we learned to mask the unease and carry on as if nothing had happened. There is too much on our plate anyway, a half-naked guardian couldn’t possibly merit our precious time.

And then there are the moms. You would know they are sitting next to the ward listening in intently. Your instincts just tell you they are there, helicoptering. Isn’t this like a dream-come-true for an obsessive mom, the ability to sit next to her child as they take the class? In my online classes I have faced more questions than I have answered in my entire career, needless to say, all prompted by the invisible helicopters.

I have always prided myself to be teaching in one of the elite institutions of Kolkata that comes with the best facilities and best marks. But now I often wish I worked in a lesser-known school that has not been able to put their online act together because they lack the infrastructure, finances or even the will to do so and wish to wait it out till schools re-open.

People talk about spotting rainbows in the sky, click photos of the cottony clouds bathed in the hues of a pink sunset, see the flowers bloom and marvel at the appearance of new species of birds on the window panes, but I have failed to notice any of that. I only know the day has glided into the evening when the fights over the laptops start. My 14-year-old son needs to get the worksheets done, my 10-year-old daughter has to send back her homework and prepare for her impending online exams and I need to make the PPTs, send back the reports of my online classes and sit in at the zoom meetings.

We argue over who gets priority on the laptop like we are fighting for a piece of bread in a concentration camp. But they always win, inevitably.

“You anyway have to help me with my homework, ma,” my daughter says.

Life has done a volte face for her too. I soften instantly thinking who is finding it harder, she or me? The bored, sleepy, yawning faces of my students flash through my mind.

So I am up till late in the night finishing my work when the house has been silenced by slumber. My day never ends. The morning rush goes with me to bed.

*

I had finished my classes yesterday when suddenly my daughter came rushing to me.

“Ma in my Bengali class they are asking for opposites. I don’t know these, please help.”

Without even thinking for a second I jotted down the opposites for my daughter so that she could answer in “class”.

I then realised what I did. I just prompted my daughter in her class. Like the helicopter moms.

Amrita Mukherjee

 

 

 

 

 

This illustration is taken from Saikat Sarkar’s page

“For the last couple of days I have been noticing you are reading books on World War I. Why is that?” Lalmohan babu asked Feluda.

He was sprawled on the settee in Feluda’s drawing room, his head resting on the cushion placed on one hand-rest and his feet up on the other. Two days prior to the lockdown, Lalmohan babu’s manservant had left for his village and that’s when Feluda had insisted that his friend shift to his home at Rajani Sen Road, at Ballygunge.

“At this age you don’t have to fend for yourself all alone. If you are staying with us, I will feel more assured,” Feluda had said, flashing his rare smile.

What was meant to be a lockdown of 15 days had extended to 40 days now and Lalmohan babu, as always, marveled at Feluda’s prudence.

“I am not exactly reading about the World War I, I am rather reading about the Spanish Flu pandemic that took over the world when the war ended in 1918. Then also schools, religious institutions and business centres were closed, people were asked to wear masks, stay at home and practice social distancing,” said Feluda.

He did not look up from his book.

Ki bolcchen moshai, taai naki? (What are you saying? Really?)”

Lalmohan babu had sat up, alert.

Researchers are now trying to use the lessons learnt during the Spanish Flu to contain this coronavirus pandemic. At that time 500 million people were infected and almost 50 million died, but there was no chance of developing medicines or vaccines then. So, before you start hyperventilating and coming up with Doomsday predictions, let me say it’s not that bad a situation now.”

Feluda’s face was still expressionless, but he looked at his friend fleetingly with reassuring eyes.

“You have your online Literary Meet in half an hour. Have you prepared?” asked Topshe as he entered the room after finishing his online classes.

Lalmohan babu looked perplexed. He kept looking at the Kindle tab he was holding in his hand, his expression a trifle dejected.

“My books are on this machine and now literary meets are online. I can’t cope with this Tapesh.”

Topshe worried that Lalmohan babu would start crying. He hadn’t been in the best mental state in the last few days.

“I will help you out. Let’s create a structure of what you will talk about,” said Topshe quickly.

“Idea! Idea!” shouted Lalmohan.

He was literally jumping up and down clappping his hands and Topshe stepped back.

“Like I write under the pseudo name Jatayu, I can have a lit meet as a pseudo person. Tapesh you will be Jatayu in this online meet. You will do this for me right? Won’t you?”

Now it was Topshe’s turn to look aghast.

Then it suddenly happened. Lalmohan babu sneezed. Another one followed quickly.

He breathlessly ran to the window, peeped through the curtain.

“Nobody around thankfully,” he heaved a sigh of relief looking at the deserted road.

Feluda was watching all these histrionics quietly.

“Your phone is ringing,” he told Lalmohan babu.

*

Feluda reached for his cigarettes. The packet was not where it was always placed. Forgetful was the last thing you could call Feluda, but smoking was a very old habit and the hands went for the packet spontaneously. Then his brain got into action and reminded him he had just kicked the butt.

He had been planning to give up smoking for a long time and the lockdown gave him the right pretext. Cigarettes weren’t an “essential” he was going to go out for he had decided.

Lalmohan babu was back to his old position on the settee. The call that had come in the morning had pushed him into immense grief. His niece had contracted the dreaded coronavirus and died in the morning, he was informed.

“Even yesterday morning she had sent me a greeting video on WhatsApp. She never said she was unwell or anything.” Lalmohan babu was murmuring.

“In the last few days she never told you about a fever or cough or anything?” asked Feluda.

Na moshai! Even a couple of days back she had cooked chicken kasha and paratha and uploaded on Facebook. I can’t believe she is no more.”

Lalmohan babu wiped his tears with a white handkerchief.

“Who told you she had Covid 19?”

“Her husband. He told me he had asked all relatives not to turn up since he had quarantined himself.”

“Did he call the concerned authorities to take your niece to the crematorium?”

