Sometimes it is just a stray remark, far removed from one’s immediate preoccupations, which one randomly overhears in the most unlikely of places that prompts a long-overdue bout of intense introspection.
After an important meeting, where she presented on the medium and longer term consequences of Brexit on the European economy, an exhausted, but jubilant Trina Lahiri, distinguished member of the EU Economic Analysis and Modelling team, had just sat down for a celebratory hot chocolate at the cafeteria of the Berlaymont, the European Commission building in Brussels, savouring the internal reminiscences from a special achievement with the luxurious whiff of Belgian chocolate in her aquiline nose. In the next table sat a gregarious group of voluble interns, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed, talking about their weekend plans — “breakfast, Sunday lunch, film, shopping, opera, dad, mom, beer, football”, all featured more than once in their many animated conversations. But the words, which first resulted in a sharp intake of breath from Trina before lodging in the front and centre of her still impressionable mind, were, “Father’s day”.
How very remiss of her! Not that she was in the habit of celebrating Father’s day. In fact, she had always, since she cared to remember, dismissed Father’s day as another egregious example of America’s crass commercial gimmickry; although, it had, like so many other things, originated in Europe, but nevertheless.
It was perhaps co-incidence that only a few weeks ago she had celebrated her 25th birthday that chaperoned her current train of thought. Twenty-five years – that meant twenty-five years of hard, long suffering parenting of two, well, er, rather difficult individuals, each difficult in their own specially gifted ways. It is true she, herself, had gradually mellowed with age and had been relatively low maintenance, in a manner of speaking, since her 15th year or so, but not Titir, her little brother, now 19 and in university in Florida. He was a very different kettle of fish, altogether.
She remembered it as if she was living through it all over again. The prodigious Titir, then only thirteen, locking their then driver, Atin in the servant’s bathroom and making off with the car, a brand new Chevrolet Optara, only to be intercepted by the police near Rashbehari crossing. If that was bad, the aftermath was worse — frantic reasoning with the rather unhelpful police force, reams of mind-numbing paperwork, the torrent of criticism from overzealous and scandalised relatives, an indignant Atin, otherwise so very calm and dependable, threatening to quit unless given a compensation amounting to almost twice his regular wage. That was just one incident, a mere mundane highlight from a glittering career of adventures and misadventures Titir so specialised in till almost the very last day before university. Add to that, her own, almost constant brooding interludes, mood changes, pig-headed obstinacy, indecisiveness, all leading to general exasperation all round.
But despite all these and many others, they had emerged bloodied but unbowed, though the relentless grind of the daily routine of a life lived only for them. Gently, but firmly drumming up the steady rhythms of normal existence for nearly two long decades, uninterrupted through disease and disappointments; through school, college, university and even now extending that occasional shoulder for them to cry on. This despite the strangling loneliness of being a single parent; the numbing pain of a relationship breaking down so soon after it was forged, fiscal uncertainty threatening penury at fate’s slightest askance look; all the time walking a tightrope balanced precariously between lives professional and personal.
Their very own font from which came all the values instilled in them, to fight every inch of the way; to never surrender. To bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with a smile on their faces, with kindness to all and bitterness towards none. To dream and keep dreaming with the quiet confidence that they will never walk alone. The books, music, films, the odd play and that special treat once in a while — a family holiday.
But, by no means perfect with obvious chinks in the fabled armoury — the cruel monotony of the bland pasta dishes, the uncooked meat, grains of rice staring back at them as they contemplated their daily fare and that occasional fiery temper, which threatened to consume everything before it.
But those flaws rather than being detractions only made for such an adorable human being worth cherishing for life.
No, she was convinced. She had to do something — this year of all years — her silver jubilee.
When she got home that evening to her spartan, one bed apartment in the grimy outskirts of Brussels, Trina promptly went online, skimming through the search results and evaluating the best and most efficient way to dispatch a bouquet of 25 damask coloured roses to the aged parent in Calcutta. It took her a good half an hour before she finally settled on Florally Yours as the preferred vendor worthy to be entrusted with the special honour and responsibility of executing the sacred mission.
