-Written By Dr. Parijat De
(Reading Time: 20 min Approx)
Sarbajit was no slouch. Animated and energised all the time, hard labour was never a yoke on his shoulder. Yet Sarbajit found the life in London too brisk, too fast, too taxing. For a boy from a remote village near Ratua in Malda district of Bengal, London appeared to engulf him at the first sight. He felt awed by the majestic mansions, wide roads, vast squares and the ubiquitous double-decker red buses of London. The tube, the network of underground and over ground railways, perplexed him in the beginning. He, however, took only a couple of days to figure out the routes. His office was in the heart of the metropolis, in the City of London. The office building on the Thread-needle Street was imposing, to say the least. In the twenty-storied modern glass-fronted building of his company, Sarbajit’s nook was in the eighth floor. It took him exactly forty minutes to walk down from his rented accommodation in Monza Street in Wapping near the Thames to his office in the City of London. Coming by tube necessitated two changes and took about twenty five minutes. But the village boy Sarbajit preferred to walk.
A long and upward journey it really was for Sarbajit. For a boy who lost both of his parents before he was ten and who was brought up by a bachelor Headmaster of the village school where he studied up to class XII, it was almost unthinkable, a dream come true ! But Sarbajit, despite turning an orphan when he was in class IV, never cursed his luck. He had no reason to. The entire village of some seventy odd families used to love him. It took him only a little over one year to overcome the grief of his parents’ early demise. Mr Ajit Sengupta, the headmaster, was respected by one and all for his erudition, personality and amiable behaviour. He gave fatherly affection to Sarbajit at home and in school. Sarbajit’s father, a marginal labourer, had a thatched house in Mangalpur, the village where Sarbajit was born and grew up. Mr Sengupta, though, had a decent three-roomed one-storey brick and mortar building at the very entrance to the village and at the furthest distance from the bank of the River Ganges which flowed by the side of Mangalpur.
The village elders, the parents of the other children of the village and even those from the village who used to stay in Malda town to earn their livings all liked and loved Sarbajit. He was the pride of Mangalpur and cynosure of all eyes. Out and out the best student of the school, he was held in respect by all senior and junior students. With such love, affection and admiration from all how could Sarbajit curse his luck at all ?
The village Mangalpur, though, had a huge curse to contend with– flood. The Ganges took a sharp, almost ninety degree, turn around the village and in the event of a cloudburst, which was not rare, inundated the village deep down, sparing only the school building, the headmaster’s house and a few brick built houses in that locality. A heavy downpour for three or four days in succession would see the vain effort by the villagers to raise mud embankment along the three hundred odd metres stretch of the river which will overflow to bring in sorrow and damage in its wake. Petitions to administration for a concrete embankment structure yielded no result. Even twice the villagers squatted on the road that connects Ratua town to Malda, but to no avail. Mr. Sengupta visited the B.D.O,
S.D.O and even the D.M.’s office on umpteen number of occasions, submitted written pleas with signature or thumb impression of all the villagers and personally met the political leaders of subdivision and district levels. There were promises galore but there were not followed up by actions on the ground. Thus the curse of flood visited Mangalpur often, at least once in every three to four years.
In office, Sarbajit got into his groove very quickly. His forte was his ability to write and speak excellent English and his knowledge in his subject – law. The latter was acquired and assiduously developed by Sarbajit when he underwent his five year degree course in law in one of the best law universities of the country in Bangalore. After class XII, he cracked the common admission test in law by securing eleventh rank in general category. It was Mr. Sengupta, the headmaster, who was his guiding spirit all through. Sarbajit’s proclivity in English was noticed early by him. Being a teacher of English himself, he taught the subject to Sarbajit with all the care of a mentor. He also kindled his imagination by telling him stories of all kinds — of human civilization, history and geography of the world, art and culture. In one word he stoked one thing in Sarbajit which was to remain with him all through – curiosity.
“What are you so busy with?”, Sarbajit was startled by the question from Charlotte. Charlotte, a girl of the same age of Sarbajit, was born and brought up in London. She studied law from one of the best universities of the town and joined the firm in the same batch as that of Sarbajit. “It’s a critical deal involving five parties from three continents. Difficult to decipher what the investor is targeting at.” was the terse reply of Sarbajit. Charlotte drew a chair beside Sarbajit and sat on it. “What’re you doing this weekend?” Charlotte queried looking straight at Sarbajit’s eyes. “Why, any specific plan?”
Sarbajit quipped and re-fixed his eyes on the screen of the computer. “You are not at earning some extra bucks this weekend?” asked Charlotte. “Yes I’ll have to spray-paint two cars. That’ll fetch me eighty pounds. That’s on Saturday”, Sarbajit replied. “Why don’t we go to Brighton on Sunday then?”, Charlotte asked again. “No, no. It involves quite an expenditure,” Sarbajit tried to put a lid on Charlotte’s proposal. But she was not going to listen. “Sarba, I know quite well what expenses will that involve. Why can’t you spend even twenty bucks? You earn more than seven thousand a month, that too post tax.” “OK, I’ll give it a go next month, Charlotte. Please excuse me this time.” That was the last sentence Sarbajit would utter on the topic. Charlotte, almost fuming, left his chamber in a hurry.