“No, he said he had called the family doctor, who gave the death certificate. He had called the hearse and taken the body to the crematorium. After that he went into self quarantine.”

Milcchey naa! Hisheb milcchey naa. (It’s not adding up) ”                                                    

Feluda looked out of the window at the blooming chrysanthemum tree, a furrow clouding his forehead.

“Do you have any of her recent photos?” he asked suddenly.

“Many! She sent her selfies frequently with her morning greeting.”

Feluda peered at the photos after magnifying those in the smartphone.

“I am sure you never noticed the marks,” he said after returning the phone to his friend.

“Marks! What marks?”

“She was abused frequently. The nicks and cuts are all over her face. She used to hide it with make-up.”

“Abused! You think so? She was such a happy girl. She never told me anything about abuse.”

“Very few talk about it Lalmohan babu. Do you know their family doctor who gave her death certificate?”

“Yes I know him. I have his number even. I had gone to him once when my house physician was out of town.”

Feluda called the doctor. He had thought he would be a tough nut to crack, but the opposite happened.

“Prodosh babu please help me,” the doctor pleaded.

The man came to my house with a gun at midnight. Took me to his place. He had shoved his wife down the stairs. She had died on the spot. She had a weak heart. I wrote heart attack in the death certificate. I didn’t want to do this. Please can you help?”

“So she didn’t have Covid 19?” asked Feluda.

“Covid! Who said Covid?”

“Now it’s crystal clear. The husband is saying it’s Covid, so that no one would go to his place and he wouldn’t have to give any explanation. If he is in self quarantine people would stay miles away from him.”

Feluda’s next call went to the Police Commissioner.

*

“I can’t imagine you solved a case in one day and that too sitting at home,” said Lalmohan babu.

“This is the new way. Work from home or WFH,” said Feluda.

They were at lunch. Piping hot khichudi was being served.

“I have been seeing you are wasting your time sulking at home Lalmohan babu. You could have very much finished your next mystery novel during this time. I even have the title chalked out – Covider Kobole (In the grip of Covid).”

Lalmohan babu was sprinkling pepper on the khichudi. His eyes widened and his lips broke out into an effervescent smile.

Then it happened. A sneeze came. A resounding one.

– By Amrita Mukherjee

Disclaimer: On Satyajit Ray’s birthday today May 2,2020 this story is written as a tribute to his Feluda. In no way this is an attempt to plagiarise the characters he created.

If you want to read on Ray’s mother Suprabha Ray click here.

Picture taken from the Internet

7 am. The doorbell rang. It took her a bit of time to get out of bed. The young man at the door knew that. So he waited patiently.

“No bread today?” she asked him.

“No supply. But I got cream rolls and cakes,” he said.

Devika Roy liked the idea. At 75, her breakfast had suddenly turned from the usual butter and bread to cream rolls and cake. Apart from the sweet swirl the cream rolls produced in her mouth, she liked the fact that it meant one job less of putting the bread in the toaster and applying butter.

“Did you wash the milk?” The daughter-in-law emerged from the bedroom. She was wearing a frown, the urgency in her voice, disturbing.

“Wash the milk….?” Devika couldn’t quite understand what that meant.

“It’s been a month now and I still have to check. If I don’t check I know you will not do it,” she said gruffly.

Without a word, Devika put the packets of milk under the tap.

“With soap…wash it with soap.” The daughter-in-law commanded.

Devika found her intolerable. Even a month back she was the one taking all the decisions at home. Her daughter-in-law would leave for work, return late in the evening, look after the boy’s homework and retire to bed. Milk packets and groceries were never her thing.

Now she would stand at the kitchen all day like a slave master with a whip and one slip and there was no escape from her fury. All packets brought from outside were cleaned with Dettol, all veggies washed immediately in warm water, she would keep telling everyone to wash their hands, she wouldn’t allow the kid to even go to the terrace, because other residents were going there as well and, she let go of the maids, even the full-time maid. When she wanted to go to her village pre-lockdown, her daughter-in-law just agreed without discussing it with Devika. She found that unacceptable.

Had it been some other time, Devika was sure that her daughter-in-law would have been sent to an asylum, but now her son was beaming and lauding her constantly for keeping the family “safe”.

Mad paranoia, that is what it should be called, thought Devika with a smirk. To someone who had survived diphtheria and cholera as a child, four bouts of malaria in her youth, typhoid in her middle age and dengue in her old age, how could some vague virus really matter?

She even shouted like a mad woman at Devika a few days back when she opened the door to the building security guard, who had come to tell them that he wouldn’t be reporting to duty since he was burning with fever.

“He was saying he had fever and you were talking to him? You even told him to wait and you would get the medicines? Are you crazy?” she shouted.

Crazy, she had called her crazy!! The tears had clouded the corner of her eyes, but her daughter-in-law had completely ignored it. Her son had come to her room and told her to take a break from dish washing for a few days instead.

“I will do it Ma. You rest,” he said.

“You? Your father never did it. I have never seen any man do it in our family,” said Devika.

“It’s okay. Times have changed Ma. You just take rest,” he said.

Devika had stayed in her room since then. Just taking the morning milk remained her job. She didn’t go out much anyway. It was the street below her bedroom window that had always kept her entertained. The street had suddenly died like her daughter-in-law’s emotions.

Her son called her to lunch. She expected the usual boiled potatoes and dal. Her son wasn’t going out to get fish. Her daughter-in-law wouldn’t allow him to go to the bazaar. For the first time in her life, Devika had lived without fish for a month.

Devika sat at the table with a straight face. She didn’t want to get into any conversation on cleaning, sanitizing and the rising number of Corona cases. It nauseated her.

There was rui maccher jhol (rohu fish curry) laid out on the table.

“We got a guy to deliver fish. I know it’s been hard for you,” said the daughter-in-law.

Devika noticed her face had softened, probably for the first time since lockdown.

The overpowering smell of Dettol came from the surface of the table. Devika usually puckered her nose and went through the staid reality called lunch. But now the smell of freshly-cooked fish transcended the pungent odour. Transcended everything.