Just as she was about to complete the payment on her order, she paused. She should let Titir know, she thought. After all it was meant to be a token of gratitude from both of them. She called Titir although mindful he might not answer if he was in university attending a lecture. She would leave a message. It was just a courtesy call more than anything, she reflected, before breaking into a wide grin — Titir… a courtesy call! But no, it was important that he knew.
Fortunately, the all too familiar voice of her younger sibling floated in through the earpiece of her headphone, “What’s up, big sis?”
“Surviving in an alien land far from the comforts of home and with no chocolates to cheer me up.”
“Listen, you young blot on the landscape, this year I want to observe Father’s day.”
“Why, I say, that’s a big intellectual shift? I thought you hated it — American gimmickry and all that.”
“I know, I know, but this year it’s different. It’s the silver jubilee of the parenting master class.”
“Okay, if you insist. Listen I have got to go. Got a class starting soon. Speak later. Take care. And remember whatever you do, you will always have my blessings.”
“You Cheeky…”, but Titir was gone, the call ended and the sisterly expletives all wasted.
Peeved, Trina returned to her pending order and reviewed it once again. She typed up a sincere, heartfelt message to go with the order, checked the delivery date and address, put in her card details and then with one final flourish of the mouse, submitted the payment form, which after a few seconds procrastination, considering the import of the transaction, finally found the electronic gateway that led to the hallowed portal of Florally Yours, who, in turn, humbly expressed their sincere gratitude for the receipt of this kind patronage in the form of a big “thank you, your payment has been received”, appearing on the computer screen before briefly introducing themselves and assuring all of their best services at all times — “An exquisite online florist in Kolkata welcomes you to the best of flowers arrangements. We have same day and midnight flower delivery in Kolkata.”
Job done, Trina prepared to bring down the curtain on what had been a very eventful day in her life.
A sweltering June morning in Kolkata, smothered by the palpable humidity in the air, gradually stirred itself out of the lethargic stupor that the temporary absence of daylight had plunged it into. One of her younger denizens, Bablu Pramanik, an early riser and barely out of his teens, alighted from a bus at the Lake Market crossing and went straight to one of the many indistinguishable makeshift stalls that spring up every morning to satisfy the floricultural requirements of the local populace. Almost on cue, two large sacks full of bouquets, bunches, nosegays, wreaths and bundled sticks of tube roses and gladioli were transferred to him with, what would seem to a casual passer-by, familiar and rehearsed brickbats about his punctuality and his employer’s uncharitable mercenary practices. A beaming Bablu, evidently uplifted by the banter, hailed a passing taxi and exited the floral stage.
The taxi hurtled along the drowsy thoroughfares of the waking metropolis stopping where Bablu asked it to stop as he made one delivery at a time with the enthusiasm of a journeyman slow left armer going through the motions in an inconsequential Ranji match, which was petering out on a lifeless pitch in front of a handful of disinterested spectators.
And thus it was that a loving thought, a touching gesture, conceived and gently nurtured in the Belgian capital was delivered to an elderly recipient on the doorsteps of 221 B Gariahat Road in the form of an attractive looking bouquet of 25 damask-coloured roses.
Exactly quarter of an hour, that’s all it took for the roses to be unwrapped, snipped, partially defoliated and put in a crystal vase reserved for special gifts and occasions and the crystal vase to enjoy pride of place as the centrepiece of the coffee table in the living room. Leaning against the vase was a small pink card, with compliments from Florally Yours, no bigger than a sticky and with this legend inscribed on it in Arial 8, in bold and also italicised — To the best father in the world, our Ma, happy Father’s day!
Mrs Lahiri sat on the sofa opposite, gazing at the card and wiping the odd teardrop that trickled down her cheeks. She will be sitting like that in the same place for a very long time today waiting for the phone to ring. For it was Sunday and both her children, together, put in a call to her at exactly seven in the evening in Kolkata.