Khoob Bhalo Theko Bandhu ! খুব ভালো থেকো বন্ধু

Some six decades ago a child was born to Mrs. and Capt.Ghosh of “Kanta Griha” at Cuttack. I remember him some four years or so after his birth as Tokon or more correctly Tuhin Kanta Ghosh! Strangely numerous trivia – happy, funny and sad blink in colors bright, or grained when I sit and gape at a table across drowned with laughter and uncut bonhomie…

An angular, sharp-cut, thin boy in starched Uniform, well ironed, one size larger, perhaps anticipating quick and uneconomic physical growth, lots of oil in the hair (Maha Bhringaraj?) that most Bengalis put, if they had active Calcutta connections. Yes, that is how I recall! Ah, and his Cycle which was from the “Lost and Missing” list of the” Great Rayman Circus”. At least, that is how we made fun of his unique ship of narrow roads, humps and potholes. This one had a high perch that let your legs dangle like washed trousers of a clothesline on a windy day. The seat was rock-hard solid made to ensure”Brahmacharya” (celibacy) forever. A skilled juggler or a talented circus clown could ride this one and yes, have the entire audience applaud or be in splits. So could our very own Tokon .It was to keep friends from borrowing that he lent this specialty once in a while. All who tasted her delights had a sorry date with the devil. The sordid aftermath was a screamy bruised story of scratches, painful scars and lots of Tincture-of-Iodine. The tiny me, never touched this vaulting horse both for its weight and size. I was no gymnast, either!

He was blessed with a style known as:”Ghosh Riyaaz” natural to all the scions of Kanta Griha.On any given day the early morning or in the evenings the heritage house used to morph into an acoustic “Woodstockian Special”- a frenetic chattercomb, abuzz with the flutter and flight of whining adolescents, hovering dragon flies droning at the fount wells of wisdom. Astonished onlookers used to discover boys and girls of different age groups (the Ghosh’s were a joint family of several brothers and their children) engaged in the esoteric ritual of “mugging”: the art of memorising in different pitches, scales, tonal variations without affecting the concentration and focus of the other brother, sisters and cousins while quite literally, rubbing shoulders with each other. Yes if you are thinking of the “sargam” you are close but not quite. Memorex, that wonder drug for never-to-forget-anything is said to have been inspired from around this area! Do not however get the wrong notes here.Khukumadi,Manudi,Govindada,Tenten,Babua, Khoko,Rumni,Munmun,Buchkuni et all were uncut costly stones waiting to be burnished.Even before Wilma Rudolph had become a World champion, the pretty girls of Kanta Griha were setting many a sports field on fire in this little nook of Cuttack. As for the parents: distinguished lawyers and policemen instilling enough law and order to this human menagerie.

Tokon, the proverbial good boy could ill afford not to study. His marks were never a reflection of his sincere efforts and this caused a nagging self-doubt. He kept his head above the water though. The delinquents were mistakenly happy to have him as one of their own. He sat in the back benches.True.But; it was this deceptive quality that stood him in good stead. His effective and practical intelligence made him “a lambi race kaa ghodaa”. (A Derby horse?).Not many knew, Mr.Saunders,the Anglo-Indian English Teacher, lived longer, despite a troubled heart for mercifully not having known that the ‘chokra boy-Tuhin'(street urchin) had been graded first in the Sunday English Essay Competitions at the famous “Ali Tuitions” akin to the Rau’s IAS Study Circle of yore! The dreaded Senior Cambridge came and Tokon did not get his deserved grades as it was widely believed that the Hindi teacher had given him disgraceful marks bringing down his overall assessment for not having taken the mandatory tuitions.

Not many would have known either that he had also begun his career of social activism as Secretary of Naujawan Club (which boasted an active membership of 9 only) around this time. He had the unique distinction of having welcomed and escorted many future politicians on his much abused cycle-carrier !The early musical bands and their talents  like Mohd Habib and  Sangita Mahapatro of Cuttack had treaded gratefully the sacred portals of this unknown club. He had learnt early how to get along with the trendy and famous.

The Arts seem to have disappointed Tokon enough to help him make his first far thinking commercial-career move. A Bengali thinking of money was “Chi-Chi” and doing business was “kelenkari”(disaster). He had made his move .An early bird. Was he? Having graduated from Commerce he moved away to “Calcutta and Mamar Baadi.”He struggled with his Cost Accountancy while adjusting the Books-of- Accounts. The Marwaris, the big financial firms, Simon and Carves, Construction, Real Estate and Infrastructure, remote settlements, god-forsaken locations, cooking for self and colleagues by turn, washing clothes always, far away from friends and family must have taken its toll. The grind was hard but he silently plodded on. He was his own man always.

