I'm late for a family get-together.
An old family friend has just relocated into our neighbourhood and by the time I join my uncle, Mr Ghosh for dinner, I realise we both are the last men standing. The rest of the gathering of about 20-odd people have already had drinks, dinner and left - my mom and dad included.
I'm embarassed for arriving so late, but aunty (Mrs Ghosh) convinces me otherwise and asks me to settle down so that she can serve us dinner quickly. A lavish spread of Bengali food has been prepared - bhaat, dal, maachher jhol, kosha maangsho (chicken curry), papad, salad, puris...the usual fare.
Ghosh uncle has just finished drowning a few pegs. He asks me to quickly "wash your hands and asses, wipe them clean and park them on the seat next to me". He is conversing with me in English and I follow his instructions religiously.
He's a bit nasty, I notice, but after a lifetime of bringing up a rascal like Jojo (he's a DJ today, but had bowled me out on a duck, 11 years ago when the pretty girls in the colony were standing by waiting for me to hit a six) - I can't expect him to be a Father Teresa. Jojo's in the US now, and uncle-aunty decided to migrate to Ambarnath, where life is much peaceful and serene compared to hustle-bustle of Andheri, where they brought up the rascal.
"I've been wanting to meet you," he says, as I sit on a chair, next to him. Aunty lays out two plates. "Your mom and me spoke briefly today and she says you're a very busy boy, eh? What are you studying?"
"I'm not studying. I'm a journalist with DNA," I reply, calmly. My skinny physique and lanky features have surprised many, when my profession is taken into context. Many believe its a profession for bearded saints. Uncle's reaction which followed, was predictable.
"You're a journalist? Full-time?" he asks. I nodded, smiling, mixing some dal and rice which aunty poured into our plates. A bowlful of chicken was also placed, and aunty asked us to tuck in.
"Hmmm, journalism is a challenging profession, eh? A journalist is supposed to know everything," he says, absorbing my response. He chews over what he has just heard. A 22-year old boy, whom he had seen only as a little kid several years ago, was now chomping on a chicken leg, while he was nibbling on mid-sized pieces. At 22, he would have spent most of his time jobless, sitting at Coffee House in Kolkata over tea and cigarettes, discussing Marx or Lenin with jobless pseudo-intellectuals.
So when I told him I'm a journalist, he didn't believe me. He asks aunty for puris and the way he tears into them, I think the food's getting massacred in his mouth.
"Who is your editor?" he asks, after a while. "I read your paper everyday, but I don't know who's in charge after Gautam Adhikari."
"R Jagannathan," I say, crunching on a papad.
"I remember Gautam Adhikari. He used to show up on the front page every now and then," he says, chomping. "So you report directly to this new man? You're what... an apprentice over there?"
"No," I reply, gnawing at the chicken leg. "I'm with DNA Money. Raj Nambisan heads DNA Money. I report to him."
"Nambisan?" he asks puzzled for a moment. "He's your editor? How come I haven't seen his name in the DNA Money, anytime? I do read the business pages most of the times..."
I tell him that he's the editor, so he supervises his team of reporters. "He writes occasionally," I emphasize. But I ask him whether he has seen my name ever in the paper. "I write more often than Mr Nambisan does," I point out.
He pours himself some gravy, trying to think. "No, I don't there is any Shonti Chaudhuri ever in DNA Money." I'm about to interrupt him, as I gulp, but he continues. "Lot of Bengali names I find though...Mukherji, Bhattacharya, Roy, Robin Ghosh.."
"Uncle, my good name is Arcopol. Arcopol Chaudhuri, you must have seen this name?" (Bengalis have two names for their kids. One is the good name. And the other is the nick-name - daak naam.)
Uncle looks up suddenly, moving himself away from his plate and gulps. His expression is of somebody who's prophecy has come true. "Ohh, so you are that Arcopol. You did some masturbation interview once, no?"
I shudder suddenly, at the mention of the "forbidden word" (atleast at a social dinner) and at the nodal connection point with my name. "Yes," I reply, smiling and a little embarassed, considering aunty is around. Uncle doesn't probe further. He seems to be in some grave thought. "But tell me," he continues, helping himself to some salad, "why doesn't this Nambisan write more often?"
I try to hunt for an answer. A spoonful of salad, helps me arrive at an analogy. Smiling at him, I say: "Now, Yash Chopra doesn't act in his own films, does he?" I hope that he will like my answer, but I'm wrong. He replies: "But Subhash Ghai does, doesn't he?"
I'm not pleased with the way this dinner is proceeding. "He writes sometimes, as I said. He's Subhash Ghai, then." I smile, hoping that this will end the director-editor comparisons.
"Raj Nambisan," he says once again as if its become some gayatri mantra for him. I'm a bit irritated. My stomach is nearly full and as aunty serves me two juicy rasgullas, I'm relieved. "Editors must be making nice money. I had a friend in The Telegraph and he would write under a pseudonym for many magazines. Mind you, he would rarely write for the The Telegraph. I'm sure your editor must also be doing the same, who knows!" he said, pointing the spoon at me, for emphasis.
Bengalis, I tell you. They'd be nightmares in chemistry labs, arriving at the conclusion even before the experiments begin.
But frankly, then I didn't like the thought of Mr Nambisan doing shady writing contracts. I don't think he does anything like that.
I suddenly pictured him running through the mountains, in a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. Hundreds of dinosaurs ran after him chasing him asking for his articles through pseudonym. They had weird names - some were called The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Mint, Fortune, Forbes, Financial Times! There was a desperate dino as well, old and tired, and it had the letters BS written on it. But Mr Nambisan dodged them all.
He ran in the direction of a calm dinosaur standing in the distance. This one appeared to be vegetarian and with more brains than the rest. He wasn't eating shrubs or grass, but from the looks of it, this salt-n-pepper haired dino was simply crunching numbers. Mr Nambisan continued running towards him, panting. My eyesight is always blurry whenever I'm day-dreaming, but I think that dino's name started with the letters J, A, G, G, A, N or something.
Another rasgulla poured into my plate by aunty, shakes me out of my reverie. Uncle Ghosh is licking the ras (juice) off his fingers, still stuck with the Nambisan-Subhash Ghai issue. "I think I'll check out this Nambisan tomorrow. DNA old issues aachhe, na?" he asks aunty. She nods, with a look, that says, 'There goes my plan of selling off the raddi tomorrow.'
"By the way," Uncle says, drawing me back into a conversation. "Your father used to share a drink or two with me, when you were a little boy. He refused to join me today. Why has he stopped drinking?"
"He has?" I ask, surprised to know this. Finally, this dinner has come to an end with some good news to go to bed with.
"Bah! You don't know? And you call yourself a journalist." He shakes his head, cleaning up his plate a bit, licking his fingers.
As an afterthought, he adds, "I told you journalism is a challenging job. Journalists are supposed to know everything."
I decide never to be late for a family get-together again.