– By Amrita Mukherjee 

Social Distancing. Pix from the internet.

He badly needed a haircut. He hadn’t been to the gym for a month now. In his profession work from home was not possible. He was tired of mopping the floor and doing the dishes. He thought Covid 19 was a ploy to keep people at home and there was something more to this.

“What do you think it is Meera?” He asked in a huff.

“Surveillence? Are we going to have George Orwell’s 1984 now? Or is it an online experiment? To see how the world can function through the net? Do you think 5G will be introduced soon? Or is it a reboot of the environment? Or was the economic collapse coming anyway and now Covid 19 will be blamed?”

He was almost out of breath.

Meera listened to her man’s rant. It happened every day – morning, evening, night – over the phone. No matter what he said he was never in a hurry to hang up, like before. Meera savoured that. He was serious, frustrated, angry about being locked down at home for 18 days and she was smiling. She thanked her lucky stars they weren’t on video chat. Otherwise her smile would have amplified his anger.

While he was upset, she had found peace. The lockdown had changed her from inside. The ever anxious, watchful girlfriend had suddenly become calm, chilled out. Like every other relationship, hers wasn’t perfect. But she sometimes felt they fought more often than they spoke sweet nothings. They were always at loggerheads because love had a strange way of bringing polar opposites together.

She was a college lecturer, bordering on the introvert, had few friends and her weekends meant staying home, reading or meeting her boyfriend for a movie or dinner. He was a dashing corporate climber for whom networking meant everything. He could be doing that at corporate parties, at the clubs or at the nightclubs he frequented with his gang of friends on weekends.

She was always telling him to slow down. She found his extraneous social interactions loathsome.

Two people greeting with a hug. Pix taken from the internet.

 

And those “hugs?” Uggh!

“Hello hug” he called them but she hated those women coming so close to greet him every time. They had so many fights over it. He found it preposterous that she felt so strongly about just a “greeting hug” and she felt it was ridiculous that intrusion into personal space was called a greeting. A handshake was good enough, why was there the need for a hug?

The world would follow the namaskar now. Meera thought. The Indian namaskar, her beloved namaskar.  Prince Charles had already started. Not long before India would follow.

“You are right if we go by what Yuval Noah Harari is saying, then we might be stepping into a lifetime of surveillance because we care for our health. Our health would be tracked along with our movements to keep the population safe,” she finally said, realizing it had been a one-sided rant so far.

The world might come under surveillance now, but her surveillance on him would end. Those anxious thoughts of women hugging, women getting too close to her beloved, would finally rest in peace.

Social distancing gave her what three years of arguments could not achieve. The pandemic would end, but the fear of the virus would remain. People wouldn’t probably shake hands anymore, let alone greet with a hug.

Silently in her mind she said, “Thank you social distancing, please always stay.”

*

 

Another short story I wrote about life in lockdown:

The Maid’s Home

 

Picture of a slum in Kolkata. Taken from the internet.

Jewellery is not something I have anymore. The scanty I had has been pawned, sold, traded. Now these marks are my jewels that speak of my husband’s lost love for me. Below my eyes, on my chin, sitting on my neck proudly like a necklace where his fingers had squeezed too hard the night before, on my arms where the belt created a dark gash or that short round, red one glistening almost like a ruby ring where he had pressed the burning cigarette butt.

I used to marvel at the marks on my body. We had ran away from home, married in a temple and settled in a small mining town in Jharkhand. The room was as small as it is now. But it was airy and not dingy. It was enveloped in warmth and there wasn’t any sign of aggression. Each room was connected by an elongated balcony and when I stepped out every morning to use the common toilets, I would be greeted by the giggles of the ladies all around.

I would keep looking at those marks with admiration in the broken mirror in my room. I wore those proudly as the ladies teased and laughed at our gossip sessions in the evenings. The moment he would come back from work I would run to our room making tea, making food, looking forward to the night.

Now I sit on the footpath outside the slum till 1 am. If I am not home, he passes away on the bed sloshed and cold. Another night gone, another night of terror avoided. After he’s lost his job as a driver, he’s home most of the day, drinking. I escape to the homes I work in as a maid. Their large three-bedroom, airy houses, the endless chores, their dump of clothes, keep me busy and happy. I could be away from that 10X10 room with the small window, smell of mustard oil and liquor, a small ceiling fan that circulates the asbestos heat and a monster waiting in its midst.

But life has changed overnight. There’s some virus doing the rounds and we have been asked to stay at home. All those ladies who would keep calling me if I wouldn’t turn up a single day, tell me to stay away now.

I couldn’t believe the same security guards who used to joke with me everyday wouldn’t let me into the building to collect my pay. No one from outside was allowed in, they said. Really? Strange!

 

Madam came to the gate and paid me my salary. I had thought I would tell her I would stay in their maid’s room and won’t return home. I would do everything for them, they could just watch TV. I am a good cook. They could use me. I could use their air-conditioner. It was on in the living room all day, anyway.

But when I looked at her masked face, I couldn’t tell her what I had planned. There wasn’t any sign of that warm smile in her eyes. Her pupils darted in all directions as if trying to perceive an unknown enemy. She passed me the cash with her gloved hands. I felt like an intruder.

“Madam, how are you managing?”

I could finally bring myself to ask. They hadn’t managed without me for a single day in the past 3 years.

“We are managing fine. You stay at home.”

Home? If only she knew.

I returned home last night at 10 pm because the police asked me not to sit around on the footpath. I pulled out the shards of broken glass from my earlobe all night, crying in pain. The drops of fresh blood oozing down my neck, was my new acquisition, my new designer jewellery.