Back in Mangalpur, Mr. Sengupta found himself in an embarrassing situation. Sarbajit didn’t call up in the last fortnight. As a result he had to face a barrage of questions every day from whoever he met.” Did Sarba call up, Sir? How is he? When shall he come home? Hasn’t he firmed up any schedule of coming here yet? “Mr. Sengupta had to politely say no to all these queries. He himself was a bit puzzled. When he called Sarba last on a Sunday Sarba said he was busy and working in the bill section of a big store in his locality.
What was he up to? Was he not doing well professionally? Was there any slump in the financial fortune of his law firm? Why did he have to do these additional jobs? Is the salary he’s getting not enough for his own living? Mr. Sengupta wondered. He had little idea of the expenses of living in London. He knew only this much that the rented flat Sarba used to share with another Indian boy cost him quite a sum. But the salary figure that Sarba indicated ought to be enough to cover all his expenses and save something for the rainy day. Does he require any money to be sent from here? He’ll ask Sarba the next time he gives a tinkle.
The annual performance report of all the recruiters of the last year in Sarbajit’s firm was out. And lo and behold! his name topped the list! Sarbajit was called by two of the senior partners of the firm last Friday. They congratulated him and indicated to him in no uncertain terms that they wanted him to continue with the firm indefinitely. Visa and other official formalities will be firm’s responsibility, they told. And, finally, they put the cat out of the bag – Sarbajit was being given a salary raise of two thousand bucks and a onetime bonus of (they literally said, hold your breath, dear!) ten thousand bucks!
Chartotte profusely congratulated Sarba. The joy she felt in her heart for Sarb’s success was unalloyed. “For heaven’s sake, now get rid of your stringiness, Sarb. Your competitors call you bad names only on that count – you’re a close-fisted man. I really hate to hear that.” Sarba looked up at Charlotte’s face and smiled. “Let them, dear. I’m happy to see you so gleeful at my success. You’re my only pal in this foreign land.” Sarba stood up, hugged Charlotte and planted a kiss on her cheek. In return he got hundred times more number of kisses, mostly on his lips and the rest on all of his face, the throat and around.
Mr. Sengupta heard the phone ringing. Call from an unknown number. When he responded with hello, a sonorous voice at the other end, after the initial niceties, went on saying sentences after sentences. Mr. Sengupta was dumbstruck and could hardly utter a word or two. Tears welled up in his eyes and finally flowed through his cheeks. He had to take his specs out and dry them by rubbing in his cloth again and again. When he finally hung up, he looked at the photograph of Sarba in convocation gown in the wall opposite and said his prayers to the Almighty in silence.
The villagers of Mangalpur were taken aback. A convoy of trucks loaded with bricks, cement and other construction materials and equipment trooped in one morning. They all bore the name and trademark of Larsen & Toubro(L&T), the famous civil construction company. Mr. Sengupta had planned everything in advance. He indicated the sites to the concerned official who went straight to him where the materials were to be dumped.
It was early November and the entire work will be completed by a month. The full stretch of the village line that was exposed to the Ganges will have embankment. It was to be fortified by a second wall guarding the entire stretch of the village. The villagers came to know from the L & T officials only that the best material was procured for the work. The nightmare of flood would be gone forever, they were told. The embankment after proper curing and plastering work was be to formally inaugurated in a function by the village school headmaster, Mr. Ajit Sengupta, because that was the wish of the financier of the project, Sarbajit De. Their very own Sarba! Why, he had even paid for the inauguration function where all the villagers will be given a sumptuous lunch by the company.
When Sarba called up his mentor that night all the village elders including the ladies were present in Mr. Sengupta’s house. Each in turn talked to Sarba for a while. Emotion-filled words from choked throats totally overwhelmed the boy of twenty five at the other end. The phone call session lasted close to an hour.
Came December 25, the day of the formal inauguration of that solid-looking, firmly placed embankment with another guard wall inside, running for a total length of about 800 metres. It was a day of feast, a day of boundless joy for the villagers of Mangalpur. Puja was offered to the village goddess’s temple and Sarba’s mentor, Mr. Sengupta, unveiled a plaque which said that the embankment was dedicated to all the good souls of Mangalpur who raised a child of them with so much care and affection. No mention of the child was there on the plaque but the name of Mr Ajit Sengupta was inscribed as the inaugurator of the embankment, named ‘Mangalabandh’.Why, even the language of the plaque was supplied by Sarba to the L & T authority!