You guys remember Saugata, right? Saugata Basu, my classmate for five years, who has already made two appearances on my blog - here and here. When we set off for a stay of one year or more in Delhi, all of us were prepared to converse in our national language to some extent. We lacked expertise, but were never short on enthusiasm - and no other person demonstrated this more than Saugata.
This post is going to be about two incidents. Two well-defined, distinct events that have been etched in my memory forever.
This was the first time. We were equipped with bedding and all (we were informed that the ISI Delhi hostel would provide us with the bare minimum of naked cots), and boarded the Rajdhani Express from Kolkata. This was some time in the second half of July.
Rajdhani Express was, as expected, reasonably chillier than the sultry Kolkata afternoon. The five of us - Partha, Vivek (who refuses to be addressed by his full first name), Sayan, Saugata and I took up five berths out of eight in an AC-3 "group". The other three seats were occupied by a gingerly middle-aged man and an entirely unrelated woman and her son (who was five or six).
We were given royal treatment (by fresh graduate standards): we were handed out soft pillows, white sheets, smug blankets, clean towels and ribbed condoms. Okay, not the last bit. We fastened our pieces of luggage to the railway berths using bicycle (?) chains and padlocks, and after a decent meal, headed off to sleep.
We woke up at various points of time. We had breakfast. The polite, honest-looking attendant arrived to take away the eight sets of pillows, sheets, blankets and towels. Thirty-one of the thirty-two items were found: not the eighth towel.
It was Saugata who first noticed where it was. He blurted out with all the spirit of a wannabe Hindi-speaker: bhaisaab! us shishu ke nichu mein hai!!
The attendant understood.
The dry Delhi summer melted into a delicious, golden autumn, then a barren, depressing winter. It was not until February before the Sun had begun to peek again on a regular basis.
ISI Delhi had the excellent habit of assigning students as mess-managers every month on a rotational policy. Saugata and I were among the four in charge of February 1999.
For bulk vegetable purchases we typically went to the Okhla Subzi Mandi (in an ISI Delhi car). For small-scale stuff, though, we usually ventured into the markets of Katwaria Sarai, where greengrocers stood in a line, selling their products off carts.
Saugata, despite his relentless enthusiasm, could not really gather the expertise required to communicate (and especially negotiate) with Delhi greengrocers. So he needed to be chaperoned on every trip. On this occasion it was me.
The usual scenario was like this: Saugata typically started the conversations, and then, when he ran out of Hindi words (the count of which, well, was possibly less than twenty), the other person took over.
It was different this time. Mind you, Saugata's typical Hindi sentences consisted of one word each, so the following conversation is not overpunctuated.
Greengrocer 1: Aath rupya.
Greengrocer 2: Dus rupya.
He looked at me. I knew the expression. I knew the question he was dying to ask. I know that he had been pulled back, albeit unfairly, by a limited Hindi vocabulary. Then his face lit up (it was a miracle that he didn't utter eureka!), and the question emerged.
Saugata (pointing at greengrocer 1's merchandise): Aath. (pointing at greengrocer 2's merchandise): Dus. Kiyun?
Greengrocer 2 (rather nonchalantly): Mera pyaaz badhiya pyaaz hai.
Saugata's face, now focused in concentration, became quite a spectacle. Once again, it was evident that a relevant question had formed in his mind, but was simply not making it to the endpoint for lack of words. Then it happened (I can swear on anything that these were the exact words I had heard).
Saugata: Uskya pyaaz. Chhotiya hai?