*

You can read my other short stories: 

Guest Of Honour

How To Deal With Death On Social Media

My books are available on Kindle:

Exit Interview (Novel) 

Museum Of Memories (Short stories)

Picture from the internet

…And to think of it now majority of the work force throughout the world is working at home because of lockdowns and the coronavirus pandemic. When I started working from home this was unthinkable and, in fact, the whole concept was accompanied by wrong notions of loss of productivity and lack of commitment. What one would do in the office one would never do at home – this was something that was oft repeated by work bosses in the year 2010. But now…

My first work-from-home stint

I was in Dubai when my son Vivaan was born and I went back to work when he was only one and a half months old. I was given the option of working from office for 4 hours and the rest 5 hours I worked from home. I reached office at 8am instead of 9am, was there till noon, and was home before son’s bathing time.

This schedule worked for me like a breeze as I could be with my baby when he needed me and could work at the laptop as well filing copies, editing articles and doing interviews over phone or email for the magazine I worked in. But my bliss didn’t last long.

In a department that worked with a skeletal staff my boss decided to take leave for a month to attend the wedding anniversary of her in-laws in India- strangely people she was perpetually cribbing about in front of her colleagues. But it was their 50th wedding anniversary, she had to be there organizing the show for a month and then parading in Kanjeevarams as the perfect Dubai-return bahu. I obviously did not fit anywhere in the picture.

So my bliss was quickly slaughtered at the altar of bahu duties of the boss. I was asked to be at work 9-6, holding fort while she was gone. I had requested the management to give me remote access so that I could check the pages, do the edits and final proofing and continue working from home. That wasn’t an impossible task especially in a techno savvy place like Dubai. But they simply refused to give me access at home and said the final work couldn’t be done without coming to office and they didn’t feel “safe” giving remote access. (Not that I was working with any kind of confidential data.)

So in the end it was basically the belief that an employee, especially a new mom, wouldn’t put in her best in her work-from-home avatar.

Hence I was back to work, slogging out at my desk, being the perfect professional and churning out my supposed 100 per cent.

I quit my office job

Within 10 months I quit my job. Did I regret it? Yes, to some extent because I never went back to earning a pay pack like that every month no matter how many big projects I landed as a freelancer. Did I like working from home? I loved it because I could be with my son. I could work on my schedule in my own way and I could do other things like writing my books.

But working from home did come with a lot of negative connotations. Wearing fashionable clothing and driving to work every morning to a swanky office is one thing, and sitting in your pyjamas at the laptop placed on the dining table every morning, keying in some stories and interviews is completely another thing.

You could feel you are working but others might not. I had grabbed a work-from-home offer as the consulting editor of a health and travel magazine and was keeping rather busy all day, I was writing my debut book Exit Interview even. But tinkering at your laptop in your nightdress and occasional weekly meetings and interviews are not actually work. I realised soon. No one told me but it was written all over their faces. My demotion had happened in the eyes of my family, relatives and friends, something from which I could probably never rise.

Picture from the internet

The challenges of the work-from-home schedule

It’s actually more challenging to work from home than at the office. The world is realizing that right now I am sure. There are articles everywhere now telling you how to set up a work space at home, how to keep the self motivated and how to separate yourself from the household.

Let’s face it, it’s just not possible.

As someone who’s been there done that, I have realised you cannot stick to your work desk when the baby is crying, the cook is asking for instructions or elderly people at home can’t do without their daily dose of serials and the TV will blare. You like it or not, you will have to accept it.

It’s been 10 years now and I am still asked to move my laptop all around the house because someone has something more important to do in that space at that moment. Sometimes I refuse and let my anger speak, sometimes I move because I don’t want to lose my concentration in fruitless argument.

The seriousness that people had when I left home with my leather bag on my shoulders is clearly missing when they see me moping around on the laptop in my shabby home clothes. And you can’t really blame them for that, can you?

Related Reading: You might like this short story of mine on WFH The Bekaar Blogger

WFH has made me stronger

I must say I have developed concentration that wouldn’t falter if the walls in the house collapse on me and my time management and multi-tasking abilities have become so much better. If the son is playing with his friends in the same room and the TV is on and Sreemoyee is crying her head off on the screen, I don’t flinch at my edits. My mind is there fully and the world around is shut off.

It’s actually an art and people who have been pushed to their homes suddenly and gasping in their WFH routines will learn it over time.

And by the way, those who have been writing off WFH people like us for so many years will now realize how much harder it’s to function from home than to be at work. Like a friend of mine said, “I start at 7 am and can’t finish even at 11 pm.”

True, no matter how hard you try the WFH schedule could become a 24×7 thing draining you out completely. And you could be setting your own deadlines but the office could now give you work at unearthly hours and you wouldn’t be able to say no.

You could miss the coffee breaks and lunchtime banter with your colleagues but you could be there for your kid when he gets back from school. A friend of mine looks after her bedridden mom and works from home in the IT sector. It’s a Herculean task she has been performing for years now. Now that her entire work force has shifted home they would probably finally realize the mountains she has been moving to stay on deadline.

Now when people say they are finding work from home crazy, I say “meh” rolling my eyes just like my son would.

Related Reading:This post was written on my WFH experience My boss is always touching me

Witnessing WFH history

Picture from the internet

 

There was a time when WFH was looked at as the end of a career, was treated with disdain and with the repeated question, “What do you actually do?” Now WFH is a norm, everyone is doing it and I feel victorious and validated.

From the time when WFH was not looked at as an option at all, to a time when I have never met my employers except on Skype calls, things have changed drastically, thanks to technology. I have remote colleagues whom I have never met but we do talk about kids and deadlines on messenger. And now, of course, about the added load of housework because of the lockdown and virus scare.

But in our WFH world social distancing already exists. You don’t share details about yourself beyond the basics and when an employee leaves the job, that’s it. There’s no connection left after that. This is inevitable because the bonds you build sitting next to a colleague in office can’t really be built remotely.

“After this lockdown I will never complain about going to work I am sure,” said a friend. True. When you don’t have access to something anymore you learn to appreciate and value it. That’s why when the door flies open and people barge in when I am on a Skype call I now smile. I don’t lose it. WFH has taught me to appreciate the finer aspects of life.

