Modesty forbids, but when my friends in Calcutta wanted some help to be arranged in Madras when they visited, they chose only me, for they found in me a person who will bend backwards to help. It may have been an appointment for eye surgery at Sankara Netralaya, a trip to Pondicherry’s Aurobindo Ashram or an excursion to the rock-cut temples in Mamallapuram. They chose to leave it in my hands and relax.
During such guided trips, I would invite them for a sumptuous repast in my house that would include typical Tamil Nadu delicacies like sakkarai pongal, masala dosai, onion vadai washed down with piping hot, frothy filter coffee as a counter to rosogolla, sandhesh, shingada, mishti dhoi and masala chai I enjoyed during my visit to their Calcutta residences.
At this point, I should recount the experience of Mr Mukhobadhyaya, a retired English professor (name changed), who in his lifetime had never stepped out of his Sonar Bangla. He nursed a desire to visit Auroville. A meticulous planner, he collared me during one of my trips to Calcutta and asked me to please plan his trip. “Mr Raghaban,” he added, “I want a single room in a good hotel. But one important condition is the bathroom should have Indian toilet and not the western one that will splash back on you. I can’t sit on those contraptions.”
Never did I imagine a search for such a toilet will be a Herculean task. The comely ladies at the hotel receptions contacted were embarrassed and answered in the negative. However, I could finally locate one in George Town where to my wonderment there was one hotel, with only one room that had the fancied Indian toilet. I paid the advance to freeze the booking for that particular room.
The Indian Airlines flight from Calcutta landed in the night late as usual. I picked him up and drove to the hotel. No sooner we were ushered into the room by the bellboy than the professor made a beeline to the bathroom. His face was a study as there was a gleaming western toilet. “Newly provided today, sir. In place of the old Indian toilet,” the bellboy said with pride. “Raghaban? What is this?” the professor whined, with a theatrical gesture at the impugned closet.
“Sorry, sir!” I apologised and added, thinking on my feet, “Indeed, I have discommoded you.” He took my saviour pun in good stead, for he roared with laughter.
J S Raghavan