Things had begun to change. We met him only on occasions and during short leaves or extended holidays. We missed him while he missed us more. In any case that is how we thought it was.But; he never spoke or made a mention. His heart remained unseen to some friends as it missed many beats. The arteries of blood supply and oxygen choked. Later and in time, the sick heart healed with clinical care and Tokon came out singed and chastened. Maybe, a trifle frightened too. Doctors and medicine became a part of his life, like destiny. Friends had gotten married since and moved on.

Families grew and shifted while Tokon learnt to live all by himself. Kanta Griha went nuclear. His parents having passed away Tushar, his older brother and Boudi Kaberi with their son Abhinandan were his immediate and constant companions. He had his closed group of friend who still hung on at Cuttack like Subuda, Pappu’s and Dula’s family with his favorite Mashima and friend –of-friends Gopi.Slowly he gathered the pieces together and re-located at Cuttack together with the lonely silences and occasional bonhomies.A birthday of the new born of a long forgotten cousin, or a groupie session in mindless drinking, abusive gossip or aimless travel with friends, marriage feasts or funerals became his staple. He had hit the mid-forties by then. A happy best-man,always.He became the shoulder to  rest your head on when tired and frustrated, the trusting ear to most complaining wives and naughty husbands, the person to go to for the errant and disturbed young. He seemed to have begun to enjoy his single status and the freedom of being unfettered. It was a kind of paradoxical rite of passage. He was just like everyone else. Only sans wife…

All of this seems to have happened a while ago. Now most of us friends and family are not becoming any the younger. Some of us unforgivably lonely. Some tired of nagging husbands or worrying wives. Some still unhappy with the bank balances, or of children doing worse than themselves. Some still find the selfies not good enough for their wilting alpha-egos and fall victim to flighty fancies of what-could-have-been. In sum – still to make peace with their own lives.

Tokon, on the contrary meets more people than before, has more girl friends than the number of days in a year, is more sought after and trusted, sees and travels to more places than your nearest Travel Counsellor,laughs louder than I have heard myself to do ever, looks and wears better and seems good enough for many marriages! And, Yes! What is even better is that he does enjoy doing his own laundry and is not lonely. He is the renowned doctor without an MBBS managing, a flourishing diagnostic clinic. More importantly, his heart is doing well and is very large when last seen.

That said, I cannot forget, however one lunch day at Kanta Griha when Mashima (his mother) had said while serving”Tomraa shob keyoo to Bandhur Biyer Khata Bhableynaa? Ekhon to Anek Deri hoye gaychey.”(You all, never thought about the marriage of your friend? Now it has become very late).The pain of a Mashima haunts to make me sad one more time. Tokon, when asked now, however chuckles.

From L to R Niloo,Gopi,Sashi,Laloo and Tokon

Khoob Bhalo Theko Bandhu ! (Be Hale, Always Friend)

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The Fall of Icarus : A Crisis of Faith

What a Fall !

The first sight evokes awe and large bites of fear…Poetry beckons ,still. Enticingly tripping of wings, nature, flying,birds and of a treacherous unknown :sense of the free.When shaken and stirred, a heady cocktail results into intoxicated delirium.Part truth and mostly well meaning fiction,it is.Euphoria of conquering the Everests of fear and summiteering the unreachable begin to cloud minds and the blasphemy of daring the divine becomes the new vocabulary of desire.At another and more realistic remove,fear overwhelms just because the scale of the unknown is not easily definable.

Paradoxically,however, the continuous search of one’s own identity and to overreach the limits competes with the other intangibles of mortality. It  dares your vanity and challenges to commit acts uncommon and not necessarily normal. I would imagine when I sit back rather than stand on the edge of the aeroplane these mixed and sometimes contradictory and conflicting emotions hems the jumper….At least that is what happened to me with uncomfortable regularity.Confused, I look up to read once again  the quote that stares from the white sepulcral walls of my bedroom,“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” ― J.M. BarrieThe Little White Bird.                  The insane duel continues.

off an AN-32

looking for the freefalling cameraman

…I used to be a scrawny and frail child.Small in size and certainly not strong.Though always playing all kinds of games  as is the wont of  children.Carrying my brother’s much used sports shoes, more often than not, instead of trying to be in them was how I grew.Always striking from behind,running away from the strong,never ready to take a fight head-on, sly and restless my cross of physical fragility was much in evidence.

When I decided to join the Indian Air Force,(IAF) even friends, shook their heads in disbelief.Air Force, to its credit gave me a new confidence,self belief and a sense of discipline and organisation.I must admit, though, there was something of a rebel residue within that seemed to surface every now and then .Physically I was becoming stronger but not enough to fight the street corner thug, yet(if that is what you imagine).Started to play field or troop games like football and hockey, got noticed and found place in various novice levels of teams. In a skewed way, self belief began to get back with my conceited mocking of the modest competencies of the sports-minded in the IAF. While I was changing

just about to land with a slightly high flare.Lack of touch

slowly in skin and bone I joined the merry band of Parachute Jump Instructors(PJI’s) at Paratroopers Training School (PTS) as a volunteer from a special and strenuous selection process of the IAF. Once again,many of my dear friends, quietly and between their teeth whispered of how standards in the Indian Air Force had deteriorated.

