“Bhushan!”, Maa would shout from our second floor verandah. You would apparate in front of our cream-coloured Ambassador (WNW 6438), hiding a lit biri behind you. “Bhushan!”, I would bellow after her, enjoying your discomfiture. An 11-year-old who needed to be smacked across his face. Is that what you told yourself, when you caught me staring at you at the rear-view mirror Bhushan? I know you were aware of my presence, because you always looked back. I convinced myself that for you, I was not just an 11-year-old boy to be ferried from home to school and back. For that 30-minute ride between Scott Lane, in central Kolkata, to Bangur Avenue (in its eastern fringes), we were two individuals, we could have had conversations. I could have asked you about your family back home in Darbhanga, Bihar.Your wife and two kids. I could have told you that a year ago, we studied a short story by Ruskin Bond that had the name of your hometown in its title, The Ghost Of Darbhanga.
I could have sat next to you and told you that you remind me of Jackie Shroff.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I sat at the backseat, tracing the pattern on the nylon seatcovers. Staring. Hoping.
How odd was it to be stared at by an awkward 11-year-old Bhushan? Did you notice that I would constantly pluck hair off my chin? Did you, like most of my classmates, think I was chubby? I wanted to be thin during those rides. I wanted to be thin, hairless and beautiful during those rides because that’s the only time I was seen. On the rear-view mirror, yes, but seen nonetheless. Past the Baithakkhana bridge, past those metre boxes of Amherst street (slathered with posters), past the swaying palash trees of VIP road. Your eyes, the city and me.
I remember that day clearly, but maybe my memory has added some embellishment. You were supposed to pick me up from school and take me to my grandparents place at Park Circus. The car was at the garage. You decided to take a hand—pulled rickshaw for the 3-km ride. That was the first time I sat next to you. I could smell you, pan and sweat. You were wearing the black and yellow shirt that Maa had given you. That shirt belonged to my dead father. It was loose on you. You put your arm around me. I felt smaller than I was. I was shivering. You asked me if I have fever. You held me tighter.
Fifteen years later, I bumped into you right in front our house. I was basking in the glory of my newly-discovered sexuality. I was young, beautiful and confident then. A journalist who thought he could change the world. I asked you for a cup of tea. We walked around my para, you looked older, thinner, less Jackie Shroff-like. You told me about your teenaged son, who is already training to be a driver back home in Darbhanga. You told me about your daughter, the brains in the family. You asked me if I could help her get through a college in Kolkata. I said yes but never followed up.
I was a jerk, you weren’t.
I wanted to thank you for that day Bhushan. For that day and my childhood.