There is no doubt in the maid-dependent Indian social setting (to think of it this is the first time since I stepped on this earth we are managing without maids) WFH in the lockdown scenario is truly tough. Work calls are greeted with, “I am mopping the floor can I call back?” or “I am finishing the dishes will be there in 2 mins.” It’s acceptable and not a wee bit unprofessional. We are all aware of the work-home balancing act we are doing.

In fact, this Lockdown WFH has come as a great wake-up call where bosses and managements all over the world are realizing that it’s possible to keep the ball rolling with a cut down of costs and carbon footprints.

And if we believe the futuristic reports then many companies who can function remotely could be still sticking to the WFH system even when there’s no lockdown.

I will end with a funny story. America has recorded higher sales of tops without bottoms, recently. As a friend shared on FB recently she had flung her top and jacket on her printed pyjamas she wears at home for a Zoom meeting. Then she got up to get her mobile.

Ahh! The hilarious WFH dichotomies.

PS: I wrote this blog between doing the dishes and frying cabbage pakodas that didn’t come out too well. But hope this post did.

 

I think I can write a thesis on this topic: How to deal with death on social media. But the problem is I can’t write anymore.

There used to be a time when you would find me in my computer room writing long articles on my favourite subject – technology. I have always been a computer freak, a whiz even, you could call me. In 1986, I imported a computer from Japan, paid through my nose on customs duty. I guess, being a steel magnate does have its perks. You can afford things that your passion desires. My computer room or my “Tech Room”, as my children call it, always remained my hallowed haven, where I would spend all my spare time. But it always remained my own space. I never felt the need to show it to anyone. In fact, except for my family and my staff, no one knew of its existence.

I guess precisely for this reason, I never got on to social media, despite being so tech-savvy. I loathed the whole concept of making your private life public.

As the stack of books on computers and gadgets grew on my book shelf, my acquisitions also increased and my Tech Room became a techno museum of sorts. My children found my room fascinating and I allowed them complete access to it only on one condition – my room, no matter how intriguing, would be kept away from social media.

Although I never stopped them from being on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp, I just wanted them to make sure that I myself never got there, even through accidental photo bombing.

When photos would be clicked at events, parties, get-togethers, I would just vanish in the last moment. My repulsion of social media was that strong and my efforts to stay away from it that intense.

Some realized that I was truly a private person and let me be and some felt pity and spoke behind me, but I couldn’t care less.

I was in my Tech Room that day downloading photos of my trip to the US from my latest model Canon DSLR to my MacBook, listening to some old Bengali numbers on my Alexa, when it happened.

I died.

I had a heart attack. I wasn’t unhappy about dying. I had lived a full life. I had travelled the world, I had grandchildren and I still had school friends. So at 75, I didn’t have any last wish. I was actually raring to explore the other side.

 

My steel business allowed me to leave a Will that would make my wife and children secure and rich. But little did I know then that my ordeal has just begun. I would have to constantly live (or rather die) with something that I had despised all my life.

It all started on the night I died. My elder daughter lives in the US and son in the UK with their respective families. My younger daughter, who isn’t married yet, lives with me.

My son instantly bought tickets and took the next flight down to Kolkata to perform my last rites. My eldest daughter stayed up all night, vacillating between my death and my granddaughter’s upcoming exams. I sympathized with her situation and couldn’t bear to see her crying so helplessly. My sympathies dissipated the next moment though.

She shared the news of my demise on Facebook. Then the endless “RIP” comments started flowing in and she diligently answered each and every person who conveyed their condolences, as if her life depended on it. Her conscientiousness in dealing with those comments felt akin to writing an exam paper.

I always thought grief is personal, but it seemed my daughter’s grief was centered on Facebook and I was appalled how quickly she forgot my disdain for the medium on which she chose to share her emotions. She finally couldn’t make it to my last rites.

I wouldn’t hold it against her because she has been a wonderful daughter and loved me dearly when I was alive. Only a few days back I had spent three heady months with her, savouring her cooking and company at her home in the US. Photos of this trip still lie half downloaded on my computer.

But I could probably never forgive her for doing what she did, as soon as I closed my eyes for good. She ended up triggering a “Me Too” syndrome around my death. Distant relatives, close cousins, long-lost classmates started posting their “wonderful” opinions of me and how they already missed me. I cringed and cringed again when their posts about my demise were quickly followed by pictures of them sitting in the restaurant, coffee shop, movie hall, that very evening. Yes, unfortunately I died on a weekend.

Thankfully, good sense prevailed with my son and younger daughter. They didn’t make any attempt to share their grief on social media.

Or am I jumping to conclusions too quickly?

*

My body lies there in a cushion of flowers and the house is full of people who have come to pay their last respects. Thanks to my long career and a good one too, I did know a lot of people and earned their respect. So the place is now swarming with people, some of whom are famous, from different walks of life.

Oh God! Why is my younger daughter’s boyfriend filming me? I am just a motionless dead body, what’s there to video record? It’s so embarrassing. Why isn’t my daughter stopping him? I just hope, God, I just hope he doesn’t intend to put this video on social media.

A film star has walked in. He’s distracted. Good for me. But wait, what is he doing? Asking the actor for a selfie? Now my nephew also joins him. What is going on? Quick, someone take me to the crematorium. This has to stop!

*

It’s my Shraddh ceremony today. I am truly upset, annoyed, livid, pissed off… All the time I lived, I believed in hospitality to the core. When both my children got married I went to each and every house to invite people and stood at the gate all through the evening welcoming guests with folded arms. My hospitality was always the talk of the town, but I had no idea death changed everything…so drastically.

Despite my wife’s repeated requests, my son and daughter refused to move an inch to invite anyone to my Shraddh ceremony. They couldn’t even make a phone call because they had their own set of beliefs.

“Ma, those who respect Baba would come anyway. We just have to let them know the date and time,” my son argued.

