Ay first posting with national broadcaster Doordarshan was at Calcutta in 1977. A friend wired about a booked flat, and so my wife and three year-old son accompanied me from Kerala to Kolkata. Our luggage, which we sent through a packers and movers company, reached us — you won’t believe it — just a week prior to my transfer to Chennai after a five-month stint in Kolkata!
To our dismay, upon our arrival we realised there was no flat waiting for us, just a dilapidated room next to office. It was terrible, substantiating Arnold Toynbee’s observation that Kolkata was an “approximation to hell”! With no luggage or utensils, cooking food was impossible. During working hours, food would be served at the office canteen and in the evenings we would go to south Indian hotels. Tram journeys from Tollygunje to Ballygunje were convenient and our son Jayadeep would be thrilled.
After a fortnight, we ran into old friends Shantha and Purushothaman, who lived close by on Prince Anvershaw Road. We would visit them daily, stay till dinner, watch TV and return to our dungeon at night. Our ride to their cosy flat would inevitably be on cycle rickshaws.
One evening, when we were travelling in a rickshaw with my son seated between me and my wife, a crowded tram screeched to a halt and the driver gesticulated animatedly, talking in Bengali — my wife’s pallu had gotten stuck in the rickshaw’s wheel. Not only was an accident averted, but some passengers got down from the crowded tram and helped get the tangled pallu out. Would this have happened in any other city?
Another incident that I won’t forget is when we alighted a bus only to realise that our son had been left behind. My wife began crying and I screamed out for Jayadeep. Despite the language barrier, the people around us did their best to console my wife and reassure us that the child would soon be found.
The driver was asked to switch off the engine and the passengers began looking for the baffled child. Everyone got out of the bus and a few good Samaritans carried the horrified child, who thought he was going to be whisked off, to us! He stopped weeping only after I held him in my arms. The passengers, who must have thrice exceeded the bus’s seating capacity consoled my wife and made sure that we were at ease. The experience was incredible and is forever etched in our memories! Such was the compassion the people showed, that walls were whittled and we felt one with them. I have worked in major metropolises of the country, but never experienced such an exalted form of human kindness. No wonder, Kolkata is called the City Of Joy!