BUSINESS OF FIRST!
“BUSINESS of FIRST”
“Maamu, one paan for Baba”.
“And one for Kaka – the usual, Banarasi, Kachcha Supaari and Jaffrani 120”.
The first speaker – Satish; and the second one Atul. Maamu – it would be a Herculean Task to describe him – worthy only of elite writers such as R. K. Narayanan or W. Somerset Maugham. Maamu was the ‘character’. Sitting in the kiosk – located opposite Panaji Jetty – he sold bidis, cigarettes and Banarasi Paan, and most unusual yarns.
Senior Sonak was affectionately called Baba; whereas Kaka was my father.
We grew up in Panaji – a pristine paradise (Paradise Lost – long ago). Much before the onslaught of cellphones / text-messages / WhatsApp and what nots – a ringing cycle bell used to be our ringtone. The ears could pick up the nuance in the bell sound; and identify the friend.
A ringing cycle bell would indicate that Satish or Hemant (usually both) is / are outside my house (opposite Susheela Building – the Post Graduate Centre); and I would rush out to meet. Mostly it would be both. Satish would ‘ring’ in Hemant (who used to live just across Old Pharmacy College) and then both would ‘bike’ to my place.
Café Suresh (Susheela Building, 18th June Road, Panaji – still exists) was our favourite hang-out during the day; and Pica Peixe at Campal (now Forrest Restaurant) in the evening. And we talked about everything under the sun, moon and beyond. The books we read, the teachers we had, people who were mad, and those who were sad. Also the people who were bad!
On day, Hemant brought up the topic of ‘honour killing’ – a young girl murdered by her parents and siblings. ‘Just because she was friendly with a person not from the same religion’.
Hearing this, Satish exclaimed:
“Is there life after birth?”
“Satish, do you mean – is there a life after death? For the young girl?”
“NO! I stand by my question! Is there life after BIRTH?”
I do not recall totally the drift of conversation that took place after this profound statement. But I do know that we left Pica Peixe with heavy hearts, and busy brains. Once again, I was impressed with the philosophical rhetorical!
On one of such days, the conversation drifted to the ‘first’ something. Hemant proclaimed he could remember his first words (No, these were not re-told by my parents, I really know what I spoke! He claimed). Satish spoke about his first smoke. At the kiosk of Maamu – when he was ‘requested’ to go and pick up a paan for Baba. He dared not refuse. Cycling all the way from St. Inez to Panaji Jetty Maamu; and back. “More out of spite than curiosity, I took my first puff; and then continued…”
The eyes turned to me. I couldn’t remember the first words I said; nor had I started smoking then. The first stolen kiss, first love – were best left to imagination; for there were none. What first thing to speak of?
Then I remembered. I did not share it with them at that time. But here it is.
We were in the third year of University (11 + 4 pattern, or old SSC). Few months before, Baba had a serious heart problem; and to fly to USA for surgery. Aayee accompanied him. As mentioned, these were the days prior to internet, emails and other faster means of communications. International calls were very expensive, and if I remember correct, Sonak’s didn’t have the phone connection. Health Bulletins from States were sketchy; almost non-existent. And we prayed, and prayed for happy outcome.
One evening, a stringent cycle bell – which I immediately recognized as Satish, brought me out of the house running. Satish – a laid back personality – raising a cacophony of bell? What’s up?
“Just heard from USA. Operation successful; and Ayee and Baba are flying to India next month.”
We stood looking at each other. Too embarrassed to reveal our real feelings, yet very, very elated, enchanted and excited. Awkward moments ticked by. I broke the silence.
“Let’s celebrate – I think I want to celebrate with a peg or two of RUM”.
“You? Rum? What? Okay – got money on you? Let’s go.”
And we went to the restaurant near my house – I believe it was called Hotel Samrat (belonging to Naik family). Over sips of Old Monk and Cola – my first one – along with some good vegetarian dishes, we lost our inhibitions and awkwardness; and together we wept. We wept together for the turbulent past, and glorious future. And all we thought of was neither about life after death, nor about life after birth but only of:
‘LIFE IN PANAJI, WHEN BABA IS HOME!’
July 28, 2018
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