And how did they pass on this information?

Through Facebook of course.

There was the card with my photo on it and scanned in my scanner in the Tech Room and put up on Facebook. It was my first photo entry on social media, but I died a thousand deaths after that.

Never imagined my son and daughter could do something like that. But authority ends with death. I learned that the hard way.

My son is performing the Shraddh ritual and I don’t know why so many people are coming and clicking his photos, doing that. Is it a cherished memory to keep? I don’t know. I don’t understand people anymore.

And then my daughter, her boyfriend, my nephew and nieces are so busy clicking photos with all the famous people. There is a sense of bonhomie all around. That’s alright. I am okay with them enjoying themselves, clicking photos with celebs for their social media accounts. As long as they keep me out of it, I am just fine.

My nieces are all in their new designer white kurtas, sunglasses and designer bags and shoes. I am sure they have shopped especially for this occasion. After all, I am their favourite uncle.

No! No! My two nieces are clicking a selfie with me in the frame. Why me? God! why me? This is unbearable.

My son’s ritual is done. And I don’t know why he is telling everyone to WhatsApp him the pictures they have taken. I am sure he wants to send those to my daughter-in-law, because she couldn’t fly down in the ninth month of her second pregnancy.

Then he himself took a picture of my picture drowned in garlands and sent those to his wife. My daughter-in-law received the photos and went through each meticulously and then she did it.

She also did it.

Nothing surprises me anymore, but even I didn’t see this coming.

She WhatsApped the photo that my son took of my photo, to all the Bengali WhatsApp Groups she was part of, captioning the picture: Shashurmoshai’s Sraddha done. Thank you for all your support.

So there I was, all over UK WhatsApp now.

Sitting there inside my photograph I really don’t know who to channelize my anger at – my son, daughter-in-law, daughters, nephews or nieces.

I might have a slight reason for being a little less angry at my nieces. In their selfie with me, at least my vitiligo does not show.

(The story has been written from real-life incidents although the characters are fictional)

My collection of short stories Museum of Memories has been published by Readomania

Ankit Seth with actor Bobby Chakraborty at an anti-addiction campaign called I am the King of My Mind

Ankit Seth with actor Bobby Chakraborty at an anti-addiction campaign

What’s an urban Indian child’s life like these days? The day starts with rushing to school with a back-breaking bag, cramming for constant tests and exams, shuttling between tuitions and activity classes then going to bed tired and drained, only to wake up the next day to follow the same old routine. Where are the playgrounds and where is the time for play? How many children have the freedom to just while away their time playing inane games? How many can do things they like doing?

In a scenario like this a boy like Ankit Seth is like a breath of fresh air. A student of South End Centre School (Howrah) Ankit is someone who has always been doing things differently. He is following his heart and making a difference in other students’ lives. He is devoting all his time for a cause he is passionate about.

A big kudos should go to Ankit’s parents for letting their son pursue his passion and to actor Bobby Chakraborty for showing him the way. Ankit is a young anti-addiction crusader who has been juggling his studies, his TV roles and his passion with a rare deftness.

Ankit can be an inspiration for kids today. Read his interview to know why…

You met Bobby on the sets of Mouchak when you were in Class II. How did you get involved in his anti-addiction campaign?

When I met Bobbydada on the set of Mouchak in 2013, I felt I found my best friend.  He was a great co-actor, guide and teacher too. I played his son in the serial, which was a great hit with the audience. I found him different from everyone else around. I used to watch his photos and videos when he used to go to schools and colleges for his campaigns. I used to see photos of other students who used to go with Bobbydada to schools and colleges as ‘active soldiers’. I understood and felt deep respect for his self less work that he does through his campaign I am the King of My Mind. I wanted to be a part of it and help the society too. But then in 2013 I was too young and Bobbydada said that he will make me an ‘active soldier’ when I grow older, which ultimately happened in 2016.

Ankit with Bobby on the sets of Mouchak. He was in Class II then.

Ankit with Bobby on the sets of Mouchak. He was in Class II then.

When was the first time you accompanied him on a campaign and how was the experience?

My debut as an ‘active soldier’ happened at Narayana School, Howrah in 2016 when I was in Class 5. The session had students much elder to me from Classes 8 9, 10. The main challenge was to get over my stage fright and convince older students with my views. They might not have paid any attention as I was just a kid of Class 5. But Bobbydada had trained me and guided me with my presentation so nicely that my presentation met with a huge round of applause. I felt encouraged to carry on. For how many years now you are with him in this campaign and how many schools have you visited? With 2019 it will be the fourth year as an ‘active soldier’ for me and till date I have been to 16 sessions.

Tell us about your best memories on this anti-addiction campaign trail…

There are many encouraging and inspiring incidents that I have experienced as an ‘’active soldier’, but the one that happened in Techno India group Public School, Bolpur, was really memorable. I was in the Class 6 at that time and I was addressing students as old as the Class 12 in the session. I think I gave my best and after the session, students much elder to me, actually made a queue to take a selfie with me and asked for my autograph.

What I mean is, this happens very often with Bobbydada, very naturally, because he is elder to all, he is a known face and he inspires everyone. But when the same thing happens to a kid like me, it proved that I was able to impress and inspire my elders with my point of view too.

Another one happened very recently in National Gems Higher secondary school, when almost every line I spoke, every incident I narrated about my life, every principle I believe in, was met with encouraging and loud claps which made me sure, I was able to connect with my generation.

You have been to a college too. Is it difficult to address people who are so much older than you?

Before going to my first session at a college (The Heritage College) Bobbydada had a special training session with me, keeping in mind that it will have students even elder to 12th graders this time and chances are more that they might not listen to me at all. When I started with my presentation there, I could feel they were really not interested but I was ready with all my tricks to make my presentation interesting and inspiring. After the session when I received appreciation from the Principal, the teachers, the CEO and the students, I felt satisfied and happy inside.

