“J” stands for jinxed – at least that is what my telephone diaries reveal. The first diary had twelve names, the second had six names and the last has only three. Of the three that remain two have held there places from the beginning, but, I have not called them in years. This is disappointing as far as relationships are concerned. It is true that many people have dropped out from my life, as I have from theirs and many more have filled in that void. This is not to say that some individuals are replaced by other individuals – it is the time one spends with friends, family and acquaintances that undergo qualitative and sometimes subtle changes – for better or for worse. There are some who have become misty silhouettes and there are others whose memories we cherish and continue to miss.
Apart from the names on the pages of my telephone diaries, there were quite a few whose names started with “J”. The first among them that I can recall is Judhajit Sarkar, two years my senior and my elder brother’s classmate in Guwahati in the mid-sixties. I met him again many years later as a film-maker and we are in touch thanks to Facebook. The next person is Jugabrata Roy a year junior to me in high school in Calcutta, whose elder brother Subrata was my friend – again thanks to Facebook we have connected. I have however, not yet exchanged a word with him nor enquired about Subrata. This social platform has its own set of rules and a very relaxed code of conduct. You may ignore, like, comment, share a status message or picture; join a discussion mid-way and leave abruptly; and you don’t “unfriend” unless the person is absolutely obnoxious. You don’t have to message your friends individually every now and then to reaffirm a friendship. Most interestingly, silence is considered a tacit statement of camaraderie! All it takes to remain “unfriended” is a few clicks of the mouse every now and then. The virtual world is generously undemanding.
Justine De Penning – a pretty looking performer from the USA is one such friend. She arrived on my doorstep one day to discuss a possible collaboration. Things did not happen for a number of reasons. I deleted her temporary Calcutta number but kept in touch on Facebook. Whenever I see a picture of her I simply press the ‘like’ button. It’s like I’m saying “Hey there! I am still aroundJ.”
Getting back to my diaries, I search every name for a story. There are a few obvious ones, but I am loathe to discuss them. There are, for example, a few senior artists on these pages – one more opportunistic than the other – wheeler-dealers all. There is Jayati Bhattacharya my classmate from school. There is Jayati Bose the theatre worker, who married two of my close friends in quick succession. There is Jalil Ali, the carpenter. There is June, the actress (or should that be actor?). Most of them have stories against their names, but these are too private to be published.
This leaves me with little scope to write a story. Should I jump to “K”? I decide to wait and think of a solution to this impasse. But, I have little time. I have committed myself to a weekend deadline and I must keep to it. What kind of madness is this? Why do I have to? What difference would it make if I reneged on a self-imposed deadline and took a few more days? I mull over the issue in my mind and realize that I am getting obsessed. I leave the computer and start surfing the TV news channels. The usual shenanigans of the political class are on in full swing. Kamduni goes to the President. Sudipto Sen’s Sharada is next and for a moment I see a weak link - I think Jayrambati! “J” at last! But, then I realize I am at a dead end.
I sleep fitfully, tossing and turning in bed and then I am wide awake in the middle of the night. I stare up at the ceiling and when my vision clears - the usual chiaroscuro of patterns made by the street lights two floors below gets my attention.
The shadow of the Jackfruit tree next to our bedroom window sways gently and stops as the breeze dies down. The shadows are still – very still. My mind suddenly does a flash-back and goes to a scene about 28 years in the past, when we lived on Motilal Nehru Road. There was a Dumur tree next to our window. Our daughter was two and a half years old, maybe three. Power failures were rampant then and the joint family had not invested in a battery inverter set, as the house was quite big and financial resources were in the doldrums. On summer evenings when the power would go, I would lie down on the cool red floor without a shirt and our little daughter, Shohini - clad in rompers would almost on cue lie down beside me, using my rib cage and floor as a stylish recliner. Thus positioned we would stare up at the ceiling. After the initial “tell me a story” wore me out, I invented a game to kill time and to defeat the darkness. Pointing our index fingers we followed the moving shadows up on the ceiling. Every time a car passed by, the headlights would catch the leaves and branches of the Dumur tree and the window grill and cast shadows on the ceiling and upper part of the walls. Then start moving from right to left until it was dark again. The room would be a swirl of wondrous shadows and patterns. As the shadows started emerging with the oncoming car head lights, the two of us – father and daughter would shout out mimicking the sound of a car zooming by, “Oiiii elo elo elo elo elo…!” (There it comes) and as the car passed by and the patches of light melted into darkness once again, we would cry in mock disappointment, “Jaaaa gelo gelo gelo gelo gelo…!” (Oh no…there it goes) and laugh a happy laugh.
“J” stands for “Jaaa gelo gelo gelo gelo!” the ring of simple mirth in this exclamation evokes delight even to this day.