Would you believe I never knew , the selection and training meant; jumping out of perfectly good aeroplanes ? I had no clue of the tough Sergeant Majors -back breaking schedules of running, exercise, gymnastics and then again running until the legs and knees were no part of yours’- of salt and water in the body vanishing into thin air leaving you cold, dry and weak -the sinking feeling looking out from within the cosy interiors of the aeroplane into the blue to the blurred and fuzzy green and yellow down below called Mother Earth, -the adrenalin rush and the daylight stars of rude awakening when hurtling on in a roller-coaster fall or the parachute opening up almost wringing your neck … As if that was not enough, totally innocent I was, about the  limbs or life that would be always at risk.

I had no idea of what it was to be a man among men. Rambo,I’m afraid was good to watch only, from a distance and on the unreal silver screens.Yes ! And then I jumped for the first time like the thousands before me had,when the green lights came on for the Exit. Became a Military Freefall and Skydiving Instructor too.

Fear wore many masks and played hide and seek with me.It was de rigueur. Sometimes I was simply scared without knowing why or when looking out from the open doors of the aeroplane high above.At other times on ground I felt weak kneed thinking of all that could happen to me.Parachute not opening, failing to deploy the Emergency reserve when the mains had failed to open, twisting my knee or neck and much worse cracking strong bones upon landing. If I got over the heebie-jeebies thinking of jumping by day, the night jump stalked like an unfriendly ghost.As I put behind these ; a new aeroplane,changed doors of exit, different heights, parachutes and Landing Zones became the fresh bugbears. The previous ones were so benign after all,I reasoned.This done, now fledging trainees got off aeroplanes at my bidding.I kept my fingers crossed and prayers quiet.My never-ending platter of queasy meals of anxiety and fear teased further when Free Fall came my way and I had to open a parachute, of my volition at designated heights, while racing down at over 180 miles per hr.(Until then, the static line attached to the parachute used to assist opening of the round canopies mechanically and without any of my doing,but getting out of the aircraft). paraMy leader queried if I was ready to save other lives.Would all my trainees come off safe and alive?

Dropping Zones looked like a blur and far away often times.Sweat refused to come and inchoate pains crept up for unwelcome leavening of my tasteless palate.Psychologically troubled I was left to wonder churlishly of birds, skies ,freedom and song.

Shhhh…para 1No one was to know of these unmanly secrets. Lest, I be found deficient of maschismo in  tales untold at extended sessions in the bar or at the back slapping glorified re-unions.It was quite another thing that in lot of other countries including the Asian ones, the sport of skydiving had been divested off a lot of myths and misplaced fears as all and sundry had taken to it on weekends at beaches and abandoned air strips.The passionate had gone to cliffs and towers and bridges instead of aeroplanes, wore skates or nothing, rode cycles in the air while falling free.They stood, rolled and sat quite literally in the air and made a mockery of gravity.

Thankfully,this too did pass and I went on to make several jumps from many aeroplanes, at different places and in front of many dignitaries.  Cheers, applause, photos and garlands,exclusive videos uplifted me into rapturous delights and it was the magical brew I pined for.All fears were strangely forgotten.Birds and wings once again filled my dreams and sleep.I too, then did it like many others….

And I look at myself, today, to wonder what has changed after all? That little wimp from distant Cuttack from the state of Odisha,India had finally managed to look down on the earth below by falling? Happenstance,luck ,destiny…?Or is life about the many small things of the routine and ordinary that get stitched together, as if by some mysterious design, to become and look incredible ? Or is it quite simply because in India not many get to do or find an opportunity to skydive and hence its “mystique”

Am I then coming to terms with what came my way and was fortunate to have lived it? Struggling to realise that life should not script a story of “mourning” or become an ‘endless tantrum’ about the lives we are unable to live,’ for the exemptions that we suffer, whether forced or chosen , makes us what we are ‘. Who knows ?

I am still trying to reconcile a past : overcome the distressful thoughts of roads not taken,opportunities wasted,possibilities refused, of potentials never fulfilled or to just as well be happy for what I am, rather than wondering, what was and could have been.

Life, maybe, is all about the interregnum between the beginning and the aspiration .For it is, in between, that we have to encounter luck, coincidences, opportunities, fears, anxieties,failures and hardships, envy and humiliation.

For the real story watch at

at the  Malpura Drop Zone

From L to R : Shomu,self,Air Cmde Rath,Arti my wife,Apoo the daughter and Sqn Ldr Kunal Rath my son-in-law

with the friend of friends Tuhin Kanta Ghosh