At Nava Nalanda, Shantiniketan

How do you prepare for the presentations?

There are intense rehearsal sessions before every session with Bobbydada. We keep in mind the strata of the society, the ambience, the general audience, the geographic location of a particular school or college and shape my presentation and the language of the interaction likewise. Possible improvisations are kept in mind and rehearsed too which might come in use during the session.

Have your peers ever laughed at you for your passion? How did you deal with it if anyone expressed doubts about your efforts?

All I understand is Bobbydada has taught me how important it is to be out of the herd, out of the crowd, against harmful popular trends to prove my identity and make my life worth it. Such a life is obviously found strange by all who would only follow others blindly without a reason or a question. But there in lies my pride as an ‘active soldier’, I don’t do what everyone does. I am making use of this life that God, my parents and Bobbydada have given me. So nothing else and no negativity matter.

Do you still act in serials?

Yes I do, but due to studies I had to cut down on offers on television because shooting on television is time consuming. At present I am shooting for Deepabolir Shatkaahon for Akash Bangla channel. My next film is due for release, which has Bobbydada in it too as my co-actor. It is Ek Je Achhe Shohor directed by Riingo Banerjee.

At Heritage College

How do you balance studies and all these activities?

My parents and Bobbydada have taught me time management. I plan everything and move ahead as per that plan. Studies of course are a priority, but if we can all do time management, we can take out time for our passion, hobbies, social responsibility and for pleasure too.

You will be in Class IX now, do you think you will be able to devote as much time to the campaign?

Yes I plan to carry on my support towards this cause till my last breath. Even if I can’t physically assist Bobbydada to a school or college, my work and effort to spread our mission will continue in one way or the other. If there is a will, there is a way.

I heard once you got bit by a scorpion but still went with Bobby for a session. How and why?

Yes it happened the day before we were scheduled to travel to Shantinekatan at Techno India Group Public School, Bolpur. I had to be taken to the hospital to drain off the poisoned area bitten by the scorpion.

My right foot was hugely swollen. I could hardly walk. Bobbydada and my parents asked me not to go to Bolpur. But I told them, if Bobbydada can do so much of hard work, not for money or any material gain I can bear this much of pain too.

I am happy I went and in that school, I think I gave my best presentation till date ,which I have already mentioned and it resulted into students much older to me, making a line for my autograph and selfie.

Ankit Seth telling peers how to say no to addiction

What is the satisfaction you get from doing this campaign?

It is a selfless job, not for money or for any material gains but to raise an awareness among boys and girls of my age, younger and older to me to lead a healthy life, believing in HCF- Health, Career and Family. Bobbydada always tells me that the easiest thing in life is to get lost in a crowd. Like Bobbydada I want to be a face in the crowd, I want to be an example to my generation, I want to make my life useful to the others and not only think about me and my selfish gains in life.

How do you want to take it further when you grow up?

I want to help Bobbydada in every way possible when I grow up to spread this mission all around the globe. I can feel that the support for this much needed awareness is very, very less, even if we are doing it for free!! I find this very strange! Nevertheless we have come a long way with whatever support we are getting from schools and colleges here or abroad. I want to make sure this support increases, as I grow up.

What do you think you have gained out of your efforts?

As an ‘active soldier’, I have found a huge change in my personality. Previously when used to tell people, not to smoke, drink or if I went to a hookah bar, they used to shut me up. But after I have become an ‘active soldier’ and they listen to me now with a lot more importance. I have become a more confident person. I find a purpose in my life. I was able to change someone in my family from the bad habits …and lastly I have gained Bobbydada in my life.

What kind of support do you get from your parents?

If my father Mr Sekhar Seth and my mother Mrs Sima Seth, had not supported me and encouraged me to do something good for the society through this awareness drive by Bobbydada, I would have been just any other kid, studying, watching cartoons and hanging around with friends only.

What would be your advice to people of your age regarding studies, extra-curricular activities and being the “King of their mind”?

I want to tell my generation is believe in the formula HCF….If your Health is ok…you will have a good Career…which will keep your Family happy.

I want to tell them to rule their minds and control their minds. I AM THE KING OF MY MIND should be our mantra.

I want to ask them 3 questions:

(1) why should you waste your parents money on poison when you have 101 constructive and charitable ways to spend it?

(2) When someone like Bobbydada, coming from the glamour world, getting everything free can control himself from this poison and yet be ‘cool’ and ‘fashionable’ why can’t we all control ourselves?

(3) When the manufacturers themselves are writing on their own products like cigarettes, alcohol, gutkha that IT IS POISON AND INJURIOUS TO HEALTH, why will you still buy it? What is your education and intelligence for?

I would ask them to join our Facebook group ‘MY ANTI ADDICTION CAMPAIGN’ and spread good vibes in the society.

Guest of Honour

Posted: April 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

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If there is something that anyone living abroad can share in abundance, it’s their guest experiences. Apart from the literal baggage that they bring with them, some do leave you with an emotional baggage of memories that you wish didn’t happen. You often sigh in relief that those are just memories that wouldn’t be re-lived because chances are you wouldn’t let those guests into your house – ever again.

This story is about a similar guest experience of Leela and Ankush. The couple moved to Dubai five years back. Child free and well placed, they lived in a sprawling two-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city, with a pool on the terrace and an upmarket mall across the road.

When Leela’s ex-colleague’s sister from Kolkata, Namita, someone she had never seen in her life, moved to Dubai and had made the customary call to her – something anyone grappling in a new place does- she had obviously invited them for dinner.

drawing room

Over mutton and luchi cooked by her Bengali Chef, she had told them of every possible thing she knew about Dubai, except for the fact that Namita and her husband Ajit were the last guests to be entertained in their plush apartment. The next day they were moving to a one-bedroom apartment next door because they couldn’t afford the rent anymore.

