“L” seems to stand for limbo, as I had kept everything in abeyance for far too long this time. My last post was in October 2013 and much has happened since then. No, I will not provide lengthy alibis, instead of which I will dwell on the surprises that life springs on us. These surprises may not always be pleasant; in fact, I have had my fair share of those. Over the years I have learnt to developed a thick skin. But, however much I try to ignore these; I am sucked right into its vortex and my self-created insulation fails me at times. As a consequence, I am left a bit frayed at the edges and a considerable amount of time is wasted in the healing process.
Writing this post is not just a form of catharsis, but is a sure sign that the process of recovery has begun. Some wounds however never heal completely and leave permanent scars and almost in all cases they are brought about by a feeling of betrayal.
Every individual possesses their own unique way of dealing with emotional turmoil and employ varying means for catharsis – some more efficient than others. I used to laugh the most when my back was to the wall. But, I am too much of an optimist; a particularly bad financial year would be brushed away by convincing myself that it could not get any worse – it could only get better. The following year it would be the same and I would still say to myself – it could only get better! But, then I was younger, more energetic and full of hope. Nowadays, though I still laugh, I play solitaire when I am not working (which is most of the time), as if this game of chance will inure me to the pitfalls of risk taking.
As an incorrigible optimist (sometimes foolhardily so) I believe that life is too happening to give up! So, let me give you some examples of optimistic people that I have met.
A younger friend of mine, Lalu (not his real name) was a table tennis champ and then became a professional bridge player while running a successful business. He had his brother join his enterprise who promptly swindled him of his money and share of their paternal home. At that juncture in his life, his wife left him too. One would generally be devastated with such a combination of miseries, but, Lalu was unfazed. His business bounced back in a few years, he fell in love again and to top it all he funds and runs a primary school on the outskirts of Calcutta for children from economically challenged backgrounds. Lalu is a true fighter and to me, he epitomises optimism.
Although Shawji is not on the “L” page I cannot but tell you about him. Shawji’s life was a rags to riches story. He came to the city as a young adult from a small town in Uttar Pradesh with just a shirt on his back. He was a dark man with a trimmed moustache. He always wore spotless white dhotis and shirts and flaunted his gamchha almost as a style statement. He had started as a small time scrap dealer and by the time we met, although barely literate, he already owned a steel rolling mill, a fleet of trucks and trailers, a lot of property and other assets. He was dignified and courteous, even his “dehati” Hindi was without any rough edges. Despite the apartment he owned just below me, he continued to live most of the time in the tenement he grew up in. His humility was his endearing quality. One Sunday morning he visited me to sort out some issues regarding the maintenance of the building and after having concluded our business, Mr. Shaw asked me how we were coping in these times of inflation. “Guptaji kaysa chal raha hai is mehengai ke din me?” he asked. He knew that I was an artist and to most people, including educated people, being an artist is not even considered a profession. I explained that the going was not good, that returns on investments were decreasing, interest rates having dropped drastically, etc. He listened to me intently, but, all the while I could see that he was getting a little impatient. Now, I cannot write this in the language he used, so those of you who are familiar with the “dehati” Hindi of the Gaya region can try and imagine the tenor.
“I don’t understand why you Bengalis are so fond of earning from fixed deposits. How much do you get? 7% - 8%? That’s pitiful!” he remarked. I kept quiet.
“Look!” he continued, “Do you have a lakh to spare?” I nodded nervously.
“This is what you should do. You invest a lakh and the bank gives you the rest and you buy a road roller with it. There are many road projects on and they always need road rollers. You rent yours to one of the projects and earn. Do you know how much you can earn?” he asked. I shook my head.
“After taking care of expenses and paying EMI to the bank you will make about twenty to twenty five thousand every month. That one lakh would have earned seven or eight thousand rupees in a year from a fixed deposit and how much do you earn this way? Three lakhs! And that too, you just sit at home. No comparison!” I widened my eyes in disbelief.
“You will be paying off your loan in five to seven years and the road roller would be too old to run and de-commissioned, sell it as scrap and you make another lakh!” he continued. I feigned interest.
“See, I have been doing this for many years now. I arrange a loan from the bank and walk into the heavy engineering department of Larsen & Toubro and buy heavy duty cranes needed for building flyovers. Then I walk into the bridge building section of the same company and hire the equipment to them. It’s all on paper. I do not take delivery of the equipment nor deliver it to the project site. I arrange so that the monthly rental is directly paid into my bank and the bank adjusts the EMI. I sit at home and see my bank account getting fat!”
“But, of course you will not be able to handle this. You will need a good overseer who will handle this for you. If you decide to do it I will arrange everything”, he concluded and took his leave.
After Shawji had left, Smriti who overheard this conversation from the next room came over and asked whether I was planning to buy a road roller? “Why not?” I replied. “See what we get out of it! Money of course, no parking problems and we can take it for a spin on weekends! The downside of course is that to catch the evening show we will have to start immediately after lunch!” We finally decided not to buy a road roller; there was no boot space for our baggage.
Way back in the mid-seventies I had a friend (Laltu this time) who was really desperate to get married as all of us were spoken for and spent most of our spare time with our respective girlfriends. So, he decided that he should get married and started scouting around for a bride. We met infrequently at our rendezvous at the tea shop on Hindustan Road and he would bemoan his lot and complain that his search was proving futile. But, one day a beaming Laltu announced that he had finally found his bride. We started pestering him for details.
“What’s her name?” I asked.
“What does she look like?” demanded another.
“She is very pretty!” said Laltu with a smug smile
“When did you meet her?”
“I did not meet her” he said.
“So, you saw a photograph?”
“No” he said flatly.
“Then how do you know that she is pretty?”
“I met her father, he is a very good looking person!” he said in all earnestness.
There was laughter all around and a momentarily befuddled Laltu also joined in. That in my opinion is optimism by inference.