It had become like a ritual for new settlers in Dubai to come calling, but very few actually returned the dinner invitation or stayed in touch once they got busy with their lives and with Namita and Ajit, Leela expected the same to happen. So she thought it was unnecessary to tell them that this posh abode, that she was so proud of, wouldn’t belong to them from the very next day.

After that grand dinner, as expected Namita and Ajit got on with their lives, the invitation wasn’t reciprocated and the phone calls too started dwindling. Leela and Ankush settled in their one-bedroom home. They weren’t as welcoming to guests anymore because that sense of pride they had in their home was gone. They had nothing to show off. The only saving grace was the smaller space. For a cleanliness freak like Leela, who took up the dusting cloth the moment she returned from office, there were less nooks and crannies now from where dust had to be eradicated.

guests.jpg

Almost a year had passed when suddenly one day there was a frantic phone call from Ajit, all the way from Kolkata.

Didi, please help. We are returning to Dubai tomorrow but I came to know our rented place has been taken over by the landlord. He had sent me some legal notice earlier but I could not make out because it was in Arabic. Didi can Namita stay with you for a few days till I find a new place? I won’t stay with her as my office is giving me five-star accommodation,” he said.

All in one breath.

Leela was in shock.

How could she tell him about their fall from grace, about the absence of a guest room in their home?

“Umm…can’t Namita come back later after you have found the place?”

Leela was over her initial shock.

“She has to go back with me. We bought tickets on an offer and we will not get any refund if we cancel them. Please didi, a few days only. We have no one else we can ask for help in Dubai.”

Leela said she would call back.

Her anxious call went to Ankush.

“The Malayalees would help anyone from Kerala,” Ankush philosophised. “Although I am not sure what the Bengalis would do,” he added.

So it was decided that this Bengali couple would help out this other Bengali couple from Kolkata whom they had met only once, but since they didn’t have anyone else in Dubai, they would be the pillar they could lean on. Just like Malayalees supported each other in their community.

Ankush went a step ahead. He wanted to give Namita their bedroom but Leela wouldn’t have any of that. She felt their sofa bed in the sitting room was comfortable enough.

“You are not understanding Ankush. If Namita has the bedroom Ajit will move in too and they would junk their plans to find a rented apartment. Two month’s rent saved in Dubai is a lot of money,” said Leela.

Ankush gave her the daggers but in his heart he probably knew Leela made sense.

The next day they arrived, Namita looked a wee bit apologetic but Ajit walked around like he owned the apartment.

“Can I get a towel? Need a shower badly,” were the first words Ajit offered.

Leela handed him a brand new Marks & Spencer towel.

“Your washroom is so small, the other house had a bigger one. But thankfully you still have a bathtub,” said Ajit.

Leela cringed. She wasn’t sure if her effort at being a Malayalee was the right decision.

They devoured lunch cooked by the Bengali Chef, who had been retained, that Ajit was quick to point out.

“Good to see you still have the cook.”

Post lunch, Ajit wanted a drop to his accommodation from Ankush.

“Which hotel?”  Ankush asked starting the car.

“I refused the hotel accommodation. Don’t want to be a burden on the company because of what happened. I will be staying with a colleague who lives in a single accommodation nearby.”

Ajit wanted to get a drop on the main road and walk to the house, but Ankush insisted he could not leave him with his luggage like that. When they approached the run-down two-storey building with the community litter-bin standing in front of it, Ankush realized the reason for Ajit’s reluctance to let him near it.

From the next day, when they left for work, Namita was sleeping on the sofa bed. When they were back they found her in the exact same position. But magically a stash of utensils had piled up in the sink and food crumbs were everywhere, the fridge looked raided and Ajit’s washed clothes and underclothes were hanging in the balcony.

After three days of this, Leela took leave from work. Ajit appeared at meal times and he claimed he was looking for an apartment and attending office. After meals, Namita always went back to bed and Leela to the sink.

Then five nights later Ajit made an appearance at 11pm.

“I can’t sleep in that house anymore. Bedbugs. Too many. Haven’t been sleeping at night. Will sleep here from now on.”

“Bed bugs!!??” Leela shrieked.

“Why didn’t you tell me? That means you have been bringing them here,” she said agitatedly.

“Namita’s washing my clothes with care,” said Ajit matter-of-factly.

“But she is washing your clothes here only. In our machine.”

“Can you give me a blanket please? I am very sleepy,” Ajit said. He had no intention of extending the conversation.

“And Ankush da a T-shirt will help. I didn’t get any night clothes.”

Ankush handed him a blanket and a T-shirt. He glanced at Leela to gauge the impact of the information just shared. It wasn’t good.

Leela stayed up all night scanning every inch of the bed and kept complaining that she could feel bug bites. Ankush knew his wife bordered on OCD when it came to bed bugs. They had lost some friendships too because of this ugly creature.

In the next few days Leela upturned all the furniture and searched every corner for that dreaded black crawling dot. Her unslept eyes had dark circles and she had extended her leave.

But despite this catastrophe Leela strangely remained loyal to their pledge of helping the “hapless” couple out. There was only one thing Leela insisted. Ajit had to choose in which house he wanted to stay because he couldn’t keep going back to a bed bug -infested house and then sleep in their house. Ajit’s choice need not be elaborated.

At the end of eight days, Ajit finally announced that he had found an accommodation.

“Take the blanket, bed sheet, towel, T-shirt everything with you.”

This was Leela’s first reaction.

A few months later Namita called to inform she had laundered everything they took and wanted to return those. Leela remained generous. She asked Namita to keep everything.

*

Leela was in a meeting. It wasn’t a known number. There were three missed calls. Fourth time she picked up.

“Leeladi my name is Anindita your neighbour Umesh kaku gave me your number. It’s been three days I have moved to Dubai. He said I should get in touch with you. I was wondering if we could meet for coffee.”

“Anindita, I am afraid I am busy for the next eight weekends.”

This story has been published in the UK in the Durga Puja 2018 issue of Panchmeshali- The Diaspora Magazine. (Photographs taken from the net.)